Today’s Bible reading: Exodus 12:14-51, 13:1-16 Matthew 20:29-34, 21:1-22; Psalms 25:16-22; Proverbs 6:12-15
The final plague upon Egypt takes place in our reading today, and it is a very serious one. In this plague God strikes down the first born male of every family and animal in Egypt. Earlier Pharaoh has selfishly and callously mandated that every Hebrew male be killed (Exodus 1). Now God is going to kill the first born sons of all the Egyptians.
When the tragedy is discovered Pharaoh not only lets the Israelites leave Egypt, he actually orders them to do so. Ironically, he seems to recognize the power of God as he asks Moses to bless him. Pharaoh was considered a god by the Egyptians so its interesting that he finally realizes that there is a God more powerful than him.
Pharaoh finally lets Israel go when the plagues affect him personally. I’m sure he found the previous nine to be annoying, but due to his great wealth and power I don’t think he was too inconvenienced. It is only when he experienced personal pain that he finally relents.
The Israelites are given all kinds of wealth the Egyptians prior to their departure. Perhaps this was the Egyptians way of paying the Israelites to leave. Or perhaps it was out of respect for the God of Israel – maybe the Egyptians realized that the Hebrew God was the true god. In any event the Israelites leave very wealthy. Perhaps this was God’s way of paying them back for all the years they worked as slaves with no pay at all.
Notice in Exodus 12:33 the people want the Israelites to leave as quickly as possible because they thought “We will all die!”. The Egyptians were afraid of death. There are worse things in life, especially when you consider that life is not only being on this earth but our future, eternal existence. While the process of dying may not be pleasant, I have no fear of being dead. I look around my world today and see so many who are afraid of death, not the least of which is the news media. I think CNN has a fear of death. Their journalists seem to be afraid of it and in turn prey upon the fears their viewers have of death. That is because they simply don’t understand it. Death is not a period. It is a comma. It is a new beginning. The only question is where will your residence be on the other side of death. The only thing worse than death is dying only to end up separated from God (i.e. hell) for all of eternity. That would not be good.
When they left their community the Israelites were probably over 2 million in number. God had started with 1 man, Abraham. Over 400 years later they are now a very large population. Notice that some other people went with them (“a rabble” in the NLT). I’m not sure if this was God’s intention. But these non-Hebrews obviously believed in God after seeing all the amazing things He did to Egypt over the preceding months.
Exodus 12:42 reminds us that God kept His promise to free His people. I’m sure there were many people who had given up hope during those 400 years. I’m sure when Jacob and his sons went to Egypt they didn’t think their people would be there that long. But God had not forgotten His people. He was waiting for the right timing. I thought of myself when reading this passage. I came to the place where I am living almost 10 years ago. I never thought I would be here this long. I have never really liked it and have often thought about moving. But God has never opened a door for me. It may be God’s will for me to stay here longer, or even forever. If He wants me to move He will provide the opportunity in His own way.
There are many parallels between the first Passover and the death of Christ. In both, it was the spilled blood that saves. The Passover lamb was to be roasted over a fire; Christ spent three days in Hell. The lamb had to be spotless and without blemish. Jesus lived a perfect life and was not guilty of anything when condemned to death. God is teaching His people that a substitute will someday allow everyone who is protected “by the blood” to live in freedom.
Jesus enters Jerusalem in Matthew 21. He receives a hero’s welcome, although some people don’t seem to know who He is (Matthew 20:10). In just a few days, however, these very same people will turn on Him and crucify Him.
There is a stark contrast in Matthew 21:15-16. The children, young and not well educated, recognized Jesus for who He was and praised Him. On the other hand, the religious leaders, older and supposedly wiser, didn’t.
Notice that Jesus receives praise again today. This is one of many times that Jesus has done this. The fact that Jesus allowed people to praise Him demonstrates that He was God and that He knew it. Many want to call Jesus nothing more than a moral teacher. But a moral teacher would not state or even imply that He was God. Not to mention He wouldn’t go out of His way to fulfill Old Testament prophecy (Matthew 20:4) that was reserved for the Messiah – the One who was going to come to save.
Jesus comes upon a fig tree in Matthew 21:19. The tree has leaves on it, but no figs. Fig trees produce figs and leaves at the same time. But this tree only had leaves. One might think when looking upon the tree that since it has leaves, it would also have fruit. But upon closer inspection the fruit would be lacking. Jesus curses the tree and it dies. Jesus is condemning those who have an outward appearance of spirituality but who are really just doing it for show. When you look more closely at these people you see that they are producing nothing for God’s kingdom. They are doing it all for show. They are hypocrites.
I think we can all relate to Psalm 25 today. The author says his “problems go from bad to worse”. That sounds like my life at times, including right now! But he puts his hope in God to save him from his troubles. We can’t put our hope in money, or family, or friends to save us from trouble. Only God can truly save.
The plague of locusts (plague #8) begins our reading today. Notice how God explains some of the reason behind what is happening. He wants future generations of His people to have stories to tell their children and grandchildren so they will know that He is God. Do you have stories of how God has worked in your life? If you are saved you have at least one story. I hope you are sharing with your children, nieces, and nephews so they will know that God truly exists. Having a first-hand report adds a lot of credibility especially in a world where the existence of God is doubted more and more every day.
Its interesting how Pharaoh’s officials were breaking ranks with him. At this point they wanted the Israelites out of their land. Pharaoh again agrees – sort of – by letting only the men go. Essentially Pharaoh was using the women and children as hostages to ensure that the men would return and he wouldn’t lose his slave labor. But Moses doesn’t fall for it. I started thinking about this and how we sometimes compromise on what God wants for us. God wants us to have an unbelievable life, including the part of our life that will take place on this earth. But I think we settle for “good enough” because we are impatient and don’t want to wait for “unbelievable”. I wonder how great my life, and yours, could be if we just waited for the greatness that God wants to give us.
