Moses and the Israelites (Moses Part 6)

Last week we talked about the last plague God sent to Egypt, the death of the firstborns, and we talked about Passover--the Jewish holiday that commemorates this event. After this tenth plague, Pharaoh finally relented and finally let the Hebrews leave Egypt. So today we're going to start with that. Can someone read Exodus 12:37-41?

37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. 38 A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds. 39 They baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt; it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

40 The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. 41 At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.

The Israelites had been in Egypt for 430 years according to these verses. I want us to think about that for a moment. 430 years. How long ago was 430 years from now? 1587. Do you guys know anything about 1587? What the world was like then? Where your ancestors were?

Well let's see,  in 1587 Queen Elizabeth the First was queen of England. In 1587, Shakespear was alive but had not yet written his first play. In 1587 the Pilgrims had not even come to America yet. The Spanish had, I believe. So if you're of Spanish or obviously Native American descent, your ancestors may have been in America. Otherwise, your family hadn't come here yet. They were all living in some other country and probably didn't know America even existed.

Do you guys know the names of any of your ancestors who were alive in 1587? [Let them answer.] Yeah, most people don't unless you're descended from some big name person like the Queen of England. So your family wasn't likely here in 1587. Do you consider yourself American? [Let them answer.]

Why do I bring this up? Because the Hebrews had been in Egypt longer than your families have been here. And yet they didn't consider themselves Egyptian. They never assimilated. Yet it had been the only land they had ever known. The only land their parents, grandparents, great great grandparents and farther back than most of us can remember. And suddenly they are leaving.

So they're greateful to leave this oppression, to not be slaves anymore, but do you think this leaving of the only land they had ever known for generations was maybe a little scary? [Let them answer.]

Yeah. I think they were both happy and terrified. They had no idea what the world outside of Egypt might be like. And they were going to a promised land their families hadn't been to for hundreds of years. While they would have stories of what it was like--the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that we've read--they would have no idea what it's really like. And places can change a lot in 430 years.

And needless to say, they probably didn't have directions on how to get there. We'll see in the next verses how God is going to take care of that. Can someone read Exodus 13:17-22?

17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. 19 And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” 20 They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. 21 The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

There is a couple of things in this section. (1) God is personally picking the path the Hebrews are going in. So it doesn't matter that they don't have the right directions. He doesn't want them to face war so immentently after leaving Egypt, so he picked a more scenic direction. (2) Moses takes Joseph's bones with them out of Egypt. Remember Joseph was the most trusted man in all of Egypt in his day. So his body was probably fairly well preserved. We still have bones of Egyptians from back then, so it's not crazy that they would have access to his tomb and be able to take his remains with them. By taking Joseph's bones, Moses is fulfilling a promise Joseph made the people make, that they would take his remains back home, to his original homeland, the promise land, one day. (3) God led the Israelites with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. A lot of times this is visualized as like a tornado going ahead of them, leading the way.  Don't you think that would have been amazing to see? The Israelites were literally being led by God. Miraculous.

Alright can someone read Exodus 14:5-9?

5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” 6 So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; 7 he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. 8 The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. 9 The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

So the Israelites leave and suddenly Pharaoh realizes what he's done. Time has passed since the last plague, and he's without the people who they relied on as slaves. Also the plagues devastated Egypt. Egypt has lost everything: it's crops, it's livestock, it's slaves, and it's firstborn. This is probably the moment in the Pharaoh's grief where he is feeling rage, and all of his rage and anger at losing everything is directed at the people who--from his perspective--caused it. The Israelites. So he and his entire army suits up and goes after them.

Can somsone read Exodus 14:10-14?

10 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

So the Israelites see Pharaoh coming--they see this whole army bearing down on them. The Israelites are a lot of people, but they're not an army. They don't have weapons. They have like children in their arms. If Pharaoh comes in on chariots, he will slaughter them.  So they're basically like "OMG WHAT WAS THE POINT? TO FREE US JUST SO WE CAN DIE NOW????" And Moses is like "You guys need to chill. God's got us." And that just might be the understatement of the year. Because what happens next is probably the most famous Biblical miracle. Can someone read Exodus 14:19-22?

