Moses, Elijah and the mountain of God

One of the things I’m doing this year as I read through the Bible is noting down place names. It’s something that had been in the recesses of my mind for some time, but watching this lecture on the physical theology of the Bible gave me the prodding I needed to get on with it (using Microsoft OneNote). So far I’ve got about 90 place names and every so often I make a connection, which is most exciting!

That said, the scaffolding for the observations in this post came from this talk . No doubt I’m unconsciously plagiarising someone else as well 🙂

Moses, Horeb and Yahweh’s glory

Mount Horeb (or Sinai) is unquestionably a very significant location in Israel’s history. It was there God first revealed Himself to Moses in the not-burning bush (Exodus 3:1-2) .

Three months after the Israelites left the bondage of Egypt, they arrived at the same spot and there they all met with God (Exodus 19:17). God revealed Himself in fire, smoke, thunder, lightning and a quaking mountain (Exodus 19:18, 20:18).

Moses stayed on the mountain for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18), came down (Exodus 32) and then went back up again for another forty days and forty nights (Exodus 34:28). This second ascent happened after the golden calf incident, and a despondent Moses asked to see Yahweh’s glory. Yahweh obliged, adding some health and safety stipulations for Moses’ benefit (Exodus 33:19-23). As He passed by, Yahweh spoke. The result of the encounter was a reassured servant.

After 11 ½ months of camping at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1, Numbers 10:10-12), the Israelites left, never to return. Except for one lone, despondent prophet centuries later.

Elijah, Horeb and Yahweh’s glory

Elijah the Tishbite had just been mightily used by God, but the mass repentance he had hoped for wasn’t happening. After receiving a death threat from the queen, he ran for his life (1 Kings 19:1-3). While he was out in the wilderness, God sent an angel to give him food for the journey ahead—a forty-day trip to Horeb.

Yahweh met him the day after he arrived. After a brief dialogue, He instructs the prophet to stand in a particular spot and “the LORD passed by” (1 Kings 19:11, ESV). There was a hurricane-force wind, an earthquake and a fire—all followed by the voice of God. Yahweh spoke, and the result was a reassured servant.

Moses and Elijah on another mountain

The ends of the lives of Moses and Elijah were atypical. Moses was buried by God Himself (Deuteronomy 34:5-6); Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). Both of these men of God who had talked with God and had seen something of His glory turned up at the top of a different mountain to talk about another atypical departure from the earth (Luke 9:30-31 and parallels). Only this time their faces weren’t covered when the Son of God revealed His radiant glory.

So what?

Moses and Elijah had specific God-ordained roles in salvation history, so it would be presumptuous to desire their experiences. That’s not my point. While I think there’s much we can learn, I’ll briefly mention two things.

God’s servants

I’ve already noted that right before meeting with God, both Moses and Elijah were in a state of despair. Incidentally, the cause was identical—the people of God had abandoned the covenant. In this they point to Someone else who grieved over the people of God (Matthew 23:37-39, Luke 13:34-35). (Do you ever grieve over the condition of the church?)

The servants’ God

Another thing that struck me as I re-read both accounts was the importance attached to what God said over and above what God did. There were great displays of (super)natural phenomena, but the lasting element was what Yahweh said.

The words He proclaimed to Moses in Exodus 34 turn up in lots of places in the rest of the Old Testament, from the psalms to sulky Jonah.The instructions he gave to Elijah had an immediate effect in the following decades and an indirect one for much longer. And we would do well to heed what God said about His beloved Son on top of the third mountain.

And I think that’s where the beauty of all this lies. Even though we may never experience a jaw-dropping, mind-blowing theophany this side of eternity, we have the written records of those who did, and “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed” (2 Peter 1:19)!

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Exodus: What God teaches us about God

I’d originally planned a V-day post for today, but it was sub-par. Hopefully someone somewhere will appreciate the relief from romance offered below  🙂

What do we learn about the God of the Bible from the book of Exodus?

1. He is a covenant-keeping God

Right at the beginning of Exodus, the writer wants us to know that God’s promise to Abraham of numerous descendants was on track (1:7, 12). We’re then told that God’s concern for the Israelites’ plight stemmed from His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (2:24-25).

2. He is a rescuing and redeeming God

The rescue from Egypt was also part of the promise he’d made to Abraham. Moses points out the utter singularity of this event in Deuteronomy 4:34.

3. He is a God who judges

Why did Yahweh send the plagues on Egypt? Couldn’t He have brought out His people without all that nasty stuff?

When Moses and Aaron first appeared before Pharaoh, the latter had dismissively said, “I do not know the LORD” (5:2). You don’t say such things about God Almighty and get away with it. In the following chapters, the refrain “then _____ will know that I am the LORD” appears 10 times [1].

