Friday, February 26, 2021

February 26 - Exodus 40, Hebrews 13

 A big shout out to Brother John Raines, who is helping me out by writing today's devotional (and yesterday's too, if you missed it). Thank you!

Big Idea: God called Israel out of Egypt to worship Him, and His glory came down from Heaven so we could.

Key Verse: Exodus 40:34

As we conclude the book of Exodus with today’s devotional, I am reminded of the beginning of the exodus journey when Moses approached the pharaoh requesting the people be allowed to journey to worship God. We know that ultimately God’s intention was to bring His people out so that they could worship freely, but what began as a promise some 400 years earlier to Israel, now ignites in a request to worship. Pharaoh would not allow the people to worship God as He had called them to worship, hence God would facilitate Israel’s ability to worship.

The passage we find ourselves reading today centers around setting up the tabernacle for which Moses had received the instructions for its construction. Notice our key verse, “Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” God’s glory came down to represent His presence with the people and their call to worship.

We, as modern-day followers of Christ, are not unlike the people of Israel in that we are also called to worship, although at the time they (Israel) were not where God intended for them. I am reminded of the Jim Reeves song, “This World Is Not My Home” where the first stanza states, “This world is not my home I’m just passing through.” While this world may not be our home, we too are called to worship. That is why in John 1, we see where God sent His Son to be the light of the world. We too are called out of "Egypt", figurative language representing sin, so that we can worship.

As we were reminded in yesterday’s devotion, the people of Israel became accustomed to God’s presence and provision and became complacent. We too often become accustomed to God’s presence and provision and become complacent, not remembering the sacrifice that was made through Christ so that we could experience the Glory of God. So always remember the access to God’s Glory that Christ has provided us and your call to worship.

Discussion Idea: What do you think Israel’s reaction to the Glory of God filling the tabernacle was? Are you awe-inspired with your opportunity to worship? What are some things we allow to get in the way of our worship?

Prayer Focus: Lord, help me to be mindful of the sacrifice made so that I can experience Your Glory. Help me to make my worship of You a priority in my life.


Thursday, February 25, 2021

February 25 - Exodus 33, Hebrews 12

A big shout out to Brother John Raines, who is writing the devotional for today and tomorrow to help me in a particularly busy time.

Key Verse: Exodus 33:14

Big Idea: God leads us out where He calls us to go.

I do not know about you, but as I read Exodus 33 as our text for today, I am both remorseful and joyful at what God has stated regarding the children of Israel. In the beginning of this chapter, we can see God’s frustration with Israel and His concern that if He goes amongst the people the He may consume them in the way due to their continued lack of trust and hardheadedness. But after the people show repentance, God says in our key verse, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” As our family has read through the devotionals about the exodus of Israel, we have often noted how the people so quickly forget about the presence of God (pillar of cloud and fire) and His provision (miraculous manna and water from the rock). However, we cannot be too quick to cast blame.

You see, we too are often guilty of the same sin that Israel was guilty of, complacency, and in some cases absolute apathy. God also provides for us, comforts us, and protects us, but it takes little for us to become blind to God’s presence. The thing is, God still desires to have the same role in our life as He desired for the lives of Israel. The Creator of the universe desires a relationship with us as our leader and provider, and for us simply to follow. The implication in the key verse is that He will lead us where He calls us to go, just as he promised to go before the people into the promised land to drive out the inhabitants before them. All Israel had to do, was, follow God and GO.

Now while we may look at Israel and the exodus from an abstract point of view, the lesson for today’s text is still applicable. Jesus made a similar statement in John 16:7 when he told His followers that even though He may depart physically, He would send the Comforter (Holy Spirit) to minister to them, and us. The role of the Holy Spirit is key in the life of a believer if the believer will simply follow. But we, like Israel, are often too blinded and deafened by our sin (and hardheadedness) to recognize the presence of the Spirit to lead us. Maybe we too need to repent of the sin in our life so that we may fully enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit, so that God may lead us where He calls us to go, and that we will follow God and GO.

Discussion Idea: What are some reasons we find it difficult to follow where God leads? What are some things (sin) in your life that may be hindering your ability to see and hear God’s leadership in your life?

Prayer focus: Lord, forgive me of the sin (be specific) in my life that hinders me from your presence. Help me to see and hear Your leadership in my life, and to follow where You lead.

 



Key Verse:
Hebrews 12:2

Big Idea: Our faith’s trailblazer and completer is the Son of God.

Many advances are started by one person and finished by another. Much of what we know about planetary motion was discovered by Johannes Kepler, but he built on years of observations by his mentor, Tycho Brahe. Edward Jenner invented vaccines when he discovered that infecting someone with cowpox would keep them from getting smallpox, but Jonas Salk changed the world by applying the principles to polio (and now COVID-19). Even in our families, we often see things unfulfilled and picked up by others. We might read the Hall of Faith in the last chapter and think that Christianity is like that: Moses had some, David added a little more, the prophets added to that, and Jesus finished it off. But today’s verse reminds us that this is not the case: Jesus is the author and the finisher of faith - the beginning and the end.

This is what gives chapter 12’s call to endurance its bite. We have been given the perfect example of where to go and how to get there. Jesus came to the beginning of the path when He was born in Bethlehem and followed it all the way through the cross to return to Heaven again. Christ’s portrait is not a rosy one. It involves pain, rejection, and separation. If we stray from the path set before us, God disciplines us to bring us back in line, but even when we are faithful, it can be grueling. 

But we do not do it because it is easy. We should hold fast to our faith, no matter the cost, for at least two reasons. First, the trail has already been blazed by the Son of God. There is no uncertainty about our life because He has already cleared the way. The pits we could not cross and the mountains we could not climb have been tamed by the One who conquered sin and death. Second, the path leads straight into the presence of our Heavenly Father. What better destination? And, although we will not ever make it to Him in this mortal body, we do grow closer to Him and stand more in His light every day. From A to Z, it is all of grace. Jesus has showed us the path, and His presence empowers us to take it.

