Saturday, July 31, 2010

These are the Names

The book of Exodus begins with the line "And these are the names of the sons of Israel..." In the Hebrew Bible the name of the book of Exodus is an abbreviation of this line, simply "names."

Exodus 6:14-27 is clearly an echo of that opening sentence. The word "these" is used once in Exodus 4 in a more generic way, but after Exodus 1:1, the word is used seven times in Exodus 6 signaling a new beginning. And the text seems to underline this point as it climaxes with the tribe of Levi. It begins with, "these are the heads of their fathers' houses," and then moves to "these are the families of Reuben" and then "these are the families of Simeon," and finally "these are the names of the sons of Levi..."

The three fold repetition of the "these are..." culminating in a line that echoes Exodus 1:1 nearly word for word underlines this new beginning, this new creation that is coming about through the tribe of Levi.

But looking more closely, it's also clear that this genealogy is laid out in a chiastic structure:

A. These are the heads of their father's houses (6:14a)
B. These are the families of Reuben (6:14b)
C. These are the families of Simeon (6:15)
D. These are the names of the sons of Levi (6:16-18)
C'. These are the families of Levi (6:19-23)
B'. These are the families of the Korahites (6:24)
A'. These are the heads of the fathers' houses of the Levites (6:25)

The center of the "these are the..." is "these are the names..." just like Exodus 1 began.

One other interesting point is that the text switches to a singular form of "these" in 6:26-27. My NKJV still uses "these" but the word is different; it's the singular masculine pronoun "he" better translated in this context as "this" except for the fact that the singular pronoun doesn't agree with the plural nouns "Moses and Aaron" which is why it is rendered as a plural "these."

But the connection is still there, and the point is clear. "These" families, "these" names are people that God knows and loves, and "these" men, Moses and Aaron are included in that number and are specific instruments for the fulfillment of God's purposes with these families, these names.

And it does not seems like an accident that Yahweh has just revealed (again) His name and insisted that it will be known and understood in a new way by His people (6:2-3). These are the names of the people who bear the name of Yahweh their Redeemer.


Psalm 82 and Human Gods

The Psalms refer to men as "gods" in a number of places, and Jesus defends His own deity on the basis of Psalm 82.

"God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods... I said 'You are gods,' and all of you are sons of the Most High. But you shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes." (Ps. 82:1, 6-7)

In the middle portion of Psalm 82, the psalmist complains that the rulers of the earth do not do justice or perform mercy. He calls them to defend the poor and the fatherless, to free the poor and the needy from the hand of the wicked. But they do not understand; the foundations of the earth are unstable. And so they will fall and die even though they are princes. The psalmist ends by calling upon God to arise and judge the earth and inherit the nations.

"Gods" in this psalm clearly refers to people, rulers, sons of the Most High. The "gods" have failed to deliver, to save, to heal, to hold up the earth in security as they ought.

But where other psalms are perhaps a bit more vague or ambiguous, this psalm teaches that we ought to read "gods" as a broader category than merely "carved images" or other demonic/evil beings or natural/created phenomena bolstered by imagination and superstition. Human beings are "gods," and therefore Yahweh is "a great God, a great King above all gods" (Ps. 95:3) Worshipers of images should be ashamed of themselves, and all the gods should worship Yahweh (Ps. 97:7). Yahweh is great and a Lord above all the gods (Ps. 135:5). Give thanks to the "God of gods" for his mercy endures forever (Ps. 136:2). David sings praises to Yahweh before the gods (Ps. 138:1).

While there are clearly places where the "gods" refers to carved images and false/evil gods, having a broader category of "gods" implies a broader application of these psalms, particularly in the New Covenant where Jesus has triumphed over the principalities and powers and shown the worthlessness of idols. In the New Covenant era, while there is still idolatry and evil spirits in the world, the western Christian world is largely doing battle with human gods. The central question is whether the gods are in submission to the God of gods, the Lord of lords or not.

What is striking is that Jesus defends His own deity in at least one place on the basis of Psalm 82: Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "you are gods."? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him who the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? (Jn. 10:34-36)

But this doesn't confirm some kind of Jehovah's Witness or Mormon anti-Trinitarian theology by any stretch. There are plenty of places to turn to defend and explain the full, eternal deity of Jesus. But in our haste and delight in the doctrine of Incarnation and Trinity, we should not miss the fact that the humanity of Jesus is not only essential for the atonement, for bearing the just sentence we deserve on the cross, but His humanity is also all bound up with the original and final intent of God for His sons. The Son of God came to be a perfect son so that He might bring many sons to His glory. God came for the fallen gods of this world so that He might cause us to share in His divine nature, restoring us to His glory so that we, like Him, might be gods who heal, deliver, redeem, and save.


Being God

When Moses protested that he was not a good public speaker Yahweh said that Aaron could be his spokesman. Yahweh would make Moses "like God" to Aaron (4:16). As God speaks to Moses and instructs him, Moses would be like God and speak to Aaron and instruct him.

Later, when Moses again protests that he is not a good speak, a "man of uncircumcised lips" (6:30), Yahweh responds by saying that he has made Moses "God to Pharaoh." And again God says that Aaron may speak on his behalf. Aaron will be Moses' "prophet" (7:1)

Between these two very similar conversations is a concentrated declaration/review of who Yahweh is and what He is planning to do in the Exodus: I am Yahweh who redeems you (6:2-8). In that proclamation, Yahweh says something similar to these other statements. He says that when He redeems Israel and brings them to Himself to be His people, He will be "as God to them" (6:7).

