Joshua 1:5-6 and Confirmation From God

be-strong-and-courageousThere are times when we need confirmation from God that we are doing what it is he wants us to do.  Graciously, God gives that confirmation.  The story of Joshua is a perfect example of this truth.  If anyone was sure of his calling, it was Joshua.  He went up the Mount Sinai with Moses alone.  He had a promise by God that he would enter the Promised Land when everyone else of his generation (except Caleb) would perish.  He was brought before the Tent of Meeting with Moses and the Lord spoke directly to him and told him he would be Moses’ successor.  Moses laid hands on him to, in essence, ordain him and pass the Spirit to him.  Joshua was exactly where he was called to be.

Then the Lord speaks to Joshua and the situation becomes very real, “My servant Moses is dead.  Now get ready to cross over the Jordan” (1:2).  Now it is real.  Now the Lord is asking Joshua to leave the comfort of the camp and the familiarity of the wilderness for the struggle of leading the people, fighting the nations, and possessing the Promised Land.  This is the reason he was called by God, yes, but it is also beyond what his experience was shadowing Moses in the wilderness.  This is the fulfillment of God working in the world, bringing the people into Canaan, and that is a lot of pressure and concern–especially when we remember that this people Joshua is leading does not have the best record of being faithful to the Lord.

It is here, right after the command to “Go,” that God confirms this calling to Joshua:

No one will be able to stand up against you during your lifetime. I will be with you in the same way I was with Moses. I won’t desert you or leave you.  Be brave and strong, because you are the one who will help this people take possession of the land, which I pledged to give to their ancestors.

These are words of comfort and confirmation that the Lord is with Joshua.  It is a reminder that because the Lord is with him, Joshua is to be brave and strong.  There is no need for fear and God’s strength will be with him.  This is such an important point that God uses those same words two more times–“Be very brave and strong,” (1:7) and “I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I?” (1:9).  It is easy to get the sense that Joshua needed to be reassured that God would fulfill his promises and that Joshua had no need to fear.

To make it abundantly clear, though, that this was from the Lord, God confirms it another way.  He uses other people to reaffirm the call to be brave and strong.  When Joshua approaches the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh to call them to arms and fight for the rest of Israel (since they had elected to settle on the west side of the Jordan and not in the Promised Land), they echo God’s words to Joshua.  “Be brave and strong!” (1:18).  God uses other people to deliver the same message to Joshua.

This is one way God confirms his calling and messages to us.  He prepares us in life for what we are to do (all of Joshua’s time with Moses).  He has key events in our lives to shape and direct our paths (Joshua’s commissioning at the Tent).  He speaks to us (sometimes audibly, other times to our hearts).  And he uses others to reiterate what he has told us (through the two-and-a-half tribes).

If you need confirmation from God, look over your past and see the trajectory God has taken you.  Pray and listen for his guidance.  And pray that the Lord would use others in your life to reiterate or repeat what you believe God is telling you.

Numbers 21:5-9 and Real Repentance

The_Brazen_Serpent_(crop)They say we can learn from our mistakes.  For Israel wandering in the wilderness, this seems to have been a difficult thing to do.  They grumble, are punished by the Lord, Moses intercedes for them; they grumble, are punished by the Lord, Moses intercedes for them.  It is painful to read.  But here, there is a difference:

The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why did you bring us up from Egypt to kill us in the desert, where there is no food or water. And we detest this miserable bread!”  So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people and they bit the people. Many of the Israelites died.  The people went to Moses and said, “We’ve sinned, for we spoke against the Lord and you. Pray to the Lord so that he will send the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.  The Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous snake and place it on a pole. Whoever is bitten can look at it and live.”  Moses made a bronze snake and placed it on a pole. If a snake bit someone, that person could look at the bronze snake and live.

There are several different things going on in this story that didn’t happen before now.  First, Israel criticizes the Lord for what was happening to them, not just Moses.  Second, Israel recognized its sin and they were the ones who repented without having to be prompted to do so by Moses.  And third, Moses really did not intercede for them.  He prayed, but that was all.  This is easy to explain, though.  After Moses was forbidden to enter the Promised Land because he took credit for one of God’s miracles, he never really intercedes again.  He takes a census, allots the land, sets festival times, and decides individual cases; but he no longer stands in the gap for the people.  It is as if his will to fight for them is gone.

