January 20, 2018 Bible Study — We Will Not Accomplish God’s Will By Our Own Ability

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Exodus 7-9.

    At the end of yesterday’s passage when God told Moses to go back to Pharaoh again to ask him to let the Israelites go, Moses complained that he could not do it because he was a bad speaker. Moses believed that he would have to convince Pharaoh by his eloquence. God responded by telling Moses that He would perform miracles to convince Pharaoh, and that Pharaoh would still refuse until God would bring his fist down on Egypt, at which point Pharaoh would beg them to leave. It is important to remember that when God calls and sends us we will not accomplish the task He has given us by our eloquence. It is not our eloquence, or skill, or strength, or cunning, which will accomplish the tasks which God sets before us. Those tasks will be accomplished by the power of God and by nothing else. God gave Moses skills which he used when God sent him to lead His people, but those skills were not what got the job done.

    There are two other aspects of this passage I want to point out. The first is the sort of subtle clue that indicates that God is starting to move. When Aaron cast his staff down and it became a snake, Pharaoh’s advisers did the same thing neutralizing the impact of this miracle. But something happened which is the sort of thing for which the observant should watch: Aaron’s snake ate those produced by Pharaoh’s advisers. The other thing I want to note is that at the beginning the passage tells us that Pharaoh’s heart remained hard and/or he became stubborn. Through the first five plagues, Pharaoh had what is called agency. He could have decided to let the God’s people go, but he did not. However, with the sixth plague, God no longer allowed Pharaoh the choice. At that point the passage tells us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. We all have the choice to do God’s will, but at some point God may choose to no longer give us that choice, at least until He has poured out His full wrath.

January 19, 2018 Bible Study — Doing God’s Will Is A Blessing, But It Will Be Hard

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Exodus 4-6.

    I mentioned yesterday that Moses reacted like most of us when God called him, he questioned the call. Today, he continued to question the call. His next question was, “What if they don’t believe me?” which is still a perfectly legitimate question. And God replied by giving Moses two minor miracles he could perform to show that God’s power flowed through him. Then Moses did something too many of us do as well, he came up with an excuse as to why he could not perform the task which God had given him. Finally, when God sets aside Moses’ excuse as to why he cannot do it, Moses comes right out and asks God to send someone else. In this case, God worked with Moses to get him to accept His call. However, sometimes we miss out on the blessing of doing what God calls us too because we ask Him to find someone else, and He does.

    When Moses got back to Egypt we see why he, and all too many of us, ask God to select someone else. Initially, the children of Israel were overjoyed to hear Moses’ message. However, Pharaoh mocked it and made things more difficult for the Israelites. Then when Moses went back to the people they were angry with him and did not want to listen. I want to give a little more attention to Pharaoh’s response to Moses. “Who is the Lord? I do not know Him. He has no authority over me.” (Yes, that last is a paraphrase). When we get that answer from people it generally makes us angry at them, but it should make us sad for them. After all, unless they change their minds, they will suffer just as Pharaoh did. We should pray that God softens their heart, but remember, they are probably not your target audience anymore than Pharaoh was Moses’ target audience.

January 18, 2018 Bible Study — Even Moses Had Doubts About His Qualifications

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Exodus 1-3.

    It is worth noting that the Pharaoh’s edicts to kill all of the newborn male babies would not have led to a long term reduction in the population of Israelites in Egypt. However, it would have weakened them as a military threat. It seems likely that the Pharaoh was aware of this and chose this strategy as a way to maintain the Israelites as a servant/slave population. However, this passage also shows us that such edicts do not work unless cooperation from the population which you are attempting to control. It is a shame that there are so many practitioners of modern medicine who do not have the morals of the two Hebrew midwives.

    Moses was like a lot of us. When God first called him from the burning bush, Moses’ response was “Here I am.” But when God laid out the mission He had for him, Moses immediately began to push back, “Who am I to speak with Pharaoh?” Moses asked this despite the fact that he was clearly the most qualified of the Hebrews to do so, having grown up in the royal household. However, God does not point that out to Moses, instead He tells him that He will be with him. Like most of us, Moses had more excuses as to why he should not be the one to go. His next excuse was that he did not know what to tell people God was called. These two questions are actually questions we should ask about the mission to which we perceive God calling us. The first question, “Why am I the person to do this?” The answer might be as simple as, “Because somebody has to and nobody else is.” And remember, God’s answer is always, “I will be with you.” The second question is, “How am I supposed to describe God to the people to whom I am called to minister?” God’s answer is that they know who He is, even if they don’t want to admit it. God will give us the message which will reveal to our audience who it is that we serve.