Discussion Idea: If Jesus were just a perfect human, we could admire the life He lived. How does the fact that He was also God allow us to follow His footsteps?

Prayer Focus: Is there some area in your life that you have given up and decided that some act of obedience is unattainable? Pray for forgiveness and confidence in the fact that Jesus has taken the path before us.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

February 24 - Exodus 32, Hebrews 11

- If you are normally just reading the OT section, I would encourage you to make time to do both chapters today. They fit together very well. -


Key verse: Exodus 32:4

Big verse: It took a night to take Israel out of Egypt, but forty years to take Egypt out of Israel.

Today's text is one of Israel's more famous failures. While Moses was still on Mount Sinai, the Israelites began to grow impatient. They had not seen their leader for weeks, and although God had brought them out of Egypt, they wanted someone they could see and touch. The basic human impulse to idolatry which we first met back in Genesis 3 is in full force here, we trade the eternal and worthy for the temporary and worthless (2 Corinthians 4:18). They went to Aaron, Moses' brother and the one who had been his spokesman because Moses refused to speak to Pharaoh himself. Aaron took their gold and made a golden calf, and said something very interesting: "These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." "Gods" is the Hebrew word elohim, which can mean either "gods" or "God" (when the plural implies the Trinity). But the ambiguity is removed in the next section, when Aaron built an altar and said "Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD." He built a golden calf, and then declared that they would worship the LORD! 

Aaron and the Israelites did not think of themselves as abandoning God. They were just choosing to use this golden calf to worship Him. Theologians call this syncretism, you have probably heard me call it "God-and." They wanted to worship God and the golden calf, like we might want to serve God and money, God and popularity, or God and our own impulses. We want to have God and our sin too, until we blend the two and do not know where one ends and the other begins. God's reaction was swift: He announced that He would destroy the nation, and raise up a new one from Moses alone. But Moses prayed on behalf of the Israelites, asking God to show them mercy for the sake of His glory. 

This is a challenging passage for us. Did Moses really need to talk God out of destroying the Israelites? Of course, God knew what Moses was going to pray before he prayed it, indeed, before the world was made! Rather, God was demonstrating that He shows mercy when there is a mediator, making Moses a picture of Jesus. He will do the same thing when we get to Job (although that took place before Exodus), and God tells Job's friends that He will forgive them if Job prays for them. So Moses prays, and God commits to leading them into the promised land. Yet, there was still wrath. Moses ground the calf up and made the idolators drink it (this God they had worshipped would soon be their waste, see also Isaiah 44:9-20). The Levites took up arms and killed three thousand of the idolaters, and God sent a plague. But the nation as a whole was spared. 

God had taken the Israelites out of Egypt in a moment, but the long habits of idolatry would take much longer to extinguish. It would not be a day or a week, but as we will see in the coming days 40 long years. The same thing is true of us. Because Jesus is our mediator, we are saved in a moment, but it takes a lifetime of obedience to become the men and women God has called us to be.

Discussion idea: What are some ways you are tempted to worship "God-and"? Why is worship of the tangible so tempting?

Prayer focus: Lord, pull the world out of my heart, as you have redeemed me from the world. Teach me to love what you love, hate what you hate, and find my delight in You. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

February 23 - Exodus 20, Hebrews 10

 Key Verse: Exodus 20:2

Big Idea: God called His people out for a relationship, and then gave them the Law.

What comes first - rules or relationships? In our human relationships, it often seems that rules come first: if we meet the standards, then someone will care about us. But God's system is different. By the time we get to Exodus 20, the ten commandments, God has already rescued His people from Egypt, already provided them food and water in the wilderness, and already called them His children. He did not hear their cry under their Egyptian taskmasters and say, "If you will keep these ten rules, then I will rescue you." Rather, He rescued them first, entered into a love-relationship with them, and then gave them the rules He had designed them to live by. 

The point is explicit in the first verses of Exodus 20, immediately before the ten commandments are given: "And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." I am your God already and I have already freed you from slavery in Egypt! They were not saved from Egypt by their works, but by their faith revealed when they put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. Their works were acts of gratitude, living out the responsibilities as the special people which God had freely made them. 

In Ephesians 2, Paul makes the same point about us. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." We are not saved by works; our salvation always comes first. We are saved to work. Like the Israelites before us, God frees us from slavery when He hears our cry and then teaches us how to live. In our case, it is even more necessary than it was for the Israelites because our slave master is sin itself. God could not offer to free us from our slave-master, if only we first free ourselves! No, God sets us free and then teaches us how to live as His free people.

Discussion idea: How should "relationship as the foundation for rules" play out in a marriage or between a parent and their children? 

Prayer focus: Praise God for His free gift of salvation, and ask Him to touch your heart to be eager to respond in an obedient life.

Monday, February 22, 2021

February 22 - Exodus 17, Hebrews 9

Key verse: Exodus 17:6

Big idea: God brought water out of the rock. 

