An Education in Human Behavior

A decision to leave a writer’s group I had attended for five years gave me an education in human behavior. I owe a debt of gratitude to the man who started the meeting. My writing improved dramatically during my time with them.

The first meeting I attended comprised three members. I wrote non-fiction. They wrote fiction. They made an exception. I wrote about God. The Lutheran did not mind. The pagan was not pleased but tolerated me. Even though the leader intended the group to consist of one genre, he decided the purpose of the meeting was to encourage the craft of writing and swung the door open for all genres.

We met weekly to refine our craft. The rules were sparse. A common goal of helping one another held us together. “Suck it up” became the golden rule. When the members commented on our work, we could not reply until we had been sliced, diced and roasted. Was it difficult to remain quiet while people pointed out every detrimental item in your writing? Yes, indeed, but it worked wonderfully.

Everyone’s writing improved except our leader who rarely submitted work for a critique.  He seemed content to sit among us as a shepherd who provided a place for the flock to graze as we found our own way. If he was late, or didn’t appear at all, we started without him. We were adults, not children who needed someone to hold our hand.

Over the years, writers came and writers left. Some left in wonderment we did not perceive their genius. Some left in anger when we suggested their writing needed improvement. Others left upon the realization they would not be an overnight success depositing a million dollar royalty check in the morning.

We developed into a core group of writers who rarely missed a meeting.  Our writing steadily improved until some among us were paid for our finely crafted work. We rejoiced and high-fived the proud authors. The playwright among us won a competition. We attended the sold-out opening night when a local playhouse produced her play.

We were happy until strangers appeared desiring what we had. Fear invaded the group.  No longer were we reviewing one to three members work per meeting. We had to wait weeks for a critique, and then we had to wait months. Grumbling rumbled through the group.

“This group is too big,” said one of the members. “Something needs to be done,” affirmed another member. “Patience,” I cried. “Nothing happens fast in publishing, so what does it matter if we have to wait.” Some scowled in disgust. We discussed new rules but the submissions that came in like a flood subsided and the group breathed a sigh of relief.

Our relief was short-lived. The bookstore that nurtured us blessed us with advertising. More strangers arrived wanting what we had, but the group no longer wanted to share. If we share, we have to wait. Our needs required instant gratification. None of us had a publishing deadline or even contest deadline, but we had a rule. If someone had a deadline, his or her work would move to the top of the list.

“Why can’t we welcome these strangers and wait if we must,” I inquired.

“These new people will destroy our group,” someone huffed.

Our leader shed his shepherd clothes and crowned himself sovereign king. He extended his scepter and decreed that the strangers must prove their worth first. They must wait for weeks and then we will read their writing to see if they are worthy to sit among us.

I don’t think the minority within the writing group realized what they did. They saw the strangers as loss. I saw them as gain. What did we have to fear – new ideas, fresh perspectives, more talented writers giving helpful critiques? Unfortunately, the minority had the power to determine which path the group would take.

Instead of encouraging writers new writers, we nitpicked about the rules. The strangers did not destroy us. The rules did. I knew from many years of Bible study that the letter of the law kills; the Spirit gives life. But my opposition to the influx of unnecessary rules fell on deaf ears. I didn’t want to quarrel with people who had become my friends, so I moved on hoping to recapture what I once had. A group of writers with a common goal of encouraging one another.

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Just What You’re Looking For

When my baby started college a car became a necessity. The last thing he needed was unending car repairs sucking up his limited funds, and I wanted the impossible – a new car at a used car price. God is able to do the impossible, but I don’t expect him to do the unreasonable. I prayed he would lead us to a reliable car that fit our budget with less than 30,000 miles thinking that is the closest we would get to a new car.

Before we left the house, my husband called from work and said he wanted Tim to look for a new car. I didn’t think he could afford a note for a new car, but dutifully drove onto the new car lot. Tim test drove a car and wanted to discuss the price with the salesman. I reluctantly consented. He had saved a substantial down payment, and I was present to guide him, not choose the car.

When the salesman assured us a $200 a month car note, Tim was ready to buy. The note was reasonable, but I reminded my eager son, “You have to pay insurance too.” The salesman smelling a sell offered to call our insurance for a quote. He dialed the number and turned on the speakerphone. The secretary recorded the information and then informed us we could not get a quote today but someone would call us tomorrow.

The salesman looked up from doodling on a piece of paper in shock. “We call this agent all the time. I’ve never had that happen.”

At this point, I took over the negotiations. “My son won’t commit to a car until we know how much the insurance will cost.” Feeling the sale slipping through his fingers, he spun the phone around and quickly dialed the national office of the insurance company.

“How may I help you,” said the secretary.

“I’d like an insurance quote,” I said.

A voice squawked over the speakerphone, “You’ll have to contact your agent for a quote.”

My son and I patiently waited another forty minutes while the frustrated salesman labored in vain to find someone who would give us an insurance quote. I finally thanked the salesman for his efforts, and we left the dealership.

“Don’t worry,” I told my son. “Our agent will call tomorrow with a quote, and we’ll come back if it’s affordable.” He nodded in agreement.

This time I pulled onto a used car lot. “What do you have for about $10,000, I asked the salesman. He led us to a car with 44,000 miles on the speedometer. “Do you have anything with less mileage?”

He looked thoughtful for a moment. “I think I have just what you’re looking for.” He made us comfortable in his office, and then left. The wall was covered with awards for best salesman. Next to the awards were photo’s of him with a former mayor of New Orleans and a famous boxer.  I was reading a prayer tacked on his wall when he returned with a key in his hand.

“We just got this car in and haven’t cleaned it up yet,” he warned, “but it’s has 15,000 miles.”

Tim took the car for a test drive and liked it as much as the new car. “How much?” I asked the salesman. He led us back to his office. I sighed. Why couldn’t he quote a price while we stood outside?

He jotted numbers on a sales order and then handed the paper to me. When I saw the bottom line, I tried to keep my jaw from hitting the floor – $9,995 including tax, title and license. The price and mileage exceeded our expectations.

Tim had saved $8,000 to buy a car. I could put the balance on my credit card, and he would have the car paid in full before he attended his first college class. I studied the figures again and concluded this offer was too good to be true. There must be something wrong with the car.

“May I see a Carfax report,” I inquired.

A few moments later, the salesman returned with the report: one owner, personal use and then sold in an auction to the present dealer. Carfax guaranteed no problems with the title, no reported mechanical issues or accidents and no recalls listed.
The salesman left his office while I called my husband. We decided Tim could buy this car if he so desired. I motioned for the salesman to return and Tim proudly announced, “Sold.”

The salesman smiled and said, “Before I left for work this morning, I asked God who I could help today.”

His comment reminded me of my prayer for guidance. “I believe he just answered your prayer,” I said, “and mine.”

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Building a Following on Social Media

Susan Mead gives Southern Christian Writers tips for building a following on social media. Recorded live at the Gospel Bookstore, Gretna, LA.

Susan is an author, chaplain and mom with an MBA. Her first book Dance with Jesus: From Grief to Grace, hit #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Release in Christian Grief on the day it released. She recently released Don’t Go Through Life Naked.

She is the founder of His Girls Gather and the leader of the Shreveport Chapter of the Christian Women in Media Association. Susan has more than 100,000 followers on her website and social media.

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VINDICATED

I attended a secular writers critique group for years. The leader founded the group for Sci-fi writers but accepted what life gave him – a diverse group writing in different genres. He was the only one writing Sci-fi material. I was the only one submitting non-fiction Christian material.

The first year I attended was shaky. Religion is a sensitive topic. We established a rule not to comment on whether or not we agree with a writer’s point of view. Comments were limited to how the material could be improved. Learning to critique without commenting on whether or not they agreed with me was difficult. I made it a point to ignore insults and, if necessary, turn the other cheek, which is not always easy to do. In time, friendships developed and we rarely had a contentious meeting.

There remained a moment of dread when my work was critiqued. I never knew how they would react, especially when a new person joined. We had recently acquired a new member, Otto, a Jew uncertain about his heritage, when we critiqued Heavens Address. I was positive he would be offended by my Christian material.

The critiqued started on a contentious note when one member read from my chapter, “There are no good ole’ boys clubs in heaven” and then took issue with the theme that God does not show favoritism. Apparently, I struck a nerve.

“That’s not true,” he said, “God plays favorites. He showed favor to – ”

“David,” someone blurted out.

“Solomon,” he said.

“So God is not just?” I asked. I couldn’t resist either and could have easily refuted God showed favoritism toward both names that surfaced.

“God is not fair and I’m entitled to my opinion,” he said.

He is entitled to his opinion even though we had a rule not to express such opinions. I decided that I’d said enough.

Several members who favored the “God shows favoritism” opinion had their say and then it was Otto’s turn to comment. I braced for another tongue lashing.

“I’m Jewish,” Otto said. “I’ve read the Old Testament a lot and this is DAMN fine material.” He was very much impressed by what I had written and continued his praise until I was embarrassed.

The meeting ended and the member who set the contentious tone was the first to leave, or so I thought. Before I could leave, Otto picked up where he left off praising Heavens Address. I was humbled that a Jewish man who knew the Old Testament would be so moved by something this Gentile had written.

As I was walking out of the bookstore, I heard, “Goodnight, Teena.” The man who declared “God is not fair” was looking at some books near the place Otto and I were talking. Apparently, he heard everything Otto had to say after the meeting as well.

I drove home feeling vindicated. The next time someone takes issue with your God, don’t defend yourself. There is a Jewish savior in heaven who just might send a Jew to defend you.

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AN ENCOUNTER WITH MYSELF

A friend sent me an email about a Bible Study in a local coffee shop. Tithing, the subject of the discussion, caught my attention, but I was only mildly interested until I read three words: “All opinions welcome.”

I like to hear differing opinions, and then make my own decision about a subject. Unfortunately, church groups rarely listen to “all opinions” and dissenters to the accepted norm are ostracized. I decided to attend hoping to hear a lively discussion about tithing and planned to leave early if this turned out to be a group of disgruntled Christians complaining about their church.