One of the hardest parts of the Bible to understand, I think, are the times when we read that God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” as He does in Exodus 10:20 and 27. Why would God do that? I don’t have a great answer, but after thinking about this for a few days I think it has to come down to God giving Pharaoh what he (Pharaoh) wanted. Pharaoh wanted no part of God. And He kept breaking promise after promise. His claims of repentance seem to be fake. God loves everyone but He lets people who are defiant keep slipping further and further away from Him in hopes that they will reach “bottom” at some point and repent. God lets people have what they want, even if it isn’t Him. Love doesn’t force itself.
The ninth plague was darkness. Egypt had been living in spiritual darkness for who knows how long – worshipping all their false gods. But notice how the light continued to shine in Goshen. There’s a lot of symbolism in this plague.
The final plague is the death of the firstborn. This is the one that will finally cause Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. God’s plan is that He Himself will pass through Egypt (Exodus 12:12) and kill the firstborn son of every man and animal in the country. The Jews are told to prepare for this event by sacrificing a young lamb, cooking it over a fire, and eating it. They are to take some of the lamb’s blood and put it around the doorways to their homes. When God sees the blood on the door frames He will “pass over” that house (hence the Jewish festival of Passover). We’ll read about the conclusion to this plague tomorrow.
In Matthew Jesus tells a parable about workers in a vineyard. Even though some of them work a full day, and some only a partial-day, they all receive the same wages. Notice that the landowner didn’t cheat anyone. The early workers agreed to work for a “normal daily wage”. The later workers didn’t agree to any specific wage at all. The landowner gave them all what he wanted to give them.
The landowner in this parable is obviously God. The workers are us. God can give His free gift of salvation to everyone, even if they “show up” at the very last minute, such as on their deathbed. Those people who have lived their lives for Christ and made many sacrifices for Him from an early age don’t get any more pay-out than those who don’t believe until later in life. That isn’t unfair at all. What is unfair is that any of us get to go to heaven in the first place. None of us deserve heaven. We all deserve to be separated from God eternally (i.e. hell). But by God’s great and infinite grace He gives us what we don’t deserve. No one has any right to complain about that! I’m sure glad God isn’t fair.
Jesus predicts His torture and crucifixion in Matthew 19:20 today. Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to Him. He certainly knew it before He left heaven to be born and throughout His whole life on earth. I wonder if He thought about it when He was a boy. I’m sure He saw many crucifixions growing up. I wonder if He ever looked upon them and thought about how He was going to have to go through the same agony someday.
To be a leader, you must be a servant (Matthew 19:26). Leaders don’t dictate. They serve. Leaders are not about themselves. They are about others. They spend their time making other people better. Jesus was a leader. Notice that He didn’t come to be served, but to serve others by giving Himself up for them (us).
I really like Psalm 25. As soon as I started reading it today I thought of the song “My Hope Is You” by Third Day which is clearly based on this Psalm. You can hear it here: http://bit.ly/11hoCH6 Despite all the mocking I may take as a believer I will never be disgraced for putting my trust in God (verse 3). God will lead me down the right roads, even when they aren’t the roads I would normally take (verse 4-5).
I can relate to verse 7. In my youth I was an atheist. I’m sure glad I am not one any longer. I am even more glad that God chooses not to remember that about me. Instead He has had mercy on me and my mistakes and remembers me with love.
If we go astray God will lead us back onto the proper path (verse 8). Notice that God leads and teaches the humble (verse 9). Its hard to teach and lead someone who isn’t humble. We learned earlier that a leader must be a servant. To the humble someone who acts like a servant isn’t a leader but is someone who to step all over. That is why arrogant people cannot be lead.
Did you know that we can learn from ants? Proverbs tells us that we can. Ants have no leader to watch over them, yet they work hard all the time. Not only that but they are wise, gathering food for the winter (verse 8). We think we are hard-working, and intelligent creatures. But not compared to the ant!
One of the most famous stories in the Bible is the story of the plagues that God brought upon Egypt. Yesterday was plague #1: turning the Nile into blood. Today we read about a few more plagues.
The plagues were God’s way of showing His power while at the same time debunking the gods of Egypt, which were many. The plagues took place over several months. We know this because because of the descriptions of the environment given with some of the plagues.
Pharaohs in Egypt were considered to be a god. By sending the plagues upon Egypt God was showing the Egyptians that Pharaoh was not a god at all.
Plague #2 was frogs. Egyptian goddess Heqet was the goddess of birth who had a frog head. Egyptians regarded frogs as having divine power, including creation of human life. Therefore frogs were not allowed to be killed. God allows the sorcerers to duplicate this feat, but notice how that only made matters worse! Sometimes we think we are out-witting God but in reality we are really only hurting ourselves more.
Pharaoh initially agreed to let the Israelites go, even recognizing the God of Moses (Exodus 8:8) but reneges on his promise, if he was even being truthful in the first place.
The next plague was gnats and notice that it came without warning. God did not instruct Moses to warn Pharaoh about it. Also note that the Egyptian sorcerers could not duplicate this one.
The fourth plague was flies. Notice that God spares the Israelites in Goshen from this plague. As a result of this plague Pharaoh starts to compromise. He first suggest that the Israelites offer sacrifices to God in Egypt. But Moses points out that this would not be a good idea as the Israelites would be making animal sacrifices including bulls and cows. Egyptians worshipped a bull god and cow goddess (Apis and Hathor, respectively). Making animals sacrifices in front of the Egyptians would have caused all kinds of problems. So Pharaoh agrees to let the Israelites go into the wilderness but “not too far away”. In the end, he breaks his word again.
The fifth plague was a fatal disease on all the livestock of the Egyptians (but not the Israelites). This was clearly an attack on the Egyptian gods and goddesses who were often thought of in terms of animals.
Plague six affected the bodies directly of the Egyptians and their animals. The Egyptians worshipped a few gods that prevented or healed diseases. These gods were powerless to stop the boils.
The next three plagues are more severe than the previous ones and are described in more detail. Plague seven was a hailstorm. At this point some of Pharaoh’s officials have seen enough and are afraid so they bring their servants and livestock in from the fields. But others don’t believe. This is very symbolic of the world from when time began. Some believe and take the appropriate action (e.g. Noah). Others completely dismiss the word of God. This plague was an attack on many Egyptian gods including the god of the weather, who could not stop the hail and the gods of agriculture and animals who could not save their domains.