We have been tracing the journey of the Israelites for some time now, but let me remind you of a few key points. Israel and his sons were starving to death from a famine in the land of Canaan, and God provided them food through the sin of his sons, who had sold Joseph into slavery, allowing God to position him as the vice-regent of Egypt. As God has promised to Abraham decades earlier, the Israelites entered Egypt for a period of 400 years, until it was time for them to come out. God blessed the nation, and they multiplied until their sheer numbers frightened their Egyptian masters and tried to exterminate them by killing all of the baby boys. By faith, Moses' mother placed Moses in an ark of bulrushes and placed him in the Nile River. The Egyptians worshipped the Nile, and so in a sense one of their chief gods carried the man who would overwhelm their army into the arms of Pharaoh's daughter, saving his life. Moses spent 40 years as the son of Pharaoh's daughter, until he gave it all up to throw in his lot with God's people (Hebrews 11:24-25). But he tried to do it in his own way and his own time, when the time was not yet right. Exposed for killing an Egyptian soldier who was beating a Hebrew, Moses was forced to run away, where he married the daughter of a shepherd and spent the next 40 years of his education in a much more hands-on course of study. God called him from out of a burning bush, and when Moses was afraid to speak, God used his brother Aaron as Moses' mouthpiece, to go to Pharaoh and demand that the people be released. Pharaoh's hard heart made him ask who the Lord was, that He should be obeyed. With ten plagues, showing dominance over all the gods of Egypt and culminating in the death of every firstborn son (the Passover), God brought His people out. 

He led them to the Red Sea and made a way for them to be cared for, then fed them manna in the wilderness - supernatural bread which always came in exactly the quantity they needed exactly when they needed it. The nation had gone into Egypt because of hunger, and God had provided them food indirectly through the Pharaoh of that time. Now, they have left Egypt, and God cut out the middle man: He provided them food directly from Heaven. But in our chapter today, the God who brought them through the water on dry land now needed to bring the people in the dry land water. They grumbled and complained once again, as if the manna was not still stuck between their teeth and the cloud symbolizing God's presence were not before them in a pillar of guidance.  God had Moses strike a rock, which became a well that provided water for them, following them as they traveled. 

We have already considered 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, which compares the Christian life to the saga of the Israelites. They were set apart by the water, like we are set apart by baptism. Today shows us that they ate what Paul calls the same "spiritual" food and drink: manna and the water from the rock. This is not spiritual in the sense of immaterial, but spiritual in the sense that it was provided by the spirit. This corresponds to us too, who eat of Christ's body and drink his blood symbolically in the Lord's Supper. It was "the same" because it showed their community with one another and their dependence on God, like the Lord's Supper is the privilege of the members of a local church. The rock they drank from represented Christ, and followed them providing them what they need wherever they go. When Moses struck the rock, water came out. When the soldiers struck Jesus, water and blood flowed from His side. Both provided the most basic sustenance for God's people, satisfying our thirst.

Discussion idea: How do we, like the Israelites, "judge our circumstances by our stomachs" and grumble like the Israelites did? How does God provide sustenance that goes beyond our physical comfort?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me thirst for You as a deer pants for the water. Help me to see that you are as essential for my life as water was for the Israelites in the hot desert. 


Friday, February 19, 2021

February 19 - Exodus 16, Hebrews 8

 Key verse: Exodus 16:21

Big idea: God sends out what we need, when we need it.

More than 80% of New Years' Resolutions are dropped by Valentine's Day. If one of yours was to read the Bible more, congratulations! The fact that you are here puts you in the final fifth. It is a little somber to think that our best intentions fall to pieces in just a month and a half. But it could be worse. Can you imagine being rescued with a set of ten miraculous plagues, walking through the sea on dry ground, seeing the most powerful military in the world being crushed behind you, and a month and a half later forgetting about it all and thinking God had just abandoned you? That is where we find the Israelites in Exodus 16. They grumble that, in Egypt, they may have been slaves but at least they had full bellies. 

But God fed them with a miraculous little bread called manna (which just means "What is it?"). Manna was small like the seed of the coriander plant (that's British for cilantro), white like a pearl (Numbers 11:7, we cannot be completely sure what bdellium means), and sweet like pastries sweetened with honey. I like to imagine them as little tiny vanilla wafers on top of some of Mrs. Milam's banana pudding, but some Hebrew scholars might disagree. 

There was a few interesting things about manna. First, there was enough for everyone everyday. Millions were fed in a land where hundreds could not survive off the land today. Second, if it was stockpiled, it spoiled in a single night. It needed to be collected fresh, morning by morning. Third, it did not come on the Sabbath, and the only day where extra could be stored was Friday, the day of preparation for the day of rest. Every day they needed faith that God would provide the next day's meal. There were no banks or account cushions, just continual reliance on God. That is tough. It is convicting for me to write about! We always want to have some sense of security, an assurance that we have enough in place to get by if things get bad. But if we have a loving God looking out for us, there is no reason to live with that mindset. This day He gives us our daily bread. Not enough for a retirement, a year, or even a week. Just today. But tomorrow morning, there will be more. 

The hymn "Great is Thy Faithfulness" takes its chorus from our key verse: "Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed thy hand hath provided; Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me." Each day, God is faithful to give us what we need. If He does not leave us with great surpluses, maybe He is teaching us to trust Him and not our account balance. He gives us the strength and resources to do His will today. Could we really need anything more? 

Discussion idea: Beyond the obvious example of food, what are some steady ways God provides in your life? How are you tempted to try and stockpile to prevent the need to trust?

Prayer focus: Thank God for the steady faithful provision in your life. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

February 18 - Exodus 15, Hebrews 7

 Key verse: Exodus 15:2

Big idea: The power of God is displayed when He brings His people out.

After God does something big - like rescue His people from Egypt - how do we respond? We sing! It is one of our most basic impulses. Paul describes it as one of the consequences of being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-19). Singing is so integral to Christian worship that some of our songs talk about singing. The great hymnist of the 19th century, Fanny Crosby, wrote: "I think of my blessed Redeemer, I think of Him all the day long; I sing, for I cannot be silent; His love is the theme of my song." Robert Lowry wrote: "What tho' my joys and comforts die? The Lord my Saviour liveth; What tho' the darkness gather round? Songs in the night He giveth. No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that refuge clinging; Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?" In the modern era, Chris Tomlin led us in, "How great is our God? Sing with me." 

