Day 78: “I will dwell among them”

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Read Exodus 25:1-9

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.
“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.

‘Build a house. I’m coming to live with you.’

Wait a minute.

Just yesterday, we read how the people felt that if they saw God face to face, they would die.  Now He’s planning to move in?  How will that work?  How will His presence not just burn everyone up?

They have to do it right.

God gives detailed instructions over the next seven chapters (read the headings in your bible if you want to) about everything from the Tabernacle itself to what the Priests will wear, even to the washbasin!  He says, “Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.”

Exactly like.

It’s not open to artistic interpretation.

This is God’s house.

Yet, He does want the Israelites to build it.  He could simply speak it into existence, as He did the entire universe, or even the manna, but He wants this place, this special Tabernacle, to be something the people have a part in.

It will be made from things the Israelites have already: gold, silver and bronze; as well as blue, purple and scarlet thread (they’ll have to make the cloth); skins, leather, oil, spices and jewels.  Many of these things are plunder they took from the Egyptians when they left; and notice that God does not demand the gifts: “everyone whose heart prompts them.”

He’s looking for joyful givers.

Likewise, in chapter 31 God talks about the man He has chosen to oversee the whole project.  “I have specifically chosen Bezalel … I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts.”

You get the sense that Bezalel is going to love this job.

He has literally been made for it.

This Tabernacle will be a tent – a grand tent, to be sure – but a tent nonetheless. If I were Moses, I might be wondering why.  Why a tent, and why now?  Why not wait until they are in the promised land, and then build a proper temple with stone and wood?

For reasons of His own, God thinks the Israelites need His physical presence among them right away.  It’s more important to Him that He be among them for the journey, than that He get them to the end of journey.

This is often His way.

He’s more interested in now, than later.

Day 77: Book of the Covenant

Before you read:  We’re skipping over the “Covenant” – three chapters comprising a legal agreement where God says to the Israelites, “If you do this, then I’ll do this”.

If you can, open a bible and skim the headings in those chapters (19-23) to see what God wants. Then, at the end of 23, see what He’ll do. He’ll drive out the people of Canaan, give Israel the land, and bless them.

But they must destroy the people who live there now, and not mingle with them or follow their ways.

Especially, God’s people must not worship the gods of Canaan.

old script

Read Exodus 24:1-18:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance, but Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.”

When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said.

He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.”

Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.

12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”

13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”

15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Moses goes over it twice. First, he recites it and the Israelites promise to obey.  “We will do everything the Lord has commanded”.  After that, Moses writes it out, making a “Book of the Covenant” and reads it out loud.

Again, the Israelites respond, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.  We will obey.”

Twice the rules of the Covenant (starting with the Ten Commandments) are read, and twice the people wholeheartedly accept and promise to obey them.

If it were today, Moses and God would each sign the document. That’s how legal agreements are confirmed, or activated, now. The signature seals the deal.

But signing wasn’t a thing in the Story.

Paper wasn’t widely used.

Instead, legal agreements were events marked by something to remember.

This one is marked first by Moses sprinkling the people with blood from bulls; then, God visiting the Israelite leaders and eating and drinking with them.

Amazing!

“And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, He did not destroy them.”

They thought He would.

Ever since sin entered the Story, humans have known they can’t face God and live.

It’s the whole Problem of the Story.

But.

God is willing, at this point, to let humans live and accept animals instead. Animal lives can substitute for human lives for now.

These men, sprinkled with the blood of a bull who died for them, can see God face to face and not die themselves.

It’s magnificent. They are allowed to see God – this God who rescued them from slavery, who takes the form of cloud and fire – they eat and drink with Him.

He’s so wonderful they can’t even describe Him, only the jeweled pavement under His feet.

The pavement of Heaven.

And that’s God’s plan. It’s what all these deals – these covenants* – are about.

God, the hero, is trying to rescue us, to bring us back to where He is.

Back to the dance.


 

*This is God’s third covenant (deal, agreement, contract) with humans:
The first was with Noah: don’t kill or shed blood, and I’ll never flood the earth again (Gen 9). It was marked by a rainbow.
The second was with Abraham: circumcise yourself and every male, and I’ll make you a great nation and give you a great land (Gen 15). It was marked by a strange ceremony featuring animal carcasses cut in half and a floating torch.
Now this one is with the Israelites, that ‘great nation’ God promised to make from Abraham.

