When Idols Don’t Make Sense Anymore

I won’t put myself above the rest. If I’d been an Israelite at the time of the Exodus, there’s a good chance I’d have purchased a few Egyptian gods for my shelf. As there were plenty to choose from. Perhaps eighty or so, with a few more popular than the others. Like Hapi, god of the flood. Khnum, guard of the Nile. Osiris, god of the underworld.

Devotional Scripture: Exodus 7:14-25
Key Verse: “To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him.” Deuteronomy 4:35

Then there was Hathor the goddess of love, represented as a cow. (Interesting choice in my opinion.) Heqt, the god who helped with childbirth, represented by a frog. (Hmmm…) And Amon-Re, the sun god, a favorite of many in Egypt’s hot sunny climate.

But seeing as Israel had been enslaved for hundreds of years, with heavy burdens, and no sign of the LORD’s favor. Yet Egyptians were living the high life, prosperous and successful, why not try out a few of their gods? Maybe there was something to it. Couldn’t hurt, right?

This the mindset of an Egyptian influenced Israel, God had some work to do. But he was up for the challenge. Bringing a one-two punch with just the first plague by turning the Nile to blood. Their life source and greatest asset, the Nile offered not only food and transportation, but fertile ground, and need I say it, water.

The only reason the first plague didn’t destroy Egypt is because God lifted his hand after seven days. But it sure would have rocked their world. The equivalent is us going to the gas station only to realize we’d just pumped 20 gallons of blood into our mini vans. I can hardly fathom the crippling effect, but let’s try.

First, we’d be walking home AND staying there. Second, no tractors could run. Trucks would be unable to make deliveries. Crops would rot in the fields. Grocery store shelves would go empty. (You get the idea.) But then imagine you get the smart idea of siphoning the gas out of your lawn mower only to realize it too had been turned to blood.

I’m picturing some very confused mamas the morning of the first plague. Because it wasn’t just the Nile that reeked of blood. It was every bit of water in the land. Canals, ponds, pools, and even the vessels of wood and stone at home on the counter. (I know they probably didn’t have counters – just go with me here.) Up early to make pancakes and want does mom find? Blood.

How much do you want to bet kids all over Egypt got in trouble that morning for filling their mother’s pots with blood? “But mom, I promise I didn’t do it!” (Evidence this was a miraculous event and not just from natural causes like red silting of the Nile.)

Realizing the catastrophe at hand, Egypt would have turned to their Nile associated gods. And seeing as the Nile was so loved and adored, there were lots! Yet all of them were rendered powerless by one simple act of God because while Pharaoh’s magicians had no trouble mimicking the sign, they were not able to undo it.

The people were stuck. No matter how long or hard they called on their so-called gods, the water remained contaminated. It’s believed that Egypt’s priests daily washed their idols with water. Yet for seven days, there only choice was to wash them with blood.

The LORD was sending a loud and clear message to Israel and Egypt alike, that He alone is God and there is no other. To believe in the power of idols. To set your hope in something made of stone or wood, carved by human hands, with no power to save, no life, was to set your hope on death. Blood.

Yet to hope in the LORD God, to worship Him, is to hope in the One who made, sustains, and holds life. Is it any wonder then that God’s initial display of sovereignty in Egypt, a land full of idols, was to turn water to blood? While Jesus’ initial display of sovereignty in Israel, a land He filled with his awesome presence, was to turn water to wine!

In Christ, there is life in abundance. In anything else, there is death.

Yet did they understand? Did they take the warning to heart? We know Pharaoh didn’t. Did Egypt? By the end, with nothing left to their name, bearing the loss of their firstborn, I’m sure there were some. But what of Israel? Did it sink in that God was God and there was no other?

In Deuteronomy 4 toward the end of their 40-year hiatus in the wilderness, Moses urged Israel to remember how blessed there were because of what they’d seen and heard and experienced saying, “Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders…all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him” (v. 34-35).

To you it was shown Israel that you might know there is none besides HIM. The blood, the frogs, the gnats, the flies, the livestock, the boils, the hail, locusts, and darkness. And then the Passover. The riches of Egypt in their possession. The cloud by day the fire by night. God’s presence ever with them. Guiding them. Protecting them. Providing for them.

It should have been more than enough. Yet God’s made himself evident to us as well but has it been enough for us to turn from our idols? (It’s getting personal now.) The money we cling to. The dreams we worship. The people we idolize. The stuff we covet. The television we mediate on.

Still top priority, after all God’s done for us…

The cross. The tomb. The resurrection. The redemption. The gift of God. The adoption as sons and daughters. The inheritance. The hope. The Helper. The promise of His presence forever. “The riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:7b-10).

But is it enough for us to know and believe the LORD is God and there is no other? To leave our idols behind? To seek His glory? To seek His face? (Yes, it’s more than enough.)

God did wonders in Egypt that they might know. And God’s done wonders in us that we might too. So let’s set the other stuff aside. Let’s leave it where it belongs – in His hands, for His purposes. And let’s raise our hands to Jesus. Who proved himself worthy long ago by redeeming Israel and then proved it again by redeeming us.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
How did God prove himself to Israel? How has God proved himself to us? How has God proved himself to you personally? Are there idols you need to set aside, things you’ve allowed on the shelf just in case God falls through? Ask the LORD and seek to set them aside, because it’s He alone who is God.