The group of four men and one woman were from various churches. One of the men and I had attended the same church for a season. He no longer attended church but had never stopped studying the Bible. The woman attended a church whose pastor I knew. The other men were from the same church. One of them, a deacon, had been appointed by his pastor to lead the Bible Study.

The meeting opened with prayer, and they began a discussion about what they were going to discuss. The email had said tithing would be the subject, and I decided I’d made a mistake. I stayed mostly because it would have been rude to leave. I did not expect to come face to face with myself before the night was over, but I did.

One of the men, who I will call Al to protect his privacy, shared the same concerns I have about church doctrine and was making the same mistakes I did. Al was vocal about Pastors who teach questionable things and was known for confronting them through emails and at times in person. Jesus confronted the teachers of his day, and Al believed we should do the same. He was particularly concerned about the lack of teaching on Matthew Chapter 18. He claimed that “no one” was teaching the vital truths in this particular chapter and implied problems in the church would be resolved if someone did.

Before the discussion was over, the conversation turned a bit rude. Al offended the only other woman in the group by discussing the flaws in her pastor. She told him if he didn’t stop talking about her pastor she would leave. He told her to leave. The deacon objected to his “tone.” I was hoping for a lively discussion and was not disappointed.

To Al’s credit, he apologized to the woman. She asked him why he was against pastors and reminded him that pastors make mistakes like the rest of us. I didn’t get the sense Al was against pastors. He was against pastors who lead people astray. I understood how he felt.

At the beginning of my Christian walk, I believed whatever the pastor taught. Doing so led me to do stupid things that brought decades of pain into my life. Bitter experiences often cause young Christians to turn their backs on God and abandon Christianity. I was reluctant to release something that had salvaged me from drug addiction. Instead, I stopped believing everything a pastor taught and diligently studied the Bible to understand its message. As I sought to work out my own salvation the fog of lies I had been taught by well intention but flawed men cleared. I remained in the church, but my attitude toward pastors and organized religion is markedly different.

As I questioned pastors through emails and in private conversations about the things I learned in personal study a friend accused me of being against pastors. I wasn’t against pastors anymore than I believe Al is. Jesus said if our worship of God is made up of manmade rules we worship God in vain. He also warned us that many will say Lord, Lord let us in your kingdom but will be denied entrance because they practiced religion, but never pursued the will of God. The stakes are high. What we believe about God is very important.

The Bible is a long history of religious leaders corrupting and the prophets who resisted them being treated like traitors and outcast. If more people like Al were willing to challenge the things they are being taught there might be less corruption in the church. If more pastors were willing to examine their doctrines when they are questioned they might prosper in ministry.

When the Bible study was over, I remained to talk to Al about some of the things I’ve learned in my pursuit of the truth. First, Jesus had no sin in his life to cloud his judgment like we do. Rebuking religious leaders like Jesus did is dangerous because we are not sinless. Second, the doctrines we have embraced might not be as pure as we think they are. Third, corrupt leaders serve a good purpose. The pain they inflict in our lives teach us to worship the God we cannot see instead of men that we can see. Fourth, God’s ministers are God’s business. He will rebuke and judge them severely when they do wrong. There are a number of stories in the Bible that reveal the goodness and severity of God. King David is a good example that God does not play favorites. Fifth, applying our limited experience to the entire church yields inaccurate conclusions. I had taught Matthew Chapter 18 in a church, as I’m sure many ministers have throughout the church’s 2,000-year history.

I don’t know if I helped Al. He listened quietly and intently. I left him my card in case he wanted to talk further and emailed him Debtors Have Rights, which explains the parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew Chapter 18.

I posted this article to NOLA.com’s faith blog and Al contacted me to complain. He was a writer so I offered to give him blog space on NOLA. He declined, and I never heard from him again.

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RECIPIE FOR DISASTER

Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God.  He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”  When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it,… Exodus 24:13-15

Before Moses and Joshua went up the mountain to receive God’s copy of their agreement and the instructions for building a tabernacle, he gave the elders two instructions. Aaron or Hur could handle any disputes in his absence. They must wait for his return.  Moses disappeared into a cloud, and no one knew when he would return. Does that sound familiar? Didn’t Jesus disappear into a cloud with a promise that he would return?[1]

The similarities are unmistakable and the contrast evident. Under the law God’s people must prepare a place for God to dwell among them. Under grace God prepares a place for man to dwell with him. Before Jesus disappeared in a cloud he said, “I am going away to prepare a place for you.”[2] Sadly there is one more thing similar. The things God’s people do when we have to WAIT!

 Exodus 32:1

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

God knew his people would choose another leader when they grew impatient. He already prepared Aaron to deal with them when he commanded Moses to bring Aaron with him on his fourth trip to the mountaintop.

God is so desirous that it would always go well with us and our children that he will warn us and prepare us for the danger that lies ahead, but we must be alert or we will miss the warning sign.

Exodus 20:22-24

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.             “‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you.

 When God spoke these words, Aaron was present at God’s invitation. Even though God did not speak directly to Aaron, it was meant for Aaron to hear because it was God’s desire that things go well for Aaron and his children. God saw the roaring lion looking for someone to devour prowling around the camp, so he warned Aaron not to make a god of gold and told him where he could go to be blessed.

After Moses, Aaron and the elders sealed their covenant agreement by having dinner with God, Everyone returned to the camp except Moses and Joshua. The elders had been waiting for less than a month when they asked Aaron to make a god to led them because they didn’t know what happened to Moses,

 Exodus 32:2-4

2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3     So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool (Aaron had done this before). Then they (Aaron was not acting alone) said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

God told Aaron twice, once when God spoke the Ten Commandments and once standing with Moses in God’s presence, don’t make graven images to worship. Aaron failed to obey God. Let’s investigate why.

 LACK OF HUMILITY

 1 Peter 5:5-8

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. (KJV says “exalt in due time”, the Greek word is hupsoo and in this context means to give you a spiritual uplifting or revival in due time.)  7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Aaron was Moses’ older brother, but when it comes to the things of God Aaron was young man. He lived in Egypt for forty years serving Pharaoh’s teachings about God. Where do you think Aaron learned how to make a god out of gold? While Aaron was perfecting the art of making gods men can manipulate, Moses was living in Midian serving a real God that he cannot manipulate. In spiritual things Moses is the elder and Aaron must submit to his younger brother.

It takes a lot of humility to let your little brother tell you what to do. What do you think went through the minds of the religious leaders in Jerusalem when 30-year-old Jesus, who had not studied under them except for a three day question and answer session when he was 12, came along with advice on how to worship God? If you don’t know God’s ways it’s dangerous to be a leader in the church. God always gives us what we need put he puts it in humble places to confound the proud.

If you are an elder and have been an elder for a long time its very easy to become arrogant and your own arrogance will rob you of that which is truly God. I have a pretty good idea what the religious leaders were thinking about Jesus, “You know nothing carpenter from Nazareth, how dare you suggest we are not running the temple properly. We were doing this before you were born!”

Their arrogance kept them from receiving everything they needed to be accepted and blessed by the God they had devoted their lives to. Many of the chief rulers believed Jesus but were afraid to admit it.[3] If Aaron and the religious leaders of Jesus day would have humbled themselves and submitted to the younger,[4] in due time, God would have exalted them. Ultimately, many of them in Moses and Jesus day repented of their arrogance but there is always a minority that would rather be first than be blessed.

HEARERS ONLY

We must be alert because God rarely speaks directly to us. It is much more likely God will arrange to have the things we need to know spoken in our presence. This is one reason we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.[5] God will ordain a church service or Bible study for one person if he sees that person is headed for danger.  The people God speaks through by song, prophecies and the preached word rarely know who it’s for because God respects your privacy and the things going on between you and him are personal. No one else needs to know. At the same time we can all glean from a service even if it is for one person because the gifts of the Spirit manifest for the profit of all[6]. Be alert, pay attention, or things may not go well with you even though it is God’s desire that they do.

Did Aaron pay attention? Was Aaron alert? Obviously not! At this time in his life it is more likely that Aaron is angry with God because he does not have anything to do but sit on a pew and listen. He was not humble like Moses and doesn’t like submitting to his younger brother. Therefore Aaron heard the word, but he did not do it.

 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. James 1:22-24

When God invited Aaron to the mountaintop and told Moses not to make gods of gold he held up a mirror for Aaron to look in. God told Aaron who he was and gave him advance warning not to do what was in his heart. He warned Aaron to worship the invisible living God not an idol of your own creation. If Aaron had treasured every word God said whether it was addressed to him or not, when the pressure for revival became intense in Moses absence, he would have led the people to God’s altar, and God would have blessed them. God told him as much on the mountaintop.

BELIEVING LIES

If your leaders are weak disaster is certain because immature people probe, pick, manipulate and complain until they get their way. All they need to get their ungodly way is one weak leader with the authority to give it to them. The people knew Moses went up the mountain, but they did not see him disappear into the cloud, the elders did. Just like we know Jesus returned to heaven in a cloud. We did not see Jesus depart, the apostles did. The leading men of the tribes of Israel and the elders came to Moses and said the fire will consume us and we will die.[7] They are weak ineffective leaders because they believed a lie about their God.

The attitude or the spirit of the leadership always permeates their following because a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Throughout the history of Israel when there was a good leader the people did good. When there was a bad leader the people behaved badly. When there was no leader every one did what was right in his or her eyes.

Moses was only gone forty days and nights, barely over a month. But the people have picked up on the elder’s attitude that God will kill them. Everybody came back down the mountain except Moses and Joshua. All the elders can tell them is Moses disappeared into a cloud, and we must wait until he comes back. The elders have no viable evidence that Moses will ever come back except Moses word. The elders have been getting phone calls all hours of the day and night by people asking difficult questions. Where is Moses? In the fire! Didn’t you say the fire would kill us? I think it will! When will he be back? Don’t know! Can’t we do something while he is away? Not sure! What if he doesn’t come back? Well…! Do you think he’s dead? Now that’s a real possibility! It did not take long for the people to come to a legitimate conclusion based on the information they embraced as truth!