 

Day 76: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out …”

warrior & dragon.jpg

Read Exodus 20:1-20

And God spoke all these words:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

These are the famous “ten commandments”.

Up until now, circumcision was the distinctive feature of God’s people. Starting with Abraham, it has continued to these thousands here in the desert. It was God’s first this-is-how-to-live-since-you-belong-to-me command.

Now here’s the full set.

They’re not in the promised land yet. It’s only two months after leaving Egypt, and they’re at Mt. Sinai, in the desert.  They won’t live here.

If it were me, I’d be impatient to get to Canaan.  I’d be thinking, ‘Yes, yes, but can’t all this wait until we get there – you know – the place flowing with milk and honey?’

Of course, as soon as I came near Sinai, and heard the VOICE OF GOD speaking out loud from inside a burning mountain, along with thunder and lightning, I hope I’d just shut up.

I think even my thoughts would melt to silence.

God doesn’t share my sense of hurry about ‘getting there’.  He wants to establish some things first.  Like any good parent, He wants to make sure He has their attention before putting them among huge distractions.

He’s said they will be His “holy nation, a kingdom of priests”, so here in ten short commands He gives them an outline of what that means.

It’s a gift.

If it were me standing there hearing Him, feeling the heat of the fire and shaking with fear, I’d want to know what to do to … well… not die.

He starts with, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

It’s like He’s saying, “You owe me.”  And they do.

They’ve been given a fresh start – whole new lives. It’s like a re-do of the start of the Story – just them and God hanging out (but in a desert instead of a garden).

And just like that first time, God lays down the rule.

Then it was, “don’t eat from this tree”.

Now it’s, “Do these ten things”.

Then, the dragon hadn’t shown up yet.

Now, they’ve just been rescued from him.

But dragon food is still everywhere so God says, do these things: Put me first – always. Honor your parents. Honor life, and marriage, and personal property. Be content with what you have.

Pretty simple, but they get right to the heart. They speak to priorities and fundamental values.

Like they’re a blueprint for a very good kind of life.

Like God knows.


Photo by Marie Bellando-Mitjans on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

Day 75: “And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation”

fire on mountain

Read Exodus 19:1-19

On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you[a] will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.
The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” Then Moses told the Lord what the people had said.
10 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death. 13 They are to be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on them. No person or animal shall be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they approach the mountain.”
14 After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. 15 Then he said to the people, “Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.”
16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

 

What a show!

Smoke billowing “like smoke from a furnace”, thunder crashing and lightning flashing and crackling:  God – on the mountain.

It’s terrifying.

“Do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it.  Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death.”

They believe it.

Just two months ago Egyptian sons died at the hand of this God and now here He is, rumbling and burning and huge.  He fills the mountain.

They will remember this.

Read verses 4-6 again. “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt.”  Remember, Israel, the power of your God.

“I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”  He didn’t free them just for their own sakes – like letting a bird loose to fly away.  No, it’s more like He ‘kidnapped’ them for Himself, except that they were His to start with.

He has a purpose for them: “You will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.”

This is the heart of the matter, what it’s all about.

A priest is someone who ‘goes between’ God and humans.  The Priest brings the humans’ requests and needs to God, and then brings God’s answers back to the humans.

The Israelites would have no trouble understanding the need for such a person because this God-on-the-mountain is extremely scary.  They’d much rather Moses go up and talk to Him, than have to go up themselves.

Yet, God is going to make them all “Priests”, a whole kingdom of them.

Why?

He’s doing what he said. He promised Abraham, long ago: “Through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen. 22:18)

God intends to use Israel to help Him draw close to everyone on earth, and to help everyone on earth draw close to Him.

It’s an ambitious plan, but then, this is no ordinary Story.

The Hero needs to rescue the entire world from the dragon.  To do it, He’ll raise up an army – of priests.  He doesn’t look much like a dancer now, burning on the mountain and terrifying His people; but neither does a warrior when he’s in full battle dress.

The dance will be restored, but first the war must be won.


Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash

Day 74: There was no water there for the people to drink.

water of life
Photo by Samad Deldar on Pexels.com
Read Exodus 17:1-16
The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”
But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front 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 Horeb. 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. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”
10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.”
15 Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. 16 He said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

It is such a frustrating and bewildering thing about God that He leads His people into situations that don’t work.