Why I’m Thankful God Hardens Hearts (I Know, Surprising)

“As the LORD had said,” is the last five words of verse 13. It refers to the LORD’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. And is the closing refrain to the hold-your-breath second encounter between Moses, Aaron, and Pharaoh. The one where they obediently did just as God commanded, throwing Aaron’s staff to the ground so it could miraculously turn into a serpent and prove their legitimacy.

Devotional Scripture: Exodus 7:8-13
Key Verse: “Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” Exodus 7:13

It’s a phrase we’re good with when it frames instances such as the birth of Isaac or the fulfilling of covenant promises. But when it’s attached to something like the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, we squirm. Causing at least me (and I’m thinkin’ a few others) to question the inevitable truths pouring fourth from its reality.

Did God really harden Pharaoh’s heart? Or did he just predict it? I’d like to think he just predicted it, but there’s no denying God had something to do with it. In Exodus 7:3 God tells Moses, “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.” (Sounds pretty cut and dry if you ask me.)

And so with Aaron’s staff turned serpent slithering about the room, Pharaoh called for backup. His magicians, Jannes and Jambres, according to 2 Timothy 3:8, were able to mimic the same miracle without much effort. “For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents” (v. 12).

Taking the hissing slithering snake count from zero to three in a hurry. These were no garden snakes either. The Hebrew word used here for serpent is tannin which can also be used to refer to large reptiles like crocodiles. A possibility I wouldn’t rule out seeing as it was Egypt and not some place like Ohio. But the same Hebrew word is used in Deuteronomy 32:33 to refer to venomous snakes – something along the lines of a cobra.

Which is the direction I’m leaning for several reasons.

#1 The Bible says serpent. (So let’s not complicate things).

#2 The serpent was the symbol used by Egyptian Pharaohs to signify their sovereign, fierce, and undisputed power, typically displayed on a headdress they wore. (So I just think it makes sense.)

#3 This wasn’t just a diplomatic get together or a quarrel among men. But a spiritual battle of epic proportions against Satan, the ancient serpent (Rev. 12:9), who stood no chance of winning against the one and only Almighty God. Exemplified for everyone in the room when Aaron’s staff turned serpent easily swallowed the serpents of Pharaoh’s magicians. (Spoiler alert: Jesus wins.)

(And thus ends my three-part thesis as to why I’m going with snakes and not crocodiles. You can thank me later.)

I’m guessing tensions mounted quickly when the count went from one to three venomous snakes. Did anyone panic?  Did the guards flee? Were Moses and Aaron a bit taken back? I can’t help but wonder how long it took before Aaron’s staff swallowed theirs? Seconds? Minutes? Was it loud? Swift?

Inhaling for the first time in who knows how long, I’d have had a hard time not exhaling a big fat “What up now Pharaoh?”

But it wouldn’t have mattered. Pharaoh’s heart was hard, as the LORD had said, not only prior to this encounter, but all the way back in Midian when God told Moses, “But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Ex. 4:21). A theme we’re going to see mentioned another 16 times before we’re out of Egypt. So apparently, it’s something God wants us to pay attention to.

But why? Doesn’t it put God in a bad light? If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, isn’t he the one responsible for Pharaoh’s sin?

Some explain the concept away by saying Pharaoh’s heart was already hard. God knew what was in his heart (which is true), so he just went ahead and made sure it stayed hard during the plagues. (A theory I won’t argue against.)

But this isn’t the only time we see God harden a heart. Psalm 105:25 says God turned the hearts of the Egyptians “to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants.” Deuteronomy 2:30 says the LORD hardened King Sihon of the Amorites so he would not let Israel pass through. Joshua 11:20 speaks of the LORD hardening the hearts of the Canaanites “that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction.”

Aye yi yi, is this the God we love and serve? Yes, yes it is. God said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Exodus 33:19). “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Rom. 9:18).

“You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resister his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Rom. 9:19). (Paul’s words via the Holy Spirit, not mine, just so there’s no confusion.)

The truth is – we’re not going to understand it because His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are far above our thoughts. But here’s where we can rest: “His work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deut. 32:4).

If he hardens the heart of man (or woman for that matter) it’s done in holiness and faithfulness and perfection. It’s done in wisdom. It’s done without iniquity and is fully just. Desiring that all men come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), God does not harden the heart of a man for pleasure (Ezekiel 33:11), but for purpose.

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart that his power might be seen and his name proclaimed in all the earth (Rom. 9:9). Hence, we’re still telling the story today!

But you know who else God hardened? Israel. So the Jews of Christ’s day would put him on the cross. So the prophecies would be fulfilled. So every bit of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection could take place “as the LORD had said.” So we the gentiles, could have a chance. Could experience his mercy. Could be grafted in as sons and daughters of God; heirs of the promise of Abraham. (Anyone else besides me starting to feel differently about this hardening thing?)

