Christianity 201

June 30, 2020

God’s Vast and Intricate Creative Splendor Subverted

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Aaron Wilkinson has appeared here many times. He graduated in English and Theatre from Redeemer University in Hamilton, Ontario and blogs occasionally at The Voice of One Whispering. To read this there (with pictures) click the header below:

Gold In Exodus

If you grew up in the church, you probably know the story of the escaped slaves ending up in the desert and making themselves an aureate bovine to worship while Moses is up on the mountain being told that making golden cows-idols is a bad idea. (As an aside, gold-leaf hamburgers are a real thing served at some ridiculous restaurants.)

This story was probably told to you as it was to me: a moral tale on the importance of obedience and the dangers of idolatry. The question I had never asked was this: how did escaped slaves have gold? I recently read Exodus from beginning to end without skipping sections (possibly for the first time) and the story of the gold itself, and its eventual intended purpose, is rather interesting.

During the Burning Bush account near the start of the narrative, we read the Lord saying this:

“…You will not leave empty handed. Every woman is to ask her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house for silver and gold jeweler and clothing. You will put them on your sons and your daughters. So you will plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 3: 21b,22 (Tree of Life Version). See also 11:2 where this command is repeated, in case you missed it the first time.

Shortly after, we read that it happened just as God had promised.

“So [the sons of Israel] acted according to the word of Moses. They asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold, and for clothing. ADONAI gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians and let them have what they asked for. So they plundered the Egyptians.” – 12: 35,36

Two things stand out to me at this point: first that this seems to be a move of willing compassion on the part of the slaves’ wealthy neighbors rather than a move to pay the Israelites to leave. A divine-inspired compassion, but still far from an extortion. Second, I think the “plundering” language is meant to be somewhat ironic. The outcome is the same (Israelites have gold, Egyptians have less) but the means is rather different.

I’ll have to skip over the plagues, the Passover, and other pertinent details of the story, but I do want to mention that I had never before realized that the crossing of the Reed Sea takes place during the night and the Egyptians’ demise coincides with dawn. So imagine the starry night sky and the gold- and silver-bedecked Israelites passing down below in the sea bed. Someone should paint that.

Then we get to Sinai and the delivering of the 10 Commandments. Afterwards, in the same speech, God tells Moses: “Do not make gods of silver alongside Me, and do not make gods of gold for yourselves.” – 20:23

Moses relates these instructions and the Israelites respond with a resounding ‘by golly, we’re in!” Moses goes back up the mountain and receives more instruction.

‘Tell [the sons of Israel] to take up an offering for Me. From anyone whose heart compels him… Gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet cloth; fine linen and goat hair; ram skins dyed red, sealskins, acacia wood; oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense; onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastplate.” – 25:2-7

At this point, I think of my Minecraft world and how stoked I feel when I have stacks of materials to make into something awesome. You might think how it would feel if someone gave you a million dollars to make your dream home. The possibilities with what you can do with all these resources are limitless and God has a plan for all of it, which includes:

♦ The Ark of the Covenant, which has gold-covered wood sides, gold rings, gold-covered rods for carrying, and a solid gold cover!
♦ Gold statues of these Cherub creatures which are wildly amazing!
♦ This really awesome tree-shaped lampstand with floral details of blossoms and bulbs! (A burning bush, if you will. In art, the Chapter 3 bush is usually portrayed as leaf-less twigs, but what if it was actually covered in leaves and flowers?)
♦ All these ceremonial clothes with gold details and a cool tent made from all this flowing coloured cloth!

And lots more! This is going to be a monumental artistic masterpiece.

Leaving the gold aside for a moment, wrapping up all this instruction at 30:11 we read “Then ADONAI spoke to Moses…” Adonai has been speaking to Moses for like 5 chapters now, so why this phrase? Well, from here to the end of Chapter 31, this phrase appears 6 times. In these speeches, he promises to send his Spirit upon Bezalel and Oholiab, two artists who will make this all happen. And at the end, God calls Moses to remember the Sabbath “…for in six days ADONAI made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he ceased from work and rested.”

Six acts of speech. Two humans who will be intimately connected with God. Then finally the Sabbath. I do believe we are meant to see this story at mount Sinai as mirroring the Creation in Genesis. And if that’s the case then the next thing we should expect is a fall.

Imagine you just came home from Michael’s or Hobby Lobby or whatever your local art supply store is. You just had a great idea for a painting and you just bought the most expensive high-quality materials you could get your hands on. You put the shopping bag on the table, take a quick trip to the washroom, and when you come out you see your kid has gotten into the paints, spilled most of them on the floor, and finger-painted a pile of dung onto the wall.

