God Unleashed

Plagues of Egypt

by Lois Tverberg

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.'” Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.” Exodus 5:1-3

During Moses’ encounters with Pharaoh, God told him to tell Pharaoh that the Israelites needed to take a three-day journey into the desert to worship him (Ex. 3:18, 5:3, 8:27). This is confusing because it sounds as if they are asking for a long weekend off, and then they’ll come back. But in fact, in no place does Moses say that they will return afterward.

Another suggestion is that the phrase “three-day journey” is actually not about the length of time they plan to be away, but the distance they need to travel from Egypt before they worship God. In the Scripture, measuring distance in “days of journey” was common. (See Gen 31:33, Num 10:33, Deut 11:1, 1Ki 19:4, etc.) Moses was likely saying that people must be far away from the false”gods” and oppression of Egypt before they worshipped God, or their awesome God might release plagues and destruction. The Egyptians were the ones in danger!

Plagues of Egypt

It seems that Pharaoh was undaunted by Moses’ warnings about the power of his God, and he refused to let the Israelites go a safe distance from Egypt. It is easy to imagine that as this holy God approached his people, getting nearer and nearer, the plagues on Egypt became increasingly worse. First the river ran red from some distant danger sweeping downstream, then the insects started swarming, then the animals started dying, then the sky blackened with hail and locusts and utter darkness as this awesome God approached Egypt.

Finally, when the Israelites went ahead and sacrificed a lamb and worshipped their God right in the midst of Egypt, his full power was unleashed on the Egyptians and destruction poured out on the oppressors of his people. Because Pharaoh would not release Israel to worship their holy God, he came to punish their captors and release them himself.

Photo: John Martin

Send Someone Else!

by Lois Tverberg

Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.”
– Exodus 4:10-12

When God first appeared to Moses and told him to go to Pharaoh, Moses had the chutzpah to say to God, “Please send someone else!” We are amazed at Moses’ repeated refusal to do what God asked. How could that be?

The text says that Moses doubted his own abilities. Perhaps he was thinking that God was asking Moses Burning Bushhim to somehow go convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery all on his own. What an impossibility that a stuttering 80-year old shepherd could do such a thing! Perhaps he imagined that God was telling him to raise up a rebellion who could demand release from Pharaoh. In his younger days when he was passionate for justice, maybe he could have done it, but not now. Surely God couldn’t use him.
Maybe part of Moses’ response was because he had forgotten his people’s sufferings, feeling that he had left his people behind when he fled to the desert forty years ago. When he was a younger man, his anger at his people’s misery caused him to kill, but maybe now he felt differently after finding a peaceful life in another land. Wasn’t their bondage someone else’s problem? Certainly someone should do something about it, but why should he be the one to take on such a difficult, dangerous mission?

Or, perhaps he doubted God. No one had heard anything from this God in four hundred years, and in Egypt, Moses learned that there were many small gods that shared power with others. How could this one defeat the many gods that ruled over Egypt, who had made it a super-power of the ancient world? This god was unknown – only the private god of his family, not of a mighty nation. God certainly was no match for the powers of Egypt.

Whenever any of us feel God is calling us to serve him, these are all typical human responses – either to doubt ourselves or how much God will help us, or how much God is even capable of doing. And we might even secretly say to ourselves, “Yes, someone needs to do something, but why should it be me?” We can learn a lesson from knowing that despite Moses’ doubts in himself and in God, God refused to change his mind about using him. We can all be encouraged that God never gives up on us. With our willingness, God will not fail at all that he has appointed us to do.

Photocred: Nheyob

The Finger of God

by Lois Tverberg

But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not. And the gnats were on men and animals. The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” …. Exodus 8:18-19

When Pharaoh’s magicians convincingly imitated the first two plagues of turning the Nile to blood and producing frogs, Pharaoh had reason to be confident that he could defeat the God who produced these signs. But at the third plague, the magicians were confounded when they saw gnats created from the dust. They declared. “This is the finger of God!”

Plagues of EgyptThey meant that this was the sign of a power far, far greater than they could conjure up. Often God’s power or intervention is described metaphorically by using words like God’s “arm” or God’s “hand.” God’s “finger” also refers to his power or intervention. God is so mighty that all he had to use was his littlest finger to defeat the powers of the magicians in Egypt!