My friend, if it weren’t for God’s ability to harden the hearts of men, we’d all be in trouble. Additionally, if He has the power to harden, He also has the power to soften. To not only turn the heart of the king (Prov. 21:1), but the hearts of my kids and my heart and yours and our neighbors and loved ones. Oh how thankful I am for God’s sovereignty over the hearts of men because it’s His mercy he continues to let in.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
Does the concept of God hardening the heart of Pharaoh, or anyone for that matter, bother you? Or is something you readily accept?
How does the fact that God hardened the hearts of the Israelites, so that salvation could be available for all people, help you better understand the concept?

Why I Don’t Live However I Want To

Some would say we’re strict or maybe even legalistic because my husband and I don’t drink alcohol. Nor do we sit in the bar section at restaurants or go to R rated movies or work in the fields on Sundays.

Devotional Scripture: Exodus 7:1-7
Key Verse: “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

We’re careful to say the least. Not because I’m sinning if I drink a beer or sit on a bar stool or buy a ticket to an R rated movie. (Sorry we’re not going there today. And FYI these are our prayerful personal convictions. I’m OK if they’re not yours.)

But we’re careful because we bare the designation Christian quite loudly. At home, at work, out and about in the land of the living. (A place I don’t always get to with littles still at home with me.) But when I do make it out the door, I just might be the closest connection my neighbor, be it the person in line behind me, or the young couple sitting next to us at The Cheesecake Factory, has ever had with God. The first line of offense in a battle for lost souls.

Ambassadors for Christ as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20. That’s how we think of ourselves and we want to do well in representing our Savior.

Moses had a similar set up. As God’s representative, he was the closest connection Pharaoh had ever had to the LORD Almighty. In fact, “The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet” (v. 1). Phew! No pressure, huh.

Actually, for Moses it was probably more of a relief than anything else, considering Egyptian Pharaoh’s thought of themselves as deity. One among many, but a god no less. Thus, when pharaoh spoke he never did it directly, he had a representative speak on his behalf.

So giving Moses the same arrangement not only put him on a level playing field, it was a power play Pharaoh recognized. And what’s so great, is in time, God beat Pharaoh at his own game. Giving more power to Moses, a mere shepherd, than Pharaoh ever had.

But as God’s representative it wasn’t his position Moses needed to worry about. It was his obedience. Twice in the first ten verses of chapter 7 we’re told Moses and Aaron “did just as the LORD commanded them” (v. 6 & 10). Because as God’s ambassadors there was no other way.

Just think for a moment, if Moses and Aaron had said and done whatever they wanted, what kind of picture might they have painted for Pharaoh of this God he didn’t know. A god made in their own image? A god not worthy of much respect? A weak god? A fearful god?

Considering the world’s view of God today, I’m just wondering if we’ve painted, by our improv and misguided temper and impatience and lack of restraint and indifference and otherwise sluggish spirituality, a grossly inaccurate picture of the LORD God Almighty.

One with lots and lots of smeared paint. The kind you tilt your head one way and then the other and think, “Well my four-year-old could have painted that.” (Sorry art people. I mean no disrespect.)

But as God’s representatives have we given the world a clear picture? Or have we smeared the lines beating the drum of 1 Corinthians 6:12, that all things are lawful for me in Christ, though maybe not always beneficial.

It’s for freedom Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1). Yes, indeed I totally agree. Yet, freedom in Christ is not freedom to live however we want, it’s freedom to live exactly as He wants. In righteousness. In relationship. In ready obedience to a holy God.

Basically, it’s freedom to live in such a way that reflects the character of God. So the world will see Him in us and fall on bended knee declaring, “I want that too. A relationship with the unbelievably amazing God who made me too and died for me too and loves me too. The one I see in you.”

So God said, “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy”” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Just as he told the Israelites, “For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:45).

Because they [Israel] had one main job to do – show the world who God is. “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor” (Is. 49:3). By living by Him, for Him, and through Him. A “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6).

And the church? The same job. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

But what are we proclaiming? His excellencies or our own? Peter goes on to urge believers in the same passage to “abstain from the passions of the flesh which wage war against your soul.” Keeping our conduct among the gentiles honorable. Why? So they might see God in us and glorify Him.

So we live carefully. Hopefully above reproach, though nowhere near perfect. Doing our best to live uprightly in an upside-down world. Seeking daily to show the love of our good Father. By example. By self-control. By setting my rights aside. With a smile. A thank you. A patience not of myself. A helpful hand. An answer of hope.

Offering our whole bodies “as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God” (Rom. 6:13, NLT). Because the last thing we want to do is smear the image of God in the mind of an already struggling soul.

Who needs to see a holy and righteous God who set not only His rights aside, but the splendor and glory and majesty of heaven, to hang on a cross for us – for them.

Therefore like Moses I seek, or at least try, (though some days I’m a blubbering failure) to do and say just as God’s commanded. Whether it’s easy or costly or fun or unfair. Living not however I want, but as God wants. Since He, for some marvelous reason, saw fit to make me His ambassador. (Oh the wonder of it all.)

May we today and everyday carefully consider our job as His representatives.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
What does it mean to be an ambassador of Christ? In what way, by what choices, are you seeking to reflect the biblical character of God?