This implies that "being God" is not merely an ontological claim. Yahweh makes Moses like a God to Aaron and Pharaoh, and he has not ceased being a man. And we would likewise insist that Yahweh has not ceased being God while Israel was in Egypt. But if Yahweh's "being God to Israel" is the paradigm for Moses "being God" to Aaron and Pharaoh, then "being God" has to do with speaking, instructing, declaring truth. It has to do with personal presence. When Yahweh is God to Israel, He seems to be specifically referring to Mt. Sinai where He will meet with His people and speak with them. "Being God" has everything to do with presence and communion, and this goes back to the image of God in man. Man is a communing being, and particularly a being who communes through his presence and speech.

This underlines how powerful and dangerous being human really is. God has created human beings to be "gods" whose words and actions are momentous. Our presence and absence echoes God's own presence and absence. Our words mimic His Word which creates, destroys, heals, and judges. Being human has the potential to save and redeem or to destroy and tear down.


I am Yahweh

Yahweh's speech at the beginning of Exodus 6 is arranged chiastically:

A. I am Yahweh (6:2)
B. Promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (6:3-5)
C. I am Yahweh who brings you out (6:6a)
D. I will rescue you (6:6b)
E. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm (6:6c)
D'. I will take you as my people (6:7)
C'. I am Yahweh who brings you out (6:8a)
B'. Promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (6:8b)
A'. I am Yahweh (6:8c)


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Feast of Forgiveness

Every week we celebrate this meal as a ministry of forgiveness. Specifically, Jesus gave this cup to his disciples and told them that is was for the remission of sins. I just want to take this meditation to emphasize this point. Consider this an extended, underlined absolution and assurance of pardon. When you take this bread into your mouth and taste this wine, the word you need to hear and believe is ‘forgiven.’ Guilt is a tyrant. Guilt is a pharaoh that exacts quotas of good deeds and moralistic hypocrisy. Forgiven is a word that gives life and health and blessing. Forgiveness is water that flows down like a summer storm and the thirsty fields drink their full. Guilt just shoots up weeds trying to blend in with grass. Forgiveness is something that God loves to do. Jesus went to the cross so that God’s mercy might flood this world. His blood was shed for short tempers, his blood was shed for porn problems, his blood was shed for liars, his blood was shed for parents who fail their children, his blood was shed for children who have rebelled against their parents, his blood was shed for hard, bitter hearts, his blood was shed for addicts and abusers and cowards. His blood was shed for women who have had abortions. His blood was shed for husbands and fathers and boyfriends who encouraged and facilitated abortions. No one comes to this table apart from grace. No one comes to this table who is not first covered in blood. But make sure that it is Christ’s blood covering you; guilt cries out for blood and people exact the price from themselves or others close to them. But there is no freedom in the Egypt of Guilt. There is only freedom in Christ, there is only forgiveness in the blood of Jesus. And it’s free. I know we don’t usually give altar calls; and I’m not going to start now. But if you are struggling with guilt, and you hear me talking about forgiveness and you’re not sure if you have that, please talk to me. Talk to one of the elders or deacons. Talk to your parents. But the short answer is right here: Jesus knows your sins and He says, come lay them down and eat with Me. This bread and wine is for you; it’s my body and blood for you. Come eat, drink, and rejoice.


Worship as Defiance

Every week we gather here for worship in defiance. We gather here as revolutionaries. And this service of worship is our revolt. Here as we proclaim the Triune Name, as we sing the Psalms, hear the Word of our King, feast at His table and receive His blessing, we do so in defiance of all the powers of sin and darkness and evil. Here in our worship we defy the greed and materialism of our culture and state, and we give tithes and offerings to our King for the growth of His Kingdom. Here we defy every form of sexual tyranny and oppression and the guilt of sexual sin. Here our Master who knows our dark hearts and sees the horrific tragedies all around us, here He assures us of His love and washes us clean. He proclaims our utter and complete innocence and silences every accuser. Here we defy the arrogant claims of military and political powers who brandish their missiles and guns and economic sanctions. We sit down at the table of the Lord of Armies, and we eat our bread with joy and our wine with joyful hearts trusting the Lord of Armies to crush the heads of the proud and the violent. But we defy sin in every form. We defy the wretched sin in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our church. We come here not because we see all things put right, but because we refuse to make peace with the way that sin ravages lives. We come here torn and brittle and broken, week after week, because we see all the ways in which sin seeks to destroy us and our loved ones and our world. We see families torn apart; we see children abandoned and neglected; we see our loved ones grow old and suffer from disease; we see our brothers and sisters across the world raped and beheaded and burned for the love of Jesus. And despite all of this, despite the giants who taunt us, despite the sin and guilt that haunts us, despite all of this, we gather here to defy it all. Despite the dark clouds, we gather here to proclaim that the giants will fall. We gather here to proclaim that our King rose from the dead and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Him Lord of all. And this means that we gather here in defiance. We proclaim that there is one King, and His name is Jesus, and that we will serve Him until our dying day. And we will serve no other. And wherever and however sin clings to us and to our families, we are gathered here to say “No, we will not serve you anymore.”

“Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself. This He said, signifying by what death He would die.” (Jn. 12:31-33)


Eighth Sunday in Trinity: Exodus V

God’s claim on the lives of his people is always public, and there are always competitors to His authoritative voice. And when we obey and the voices collide, the faithful frequently suffer. How do you handle the challenges of obedience?