January 17, 2018 Bible Study — Jacob Prophesies

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Genesis 48-50.

    There are two interesting things here. First, Jacob adopts Joseph’s two sons as his own. The result of this is that there are 12 tribes plus the tribe of Levi. Second, despite adopting Joseph’s two sons as his own, when Jacob gives his final blessings to all of his sons he does not list the two boys, only their father Joseph. Jacob’s blessing of his sons reflects their lives up to this point, but it is also a prophecy about their descendants. I find it interesting to keep in mind as I read through the rest of the Old Testament, particularly Exodus through Judges. Of course, Jacob’s blessing on Judah contains a prophecy concerning Christ as well.

January 16, 2017 Bible Study — Forgiving Those Who Have Wronged Us

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Genesis 45-47.

    When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers he gives us a lesson in how we should deal with hardship and with those who have wronged us. First, lets look over Joseph’s life. As we have read over the last couple of days, he suffered quite a bit of hardship. That hardship would have been made harder to take by the fact that he had grown up with a privileged life before his brothers turned on him. And all of that hardship was the responsibility of his brothers. However, rather than focus on his hardship and the wrong that had been done him, Joseph focused on serving God. Now, when his brothers were in his power, he went out of his way to assure them that he held them no ill will. Not only that, but he asked them to stop blaming themselves for what had happened, because it had all served God’s purpose. Joseph understood that if it had not been for his brothers’ actions of selling him into slavery, he would never ended up where he was, where he could save them and his father’s entire household from starvation.

    Throughout his whole story Joseph never gave into anger and resentment over his situation. When he was sold into slavery, he did not become surly and do no more than he was absolutely required. No, he applied himself and did the best that he was able, rising to a position of power in Potiphar’s household. When that went wrong and he was thrown into jail, he again did not give into resentment and become surly. He did the best that he was able and rose to a position of power within the jail. Note, this was not the position of “trusty” where the other prisoners resented him for cooperating with the jailer. His position was one where the other prisoners were willing to share what was bothering them with him. Further, when it took the prisoner whose dream he interpreted two years to remember him, and even then only because Pharaoh had a dream none of his advisers could interpret for him, Joseph did not give into resentment and anger. Here is the lesson for us: forgive those who have wronged us, they are only able to do so because it serves God’s purpose. They will suffer the consequences of doing wrong, we should not allow ourselves to become like them. We should not become resentful of the hardship and suffering we face in life. Instead, we should seek how we can serve God and bring glory to His name in the situation we find ourselves in.

January 15, 2018 Bible Study — Examples In Leadership

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Genesis 42-44.

    There was a famine in Canaan which led Abraham to go to Egypt and spend some time there. There was another famine in Canaan which tempted Isaac to go to Egypt, but God told him not to do so, so he did not. Now we have a famine in Canaan which led, ultimately, to Jacob and his descendants moving to Egypt. I don’t know that there is any significance to the fact of recurring famines in Canaan, but I wanted to make note of it in case something later strikes me as significant about it.

    I noticed in today’s passage that both Reuben and Judah took leadership roles among their brothers. The first time we see these two both doing so was when the brothers sold Joseph into slavery. In that case, Reuben had the brothers throw Joseph into a cistern rather than kill him outright, intending to return and release Joseph later. While Judah convinced them to sell Joseph to slavers rather than let him die in the cistern. In today’s passage, Reuben tried to convince Jacob to send them immediately back to Egypt with Benjamin by offering the lives of his own sons against Benjamin’s safe return. Later, when Jacob is desperate for more grain, Judah offers to take the blame for eternity if anything happens to Benjamin. I believe part of Reuben’s motivation for an immediate return was a desire to free Simeon from imprisonment. In these examples we see Judah being slightly more effective as a leader than Reuben, but much of that could just be circumstances. However, at the end of the passage we see Judah take a step up. There he offers himself in place of Benjamin. Judah was willing to sacrifice himself for his brother. It appears to me that Judah was a more effective leader than Reuben and that fact played as much of a role in Jacob’s later blessing giving the leadership role of his sons to Judah over Reuben as the fact that Reuben had slept with Jacob’s concubine.

January 14, 2018 Bible Study — Is This The First Recorded Case of Sexual Harassment?

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Genesis 39-41.

