Posts Tagged With: Moses

God’s Righteousness and Justice. II: Justice and Mercy Together

One mistake a Christian can make is to emphasize one of God’s attributes while ignoring others. God is a Personal Being, and sometimes His actions can seem complicated or paradoxical. As we consider God’s righteousness and justice, we cannot forget His love and mercy. As James 2:13 says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible). God’s judgment is present alongside His mercy.

The Israelites learned that lesson after crossing the Red Sea. They rebelled several times after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. They worshiped a golden calf while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments. They frequently complained about how God fed them.

On one occasion, they seemed almost ready to enter the Promised Land. Moses sent 12 spies to survey the land. When they returned, 10 gave a bad report, saying the Israelites would be wiped out by the people of Canaan if they tried to enter. As a result, the Israelites threatened to kill Moses and return to Egypt.

God’s glory appeared, and He had another idea: He could slaughter all the Israelites, spare Moses, and start over with a new nation descended from Moses.

“But Moses said to the LORD, ‘Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, “Because the LORD could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.” But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.” Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now’” (Numbers 14:13–19).

Moses meets with God. Sometimes, he had to pray for God to have mercy on the people. Image from the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible Illustrations, in the possession of Philip De Vere, published under a Creative Commons license, via Wikimedia Commons

Moses intervened and asked God to preserve the people who had just threatened to kill him. They did not deserve mercy. God had already forgiven them several times. This was not the first time Moses had to stand in the gap for them. It would not be the last time, either. The people of God have always been flawed humans—from the time God first revealed Himself to Abraham, through the Exodus and ministry of Moses, throughout the rest of the Old Testament, into the New Testament, and throughout church history until today. We have always needed God’s forgiveness, and we always will. We do not deserve it, but He forgives us anyway.

God most clearly reveals His glory and power through mercy and forgiveness. Moses reminded God of an earlier occasion when He appeared to him. At that time:

“Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations’” (Exodus 34:6–7).

As God pronounced judgment upon the nation, Moses recalled these words. He did not have to coerce God. He simply recalled how God had revealed Himself. God promised that He would be merciful and forgive. Moses took God at His Word and prayed that He would remain faithful to it. God responded by forgiving the people: not because they deserved it but because forgiveness is one of His specialties.

Yet, God made it clear that His mercy was not an excuse to sin. God forgives, but there can be consequences. Sometimes, the effects of that sin last for generations as he “visits the iniquity…to the third and fourth generations.” A few hundred years after Moses’ time, Israel’s ruler, King David, committed adultery with a married woman named Bathsheba and murdered her husband. God forgave David, but the child died. Despite that, his next child with Bathsheba, Solomon, became Israel’s wisest king and an ancestor of Jesus. Despite David’s sin, he was forgiven and mankind was blessed with salvation. There were painful consequences, but God’s mercy triumphed even amid judgment.

When Moses prayed for the Israelites, God spared them. However, there were consequences. The people thought that even God could not get them safely into the Promised Land. Therefore, God held them to their word. Only two of the adults who left Egypt eventually entered the Promised Land—Caleb and Joshua, the only two spies who believed God could give them victory. God forgave, but there were consequences for the people.

Today, we cannot separate God’s mercy from His righteousness and justice. God still forgives. However, sometimes He will leave us to face the consequences of our sin. God may forgive us, but we suffer just the same. Perhaps we may bring pain and suffering to our families. He may forgive us if we commit sexual sin, but we may have to accept the consequences of unwanted pregnancy, disease, or wounded reputation. God can forgive us for sins committed in anger, but we may have to endure broken relationships. He can forgive us if we steal or otherwise break a law while sinning, but we may have to suffer the legal consequences.

God’s mercy triumphs over judgment, but His great desire is to write His law in our hearts so that we can reveal His righteousness, justice, and goodness through our lives. Let us thank God and trust Him to remain merciful, allowing His love to propel us to be more like Him.

Has God ever shown you His mercy while correcting you with His justice and righteousness? How have you seen God’s mercy in your life? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Is With Us Always. V: Be Strong and Courageous

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:6–9).

Moses anoints Joshua (holding spear) as his successor. Image by illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648-1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt in The Hague in 1728. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The previous few articles in this series looked at worship as one of our responses to God’s continual presence with us. However, God does not want us to merely sit in church singing hymns or kneel in a corner reading the Bible and praying. As important as these are, God wants us to go where He leads us. He is with us always because He is everywhere. It is up to us to walk with Him. If we practice the presence of God wherever we go, He is still with us.