The plague of hail is one where we can determine the time of year. This plague happened in January because that is when the barley and flax blossom. Every word in the Bible is useful.
After these first seven plagues Pharaoh is still very stubborn and has broken his word a few times. We’ll finish the rest of the plagues tomorrow.
Matthew 19:14 is one of my favorite New Testament passages. I think one of the ways to truly build a better relationship with God is to think of yourself like a child. Although I am an adult in the earthly sense, in God’s eyes I’m just a little boy. If I really think about it, I’d say that my relationship with God suffers when I think of myself as an adult but it grows when I think of myself as a child.
The story of the young man who comes to Jesus today is interesting. This man wants to know what he must “do” to have eternal life (i.e. go to heaven). His belief was that access to heaven was performance-based. But it is not. Eternal life is granted to those who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments but the man asks “Which ones?”. It seems he wants to know what he can get away with. Perhaps he can still get to heaven even if he breaks some commandments.
Finally Jesus explains that only perfection is allowed in heaven (Matthew 19:21) and to be perfect the man must give up all his wealth as doing such a thing would demonstrate that he cares more about others than himself. But he is unwilling to do that. Jesus got to the heart of the matter: money was this man’s god. He didn’t want a relationship with God at all. He wanted his money more than he wanted God. This is typical of the problem all of us have before coming to Christ – something(s) is more important to us than Jesus. Maybe money, sex, “fun”, power, fame. And even afterwards worldly things can entice us for a while away from God. Its not easy living for Christ on this earth.
Unlike the rich young man, the disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus as Peter notes in verse 27. He’s wondering what they will get in return. Jesus assures them that they will get a very special reward in heaven. Not only that but everyone on earth who has given up what they could have had will get an abundant inheritance in addition to eternal life.
Things in God’s kingdom will be upside down from the way they are on earth. Those with plenty on earth will have little for all of eternity. But those without much on earth will be richly blessed. This is an important lesson for all of us and one that I have been struggling with this very day. Often I see other people with nice houses (I don’t have a house) or new cars (I have a very old car) or fun jobs (mine isn’t so much fun). Today all this was really getting to me. And what do you know…. today is the day that I read this passage. Coincidence? I don’t think so. God always has the right message for us at the right time.
Psalm 24 builds on what we just read in Matthew (isn’t it cool how all these Bible passages relate to one another?). Everything on earth belongs to God anyway. None of it is ours, not even the many possessions of the rich young man. If you think about it even the most “wealthy” person on earth owns nothing.
Great financial advice in Proverbs today. I once read that the Bible talks more about money than any other topic. The Bible is not only useful for eternal things, but it also gives practical advice for living this life. Basically we should not co-sign loans or guarantee the debt of another person. This is so bad that God tells us to get out of this arrangement in a hurry. Otherwise we are like an animal caught in a hunter’s net.
Moses protests to God today after the Israelites blame him (Moses) for the extra labor imposed on them by Pharaoh. It seems that Moses is already getting frustrated and impatient with God. God has His own timeline. Although we may think that He doesn’t act soon enough, He is never late. As we read through Exodus we’ll see that God is using the entire experience to speak to the hearts of Pharaoh, the Israelites, and Moses. When you are waiting on God do you become impatient? I sometimes do. I can tell you that there are a couple of things that I have been praying about for a while (one for over 20 years) and there have been times when I’ve felt that God is never going to answer these prayers. But I also know that God works all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Its easy to lose sight of that truth and start to whine or become impatient as Moses did.
God reminds Moses of the promise He made to Abraham, Issac, and Jacob and states that He is “well aware” of His covenant with them (Exodus 6:5 NLT). God doesn’t forget. He always remembers. Notice too that God’s comment seems to imply that Abraham, Issac, and Jacob are still alive. We are eternally living creatures. Our bodies may die. But we don’t.
I really like Exodus 6:6.-8. In this passage God says “I will” 7 times. God can’t be anymore emphatic than that. When He declares that He will do something it is as good as done. The only part that remains is the timing. We can only wait on God. Waiting builds character… at least it should considering we have no reason to doubt what we are waiting for since it is based on a promise from God.
Notice that Moses goes and tells the Israelites what God had said (“I will”…) but they were “too discouraged to listen”. That didn’t take long! I understand that their brutal treatment had become worse after Moses spoke with Pharaoh, but they were willing to give up too quickly. They didn’t have enough faith. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever seen your situation deteriorate so much without anything getting better that you become so discouraged you don’t want to listen to God? Just remember that God “will” do what He says.
When I read these passages today about the fluctuations in the moods of Moses and the Israelites I thought about how hard it is to lead people. We all want change for the better but we don’t want to have to go through anything painful to get it. We don’t want to work for it. We just want it to happen. But life doesn’t work that way. Throughout these passages God is so patient with everyone. He knows what we are. He knows how we think. His goal is to bring us to a better place in spite of ourselves. If only we (that includes me) would just drop our fears and trust Him we could get there a whole lot sooner than we normally do.
Moses performs a couple of miracles in front of Pharaoh in Exodus 7. But Pharaoh’s sorcerers were able to duplicate these feats likely with the help of Satan. Remember, Satan is under God’s control. He can’t do anything that God doesn’t let him do. God was apparently using Satan here to make it more difficult for Pharaoh to believe. Why would He do that? I think it is because God will give us what we want. If we want to put our trust in something other than God, He will let us to show us how empty and foolish it is. Sometimes we have to learn by experience not matter how many times we have been told.
Exodus 7:23 shows us just how indifferent and arrogant Pharaoh was. He “put the whole thing out of his mind” (NLT). God made no impression on Pharaoh. Sadly I see this same attitude with some many people I know.
Forgiveness is the main theme of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18 today. Jesus tells Peter that essentially he should be willing to forgive someone an unlimited number of times. Jesus then tells a parable about a man who was forgiven of his entire debt but who would not forgive another person in the same way. Those of us who are born-again have had 100% of our sins forgiven. This is a priceless gift. So we should be willing to forgive others 100% of the time. Its not the number of times that we should forgive – it is the percentage of times that we should forgive. We’ve been completely forgiven. Hence, we should completely forgive.