19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

The tornado that was leading the Israelites? Suddenly it moves and cuts off the Egyptians from getting to them. They can't get through it, and the Israelites are temporarily safe. But they're backed up to a sea. Moses turns to the sea, stretches out his hand, and God parts the water. He literally parts the water so that they walk on the sea's floor and it is dry, with walls of water around them, like they're walking through a canyon made of water. The Hebrews then walk through this canyon of water to escape the Egyptians.

Now can someone read Exodus 14:23-31?

23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24 At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25 He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

Presumably the tornado separating the Egyptians and Hebrews drops, because now the Egyptians pursue them into the water. But then the tornado of fire comes back and send them all into a panic, but it's kinda hard to turn your chariot around in the bottom of a chasm of water. God basically makes their chariot wheels start getting stuck and the like. Then once all the Hebrews are through the water, God has Moses raise his hand again and the sea returns to normal, flooding the Egyptians. The entire army of Pharaoh is drowned.

The Israelites were terrified of this army, but God showed them no one is more powerful than him. Not even teh most powerful army on the face of the planet. Because remember that is what the Egyptians would have been at that time. The most powerful country with the most powerful army in the world. God is stronger than that.

And these Hebrews who believed in the beginning of this story that God wouldn't really be able to free them from slavery, are finally beginning to really believe that God is on their side.

Now the Hebrews are truly free from Egypt. They are not only seperated from Egypt by the Red Sea, but pharaoh's entire pursuing army is dead. They spend most of the next chapter just singing praises to God. They are amazed and they finally believe, they really are God's chosen people.

But things don't stay all hunky dory because the Hebrews, like us, were only human. Can someone read Exodus 15:22-25?

22 Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 He cried out to the Lord; and the Lord showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he put them to the test.

Three days after they've left the Red Sea, they have not found any water. We've talked about this before: how long can you last without water? [Let them answer.] Three days. So assuming they had canteens and jugs of water they were carrying with them, they are probably still fine but getting worried. Water is something you need easy access to in order to survive. This is why you can get it for free everywhere in America from water fountains in public and most restaurants. No one wants anyone to die from dehydration.

Then they do find water but it's "bitter." That probably means it's salt water, which is not drinkable. If you drink salt water, you will dehydrate faster than you hydrate because of the salt. So the people are worried and they take it to Moses.

And God tells Moses to throw a stick in the water and he makes it drinkable! Yay God is still taking care of them!

Can someone read Exodus 16:2-3?

2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Again we have the same kind of worry as the water. They don't have good and they're afraid they're going to die in the middle of the desert. Do you guys think God is going to take care of this too? [Let them answer.] Well let's see. Can someone read Exodus 16:13-15?

13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat."

God once again provides. In the evenings quails come and cover the camp. Quails are birds, and basically they're kind of like small chickens from a food perspective. So the people would be able to get a quail and cook it, and be satisfied. God also provides them in the morning with a strange substance that the people don't know what it is. Here Moses tells them it is a bread God is providing them. If you look ahead to Exodus 16:31 the Bible says this about this strange food: "The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made of honey."

Manna. If you ever here someone say "Manna from heaven" this is what they mean. Or sometimes it's used a saying to mean something needed God is miraculously giving you. Whatever manna was it was clearly very delicious and filling.

Now can somsone read Exodus 17:1-6?

17 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Once again water is a concern. Remember they're traveling. And where your water comes from depends on where are you--the nearest lakes or springs or wells. They didn't have hotels they could just check themselves into that had running water. The land provided the water to them. So they become concerned again when they have a couple of days with no water. And they came to Moses and are angry with him. "Give us water!"

Moses is angsty about this. He sees all the stuff God has been providing them and is basically like "Don't you know God will provide?" But the people are just like "YOU BROUGHT US OUT HERE TO DIE."

