Sunday, March 21, 2010

In the Beginning

The Bible begins with Genesis 1:1:  "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." 

With this one verse, two truths are established at the start of God's Word:
  1. God exists, and He has always existed.  Even before mankind and the universe were created, there was God.  He is eternal.  Based on this short verse, the proponents of atheism and agnotism do not have a leg to stand on.  The person who denies the existence of God is a fool. (Ps. 14:1)
  2. God created everything which ends any debate over how the world and the universe were created.  It does not matter how everything was created; it only matters who created it -- God.  We did not evolve from some lesser being; we are created being by the Almighty God.  He spoke us and everything in the universe into existence.  God is the source of all life.(Isaiah 44:24)  The person who denies God's existence will not be able to see God's handiwork in the heavens and on earth, and will try to rationalize and explain how everything came into being without God's power.
What Genesis 1:1 does not address is how God created the heavens and the earth, but we must realize that God told us exactly what we need to know about creation.  It is okay to be inquistive and ask questions; God made us intelligent human beings who can rationalize and problem solve.  However, to live by faith as we are called to do as children of God means being content to live with the unknown because you trust in the One who does know.

We may not know the "how" God created the heavens and the earth, but we do know the "why" which is much more important.  Everything God has ever created has been motivated by His unfailing and abounding love.  God created us because He loves us.  When you focus on that wonderful fact, all the questions on how the universe was created are pointless because God's love for us is the only thing that matters.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The First Passover

Exodus 12:1-14 details God's instructions to the Israelites regarding the first Passover, which event would mark the beginning of their deliverance from Egyptian oppression.  The Passover would not only commemorate the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery, but also foreshadowed Jesus's death on the cross for sinners.  The Passover was to be such a significant event in the Israelites' lives that God commanded that the Israelites change the beginning of the calendar year to coincide with the Passover. (v. 2) 

On the tenth day of the month God instructed the Israelites to select an animal to be sacrificed at Passover.  It was important that the animal be the right size so each member of the household had an adequate portion.  If a family was small, they could join with another family to share an animal. (v. 3-4)  While God wanted everyone to participate in the Passover feast, He did not want the Israelites to be wasteful and sacrifice an animal that could not be consumed by a family.  The animal could have been either a goat or a sheep, and it must be an unblemished animal, that is without defect.  The animal also had to be a year old. (v. 5)  God gave us His best, His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, who was spotless, that is without same.  Accordingly, God expects our best when we worship Him and to give him our second best is in insult to Him. 

Once the animal was selected, it was to be separated from the flock and tended to by the Israelites for four days until the fourteenth day of the same month, which would be the day that the animal would be killed at twilight. (v. 6)  Blood from the animal was to be placed on both doorposts and above the door of the house where the animal was to eaten. (v. 7)

Then the animal was to be roasted so the family could eat it that night along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. (v. 8-9)  Roasting provided a quick means to cook the animal and would make it possible to cook the whole animal all at one time.  To use leavening in the bread to make it rise would take time, but also, symbolically the leavening agent represents sin.  The way of cooking the animal and preparing the bread that God gave the Israelites were quick methods and was to create a sense of urgency.  The Israelites did not have time for a long, elaborate meal because God would soon deliver them for Egypt, and they had to be ready to leave.  Also, the bitter herbs could be found quickly and symbolically they were to represent the bitter times experienced by the Israelited in captivity. 

Any leftovers from the meal were to be burned. (v. 10)  God did not tell the Israelites to pack the food for the journey, but they were instead to trust God to provide nourishment for them after they left Egypt.  Another demonstration of their faith was that the Israelites were to eat the meal dressed ready for travel and to eat the meal in a hurry. (v. 11)

On the night that the first Passover was observed, God told the Israelites that He would pass through the land of Egypt, and every firstborn male, both man and animal, would die. (v. 12)  God would be executing His judgment against all of the Egyptian gods while exhibiting grace toward the Israelites and sparing them from the same fate.  It would also show God's sovereignty and the impotency of the Egyptians' gods.  The blood that the Israelites would place on the door frame would be a sign distinguishing them from the Egyptians and God said that "when I see the blood, I will pass over you".  God did not need the blood on the door frame of the Israelites' homes to identify them; He knew who His people were and where they were.  Rather the blood was a sign of the Israelites' faith and obedience to God.

God instructed the Israelites to celebrate Passover each year as a way to remember what God had done for them and to show their love, thankfulness and obedience to God. (v. 14)  The annual observance of Passover would also be a way to teach future generations of God's deliverance of the Israelites. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Divine Purpose

In verse 1 of Chapter 5 of Exodus, Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh to deliver a message from the Lord, "Let My people go, so that they may hold a festival for Me in the wilderness." (HCSB).  God claimed the Israelites as His own special possession, but in Pharoah's mind, the Israelites were his, economic assets of his kingdom.  Like the Israelites, all Christians, whether Jew or Gentile, belong to God and are very special to Him.