Now imagine you just got the blueprints for this awesome tabernacle and all these rad liturgical symbols and tools, and you head down the mountain and find out your brother made… a cow.

The tragedy of the golden calf is more than just an act of disobedience and idolatry. Those are surely important aspects, perhaps even the most important aspects, but these are compounded by subverted artistic potential. The scope of God’s creative vision was vast and intricate, and Aaron made… a cow.

“Then [Moses] took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the surface of the water and made [the sons of Israel] drink it.”

I’m left with some questions. If this story is meant to evoke the Creation and Fall, can we infer backwards that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would have eventually served a vast and intricate purpose? Would there have been a Knowledge of Good and Evil pie in making? Is Israel’s punishment here supposed to evoke the curse on the serpent in Genesis to eat dust? Was the tabernacle any less golden then it could have been for this waste of material? What is the “gold” in my life that God wants me to save for a special purpose? I’m sure I could ask more.

Now there’s Gold in the Garden of Eden, and there’s Gold in the New Jerusalem. There’s Gold everywhere in between. There’s entirely too much gold for me to consider all at once, but if I’m patient then I’m sure God will show me what to do with it.


My fellow Tolkien fans may appreciate both the motifs of the Tree the gives Light (Menorah / Trees of Valinor), and the deliverance that comes at dawn (Reed Sea / Helm’s Deep.) Almost makes you wonder if Tolkien was some kinda Bible-reader.

January 14, 2016

The Background Details Provided by Scripture

I continue to be amazed at the intricacies of the Bible. Regardless of specific words employed by different translations, there is a beauty to the arrangement of passages, and an attention to details that should wow the scientist or the engineer.

One of these has to do with the narratives that occur just before or just after a more familiar section. Willie E. Hucks looks at one such case in an article at MinistryMagazine.org. Click the title below to read at source.

The story before the story

From childhood I knew the story of the birth of Moses, found at the start of Exodus 2: A Hebrew baby born in a foreign land, hidden for three months, placed in a papyrus basket that was coated with tar and pitch, placed among the reeds along the banks of the Nile River, his sister staying nearby to watch and protect him.

But no one told me the story before the story, toward the end of Exodus 1: that of Shiphrah and Puah—two midwives who risked their lives to save newborn Hebrew males (Exod. 1:15-21).

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

That Moses the author connects the story of these women with his own birth points to their significance.

Shiphrah and Puah remind me of the countless behind-the-scenes individuals whose efforts are noted by a handful and publicly acknowledged by even fewer. But God’s work would be severely hampered if it weren’t for their labors. We find it easy to laud those whom we see up front: in the pulpit, behind the lectern, chairing the committee, on the television, and yes, in the editorial pages of a journal. But we are never in a position to succeed without those seemingly invisible others.

To put it another way: true revival and reformation reveals itself through recognizing that we all contribute to God’s call, and we, as spiritual leaders, humbly acknowledge that others make it possible for us to fulfill the ministries the Holy Spirit has given us.

“LORD, bless us as spiritual leaders to recognize and publicly acknowledge that it takes everyone and all talents in the body of Christ to fulfill the mission.”

The book, All The Women of the Bible (sourced at BibleGateway.com) delves further into the courage of these two women whose story sets the stage for all that follows in Exodus:

…Receiving the royal command to commit murder, these two loyal, vigorous, middle aged women were caught between two fires. Whom should they obey? The God of the Hebrews in whom they had come to believe, or the tyrannical king of Egypt? True to their conscience and honored calling they knew it would conflict with the divine command to kill, and so “saved the men children alive.” Thus, they obeyed God rather than man, and in so doing brought upon their heads the rage of Pharaoh. Confronting his anger, Puah and Shiprah took refuge in a partial truth. They said that because Jewish women had easy deliveries, their children were born before they could reach them and assist the mothers in labor.

Cognizant as He was of the partial truth the two midwives told, God knew all about the crisis behind it, and commended Puah and Shiprah for their courage of faith. They had risked their lives for many Jewish infants. Such an act was meritorious in the eyes of the Lord, and He honorably rewarded them by building them houses. Fausset suggests that the nature of such a reward consisted in the two midwives marrying Hebrews and becoming mothers in Israel (2 Samuel 7:11, 27). Puah and Shiprah are striking witnesses against the scandalous practice of abortion, which several nations have legalized.

November 21, 2012

God’s Promised Presence

Cindy Holbrook blogs at Living Inside Hope, where this appeared under the title Finding Grace in God’s Sight. You’re encouraged to click through to read this and more at her blog.