There’s no water. Again.

And the people grumble, again.

But this time Moses gets mad at them.

Like he thinks they could do better.

They’ve already experienced so much of God’s power to do impossible things. Couldn’t they ask Him to do another?

Apparently there’s a difference between complaining and asking.

Consider the battle against the Amalekites.  The Israelites win as long as Moses holds up the staff.  It’s a kind of physical, visible prayer.

It’s asking.

This is the very first battle the Israelites have fought. Just weeks ago they were still in Egypt making bricks.  Even their grown men have never in their lives fought like this, and the Amalekites are fierce (my study bible tells me).  They’re experts at fighting.

But Moses prays, and God gives victory to His people.

Then He tells Moses to write it down “as a permanent reminder”.

He did a similar thing after the manna. He had Moses collect some and keep it “for your descendants” (16:32). God is very careful to make sure that nothing He does is forgotten.  In fact, that’s a big part of what the Sabbath is all about – remembering His deeds and His promises.

He seems to think people can forget.

He’s right.  The Israelites have ‘forgotten’ the quail and the manna – even though they come every single day. Somehow it’s become so normal, so expected, that they’ve stopped viewing it as a miracle. It’s just what happens.

So now, in this place with no water, they act as though God won’t help – as though He never has.  They need to remember.  They need to ask.

This isn’t a mistake. God is doing something – He’s training his nation to trust Him, and sometimes trust means asking. Even asking for impossible things.

As though we think He can do them.

As though we think He will.

The Israelites failed. They grumbled instead, but God gave them water anyway. He’s the best trainer – wonderfully patient, and amazingly generous.   The water gushes out of the rock (17:6 NLT).

Is there anything you need to ask Him for?

Day 73: “Do not keep any of it until morning.”

bread on wicker basket
Photo by Bruno Thethe on Pexels.com

Read Exodus 16:11-31

11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’”
17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.
19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”
20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.
21 Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. 22 On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. 23 He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’”
24 So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. 25 “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a sabbath to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today. 26 Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”
27 Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. 28 Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? 29 Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.
31 The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.

Over a million people homeless and hungry in a desert – how will God feed them?

Easily.

“That evening vast numbers of quail flew in and covered the camp.”

I love it.

They cover the camp.

But in the morning there’s a special surprise, “When the dew evaporated, a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground.”

They’ve never seen anything like it.

Indeed, nothing like it has ever existed, before or since.  It is created by God for this specific time and place.  In a desert where food will never grow, God simply lays it down – every single morning.

On the first morning, after they gather it, Moses instructs them to use it all up, “Do not keep any of it until morning.”

Doesn’t that seem wasteful?

After all they’ve been through and given the very strange way this food has come, I’d be inclined to hoard it.  How could I know, for sure, that the same bizarre thing will happen tomorrow?

Best keep some aside, just in case.

Next morning it stinks and writhes – yuck!  God wants them to trust Him for food in a fresh way every day and sure enough, the next morning the same miracle happens again – the whole world is covered in food.

Okay. Now it’s clear that I may as well use it all up so I do, and as I do I’m trusting God to give me more tomorrow.  It’s a daily object lesson in faith.

But the sixth day is different. On that day God tells them to gather enough for two days, because the next day God wants them to rest.

Sure enough, next morning there’s no manna; but this time, yesterday’s manna is still fresh and good.

He wants the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath, to be a day “dedicated to the Lord”,  a day that’s different from all the others; a whole day to stop business-as-usual and simply relax in Him, thinking about and remembering all He has done and promises to do.  It will help them.  It will make it easier to keep on trusting and obeying.

Could anyone be more tender and generous than God?

See how lavishly He provides: meat flies itself in every night, bread appears magically every morning, and “the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you.”

 

Day 72: Meat to eat in the evening and bread in the morning

green leaf plant and brown soil under gray nimbus clouds during golden hour
Photo by Flickr on Pexels.com

Read Exodus 15:22-16:10

22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”
25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.
There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”
27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.
Manna and Quail
16 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”
So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”
Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”
10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

Grumbling.

It’s a pattern.

Their faith is strong and bright right after God does something they like, but then he does something they don’t like and the grumbling starts.

And I mean – three days without water; many days without food; the vast barren desert stretching away from them, empty and food-less – I’d grumble.