He wants us to go. He wants us to advance His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. When Jesus ascended to heaven, He commanded His apostles to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), not to sit around together reminiscing about their time with Him. They were to bring His message to those who did not meet Him.

Centuries earlier, Moses had led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. Near the end of his life, he commissioned his servant, Joshua, to complete the work of bringing the Israelites into the Promised Land. In Joshua 1:6–9, God gave the same command to Joshua three times: “Be strong and courageous.” Moses had given that instruction to Joshua earlier (Deuteronomy 31:6–7), along with a similar injunction: “The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Fear is the opposite of faith. It keeps us silent. It discourages us from doing what God commands. It may tempt us to commit other sins. Sometimes, it disguises itself as another emotion, like rage or anger.

God’s command to Joshua was grounded in His promises to the Israelites and His presence with Joshua. Joshua had served Moses for many years: as a personal assistant, military leader, spy, etc. Eventually, Joshua and another man, Caleb, were the last two men alive who had escaped Egypt as adults. (See Numbers 13 and 14 to see why this happened. Joshua and Caleb were part of a 12-man mission to spy out the Promised Land. The then other spies believed that the Israelites would be destroyed if they tried to enter the land. Joshua and Caleb believed God would give them the land. Since the Israelites sided with the pessimistic spies and did not trust God. they were sentenced to 40 years of wilderness wandering until only Joshua and Caleb were left.) Joshua and Caleb had endured 40 years of God’s discipline because of the faithlessness of their 10 colleagues.

Joshua accompanies Moses down Mt. Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments. Image by illustrators of the 1890 Holman Bible. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Joshua had followed Moses through the Red Sea. He had seen all the miracles God wrought throughout their journeys. But, he had also endured decades of disappointment. After 40 years of trusting Moses to hear from God and give them direction, suddenly everybody was looking to Joshua for guidance. He had seen how often the Israelites rebelled against God and Moses in the wilderness. Would they rebel against him? Would God change His mind and not lead the Israelites into the land He had promised to give them? Joshua could be guided by God’s promises or by past difficulties.

It takes courage to break free from the past. It takes courage to embrace second and third chances when God gives them. It takes courage to serve God. It takes courage to trust God’s leadership, wisdom, and power when the situation looks impossible. Joshua would need that courage.

To build courage and strength, Joshua would need to remind himself continually about God’s presence, promises, and precepts. This is why God repeatedly juxtaposed His commands to be strong and courageous with injunctions regarding His Word:

  • “{B}e careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.” Know God’s Word so that you can do God’s will.
  • “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth….” Keep speaking God’s Word every chance you get.
  • “{Y}ou shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it….” Let God’s Word fill your mind so that you know what to do in every circumstance.

God calls us to be strong and courageous. If we want to receive God’s blessings and see His perfect will in our lives, we must obey His will. We have to be strong and courageous to do so. If we want to gain strength and courage, we must know that God is with us, that He has promised us abundant life in Jesus’ name, and we must know what He wants us to do. Boldness, wisdom, courage, and strength are all necessary if we wish to experience the blessings of God’s presence and power in our lives.

The Serenity Prayer, which is recited at many Twelve-Step meetings, says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Let us seek courage from God so that we can change the things He is calling us to change.

Do you have any thoughts about God’s command to be strong and courageous? Feel free to share by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, Omnipresence | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Walking in Faith or Reacting in Fear—Numbers 20:10–13

Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy (Numbers 20:10–13).

poussin2c_nicolas_-_moses_striking_water_from_the_rock_-_1649

“Moses Striking Water from the Rock,” by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

You would think the Israelites had learned by this time. God had parted the waters of the Red Sea to guide them safely out of Egypt. He had miraculously provided food and water before. Somehow, with each crisis, God met their need. After a few difficult situations, the Israelites should have realized that they merely had to point out their need to Moses, ask him to pray, and wait for the miracle. Instead, they would complain, regret their decision to leave Egypt, threaten to return to Egypt, blame Moses, and so on. God was trying to teach them to walk by faith, but they continued to react in fear.