Exodus 15 is commonly called the song of Moses, but 15:1 actually tells us that all of the people of Israel sang with him. He led them in corporate worship, and hundreds of thousands of voices lifted up together to praise God for what He had done. God had revealed himself as a hero, the strength, song, and salvation of His people. The language is highly stylized, alluding to the Egyptians being swallowed in the sea as the Earth swallowing them up (Exodus 15:12) like the grave itself. The defeat of the Canaanites is foreshadowed as they heard about His deliverance of His purchased people (Exodus 15:13-16) and they sang about His holy mountain, where they had not yet been (Exodus 15:17-18). God's power was revealed in bringing His people out, in the same way that it would be again and again. God's character and love are rarely revealed as clearly as they are in His acts of deliverance. 

Just three days after rejoicing, the people began to mourn from their thirst (Exodus 15:22-24). They quit singing and started complaining when they lost sight of the blessings God had provided and turned instead to the struggles of their own situation. If we look at what He has done, and realize what it tells us about His heart, we can't help but sing.

Discussion idea: Why is singing such a powerful thing for us? How is corporate singing, like all of Israel singing together, especially powerful?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to see Your power and love revealed in Your rescue. Teach me to sing of Your mercy and keep Your praise always on my lips.


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

February 17 - Exodus 14, Hebrews 6

Key verse: Exodus 14:22

Big idea: God parted the waters to bring His people out.

The Passover is the beginning of Israel's life as a nation. God marked them out by the blood of the Lamb, bringing His mercy in response to their faith. They had been freed from slavery and been recreated from the pieces of their old life into something new; something holy. Their story serves as the prototype for ours: when we place our faith in the blood of the Lamb, God passes over us in judgment and makes us into His children. It is not just a metaphor. The Passover actually happened and created the nation that God used to bring the Messiah and His word into the world, so that their rescue is intimately connected with our own. But the parallels are impossible to miss. We might have expected Jesus to die on the Day of Atonement, where the Israelites fasted and confessed their sins. Instead, we find out that He died on Passover, going even further back into an event that deals with exodus, creation, and freedom. 

After Passover night, the Israelites had a problem: they were still in Egypt. They were God's people! They were free! They had been saved! But they were still in the land where they had been enslaved and no one looking from the outside would know what had happened. So God brought them out of the land, through the Red Sea. There was a clear visual distinction between the Israelites and the Egyptians when the Israelites were immersed in the water and came out on the other side. Like the Passover corresponds to salvation, passing through the Red Sea corresponds to baptism. This is not something I made up. Look at 1 Corinthians 10:1-2: "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." The Israelites were baptized into the Holy Spirit's presence in the cloud that led them and baptized in the waters of the Red Sea. God always sets His people apart spiritually first, in response to faith. Then, He publicly sets us apart because of that internal reality. He brings us out of our old way of living and habits to bring us into a life that will point people to Him.

Discussion idea: What other major events in the Bible involve large bodies of water? How do those relate to these themes? Consider Genesis 1, Genesis 6-8, Joshua 3, and Revelation 21, among others.

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to represent You with my life. Baptism publicly identifies us with you and serves as the qualification to be part of your local church; help me to live with my church in a way that points people to You.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

February 16 - Exodus 12, Hebrews 5

 Key verse: Exodus 12:23

Big idea: God went out before His justice, to rescue those under the blood.

Hey church family! What a cold week. We had some things that needed to be handled today which kept me from getting to the devotional when I had hoped. I am just including a basic seed, which I hope you can combine with the Scripture and your own study in your family worship today.

The Passover is described in two different ways in the book of Exodus. In one sense, God describes Himself going through Egypt, bringing judgment on each house, but passing over the houses that are marked with the blood of a lamb, demonstrating their faith in Him. But in another, God is described as passing over a house, like the cloud passes over the sun, blocking "the destroyer" from harming the people within. These two different descriptions are pictures of the same event: God is both destroyer and redeemer. Like a shield takes the blows of the enemy to defend the person behind, God becomes our shield, and the wrath we are due for our sin is absorbed by Jesus. When we place our faith in the blood of Jesus, God passes over judging us (in the first sense) because Jesus passes over us in the second, taking the blow which should have been ours.

Monday, February 15, 2021

February 15 - Exodus 11, Hebrews 4

 Key verse: Exodus 11:6

Big idea: Because Israel cried out for mercy, Egypt cried out in agony.

Some doctrines are hard., and there is probably none harder than the doctrine of divine judgment. We know that God is love and that His mercy is everlasting. All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved and the Lord is not willing that any should perish. But some do perish, and Jesus could say unflinchingly that it would be better for some of them to have never been born than to face the fate they have earned (Matthew 26:24, see also Matthew 18:6). Further, God calls us to turn the other cheek and be merciful to those who sin against us. How does that reconcile with the idea of hellfire and damnation? 

That is too complicated of a question for these few hundred words, but part of the answer is that they are not in contradiction, but different sides of the same coin. God's love of His people is manifested by His hatred of those things that hurt them. His love is given context by the demands of His holiness, and the cost which He paid to bring us into harmony with Him. Because God loved Israel He hated the oppression that included centuries of slavery and the drowning of countless baby boys. He responded to Israel's cry for help with a judgment on Egypt that made them cry out in pain. We can turn the other cheek and always show mercy because God will judge. Romans 12:19 puts it this way: "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." We can refrain from personal vengeance because we can trust that ultimately, the wicked either repent or are judged, and only God is qualified to tell the difference. 

So, at the end of God's assault on the false gods of Egypt, He struck at the chief idol: mankind. Our idol worship is ultimately self-worship and their deification of Pharaoh was a clear example of what all people throughout history have been doing. The nation was judged for its enslavement and mistreatment of the Israelites, from those directly involved (like Pharaoh) down to those who were not ("the maidservant that is behind the mill") and even the animals. All of the Israelites were freed unharmed, without so much as a dog growling at them. The two cries were carried out so that it would be clear that God makes a distinction between the Israelites and the Egyptians: between those who have faith and those who do not. We can ignore the cries of those we sin against, and later cry out at our judgment. Or we can recognize our sin now, and cry out for mercy. 