Exodus 32:1

            …”we don’t know what has happened to him”

If the information you base your knowledge on is a lie, you will come to accurate conclusions that are inaccurate. All the people had was information from men who believed God would kill them. The source of the information you embrace is just as relevant as the information. It is very difficult to sort out what is true and what is a lie and that is especially true about God. And especially true in an age where we only know in part. The church in the wilderness doesn’t know that the God in that fire is willing to die for them.

I can’t be critical of Israel’s conclusions, or anyone’s conclusion about God, when all we have is partial knowledge. The incomplete part we possess produces libraries of books that are not worth the paper they are written on. How do we sort through all of this information? How do we know what is true about God. Some say we are created, some say we evolved. They both have books written by men to prove their point of view and both ideas must be accepted by faith. How do I know what to believe?

When you make judgments about God allow for reasonable doubt! I choose to believe creation because I have reasonable doubt that a fish could become a monkey and a monkey become a man. Where did the ocean come from that the fish lived in before it flopped out of the water to grow arms, legs and a tail so it could swing from trees and eat bananas. Who provided the fish an ocean and the monkey trees to live in and banana’s to eat? A Big Bang! What explosion has ever created order? Make a big bang that creates order instead of disorder, and I might have a reason to believe we just happened by chance. I have much more reason to believe that none of this is by chance.

The lesser is taught by the greater. Jesus said, “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”[8] A fish cannot teach himself to be a monkey nor can a monkey teach himself to be a man. Let me add one more thought. A man cannot teach himself to be a God, hence the vanity of idol worship. When we create the idol, we greater than the god our imagination fashioned.

Unfortunately, it was not unreasonable for the people to believe that they did not know what happened to Moses. Their leaders believed God would kill them and no one volunteered to go up that mountain to look for Moses dead body as proof. That alone is enough evidence to believe there is a power greater than themselves on the top of that mountain. They did not put that fire there. They cannot put that fire out. The fire is still burning and they are afraid of the fire. Therefore, it was reasonable to suspect Moses was dead. We just don’t know. Before this story is over three thousand will die simply because they could not WAIT for Moses to return.

IMPATIENT

What did the people desire that made it hard to wait and created such misery for so many?

 Exodus 32:1

…“make us gods who will go before us”

 They desired a god to lead them. What is wrong with that desire? Not a thing if you have good leadership that loves the truth more than they love advancing their own ministries! It is not the people who walk out of churches and refuse to worship that create misery. The people who blindly worship at Aaron’s altar produce a flood of misinformation and misrepresentation that it is easy to drown in.

But Moses left Aaron in charge you might say! No, he didn’t! Moses left Aaron and Hur in charge of keeping peace by settling disputes. He did not leave them in charge of leading worship. Before Moses disappeared into the cloud he built an altar of earth where anyone could worship God and be blessed.

The people were tired of waiting for Moses to return. Worshiping at the altar of earth was hard because there is no one standing over them telling them how to do it right. Now add to that a frustrated priest who is longing to be in the spotlight. As Moses increased Aaron had decreased. When the people gathered around Aaron and asked for his help it appealed to his own unfulfilled desire. Remember Chapter 1, the lesson on Temptation; it was Eve’s desire for something good that got her in trouble. Like minds tend to flock together and Aaron was more than willing to give the people what they desired, so he could have what he desired: to be God’s man of the hour again.

OLD WAYS

To understand why Aaron led the people into such gross error we need to consider that all of Aaron’s life he had been taught religion. His parents had great faith in God.[9] All of their children had a calling on their life to serve God, including Miriam.[10] In addition to all the religious activity at home Aaron was born in and grew up in a nation consumed with a religion that bore many similarities to the faith his parents taught him.[11] Like so many others in Israel, Aaron drifted away from the God of his fathers because the religion of Egypt gave him want he wanted today!

God never forgot Aaron. He had better things for him then leading people to worship vain and worthless things. God had his hand on Aaron’s life to be a high priest and I do not doubt that Aaron knew it when he was forty-three years old and his brother Moses came down from Pharaoh’s palace to say its time to be delivered from all this religious nonsense. Moses lived in Pharaoh’s house as a son. He knew the priest used religion to manipulate the people. The people didn’t believe Moses because they were happy with the religious nonsense. They were building great treasure cities. Pharaoh got the treasures and they had cucumbers, melons and all the meat they could eat. When Moses left Egypt, he also left Aaron in frustration with a calling that cannot find its fulfillment. Thinking the God of his fathers forgot about him Aaron sought fulfillment by worshipping Egypt’s gods and making plenty of gold cows, so others can worship god to.

Forty years of vain and worthless worship had elapsed when the God commanded Aaron, to go Midian and talk to Moses.[12] Aaron traveled to Horeb the mountain of God, also called Mt. Sinai, and Moses told Aaron everything the Lord was going to do. Not only was God going to do great things, but God still had a place for Aaron. God had appointed Aaron to speak to the people for Moses. It would be as if Aaron were Moses prophet and as if Moses were a God to Aaron.[13] Weary of Egypt’s empty religion, Aaron humbled himself to this bitter arrangement.

For the time being it was enough for Aaron just to have his brother in his life again and to have an important part to play in the great things God was about to do. The sweetness made the bitterness easier to swallow. He could handle being second fiddle to his younger brother, as least he thought he could. By the time they got to Egypt and Aaron began to fulfill his calling, he had all but forgot the bitterness for the glory that engulfed him. It took a long time but when it was God’s time for Aaron, he was so bright he couldn’t see his own face in the mirror.

Aaron announced to the elders of his people their God had come to deliver them just like Joseph said he would.[14]  Aaron was the spark that lit the fire of revival in their midst. Aaron threw down the rod in the presence of the elders of Israel and it became a serpent; Aaron’s hand became leprous and it was instantly healed for all to see, Aaron turned water into blood and the sons of Jacob believed and worshipped God.[15] It was Aaron that started the negotiations with Pharaoh[16]. At God’s command it was Aaron that cast down the rod that turned into a serpent-eating serpent in Pharaoh’s presence not his younger brother Moses[17]. It was Aaron that caught the serpent by the tail and it turned back into a rod. Aaron had the power of God! Or did he?

When Pharaoh refused to yield to God Aaron stretched out the rod and the waters of Egypt turned to blood[18]. The power to make a man’s life miserable when he refuses to obey God is in Aaron’s hand. At God’s command Aaron stretched out the rod and frogs filled the land[19]. Aaron was having the time of his life. More than forty years he waited for this day and now the spotlight was on him in a big way! Every body in Egypt and Israel were talking about it. If you don’t obey God Aaron will stretch out that rod and you will be sorry. Aaron had the power of God! Or does he?

All Aaron had was a form of godliness with no understanding of its true power because Aaron loved himself and his ministry more than others. He proved it when he started fashioning gold cows and taught the people to serve Pharaoh’s gods in the land of Egypt. Yes, Aaron repented and tried to do the right thing, but there was much wrong in Aaron. When the frogs made Pharaoh and his people so miserable they could not find relief, Pharaoh called for Moses AND AARON to entreat the Lord that He may take away the frogs. In his misery, Pharaoh reached out to the two guys that have been witnessing to him that they might pray for him. Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh’s presence but only Moses cried out to the Lord and the Lord did according to the word of Moses.[20] That my friend is the true power of Godliness! Not the power to make you miserable when you fail to obey God,  that is only a form of godliness. The power of godliness is the power to relieve the misery God sends when men do not obey him. When you can come before God and obtain relief for someone who does not deserve it you’ve got the power of God. When you possess this power God can use you to do more than make people miserable. At your humble request God will relent and remove the misery he has sent.

Why didn’t Aaron entreat the Lord like Pharaoh asked him to? To busy polishing the rod of judgment I guess. God saw Moses compassion and Aaron’s absence, but God is longsuffering. Your ministry will go away before you do. At God’s command Aaron stretched out the rod and dust became lice on man and beast[21].  Aaron was still being used by God but not for long. His light is beginning to flicker and fade because all he does is make men miserable. When they ask for relief Aaron has no mercy.

When it came time to send flies the Lord did not have anything for Aaron to do. He told Moses to confront Pharaoh.[22] Up to now it had been Aaron confronting Pharaoh. Once again, Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron to ask for prayer because Pharaoh does not know who possesses the real power of godliness. Once again it was only Moses who prayed for relief and the Lord did what Moses requested.[23]

Aaron is still hanging around but he does not have much to do anymore. He had no part to play in the plague on the livestock. Had God forgotten about Aaron? No! To the contrary God was trying to get Aaron’s attention. The next two plagues Aaron was sitting on the sideline. Did he stop to wonder why? Apparently not because God had to be a little more direct.

 Exodus 9:8

8          Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh.

Wake up Aaron! Things are not right in your life. When God sent boils on man and beast he told Moses and Aaron to take handfuls of soot from the furnace but only Moses was allowed to toss it in the air. Can’t Aaron see that God was not using him anymore? This plague would be more than misery. It became boils on man and beast. People will suffer and Aaron cannot be trusted because Aaron will do nothing to relieve their suffering. From this point on Aaron is present but not active. We continue to read about him coming before Pharaoh with Moses but Aaron has nothing to do and by the time they arrived at Sinai Aaron was thoroughly bored.

Not only was Aaron bored, he was left in the camp to settle disputes and wonder why God didn’t use him anymore? I can hear Aaron thinking: Why did everybody listen to Moses, when I am the one that preached the message that led them back to the God of their fathers? Why was Moses a great man and respected in the land of Egypt but not me?[24] I started the negotiations with Pharaoh. I stretched out the rod and great miracles happen. I did all the work and Moses stepped in and took all the glory! When will I be respected like Moses is? Why don’t people appreciate me? Aaron was a disaster waiting to happen!

In the light of Aaron’s past it was easy to see why Moses left Aaron and Hur in charge. Aaron cannot be trusted to do anything but create misery. Hence he was left to learn how to create peace until Moses returned. God knew how much Aaron wanted to be used again and God also knew the pressure that would come to bear on Aaron when Moses was away. Therefore, God commanded Moses to bring Aaron with him on the fourth trip up the mountain. He wanted Aaron to hear two very important things from God’s mouth. First, you must not make an idol of gold. Second, if you will go to God’s altar he will come and bless you.[25]

If Aaron had been a doer of the word he would not have beheld himself in the mirror God’s words created when he stood in God’s presence with Moses and straightway forgot what manner of man he was.[26] If Aaron had not forgot what manner of man he was, when the people cried for a god to lead them, Aaron would have led them to the altar of earth Moses built. God would have meet them and blessed Aaron and the people.