A couple of weeks ago I received a tweet of a Martin Luther King quote:
Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.
I thought about that quote for a day or two and finally the Holy Spirit spoke to me telling me that I need to, right then and there, forgive everyone who was going to hurt me in the future. What a great idea! I can tell you that it has only been a couple of weeks but having an attitude of forgiveness has already worked wonders for me. Will you try it? Just decide today to let go of all the pain that you have yet to go through so when the pain does come an unforgiving heart won’t bring you down because of it. If you declare victory over pain now, it will be so much easier to deal with in the future.
Jesus validates the “Scriptures” in Matthew 19:4. The “Scriptures” back then were what we call the Old Testament today. Jesus quotes from them to explain marriage and divorce. If Jesus believes the Old Testament is credible and is God’s authoritative word, then it is good enough all of us.
Psalm 23 is probably the most famous Psalm in the Bible. It is told from the point of view of a sheep. Notice the calming words used in this Psalm: rest, peaceful, protect, comfort. If we ever want to understand how God views us and how He is taking care of us, just think of how a shepherd treats his sheep. The shepherd doesn’t harm them or trouble them. He lets them be, but all the while making sure they are safe and taken care of. That is how God wants to deal with us. He isn’t out to harm us. He is out to give us rest from all the empty things were are striving for and against. I once read an excellent book on this Psalm called A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. I highly recommend it.
Our passage in Proverbs continues declaring the dangers of adultery and lust. Sexual sins will hold a man captive. Sex can be an addiction. Sexual sin, like any other sin, is just a lack of self-control that will separate one from God causing death (spiritual death). We need to understand the dangers of sexual sin. Although tempting and seemingly offering pleasure, the real danger is that sexual sin can become an addiction that keeps someone from ever knowing God or which draws a believer away from God.
Today’s Bible reading: Exodus 4, 5:1-21 Matthew 18:1-20; Psalms 22:19-31; Proverbs 5:15-21
Yesterday God had given Moses instructions to return to Egypt and lead the oppressed Israelites out into their own land. Moses was to go to the leaders of Israel and explain that God was going to take them out of Egypt. Today in Exodus 4 Moses tries to get out of what God has asked him to do.
Moses is concerned that the people will not believe him. So God gives Moses the power to do three miracles. The first, changing his staff into a snake and back again, was to demonstrate power to the Egyptians who believed that power came from snakes. The second miracle was that Moses’s hand become leprous and then would be healed. The final miracle was the ability to change water from the Nile River into blood. The Nile was the source of life for the Egyptians so this miracle would demonstrate power over their life by God.
Moses apparently is content with these miracles because he no longer is concerned about the people doubting him. So he tried to get out of this assignment by claiming that he is not a good speaker. What I see happening here is that Moses simply does not want to do what God has told him to do. One thing to keep in mind… God will never ask us to do anything that He doesn’t think we can do. We may not think we can do it, but God has more confidence in us than we do, especially since He will always be with us (Exodus 3:12, 4:12).
After God doesn’t accept this excuse from Moses he (Moses) finally gets to the point – he doesn’t want to it (Exodus 4:13). Moses demonstrates a real lack of faith here. Is probably afraid to return to Egypt (understandably) or perhaps he doesn’t want to leave the life he now knows. But when God asks us to do something it is best to just do it. God will be with us throughout. And we will be better for it because we will have accomplished something that we never thought we could do. Growth only comes through change. If we stay where we are, we stay what we are.
In the end Moses goes back to Egypt but God allows his brother Aaron to go with him to speak on Moses behalf. Later on Aaron will make some big mistakes that will cause the Israelites trouble. We’ll read about that later in Exodus.
When Moses and Aaron get back to Egypt the Israelites believed them and worshipped God. They must have been thrilled to know that their days of slavery were coming to an end. Unfortunately, though, Pharaoh wasn’t convinced.
Unlike his predecessor who recognized the God of Israel (Genesis 41:38-39) this Pharaoh did not (“I do not know the Lord” he says in Exodus 5:2). Both Pharaohs had seen God at work but only one chose to believe. The same is still true today. Some people will see and hear the same evidence of God but not all will believe. Some will even be callous and outright defiant of God as this Pharaoh was.
This Pharaoh was only concerned about what he could get out of the enslaved Israelites. In response to this request from Moses, Pharaoh demands even more work from the people, making their situation even worse. He does this to teach them a lesson (Exodus 5:9). Notice that he calls the instructions from God “lies”. Does that sound familiar? We hear the same thing from non-believers today. Several months ago someone ridiculed me for believing in Jesus and the Bible calling Jesus my “mythical friend” and the Bible “lies”. Things haven’t changed in a few thousand years.
The sad outcome of all this was that the Israelites turned on Moses and blamed him for the deterioration in their working conditions. They believed when he showed them a couple of miracles. But when their situation got worse, they forgot (or maybe no longer believed) that God was with them and had made a promise to them. This is another good take-away for us. God has made promises to us which we are reading in the Bible. He isn’t going to abandon those promises. Just because things get worse before they get better is no reason to stop having faith. If anything it is a chance to demonstrate to an unbelieving world that God can be trusted.
Jesus teaches us today that it is all about humility. The disciples were concerned about position in heaven, but Jesus tells them not to be concerned with such things. Instead they should be concerned with serving others. As an example he uses a child. Children had no rights in this society and were not necessarily considered a blessing. So Jesus is saying that we should look out for those whose needs greater than our own and those who have no voice in society.
“Temptations are inevitable” (Matthew 18:7). Being tempted is not a sin. But being a tempter is. Notice that the world tempts people. But so does Satan (who we’ll read later is the ruler of this world). We should go to great lengths to remove sin from our lives. In verses 8 and 9 Jesus give an extreme metaphorical example. We shouldn’t mutilate our bodies because we know it is not our eye or hand from which sin originates – it is the heart. But we should go to extreme measures to remove sin and temptation. Sometimes this may mean giving up some friends, or a job, or a goal, or a boyfriend/girlfriend that gets in the way of us living the way God wants us to.