 
Discussion idea: Is the idea of Hell harder or easier for you to think through than physical judgments like the tenth plague or the flood? Why?

Prayer focus: God, help me to cry out to you for mercy when I sin, and tune my ears to the cries of the hurting and the oppressed.

Friday, February 12, 2021

February 12 - Exodus 8, Hebrews 3

 Key verse: Exodus 8:26

Big idea: To worship God, His people must go out.

One element of the Exodus that many people seem to miss is that Moses did not initially ask for Pharaoh to let the people free forever. Their request was to be allowed to go three days into the wilderness to worship God, a temporary reprieve from their labor. Pharaoh refused to allow them to leave at all initially, but after the first four plagues, he tried to propose a compromise: the Israelites could stop their work to worship, but needed to do so in the land. Moses explained that this would not work, because the sacrifices that the Israelites were going to make would be abominable to the Egyptians. Although Moses did not know for sure what the sacrifice would be (Exodus 10:26), perhaps many of the animals that Israelites sacrificed were worshipped by the Egyptians. Specifically, the Egyptians rejected the Israelites for being shepherds, so the sacrifice of sheep in particular might have been the issue (Genesis 46:34). Either way, the Israelites could not worship alongside the Egyptians. The things that were essential for one were unacceptable for the other. 

As we read through the rest of Israel's history, we will find that when they enter the promised land, they try and worship alongside the Canaanites. The result is a fusion of the two, no more acceptable to God than a fusion of food and poison would be to you. Blending the worship of God with idols seems to recur throughout history, but at least at this date, Moses will not allow it. The Israelites must leave Egypt in order to worship God, and will, when they leave with haste after the tenth plague. 

There is an echo of this in Isaiah 52, on the the Servant Songs that gradually transition from Israel as God's imperfect servant to Jesus as the perfect Servant Israel should have been. "The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; And all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; Go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD. For ye shall not go out with haste, Nor go by flight: For the LORD will go before you; And the God of Israel will be your rereward. Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonied at thee; His visage was so marred more than any man, And his form more than the sons of men: So shall he sprinkle many nations; The kings shall shut their mouths at him: For that which had not been told them shall they see; And that which they had not heard shall they consider." When the final departure is made, there is no need for haste like leaving Egypt. The face of Jesus was marred beyond recognition as a human being, so we can live in joy and peace. This idea is picked up for us in 2 Corithians 7:17: we are called to go out from the way the world lives and not touch anything unclean, but to worship in Spirit and in truth. To worship God, we must go out from the idols of the world and follow His Word along.

Discussion idea: What are some things in the world that we must depart from to be obedient to God? For those who would be obedient to the world, what are some things God commands they would have to depart from?

Prayer focus: Thank God that Jesus, the perfect servant, was marred so He could sprinkle many nations, and call us out. A better Lamb than the Passover, taking us to a better home than the promised land of Canaan.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

February 11 - Exodus 7, Hebrews 2

 Key verse: Exodus 7:5

Big idea: God showed who He is when He brought the Israelites out.

There are different ways to find out the kind of person someone is. You can talk to their friends or listen to what they say and get some kind of an idea, but there is really no substitute for watching what they do. Words may lie, people may be deceived, but sooner or later the fundamental character of a person is revealed in their actions. As we saw yesterday, Pharaoh asked who the LORD was, and why He should be obeyed. God answered through the plagues, demonstrating His superiority over all of the idols of Egypt. He told Moses that Pharaoh would not respond to the plagues, but God would confirm the hardening of his heart and bring out the Israelites from among them. When He brought the Israelites out, they would know who the LORD is.

What did He reveal? That He is a delivering God. One who rescues the humble and weak, and overwhelms the pride and strength of the mighty. The Egyptians thought that their idols were their strength, and so in some sense the Israelites were enslaved by the idols. That is not so different from our lives today, where many people are enslaved to the gods of money, popularity, comfort, or romance. These gods are dead idols, no gods at all, but their influence and control is still very real. But God is over all. He is the Maker of all that is good which we might pursue, and the Source of all of the things which evil cheaply imitates. What the idols cannot provide, He can and will.

Discussion idea: How does God's rescue of us through Christ show us who He is?

Prayer focus: Lord, thank you for your deliverance and your provision. Thank you for breaking all of the things that enslaved me and bringing me into Your light.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

February 10 - Exodus 5, Hebrews 1

 Sorry, something went wrong and this post was deleted. I will try and rewrite it soon.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

February 9 -Exodus 3, Matthew 28

 Key verse: Exodus 3:8

Big idea: God came down out of Heaven to rescue Israel.

"Omnipresent" is one of the most important theological terms at our disposal. Its meaning, at least on the surface, is as simple as looking up that "omni" means "all." It is also plain that no one who takes Scripture seriously can deny that God is all-present (Psalm 139:7-10, Jeremiah 23:24, Matthew 28:20). If God is everywhere all the time then He was in Pharaoh's palace, with the Hebrew slaves being beaten at the construction sites, and with the Native Americans on the other side of the world. But there are also tantalizing passages like Genesis 11:5-7, where God "comes down" to the Tower of Babel to judge the people there, or Genesis 18:21 where He did the same in Sodom. On the other hand, God promised to go personally with Jacob to Egypt (Genesis 46:4). 