I’ve grumbled for less.

They’re scared. Maybe it’s all a trick. Maybe God isn’t so good after all, or maybe Moses and Aaron have been lying all this time.

They’re still fresh out of slavery and trust is hard to manage.

The first time, at Marah, God patiently instructs Moses how to un-poison the water.

The second time, though, he starts with a lesson. At issue is how the Israelites keep directing their grumbling at Moses and Aaron.

Neither they nor God seem to like that.

“You will know that it was the Lord”, “Who are we, that you should grumble against us?”

God makes these crazy promises.  He’s going to bring them meat in the evening and ‘rain down’ bread in the morning – awfully hard to believe, looking around. How can he possibly?

But first, “Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.”

“They looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord.”

See, that’s the main thing. It’s the very most important thing – the glory of the Lord.

I don’t know exactly what He did that showed them ‘his glory’. The cloud had never left them. It was there with them all the time, leading them, lightening the night for them. But something is different just now as they look at it.

It’s glorious.

And it certainly isn’t Moses or Aaron.

There’s no mistaking that God is something … other. Something bigger.

This is like when a loving, good, parent takes a child by the face and says, “Look at me”. The child needs that perspective, that grounding. They need the reminder that they aren’t alone and Someone is with them who is capable and strong and for them.

Someone who might be able to bring food in the desert.

Sometimes we need that, too.

Day 71: “All who live in Canaan melt away”

woman raising her hands
Photo by Marlon Schmeiski on Pexels.com
(having trouble finding the right sorts of pictures in the WP free library…pretend no makeup, or leaves, etc.)

Read Exodus 15:1-20

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:
“I will sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.
“The Lord is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
the Lord is his name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
he has hurled into the sea.
The best of Pharaoh’s officers
are drowned in the Red Sea.
The deep waters have covered them;
they sank to the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, Lord,
was majestic in power.
Your right hand, Lord,
shattered the enemy.
“In the greatness of your majesty
you threw down those who opposed you.
You unleashed your burning anger;
it consumed them like stubble.
By the blast of your nostrils
the waters piled up.
The surging waters stood up like a wall;
the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy boasted,
‘I will pursue, I will overtake them.
I will divide the spoils;
I will gorge myself on them.
I will draw my sword
and my hand will destroy them.’
10 But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
in the mighty waters.
11 Who among the gods
is like you, Lord?
Who is like you—
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
working wonders?
12 “You stretch out your right hand,
and the earth swallows your enemies.
13 In your unfailing love you will lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
to your holy dwelling.
14 The nations will hear and tremble;
anguish will grip the people of Philistia.
15 The chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
the people of Canaan will melt away;
16     terror and dread will fall on them.
By the power of your arm
they will be as still as a stone—
until your people pass by, Lord,
until the people you bought pass by.
17 You will bring them in and plant them
on the mountain of your inheritance—
the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling,
the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.
18 “The Lord reigns
for ever and ever.”
19 When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. 20 Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing.

 

Have I mentioned how I wish the Story told us what people were feeling?

Here it does: verse after verse of joy and triumph.

It would be even better if we could hear the music, but we’ll have to imagine.

Imagine the Israelites swaying and singing, playing tambourines, their heads thrown back in jubilant song, laughter and shouting.  Imagine the children, delighted, hopping among the dancing throng.  Then put in the words: “Your right hand shattered the enemy,” “They sank like lead in the mighty waters,” “Who is like You among the Gods, O Lord?”

You can feel the joy.

Of course they’re happy – delirious even, they should be.  We get happy when fictional bad guys get punished – think movies.  This is the Israelites’ real life, these are the guys who were killing their babies.

Now they are truly, truly free. The Egyptians are dead.  God has come. He is awesome, and He is on their side.

It’s worth celebrating.

But notice, “With your unfailing love you lead the people you have redeemed.”

The song takes a turn here at verse 13.  As though they literally turn around, from rejoicing over the Sea and what God did there, toward the road ahead of them.  They’re free of Egypt but now they’re homeless, a vast horde of people who need a place of their own.  They’re bound for Canaan but everyone along the way – Philistia, Edom and Moab, to name just three – will see them as a threat.

And Canaan isn’t empty.

It would be like them to get discouraged.  Remember the bricks without straw, and how utterly defeated they became?  Remember how they wouldn’t even listen to Moses because of their discouragement?  But now their focus is all on God.