This was a repeat occurrence. Almost immediately after they crossed through the Red Sea, the Israelites threatened to stone Moses, since there was no water. God told him to strike a rock to bring forth water. This was the first miracle of divine provision after the escape from Egypt (Exodus 17:1–7).

However, that event began a pattern from which the Israelites did not seem to learn. They had a need; they complained; they blamed, accused, and threatened Moses; Moses prayed to God; God provided.

This time, though, the pattern took a tragic turn. Instead of following God’s instructions fully, Moses obeyed halfway: God told him where to go to receive the water, but Moses chose to vent his frustration. God gave him simple instructions: Take his staff, walk over to the rock, and command the rock to give the people its water. Moses decided to change the instructions a little: Take the staff, walk over to the rock, insult the crowd, and then beat the rock with the staff.

In spite of rebellion, God still provided. God’s blessings are based on His mercy, not on perfect performance by His people. However, Moses would suffer the consequences. Not too long before this, the Lord had decreed that almost the entire adult generation that left Egypt would die before reaching the Promised Land. They would wander for 40 years until all, except for Caleb and Joshua, had died; then their children would inherit the land. Until now, Moses had every reason to expect that he would enter with them. But now, God decided that Moses’ failure was serious enough to exclude him from the Promised Land.

We often overlook an important part of the story. Shortly before this incident, Moses’ sister Miriam had died. It would be tempting to make excuses for Moses’ behavior. “He’s in mourning. It’s been a rough time for his family. God understands. He sees the heart.”

God understands, but He also requires obedience from His children. He expects us to uphold Him as holy in the sight of the people.

As I reflect on this passage, I am reminded that this is not merely a story about Moses. In a very real way, it is about me too. Perhaps you see yourself in it as well.

We should have learned by now. God has met our needs and answered our prayers so many times. We should know the correct response: Realize there is a problem, bring our problem before the Lord in prayer, and expect Him to meet our needs. How often do we choose instead to complain, gripe, or blame the nearest scapegoat for our problems? How often do we act like God is not paying attention? How often do we blame God? How often do we obey God halfway, while venting our anger and frustration on others? How often do we make excuses for ourselves and others when obedience to God is lacking?

When will we learn?

Copyright ©  2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tempted As We Are, Yet Without Sin

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15–16, ESV).

The story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness can be a great source of encouragement and inspiration to all believers as we face temptation. This passage, found in Luke 4:1–13, provides insights that can challenge all who desire spiritual victory.

Christians are often tempted to surrender to defeat in different areas of our lives. We justify sin with the excuse, “Well, nobody is perfect.” When reminded that Jesus overcame sin, we shrug it off by saying, “Yeah, well, he is Jesus and I am just an ordinary person. He never dealt with this problem.”

The Hebrews passage at the top of this article takes all of those excuses away from us. It reminds us that Jesus was tempted in all the ways that we are, yet without sin. He faced every temptation you face, in some form or another. Our Lord even faced many of those temptations to a greater degree than you or I can imagine. All of us slip into sin before feeling the full force of temptation and we can immediately ask for divine forgiveness. Many of our sins do not have obvious serious long-term effects on our lives. However, if Jesus had sinned, even one time, his entire mission in life would have failed. He would then have to die for his own sins, and we would still not have a redeemer.

So, he faced every temptation with the added stress of knowing that one failure would derail his entire purpose for coming into the world. If we stumble (or even charge full-speed-ahead with no reservations) into sin, we can always repent with the full assurance of complete forgiveness. However, we have that option only because Jesus was crucified for us as the sinless Lamb of God, without blemish.

Jesus faced temptation with no excuses. Christians who are single can overcome sexual temptation, in part by encouraging themselves that they can enjoy such pleasure when they get married. Jesus did not have that option. Blasphemous as it may sound to some, I am certain that he had to face that same rush of hormones other adolescent males face during puberty. He probably even faced sexual temptation during his ministry. Nevertheless, he overcame, never giving in to sin.

Jesus’ wilderness temptations can remind us of several sources of temptation faced both by the nation of Israel and by individual believers. The temptations Jesus overcame were very similar to those that Israel gave in to during the wilderness wanderings (after the Exodus).

Many articles and sermons will point out how these temptations correspond to the major areas where all people are tempted (the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life—see 1 John 2:16). Since others have addressed this connection so effectively, I will not repeat it here. However, both approaches (the “three categories of temptation” approach and the perspective I offer below) remind us that while times, cultures, and technology change, human nature remains the same. At their roots, the temptations we face in 2011 are very similar to those that Jesus faced nearly 2000 years ago and those Moses and the Israelites faced 3400 years ago.