In a true sense, God is everywhere all the time, but He also chooses to be in certain places in a more intense way at certain times. Coming down is obviously a metaphor, a spiritual reality put into terms we can comprehend, but it shows us that God is paying particular attention to a person or place. In Exodus 3, God has come down. Like an open-air Temple, the presence of God descended on a bush on Mount Horeb (another name for Sinai) and told Moses that he was standing in a holy place. God has come down to judge the Egyptians and to lead the Israelites out. He has come down to commission Moses for His task. 

This same terminology will be used later in Exodus, when God descends on Sinai to give Moses the Law. But these descents are all imperfect and partial. God cannot be revealed completely, because human beings are unable to survive the experience (Exodus 33:20). But God had a greater plan, for when He would come down all the way. He descended to the Earth, not as shining glory (what later rabbis would call the Shekinah), but as a baby in a manger. He came down not for a few moments as a bush that burned and was not consumed, but fully took on humanity without His divinity consuming it. He lived a full life, truly died, and truly rose again to give us access to God. The great rescue that began with the burning bush is simply a foreshadowing of the greater rescue we have in Christ.

Discussion idea: What are the limitations of the language of God "coming down"? What does it tell us, and what is it unable to get across?

Prayer focus: Lord, thank you for coming down to me, when I could never get to you. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

February 8 - Exodus 2, Matthew 27

Key Verse: Exodus 2:10

Big Idea: Pharaoh's daughter brought Moses out of the water, and God brought Moses out of Egypt.

It may have only felt like a weekend to you since we last opened up the Bible together, but it was actually about 400 years. Jacob (Israel) was long dead, and his great-great-grandson Moses is now at the heart of our story. The Israelites, who came to Egypt for relief from the famine, are now a large nation but have been enslaved by the Egyptians. To prevent them from rising up in rebellion, Pharaoh orders the wholesale execution of baby Hebrew boys, not unlike Herod's later attempt to exterminate Jesus as a rival king in His infancy (Matthew 2:18-18).

But God had other plans. For the second time, God used an ark to rescue humanity when Moses' mother built one and set him in the Nile River. God arranged for Pharaoh's daughter to draw Moses up out of the water, and Moses' sister was able to offer her a convenient Hebrew woman to nurse the infant. Moses was trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians as the son of Pharaoh's daughter (Acts 7:22) and trained in the worship of the Lord and the promises He had made to His people as the Son of Jochebed. God used the sin of Pharaoh like He had used the sins of Joseph's brothers centuries before to save the lives of His people. God's enemies trained Moses to lead them out, to write His Law, and to take them to the Promised Land. 

When Moses tried to rescue the Israelites in his time instead of God's, he was forced to leave Egypt and go to Midian, where he spent forty years waiting (long waits are another recurring theme in how God deals with His people). But that was God's plan too. The Israelites would arrive when the sin of the Canaanites had reached its full peak, and the time to judge them was at hand (Genesis 15:16). Moses had learned to lead like an Egyptian for the first forty years of his life in Egypt, now he would spend forty years learning to be a shepherd entrusted with someone else's flock. The training program was perfectly designed by the Maker of Moses. Pharaoh's daughter drew Moses out of the water, but it was really God's hand that guided him and tool him where he needed to go.

Discussion idea: God prepared Moses for the Exodus in three dimensions: intellectually he was trained in Pharaoh's court, spiritually he was trained by his mother, and practically he was trained by four decades as a shepherd. What dimensions has God trained in your life?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to trust your sovereignty and to be a willing student of all the things you are teaching me through my life.


Friday, February 5, 2021

February 5 - Genesis 50, Matthew 26

 Key verse: Genesis 50:24

Big idea: In the beginning, Joseph believed God would fulfill His promises.

Sometimes, God's answers to our prayers seem slow. Aside from a short detour to bury his father, Joseph had left the land God had promised his great-grandfather when he was 17, and never returned before his death at one hundred and ten. Genesis, which has spent 38 chapters detailing the promises God made to the family of Abraham, leaves with those promises largely unfulfilled. Their numbers are relatively few, they are not in the land promised to them, and although they have had a foretaste of blessing the whole earth through Joseph's wisdom, they still seem to be moving in the wrong direction. But Joseph still held his faith.

When he was close to death, he asked his family to embalm him in the manner of the Egyptians, instead of the normal Hebrew process (of burying someone in a tomb and then later placing their bones in a jar). The reason? When they finally returned to the Promised Land, Joseph wanted his body to be taken with them. He believed, although he could not see how they would return or when, that they would receive the things God promised. In one sense, Genesis ends roughly where it began in chapter 3: death has delayed God's blessings, but His promises look forward to a brighter day. In one sense, Genesis 50 is no closer to the head of the serpent being crushed than we were at the beginning. But in another sense, God has prepared the pieces that He will use to rescue the world. The nation of Israel is in a foreign land, from which they will need to be rescued from the pain of death, but they look forward in hope.

Discussion idea: Why was the place of his burial important to Joseph? How do the physical decisions we make, especially about things at the end of our lives, reveal our values?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you to have a faith that cab face even death with confidence.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

February 4 - Genesis 45, Matthew 25

 Key verse: Genesis 45:8

Big idea: In the beginning, God worked out all things for good. 


The picture above is a Rube Goldberg drawing: a diagram of an absurdly complicated thing to accomplish a mundane task. If it were not titled, you might not immediately see what the machine would accomplish. If you only looked at a small part of it (say, the firework attached to the sickle), you would have no chance. Of course, the absurdity of the cartoon is that it would be much easier to wipe your own mouth than to rig (and wear!) this elaborate headpiece. But some things really do require a lot of complexity. If you are reading this on your smartphone, you are using an incredibly complex piece of technology, but every piece is necessary for it to operate (see this diagram). Think of your body! You have a sophisticated network of two lungs, two kidneys, a heart, a bladder, a stomach, fifteen feet of intestines, a liver, a thyroid, two eyes, a brain (usually), and countless other components made up of tens of trillions of cells (trillion with a t - 1,000,000,000,000). Each of those cells has a nucleus, ribosomes, mitochondria, and so on. It seems like a lot, but the complexity is necessary for its function. Look at one organ or one cell alone and you would not be able to guess what kind of body it came from; alone, a heart is both dead and incomprehensible. But together, it is part of the marvelous machine that can take you to Chick-fil-A to get the new spicy grilled chicken sandwich with cilantro sauce (yum). Ironically, the biochemical processes needed for you to wipe your own mouth with a napkin are far more complicated than the machine we have been thinking about.