Interestingly, this phrase also comes up in the life of Jesus, and it is in a similar context. Jesus was being challenged by what means he was casting out demons, with the accusation that he was using satanic powers to do so. He replied:

…But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils. Luke 11:21-22

Why did he use the phrase “finger of God”? The situation here is similar to that in Exodus. Moses was in a battle against the gods of Egypt and they were defeated by the “finger of God.” Similarly, Jesus was in a battle with the powers of darkness and was defeating them by God’s power. God’s kingdom was arriving with such great power that with its littlest finger it could vanquish Satan and set people free.

Artist of photo: John Martin

Known By What I Do

by Lois Tverberg

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites … and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am – This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” Exodus 3:13-14

Burning BushWhen God spoke to Moses in the burning bush and Moses asked his name, God revealed many things about his nature through what he said. His answer likely was not what Moses expected, because God is so utterly unlike the gods that Moses had encountered. Other gods had names that were nouns, like “Molech” (actually Melech, meaning “King”) or “Baal,” meaning “Master,” or perhaps descriptive names like “Lucifer” meaning, “Light Bearer,” or “Baal Zebul” meaning “Exalted Lord.”

God didn’t use an adjective to describe himself, or a noun to represent himself, the usual ways to make a name. Instead, he used a future-oriented verb phrase that literally reads, “am that am” or “will be that will be.” Then he says that Moses should tell the people, literally, that “will be” has sent him, and proclaims that “will be” is his name forever. (The pronoun “I,” ani or anochi, is not actually present, but the verb is the conjugation for the first person, so the “I” is inferred.)

Why in the world would God use this name to describe himself? A number of observations can be made. One is that the very form of the name shows how very much unlike God is from any other god humans have ever known. Other gods liken themselves to human kings or lords, but this God does not – he is incomprehensible and indescribable. Just as his sanctuary was devoid of images or idols, his name also does not offer a likeness for us to describe him.

The verb that he uses, “to be,” has several significant aspects. It doesn’t just describe something existent, but can be more active, as if to say “I cause,” meaning, “I am your cause” or “I cause you to exist.” It is also likely a reminder of the reassurance that God gave Moses when he was going to Pharaoh – “I will be with you.” God is the God who will be with his people. This is ultimately God’s goal – to dwell among his people forever.

One other way of reading his name seems to be especially significant. It could be read as “I will be known by what I do,” and this is really what seems to be most fitting for how God reveals himself to us. He didn’t just describe himself to Moses, or appear in a big cloud to impress his people. Instead he redeemed his people from slavery, fed them daily, protected them from enemies, and brought them to the promised land. One day he will most fully reveal himself when he redeems the world through the death and resurrection of Christ on the cross.

Photocred: Itai

Heroines in Egypt

by Lois Tverberg

Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” Exodus 1:18-19

Miriam and Moses MotherIn the first few chapters of Exodus, women play a major role. Pharaoh tells the midwives Shiprah and Puah to kill the newborn boys but let the girls live. His assumption was that while men posed a threat, women would be easily assimilated into Egyptian culture and exploited as domestic and sexual slaves. We also see hints of this in Abraham’s time, when he tells Sarah that the Egyptians would kill him and take her. (Genesis 12:12)

Instead, the first stories of Exodus humorously tell us that exactly the opposite occurred — that the women defeated Pharaoh! After the midwives saved the baby boys, Pharaoh confronted them. They responded with a sly insult for an excuse, that Hebrew women were stronger than Egyptian women and simply gave birth on their own, before they could get there!

Moses’ mother and sister were also heroines, saving his life by floating him out into the Nile where Pharaoh’s daughter would hear his cries and ache for his plight. Not only did women save Moses’ life, but Pharaoh’s own family defeated him, and Moses’ mother even got paid to nurse him!

An ancient listener would have laughed at how God had used the weak to defeat the strong, and realized that already, God was the one coming to rescue his people.

Photo: Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster

What Did Moses Do Wrong?

by Bruce Okkema & Lois Tverberg

Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Numbers 20:11-12

Have you been wondering about this question? The Lord had clearly been developing Moses throughout his lifetime for the specific task of leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into the promised land. God had rescued Moses as a baby from Pharaoh’s edict to drown the Hebrew boys in the Nile. Then, through Pharaoh’s daughter, he had been raised in the royal palaces where he learned leadership skills and had access to the best education in the world. As a shepherd, Moses had learned how to protect a flock in the harsh desert while finding food and water, essential skills for what was to come. Then there was the call at the burning bush, the miraculous signs, the plagues, the deliverance, and all these years of leading this difficult people…

This story has puzzled Christians for ages: how the seemingly small sin of striking the rock could have made God so angry as to deny Moses the goal for which he had been raised. One answer comes from understanding what Moses’ actions would have meant to the people of his time.