For the first time, though, Israel has decided that the Lord is behind what happens to them.  They grumble, just as they always have.  Old habits are hard to break, and this instance is no different.  But then the amazing happens–The Israelites recognize their sin and repent.  They come to Moses in a repentant way to seek the Lord’s forgiveness and relief from this plague.  Moses prays and is instructed to make a serpent to put on a pole.

This is the fourth difference in this passage.  The plague is not immediately abated.  This time God has an image of what is causing the plague to be set in the midst of the people.  If they truly have faith in the Lord, they will look at the image of their suffering and be healed.  This is a way to see if the repentance is real and whether or not the people are going to trust the Lord from now onward.

This is also a fabulous foreshadowing of what God himself will do in the incarnation.  Jesus Christ will be lifted up on a cross, the image of suffering, sin, and death.  For the last 2000 years, whoever looks to him in faith, believing that God will deliver that one from the plague of sin and death with which we are afflicted, God will provide healing and relief.  Just as real repentance led to the end of the plague of snakes in Israel’s camp, real repentance can lead to the end of the plague of sin and death in the world.

God hears prayers and he accepts real repentance.

Exodus 17:3-4 and a Crisis of Faith

moses_water_rock_strikeI have always wondered why the Israelites had such a crisis of faith immediately after their deliverance from Egypt.  They saw the mighty acts of God in the ten plagues–systematically decimating the gods of Egypt.  They saw the Passover–where the firstborn of Egypt dropped dead and all of the Israelites were spared.  They walked through the Red Sea on dry ground–and saw the army of the superpower of the day destroyed.  They gave all the glory to the Lord for all of these actions (see Exodus 15).

And then they look around in their freedom and say, “We don’t have any food or water.”  They begin to grumble against Moses and Aaron for even taking them out of Egypt.  They see bitter water turned into fresh and experience a miraculous provision of quail.  Then they are introduced to manna.  All of this is God’s wonderful, grace-filled provision for them.  After all of this, they respond:

But the people were very thirsty for water there, and they complained to Moses, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?”  So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What should I do with this people? They are getting ready to stone me.”

Amazing.  After all the wonders they saw God perform on their behalf, they still do not trust the Lord to provide for them.  It is as if they forgot everything that had just happened in their lives up to this point.

And yet, most of us do this as well.  We can look back on our lives and see how God has been there every step of the way (we may not have noticed it at the time, but in retrospect we can see it), and we can know that God has seen us through tough spots in our lives.  But when we are confronted with another tough situation, we cry out in despair as if we had no experience of God’s presence in our lives.

We can get so focused on our present distress that we forget the Lord is on our side.  We implore, beg, and plead with God as if he has never helped us in the past.  And we cannot find comfort in God’s deliverance in our own lives in the past because of what we face in the present.  That God he is gracious!

As Christians especially, it is important to not only remember that God had a plan for Israel, and thus would not let them perish (no matter what they thought in their immediate circumstances), but also that Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, promised to never leave us or forsake us.  This is big.  The God of the universe and all therein has promised to constantly abide with us until the end of all things.  Wow.  He did not promise that it would all be easy, or that we would always prosper, but he did promise to always be with us no matter what happens in life.

Take heart.  God is with us.  Thanks be to God.

Exodus 4:9 and Water Turning to Blood

NileRiver1Most of the time when I think of water turning to blood I think of the first plague God did through Moses to effect the release of the Israelites from Egypt.  I usually do not remember that this was also a sign for the Israelites before the plague:

If they won’t believe even these two signs or pay attention to you, then take some water from the Nile River and pour it out on dry ground. The water that you take from the Nile will turn into blood on the dry ground.

The first two signs that were to prove that Moses was sent by God were his staff transforming into a snake and his hand becoming leprous and healing again.  This was a third sign to show that God was acting through Moses and that the blessing of deliverance was about to be received by the Israelites.