Let's choose something even bigger. Something that lasts a lot longer than your phone or your body: the whole universe. How complex would the pieces of the universe need to be to accomplish God's plan over eons? Could you expect to understand it, even if you could see the whole thing? What about if you could only see the upper left corner, the equivalent of a cracker flying over a bird's head? There is no way. The wisdom and skill needed to make all of the pieces fit are beyond us. Even the alignment of the most mundane details of our life requires some parts that would be useless alone and inscrutable to us, but which are carefully aligned into the big picture.

Joseph refused to hold a grudge against his brothers. They were responsible for their sin, and if they had not repented, God would have judged them. Judas, for example, fulfilled God's purpose by arranging for the death of Christ, but it would have been better for him if he has never been born (Mark 14:21). God's plan did not change the responsibility of his brothers, but it did change how Joseph could respond. He could not stay angry because they had not harmed him. They couldn't! A superintending God oversaw everything that happened and worked it together in His master plan. It does not excuse our guilt for the things we do, but it does mean that we have no reason to be bitter about the way someone treats us or about some circumstance we face. In one of the deep mysteries of the world, God works it together for good (Romans 8:28).

Discussion idea: What is something in your life that seemed bad at the time, and worked out in the end?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to trust You in the things I cannot see. You move on scales of space and time far bigger than I could detect, and far more profound than I could understand anyway. Teach me to trust Your heart, even when I don't understand.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

February 3 - Genesis 41, Matthew 24

 Key verse: Genesis 41:16

Big idea: In the beginning, God gave Joseph wisdom.

What does the word "wise" mean to you? It is something different than intelligence: someone can be wise without being smart or smart without being wise. In the book of Exodus, master craftsmen are described as full of wisdom. Rather than knowledge, wisdom is skill. It is the ability to make the right decision for the situation, and to execute it. Our society may have a lot of education and we may have a lot of opinions, but we have far too little wisdom. 

The exiled son of Jacob was in need of a lot of wisdom. He was standing before a king from another culture, who expected answers from him and was not afraid to use violence when it suited him. Pharaoh had one question: "What did my dreams mean?" Joseph did not take credit for the interpretation but explained to Pharaoh that dreams belong to God. Here, Joseph showed what Solomon would later write: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10)." To grow in wisdom, we must first recognize how little we can know. Once we know how desperately we need God, we can turn to Him and learn from Him. James, the brother of Jesus, promised as much in James 1:5: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." 

When Joseph explained that the dreams represented seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine, he showed that God had given him great understanding. The solution he proposed in an instant (appointing someone to store up the excess during the seven fat years to consume during the lean) showed great wisdom. God gave Joseph the wisdom he needed to rescue Egypt. But that was not God's sole goal: the famine extended to the whole region. His own family would ultimately come to Egypt and survive because of His wisdom. When Joseph rescued Pharaoh, he preserved the means by which Christ would rescue the world. The Lord still gives wisdom to us today, to enable us to carry out the commission He has given us. 

Discussion idea: What is an area of your life where you feel uncertain and in need of wisdom? What would seeking God's wisdom in that situation look like?

Prayer focus: In accordance with the promise of James, ask God for wisdom.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

February 2 - Genesis 40, Matthew 23

 Key verse: Genesis 40:23

Big idea: In the beginning, God remembered Joseph even when no one else did.

Have you ever been betrayed? When someone you cared about and tried to help repays you with mistreatment, it stings. But there may be something worse: being forgotten. At least being mistreated means you are remembered! The sting of apathy is that you do not seem to matter at all. Joseph had felt the slap of betrayal by his brothers, slander by his master’s wife, and unjust imprisonment, but now he had to face neglect. In prison, Joseph once again rose to a place of trust and honor, a trustee who cared for the other prisoners. 

Among his charges for a brief period were the baker and butler of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Although the Bible does not tell us, the most likely explanation seems to be that there had been an attempt on his life by poison, and they were both incarcerated while the perpetrator was identified. In the same night, they both had a dream. When Joseph saw they were troubled by it, he told them that the interpretations dreams belonged to God and asked to hear about it. The butler’s dream revealed that in three days, he would return to Pharaoh’s side and Joseph asked him to mention his case to the king when he was restored. The baker learned that in three days he would be executed.

Everything happened as Joseph had said, but the butler forgot about Joseph. He remained in prison for two more years. People may treat us like that but God does not forget our cries. He blessed Joseph and continued to protect him in his suffering and does the same for us. Our tears are stored in his bottle (Psalm 56:8) and our prayers are stored like sweet incense with Him (Revelation 8:4). Everyone else may oppose us or simply forget we ever existed, but the Lord knows His people. His eye is on the sparrow so He will not neglect His children.

Discussion idea: Have you ever felt forgotten by God? How do we remind ourselves that delays are not denials?

Prayer focus: What in your life are you tempted to think God has forgotten? Ask for forgiveness and assurance that He is with you.

Monday, February 1, 2021

February 1 - Genesis 39, Matthew 22

Key verse: Genesis 39:23
Big idea: In the beginning, God blessed Joseph in his suffering. 