    We have in this passage what may be the first account of sexual harassment. It is worth noting that it was a young man being sexually harassed by a woman in a position of power. I want to note that a large part of the reason that we do not have an account of sexual harassment of similar age where a woman was harassed is because if the more powerful individual in this situation had been a man, he would have simply forced himself upon the object of his desire with no risk of negative consequences. However, the important thing about sexual harassment in this story is that it shows us that, even in a society of male dominance, women are also likely to abuse their power over those in a weaker position.

    There are some lessons we can learn from this story. First, what could Joseph have done to avoid this. Realistically, the only thing he could have done is avoid being alone with Potiphar’s wife. This is an important point to keep in mind. Joseph ended up being falsely accused of rape. As I think about this situation it reminds me that one of the things that causes problems when we give rape avoidance advice to women is that the same advice applies to men who want to avoid false accusations of rape: avoid being in situations where that can happen. When we advise young women to avoid situations where rape can easily happen we are often accused of sexism. That accusation may be accurate if we are only advising young women to avoid those situations because we should advise young men to avoid being on the male side of those same situations in order to avoid being falsely accused of rape.
    That part being said there is an even more important point to be made. As far as we can tell from this passage, Joseph did his best to avoid being alone with Potiphar’s wife. That is the important point we need to make when pointing out situations which men and women should avoid (men to avoid false accusations of rape, women to avoid being raped), those who ended up in those situations and got raped, or falsely accused of rape, are the victims, not the perpetrators. Failing to have failed to follow the advice, whether because they disregarded it or because circumstances made it unavoidable, does not make them bad people, or even responsible for what happened to them. One final note: God used the bad things which happened to Joseph to put him in a position much better than he could have otherwise reached and where he was able to help his family when famine reached the area.

January 13, 2018 Bible Study — Jacob’s Sons Start To Assimilate

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Genesis 36-38.

    Today’s passage starts with an account of the descendants of Esau, including a list of some of the early kings of Edom. I do not know what the significance of this is for us today. From there the passage goes on to tell us about Joseph. From this passage we learn that Joseph was a naive, spoiled young man. Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons, and Joseph loved his father more than his brothers. This combination led to Joseph’s older brothers hating him, but it does not appear that Joseph realized this. When I consider the dreams which Joseph related to his brothers and father, I go back and forth about what I think Joseph meant by telling them the dreams. Sometimes I think that Joseph thought of the dreams as really strange dreams and told his brothers about them in order to have a topic of conversation. Other times I think that he told them about the dreams as a sort of “Well, you can treat me like this now, but one day…” In either case, telling his brothers about his dreams exacerbated their anger towards him. The combination of their resentment of the special treatment Joseph received and of the fact that he told their father about the previous misdeeds of some of his brothers led his brothers to be convinced that he was coming to spy on them (which was at least partially true, although not a concern if they were not doing anything wrong). It is interesting that neither Reuben nor Judah wished to kill Joseph.

    After Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers we have the story of Judah and Tamar. This story highlights why God sent the descendants of Jacob into Egypt. We see here that Jacob’s sons were becoming assimilated into the culture of Canaan, at least Judah, but I think we can figure that the rest of them behaved similarly. Judah married a local woman and had children with her. He arranged for his sons to marry local women. His best friend was a local and Judah practiced the local worship, at least to the extent of consorting with temple prostitutes. All of these things indicate that Judah, and probably his brothers, were gradually assimilating into the local culture. Something which both Abraham and Isaac sought to keep from happening.

January 12, 2018 Bible Study — The Initial Formation of the Nation of Israel

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Genesis 33-35.

    I did not touch on this yesterday, but when Esau heard that Jacob was returning he set out with 400 men to meet him. The first thing about this which is noteworthy is that when Abraham defeated the armies which had taken Lot captive he had 318 men with him. So, Esau was coming to meet Jacob with a rather large army. The second thing which is noteworthy (from yesterday’s passage) is that Esau and his army set out before Jacob sent his messengers. Which makes me wonder if Esau knew about Laban pursuing Jacob and was coming to Jacob’s defense?