To Feast and Sacrifice
Notice that the dialogue is set up to present Yahweh speaking directly to Pharaoh. Moses and Aaron speak as the mouth of Yahweh (4:15-16, 5:1). Pharaoh even understands this in his response by questioning why he should listen to Yahweh’s “voice” (5:2). When God sends a servant, they always speak in His authority. Since the beginning of Exodus we have noted this contest between the word of God and the word of the pharaoh (cf. Gen. 1-3). The reason given to Pharaoh for letting Israel go is initially so that Israel can go “feast” before Yahweh (5:1). After Pharaoh’s rebuff they elaborate that they are to go only three days’ journey into the wilderness to offer a sacrifice (5:3). This second request is more closely the actual wording that was given by God (3:18). Their reasoning is that they must obey Yahweh lest He strike them with sword or pestilence (cf. 9:3, 15). But the Pharaoh immediately changes the subject: why are Moses and Aaron interrupting the work of the Hebrews (5:4)? We assume that the elders of the people were with Aaron and Moses (3:18), and therefore Pharaoh was not just referring to Moses and Aaron.

Bricks without Straw
Pharaoh’s strategy is actually quite brilliant. His plan is to turn the people against Moses and Aaron. He does this at two levels: first he assigns the taskmasters not to give the usual rations of hay for making the bricks without lessening the number they have to make (5:8, 11, 13). He accuses them of laziness (5:5-8). They have too much time on their hands; that’s why they are listening to Moses and Aaron, “gazing on false words” (5:9). The task masters go out and call the people together and announce “Thus says Pharaoh..” which is the exact same preface that Moses brought to Pharaoh from Yahweh (5:1). The contest is between two “words” claiming authority over Israel. The text says that the people “scattered” to gather straw over the “whole land” (5:12) much like God scattered the nations at Babel (Gen. 11:4-9). Secondly, Pharaoh knows this won’t work out very well and the officers are beaten for not producing the same number of bricks, for not completing the “ordinance/command” of Pharaoh (5:14). Not only are the voices competing, but there are two competing laws (e.g. 12:24, 15:26). The officers respond by pleading with Pharaoh as abused “servants.” Pharaoh has made Israel “serve” him (1:13-14), but Yahweh demands that his people “serve” him (3:12, 4:23). But the officers are pleading with Pharaoh as though he is their rightful master. Pharaoh’s response reveals what kind of master he is: he is a cruel lord (5:17-19). This not only turns the people against Moses, but it also turns their officers against him (5:21).

Let Yahweh Judge
When the officers come out of the presence of Pharaoh, they “meet” Moses and Aaron, the very same word used to describe how Yahweh has come to Israel (5:3). This is exactly what will happen shortly: Israel will go out from Pharaoh and “meet” Yahweh, but in the mean time, Moses is God to them (4:16). Their pleas for mercy having been rejected, they utter what is meant to be a curse, asking Yahweh to look on Moses and judge what has happened to them. They say that their “smell stinks in the eyes of Pharaoh.” This will not be the last time God causes Pharaoh to be offended with foul smells (7:18, 8:14). In fact they have become such a bad smell they fear that there is a sword in the hand of Pharaoh’s servants to slay them (5:21). The very things that Moses and Aaron warned would come from Yahweh (5:3) the officers accuse Moses of inciting in Pharaoh. The sword and pestilence have come.

Conclusion & Application
Moses immediately returns to Yahweh and asks why He has done evil to this people and why He has sent him (5:22). And his final complaint is that Yahweh has not delivered his people since Moses has gone to Pharaoh and things have only gotten worse (5:23). Of course we remember that God has already promised that Pharaoh will need lots of convincing (3:19, 4:21), but Moses is still pleading with God according to His Word (5:23, cf. 3:8).

This whole story probably took place over a considerable period of time, probably a period of at least a number of months. Time has a way of making us doubt the Word of God. This chapter presents the struggle between masters, between laws, and ultimately between words. Whose word is Israel bound to obey? Who holds the sword? Who rules the plagues? Given the officers’ response, there is a vast difference between the grace of Yahweh and the grasping of Pharaoh.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Proverbs 29:3-7

29:3: “Whoever loves wisdom makes his father rejoice, but a companion of harlots wastes his wealth.”

This proverb returns to some of the basic themes from the beginning of proverbs. Here we have a comparison and contrast between certain kinds of love. In the first instance, love attaches to wisdom which is described as a woman early in proverbs (Prov. 3-4, 8-9). This wisdom is specifically the instructions of a father to his son, and this is one of the reasons why loving wisdom makes a father rejoice. In contrast, early in Proverbs the harlot/adulteress was the competitor to Lady Wisdom (Prov. 5, 6:24ff, 7:6ff).

The odd thing is that the comparison doesn’t seem completely symmetrical. The father rejoicing doesn’t seem quite parallel with the wasting wealth. It doesn’t seem to contrast neatly at first glance. However, wisdom is part of the inheritance of a father to his son, and wisdom is itself a kind of wealth and the ability to live and work in order create and maintain wealth. On the other hand, folly wastes wealth.
We might also note that the wealth wasted may be more general than just family inheritance (though it seems to include that). Loving wisdom is familial and economic blessing in general, and the pursuit of family-destroying lifestyles is a bad economic policy. This suggests that the repercussions for these decisions can be quite broad and public, especially for a king/prince.

Literally, the word for “companion” is “pasture” or “graze.” A man who feeds upon wisdom is a blessing to his father and receives his wealth. But the son who feeds on harlots despises his father.

There’s something of an interesting comparison in the person of Jesus. We know that Jesus was the great lover of wisdom and made his father rejoice, and at the same time, he was known as a “companion of harlots” and sometimes this was associated with the “waste of wealth” as well (e.g. Mt. 21:31-32, Lk. 7:37ff, Jn. 12:3ff).

Finally, we should note that the prodigal son is the “fool” of this proverb squandering his inheritance on harlots and displeasing his father (Lk. 15:11ff). But the father is the eager forgiver, and when the son returns there is great rejoicing. And there are always temptations for the “wise” to reject this kind of mercy like the older brother.

29:4: “The king establishes the land by justice, but he who receives bribes overthrows it.”