All it takes to create a disaster is immature people who don’t want to wait and one weak leader who is a hearer of the word but not a doer. The real problem with Aaron is that he truly believed he was leading the people in the right way. He was called to lead worship and he knew it, in addition to that, God had used him in a great way in the past, so how could he be doing anything wrong now. That kind of deception is extremely difficult to break. Even though Aaron loved the things of God, he had not learned to love the people of God. When you exercise your gifts without love for God, and his people you gain nothing.

When Aaron saw the enthusiasm over the idol he made he saw an opportunity to use his gifts again and

 Exodus 32:5

            5 …, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.

Sin is subtle! The Hebrew word Aaron used for “Lord” was the Jewish national name of God: Yehovah or Jehovah. This was not an obvious sin. This was a sin that can only be discerned by those,

 Hebrews 5:14 KJV

14        …that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Aaron was not of full age with senses exercised to discern both good and evil. He was not able to separate the worship of Egypt from true worship of Jehovah. Aaron did not lead them to turn away from Jehovah that delivered them from Egypt, at least he didn’t think he did. Aaron and the people believed in their heart they were doing the right thing. They wanted to worship Jehovah, the God that delivered them from Egypt. The problem is false image of God in their heart. Many years later, King Jeroboam set up two gold cows in Israel and told the people the same thing Aaron did.[27] Aaron’s cow remained among them until God sold them as slaves again.

In Egypt the cow was associated with love. They made gold figures of a cow and put them around the neck of their dead because “then shall abundant warmth be in him throughout, even like that which was in him when he was upon earth. And he shall become like a god in the underworld.”[28] Why did they turned their back on the fire of God’s love they could still see blazing at the top of Mt. Sinai, to bow before a cow?

I’ll tell you why! The people thought they were worshipping Jehovah that delivered them from Egypt because that is what their leaders – plural – told them they were doing. These are the same leaders that ate dinner with God. The people trusted them. These are also the same leaders that believe a lie about God. These are the same leaders that keep complaining God brought us into the wilderness to kill us, and now this fire will kill us for sure. They didn’t believe Love was in the fire they could not control. They believed was the cow their Pastor made!

All they really did when they rushed to church early that morning was worship Aaron’s vain imaginations. The people’s confidence in Aaron was not without a valid basis. Aaron led them to return to the God of their fathers when they were living in Egypt. The people didn’t know that somewhere along the way Aaron lost the true power of godliness if he ever had it at all. They don’t know that Aaron had nothing but an empty form of godliness because God had used Aaron to do great things. In fact, many of them were probably a little annoyed and wondering why Moses took over. When Aaron led them things were popping now that Moses took over all they could do was sit around and wait.

The people were ignorant of the corruption in their leaders. They empowered a man too weak to lead them to God’s altar, so he built his own altar and taught them their God is a cow. See the ring in his nose; lead your God wherever you want to go. When you get there pull up a stool and milk him. Then pat him on the rear and send him out to pasture until you need him again. The pattern in Egypt’s worship, the pattern of the world’s way of worshipping, was still deep in Aaron’s heart.

Aaron did not care about the truth. Aaron only cared that he has a place to minister. For a long time, he had felt that ministry slipping out of his hand. He does not understand why, so now he is convinced that the God of Abraham is a cow. He forsook the altar Moses built that God will honor. Aaron lead people who desired to worship to what Aaron believed was the truth because he really did want to worship Jehovah that delivered them from Egypt but all he led them to was a lie that created misery and ended in the death. Yet, Aaron survived his sins and retained his place as the High Priest. How do you continue to worship in a church when someone you loved died because the Pastor lied? If you don’t understand God’s ways you won’t.


[1] Acts 1:9

[2] John 14:1-3

[3] John 12:42-43

[4] John 3:2

[5] Hebrews 10:25

[6] 1 Corinthians 12:7

[7] Deuteronomy 5:23-24

[8] Matthew 10:24

[9] Hebrews 11:23

[10] Micah 6:4

[11] see Egyptian Religion, by Sir Wallis Budge, Citadel Press 1959, 1987

[12] Exodus 4:27

[13] Exodus 4:16

[14] Exodus 4:30

[15] Exodus 4:31

[16] Exodus 7:2

[17] Exodus 7:10

[18] Exodus 7:19

[19] Exodus 8:5-6

[20] Exodus 8:12-13

[21] Exodus 8:16-17

[22] Exodus 8:20-24

[23] Exodus 8:25-31

[24] Exodus 11:3

[25] Exodus 20:22-24

[26] James 1:22-24

[27] 1 Kings 12:28

[28] Egyptian Magic by Sir Wallis Budge pages114-115

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THE ARRIVAL

Israel had accepted God’s offer to make them into a holy nation of priest who love and obey him. Pleased to make Israel his special treasure, God told Moses to prepare the people for a visitation. He would meet with Israel in three days to seal the agreement over dinner.

Moses descended the mountain and selected a committee to set up a boundary around Mt. Sinai. The camp was tidied up and swept clean. Then the people washed their clothes and anxiously awaited God’s arrival. The people thought they were ready to meet God.

THIRD TRIP TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP

June 5, 1462BC

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.  Exodus 19:16

Reading the Exodus account of God’s arrival paints a partial picture. Deborah and Barak’s song of praise to God sheds a little more light on what happened the day God came to Sinai.

 “O LORD, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the land of Edom, the earth shook, the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water.  The mountains quaked before the LORD, the One of Sinai, before the LORD, the God of Israel. Judges 5:4-5

 On the third day, Israel awoke to a major thunderstorm. I can surmise what they were thinking. “Isn’t this great! Don’t you know it would rain today and ruin everything? We all took a bath and put on clean clothes. Now we have to walk through the mud to get to the mountain, and we’ll all be dirty again. God might even cancel!” They did not have to worry about God canceling because that storm was God and ten thousands of his saints or angels on their way to Mount Sinai.[1]

As God settled on the mountaintop, thunder crashed, lighting flashed and rain poured so hard a river began to flow from the mountain. In addition to the thunderstorm, the arrival of God and his entourage created something akin to an earthquake. God had arrived to put his law into effect through the ten thousands of angels he brought with him.[2] In addition to the thunder, lighting, downpour, a river suddenly rising and the earth quaking and shaking,

 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently,… Exodus 19:18

At this awesome sight everyone in the camp trembled with fear including Moses.[3] The Hebrew word for tremble[4] means to shudder with terror. The Greek word[5] in the book of Hebrews that described Moses reaction to this sight means to be frightened out of ones wits. I’ve been in severe storms that made me anxious, but I’ve never shaken with fear and couldn’t think straight.

Israel was terrified because it was raining so hard a river flowed from the mountain and at the same time the mountain was on fire with smoke rising like it is pouring from a furnace. Why didn’t the rain put out the fire? I will come back and answer that question. Let’s finish painting this picture first.

God had already told Moses when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast the people may approach the mountain. When the trumpet blasted

  …Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God and they stood at the foot of the mountain… … and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Exodus 19:17,19

As the trumpet blast grew in intensity, Moses spoke and the people heard God command Moses to come to the top of the mountain. If there was ever a doubt in any mind that Moses acted on God’s behalf, all reason to doubt melted away as Moses ascended the mountain. Moses approached the fire that could not be quenched and had an amusing conversation with God.

 … the Lord said to him, Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. Exodus 19:21

 Force their way through “to see the Lord! The people at the foot of the mountain are frightened out of their wits, probably wondering what they got themselves into, perhaps even wishing God had never showed up. God is concerned someone will try to force their way up the mountain and get a peek at him! I can’t help but wonder if this was a little godly humor. Do you really think God did not know how scared they were? Or did God call Moses up and immediately send him back down as living proof his fire will not kill you.

Moses really had lost his wits. He told God they had set up a boundary and it wouldn’t be necessary to warn the people. If you have ever addressed God like he does not know what is going on take comfort! You are not the first.

 The Lord replied, Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or he will break out against them. Exodus 19:24

God instructed Moses to go own to the camp and return with Aaron. When he returns with Aaron it will be Moses fourth trip and Aaron’s first.

Moses returned to the bottom of the mountain to obey God’s instructions. Before he returned with Aaron, God spoke the Ten Commandments to Israel and

 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance…Exodus 20:18

The people were more than happy to abide by God’s instructions. In fact they could not get away from the mountain far enough and fast enough. The King James says they removed and stood afar off.  The Hebrew word for afar off can refer to both place and time. When the people saw the effect of God’s presence and heard his voice, they stood afar off in place and time. The Hebrew word for removed is nuwa` (noo’-ah) and it means to waver. Wavering kept Israel from drawing near to God, so what made the people waver? If you only read the Exodus account, you will never know.

The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. (At that time I stood between the LORD and you to declare to you the word of the LORD, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) Deuteronomy 5:4-5

The people were afraid of the fire because this fire could not be quenched. This was no ordinary fire. It was fire that cannot be controlled.

  When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire, all the leading men of your tribes and your elders came to me.  And you said, “The LORD our God has shown us his glory and his majesty, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him.  But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer. For what mortal man has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived? Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey.” Deuteronomy 5:23-27

Did you hear Israel wavering between two opinions? They said now we know “a man can live even if God speaks with him out of the fire.”  In the next breath they said, “we will die if we hear the voice of the Lord any longer.” Then they told Moses to talk to God and tell us whatever he tells you. Wasn’t Moses a mortal man like they were? Moses can hear God’s voice speak to him out of the fire without dying but if Israel hears God’s voice they will die. They wavered. Make up your mind about God.

They can’t make up their mind because they don’t know God. God is not willing that anyone should perish. He was trying to love them and prove his presence won’t kill them, but all they can see is death because their minds are carnal. Why were they afraid God would kill them but not kill Moses?