Thus Pharaoh’s wilful denial of Yahweh as God was the reason for the plagues. The people of Egypt weren’t lily-white either: their idolatry was a denial of Yahweh too. One way of looking at the plagues is that Yahweh was taking on the false gods of Egypt [2].

4. He is a law-giving God

Moses thought that having the law was a wonderful thing (Deuteronomy 4:8). The psalmists thought it was worth singing about (Psalms 19:7-11; 119; 147:19-20).

It’s also important to note that the law is given to an already redeemed people. There are 18 chapters in Exodus before a single command is given. No wonder those ancient Israelites got so excited about the law!

5. He is a God who desires to dwell with His people

The book of Exodus is wonderful reading until you get to chapter 25 or thereabout. From then until the end of the book, with the exception of a few chapters, it’s all about cubits and curtains made of blue, purple and scarlet yarn. Why is so much space given to the building plans of the tabernacle?

Another oft-repeated phrase answers that for us. We find it in Exodus 25:8 and 29:45-46. It pops up in promise form in Leviticus 26:12 and 1 Kings 6:13. The prophets speak of it  a lot, for example in Isaiah 12:6, Ezekiel 37:27, Zechariah 2:10, 8:3.

So what?

All this happened long ago and far away. Why should any of this matter to New Covenant believers?

God rescues, redeems and keeps His covenant: Moses, who led the people out of Egypt, foreshadowed the seed of Abraham who would deliver God’s people from the bondage to sin. The exodus is the great saving work of God that points ahead to the saving work completed in Christ.

But getting out of Egypt is only half the equation; Joshua led the people into the land of promise. We who believe await another Joshua who will lead us into God’s rest (Hebrews 4:8-10). So far, God has a pretty good track record of keeping promises!

God judges: But He always provides an escape route. In the last plague, it was the blood smeared on the lintel and door-posts. Today it is the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:19).

God desires to dwell with His people: In the opening chapter of the New Testament, we read that Jesus is “God with us”. At the very end of Matthew’s gospel, He promises to be with His people to the very end (28:20). The apostle Paul pulls a number of OT texts together in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18. Finally, the culmination of God dwelling in the midst of His people is to be found in Revelation 21:3.

Oh my, this post has turned out longer than I expected…

Resources I used:

Notes:

[1] 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:14, 16, 29; 10:2; 14:4, 18

[2] For example, the plague of blood was directed against the Nile god; the plague of frogs was directed against Heqt/Heket, a goddess with the head of a frog; the plague of darkness was directed against the sun-gods, etc.

How to be used by God

In my last post, I looked at the apostle Paul whom God used mightily in New Testament times. His Old Testament counterpart would be Moses, who initially was a reluctant servant of God. Here’s kind of how Moses’ first conversation with Yahweh went:

Moses Yahweh
Who am I to go for you? Never mind who you are. I will be with you
Who are you for me to go for you? I am GOD.
What if they don’t believe me? It’s not your accomplishments you’re testifying to, but mine. Here, have some miracles.
Me no talk good. I made your mouth.
Send somebody else! I’ll send somebody with you, not instead of you.

Let us make 5 basic assumptions about the way God uses Christians to bring glory to himself. Here are the basic qualifications to be used by God:

  1. First, be a nobody
  2. Secondly, don’t worry about your accomplishments or ability to persuade: what God has done—namely, in the historical good news of Jesus Christ—is a powerful persuasion all its own, and the Spirit will control who it stirs.
  3. Thirdly, know God.
  4. Fourthly, be unimpressive on your own.
  5. Fifth, don’t go it alone.

How do you stack up?

Via How to be used for God’s glory.

Reflections on March’s readings (1)

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I (try to) post about what I’ve read.

Three months down, nine to go. This past month, more than in the previous two, I had to fight familiarity. Anyway, now I’m in Leviticus, so things are going to be a little different. 😉

Back to the recap: In March, I completed 1 Corinthians, Luke, Job, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Exodus and John in that order. I began and hadn’t completed by month’s end Proverbs, Leviticus and Colossians.

For my reflections of 1 Corinthians, as well as the first parts of Exodus, Job and Luke, see last month’s post.

Exodus: It took a night to part the Red Sea, and not 2 minutes like in the movies (14:21)?

It is so easy to judge the Israelites for their fickleness; even after all the spectacular displays of God’s power and provision, they complain.  We’re not immune, though.

Why should people who have witnessed so spectacular a display of the grace and power of God slip so easily into muttering and complaining and slide so gracelessly into listless disobedience? The answer lies in the fact that many of them see God as existing to serve them. He served them in the Exodus; he served them when he provided clean water. Now he must serve not only their needs but their appetites. Otherwise they are entirely prepared to abandon him. While Moses has been insisting to Pharaoh that the people needed to retreat into the desert in order to serve and worship God, the people themselves think God exists to serve them.

—D. A. Carson, For the Love of God, entry for March 5.