Literally, a king causes a land to stand by justice, but the man of offerings tears it down. So this proverb is about building and tearing down land. Justice makes a land stand up, but relying on money and gifts makes it fall. Part of the proverb is built on an ironic play on words. These offerings are T’rumah which are literally lifted up. This is the word of generic offerings taken up in Israel (e.g. Ex. 25:2-3, 30:13-15), and it is used specifically for the “heave” and “wave” offerings which were lifted up into the air when they were offered at the tabernacle (Lev. 10:15, Num. 6:20, 15:19). Offerings may seem like glory; they may appear like exaltation but a land does not stand by offerings. It stands by justice and just judgment.

Part of the point may also be that a king who receives or exacts offerings is acting like God. God calls for T’rumahs, but a king who calls for them or accepts them is acting like Yahweh. In other words, perhaps T’rumahs are only for Yahweh. Frequently maintaining justice is for the defense of the weak and the poor (e.g. Ex. 23:6, Dt. 10:18, 24:17, 27:19). Specifically, justice is contrasted with bribes and inability to see righteousness, and this is bound up with inheriting the land (Dt. 16:19). If justice is particularly for the protection of the poor, then “offerings/bribes” can describe the ways that the rich steal justice from the poor and the defenseless. Even if these “offerings” are not all bribes, the proverb could be pointing out that even virtues must be prioritized.

The description of “tearing down” the kingdom suggests martial imagery. The king is either attacking and throwing down his own land or allowing others within the kingdom to seriously compromise its stability.

Waltke points out that 29:5-6 both employ hunting imagery to describe different kinds of deceitfulness.

29:5: “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.”
This man is a “strong man” and a hunter and at first glance it is not clear whether he is catching the feet of his friend in the net or his own feet. He is literally “smooth/slippery” with his friend. He uses smooth words and flattery to lull the victim into a sense of false security. As a “strong man” he ought to be protecting the weak, but instead he is using his strength to exploit. This may be thematically related to the previous proverb with regard to justice for the poor.

Another related meaning of the word for “flatter/be smooth” is “to divide up/apportion” which suggests that this “strong man” is conquering and plundering his neighbor. This man apparently thinks that he is setting a net for his friend, but the following proverb makes it clear that he is actually setting a net for his own feet.
Rather than the usual word for feet/legs, literally the proverb says that the net is spread for his “footsteps,” suggesting even more hunting, stalking imagery. The deception is like a hunter moving through the forest incognito aiming to kill and plunder. But all the stealth will ultimately backfire.

29:6: “By transgression an evil man is snared, but the righteous sings and rejoices.”
Here the contrast is between an “evil man” and the “righteous.” The “righteous” is like the king who causes his land to stand up through “justice” in 29:4, and he rejoices like the father of a son who loves wisdom in 29:3 (cf. 29:2).

While the “transgression” is not specified, the result of being snared fits with 29:5 and suggests some kind of deception. His own action is the cause of his being snared. The word can also mean “bait” or “lure” which underlines what was probably an attractive pursuit at first.

In a positive sense, Moses was described by the Egyptians as a “snare” who was causing the downfall of Egypt. Likewise, those who worship idols in Israel are described as “snares” which will cause Israel to perish from the land (Ex. 23:33, 34:12, Dt. 7:16, Josh. 23:13). This connects back with the king who either establishes his land or tears it down. Various forms of idolatry are a sure way to tear down a nation.

The verb for “sings” means to shout out loud or even sing. It might suggest being rescued or barely avoiding various snares. The righteous do not fall into the traps all around them, and they rejoice in deliverance and protection. They are full of thankfulness and recognize the mercy that surrounds them. Righteousness is always a gift of grace.

29:7: “The righteous considers the cause of the poor, but the wicked does not understand such knowledge.”

We have suggested that protection of the poor and careful use of wealth and strength stands behind several of the previous proverbs, and this proverb seems to make that explicit. Here the righteous literally “know/learns the judgment of the poor.” This may mean studying the situation of the poor, but it is the mark of the righteous man and presumably the righteous man with means and ability and strength to do something about it. But the wicked man does not understand this knowledge. He doesn’t understand why this matters.

On the other hand this may also be a more general statement about authority and responsibility. Those in authority have the responsibility to know the weakest members of their kingdom, and when they act wisely this is righteousness. Whereas there are plenty of fools with good intentions who crush the poor with their economic policies and programs which amounts to wickedness.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Passover Warfare

Every time we gather at this table we are celebrating the great and glorious Passover of Jesus Christ. We lift up the blood and body of Christ, reminding God that we are covered in the blood of Christ. And as we do this, proclaiming our Lord’s death, the Angel of Death passes over us and does battle on our behalf. God is at war with all our enemies.

Therefore, this is our Exodus meal. And every week we prepare once again to enter the Promised Land, to take dominion, to follow God’s law, and to plunder the Egyptians. But we do not rule by might or by power. We rule in the power of the Spirit. And that does not mean that we do not rule. It means that we believe that the most powerful force in the history of the world is resurrection, and we will not settle for anything less.

In battles, great generals have sometimes made their troops wait until nearly the last minute before firing, making sure that the first volley gets the greatest effect. In the gospel we proclaim the death of Christ as the death of death. Therefore our General bids us lay our lives all the way down, to become servants and slaves of all. For the last shall be first. The least shall be greatest. He who gives his life up will find it. This takes great faith in our general. But we do not serve a King who has not gone before us. Our King has already gone ahead into this fight, laying His life down for us, so that we might be given the power and courage to do the same.

This is the power of the resurrection, the glory of Passover, and the authority of the Spirit of God who does battle on our behalf. Some come and rejoice.