 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.  But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.  For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.  A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8 KJV

They were afraid God would kill them, because they have no wisdom and their carnal minds made them unstable. They had no wisdom, because they had no faith. They had no faith, because they can’t make up their mind about God. They wavered between two opinions. They can’t make up their mind if God is for them or against them. God has not raised a hand to harm any of his people…yet.

Now let’s answer the question I left unanswered. Why didn’t the rain put out the fire? What was this great fire that can’t be controlled by water Israel feared would kill them.

 Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. … Song of Solomon 8:6-7

The people are wavering, double minded, unstable worshippers, because they are afraid to be loved! Their fear of death was not completely unfounded. Israel would have died in the fire – died to an old way of living and thinking about God that they might live a new life in Christ.

There are Christians who can’t find freedom from sin because they are afraid to see who they really are and let God prove he still loves and accepts them. Shutting your eyes to the truth doesn’t have anyone fooled but you.

The river flowing from the mountain is God’s judgment against us that cleanses our dirty robes. The rain cannot put out the fire because God’s judgments against us will never quench his love for us.

The meeting with God so unnerved Israel that Moses tried to comfort them.

 Moses said to the people, Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning. Exodus 20:20

 Is this the truth or was this Moses opinion? It is true that Moses made this statement to Israel, but you must carefully consider who is talking. Consider what God has to say on the same subject before accepting something as fact about God.

Terror in the wilderness never kept Israel from sinning. Before the ink had time to dry on Moses copy of the covenant, Aaron led the people into a sin that broke the covenant. God was not trying to create an atmosphere of shock and awe so they would stop sinning. Israel proved that terror in the wilderness will not keep you from sin and its consequences.

Let’s compare Moses’ explanation with God’s.

 The Lord said to Moses, I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you. Exodus 19:9

 God’s dealings with Moses are a shadow of better things to come. Everything God did in the Old Testament prepared the way for the fulfillment of the oath he swore to Abraham. God promised Abraham he would make his family into a great nation. The promise couldn’t be fulfilled in Abraham’s lifetime because a nation needs law. God raised Moses up as a servant to us teach his law. Then God spoke to Moses from the earth, so future generations would know that the man God speaks to can be trusted. If Israel had remembered their history, when God spoke to Jesus from heaven, they would have known Jesus could be trusted.

The law God gave to Moses cannot save us from sin. Israel broke the law and the curse came upon their nation. Moses taught them a law that produced death. Jesus teaches us how the same law gives life. Moses came first because you need to understand law before you will comprehend the depth of God’s love.

 The LORD heard you when you spoke to me and the LORD said to me, “I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good.  Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever! Deuteronomy 5:28-29

Israel’s desire to trust the man God speaks to pleased God.  Then God revealed his heart for all to see. He wished Israel would fear him and keep all his commands that it would go well with them and their children forever. Israel’s history proves that things have never gone well for them. If we could obey God’s every command, we would not need Jesus, but we do. Being blessed always and forever is impossible without Jesus.

 FOURTH TRIP TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP

June 5, 1462BC

 The people remained at a distance while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.     Exodus 20:21

 In the presence of Aaron, who would become the nations first High Priest, God gave Moses the laws that govern the way priests should live. God also made it very clear that a priest should not make graven images. The last thing God said to Moses was,

 … “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance, but Moses alone is to approach the LORD; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.” Exodus 24:1-2

God sent Moses and Aaron back down the mountain with instructions for Moses and Aaron to return with Aaron’s two eldest sons and seventy of the elders of Israel. Joshua would also be in this company. They were invited to have dinner with God. The last step to confirm they accept the covenant of law.

Before Moses and Aaron led the elders up the mountain, they held a business meeting.

 When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” Exodus 24:3

 Israel did not dictate terms to God. God dictated the terms. Once again, the elders must decide. Do they want what God wants? God was very methodical in his dealings with Israel. First God offered to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They accepted God’s offer and promised to do everything God said.[6] This time God gave them the laws a priest must live by. For the second time the elders said, Yes, “everything the Lord has said we will do.”[7]

After every one agreed to accept God’s offer,

 Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said. He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Exodus 24:4

After the business meeting concluded, Moses wrote down everything “ the Lord had said,” so they could remember what they agreed to do. Then Moses set his alarm clock to rise early and went to bed.

 FIFTH TRIP TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP

June 6, 1462 BC

Early the next morning, Moses built an altar at the foot of the mountain. In the presence of Aaron, God had instructed Moses to build an altar of earth to “honor my name” and God would meet anyone who comes to the altar and bless them.  When Moses was gone the people were not alone. They had access to God at the altar Moses built. Sacrifices were made on the altar sealing the covenant with the blood of an animal. Moses sprinkled half the blood on the altar,

 Then he took the Book of the Covenant (the book he was up late into the night writing) and read it to the people. They responded, We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey. Exodus 24:7

 This was the third time in less than a week the elders agreed to do everything the Lord had said. The third time in less than a week that they said, “We will obey”!

 Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.  Exodus 24:8

It is done or in Jesus words “it is finished!” The people had a legal covenant sealed with blood. They not only had a covenant. They fully understand it because God revealed his desire one step at a time. They know what God wants. They have a copy of God’s will in writing. The elders said three times that the nation would abide by everything in the covenant. Now that they have a covenant with God there is one final step to be made. The leaders of Israel would enter God’s presence and dine.

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself.  11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank. Exodus 24:9-11

 This is great, wonderful, but only shadows of better things. There was a problem with this covenant.

… Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. Exodus 24:2

 The covenant of law only permitted Moses to come near and in the future only the High Priest could enter God’s presence once a year. Yes, under a covenant of law they saw God. They even ate and drank in his presence, but they could not come near.

Jesus came so God could change the priesthood and in so doing change the law. The new covenant is one of grace by which whosoever will can come near.[8] For we did not stand at the foot of the mountain that could not be touched, that burned with fire in the midst of a storm, to hear the sound of a trumpet and words that we begged to hear no more. We have come to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant and the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things. [9]

After Aaron, his sons and the elders ate and drank in God’s presence, he said to Moses,

 …Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instructions. Exodus 24:12

While Moses was up late writing down everything God said, God was up late writing down everything he said in stone!

 The LORD gave me [Moses] two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. On them were all the commandments the LORD proclaimed to you on the mountain out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. Deuternomy 9:10

God’s law requires every matter to be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.[10]  The copy Moses wrote is one witness. God’s copy written in stone is the second witness. But the old is a shadow of better things to come. Under the New Testament we move from the carnal to the spiritual. From things we can see, writing on a stone, to the unseen writing on human hearts. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts…6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant– not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, 6

The stone God wrote upon with his finger was a dead witness that did not change the hearts of the people in the wilderness or the hearts of their children. Under the new covenant God writes on our hearts making us living epistles of commendation[11] to God’s power for all who read them because those who knew what we were cannot deny the transforming power of God’s love they see in us now.

Before we continue let’s pause to consider something important. Israel just spent three days cleaning up, but when God arrived all their human effort to be clean availed nothing because they stood at the foot of the mountain muddy. Jesus also described what happened when God arrived at Sinai.  

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:24-27

 God is the storm that washes away a house built on sand. The devil cannot wash away the truth and gains nothing by exposing a lie. God’s presence washes away the lies you have built your life on because the truth reveals the truth. If God’s presence causes your life to fall apart like Lot’s did when God visited him don’t get mad be glad. Now you know that you built your house on a lie and now you can rebuild on the truth. Unfortunately for some, like Jacob, a lifetime of labor gets washed away in one day. When you have worked so hard for so many years and never stopped worshipping God its hard to understand how you have done anything wrong disaster to come upon you. If you are not careful you will call the storm of God’s presence the devil.


[1] Deuteronomy 33:2 , Jude 14-16

[2] Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19, Jude vs14-15

[3] Exodus 19:16, Hebrews 12:21

[4] Hebrew #2729 charad

[5] Greek #1630 ekphobos

[6] Exodus 19:8

[7] Exodus 24:3

[8] Hebrews 7:19, 10:22; Ephesians 2:13-15; James 4:8

[9] Hebrews 12:18-24

[10] Deuteronomy 19:15, John 8:17, 2 Corinthians 13:1

[11] 2 Corinthians 3:1-3

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PART-TIME MISSIONARIES

My husband and I were invited to be on a mission’s team to the Caribbean. I really wanted to go, so did my husband. The team planned to paint an orphanage, build playground equipment and minister to the children. My husband has worked with children for more than 30 years. This was right up his alley.

Unfortunately, for both of us to go, we needed $4,000. We didn’t have time to save that much money. One of us could have gone. The discussion about which one ended with an unusual perspective about missions trips.

I wanted to go so I could write about the trip. Rod wanted to paint and minister to the children. His intent was nobler than mine. I encouraged him to go. He didn’t want to go without me. Neither one of us was happy that only one of us could go.

As I pondered our dilemma something occurred to me. If we had the money to spare, wouldn’t it benefit the orphanage more if we simply stayed home and gave them the money? Why spend $4,000 to fly to the Caribbean and paint a building. With that kind of money, the orphanage could hire a local laborer to paint. They would have money left over for other needs and someone would have a paying job.

Twenty people went on the mission trip without us, which means $40,000 was spent on travel to accomplish a few thousand dollars worth of work. Where is the wisdom in that? The orphanage spends $1,000 a month on food. If the part-time missionaries had stayed home and sent the money instead, the children would have food for years. Instead, they have a painted building and a playground.

If I’m starting to sound cynical, forgive me. Maybe I came to this conclusion to feel better about not going. But when you calculate the numbers it is what it is. I realize I’ve cast a bad light on people striving to do a good work even though that is not my intent. Several of the people who went on the trip are friends, and I do not think ill of them for going. I’ll never diminish their effort to serve God by telling them what I have just pointed out to you. If we had the money, my husband and I would have spent a week in the Caribbean with them.

My friends returned from the mission trip transformed. They choked back tears and could barely talk as they described the poverty they witnessed. Their zeal to help suffering humanity had flamed into a bonfire. All of them are determined to return next year and do more for the orphans. I applaud them. But all things considered, I think church missions trips help the part-time missionaries much more than the people they seek to assist.

