Wednesday, November 16, 2011

REFLECTION ON EXODUS 32 AND DEUTERONOMY 9 (PART 9)

Moses Responds to God Response – Characteristics of an Intercessor

The Living, Creator of the universe had delivered people of Israel from Egypt with an overwhelming display of His power and supremacy. The people of Israel, after having the commandments of God spoken to them, quickly turned away and violated what God, in love and for their good, had communicated. God, in response, told Moses to stand aside as He was going to eliminate this people and make of Moses a great nation. Moses intercedes.

There are four characteristics of an intercessor that surface in this passage; humility, compassion, concern for God’s reputation and the expectation that God responds to human intercession. This post is concerned with humility.

It is likely that a correct view of humility is rare. Though we will identify its presence in this passage, it is worth noting that it is clearly stated in Numbers 12:3 that “…Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” This verse serves to affirm that Moses was, in fact, humble and to challenge our idea of humility in that the book of Numbers is ascribed to the authorship of Moses. It would seem that a humble man would not state that he is the most humble man on earth.

The word “humble” in the Old Testament text implies being poor (in spirit), afflicted, needy, bowed down and lowly. However, it carries with it an accurate assessment of one’s state, as opposed to thinking more lowly of oneself than is true. In the text, God had just indicated that He would eradicate the current “nation” and begin anew with Moses. Such an offer could easily appeal to one’s sense of, both, importance and convenience. Moses could have been the last man standing and the father of the new branch of God’s people. He would have had the task of simply raising a family. The account of Exodus 32, as it now appears, could have ended. However, he turned down the offer that would have given to him this position of great esteem and opted to engage and appropriately deal with the massive number of rebellious Israelites (estimated in the millions) at the expense of raising a family. This humble response laid the foundation for the intercession that follows.

…the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12, NASB)

“You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:5-7, NASB)

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

REFLECTIONS ON EXODUS 32 AND DEUTERONOMY 9 (PART 8)

Moses Responds to God Response

I recently taught in a Discipleship Training School in which we considered the idea that love, in order to be love, in certain circumstances must respond in varying measures of severity. While considering certain Old Testament accounts, such as the one in Exodus 32, where large numbers of people lost their lives, one of the students responded with a significant degree of emotion, verging on strong anger (largely toward God), stating that it is not right that innocent children should suffer when God judges a nation or city in severity. Without considering the entire interchange, I would like to make a simple point that was later made to the student in a private conversation. I said, “I noticed that you expressed your concern for those who suffer because of the wrong actions and rebellion of others with quite a bit of passion. Either you can turn that passion into hatred toward God or you can recognize that God is truly attempting to rid the world of such wickedness and work together with Him to accomplish this. There are many ways you can work to alleviate such suffering.”

Notice that Moses responds to God’s declaration of judgment with intercession. There are a number of very strong and important implications that accompany such a response. Moses assumed he could alter the course of events that were about to transpire. Though God declared His intention, Moses proceeded according to the idea that he could offer God an alternative to the course revealed. Moses, obviously, had not been to seminary but he did know God. As we proceed, in future posts, to evaluate the intercession that follows, keep in mind that such an account is not simply an irrelevant Bible stories. Hopefully we will be inspired to become alternative channels and influences God can work with in order to avoid judgment that is otherwise appropriate and necessary. Many people can do the easy work of complaining about suffering but few seem to be available to help eliminate it. Will you be found when God looks for someone to stand in the gap? Notice in the passage below from Ezekiel that prophets, priests and princes, who should have been protecting and leading the people, were part of the problem as opposed to the solution. Who will rise up?

For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” (2 Chronicles 16:9, NASB)

And the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Son of man, say to her, “You are a land that is not cleansed or rained on in the day of indignation.” ‘There is a conspiracy of her prophets in her midst, like a roaring lion tearing the prey. They have devoured lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in the midst of her. Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they hide their eyes from My sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. Her princes within her are like wolves tearing the prey, by shedding blood and destroying lives in order to get dishonest gain. And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord has not spoken. “The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice. And I searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. Thus I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads,” declares the Lord God.’” (Ezekiel 22:23-31, NASB)

Thursday, November 03, 2011

REFELECTIONS ON EXODUS 32 AND DEUTERONOMY (Part 7)

God Responds

After communicating to Moses that He (God) viewed the people of Israel as corrupt and obstinate, having quickly turned aside from the commandments given to them, having made, worshipped and sacrificed to this idol, He reveals His response.

Was it right for God to declare, “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation”? (Exodus 32:10) Does this imply an uncontrolled emotional outburst? Could this be understood as an expression of love? Is Richard Dawkins correct when he claims that, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” In preparation to resolve such concerns, let’s first consider God’s purpose for raising up the nation of Israel.

In Genesis 12:1-3 we read, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

The Old Testament account of God’s interaction with the nation of Israel describes His effort to prepare a people who can reflect the fruit that we produce when honoring and obeying God’s design for personal and corporate life and who can, consequently, bless all nations with instruction regarding God’s redemptive provisions. Such redemptive provisions ultimately include the work of the Messiah that allows pardon to be righteously and wisely extended to all and any guilty party. Consider the following two passages: “And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (Genesis 22:18, NASB) “And I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.” (Genesis 26:4-5, NASB)

The role and responsibility of the nation of Israel in regard to redemptive history was tremendously important and, as stated regarding Moses, obedience was crucial in the effective unfolding of this project.

The account we are considering in Exodus 32 is, in great measure, a defining moment, the significance of which we have likely underestimated as we approach such Scriptural accounts with a shallow, Sunday school mentality. In my next post, we will continue to reflect upon this defining moment and its connection with God’s severe, but I believe appropriate, response.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

REFLECTIONS ON EXODUS 32 AND DEUTERONOMY 9 (PART 6)

God Responds

After communicating to Moses that He (God) viewed the people of Israel as corrupt and obstinate, having quickly turned aside from the commandments given to them, having made, worshipped and sacrificed to this idol, He reveals His response.

The response we are about to explore is, to a great degree, no longer viewed by many professing Christians as a response God is “allowed” to have. Largely due to confusion about the purpose and result of the atonement, some have created a God who is wholly tolerant, passive and “gentle.” In response to the conduct of those recently delivered from Egypt God says, “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” (Exodus 32:10)

A number of observations, to be presented in separate blog entries, are worth developing. In this post I will address the issue of God and emotion. Contrary to Greek, Perfect Being Philosophy and its impact on Classical Christian Theology, God does experience emotion. The verse quoted above is a solid example. I would suggest, however, that a careful, well developed understanding of Scriptural revelation leads to the conclusion that God is not governed by His emotion but, in love, God subjects His emotional responses to an analysis of the highest good in the situation in question. The best option in some circumstances, the current case being an example, is to bring some form of judgment. We will probe ideas about why judgment was the best initial option in upcoming posts, but the point of this entry is to highlight the fact that God does experience emotion, is not governed by emotion and that a severe response to human sin and rebellion is, often, a completely legitimate response on the part of God. Though God is not controlled by His emotional reactions, it is quite possible that, after subjecting His emotional response to analysis, the most appropriate course of action will be consistent with the emotional response.

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. “And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

“And these (the goats) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous (the sheep) into eternal life.”   (Matthew 25:31-33, 46)