Psalm 18 reminds us that God hears the cries from the suffering and the needy. Just like He heard the cries of the Israelites in Egypt and He how takes care of little children He will not ignore or turn His back on anyone today.
Proverbs warns against adultery today. God made sex to be between a husband and a wife. Our wives should be considered a blessing. They should captivate us always.
Today begins the story of the life of Moses. At this point in the story Moses is about 40 years old (we know this from Act chapter 7). Moses knew he was not an Egyptian (verse 11). While visiting his own people he kills an Egyptian who is beating one of his Hebrew brothers. There is some symbolism here depicting Moses as a deliverer but although his intentions are good — he was outraged at injustice — Moses clearly breaks both Egypt’s law and God’s law. As a result, he has to flee from his cushy life in Pharaoh’s palace to the desert. In Genesis we saw how Abraham and Isaac both had issues with lying. As we study Moses’ life we will see that he has a problem with anger.
In Midian Moses again acts as a deliverer when he rescues some young female shepherds from a bunch of bullies. Moses again demonstrates that he has a heart for the oppressed. God is definitely speaking to you and me through the life of Moses. We need to stand up for those who are mistreated and have no voice of their own: the unborn, victims of human trafficking, abused children, etc. The list goes on. As long as there are humans there will be egos. As long as there are egos there will be oppression. Those of us who have our treasure in heaven should not be afraid of taking a stand on this earth against what God tells us is wrong. But we need to do it God’s way. Pray first. Receive instructions second. Act third.
When Moses’s son is born he names him Gershom because he (Moses) is a “foreigner in a foreign land”. Moses seems to know that Midian is not his destiny. Midian was not part of the land that God promises to Abraham. Moses certainly knew this as he was raised by Hebrew parents (even after Pharaoh’s daughter found him). Do you ever get the feeling that maybe your life is not in the right place occupationally, geographically, romantically, or some other way? I am dealing with this very issue regarding my career and geographic residence right now. Sometimes we are not where God wants us to be. But nevertheless, while we are there He can train us and grow us so that when we are where He wants us we will be more usable.
Verses 23 and 24 remind us that no matter how bad things get, God is looking down on us. He never leaves us alone. And while things may seem bleak, God’s perspective is wider. He sees the whole picture. We only see a small part of it. Its interesting that the Israelites did not pray to God. They groaned. They complained. They didn’t seem to have faith in God at this point. But even so, God is faithful. He made a promise to Abraham and He begins to put a plan into action to fulfill that promise. God is always at work in our lives. Not because of our faith or obedience, because we fail here big time. But rather because of His faithfulness to us.
Another 40 years goes by and Moses is now 80 years old when God calls to him from the burning bush (Exodus 3). Here God calls Moses to go back to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of there. Forty years earlier Moses was questioned by two Hebrews who asked “Who gave you any authority?” (Exodus 2:14). Moses asks God essentially the same question in Exodus 3:11. God doesn’t really answer Moses; He just states that He will be with Moses. It doesn’t matter who Moses is. It only matters who God is. And who is God? In verse 14 God tells Moses to tell the Israelites that “I AM” has sent him (Moses). God “is”. He “is” so many things. He “is” the God of the Israelites. He is their Deliverer. He is their Creator.
The rest of our reading in Exodus today is prophecy which came true shortly thereafter. God accurately predicted how Pharaoh would behave and how He would respond. God gives us the end of the story before the beginning even happens: The Israelites will leave Egypt with much wealth.
Jesus heals a boy of seizures in Matthew 17 today after His disciples had tried to heal him but had apparently failed. Notice the boy’s father calls Jesus “Lord”, a term essentially subjugating the speaker. This happens many places in the Gospels but nowhere is it recorded that Jesus ever stopped anyone from doing so. Many people attempt to claim that Jesus was not God but was only a “good and moral teacher”. But would someone who wasn’t God and knew it really be moral if he allowed Himself to be exalted above his peers? No. He is not just a teacher. Jesus was God.
We’re told that the reason the disciples could not expel the demon from the boy is that they did not have enough faith. Faith must always be placed in something. So the disciples faith was not placed where it should have been… in Jesus. The modern world tells us to have faith in ourselves; we should “believe” in ourselves. True faith is not directed inward. It is directed outward, toward God. Jesus was God in a human body. It was by faith in God that Jesus performed miracles. If we have enough faith, and that faith is placed in the right object, Jesus, then we can solve any problem.
Matthew 17:27 is a very interesting verse. Did you know that most likely all 12 disciples, with the exception of Peter, were teenagers? The Bible doesn’t tell us that explicitly, but there is anecdotal evidence of it and this verse is one. The temple tax was to be paid by men 20 years and older. Notice in this passage that only Peter and Jesus pay the tax. The others do not. Most likely the other 11 were 19 years of age or younger. Isn’t it cool that Jesus would use the youth and inexperienced ones to carry His message forth to the world? This is a great lesson for kids in high school and junior high today. God exists and is willing to use them to do great things.
Notice in this passage (Matthew 17:25-26) that kings don’t collect taxes from their own people; “citizens are free” Jesus says in verse 26. Jesus is our King. We are His citizens. He collects no tax. His love, compassion, and salvation are all free for all who want them! Isn’t that great?!
I’m sure all of us can relate to Psalm 22. The author of this Psalm is clearly in distress and is wondering if God has abandoned him (this is never true as we learned earlier today). The author recalls that God came to the rescue of his ancestors (verses 4-5). Even though he is not hearing from God, he apparently still believes that he will get an answer.
Notice in verse 16 that the enemies are described as a “gang” or “pack”. Evil almost always travels together. I guess this is a way of justifying one’s bad behavior (“if other people are doing it, then it can’t be all that bad”). But righteousness often travels alone. It isn’t easy trying to do what is right. Remember the two roads we learned about earlier this year… the road to hell is wide and many will travel on it while the road to heaven is narrow and few will find it.
How many of us enjoy discipline? None of us. But it is necessary. If we try to avoid it we will end up in anguish, as Proverbs tells us today. Verse 12 is so right. We will look back at our lives realizing that discipline for a short while is much better than the long term affects of ignoring the discipline. We have this harsh connotation of discipline, but really just means “training that corrects”. When done correctly discipline will create wisdom, not resentment.
