I no longer believe in the boogie man, the tooth fairy, or my invisible friend (actually I never had one of those), so why would I continue to read the Bible as if the stories it contains are true?  After all, Noah’s ark, Daniel and the lions den, and Moses splitting the Red Sea are about as wild and fantastical as any other fables out there, so why should I view the Bible any differently?

It has become popular to suggest that the Bible is best understood as fiction.  It may provide us with some helpful information about God.  It may give wisdom, truth, and instruction on how to live our lives, but the stories contained within it are just fairy tales, they are simply examples put forward to teach us about how to live a good, moral life.  Sounds reasonable, right?  Here’s the problem.  This way of thinking neuters the power of the scriptures in the life of the reader.  It profoundly changes one’s opinion about who God is and it challenges one of the most important foundations of the gospel – the incarnation.

In studying to preach on Exodus chapter six this week, I stumbled upon an important entry that could easily be skimmed over.  Exodus 6:13-27 records a small, seemingly insignificant list of names, a genealogy.  Up to this point in the Exodus story, God has introduced himself to Moses and his people Israel.  He has made his intentions known to them.  He plans to deliver the Israelite slaves from their captivity in Egypt and he will humble Pharaoh and all of Egypt with mighty acts of power.  However, as chapter six comes to an end, God hasn’t done anything yet.  All of these promises are just lip service.  There is a tension building, a sense of anticipation.  Will God actually show up?  Will he back up his words and perform mighty deeds to bring Pharaoh and all of Egypt to it’s knees?

The skeptic answers that question with a resounding, no!  God does not perform miracles.  God does not interrupt natural processes that he has put into place from the creation of the world.  Those who choose to read the Bible as fiction, and chalk up the stories contained within it to mere fairy tales, join the ranks of the deists who refuse to believe God speaks, acts, or even cares for his creation.  They might believe that God exists, but at best he is aloof and disinterested in what is happening here on planet earth.

The genealogies, written into the pages of our Bibles, challenge this shallow view of scripture.  Before Moses tells us the story of God’s miraculous deliverance of his people Israel, he takes the time to write down their names.  Don’t miss this.  This is important.  God didn’t take a faceless, mythological people through the Red Sea and into the promised land.  He took Eleazer, Abiasaph, Assir, Putiel, Moses, Aaron, and countless others.  This is not an imaginary story.  This is not a fairy tale.  It happened in history to real people with flesh and blood, real people with real names.

Most people don’t understand the implications of dumbing down Old Testament stories like the Exodus to mere Fairy Tales we share with children.  They tend to think of it as a right of passage, a mature and enlightened way of understanding the Bible.  After all, everyone has to grow up and leave behind Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and monsters under the bed.  Ironically, many people I know who have embraced this view of scripture still hold on to their faith in Jesus Christ.  On one hand, I’m grateful for this.  The life found in Jesus Christ has a way of transcending our calculating minds and capturing our hearts.  But why stop half way when it comes to believing in all that God had done for us?

If you believe in Jesus, then it might be helpful for you to understand how he viewed the Exodus story.  Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the son of man must be lifted up…” (John 3:14).  Did you catch that?  Jesus is telling us that the tales of Moses are as sure and true as the cross of Calvary.  If you believe in Jesus, it should follow that you believe in who Moses was and what he did.  If you don’t believe in who Moses was and what he did, what does that say about your belief in Jesus?

The stories in Exodus are not metaphor, analogy, or parable.  They are not included in the scripture so we can entertain our children in Sunday school.  These stories introduce us to a God who is intimately involved in his creation.  He is not far off, aloof, or incapable of action.  He loves the world so much he was willing to enter human history, take on flesh, and die a bloody death on the cross to redeem, rescue, and save every man, woman, and child from sin and death.  Not only is this a story of salvation.  It is a story of Exodus.



Bricks without straw

It started when I was around 7 years old.  I was watching an old Western movie where a poor bloke, running for his life, fell into a pit of quicksand.  The scene ended with his outstretched arm reaching out for something, anything to grasp onto, but he didn’t have a prayer.  I remember being horrified at the thought that there was no escape from this stuff.  In fact, the more one struggled to get free, the further they sunk into the abyss.

Quicksand is the perfect metaphor for an important principle in life.  It is in our struggle to free ourselves from whatever enslaves us that we often find the conditions of our enslavement go from bad to worse.  We see this very principle at work in the story of the Exodus.  Moses returns from Mt. Sinai with a message for Pharaoh, “let my people go.” (Exodus 5:1)  Pharaoh is incensed at the audacity of Moses to even ask such a thing.  He mocks Moses and the God he represents, then he sends the Israelite people a warning for ever entertaining the hope that one day they could be free.

You see, before Moses shared with Pharaoh God’s desire to set Israel free from slavery in Egypt, Moses had shared his revelation with Israel’s council of elders.  He had shown them signs and wonders from God and they were convinced.  They knew that God had spoken to Moses.  They allowed themselves to believe that this was all true and God had not forgotten the promise he had made 400 years ago to their forefather Jacob.  He had a good and prosperous future for them.  They need only to trust and obey what God had said and He would bring them into the promised land.