Seventh Sunday in Trinity: Exodus 4:1-31

Opening Prayer: Almighty and gracious Lord, we humble ourselves before you now and ask that you would deal with us. We thank you that you do not deal with us only where we should have been, but you come and meet us where we are. Empower your word and remake us. And as we are humbled before your word, lift us up and exalt us and free us to serve You. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!

Who are you? Who are you to pray, to decide, to plan? Your identity is bound up with the God who sends you, the God who is with you (Mt. 28:18-20). And it is not humility to doubt this. True humility believes and obeys.

The Signs for the Elders
Both of the first two signs have to do with healing and making useful. The serpent is the same word for serpent in Genesis 3 suggesting that Moses will lead the people to reverse the dominion of the serpent (“dragon” in 7:9ff). Remember, that Pharaoh is a “seed of the serpent” at war with the “seed of the woman” who is being “fruitful and multiplying.” Notice also that both signs have to do with the hand. The hand of man is his tool for work, the most basic technology. The rod of course is an extension of a man’s hand, a tool for shepherding sheep. As we noted with the burning bush, these signs are probably also meant to picture something fundamental about Israel and her situation in Egypt. Under Joseph, Israel had exerted great influence for the blessing of Egypt. Israel, under Joseph’s leadership had been a “helping hand” and a “shepherd” for Egypt and even all the nations around them. But Israel has fallen from this high calling. Leprosy will always have strong associations with Egypt as a plague (Num. 14:3, 37, Lev. 13-14). The final sign shows how God is going to accomplish his work. Through Moses, not only is God going to tame the serpent-Pharaoh and heal the uncleanness of his people, but Yahweh will also do battle with the gods of Egypt. The Nile was the most important source of life in ancient Egypt and one of their principle gods. But God rules creation, and Moses will pour out the Nile on the ground and instead of being fruitful and giving life it will turn to blood and death. Remember, it has already been a source of death to the Hebrew baby boys. The Nile god has killed the sons of Israel. Idolatry is death.

Moses and Aaron
Moses is a little more than reluctant to take up God’s call on his life. This is somewhat understandable given how his leadership was taken 40 years ago (2:14), but Moses’ persistent reluctance is not excusable (4:14). He has gone from asking “why me?” (3:11) to “what is your name?” (3:13) to “what if they don’t believe me?” (4:1) to “I’m not a good public speaker” (4:10) and now finally “send someone else, please” (4:13). This passage could also be described as a battle of the “I’s.” The Hebrew first person pronoun for “I” is used repeatedly back and forth between Moses and God (3:6, 11, 12, 13, 4:10, 11, 12, 15, 23). While this is not particularly strange, it seems significant given the name God has given himself of “I AM” (3:14). Moses may have any number of excuses for being reluctant, but the fact is that God doesn’t care. God is the God of our fathers, the God who rules nature, the God who is with our words, and the God who is determined to accomplish his purposes. We are not sufficient of ourselves, but we are not by ourselves. “I AM” is with us and with our mouths (4:12, 15). Finally, God allows Moses to share the task with Aaron, but this concession is not a relenting of God’s purposes.

Proleptic Passover
After asking for Jethro’s blessing to leave, God speaks to Moses once more and makes even more explicit his interest in his people. Israel is his son, and he will take Pharaoh’s son if he does not let His son go to serve Him (4:22-23). This is to be a battle between fathers. Yahweh is jealous for the service of his son, and Pharaoh is effectively a kidnapper. Then, on the way into the land, Yahweh comes to kill Moses’s son (4:24). We know it is his son because it is the circumcision of his son that turns away God’s wrath (4:26). This is a somewhat mysterious event, but given the context we should be able see what God intends to teach Moses here. Evidently, Moses’ son had not been circumcised. Circumcision is the sign of God’s covenant promises. This display of blood reminded God of his promise to Abraham to be his God and make him into a nation (Gen. 15). Here, Zipporah circumcises her son and touches it to her son’s legs (4:15). Many translations do not get this right. The point is that Zipporah is displaying the blood of the circumcision to turn away the “angel of death.” She calls him a “bridegroom of blood” reminding us that the covenant is a marriage to God and His people. This is yet another preview of the Exodus in the life of Moses.

Conclusion & Application
Moses and Aaron call the elders of the people together. Aaron speaks and Moses performs the signs (4:30), and the response of the elders is worship (4:31). This is the driving motivation for bringing the Israelites out in the first place (3:18). Of course God knows (and Pharaoh knows) that the freedom to worship would turn into freedom in life. Worship drives culture and society. We’ve previously noted that the Israelites had fallen into idolatry in Egypt (Josh. 24:14). Liturgical idolatry is slavery and leads to a slave culture.

We are called to worship God faithfully and in faith; this is the single most important thing that we do. But this worship is not unrelated to the rest of our lives. Freedom here necessarily creates freedom out there. But freedom is never just doing whatever we want. Freedom is receiving the Word of God with faith and joy. Freedom is the ability to do what we were made for. Freedom is the opportunity to lay our lives down for others. If Moses had looked back in faith, he ought to have seen how God had been preparing him to obey. Just as He always does.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!


Daily Crosses

The Christian life is not an easy life. Jesus does call us to rest in Him, to take His burden which is lighter than any other. But Jesus calls us to follow Him, and in order to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and take up the cross. Now we have heard this many times. We say it frequently, but this must translate into real denial and real sacrifice or we are kidding ourselves. Of course everyone wants to be a hero. Maybe some of us would even dream of being a real live martyr. But there’s a million or so deaths that Jesus calls us to every day that no one really wants to submit to. Men would prefer not to take responsibility for their families and lovingly lead them. It’s easier to go home and collapse on the couch. Women would prefer not to respect their husbands. It’s easier to be critical and point out all the ways he could do better. Children would prefer not to obey their parents and honor them. It’s easier to slouch through the day, just getting by, flying under the radar, doing the bare minimum to stay out of trouble. We would prefer not to discipline and teach our children. It’s time consuming, it messes with our schedule and plans, and sometimes it doesn’t seem like it’s even working. We would prefer not to have to meet new people, invite our neighbors over for dinner, or invite an unbelieving coworker to church. It’s awkward, embarrassing, and could go badly. I’m just not up to it, we say. Those are not my gifts, we say. But the Christian life is not an easy life. Jesus did not call people to follow Him so that all their preferences are met. Following Jesus means denying self, denying what you want, denying what you may want very badly. And not only does it mean denial, putting down, giving up what you love, it then means embracing the cross. And the cross means obedience in faith, obedience and faith even to the point of death. And in only that sort of death is there hope of resurrection and glory.