God had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that they would become the fathers of a great nation. These men had faith that God would keep His promise. What started out as one man (Abraham) and his small family had grown to enough people to “fill the land” (Exodus 1:7). God kept His promise. Israel is becoming a large nation and will continue to get larger. Notice that God never told these patriarchs how He would make Israel a great nation. None of these three men had any clue that their family would face severe famine and have to move to Egypt. God doesn’t give us the details. He gives us the promise. Its up to us to believe and act on that belief.
At one point Joseph was the second most powerful man in Egypt. He had found favor in the eyes of Pharaoh due to his wisdom and ability to manage the famine crisis. But by Exodus 1:8 all that is over. Pharaoh had died and a new king came to power who didn’t have the same point of view on Joseph. This king fears the now large Israelite population so he enslaves them. Power and fame are fleeting. They are only last as long as one’s admirers. We shouldn’t chase after them because not only won’t they last but, even worse, they often lead us away from God. In Joseph’s case he handled power and fame well. But for most people, these are very dangerous things.
The new Pharaoh is so afraid of the Israelites that he orders all baby boys killed. This was intended to limit their future military power. But notice how the Egyptian midwives “feared God”. They probably didn’t worship the true God of the Israelites but they had seen, and had heard stories of, how the Israelits had been blessed by God and they didn’t want to mess with Him. So they disobeyed Pharaoh’s orders and let the boys live. When our leaders tell us to do something that goes against God, we have every right, and obligation, to disobey. Our leaders are only human. Not all of their choices will be correct. We should have no fear in dismissing any commands that are not in line with God’s will.
In Exodus 2 we read the beginning of the life of Moses. Notice how Moses’ parents are unnamed. Moses came from humble beginnings, not from a famous family. Yet God will use him to do some awesome things. God works the same way today. God uses those who are not well known or powerful so that He will get the glory. If God used a famous person instead, the masses would give the glory to that person and would not attribute it to God. Not to mention that “successful” human beings (as defined by the world: rich, powerful, famous) probably don’t recognize God to begin with.
In Matthew 16:15 Jesus asks His disciple who they think He is. Peter answers “You are the Messiah”. The Jews knew that their Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) foretold of a coming messiah (savior). The Jews at this time believed that the Messiah would be a military leader who would liberate Israel from the occupying Romans. Just a few verses later Jesus tells them that He will suffer at the hands of the Jewish leaders and be killed. This obviously confused them because they thought the Messiah would be a conquerer.
In verses 24-26 Jesus talks about the cost of being a disciple. The cost of being a disciple is everything – our entire lives. We must put away our own ideas and selfish desires. Nothing is worth more than our soul, not even the entire world! That is because our souls are eternal and the world is temporary. Even if we could gain the entire world in our lifetime, we would lose it when we die anyway.
Jesus predicts His own return to earth in the future in verse 27. The Bible is about 21% prophecy, some of which has come true, such as over 100 prophecies about Jesus that came true when He first came to earth, and some which has not, including the ones about Jesus’s future return to earth.
In Matthew 17 we have the cool story of the transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus took His closest disciples up on a mountain, and before their eyes, shed His earthly body and showed them His heavenly glory. This was not a miracle. The miracle was the fact that God placed Himself in a human body to begin with. This was the temporary cessation of that miracle to reveal His true appearance to these lucky disciples. The disciples certainly got to witness some cool stuff.
Notice Matthew 17:7 where Jesus tells the three disciples not to be afraid. This was just after God spoke. This happens repeatedly in the Bible. God speaks and those who hear Him are afraid. But Jesus tells us not to be afraid. There is no reason to be afraid of God. He isn’t out to scare us or hurt us. He is out to bless us if we only let Him.
Again in verse 9 Jesus predicts that He will be raised from the dead. From this point on Jesus will be preparing His disciples for His death.
In Psalm 21 today we see that a “king” rejoices at God’s strength. Kings are pretty powerful. They have armies and great military strength. But the king in this Psalm rejoices not in his own power and strength but in that of the Lord. We should live the same way. Our success in life is not from our own skill and intelligence. We have success because God gave us the skill and intelligence to succeed.
I think it is pretty cool that there are so many ways that we should celebrate God. One of those ways is with music and singing (Psalm 21:13).
Proverbs tells us that immoral temptation is “sweet” and “smooth”. But the reality of immoral behavior is “bitter as poison”. What seems like a good idea may very well not be. How do we know? We measure everything against God’s word to see if it is “moral” or not. That is why reading, studying, and meditating on the Bible is so important.
Today’s Bible reading: Genesis 48, 49; Matthew 15:29-39; Psalms 20:1-9; Proverbs 4:20-27
Jacob prepares to die in today’s Genesis passages. In the presence of Joseph and two of his grandsons, Jacob tells the story of God’s faithfulness in his life. Jacob was not always faithful as we have seen. But God never left him or gave up on him. Jacob realizes this.
Jacob’s speech in beginning of this chapter is not just an old man talking. He is giving a lesson to Joseph, Manasseh, and Ephraim. He is teaching them that God is faithful. He is reminding them of the promises God has made. This is a good lesson to us today (isn’t everything in the Bible?). We should let the younger generation, our children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews know about our relationship with God. If we are honest with them about our own unfaithfulness towards God as well as God’s faithfulness to us, we will be teaching them an important lesson. So many people think they can’t have a relationship with God because of their past or who they are today. But that is not true at all. God loves us all despite our flaws. We’ve been seeing that in the Bible so far this year. This is a lesson that needs to be taught.
We should also pray for other people, especially younger people, in their presence as Jacob does here. This will display not only God’s love for them but our own love for them as well. I don’t know of anything more powerful that we could do to help build the spiritual lives of the younger generation than to pray for them right in front of them.
Before Jacob dies he gathers his sons to tell them what will happen to them in the future. Due to their previous sins Rueben, Simeon, and Levi are disowned (Rueben slept with Rachel’s maid and Simeon and Levi attacked Shechem). Notice that Jacob speaks about their anger in the present tense (Genesis 49:7) saying their anger “is” fierce and their wrath “is” cruel. Apparently they had not repented of their previous faults and had not changed their ways.