In the US, we generally spend 13 years in school. Two-thirds of high school seniors go on to some form of college or trade school in the fall, with a few of their peers joining them later. As of 2019, 62% of Americans age 25 and older have at least some college, and 46% have at least an associate's degree [Table 2]. Unless something radical changes, the generational trend is clear: we will soon have more Americans with a college degree than without. There are a lot of possible explanations for this, some more charitable than others. But one undeniable element is that there is a lot we need to learn to function in modern life. Typing and computer literacy are not luxuries for a handful of students, but basic skills needed to be productive members of the workforce. If it takes 15 years or more to train someone to be useful to America, what is the course load like at Jesus U? Joseph seems to be the model student. He entered a spoiled brat and left the valedictorian. He took some electives in dreams and leadership, but his major? Trusting God through suffering. 

The slave traders who had purchased Joseph sold him to a high ranking official named Potiphar in the court of Pharaoh (Pharaoh is just the Egyptian word for "king," like Caesar in Greek). Although Joseph was a slave in a foreign country with a different language, a different culture, and its own set of gods, he learned to trust God. He grew in integrity and faithfulness until his Egyptian master trusted him with everything in his household. so that when he was eventually* tempted by Potiphar's wife, Joseph simply ran away. He did not give in and try to cover it up. He removed himself from the situation and let God deal with the consequences. Obedience meant that he was arrested and thrown into more suffering, but in that greater suffering, God prepared him for even greater blessings. We never know how we will respond in a crisis until we are in it, and never know what God is teaching us through it until we are past it (and sometimes not even then). There is no classroom instruction in obeying when obedience is hard. Even for Jesus, there was no substitute for the hands-on experience of suffering (Hebrews 5:8). Whatever you are going through, know that life is rarely all roses or all thorns. God gives us blessings both in and through suffering, to teach us to trust Him and equip us for the road ahead.

One other point cannot be missed: For Joseph's sake, God blessed Potiphar's whole family. We have seen that principle many times: Noah's sons were saved from the flood because of Noah's faith and all of Sodom and Gomorrah would have been saved if there had been ten righteous there. Even though there were not, God still rescued Lot's daughters for Lot's sake alone. Isaac, Joseph's own father, had brought a blessing to his father-in-law Laban's flocks, despite Laban's sin. Of course, the ultimate example is Jesus! We are blessed because of His righteousness in the midst of suffering, no matter what we have done (Ephesians 2:6). 

* We do not know how long he was in Potiphar's house, just that he was 17 when he first entered slavery and 28 when he was already imprisoned in the next chapter. If I were guessing, I would say Joseph was in his early 20s. Long enough in Potiphar's house to earn his trust, and long enough in the prison to earn the warden's trust before he turned 28.
Discussion idea: Is suffering a uniquely effective tool for shaping someone's heart? Why or why not?
Prayer focus: Lord, help me to recognize the gifts in the suffering, and be grateful for whatever comes that points me to You.

February 1 - Genesis 39, Matthew 22

 Key verse: Genesis 39:23

Big idea: In the beginning, God blessed Joseph in his suffering. 

In the US, we generally spend 13 years in school. Two-thirds of high school seniors go on to some form of college or trade school in the fall, with a few of their peers joining them later. As of 2019, 62% of Americans age 25 and older have at least some college, and 46% have at least an associate's degree [Table 2]. Unless something radical changes, the generational trend is clear: we will soon have more Americans with a college degree than without. There are a lot of possible explanations for this, some more charitable than others. But one undeniable element is that there is a lot we need to learn to function in modern life. Typing and computer literacy are not luxuries for a handful of students, but basic skills needed to be productive members of the workforce. If it takes 15 years or more to train someone to be useful to America, what is the course load like at Jesus U? Joseph seems to be the model student. He entered a spoiled brat and left the valedictorian. He took some electives in dreams and leadership, but his major? Trusting God through suffering. 

The slave traders who had purchased Joseph sold him to a high ranking official named Potiphar in the court of Pharaoh (Pharaoh is just the Egyptian word for "king," like Caesar in Greek). Although Joseph was a slave in a foreign country with a different language, a different culture, and its own set of gods, he learned to trust God. He grew in integrity and faithfulness until his Egyptian master trusted him with everything in his household. so that when he was eventually* tempted by Potiphar's wife, Joseph simply ran away. He did not give in and try to cover it up. He removed himself from the situation and let God deal with the consequences. Obedience meant that he was arrested and thrown into more suffering, but in that greater suffering, God prepared him for even greater blessings. We never know how we will respond in a crisis until we are in it, and never know what God is teaching us through it until we are past it (and sometimes not even then). There is no classroom instruction in obeying when obedience is hard. Even for Jesus, there was no substitute for the hands-on experience of suffering (Hebrews 5:8). Whatever you are going through, know that life is rarely all roses or all thorns. God gives us blessings both in and through suffering, to teach us to trust Him and equip us for the road ahead.

One other point cannot be missed: For Joseph's sake, God blessed Potiphar's whole family. We have seen that principle many times: Noah's sons were saved from the flood because of Noah's faith and all of Sodom and Gomorrah would have been saved if there had been ten righteous there. Even though there were not, God still rescued Lot's daughters for Lot's sake alone. Isaac, Joseph's own father, had brought a blessing to his father-in-law Laban's flocks, despite Laban's sin. Of course, the ultimate example is Jesus! We are blessed because of His righteousness in the midst of suffering, no matter what we have done (Ephesians 2:6). 

* We do not know how long he was in Potiphar's house, just that he was 17 when he first entered slavery and 28 when he was already imprisoned in the next chapter. If I were guessing, I would say Joseph was in his early 20s. Long enough in Potiphar's house to earn his trust, and long enough in the prison to earn the warden's trust before he turned 28.
Discussion idea: Is suffering a uniquely effective tool for shaping someone's heart? Why or why not?
Prayer focus: Lord, help me to recognize the gifts in the suffering, and be grateful for whatever comes that points me to You.