Friday, July 09, 2010

Reformed Singles

Some friends are working on a new project called Reformed Singles, an online resource for singles in the Reformed community.


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Joseph the Dreamer

When Matthew's gospel opens with a Joseph who has dreams (1:20, 2:13, 2:19, 2:22), we cannot pretend that we have never heard of this sort of thing before. And when Matthew writes: "... an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt..." we ought to even wonder for a brief second exactly where we are in the Bible. Is this the end of Genesis?

Of course there are many other details that confirm exactly where Matthew wants us. We have a child-murdering Pharaoh in the character of Herod, and Matthew explicitly refers to the first Exodus story by quoting Hosea 11. Only God's Son is called out of Egypt in order to deliver Israel.

The geography is all reversed. Israel has become an Egypt, and the Israelite king has become a pharaoh. Instead of fleeing to Midian for safety, the holy family flees to Egypt for safety. And when John comes preaching and baptizing, he is inviting Israelites in the Promised Land to embark on a new Exodus, to cross the Jordan and enter the land again, in a new way.


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Like, Who's that Naked Guy?

It's no accident that there are four gospels. God intentionally gave us four records of the life of Jesus. More so, God gave us four records that are fairly similar (obviously), and they were canonized as the first four books of the New Testament. This means that the faithful, diligent reader must read through the same material four times.

This means that thinking through the literary and theological effects of four gospels seems a worthy pursuit. Assuming that the Bible is meant to be read straight through, we run into repetition in a few places in the Old Testament. Chronicles is a retelling of Kings, and there are portions of stories that are retold such as 2 Kings 18-20 and Isaiah 36-39 as well as songs (compare 2 Sam. 22 and Psalm 18). Deuteronomy recaps various portions of Exodus and Numbers and Leviticus. Judges overlaps with Joshua. And the instructions of the building of the tabernacle are repeated at the end of Exodus as those instructions are carried out. We might also point out the genealogies that repeat names and family lines in various places of Scripture.

But when a reader comes to the gospels there is something even more obvious and startling going on. The three synoptics with John's fourth gospel piling on top emphasize, underline, and echo with various stories, parables, sermons, teaching, miracles, and of course the passion narratives in particular. If there are various portions of Old Covenant Scriptures that repeat themselves, the gospels are way over the top.

What kind of readers/hearers does this kind of repetition create? What is usually called the "synoptic problem" with regards to sources and dissimilarities seems rather actually to be something of an intentional solution, part of the plan. As the Word has its way with God's people, there are a number of tracks that are meant to be played repeatedly. If God wanted us to have to plow through the same material four times every time we started the New Covenant Scriptures, we might ask 'why?'.

What does a fourfold repetition of very similar stories do to us? For example, the repetition makes minor characters closer to major characters. Mary, the mother of Jesus is important as the Virgin Mother of Jesus, but she really does not play much of an explicit role elsewhere in the New Testament, but her presence in the gospels gives her a four-fold standing in the story. By the time we get to John, and she is asking Jesus to help with the wine-shortage problem at the wedding in Cana, we feel like we really know this woman a bit more than when we began in Matthew's gospel. A relatively minor character (in terms of time on stage) grows and expands and matures over the course of four gospels.

But this works not only by repetition, but also by absence. Because of the similarities, there is a constant invitation to compare the gospels, and therefore especially the first three. And then not only do the similarities stand out, but so do the dissimilarities. Like, who's that naked guy running in the garden after Jesus is arrested in Mark's gospel? A seemingly tiny detail becomes huge, startling, and seemingly important. We might not remember a random event like that in Judges as well as we ought to if we're regularly reading straight through the four gospels.

What else does having four gospels do to readers? What kind people does a fourfold repetition of the central story of our faith create?


Monday, July 05, 2010

The Sign is a Promise

“And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (3:12).
We noted earlier that the striking thing about this statement is that the sign is a promise. And this almost seems like cheating. Of course later, God will give Moses signs for Pharaoh and Israel, but this sign is for Moses so that he knows that God has sent him. This requires Moses to simply believe the word of God and obey. When Moses has any doubt in Egypt, he must simply remember and believe the promise of God. It is common to refer to the sacraments as signs, and sometimes this is explained poorly, but it can be helpful in this respect. Sometimes signs are extraordinary and miraculous: rainbows, healing, etc. But fundamentally signs are promises of what God is doing and what God promises He will do. This meal in one sense is very ordinary. We have bread and wine, some of the most basic sorts of food in the world made from grain and grapes. But the sign is in the promises of God. God promises that our sins are forgiven, that the death of Jesus reconciled us to Himself and one another, that He is feeding us with His life through this meal, that this forgiveness and life are for the world, and that Jesus will reign until His Kingdom fills the earth. And we have been called to believe all of this and to live in a way that is consistent with that belief. And this is the point: Moses saw a burning bush at the foot of a mountain, and the sign that Moses had been commissioned to go to Egypt was a promise that he would return and worship there. But we have something even better than this. Every week we gather here at this table and then God sends us out into the world. And this shall be the sign that you have been sent by the Lord into the world: you will return and serve God here on this mountain. And we do. Week after week, we return and we worship the Lord here at this mountain and then He sends us out again. He sends us to our jobs, our families, our neighborhoods, our enemies to live and proclaim the freedom and forgiveness found in Christ. And if we should have any doubt during the week, we are called to remember and believe the promise of God. We will return and serve God on this mountain. So come and worship.