Judah, on the other hand, had also committed some pretty bad sins, but had repented as we saw when he went down to Egypt and was dealing with his brother. It is Judah who will be blessed rather than this older brothers. I found it interesting that Jacob did not even mention Judah’s sins. That is just how God works. God will convict us of our sins but if we acknowledge them, ask forgiveness, and repent, God will mention them no more.
In Genesis 49:10 we read another reference to Jesus. Jesus will be a descendant of Judah’s. It is He to whom Jacob refers when he says “The one” (or “him” in some translations) twice in this passage. The Bible is all about Jesus. He appears in every book of the Bible, including here (and other places) in Genesis. Note that Jacob not only believes in God’s promise of the land of Canaan, but also God’s promise to provide a savior.
Descendants of Jacob’s 12 sons will go on to leave Egypt and enter the Promised Land (modern day Israel) and will be known as the 12 tribes of Israel. We will read all about this over the next few weeks.
Jesus heals more people in Matthew today. Again notice that He heals “all” the people who came to Him. Jesus turns no one away. The crowd was so appreciative that they gave praise to the God of Israel. And if you are truly saved, isn’t that the effect your life should have on people? You and I cannot give sight to the blind or cure diseases. But nevertheless our lives can be, and should be, a great witness to God. We should not be living for our own glory but to bring glory to the One who created us and saved us.
In Matthew 16 we see the religious leaders once again wanting to see a miraculous sign from Jesus to “prove” His authority. They had already seen plenty of signs but remember they were accusing Jesus of working for Satan. They now ask for a sign to prove that Jesus’ miracles come from the power of God.
Notice also how this time the Pharisees and Sadducees are working together. On previous occasions (e.g. Matthew 12) only the Pharisees were following Jesus criticizing Him. We are seeing more and more people starting to question Jesus. Soon pretty most everyone will turn against Him. I think we have seen this happening in the United States over the past few decades. The Bible was a big part of our culture as recently as the 1950s. I’ve seen speeches by President Eisenhower in which he references “Our Lord”. But Jesus is no longer popular in our society. Can you imagine an president today mentioning Jesus in a speech? Sadly neither can I. His name is repugnant to so many people that it is now politically correct not to mention His name. But that cannot stop us from telling others about Him. So many are misinformed about who Jesus is. And this is information they desperately need.
Jesus tells these religious leaders that it is evil to demand a miracle. But He does tell them that He will give a sign in the future similar to Jonah. This sign will be Jesus being in the earth for 3 days (after being crucified) just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for 3 days.
I found Matthew 16:12 very interesting today. A few verses before Jesus told a parable which is explained here. Jesus is warning His disciples against the “deceptive teaching” of the religious leaders in that culture. We have the same thing today. The Bible tells us that there will be many false teachers and false churches right before the second coming of Christ. I think we can certainly see that today. We have churches that have distorted the Word of God for the sake of appealing to our flesh by proclaiming acceptance of sinful practices like homosexuality. Not to mention the many mainstream denominations that teach that we go to heaven or hell based on how good or bad we have been on earth. These false teachings are very dangerous because they make sense to a fallen world that never opens a Bible. People need to know the truth. And that truth comes only from Jesus.
Psalm 20 is a prayer. Verses 1-5 are requests on behalf of the reader of the Psalm. Everyone one of us will face times of trouble and distress in our lives. God will answer (verse 6). God hears every prayer.
Many nations take pride and put their trust in humanity (verse 7). But a believer’s pride and trust should be in the name of God and nothing more. One thing I thought of while reading this verse… believers in Jesus are a “nation”. We don’t have territory with borders because our home is in heaven. But we are a nation, none the less, with a Leader in whom we should take pride.
Very true words in Proverbs today. We must guard our heart above all else. The status of our heart will determine how our life goes. Whether our heart if full of bitterness or joy, peace or envy, or whatever… it will define us. So we must be careful and take care of the spiritual health of our heart.
Finally, I really liked verses 25-27. We need to keep our eyes fixed on what is before us – Jesus! If we keep our eyes on Him our heart will be healthy, our path will be straight and safe. Verse 27 rightly implies that if we stray off course we will be tempted to evil. The righteous road is narrow and is surrounded by sin. Its not easy to stay on the narrow road as we all know. But getting off-course is a recipe for disaster. We all get off course at times in our lives. But we need to get right back on it by setting our eyes back on Jesus. I think of it like walking on a tightrope or balance beam. If we keep our head up and our eyes focused on a point in the distance, we can walk that narrow path.
Today’s Bible reading: Genesis 46, 47; Matthew 15:1-28; Psalms 19:1-14; Proverbs 4:14-19
Today we see God comfort and encourage Jacob as he travels to Egypt. Jacob is very old at this point and it must be very difficult for him to move his entire life and family hundreds of miles. So God gives him some comforting words (Genesis 46:3). God reminds Jacob that He is the God of his ancestors. Then God tells Jacob that He (God) will be with Jacob in Egypt. Our God is a loving God who never leaves us alone. He is always with us. Finally God makes a promise to Jacob. God promises that He will bring Jacob back to Canaan in the future.
Jacob must have been assured that moving to Egypt is the right thing to do after hearing from God. This is a good reminder to all of us. We shouldn’t just do something because we want to do it. We should do it because it is God’s will. Of course God will be with us no matter what we do. But if we do something that is not in God’s will we will just delay God’s blessing. There is no reason to move quickly through this life. We have all of eternity to live. We want everything now. But God moves at a slower pace.
If we recall the behavior of Abraham and Issac (Jacob’s grandfather and father) we remember that they had some problems telling the truth. But Joseph insists that his family tell Pharaoh the truth about their occupation. The reason for this is two-fold. First, Joseph knew that God wants His people to always be honest. But also, there was a more practical reason. The Egyptians did not respect farmers and shepherds. They didn’t want to mix with them. By keeping his family separate from the Egyptians, Joseph is trying to keep his family spiritually pure as it would be unlikely they would intermarry with the locals. Intermarrying was forbidden because it would dilute the people’s love and acknowledgement of the One True God.