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FIRST AND LAST

In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt – on the very day – they came to the Desert of Sinai. 2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain. Exodus 19:1-2

 Moses led the flock of Jethro, his father in law, to the far side of the desert and came upon an unusual sight that changed the course of his life. In obedience to God’s command, he went to Egypt and returned tending God’s flock. The Reese Chronological Bible gives the date Moses received his call as 1463B.C. and the date he returned as June 2, 1462 B.C. Nearly a year of remarkable, miraculous events transpired since Moses last stood in front of Mount Sinai, also called Horeb the mountain of God.

He can’t help but remember how he objected to fulfilling the calling God placed on his life. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt,” he declared! He had already tried to deliver Israel and they rejected him. God assured Moses not to worry about who Moses is because, “I (God) will be with you and this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you. When you have brought the people out of Egypt you will worship God on this mountain”.[1]

With the words “worship God” echoing in his ears Moses embarked on the first of seven trips into the presence of God.

FIRST TRIP TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP

June 1, 1461BC

 3 … Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself. Exodus 19:3-4

God said to Israel, “I carried you on eagle’s wings.” Before Moses died he reminded the told the people that he lead out of Egypt,

 32Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created man on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of?…… 33 Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? Deuteronomy 4:32-34

From the day God created man on the earth until Moses day nothing like this had ever happened in all of the earth’s history. For there is no god men aspire to worship that has rescued his people out of one nation to make them a nation of their own like the God of Abraham did. This was the first time a God had brought his people to himself on eagle’s wings but it won’t be the last!

14 “However, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when men will no longer say, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ 15 but they will say, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave their forefathers (KJV says their fathers)Jeremiah 16:14-15

A day is coming when men will no longer talk about how God brought his people out of the land of Egypt. One day, we will declare how God brought his people from the land of the north and from all lands where God has driven them. In fact, some would say that this has already been fulfilled because many of the flesh seed of Abraham have returned to settle in the Promised Land, but I can’t agree that this promise has been fulfilled for one reason – Abraham is my father to.

We must erase the lines of time and space to understand God’s thoughts. Neither time nor space limit God. When Lucifer said, “I will ascend to the north and be like the most High” was he talking about Russia or heaven? Just as God gathered the flesh seed of Jacob out of the land of Egypt and brought them to himself, and just as God gathered the flesh seed of Abraham in 1948 and established them on the land he promised to their forefathers, a day will come when the God gathers the spiritual seed of Abraham that are scattered though out heaven and earth that he might plant them in the land he gave our father Abraham. If Jesus is our Lord, Abraham is our father too.

16Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring— not only to those who are of the law (the flesh seed of Jacob that entered into a covenant of law at Sinai) but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham (the spiritual seed waiting for the fulfillment of the promises made through a covenant of grace). He [Abraham] is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He [Abraham] is our father in the sight of God, in whom he[Abraham] believed– the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Romans 4:16-17

If the promises God made to Abraham belong exclusively to the descendants of Abraham through one of his sons, Jacob, whose children entered into a covenant of law at the foot of Mt. Sinai Abraham himself is excluded from the promises. Abraham entered into a covenant of grace. He wasn’t present with Jacob’s children entered into a covenant of law with God. In addition to that, the law only gave the nation the land to the Jordan River[2]; grace gave them the land to Euphrates River[3]. Both rivers exist today and none of Abraham’s seed including Jesus, the seed the promises were made to, possessed all of the land that God promised to Abraham and his one seed within their life time.[4]

Jesus death paid the price for whosoever will to be a citizen in God’s kingdom. After Jesus was resurrected, he went fishing, and that is why a time will come that we no longer talk about the day God brought his people out of Egypt.  He did not die for the seed of Jacob alone. He does not live for the seed of Jacob alone. Jesus is Lord of ALL!

 “But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the LORD, “and they will catch them”Jeremiah 16:16

Creating a way for everyone to have equal rights in God’s kingdom was hard work. Jesus was entitled to a fishing trip with friends. During his ministry, Jesus invited his disciples to, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” God has cast his net, but he will not pull it in until it’s full. When the net is full, the catch sorted, and the refuse discarded, Jesus is going hunting with friends.

…After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks. Jeremiah 16:16

 “After that,” said Jeremiah. After what? After the fishing trip is over God will send the hunters to hunt down those who received not the love of the truth that they might be saved[5] and pay them double for their sins. On the isle of Patmos, the Apostle John saw kings, princes, generals, the rich, the mighty, all slaves and free men hiding in caves and among the rocks of the mountains trying to escape the wrath of a Lamb![6] This lamb is angry and Jeremiah tells us why.

17My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes. 18 I will repay them double for their wickedness and their sin, because they have defiled my land with the lifeless forms of their vile images and have filled my inheritance with their detestable idols.” Jeremiah 16:17-18

 The lamb is angry that Jerusalem preferred to worship the world’s idols instead of a true God. The children of Jacob never stopped worshipping. They stopped worshipping the Lord who delivered them from their misery to embrace Gods’ who did not love them. When they failed to love and obey God, salvation came to the Gentiles to provoke the children of Jacob to jealousy.

 19 O LORD, my strength and my fortress, my refuge in time of distress, to you the nations (the Gentiles) will come from the ends of the earth and say, “Our fathers possessed nothing but false gods, worthless idols that did them no good. 20 Do men make their own gods? Yes, but they are not gods!” 21″Therefore I will teach them– this time I will (KJV says I will this once) teach them my power and might. (His power and might is his ability to love and forgive the lowest and cruelest of sins, but Jesus will never be crucified again.) Then they will know that my name is the LORD. Jeremiah 16:19-21

 Did you notice the Gentiles are worshipping to, but not worshipping the God of Abraham just like the flesh seed of Jacob did? The Gentiles acknowledged that their fathers taught them to worship what is false and worthless, just like the prophets, priests and kings of Israel taught God’s people to worship what is false and worthless.

Being religious has never been a problem for the human race. We were created to worship and most worship something or someone. It is what or rather who you are willing to worship that determines your ultimate fate for eternity. Gentiles need to be aware that God has never abandoned the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We are wild olive branches being grafted, contrary to nature, into the good olive tree[7] because it is upon the nation of Israel that the blessing of the law will come through our Lord Jesus.

Heaven and earth cannot pass away until every jot and tittle of the covenant of law that was made with the good olive tree, Israel, at Mt. Sinai is fulfilled. Heaven and earth will not pass away until the nation that has known nothing but the curse of the law receives the fulfillment of every jot and tittle of the blessing that is in the law as well.

Is it right that a nation taste the fulfillment of every jot and tittle of the curse but not the blessing? The blessing of the law will not come upon the nation God founded at Sinai until the sinless son, Jesus, returns to receive everything God promised Abraham in a covenant of grace, which includes all the land to the Euphrates River that Jesus did not receive in his lifetime on earth. God is giving the Gentiles one opportunity to turn away from worshipping false Gods during the day of Israel’s affliction that we might be included in the fulfillment of the laws blessings.

God has already proved to all creation that the religions and idols men establish to worship are not greater than he is. When Jacob’s children turned away from the God of Abraham to worship idols, God razed his nation to the ground, but he never pulled up the root. If the gods that men conceive in their imaginations are greater than the God of Abraham, why didn’t their idols save their worshippers from Abraham’s God?

The people who forsake the truth to worship a lie create the misery everyone must endure while we wait for God to pull up the tares growing among us! Be thankful Jesus is long in returning. When he comes back his grace will be at an end and it will be time for God’s vengeance to fall upon the enemies of the sinner. The enemies of the sinner are people who lead others in worship but refuse to obey God. When Jesus returns he won’t be a lamb religious men slaughter but a lamb they fear.

Even though Jerusalem failed when they taught idol worship thereby condoning idol worship in other nations, God did not fail. Their disobedience revealed that no God is greater than the God of Abraham. Jerusalem can take comfort when God pays her double for the sin of turning to other gods. Isaiah tells us why,

1 Comfort, comfort my people, (Even though they did not worship him, God never stopped calling them “my people”) says your God.  2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed that her sin has been paid for that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. Isaiah 40:1-2

Jerusalem can take comfort because the Lord is coming and his glory will be revealed.

 A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5

 The gospels confirm that this scripture is a reference to John the Baptist[8].  John knew that he would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy by introducing the one who would pay for the sin of Jerusalem. Their sin was worshipping a lie and it is the same sin the Gentiles committed. The same Gentiles speaking in Jeremiah 16:19, who said our father’s gods were false and worthless.

Isaiah throws a little more light on John’s message who would not only identified the Messiah but also preach that all men are like grass; all will fail but the word of God stands forever. Then Isaiah said John would announce to the towns of Judah “Here is your God.” The gospels document that is exactly what John did! There is a lot to say in this passage about God’s wisdom and how foolish it is to worship something a man can fashion with his own hands. Then we come to something interesting and relevant to this discussion.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles;…Isaiah 40:27-30

Isaiah concluded by telling Israel not to complain. God had not forgotten them. He will not grow tired or weary until everyone who repents of worshipping false gods and places their hope in the Lord soars on eagle’s wings again. Yes, Moses was right. It had never happened before but it will happen again and that is where the danger lies for the first people who soared on eagle’s wings into God’s presence and entered into a covenant of law.

God’s ways have an uncanny way of exposing the evil in us. Peter listened to Jesus challenge a rich man, who had obeyed the law all his life, to give up everything and follow him (Jesus) that he might have treasure in heaven. When the rich man left unwilling to rise to the challenged a discussion of how hard it is to be saved ensued and ended with Jesus saying it’s impossible for men but not God. This sparked Peter’s curiosity or perhaps insecurity and he tried to nail Jesus down to a specific agreement for the commitment they made to him.