Sixth Sunday in Trinity: Exodus III

Opening Prayer: Our Father, we thank you that you have called us each by name. And that you have placed Your name upon us, and that when we gather here in Your name, You speak to us. And so we ask that you would give us ears to hear. Help us to repent of thinking we already know what you’re going to say. And give us grace to believe and obey, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!

We said last week that God calls us to know Him so that we might walk and talk with Him as sons. But too frequently we are reluctant to take up this calling. How do we know what God wants? Who are we to think that we know what’s best? But Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 that God chooses the weak things of this world to undo the strong and the foolish things of this world to confound the wise.

The Burning Bush
In Acts 7 we are told by Stephen that Moses was 40 years old when he fled from Egypt, and that he was in Midian for 40 years before returning to Egypt (Acts 7:23, 30). As he is leading the flocks by Horeb (Mt. Sinai), he sees the Angel of Yahweh in a flame of fire in the midst of a bush (3:1-2). The wonder according to the text is that this bush is not being consumed by the fire. This is not merely a bazaar gimmick to get Moses off the path so that God can get his attention (although it works!) (3:3-4). It is also a vision of sorts meant to image what God is going to speak to Moses about. The bush is Israel in the crucible of Egypt, burned but not consumed (cf. Dt. 4:20). The place where Moses is standing is “holy ground” (3:5). The point of course is God’s presence, but more so, this is a reversal of the curse of the ground (Gen. 3:17). This same reality was later pictured in the Tabernacle and Temple where great attention is paid to the rest of the priests’ uniform, suggesting that the priests were barefoot. But this points forward to the full and final restoration of creation and the reversal of the curse of sin and death.

The Promise of God
God identifies Himself as the covenant God of Israel, the God of Moses’ father (3:6). God has heard the cries of his people in Egypt (3:7), and He intends not only to deliver them out of bondage but to also bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey (3:8). This is how God always works: His deliverance is always out of death, slavery, cursing into life, freedom, and blessing. The language of a land “flowing” with milk and honey would have reminded Israel of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:10-14). But this is an Eden glorified. This is also the way God always works; we are called to a life of continual conversion, continual repentance. Nor is He content with the status quo or merely what was good back then. He always strives for better. God hears the cries of his people, but it should be pointed out that this is exactly what God had promised 400 years ago to Abraham (3:8-9, cf. Gen. 15:13-14ff). God calls Moses to go to Pharaoh to bring His people out of Egypt, but when Moses questions this plan, God gives Moses a sign, the promise that he will return and “serve God on this mountain” (3:10-12). The sign is a promise. This is a reminder that we are never called to obedience apart from faith.

The Name of God
Moses asks God what name he should give to the people if they ask who has sent him (3:13). And God says, “I AM WHO I AM.” He goes on to command Moses to also tell them that “the LORD God of your fathers… has sent me to you” (3:14-15). The all-caps LORD in our Bibles is the name “Yahweh” which is something like the third person form of “I AM,” something like “HE IS.” But the name is tied to the fathers also: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are referenced three times in this passage (3:6, 15, 16). This is nearly God’s name. His name is not merely a title or position. His name is what he has done. His trustworthiness is bound up in who He has been God to. God’s name is bound up with the names of particular individual people. God’s name is bound up with us. This is how we know that God can be trusted: he has staked his reputation on us (cf. Mt. 28:19).

Conclusions & Application
The passage closes with God’s promise that Moses will be accepted by his brethren, but will be rejected by the king of Egypt (3:16-18). They are to go and ask permission to sacrifice to Yahweh, three days’ journey into the wilderness (presumably at Horeb/Sinai), and yet God promises that the king will not allow them to until after God has done “all the wonders” that He will do (3:19-20). Then they will go out with articles of gold and silver and clothing, plundered notice, by women (3:21-22).

We have to realize that Egypt was the greatest civilization the world over at this time. Not only was it a phenomenal feat to attempt the freedom of this enslaved people, it was seemingly a great folly to think that Egypt would be plundered by women. God is not worried about armies, popularity, science, or foolish laws made by men. He does not care about the polls. God has determined that the nations of this world are to be the inheritance of Jesus Christ. Just as God set Jeremiah over the nations of the world, he has set Christ, the great Jeremiah over this world (cf. Jer. 1:10).

So who are you? The answer to Moses’ question (3:11) was bound up with who was with him (3:12). You are God’s people, and therefore you may not doubt or worry about your lives or the state of this world. God threw down the greatest civilization on earth at the time through the feeble efforts of an old man with a walking-stick. Likewise, simple acts of obedience may look like foolishness. Husbands leading their families and loving their wives; wives submitting to their own husbands and rejoicing in their children; children obeying their parents and despising the treasures of this world; eating meals with gladness, serving the poor, loving our neighbors, blessing our enemies – all for the love of Christ: All of these look like acts of weakness and folly. But what are we doing? Toppling kingdoms and freeing slaves.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Almighty God, God of our Fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we declare that you are the Creator and Ruler of All. No one can stop your hand; no kingdom or nation is invincible to your will and rule. We know and believe that you have given this world to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that he will rule until every enemy submits, until all the earth is filled with your glory. Give us grace to live in this grace. Through Jesus our Lord and Master, who taught us to pray, singing…


Swallowing Camels, Straining Gnats

In Matthew, Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Here Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees not for doing sinful things, but for doing righteous things at the expense of other righteous things. In other words, Jesus does not condemn them for tithing; He condemns them for tithing in such a way as to neglect more important things. He condemns them not for vices but for swinging their virtues around and turning them into vices. He pronounces woe upon them for putting extra hours in at work at the expense of their children. He condemns them for doing family devotions in a way that teaches their children to hate family devotions. He rebukes husbands for being harsh with their wives and insisting they were only joking or only explaining their point of view. He’s talking about perfectionist parents who in the name of high standards constantly recall to the failures and struggles of their children to others and one another and do not notice the small people at their feet listening in their own ways, and children grow up only hearing the tones of disappointment or frustration. Jesus is talking about people who cross their theological t’s and dot their philosophical i’s in such a way as to drive friends and family away.

