The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 15

Rainbow_after_storm.jpg

The Highs and Lows of Obedience.

The chronicler of Hebrews eleven is not yet done with Moses. “By faith,” he goes on to relate, “(Moses) kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. By faith the people passed through the red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.”

If these verses are characterized by anything, it would be by skillful understatement. They summarize the culmination and turning point of 400 years of Hebrew slavery under the iron fist of the Egyptians. They chronicle God’s plan communicated to Moses and the Hebrew people through specific commands and the miraculous outcomes Moses’ obedience released. God’s call expressed through God’s commands becomes a game-changer for God’s people. What we are told in less than 50 words is not meant to tell us the whole breath-taking story, but to plant in us the seed of the idea that obedience to God’s call puts people on God’s path. A later writer would call it “a highway”, “the Way of Holiness”, and a way not for “wicked fools” but for “the redeemed…and the ransomed of the LORD” (Isaiah 35).

There is a pattern here, a rhythm of contrasting opposites that is not meant to strip the complexity of relationship with God into easy platitudes; rather, it is meant to paint us a picture showing us two things. It shows us that obedience to God brings people out of death into new life. And it shows us that God fills that new life with a complexity of experiences, like a spectrum of colours with a myriad of tints and shades of those colours.

In the first case, God Himself determines who will escape the culture and cycle of death enslaving all humans. His determination is not based on deific fancy, but on His perfect knowledge of each person’s choice to obey Him or not. For Moses and the Hebrews, the direction to obey the unprecedented command of bloody doorway-smearing was beyond the paradigms of either Hebrew or Egyptian culture. The Hebrews obeyed God and lived. The Egyptians hardened their hearts to the command and experienced heart-wrenching death. God is the God of life. Only as we submit to Him do we find we are released from death into eternal life.

Secondly, we see that obedience to God is a path of many tints and shades—of highs and lows—of apparent successes and of seeming failures, of soul-deep wounds and breathless joys. The Hebrews’ victorious escape from Egypt’s oppression was an unimagined high. They travelled and camped for several days, boldly rejoicing in their good fortune of escape, following God’s cloud-and-fire leading. Then suddenly they found themselves huddled enmasse at the shore of the Red Sea, hemmed in by Pharaoh’s pursuing army. Hebrew hearts plummeted in fear and disbelief as they watched a hopeful situation deteriorate and go south. Yet God was present and working through this dark hour. God sent a storm that churned and divided the sea, and commanded the Hebrews to cross the dry seabed throughout the dark and stormy night. They obeyed and the crossing of the Red Sea, followed by the flood-water repulsion of the Egyptian pursuers, became a faith-builder for the Hebrew people for generations to come. It, more than any other single event, would remind the people in later dark hours that God is faithful. He delights to create a spectrum of colour out of shades of darkness for those who follow Him.

God’s call into fullness of life for all people is always and without exception embedded within the paradigm of command-and-obedience. The Hebrew experience becomes a picture for all God-followers; like the Hebrews’ first Passover event, we must daily stand behind the protection of a doorway marked with blood-stains—those of Christ whose obedience paid the redemption price for our sins. Then we must step out and obey His overarching command to live lives of love and holiness in order to access God’s path for us. His path will take us safely through every obstacle and dark night, through every high and low of human experience.

Obedience is essential. Only as we trust Him and obey Him will we recognize that His call brings us blessing. So listen to God’s call and obey Him. Then include yourself in the song of Moses who sang, “O LORD…In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling…You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance—the place, O LORD, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands established. The LORD will reign for ever and ever” (Exodus 13:15,17,18).

(Photo Credit: By Ben Njeri [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons)

Advertisements

The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 14

1280px-Sahara_09.jpg

Who Are You?

Growing up as a prince of Egypt had its benefits. The young Moses had been raised with every asset the household of Pharaoh could supply. But Moses could not ignore the growing sense that he was an imposter. His birthmother had told him stories that rung true. Moses was not an Egyptian. He dressed like one, he was raised like one, but he knew deep down he was not one.

As he daily saw the overt cruelty of the Egyptian taskmasters toward the Hebrew slaves, Moses felt increasing angst. If he was descended from the Hebrew patriarch Abraham, how long could he stand by and watch his people—the people of the true God—being mistreated?

“By faith,” summarizes the author of Hebrews 11, “Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the kings’ anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:24-27).

Moses’ identity underwent a massive paradigm shift sometime in his early adulthood. His self-awareness as a prince of Egypt, entitled to all Egypt’s treasures, power and benefits, was as secure as the shifting sands of the Nile River delta at flood-time. Moses knew something had to change. So he did what any deep-thinking, ethically-conscious responsible person would do: he ran and hid.