God's purpose of requesting that the Israelites be allowed to go to the wilderness, which seems to be the last place that a person would voluntarily go without a special reason, was so they could worship God Almighty far away from Egypt and their numerous gods.  God wants us to worship Him regardless of where we are and what we are experiencing.  As Christians, worshipping God is our ultimate purpose on earth and in heaven; it is why God created us.  We are to respond to the worthiness of God always. Sometimes God will lead us to the most unlikely places at the most unexpected times to give us opportunities to worship Him in a different manner and in a deeper way so that our relationship with Him will be enriched.

In verse 2 Pharoah responded quite honestly:  "Who is the Lord that I should obey Him by letting Israel go?  I do not know the Lord, and what's more, I will not let Israel go."  Pharoah underestimated the power of God.  Pharoah probably surmised that the Israelites' Lord was weak because of the abject state of the people who worshipped Him.  His logic was if God was powerful, then His people would not be oppressed and despised.  Pharoah also rejected the authority of God.  At this time in Egypt Pharoah had divine status - a son of the gods.  We should take heed and never underestimate the power of God nor reject His authority.

Also, Pharoah did not know God, that is have an intimate relationship with Him so he did not care for God nor did he fear Him.  Pharoah's pride and covetousness prevented him from knowing God.  Pride and covetousness still prevent people from coming to God, and with Christians these traits can erect a barrier between us and our Lord.  As children of God, we must be root out all signs of pride and covetousness so nothing comes between us and God.

In verse 3 Moses and Aaron respond stating:  "The God the Hebrews has met with us.  Please let us go on a three-day trip into the wilderness so that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, or else He may strike us with plague or sword."  Even though present day Christians do not sacrifice animals as the Israelites were commanded to do, our worship still requires sacrifice -- our agendas, our time and our pride.  Worship requires putting God first.  Like the Israelites, worship is our indispensable duty, and while we may not be besieged with pestilence and plagues by neglecting this duty, rest assured that judgment will come to those who fail to worship the Almighty God.  God takes worship very serious and so should we.  Worship should not be done lightheartedly or half-heartedly; God wants our whole heart and that is how we should worship Him.

Subsequently, Pharoah increased the workload of the Israelites and set unrealistic expectations because he thought if the Israelites had enough time to contemplate a trip to the wilderness to worship their God, they must have too much time of their hands and he needed to increase the workload so they would stay busy.  Also, Pharoah did not want to see the Israelites leave for even a three day trip because of the economic impact that it have on his kingdom to lose that many workers for three days. (Exodus 5:6-19) In response to the demanding workload the Israelites were under, "the Hebrew work foreman confronted Moses and Aaon about this and accused them of endangering rather than helping the people". (Exodus 5:20)

Hurt by the foreman's words, Moses poured out his feeling to God who was deeply aware of the Israelites' plight, and in verses 6, 7 and 8 of the sixth chapter of Exodus, God tells Moses to deliver a message to the Israelites for Him - that he would deliver them from the forced labor of the Egyptians and redeem them, that he would claim them as his own, that they would know that He is God and that He was their deliverer from slavery in Egypt, that he would take them to the land in accordance with His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and that this land would become their very own possession.  God's promises to deliver the Israelites and give them the promised land were based solely on his unfailing grace just like God's promise to deliver a sinner from eternal damnation and claim him as his own is based on grace alone.  The fulfillment of God's promises were possible because of God's faithfulness.  Salvation is not based on our faithfulness, but His.

Moses delivered God's message to the Israelites, but they were not encouraged by it because they were broken by the harsh treatment they were receiving from the Egyptians.  Also, while in captivity had not had the opportunity to worship God like they should and like God would have desired for them to because of the restrictions placed upon them by the Egyptians.  Thus, their faith in God was tenuous at best; they had not learned that God always keeps His promises and is trustworthy in every circumstance.  True worship deepens our relationship with God, teaches us about His character and prepares us to face difficulties.

In response to the Israelites' reaction to God's message, Moses turned to God and poured out his heart which is a great example for us to follow when things do not go as we think they should.  It is so much better to talk your problems over with God than to complain, grumble and become discouraged and resentful.

After listening to Moses, God told him to go back to Pharaoh, but Moses questioned if Pharaoh would listen to him and even reminded God of his poor speaking skills, which was unnecessary since God was fully aware of Moses' skills.  In verse 1 of Chapter 7, God addresses Moses' concerns about his inferiority by stating that Moses would be appearing before Pharaoh as His representative, that is to act and speak on behalf of God.  Aaron, Moses' brother, would be Moses' spokeperson, when he appeared before Pharaoh to request that the Israelites be released.

God was gracious to Moses by warning him that Pharaoh would be stubborn and not listen to Moses, even when Moses forewarns of the plagues (Exodus 7:3-4).  This is because Pharaoh's hardened heart that resisted anything to do with the one true God.  "God's sovereignly pressed Pharaoh into times of decision, and He knew beforehand which way the king would decide.  Nevertheless, Pharaoh's hardheartedness resulted from his sinful nature and continual rejection of God's commands." (Explore the Bible - Adult Learner Guide, Spring 2010, page 26)  God also told Moses that the Egyptians would recognize God for who He is when they had felt God's hand upon them in form of the plagues and when God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 7:5).  God's mighty actions serve as testimony as to who God is, all mighty and all sufficent.

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