When thinking of the Nile water and blood in this sign, it reminded me of Jesus’ visit to a wedding in Cana.  Here water is poured out and transformed into wine, which is not exactly the same thing as blood.  Yet it is the blood of a grape, in a manner of speaking.  As well, Jesus would later say of wine, “This is my blood” during the Last Supper.

Keeping that in mind, what happened in Cana was very similar to what happened in Egypt around 1200-1500 years earlier.  Water was transformed as a sign that God was about to act.  This divine action would deliver a people who were bound in slavery, one in Egypt and one in sin and death.  The transformed water was a sign of God’s blessing and covenantal loyalty to humanity.  It was also one of the first signs to show that the Lord is God and there is no other.

God being the master teacher that he is, it is no wonder so many things foreshadow his work in Jesus Christ.

Exodus 2:10-11 and Moses the Hebrew

copy-of-a-mothers-sacrifice-johebed-mirium-and-mosesI love how Hollywood portrays Moses finding out he is a Hebrew and not an Egyptian.  I have not yet seen Exodus: Gods and Kings, but I have seen The Ten Commandments and Prince of Egypt, and in both of those there is a great build-up and suspense over who Moses actually is.  The reality is most likely somewhat different.  Moses was immediately identified by Pharaoh’s daughter as a Hebrew child.  Why?  He was circumcised.  Moses knew his entire life that he was a Hebrew.  Then there is is:

 After the child had grown up, she brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I pulled him out of the water.”  One day after Moses had become an adult, he went out among his people and he saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people.

Scripture tells us (especially with those wonderful footnotes for translation issues) that Moses sounds like the Hebrew word for draw out.  That’s very true, but Moses is an Egyptian name.  Rameses has the same name in it, although in English we use slightly different vowels.  That name means son of Ra–Ra-moses.  This means that Moses means son of _______.  Every day of his life, every time he heard his name, Moses would be reminded that he was picked up and not a part of the family.  His lineage was different and unknown, the son of a nameless Hebrew slave.

It is no wonder that Moses reacts so violently when he gets the opportunity that he kills an Egyptian.  He was belittled his entire life in the household of Pharaoh, and now he had an opportunity for revenge.

The miracle of the story is that God preserved his life, and Moses allowed himself to be used by God to effect the liberation of the entire Hebrew people.  This reminds us that it does not matter who we were, our circumstances that are beyond our control or our actions.  All that matters is who we allow God to make us in to in the present.  That is what determines our future.

And that is why we know the name of Moses the Hebrew to this day.

John 9:1-7 and Who is Jesus?

jesus.healJesus gets asked several times throughout his ministry who he is, what authority he has to do what he does, and what he actually means by what he says.  Many times his answers are not direct.  This miracle is another instance of Jesus showing all around who he is, but not in a completely direct manner.

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”  Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.  While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work.   While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes.  Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.

There are several things going on in this passage.  First, Jesus shows how illogical it is to assume bad things happen to people because of sin.  This man could not have sinned before he was born so that he was born blind, nor would God have punished him for the sins of his parents.  God holds people accountable for their own sins, not someone else’s sins.

Second, Jesus shows that he is God.  Just two verses before this miracle Jesus answers his accusers with the statement, “I assure you,” Jesus replied, “before Abraham was, I Am” (8:58).  With this statement Jesus tells the religious leaders questioning him that not only is he the One who spoke to Moses from the burning bush on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 3, but because of that fact he is also the One who made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Genesis.  I Am is the divine name of God, and by Jesus using that name for himself, he is telling them he is their God.

Then, immediately following that exchange, we have this miracle.  Here we have a man whose eyes did not form properly.  He was born without working eyes; he was born blind.  Jesus, the I Am, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator, finds this man and takes dirt from the ground to heal him.  Actually, he takes dirt from the ground to create new eyes for him.  He shows everyone that he creates just as he created in Genesis 2:7, where God took dirt from the earth and created man.  Jesus takes dirt from the earth and completes the creation of this particular man.

For all who are paying attention, Jesus just demonstrated that he is, in fact, I Am.