For forty years he hid in the hills where no one—neither Egyptian nor Hebrew—could find him. For forty years he asked himself questions like, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘How could God be letting this happen to me?’ For forty years he heard nothing but silence.

Our lives can be like Moses’. Our identities fluctuate with every passing wind of social, emotional, and even political influence. ‘Who are we deep inside?’ we wonder. And who is God who allows life’s twists and traumas to occur?

Finally Moses’ heart was ready, and God spoke to him. Moses listened, but his first reply exposed the deep ache of his lifelong question.

“Who am I…?” cried Moses, prostrate and barefoot before the strange fiery epiphany of the LORD God.

God answered simply, “I will be with you.”

Then Moses countered, “Who are you?”

“I AM WHO I AM.” Period.

God’s replies to Moses’ bold questions were bedrock answers. God knows every person’s identity is satisfied only in Him. God is the inexhaustible identity from which we must gain our own. More than that, He promises to be with us. His presence, when fully appreciated by us, meets the broad spectrum of our needs. His presence enables us to know who we are because of who He is; to both accept God’s rescue and to rescue others; to rest without angst and to work wholeheartedly and with maximum impact; to live with God in the present and to live with Him for eternity.

Moses did not become perfect. But Moses became usable. He walked back into Egypt, confronted both Pharaoh and his own Hebrew people with God’s instructions, and watched the results. To the extent that Moses obeyed God implicitly throughout the final forty years of his life, Moses more and more realized and recognized who he was, and who God is.

That’s why the author of Hebrews 11 lists Moses among those who heard God’s call and stepped out in faith. Moses recognized God. That is the invitation for each of us who find ourselves asking the same questions, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Who are you, God?’

God’s answer to us is the same as it was to Moses.

“I will be with you,” and “I AM WHO I AM.”

Period.

(Photo Credit: By LBM1948 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 13

Mses' toes

The Trustworthy Nature of ‘Vox Dei’.

“By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Hebrews 11:23).

Taking refuge in Egypt had backfired. The famine in Canaan c.1500 B.C. was nothing compared to the cruel bondage the Hebrew people now experienced in Egypt. For four generations Pharaoh’s taskmasters had drowned out any sound of God’s call in the Israelites’ ears. The oppression had become unbearable. Then pharaoh published his decree: ‘All male Hebrew infants must be aborted—must perish in the river Nile.’

Perhaps it was the shocking nature of the edict that awoke the pregnant Jochebed and her husband Amram to the distant memory of God’s call upon their forefather and people, Israel. “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring,” the LORD had promised. “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you…” God had pledged.

So when their baby was born, Jochebed and Amram saw much more than a nameless, forbidden infant slated by the Egyptians for drowning. They saw a child of promise—one of the offspring of Israel, through whom God had vowed to bless all people. Defying Pharaoh’s command by hiding the baby was the natural response for two who valued God’s call over all others’.

We don’t know if any other Hebrew parents were also listening to God in the midst of their suffering. We don’t know if they, too, clung steadfastly to God’s promises or whether they had let the memory of His call slip quietly into obscurity through carelessness, bitterness or disbelief. Those who choose to follow God’s quiet leading often walk a lonely path.

We do know how prone we are to become deaf to God’s call when things don’t go as we had hoped or planned or felt God ought to allow. We know the argument: ‘It goes against reason to listen to a God who allows suffering to come into people’s lives.’ But there is a truer argument—one that Jochebed and Amram chose to believe and act upon, one that argues ‘God’s Word is faithful, even when everything seems to point against it and Him.’

Acting on this premise positioned Jochebed and Amram to make a creative decision. They hid their baby in the one place no soldier could ever look: the bathing pool of Pharaoh’s daughter. Washing led to finding, and—for the soft-hearted princess—finding led to adopting, naming and raising the baby Moses in the very household of the infanticidal Pharaoh. The word of Egypt’s most powerful leader was indeed no match for the call and purpose of God.

“ ‘Vox temporis’ (the voice of the times),” quotes Os Guinness of Thomas Oden, “is no more trustworthy than ‘vox populi’ (the voice of the people) when set against ‘vox dei’ (the voice of God).” Trustworthy, life-giving, loving and faithful is the call of God on every life, on yours and mine as it was on Moses’. The Scriptures are full of that call. The determining question is, will we be deaf and blind to it, following the edicts of the status quo, or will we step out in faith that God’s Word and call give life?

God’s Word over and over again reiterates the refrain that our lives are not ordinary; we are called by God to live extraordinary lives, lives led by God.

“Nothing will change your life,” observes author Tim Keller, “like hearing the voice of God through the Scripture(s).” Hear vox dei and live.

(Photo Credit: Retrieved from https://www.oneforisrael.org/bible-based-teaching-from-israel/the-mysterious-case-of-moses-parents/)