Joseph certainly understood God and lived to serve him. Because of this, his dysfunctional family was saved from the severe famine. One person in a family can have a big impact. If you are the only believer in your family… if you are the only one who is trying to do God’s will… don’t despair or feel like you are alone. God notices. He is with you. He will use you to bless your family.
Jesus debunks the notion of man-made traditions in Matthew today. The Pharisees had all these rules about behavior that they thought made someone right with God and they criticize Jesus because His disciples don’t follow these rules. But Jesus turns their argument right around onto them by pointing out their hypocrisy and lack of understanding of God’s word (they only had what we call the Old Testament back then).
Jesus raises a very important point in Matthew 15:11. It is not what goes into our mouth that defiles us. But it is the words that come out of us that defile us. It doesn’t matter what we eat. What matters is what we say. The words we say reflect our heart. If our words are selfish, mean, untrue, vulgar, etc that simply means that our heart is the same.
Psalm 19 reminds us that God’s instructions to us are perfect, trustworthy, and right. We also read that there are many sins that we commit that we are unaware of. It is the willful sinning that is detestable to God. We can see much of this in our society today. People know what God’s word says even if they aren’t believers. But they don’t care. They do what they want. Sadly they will come to find that this is a mistake. The other ramification is that it removes God’s blessing from society as a whole so we all end up suffering and missing out on God’s blessing.
Proverbs admonishes us too avoid and turn away from the path of evil. Don’t even go there. We saw earlier today that God moves at a slower pace than we do. When we move too quickly we run the risk of making mistakes. Its better to slow down so we can make wise choices.
In today’s passage in Genesis Joseph tests his brother’s one more time to see if they have really changed over the previous 20 years. They showed no remorse when they sold Joseph into slavery. They had an “us” versus “him” mentality. But they show no signs of that this time when Benjamin is found with Joseph’s silver cup. Instead they act as one and don’t abandon their father’s youngest, and probably most favorite, son. They also show genuine concern for their father whereas 2o years before they were willing to lie to him. This time they don’t even consider lying. They are aware of their past mistakes and don’t want to make the same mistakes again.
We should evaluate ourselves along these same lines. God understands that we make mistakes. But if we keep making the same mistakes over and over then we aren’t really acknowledging that they are mistakes. God is looking for real repentance (i.e. turning away from what is wrong) manifested by changed behavior.
Notice how Joseph handles the revealing of his identity. He orders all of the people out of the room so he can be alone with his brothers. He did not want to embarrass his brother’s in front of the Egyptians. There was no reason for the Egyptians to know what they had done especially since Joseph wanted them to come live in Egypt. Joseph also told them not be angry with each other for what they had done. Unforgiveness of self is just as damaging as unforgiveness of others. We can see that Joseph is a very mature man who knows how to handle and lead people.
Notice also how Joseph sees God’s hand in all that had happened. God knew, 20 years earlier, that there would be a famine. So He used the evil of the brothers to place Joseph into a position where he could help his family when the famine came. God is great at doing this kind of thing. He can take our sin and turn it into good. That doesn’t justify sin in any way. But it goes to show how powerful and intelligent God is. Not to mention that He is always looking at the bigger picture. If we understand that God is involved in every thing that goes on in our lives, we will someday look back at the difficulty that we are going through right now and be thankful for it.
I thought it was pretty cool that Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, blessed Joseph’s brothers by giving them provisions for their journey. I think it reflects on just how loyal and competent Joseph was in his job. If we do the best job we can right where God has placed us, He will bless us.
There are two great miracles in Matthew today. The first is Jesus feeding over 5,000 people with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. The people had followed Him to a remote area where there wasn’t much food. There wasn’t a Starbucks on every corner back then. The people were hungry and since it was getting late, it would be some time before they could get home to prepare a meal. I see so much compassion in Jesus here. He is concerned about even our most basic needs. We should do the same. When we see someone in need we should help them, just like Jesus helped those in need. This not only includes physical needs, but spiritual needs. So many people need to be told about Jesus. There is no time for us to be watching hours of television a night or wasting our time in other ways. Our focus should be on meeting the needs of the people who are around us.
After this Jesus sends his disciples on ahead in a boat while He remains behind to pray. It appears that He prays for several hours. I would guess that most of us don’t pray enough. One of my New Year’s resolutions in 2013 is to pray more. So far I’m doing a pretty good job, but I still don’t think it is enough. There is so much to pray for. Every day God is showing me something new that I can pray for whether it is a need of my own, or for someone I know, or for my country. I could probably pray 24/7 and never finish.
The second miracle in this passage is Jesus walking on water. Of course Jesus was God so walking on water isn’t that surprising. But the cool part of this story is that Peter gets to walk on water too. Peter is the only person, besides Jesus, to walk on water. How would you like to have that to brag about for all eternity?
It took faith for Peter to step out of the boat when Jesus beckoned him, especially considering there were “heavy waves”. He took at least a few steps — he “walked on the water toward Jesus” (Matthew 14:29). I can just see Peter talking baby steps while looking straight at Jesus the whole time. But at some point he switched his focus off of Jesus and onto the waves. It was then he started to sink because he started to doubt.
What is Jesus calling you to do? Whatever it is, you can do it. It just takes faith. Not in yourself. But in Jesus. Jesus wouldn’t have called Peter to walk to Him on water if he (Peter) could not have done it. And God isn’t going to ask you to do anything that can’t be done. But just like walking on water, you will only be able to do it through faith in God. Don’t focus on the obstacles (waves). Focus on the One who can do miracles.
Today’s passage in Psalm 18 tells of how God helped David (the author of this Psalm) defeat his enemies. God gave David the strength and courage to overtake his enemies (verse 37). God gave him complete victory (verse 38) after preparing him for battle (verse 39).
God is willing to strengthen you in your battle against your enemies too. Whether your enemy is another person, or maybe even yourself. Or maybe it is an addiction or fear. God wants you to be victorious. God is willing to deliver you from whatever enemy you are facing (verse 48).