But how can we repent of our virtues? How can we know if we are tithing mint like hypocrites? Well, what’s the flavor flowing out of your house? Is it sarcastic, critical, complaining, bitter? Or is it peace and joy? Is it honest, thankful laughter or is it nervous and full of sideways glances?

What we need is wisdom to see ourselves accurately, and James says that if we lack wisdom, we need to ask God for it. But we must ask in faith, not doubting. But the warning is that if we ask while doubting that God will give us what we ask for, we will end up worse off than when we began. We will end up driven and tossed by the wind, unstable and double minded, swallowing camels while straining out gnats.


Saturday, July 03, 2010

Proverbs 28:28-29:2

Proverbs 28:28

“When the wicked arise, men hid themselves; but when they perish, the righteous increase.”

This connects back with 28:12 which had a similar point: “When the righteous rejoice, there is great glory; but when the wicked arise, men hide themselves.” In both places the word translated “men” is literally ‘Adam’. And while there is a different word used to describe Adam hiding himself (Gen. 3:7), the parallel is there, and the same word is used when Cain describes his exile (Gen. 4:14).

The second half of the proverb continues some of the allusions: first, the word for “when they perish” has all three letters in the word ‘Adam’ and sounds and looks similar. But when the wicked perish, the righteous “increase” or “multiply,” the same word used in Genesis for men and animals are supposed to do under the blessing of God (Gen. 1:22, 28).

Peter Leithart points out that this suggests that the story of the Fall is not merely the story of Adam’s failure and shame, but it suggests that Adam hides because Sin and Death have begun to rule. They have listened to the voice of Satan and given him authority, and this drives them into hiding. In some ways, human history continues in this state until Jesus comes to be lifted up so that these wicked rulers may be cast down and the righteous may be revealed and come out of hiding. So that they might multiply and fill the earth.

This proverb may be a simple description of fact: when the Nazis are in power, the Jews hide. But part of the conclusion of this proverb also implies that the way to “multiplying” in obedience and righteousness is through making sure that the wicked die/perish.


“He who is often rebuked and hardens his neck will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”

This echoes 28:14: “Happy is the man who is always reverent, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.”

The archetype of “hardness” is Pharaoh who hardens himself to the correction and rebuke of Yahweh (Ex. 7:3, 13:15). He was suddenly destroyed in the sea and that without remedy. But this specific phrase “hard neck” is what later describes the people of Israel that God brought out of Egypt (Ex. 32:9, 33:2, 33:5, 34:9), the generation that died in the wilderness for their hard hearts and unbelief (Ps. 95:8, Heb. 3:7ff). God likewise destroyed generations of Israel in the time of the judges who persisted in their hardness. (Judg. 2:19).

The point of the proverbs is that at some point correction and rebuke are no longer valuable. There is no hope for certain kinds of fools (cf. 6:15). Perhaps this really only at death where there is no more hope of remedy, but certainly humanly speaking there are points at which people seem truly beyond remedy because of the depth of sin and deception. Clearly this is a warning about the nature of refusing to listen to correction. Disregarding instruction and correction once can seem harmless enough, but the implication is that this kind of “hardness” is hard to back out of. The phrase “no cure/remedy” suggests that “hardness of the neck” is like a cancer, a disease that if allowed to grow is ultimately fatal (cf. 2 Chron. 21:18). By contrast the tongue of the wise brings healing (Prov. 12:18).

This suggests that while Israel was offered the wisdom/healing of God through the law and the covenant, they ultimately clung to the hardness disease of Pharaoh and were destroyed in the wilderness. And the same warning applies to Christians who have been enlightened and tasted the heavenly gifts.


“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, the people groan.”

This proverb is like 28:12 and 28:28. The word for “authority” is the same word used for “multiply” in 28:28. Here instead of hiding, the people “groan” when the wicked rule. Again, there seems to be an allusion to the Exodus story where the same word is used to describe Israel’s groaning because of their slavery (Ex. 2:23). Interestingly, this is the word used to describe the groaning that God heard. When they groaned and cried, it came up to God.

The proverb contrasts the responses of “the people” rejoicing and groaning, and the difference is between the wicked ruling and the righteous multiplying. The implication is that authority and numbers are related. Sometimes numbers precede authority and sometimes authority precede numbers, but they frequently go together and this is consistent with God’s original commissioning of Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:27).
There is also an implied difference between the ruling of the wicked and the righteous based on the responses of the people. The people rejoice because the righteous use their authority to serve and bless while the wicked use their authority to crush and grab. Again, the wicked rule like Pharaohs fearful of competition and threat, while the righteous rule like Christ, leading through self sacrifice.
We might also use this proverb to suggest a kind of litmus test for all sorts of communities. Are the people “rejoicing” or “groaning”? In your family, school, business, church, nation? Of course sometimes people groan out of laziness and hardness of heart, but a wise ruler/authority knows when he is generally heading in the right direction because there is the right tone among the people, the right kind of joy.