First, Satan tempted Jesus to command a stone to become bread. Soon after Israel fled Egypt, they murmured against Moses and the Lord, complaining about the lack of food. God provided bread from heaven (also known as “manna”) and quail to sustain them (Exodus 16:1–15). Moses would later tell the people that God fed them in this way so that they may “know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Jesus recalled this scripture and reminded himself that he needed sustenance from the word of God. He spent 40 days in the wilderness, feasting upon scripture and prayer. As he focused on divine truth, he knew his heavenly Father would strengthen him for the fast and meet all his needs (Matthew 6:33). There was no point in giving in to the devil for even a moment.

After this temptation, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offered to give him authority over all of it. In exchange, all Jesus would have to do is worship him.

Two of Israel’s wilderness experiences come to mind here. First, not long after fleeing Egypt, the Israelites gave in to temptation to commit idolatry. While Moses received the law on Mount Sinai, the rest of the Israelites replaced the unseen God who delivered them with a golden idol of a calf deity (possibly reminiscent of Baal or El, two of the chief deities in Canaanite paganism).

Later, Moses sent 12 spies into Canaan to spy out the land God was giving them. Like Jesus, they saw what God would give them to rule over. The Israelites failed the test, looking at the size of their opponents and forgetting that God had already delivered them from the world’s greatest superpower at that time.

Jesus prevailed, remembering the word of God. He knew that it was an abominable sin to worship any “god” besides his Father, the one true God, the maker of heaven and earth. However, I think this may have been the most difficult temptation of all for Jesus. He knew the grueling vicious torture he would face for our salvation. Satan was offering him a shortcut to claim his eternal authority as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Perhaps Jesus reminded himself that the kingdoms of the world were already promised to him. He would have to endure the cross (Hebrews 12:2), but that would bring a far greater joy. The son of God had a choice. He could endure a night of betrayal, torture, and beatings, followed by several hours on a cross and a few days in the nether world. This would enable him to cherish a joyful eternity with the people he saved. Or, he could lower his standards for a few brief moments and avoid the suffering; but then, he would have to spend eternity as ruler of the universe while all humanity burns in hell.

Also, Jesus recognized Satan as the father of lies (John 8:44). Satan may offer wonderful gifts if we obey him, but he is a liar! Even if he does reward his followers with fame, fortune, and fun, he does not tell the truth about everything they may receive for following him: addiction and heartache in this life, and eternal suffering in the next.

When we look at our options from God’s perspective. we can find greater encouragement to resist temptation. Jesus did not focus on the short-term benefits of avoiding pain and suffering. He looked to the eternal joy. Likewise, we should look at our eternal rewards, not settling for the temporary comforts and pleasures of this life.

Satan’s final wilderness temptation of Jesus attacked the human desire for respect and admiration from others. He tempted Jesus to go to Jerusalem and put on a dramatic show of a miracle to impress the people in the temple.

Likewise, Moses was tempted to draw attention to himself. On two occasions during the wilderness wanderings, the Israelites complained about the lack of water. Both times, God instructed Moses to bring forth water from a rock.

On the second occasion (Numbers 20:8–11), God commanded Moses to tell the rock to yield water. However, Moses gave in to his frustration. Instead of following God’s instructions, he scolded the Israelites and asked, “Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Thus, Moses spoke as if he were giving the water, instead of God.) Then, he struck the rock with his staff, as if his own strength were responsible for providing water.

For this failure, God did not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land with the Israelites. Joshua (whose name in Hebrew, incidentally, is very similar to “Jesus”) would lead God’s people. Virtually all of Israel, even its leaders Moses and Aaron, failed the tests of temptation and missed out on God’s blessings.

Praise God that Jesus passed the test! Praise God that, since we have Christ’s example along with the indwelling Holy Spirit and the complete word of God, we can prevail as well!

Jesus overcame, and so can we. Like Jesus, we should meditate on the Word of God, so that we may know God’s will for our lives and withstand temptation. Prayer and fasting are vital tools to pursue spiritual victory as well. We should always rely on these gifts of God and on the strength he provides to win the battle against Satan.

Categories: Bible meditations, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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