A cruel and ruthless slavemaster, Pharaoh knew to strike quickly and snuff out this spark of hope before it grew into a flame.  Like an eagle who sinks its talons into its struggling prey, Pharaoh suffocated the Israelites with an impossible workload.  They would now be forced to make their same quota of bricks without being provided straw.  When the Israelite leaders were asked, “Why haven’t you met your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before?” (Exodus 5:14b) They were beaten ruthlessly for their incompetence.  Immediately, God’s people lose heart and grovel before the feet of Pharaoh, posturing themselves once again as his subjects.  “We are your servants.” (Exodus 5:15-16)  They declare to Pharaoh three times while pleading for his mercy.

And we know why they do this.

It’s too hard.

We’ve tried before and it never works out.

Maybe this is just our lot in life.

We’ve all been there.  You never realize the power that food has over you until you start a diet.  You say your little porn habit isn’t an addiction, but every time you want to feel like a man you go to it.  Try cutting out nicotine, alcohol, or chemical drugs and the painful withdrawals will make you think the Israelites got off easy making bricks without straw.

There are many cruel slave masters out there.  Which ones rule over you?  And when you try to get free of them, you can count on the fact that they won’t let you go without a fight.  But don’t lose heart!  The story of the Israelite Exodus is the very same story God is telling through you and I today.  And when God says “let my people go”, the Pharaohs of this world must always obey.


Bridegroom of Blood

“Do you want your son circumcised, or uncircumcised?”  I’m not sure if the doctor used those exact words, but that’s the way I heard it.  It was as if I was ordering a burger with, or without cheese.  How does one make such a monumental decision in the wake of what is perhaps the most emotional day of their life – the birth of their firstborn child.  I’ll admit it, I felt rushed, but not nearly as rushed as Zipporah must have felt when she rummaged around the tent for a flint knife, sliced off the foreskin of her son, and flung it at Moses saving his life in the nick of time.

Yes, this is a Bible story.  Although, if you grew up with Sunday school, you never had this one illustrated for you on flannelgraph.  It’s the kind of story that leaves you scratching your head, wondering if someone switched out your Bible with the latest installment from George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones novels.  I have many questions after reading this passage.  I’ll narrow this post down to investigating three.

First off, why would God kill Moses after working so hard to convince him he was the chosen one just days before?  Was Moses expendable?  The passage certainly leaves us with that impression.  God is preparing to kill Moses because of his disobedience (more about this in the next paragraph).  However, we shouldn’t fixate upon God’s judgment because in this case God spares Moses and shows mercy.  Once again God’s mercy triumphs over judgment.

Another question, what did Moses do wrong here?  While it seems obvious that he failed to circumcise one of his sons (most likely his eldest Gershom), this may not be the case.  the text tells us that Zipporah touches her son’s foreskin to Moses’ feet.  The only problem here is that the word we translate to “feet” in the Hebrew could also be a reference to his genitals.

Wait… What?

Yes, you read that right, his genitals.

This leaves some to suggest that it may have been Moses himself who was not circumcised.  By touching her son’s foreskin to Moses “feet”, or, well… you know, she spared his life.  However, it could also be that Zipporah, being a Midianite, did not accept the Hebrew tradition of circumcision and refused to have her son circumcised until she saw that God was about to kill her husband over it so she changed her mind, quickly.

Finally, what is the point of all this?  I find it compelling that this story comes to us right on the heels of God declaring to Moses that he is going to kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son if he does not let his people go.  God does indeed strike down the firstborn in Egypt, but spares his own people by the blood of an innocent lamb.

I believe this story, the “Bridegroom of Blood”, is another clue concealed in the scriptures pointing us to the blood of God’s firstborn Son that has the power to save!


Holy Ground

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)

There are two instances in scripture when individuals are asked to remove their sandals as they are standing on holy ground.  The first is found here in Exodus as Moses stands before the burning bush.  The second is found in the book of Joshua when Joshua finds himself in the presence of the commander of the Lord’s army (Joshua 5:15).  These passages seem to reflect the reverence and awe appropriate for a face to face meeting with God.  However, if we dig a little deeper, there’s something more going on here.

Moses is being recruited by God to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt.  Joshua is called on to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan so God’s people can take possession of the promised land.  Both men struggle to find the courage to complete the tasks they have been given.  Both men are reminded that it is God who is doing the work, they are only His representatives.

There is a third, seemingly unrelated passage to the “holy ground” passages mentioned above found in the book of Ruth.  The book of Ruth is the story of a displaced widow (Naomi) and her daughter-in-law (Ruth) who find themselves in the midst of a desperate situation.  They are in need of redemption.  They are hoping for a miracle.  Their miracle comes in the form of a distant relative, Boaz, who is willing to purchase Naomi’s ancestral lands, marry her daughter-in-law Ruth, and keep the land in Naomi’s family name.  However, Boaz is not the nearest relative in line to play the role of kinsman redeemer.  He must first receive formal permission from the nearest relative before he can redeem Naomi and Ruth.

“Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.” (Ruth 4:7)

In Naomi and Ruth’s case, the nearest relative was unable to redeem them, he formally removed his sandal in the presence of Boaz and gave him permission to play the role of redeemer.

It’s not that God needed permission from Moses to deliver His people, or from Joshua to claim victory in the promise land.  However, both of these men felt a sense of responsibility to accomplish the task on their own.  Could these hallowed ground experiences be God’s way of saying “those shoes are too big for you to walk around in, why don’t you hand them over to me?”