 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? Matthew 19:27, KJV

Jesus informed Peter their compensation would be the right to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he assured everyone who had forsaken something for his sake that they would receive a hundredfold return in this life and eternal life in the next. [9]

The parable that followed this discussion is a warning about Peter’s attitude. We don’t have to secure our future with an agreement. God will be more than generous if we trust him to do what is right. People who love God don’t need a prearranged agreement to guarantee they will be treated right.  Jesus said:

For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. Matthew 20:1, KJV

The householder (NIV landowner) who went out early in the morning to hire laborers is God. The Greek word for laborers is also used figuratively to mean a teacher and is applied to both good and evil teachers. Jesus told us to pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest and that is what this parable is about.[10] The Lord has gone forth from the beginning of time to hire teachers to work in his vineyard until we come to the knowledge of the truth and both Jew and Gentiles stop worshipping less than God.[11]

 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. Matthew 20:2, KJV

 The penny is a Roman denarius and considered a full days wage for the laborers of Jesus day. The most important thing in this verse is not the penny but that an agreement was made before the labourers were sent. Note that the Lord agreed with the labourers, not the labourers agreed with the Lord. The labourers were asking for something specific before they would work. According to Jewish law if a laborer was hired without a prior agreement the employer was only bound to pay the lowest wage or at best the average between the lowest and highest.[12] The laborers/teachers didn’t trust the Lord that hired them so they guaranteed their pay before they went.

The rest of the day the Lord went out about every three hours to send more laborers/teachers into the field but they are different from the first because they accepted that the Lord would give them what is right. Even when there was one hour left to work the Lord sent laborers into his vineyard to work for what is right. At the end of the day the Lord could have avoided a controversy if he had paid the first group he sent into the vineyard first, because they would have received their pay and left. Instead the Lord gave specific instructions to “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.”[13] He paid the last first because the first have a spiritual problem. When the first saw that the last were made equal to them in pay, or when the first saw mercy in action, or when the first saw God being good, they murmured. The first are evil because they assumed that everything must be measured by their standard of what is right.

But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? 14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? Matthew 20:13-15, KJV

Does God’s goodness make you angry? His wisdom bites like a serpent because he is wiser than a serpent and harmless as a dove. The problem was not with the Lord who is good but with self-centered self-righteous laborers / teachers who think everything God does must be governed according to their standards of right and wrong. Hence when God is good they become angry. If they are not careful, their anger with God will turn into hate for their fellow laborers who don’t work as hard as they do but still receive good things from God. If the first had believed God is good they never would have held him to a specific agreement. They would have trusted him. They were true sons of Jacob who was the first to negotiate a deal with God.

If you are jealous that God dealt with the flesh seed of Abraham first, don’t be. They are in a dangerous place. Evil will not dwell in God’s presence when the day comes that all those who hope in Jesus hear the words Moses heard on his first trip up the mountain, “I carried you on eagles wings and brought you to myself.” This time God will be speaking to the spiritual seed of Abraham, which includes anyone from any nation that has put their trust in him and believe he will do what is right and be good to them when payday comes.

God’s purposes were set before he created the world and he has never changed. He is a king who rules over kings, a Lord who governs Lord’s and his nation will rule the nations. When Jesus’ fishing trip is over we will be gathered on the wings of God[14] to soar like an eagle into his presence and God will do what he told Moses he would do for those who obey him.

 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” 7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, We will do everything the Lord has said. So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord. Exodus 19-5-8

 Moses went down the mountain and summoned the elders of the people because even though God will deal with us and bless us individually, when it comes to us as a group, like a church or nation, God deals with us through our leaders. Moses sat down with the elders and presented to them God’s offer. The elders had the option to accept or reject the offer. Trying to negotiate with God is the height of foolishness. A simple yes or no will do, accept what he offers or reject it because anything you try to add or change tends to bring evil into our lives. The elders choose to accept God’s offer. The first made an agreement with God to obey him fully and live by his covenant.

The elders made decisions that affected not only them but also everyone who is under their authority not only in their day but in the future for they have made a deal with someone eternal and their death will not void that covenant. The covenant of law will remain in force as long as God is alive, and that’s a long time, longer than anyone dwelling on the earth will live.[15]

The elders want to be God’s treasured possession, a kingdom of priest and a holy nation and will work to obtain it by keeping a covenant. But there is something curious about God’s offer. Why did God promise to make them priest when they were already priest of God among the people? In fact, there were priests of God in Abraham’s day for he gave tithe to Melchizedek king of Salem and priest of God Most High[16]. What is this deal God offered to Israel when there was an established priesthood before God brought them to the mountain and offered to make them priest. Indeed under the covenant of law the only people allowed to be priest were the Levites and the only reason it fell exclusively to one tribe is because they came when God called. All of the seed of Jacob never became a nation of priests, one family did.

It is and always has been God’s intent to make ALL of his people priest even the women. There are a lot of religious men that are in for a shock when Jesus returns because he doesn’t have a problem with women priest. God’s intent for law and grace has yet to be fulfilled because there has never been a nation of priest on the earth. In Jesus we are a royal priesthood but we are priest living as foreigners and strangers under governments that hate our God.[17] In fact I have been a foreigner and stranger in churches that worship God but don’t understand his heart. God’s intent will be fulfilled when the angry lamb that everybody fears returns to fulfill the law.

After the business meeting with the elders Moses went to bed. Got up early the next morning and went back up the mountain to tell God what the elders said.

SECOND TRIP TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP

June 3, 1462

The Lord said to Moses, I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you. Then Moses told the Lord what the people had said. Exodus 19:9

Most of the Bible versions say that the people will hear me speaking with you and believe you. To survive in the wilderness you need a reason to trust the man that is leading. You need to know that he hears from God because if he does not hear from God there will be nothing to believe but the lie he will teach. After God told Moses I will give the people a reason to believe that you speak for me, Moses told the Lord what the people said. But God already knew what the people said because he was implementing his plan to create a holy nation of priest. The first, the children of Jacob, made an agreement with God and they will receive everything they agreed to but so will the last. The first teach all creation that it is better to trust God for what is right than it is to hold him to the letter of the law. The last teach all creation that those who love and trust God will be treated equal to the first.


[1] Exodus 3:12

[2] Numbers 34:10-12

[3] Genesis 15:18

[4] Genesis 13:15 (For a more detailed explanation of the covenant God made with Abraham see A Reason to Believe by Teena Myers.)

[5] 2 Thessalonians

[6] Revelation 6:15-17

[7] Romans 11

[8] Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:2-4; Luke 3:1-6; John 1:19-23

[9] Mark 10:30

[10] Matthew 9:37-38

[11] Ephesians 4:11-13

[12] The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim Book 5 Chapter 5

[13] Matthew 20:8 NIV

[14] Psalm 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 91:4

[15] Hebrews 7:12

[16] Hebrews chapter 7:1-4

[17] 1 Peter 2:9-11 see also Revelation 1:5-6 and 5:9-10

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A SHADOW OF LOVE

 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?”3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”[1] Exodus 17:1-7

 Without question, the Israelites journey to worship God had been difficult. Without argument, the Lord led them into difficult circumstances. Their harsh judgments about their God inhibited their spiritual growth. Every time Israel opened their mouth, they darkened their understanding making it difficult for seeds of truth to take root and blossom into an accurate image of God. God was teaching them the weightier matters of law. He taught them faithfulness at Marah, mercy at the Desert of Sin, and now he will teach them what it means to love.

One week and two days after God taught them mercy God’s people set up camp at Rephidim. Early that morning they collected manna, went to the measuring tent, and returned home with a quart for each person who lived in their tent. Mom lit a fire to make some pancakes but he water jar was empty. She hollered for Daddy to go out to the wagon and get another jug. Daddy found more empty jugs. Mom said, “Go next door and borrow a cup honey.” The kids are hungry.” Daddy went next door, but they didn’t have water either. Soon crowds were gathering in the street talking about the water shortage. The children were crying and there was no water at Rephidim. They have a problem. How will they solve it?

KNOWING

With the knowledge that God had delivered them and mercy is the only way to survive, an angry mob gathered around the Pastor’s tent. They accused Moses of delivering them from Egypt, so he could kill them and then demanded Moses to produce enough water for a million people to drink. What is wrong with this picture?

A people that have been dealt with compassionately have no compassion. How could Moses give a million people water to drink unless Moses is a God? Why do we expect, even demand, mortal men to do what only a God can do? Why do we run to men that cannot solve their own problems and demand them to solve ours?

To Israel’s demand for water Moses replied, “Why are you quarreling with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” The KJV says, “why do you tempt the Lord?” The devil’s temptations did not destroy Israel in the wilderness. The way the tempted God destroyed them.

God’s dealings with Israel will be a slightly different situation than at the Desert of Sin for one reason. THEY KNOW! He that “knoweth to do good and doeth it not to him it is sin.”[2] God taught them at the Desert of Sin who their Lord is and that it was the Lord who delivered them, not Moses. He also taught them that mercy is God’s way and the only way to live because man does not live by bread/mercy alone. Israel knows it is God’s desire for everyone to have what they need, so why are they still quarreling with Moses? Why didn’t they just ask God for some water?

The time had come for another lesson, but this one will be severe. Paul admonished the Romans to consider both the goodness and severity of God. The Living Bible says it this way,

 Notice how God is both kind and severe. He is very hard on those who disobey, but very good to you if you continue to love and trust him. But if you don’t you too will be cut off. Romans 11:22, Living Bible

 PERSPECTIVE

God’s dealings with Israel grew increasingly severe until he cut this generation off. God looks like the bad guy until you understand whom he was dealing with. The truth is these delivered, baptized people enjoying mercy that were eating and drinking spiritual food from the rock that followed them were evil.

God leads us to difficult places because we don’t know who we are. When we are in a place of need it exposes our character. Israel would have fared much better at Rephidim if they had learned what the Apostle Paul learned in his lifetime.

  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13

The KJV reads “through Christ who strengthens me” but Christ is a 9999 number. Christ might be in italics in the version of the Bible you read because it is not in the original text. The translators added the word “Christ” for clarity. In the Interlinear Bible that shows the original Greek words and (Nestle) numbers Paul wrote,

Panta               ischuoo            en                    too                   enduamounti

All things        I can do           through            which              strengthens me

I thought that was rather odd until I looked up the Greek word “en” that the NIV translated “through”.  Strongs Concordance defines “en” as a primary preposition denoting (fixed) position (in place, time or state). Paul literally said, I can do all things because there is a “fixed position in place and time” that strengthens me! What was Paul talking about?