    I find the negotiations between Jacob and Esau when they met interesting as well. After greeting Jacob as his long lost brother, which Jacob was, he asks about the people accompanying Jacob. Jacob introduces his wives and children to Esau. Then Esau asks about the flocks sent on ahead by Jacob. Since Jacob had instructed the herdsmen to tell Esau that they were gifts for Esau, by asking about them Esau is telling Jacob that the gifts were not necessary for Esau to forgive Jacob. There is a little further back and forth about who should keep them before Esau accepts them. This negotiation resembles the negotiation between Abraham and Ephron the Hittite over the plot of land where Abraham would bury Sarah. By insisting that Esau accept the gift of these specific herds, Jacob is establishing that Esau has no claim to any of the rest of his possessions. This is followed up by the next stage of the negotiations between Esau and Jacob. Esau indirectly offers Jacob the opportunity to enter into Esau’s household and to come under his protection. First Esau suggests that he lead Jacob and his family back to where Esau is based (and we know from the earlier passage where Isaac grew crops that Esau was not truly nomadic). When Jacob rejects this, Esau suggests that he at least provide Jacob with some men to protect Jacob and his family. Once again, Jacob rejects this offer. In both cases, Jacob makes it clear that he is not rejecting his brother, just the offer to become part of his brother’s household. It is worth noting that we learn at the end of this passage that both Jacob and Esau set up households independent of that of Isaac, but that it was Jacob who moved back with Isaac for Isaac’s last few years.

    Finally, I mentioned yesterday that Laban’s household idols would appear once more to provide insight into the mystery of Terah, Abraham’s father, deciding to move to Canaan (although he never got there). The story of Dinah being raped at Shechem tells us more about that. The first thing I think we see is that Jacob and his family hold women in higher esteem then the peoples among whom they lived. They did not just accept that Shechem marry their sister to make up for defiling her by raping her. However, the more interesting thing is that although the sons of Jacob worshiped God at least to the degree of being circumcised and having their sons and male servants circumcised, they also had various idols as well. In the aftermath of his sons sacking and looting the town, Jacob calls on them to give up their idols and purify themselves to worship God. The idols which Jacob buried there included the idols which Rachel had stolen from Laban. There are several important things which happened as a result of this event. First, Jacob and his family became more dedicated to God and abandoned, for the most part, the worship of other gods. Second, Jacob’s sons were forced to stay together in their father’s household, rather than setting out on their own the way their father, their grandfather, and great grandfather had. Because they had sacked and looted Shechem, none of Jacob’s sons could risk leaving the protection of their father’s household.

January 11, 2018 Bible Study — God Fights

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Genesis 31-32.

    When Laban’s sons, Jacob’s brothers-in-law, began grumbling about Jacob’s wealth, Jacob decided that it was time to return to the land of Canaan. He was very careful to make sure Laban did not find out that he was leaving until he was gone. He chose a time when Laban was away sheering sheep and he called Rachel and Leah out away from the household servants to inform them. We can see that Jacob was justified both in his decision to leave and in doing so secretly by Laban’s reaction to learning he had left. Laban did not just set out in pursuit of Jacob, he gathered a small army to do so.

    For all of his flaws, Jacob gave God credit for his success, both when he spoke to his wives about his plan to leave Laban and later when he was confronted by Laban. When Laban managed to catch up with Jacob, he pretended like he would have allowed Jacob to just leave if Jacob had told him that he wanted to do so. However, we know that this is not true because Laban cannot resist threatening Jacob even now by telling him that he could destroy him. Laban stated that the only reason he did not do so was because God had appeared to him the night before warning him against doing so. However, Laban is not willing to just let Jacob go, he wants to extract something from him, so he brings up the household idols which Rachel had stolen. (Those idols will come up again later and give us further insight into the thread about why Abraham left his homeland when they do.) It seems to me that, while I believe that God appeared to Laban in a dream to warn him against harming Jacob, when Laban realized how far he had come he began to have doubts about the wisdom of battling Jacob and his men, perhaps even some of the relatives he had gathered had expressed concern over fighting Jacob, who was also related to them.

    I mentioned that the household idols which Rachel had stolen will provide us another insight into why Abraham left his homeland, but there is actually a little bit of a clue in today’s passage as well. When Laban enters into a treaty with Jacob here he calls on the god of their grandfathers, while Jacob calls on the God of his father. The point being that for Laban, God was the god of his grandfather, with whom he had only a passing familiarity, but for Jacob, God was the god of his father, whom he had grown up revering. God is not Laban’s god and while He is not yet Jacob’s god, Jacob is moving in that direction. As Jacob is leaving the camp where he made his treaty with Laban, he meets angels and realizes that God was indeed there when Laban confronted him. Then the night before he meets Esau Jacob wrestled with an angel and became Israel. Israel means either “the one who fights with God” or “the one for whom God fights” (the literal translation is “God fights”, but I think the context makes my two meanings the intended meaning).

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