Readings this week
Exodus 14:10-30, 15:20-21 – The test of faith
Psalm 133 – The Test of togetherness
John 20:19-31 – The test of believing without seeing
1 John 1:1-2:2 – The test of walking in relationship with God
MONDAY, APRIL 2
Exodus 14:10-30, 15:20-21
The Israelites are challenged to believe God’s promise at the Red Sea crossing
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.
The Egyptians had quickly lost the anxiety of the plagues and the loss of their first-born.
11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?
They had cried out to the Lord (v.10) but quickly switched to Moses, a more accessible target for their all-too-human (and humanly wrong) reaction. There is some biting sarcasm here, because Egypt at that time was obsessed with graves and had large areas of burial grounds.
12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
“Say to you” – to say and to ‘think in the heart’ can be the same in Hebrew. This is the accusation made earlier in Exodus 5:21.
13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
“Deliverance” – literally ‘salvation’ but this is more in the sense of them being delivered from the threat. There is little distinction in Hebrew between salvation, deliverance and healing.
Moses gives three patient instructions in the turmoil: (1) do not be afraid, (2) stand and expect the Lord’s deliverance, and (3) be still i.e. stop all action.
15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.
Reminding Moses of the enduring promise to take them out of Egypt and give them the land of Canaan – the petition is already granted. His responsibility in faith is to keep everyone moving into the promise, expecting a way through.
16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.
“Divide” – cleave, form a valley: As happened in the description of v.21-22 “…the water divided… with a wall… on their right… and left.”
17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen.
18 The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”
19 Then the angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them,
20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel.
The angel of God and the evidence of the presence of God, the pillar of cloud moved from ahead of the refugees to behind them and produced darkness with the opposite effect on the pursuing army, to the light and reassuring presence for the Israelites.
Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side, and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided,
22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
The strong wind is a natural element, but the effect of the wind to bank up the water as a heap and create dry ground for the crossing, can only be explained by a miraculous event.
23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea.
The exact location is debated, but recent scholarship and archaeological discovery has pointed to the tip of the Gulf of Suez, where divers have photographed unusual coral-encrusted shapes of wheel and spokes, providing evidence for the ”jammed wheels’ of v.25.
24 During the last watch of the night, the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion.
The ‘look’ of Yahweh appears to have been more of a blinding flash which caused the charioteers to run into each other. The wording of Psalm 77:16–20 suggests a thunderstorm, or a frightening occurrence resembling a thunderstorm.
The last watch of the night, 2am-6am, is the traditional time to mount an attack when visibility and morale are at their lowest.
25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”
Chariots with open unprotected wheels would be prone to lock if they touched. Rather than wheel around the Israelites, they were confined to the same narrow channel between the walls of water.
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.”
27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea.
The action by Moses was necessary to show that the return of the water was an act of God, not just a freak of extraordinary weather.
28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
“Not one of them survived” is qualified by “that had followed the Israelites into the sea” – those that went into the gap, perished in the gap when Moses called down the return of the water.
20 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.
There is a Twentieth Century Fox finality about this scene which made this miracle at the Red Sea the enduring symbol of Israel’s salvation, recounted in verse and song by one generation to another.
20 Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing.
Miriam (the same name as Mary in the NT) was probably a praise leader of the women and is described as a prophetess, an unusual word also applied to Deborah, Judges 4:4. She claimed to bring God’s word just as Moses had, Numbers 12:2. Although she is Moses’ sister, she is described as Aaron’s sister, perhaps making a point about lesser rank.
21 Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. Both horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.”
This was a huge and miraculous deliverance in every aspect. God is loving and God is strong – and God is faithful when His people turn to Him in repentance and prayer. There is also a note of desperation here, but Moses is hearing God in it all. What is God saying in a situation? We need to persist and hear. “Faith comes by hearing”, and then we know how to pray – and act.
For reflection and discussion
What helps us to hear God in the emotional clamour of a crisis situation? See verses 11-15 for what not to do, and what God looks for.
TLW10 March 11 Lent 4
Readings this week from the calendar for Sunday, March 11 (Lent 4)
Psalm 107:1-9, 17-22
MONDAY, MARCH 5
Venomous snakes attack the Israelites and the Lord tells Moses to fashion a copper snake image and elevate it on a pole
|4 They travelled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;||
4 “To go around Edom” – because Edom had refused to let them pass by, and threatened the Israelites with a large army, Numbers 20:14-21
4 “Impatient on the way” – there had been quarrelling (the place was therefore named Meribah) over the apparent lack of water, which caused Moses to make an unholy outburst and God to be angry, Numbers 20:2-3, 1-12
|5 …they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”||
5 They had experienced miraculous deliverances. They seemed to have forgotten pledging dependence on the Lord, before going out to meet the king of Arad’s threat and defeating Arad in a ‘holy war’ engagement at Hormah.