So they do an amazing thing: they make assumptions about what God will do for them and they weave those assumptions into their celebratory song.  “You guide [us] to [our] sacred home.” “The peoples hear and tremble.”  Even the Canaanites, they sing, will “melt away; terror and dread will fall upon them.”

They are beginning to really believe God, to trust His power and His goodness and the certainty of His promises.

It’s faith.

It’s the dance.

Day 70: “Walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground.”

beach dawn dusk ocean
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Before you read: “When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land.  God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”  So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea.” Exodus 13:17-18

Read Exodus 14:5-25

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”
19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

He does it again.

Like so many times before in the Story, God lets things get to their absolute worst before He steps in.  How quickly triumph seems to turn to defeat!  Huddled by the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army bearing down on them, the Israelites feel tricked, trapped and terrified.

I love how the pillar of cloud moves to the back of the Israelites and settles “between the two groups”, like an enormous bodyguard.  Then it turns to fire to give light and warmth through the night.

God, the bodyguard.

God, the nanny.

But what I love best are verses 15-16.  “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? (What else should he do?) Tell the people to get moving! (Um, God? We’re trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Sea – where can we go?) Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. (say what??!) Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground.”

Oh.

God says, Do I have to spell it out for you Moses? and Moses says, Yes.

It just hadn’t occurred to him to raise his staff and separate the water so the Israelites could “walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground”.

It wouldn’t occur to me, either.

“Then Moses raised his hand over the sea and the Lord opened up a path through the water…”

It’s easy, Moses.  Just do miracles.

Or better yet, let God do them.

Then, in a final, fabulous gesture, at the perfect moment – the Israelites are safe across and the Egyptians are coming up behind – God brings the water crashing down.

“The Egyptians tried to escape, but the Lord swept them into the sea.” (14:29 NLT)

“That is how the Lord rescued Israel from the hand of the Egyptians that day…When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before Him.”  (14:31 NLT)

And that, I think, was the whole idea.

They had thought there were two options, both bad: be killed by the Egyptians, or be killed by the water.

But God made a third option – an impossible, crazy option: walk through the water.

He writes the Story.

He can do that.

Day 69: This is a day to remember forever

 

adult ancient arena armor
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Read Exodus 13:1-16

The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal.”
Then Moses said to the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast. Today, in the month of Aviv, you are leaving. When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites—the land he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey—you are to observe this ceremony in this month: For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the Lord. Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders. On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. 10 You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year.
11 “After the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as he promised on oath to you and your ancestors, 12 you are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the Lord. 13 Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.
14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ 16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”

 “Consecrate to me every firstborn male.”

Sacrifice them. That’s what it means.

But He doesn’t want human sacrifice. Only kill the animals, He says, buy the sons back.

Why though? Why does He want all the firstborns?

Or maybe He doesn’t.

He doesn’t want them – they’re already His.

That’s the point.

Consecrating the firstborn males is a way of continuously saying thank you. Thank you for sparing ours, for sparing us. Thank you that from us, you’ll accept animals instead of … well, us.

God wants the Israelites to remember this night.

He wants them to remember how it felt to stand there listening to the screams and knowing the angel of death was passing over their homes only because of some smeared blood on their doors.

I’d think it would be impossible to forget, but God seems to disagree. He rearranges their entire calendar so that this day – this cold morning in the desert – is the first one of a new year (12:2). From now on, all their days will count from this one, and their years will rotate around this event.

Today is day one and God wants them to re-enact this fateful night at the start of each new year. What a powerful way to remember, especially for the children. And it’s the children He has in mind because, as usual, He’s doing something that will reach far beyond this one generation.

So it’s imperative that His people remember: dedicate every firstborn male, celebrate the ‘Passover’ festival, and count their days from today.

It all begins to come together.

Long ago, God promised Abraham his descendants would grow into a nation and the nation would be slaves for four hundred years, then set free (Gen 15:12-16). More recently, God told Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh.”

It’s all part of the plan.

God wants this ‘created’ nation, His people, to be uniquely defined by this one event, like a tattoo clearly visible on each one – a ‘sign on your hand, and a reminder on your forehead’. 

They are a rescued people: slaves set free.

And you know what that means?

It means they have a rescuing God.

A hero.