Another “discovery”:  In 24:10, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the seventy elders “…saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.” Sound familiar?

Another parallel: Both Moses (Ex 32:32) and Paul (Rom 9:3) were willing to be cut off from God for the sake of their people.

Continue reading

Reflections on February’s readings (2)

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I (try to) post about what I’ve read.

Note 1: This is post #200!

Note 2: I had originally planned to write this post last night, but just as I was eating my dinner, there was a blackout. A blackout in this house not only means no electricity, but also no phone, no hot water and no heating. Hooray for technology.

In part 1, I looked at the books I completed. In this post, I’ll examine those I started and hadn’t completed by month’s end.

Job: I wonder why God didn’t intervene sooner. Job and his companions would have said a lot less, and consequently we’d have a lot less bad theology to read. Why did God wait until chapter 38? Indeed, why does God often seem to delay and/or be silent? Quoting someone who was quoting someone else, with God, “Silence is not absence. Hiddenness is not abandonment.” Continue reading

Beauty and the Bible

This is a post I’ve been ruminating on for close to two months now, but as they say, “Better late than never!”

The wheels in my brain started turning when I heard a conversation between two of my lady friends, K and N (obviously not their real names :). N was going to her home country for a visit and was asking K for beauty tips–N would be seeing her husband for the first time in a year. K was really excited, and said something to the effect that married women should look physically stunning (I know for sure that she mentioned stiletto heels). At this point I jumped into the conversation, totally uninvited. I said that it wasn’t necessary for married women to undergo a complete transformation to the extent that the husband wonders “Who is this woman?” There were no men present to comment on my comment. There were two other ladies present, though, one of whom has been married over five years. I turned to her and asked her to verify my claim. She just smiled enigmatically. I continued doing what I’d been working on as K and N went into territory unfamiliar for me–my idea of dressing up is putting on earrings. But I wondered to myself what the Bible had to say about this issue of beauty.

Later that week or the next week, I don’t recall, I was listening to a message given at a women’s conference in which the speaker pointed out that any time beauty is mentioned in the Bible it is almost always associated with trouble (why didn’t I have that ammo to throw at K and N some days prior?).  I made a mental note to check out that statement, not so much to test its veracity as to learn firsthand.

My research yielded another message given at another women’s conference in which the speaker looked briefly at the lives of women in the Bible described as being beautiful. That meant I had only to look up the men, who were thankfully not many. So here follows my “research”, entirely from the Old Testament:

Eve: There isn’t a direct reference to her beauty; however Genesis 1:31 tells us that God looked at everything He had made, and it was very good. It can therefore be reasonably concluded that she was a belle. Trouble: she fell for Satan’s lie.

Sarah: Twice her husband passed her off for his sister, fearing that he’d otherwise be bumped off unceremoniously.( Gen 12:11-13, Gen 20:2)

Rebekah: She was very beautiful (Gen 24:15-16), and dutiful. Trouble: she played favourites with her children, and ended up deceiving her husband.

Rachel: Her sister Leah had weak/delicate eyes (whatever that means), but she was lovely in from and beautiful (Gen 29:17).

Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel were all beauteous– and barren.

Moses: His mother saw he was “a fine child” (Exodus 2:1-2). No word on whether he grew into a fine-looking man.

Saul: He is described as “an impressive young man…a head taller than any of the others” (1 Sam 9:2). Trouble: his pride got him booted out of the kingship.

David: “He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features.” (1 Sam 16:12) Trouble: Bathsheba, his children (see below).

Abigail: “She was an intelligent and beautiful woman.” (1 Sam 25:3) Brains plus beauty! Trouble: that husband of hers, Nabal.

Bathsheba: “She was very beautiful” (2 Sam 11:2-3). Trouble: she got caught up in King David’s schemes, which led to the deaths of her husband and child. However, it was her son, Solomon, who was chosen to succeed David as King.

Tamar: 2 Sam 13:1-21 records her story. Trouble: her half-brother Amnon lusted after her and raped her. Her brother Absalom kills Amnon.

Absalom: He was highly praised in all Israel for his appearance (2 Sam 14:25). Trouble: In addition to fratricide, he organised a coup against his father. He died a bizarre death when his hair got tangled in thick branches. He had a daughter named Tamar (like his disgraced sister),  and “she became a beautiful woman” (2 Sam 14:27).

Esther: She underwent twelve months of beauty treatment— she has my respect and admiration! Esther 2:17 says “Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women.”

The Shulammite woman in Song of Songs and her lover: Like any respectable lovebirds, they tell each other how beautiful/handsome the other is. A case of beauty being in the eye of the beholder? Maybe, maybe not…

And that’s it for the Old Testament.  Typing this out has taken longer than I thought, so next time I shall wrap things up, sharing some of what I learned from the aforementioned messages from women’s conferences.