We need to understand the Greek word “en” a little better. From Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words we find “en” is a form of the word enorkizo which means to put under (or bind by) an oath. The oath puts everything into perspective. I can do all things or I can be content in any and every situation because there is a fixed position in place and time that God bound himself with an oath.

God delivered us for the same reason he delivered Israel when they were miserable. He remembered the oath he swore after he stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. If you don’t understand what transpired between God and Abraham, you will never understand the faith that moves God because everything in all creation is being brought into line with the oath God swore when Abraham obeyed him.

Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Hebrews 6:16

 If the oath puts an end to all argument, why were the children of Israel arguing with Moses? They are still arguing because they are carnally minded. They don’t have their mind set on the same thing God who is Spirit does – fulfilling the covenant he made with Abraham.

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18   God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. (Not discouraged but encouraged) 19 We have this hope (that encourages us or strengthens us) as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure… Hebrews 6:17-19

Christians often quote “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” to prove God will give them the strength to accomplish any goal they set. People can reach their goals without Christ strengthening them. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me means no matter what the circumstances of my life are, whether I am living in want or living in plenty, I will survive to receive the promise God confirmed with an oath. I will even survive death if I die before the promise is fulfilled.

The Apostle who wrote that he had learned to be content whatever the circumstance also wrote,

 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

I know that I will survive when I am hard pressed, crushed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down because there is a fixed position in time and place when God bound himself with an oath to keep the promises he made to Abraham and his seed. If I am in Christ, I am Abraham’s seed and an heir to God’s promises.[3] Therefore, I am encouraged that whatever my circumstance is today, I will not be crushed and I need not despair. God will never abandon me or let me be destroyed.

Israel argued and quarreled with Moses because they don’t remember the oath God bound himself with, or like Eve they counted God a liar because their desires deceived them. Their carnal minds created discontent. If they had been spiritually minded they would have been content in all circumstances like Paul. Instead, they want instant gratification. Water now or Moses dies.

DEVILS

Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” Exodus 17:4

Israel’s grumbling turned into hate for a man who obeyed God so they could be delivered from their misery. The minds were blinded by a religion that had strayed far from God’s purposes. They thought they loved God because they were on their way to Sinai to worship him. A little lack proved that they did not love God.

 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:20-21

The people who want to kill Moses are the same people who stood on the shore of the Red Sea and sang about their wonderful God,

  Exodus 15

The Lord is my strength and my song he has become my salvation

He is my God and I will praise him

 My father’s God and I will exalt him

Your right hand, O Lord, was majestic in power.

Your right hand, O Lord shattered the enemy

Who among the gods is like you O Lord?

Who is like you majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?

In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.

 In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.

You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance…

 LIARS! People who dress in their best and assemble to sing beautiful love songs to God don’t fool God. If they really believed God was going to plant them on the mountain of his inheritance, why did they cry were are going to die of thirst in the wilderness? If they really believed the Lord’s right hand is majestic in power, why were they demanding Moses hand to save them? Is Moses greater than the Lord who delivered them! Why did they sing such things to God if they really did not mean it? Could it be,

 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44

If they love God, why did they discuss stoning Moses? Why didn’t they love Moses? How would stoning Moses give them water to quench their thirst?

Killing Moses would have cut them off from God because Moses is the only one among them that is not alienated from the covenants of God.[4] Therefore, Moses is the only one God was talking to. The rest of the people God delivered acted like the devil. God did not let Israel kill Moses as he allowed them to kill Jesus, because Moses blood could not save them from the sin of hating God and those he approves.

UNBELIEVERS

The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Exodus 17:5

 The Lord instructed Moses to take with him some of the elders because the Lord deals with people through their leadership. That is one reason it is so important that we pray our leaders will obey God. When our leaders obey God everyone is blessed and when they don’t everyone suffers. Israel received the water they don’t deserve because they have a faithful and obedient leader who God can honor.

God specifically told Moses to take the staff that was used to turn the Nile to blood in Egypt. God had used this staff to teach Pharaoh, the elders of Egypt and the elders of Israel two things. The staff represented a reason to believe when it turned into a serpent that swallowed up Pharaoh’s serpents. The staff also represented who their Lord is when Aaron struck the Nile[5] and the water turned to blood. God told Moses to take the elders to the rock with a reason to believe in his hand so they would remember who is Lord, for the things done in Pharaoh’s presence were performed in the presence of the elders of Israel first.[6]

 I (God) will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. Exodus 17:6

Moses struck the rock “in the sight of the elders of Israel.” Everyone did not see this miracle. The majority of the people in the wilderness don’t know what is going on most of the time. The majority followed a small minority of leaders. Everyone drank the water that flowed from the rock but everyone did not see Moses strike the rock and water come out. The elders did!

The only way to provide water for that many people was for a river to flow out of the rock. When the people suddenly saw a river spring up in the wilderness, the elders told them what happened. I wonder how many people walked to the source of the water and saw that it really was flowing from a rock. The elders of Israel were privileged to see the miracle first hand because they are the ones giving Moses a hard time and conspiring to stone him.

 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested (KJV tempted) the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” Exodus 17:7

The elders went to Moses tent and tempted God by demanding to know, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Israel found out just how much the Lord was among them because this miracle is not the end of this story. Our good God is good, but he can also be severe when his people act like devils.

YOUR WAYS

The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Exodus 17:8

 A river flowed through the camp BUT even as Israel’s cup ran over with God’s blessing the enemy attacked. What happened? Can God make water flow from a rock, but not stop the Amalekites from attacking his people? He stopped the Egyptians from attacking them at the Red Sea, but sat idle while the devil bloody their heels. When we act like devils, we attract devils. The attack of Amalek on God’s people did not have to happen.

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. Proverbs 21:1

Kings can do no more than the King of king’s permits them to do. God could have directed the heart of the King of the Amalekites to leave his people alone. Why did God give Israel a miracle to save their lives and then let the enemy attack them?

When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him. Proverbs 16:7

God has no reason to make our enemies live at peace with us when our ways fail to please him. Perhaps we should stop rebuking the devil and start considering our ways when an enemy makes our life miserable.  The way the church in the wilderness conducted business did not please God. Their worship was a lie. They don’t love their brother. They tempt God by demanding to know if he is among them or not.

The enemies attack was evidence their God was among them. He was present when they threaten Moses life and sent him into God’s arms afraid. He saw how they treated Moses without compassion by demanding him to do the impossible or die. Yes, the Lord was among them when they mocked and threatened to murder his messenger if they didn’t get what they wanted.

The nature of Amalek’s attack was similar to the elders attack upon Moses.

 Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; 18 How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou waste faint and weary; and he feared not God. Deuteronomy 25:17-18 KJV

Amalek’s attack on the feeble is evidence he did not fear God. The Hebrew word for feeble is chattel (khaw-shal’) which means unsteady or weak. Jesus told us why God allowed Amalek attack the feeble, the unsteady, or the weak in Israel.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12

God allowed the enemy to attach because he keeps the spirit of the law in force. What we do to others will be done to us. Are you wondering when Israel attacked the feeble? Bear in mind that feeble means unsteady and consider this.

When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. Exodus 17:12

God permitted Amalek to attack the feeble, those who were not steady, because that was the elder’s way of doing business. The elders went to the tent of an 80-year-old man who lacked the strength to hold his hands steady long enough for them to win a war and demanded Moses to do what only a God can do or they were going to stone him. When they had no compassion and attacked the feeble, God had no legal reason to stop Amalek from attacking their feeble. He always acts according to his law and the sum of the law is to do to others what you WANT to be done to you. Now we know that the Lord was among them enforcing his law.

God will do mighty miracles to save our lives and then turn around and bring our own ways upon us because it is the only way to root the evil out of our hearts that we are blind to. What we do to others will sooner or later be done to us. In this case, it was sooner. They had not even left Rephidim before their own way came upon them.

Don’t take this principle of law to an extreme. Bad things happen to good people who have done no wrong. God did not send Amalek to do such a horrible deed. Israel’s behavior opened a door to evil men that the Lord had no reason to shut. God was appalled by Amalek’s actions and purposed to completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Now consider this carefully. Israel did the same thing Amalek did, so why didn’t God blot the memory of Israel?

The power of God’s integrity saved Israel, encouraged them, and strengthened them. The only thing that saved Israel when they attacked unsteady Moses was the oath God swore to Abraham and his seed. Our works of righteousness do not save us. God’s righteousness saves us. The Lord will swear to his own hurt and change not[7]. His integrity is unimpeachable. God swore an oath and his oath will be kept not because of who we are but because of who God is. God loves us because he is good. His great love for his people works all things for our good, even when we act like devils!

LOVE

Two groups of people committed the same sin but one of them did not have the protection of a covenant. One of them was separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise. One of them was without hope and without God in the world.[8] For their sin, they will be cut off from the earth forever. The ones who are under the covenant of Abraham, under the covenant of mercy, will be taught how to love.

9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” 10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up– one on one side, one on the other— so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. 14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15  Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. 16 He said, For hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord. The Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation. Exodus 17:9-16

 Moses told the people he would stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in his hands. We could say, Moses stood where all men could see him with a reason to believe in his hands. If it took two men, one on one side and one on the other to keep Moses hands in the air, he must have been holding his rod horizontality. If one man is sitting and two standing, from a distance it would have looked like three crosses on the top of the hill. If the sun was behind them, and I have a suspicion it was, it would have cast a shadow of three crosses down the hillside – a foreshadow of God’s love for people who behave badly. Jesus was crucified and with him two others – one on each side and Jesus in the middle.[9]

The journey through the wilderness is difficult. Seeing who we really are is not easy, but God is able to turn our failures into victory. God used the weaknesses of Israel’s  leaders as an object lesson to teach everyone how to survive in a wilderness. Instead of stoning Moses, the Elders found a stone for him to rest on. When they stood by Moses side to hold up his hands, the nations at war saw a shadow of love.


[1] All Scripture is NIV unless otherwise noted.

[2] James 4:17

[3] Galatians 3:29

[4] Ephesians 2:12

[5] Exodus 7:19

[6] Exodus 3:18, Exodus 4:29-31

[7] Psalm 15

[8] Ephesians 2:12

[9] John 19:18

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