5 “Miserable” food – the word is unique and probably derived from quillel, to despise. It was not a good attitude before the Lord who had provided them with manna day after day.
|6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.||6 “Venomous” – fiery (burning) serpents, Amplified Bible. Probably the carpet viper. The bites were inflamed and deaths painful.|
|7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.||
7 “The people said… we sinned…” – they recognised where they had gone wrong. The Lord will sometimes let a situation get worse, to bring realisation.
7 “Moses prayed” – and the answer was unusual. Are we alert for unusual answers, unexpected directions, from prayer requests?
8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”
9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
8-9 “Bronze” – or copper. The archaeologist Professor Rothenberg discovered a small copper snake Egyptian temple at Timnah, near Eilat, in the same general area, a little later in date. It could have been copied from hearing the story of this deliverance. The symbolism in sacrifice draws on opposites – animals are killed so men may live; blood which pollutes when spilled can be used to sanctify; the ashes of a dead heifer cleanse from the impurity caused by proximity with death. A red snake, like the red inflammation, delivers from the snake bite.
8-9 God would spare the lives of those who were unhesitating in obeying, John 3:14-15
8-9 John Wesley noted: “The pole resembled the cross upon which Christ was lifted up for our salvation: and looking up to it designed our believing in Christ.” In making sacrifice, there had to be contact e.g. laying a hand upon the animal, for it to be effective. Here the ‘contact’ is choosing to look up and gaze at the snake image, and so raise faith for God’s provision.
A discontented, unbelieving or resentful heart never plays out well in the Lord’s order. It is sin!
In this event, linked to the difficulty over finding water in the previous chapter, resentment is being expressed against Moses, as the Lord’s appointed servant and leader, and against the Lord Himself.
Thankfully a lot more grace surrounds us, as those in Christ, but the principle remains clear. Keep a clean, pure heart towards the Lord. In life there is friction and we have to be quick to forgive without condition (not waiting for an apology); we do this largely for our own benefit. The other person may never know, but we have done what is right before heaven, and we are then free.
Here’s a bit more of challenge that comes out of this story. When the twists and turns of life are difficult for us – the unexpected loss of a loved one, a setback or an injustice – we call out to God and ask “Why?” That’s the right starting point but not the right finishing point. Although God never does anything wrong, it can seem wrong to us, and that’s when resentment can creep in. So as well as forgiving others, we sometimes have to take the bold step of choosing to ‘forgive’ God for allowing the pain.
Also in this desert scene of dissatisfaction and angering the Lord, we see why things sometimes have to go on getting worse when we are praying just the opposite. We are good at justifying ourselves, and remarkably poor at times at seeing our own faults; sometimes the struggle has to intensify until we all ‘get it’. What does the Lord want? For us all to recognise where we have headed off independently, and to turn to look at Him again. The serpent on the pole, and also the Cross.
For reflection or as a discussion starter
1 How does God get your attention when you’re not listening and going your own way?
Heaven appears to those on earth at the transfiguration of Jesus
This event follows a week or so after the Feeding of the Five Thousand and Peter’s declaration, in answer to Jesus’ question, “You are the Christ!”. Jesus teaches the disciples about self-denial and His coming rejection and death at the hands of the religious leaders – and also resurrection. He tells them that some will live to see the kingdom of God come in power – possibly what follows next, but more likely the pivotal point of His death, the Resurrection, Ascension and then the Pentecost outpouring. Three disciples accompany him up the mountain where they experience the dazzling glory of God which gives them an insight into heavenly events that accompany what happens on earth.
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.
“A high mountain” – unknown, but possibly Mount Hermon, although tradition points to Mount Tabor.
3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.
This radiant glory is a glimpse into the ‘other world’ of Jesus, who set aside His divine nature so that He could incarnate God for us by being born as man, Philippians 2:6-7. However, this glimpse is a reminder that in the background to the incarnation, Jesus always was, and is, fully God – and therefore almost impossible to see in the brightness of the glory surrounding Him.
4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Elijah and Moses had both individually met with God on Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horeb. The only other place in Scripture where Moses and Elijah are mentioned together, is at the finale of the OT in the passage about turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, Malachi 4:4-6.