Finding grace in God’s sight has very little to do with comfort and ease. Finding grace in God’s sight may very well be the answer to our problems and the beginning of new and hair raising adventures. All at the same time!

“Safety does not consist in the absence of danger but in the presence of God.” ~ Believer’s Bible Commentary

More and more we are hearing a call. It is a call to move out of what we consider a comfort zone, and move into a different place that God wants us to move in. Oh, and it will involve effort on our part.

Some of us may very well feel that we have lost God’s grace and favor at this particular season. When in fact, we may indeed HAVE His favor and the only thing is that we cannot recognize it.

Let us look at Moses and a spectacular prayer he made while he was talking to God about what was going to be the next step in his and Israel’s journey. A journey, mind you, that had almost culminated with Israel’s utter destruction. Mose’ intercession and God’s grace stopped that event. It could not be one without the other. If there was no compassion and grace in the nature of God, no matter how Moses had interceded, God would not have granted him favor.

Yet, that is another story. This is the story of Mose’s prayer about finding favor with God and what was to come.  Read this prayer and exchange between Moses and God:

So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. Then Moses said to the LORD, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people.’ But You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.’ Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.” And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.” So the LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.” (Exodus 33:11-17 NKJV)

Believer’s Bible Commentary came to this conclusion:   Moses asked for God’s presence to lead His people to Canaan. Then the Lord graciously promised that His Presence would go with them. Moses insisted that nothing short of this would do. Like Noah, Moses had found grace in the Lord’s sight and received his request. “Safety does not consist in the absence of danger but in the presence of God.”

God’s grace may not be remaining in the place where we’ve been. It may very well be on the move and He is telling us that He will be the one going with us on this next ‘leg’ of our journey. Yet in and through Jesus Christ, we have been given grace. Here, in these verses, God let’s us know what His grace includes.  His presence. His rest.

God didn’t say, kick back Moses, and sit a bit. Smell the roses. Buy that new television set and charge it to Me because I’m pouring out my prosperity on you. Yes there are seasons like that, but this isn’t one of those seasons. There is too great of challenge for that.

God promised His presence. God promised His rest.

Moses in turn, knew what he himself needed to continue to find grace in God’s sight and he knew enough to ask for it. God’s grace is divine. It only comes from Him so even as He gifts it to us, we should indeed be asking for it. No other person or thing can bestow on us the grace of God. Only God can do this. In the very asking of it is the acknowledgement that it is His alone.

Moses asked God to show him “HIS WAY” that he many KNOW GOD and receive grace and favor from God.

Moses then asked “and consider that this nation is Your people.”

Moses first looked to his personal relationship with God. That mattered first and foremost. He didn’t try and separate God from God’s ways. Rather, he wanted God to show him His WAYS so that he could learn to KNOW GOD. We cannot split God’s ways from God himself. We must learn His ways. We study His Word not to learn more stuff. We study His Word to learn His Ways that will cause us to know Him.

And then Moses asked a particular thing for those to whom the LORD had made him responsible. He wanted them to be considered by God as His people.

Surely we are asking God many of the same questions. Where are we going and how are we to fulfill His call? Who is He going to send to us in this work?

Nor can we ignore the call about helping others. There are more catastrophes happening than ever now. We are connected globally now and we see human need at every longitude and latitude.

The nations we live in are facing great turmoil. Our churches are facing great turmoil. Our families and friends are facing great turmoil.

The great commission is becoming the great pressure for all of us. God is ‘forcing’ out His laborers into the harvest field and we are it!

This time we are facing can bring about calamity to us and our children. Or this time can be a divine and glorious moment where God brings us out and into a new place He has planned for us.

This is a time when His presence must go with us. This is a time where we must have His rest. We must have His power and grace to work with Him in faith and trust. For that is a portion of His rest. Only a portion to be sure, yet a portion not to be overlooked. The final rest He gives us will be a successful and triumphant outcome, if not in this world, then in His heavenly Kingdom where our true inheritance lies.

We have found grace in God’s sight for we have received and accepted the gospel of grace (Acts 20:24)

Even though we can’t see all of God’s ways right now for us. Even though we may not see every twist and turn ahead and God isn’t giving us a clue about it. Even though it seems we have more burdens and responsibilities that the LORD is placing upon us.

His presence now goes with us. He will give us His rest.

This is what we can count upon. This is where we meet with God.

 

We find grace in God’s sight, if we find grace in our hearts to guide and quicken us in the way of our duty.  ~ Mathew Henry