Both the Egyptian and Canaanite religions believed that there were many gods. These gods were not supreme in power, but could be manipulated by invoking spiritual forces even more powerful than them. It was believed that by using incantations, occult magic, and fertility rites, people could force these spirits into obeying their will. God made it very clear to the Israelites that he was supreme and they must never make idols or do anything that treated Him this way.

Moses shouts angrily, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” By using the word “we,” he attributes to himself and Aaron the power to give them water, suggesting that he and Aaron would use pagan rites to force God into giving them water, rather than publicly acknowledging the Lord as the supreme power.

In that one weak moment, he undermined all of what God had been teaching them about his absolute sovereignty. In Moses’ desire to show his own authority, not only did he fail to give God the glory, but to the Israelites who had grown up in paganism, he was acting as an occult magician who controls the spirits. This was extremely serious to the Lord, especially because it is a public sin. This underscores the responsibilities of leadership.

God demands that we always treat him as sovereign, so he did not revoke this severe punishment for Moses. But, the story does not end there. In his kindness, God honored his dedicated servant by showing him a vision of all of the land of Israel. The story ends with these beautiful words from Deuteronomy 34:

“Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo … There the LORD showed him the whole land and said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, `I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is … Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.”

Water Will Come Out

by Bruce Okkema

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. I will stand there before you by the rock at Sinai. 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 17:5–6

En GediIn this story we find the Israelites “grumbling” to Moses and Aaron about their present circumstances. The Hebrew meaning behind this translation conveys a much stronger picture, that of a riotous mob wanting to kill their leaders. I find myself quickly judging the Israelites, thinking that since they had just been brought out of the land of slavery, how could they be complaining already? After all, they had seen the mighty hand of God on the night of Passover, they had experienced the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, manna appeared with the dawn, quail fell from the sky, and they had benefited from many other miracles. How could they be so ungrateful as to be complaining about thirst?

Yes, they were wrong in “grumbling.” Yet, if you have ever experienced the harshness of the desert in this part of the world, you know how vital it is to have drinking water there. A person can literally die within hours without it, so perhaps we would have been desperate too. Also, imagine poor Moses standing in a leadership position over more than six hundred thousand people without water! Can you relate to his grief as he cries out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me!”

As you read the Bible, try to put yourself into the story and experience it as if you were there. The people in these stories are members of our covenant family, so in that sense, we really were. Also, learn to turn your eyes to the Lord in each situation to see how he will redeem it. You will see a God with amazing patience who loves us, walks with us, and provides water even when we complain!

A Prophet Greater than Moses

by Lois Tverberg

Therefore when the people saw the sign which he had performed, they said, “This is truly the prophet who is to come into the world.” So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take him by force to make him king, withdrew again to the mountain by himself alone. – John 6:11-15

At the end of the feeding of the five thousand, the people concluded from this miracle that Jesus was the “prophet” who had been prophesied in Deuteronomy 18. In this passage, Moses told the people:

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him… The LORD said to me: … I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19)

Moses and IsraelitesThe Jewish people regarded Moses as the greatest prophet of all time. All other prophets heard God speaking in dreams and visions, but God spoke to Moses face to face (Numbers 12:6-8). Moses had also done great miracles to free them from Egypt and led them out of bondage. He had mediated their covenant and given them their scriptures, and they considered him their greatest leader of all time. To say that a prophet would come who would be even greater than Moses was a strong statement indeed!

So, when the people saw that Jesus had multiplied the loaves and the fish, it seemed to them as if he was duplicating the miraculous provision of food in the desert. He was, in essence, giving them manna from heaven. They imagined that Jesus would, like Moses, lead them to freedom from their enemies and provide miraculously for their needs. They were obviously hoping that Jesus would be the one that would lead them out of national bondage, as Moses did for his people.

While they were wrong in terms of looking for a political messiah, Jesus actually was “the Prophet who was going to come.” He spoke for God in a unique, powerful and authoritative way. He gave them living water and the bread of life — himself. And he mediated a new covenant, allowing anyone to enter the presence of God, freeing them from the greatest bondage of all — that of sin and death.

the Transfiguration

Photo:  http://thebiblerevival.com/clipart/1907/deut6.jpg and