For further study, read Exodus 24, 1 Kings 19:8-18
5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Peter may have reacted unthinkingly in line with the tradition of the Feast of Tabernacles, Leviticus 23:42. Despite having in the past week recognised Jesus as Messiah, he is confused at this point and treats them all as equals.
6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Elijah, representing the Prophets, and Moses, representing the Law, are talking with Jesus, demonstrating the Jesus is greater than either of them and representing the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, 1 Kings 19:8, Exodus 24:1, 9.
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
Cloud symbolises God’s presence in protecting and guiding, Exodus 16:10, 24:15-18, 33:9-10
“Listen” carries the meaning of willingness to act on what is heard.
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
“Son of Man” is the title Jesus most often applied to Himself and not used by anyone else. It is a messianic title and a response to Peter, who has just acclaimed Him as the Christ (or Messiah). The Son of Man in Daniel is a heavenly figure who is given glory, authority and sovereign power by God, Daniel 7:13-14.
After the resurrection was the time for the disciples to tell everyone – when Jesus’ finished work had been demonstrated.
God speaks to us – but the lesson of this event is that He speaks of what we are ready to believe. He speaks into our readiness to hear. In this instance, Peter, James and John were a little inner circle among the twelve disciples. Among the first to be called, they were possibly at a slightly higher level of faith than the others at this point. Peter, who was on one hand quick to receive, but on the other not so good at consolidating it or processing it, has already come out with his “You are the Christ!” statement.
Our heartfelt expression of praise for who God is – not to be confused with thanksgiving for what He has done – is for us a way into God’s presence and encountering Him. We need to put down whatever else we may be carrying, and bring our faith to focus on the might, majesty, mercy and mystery of God, as transcendent and “other”.
God is also immanent, meaning evident and involved in our world, incarnated in Jesus and in a lesser way, incarnated in all of us who carry the smile and the love of Jesus around with us. But the Transfiguration showed the window of heaven being momentarily opened – and in that, God is “other” and awesome.
For reflection or discussion
This was an encounter with God beyond the scope of imagining for most of us. Could you imagine being in a situation where you draw so near to God that His glory becomes real to you?
Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11
Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, January 28 (Epiphany 4)
Mark 1: 21-28
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
C of E alternative epistle reading Rev. 12: 1-5a
MONDAY, JANUARY 22
One day, God says, He will raise up another prophet who will speak truths from the heart – His heart.
15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.
- “Like me” – Moses clearly speaking of the ultimate prophet who was to come. The timeline is similar to someone in early Saxon times speaking of something happening in our time.
16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire any more, or we will die.”
17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good.
18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.
- Philip alluded to this verse in calling Nathanael over to Jesus, John 1:45
- Both the OT and the NT view this passage as referring to the coming Messiah who would (with similarities to Moses) proclaim revelation from God and offer extraordinary leadership to His people.
For further study: There are a number of parallels between Moses and Jesus: being spared as a baby, Exod. 2, Matt. 2:13-23; Jesus renouncing a royal court, Phil. 2:5-8, Heb. 11:24-27; remarkable compassion for their people, Numbers 27:17, Matt. 9:36 and making intercession for their people, Deut 9:18, Heb. 7:25; speaking to God face to face, Exod 34:29-30, 2 Cor. 3:7. Both were involved in mediating a covenant, Deut 29:1, Heb. 8:6-7.
19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name.
20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”
- A prophet, at one level, is what we call a preacher – someone who seeks to speak publicly on behalf of God, speaking God’s truth. OT prophecy was often delivered with a “foretelling” emphasis while NT prophecy, a particularly spiritual gift and ministry, is more about “forthtelling”. Anyone can claim to speak for God; however in the OT such presumption was to be tested, and if necessary punished.
- There is a test in view here – will people follow the prophet, or be careful to follow only the Lord and his true prophets? See Deut 13:1-5, Jer. 28:15-17.
- Compare with v. 18 which refers to a very particular prophet, and this verse which heralds a series of prophetic voices. Both were fulfilled as we know.
The Lord is always speaking to His people. Whether His people are hearing, or even disposed to hear (v.16) is another matter, which is why the Lord has raised up those who will speak and get people’s attention, on His behalf.
It is a serious matter to dismiss what the Lord is saying. Similarly, it is a serious matter to put the Lord’s name to something He is not saying, or to seek to speak authoritatively using an alternative and ungodly source of reference.
The ultimate truth speaker is Jesus, especially in his earthly role where He showed what God was like, alongside God’s self-revelation of Himself in his recorded and enduring word.
What principles guide us in discerning whether what someone is speaking, is truth from God, or their own presumption – or a mixture?