I think when people read these stories they tend to identify a lot with Moses in this situation, seeing these people are ungrateful and not willing to trust in God. But I think we should be a little more generous than that when we read this story. These people had lived in Egypt their entire lives. In Egypt they had food. They had water. They understood how the world worked. Suddenly there life is like an extended camping trip where every day is a new surprise, a new challenge, a new fear. I think they're like a lot of us when we go camping for the first time. We're used to a life of running water and toilets and suddenly, we're in the wilderness without any of those things. It's very scary to be in the wilderness and be uncertain about where you're going or when you'll get there.

And Moses is impatient with them. Remember Moses never really wanted this job in the first place. He kept trying to get out of it. He didn't want this life. He wanted to stay a shephard in Midian with his wife's people. Instead he's leading this group of needy people who are relying on him. The Hebrews look to Moses and they basically see God. Yes it is God who is providing, but what the people see is Moses lifting his staff to part the Red Sea, Moses throwing a stick in the water to make it sweet, Moses bringing quails and manna.

I think the people are idolizing Moses a little bit. And this next story certainly isn't going to make that any better. Can somsone read Exodus 17:8-16?

8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. 13 And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a reminder in a book and recite it in the hearing of Joshua: I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called it, The Lord is my banner. 16 He said, “A hand upon the banner of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”

The Israelites basically run into an army on their travels. And they have to fight them. Here we are introduced to Joshua--who is basically the leader of the Hebrew army, such as it is. Moses tells him to go fight this army and that Moses will watch out for them. And so Joshua does. And when Moses raises his hands, the Hebrews begin to win! When his hands fall because he is tired, they begin to lose. So Aaron and another guy basically prop him up so his hands stay up.

This basically makes it seem like--to the Israelites--that Moses is magical. We know God is just using Moses, but from their perspective, they've never like actually seen God. They've only seen Moses come and promise he would save them. Moses raise his staff to bring about plagues. Moses find them water. Moses get them food. Moses save them from this army. And I think that explains what happens next.

Moses leads the people to a mountain called Sinai, which Moses climbs to go talk to God. We're going to study what goes on between Moses and God on this mountain next week. But basically Moses goes up there and disappears for several days.

Up until this point the people have been wholy relying on Moses. So when he disappears. They don't really take it well. Can someone read Exodus 32:1-6?

32 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

Moses doesn't come down in a timely fashion and people freak out. They basically ask Aaron to make them a new god and he does! Aaron, Moses' own brother, who should know better than anyone. Why? After everything God has done for them! After everything they have seen. Why are they doubting God?

Well I think it's because they didn't really believe, not really. They didn't see it as God providing them, they say it as Moses providing for them. They saw Moses as god. So when Moses went missing, god went missing. And suddenly here they were, in the wilderness, alone, without their god. So they wanted something else to idolize, something else to believe in in the place of Moses. So they made a golden calf, something they knew wasn't really a god. Something they made with their own hands. But they were scared and alone.

I think people do this all the time. I think we think we're believing in God sometimes, but really we're believing in a stand-in for God. That thing can be our pastor, our parents, a teacher, a friend, or any numerous things. We think "God doesn't talk to me. God only talks to them." And so we listen to that person's words more closely, and don't listen for God ourselves. And we make that person sort of like God to us. And when we lose that person, it can be devastating. Suddenly we don't know how to hear God, because that person was the only way we had to connect to God, or so we thought.

But while Moses left the Israelites, did God? [Let them answer.] No! God can be everywhere and with all of us. He can speak to each one of us. There isn't one special perosn that only hears God. There wasn't even back then. Aaron had heard God speak, God had come to him in dreams and spoken to him. And yet he too doubted, putting more faith in Moses.

You don't need someone else to act between you and God. You can go to him directly. And if you lose someone close to you who kept you accountable and near God--whether through that person moving or leaving or dying--that doesn't mean you lose God. You can still stay with God. You can have your own personal relationship with God, and you don't need to rely on anyone--your parents, your pastor, or your teacher--for that.

And we're going to stop here this week. Next week we'll talk about what exactly did happen with Moses on that mountain and how he reacts when he comes down and sees what has happened.

Moses and the Last Plague (Moses Part 5)

Last week we talked about the first nine plagues of Egypt. Remember Moses had come back to Egypt to free the Hebrews, but Pharaoh didn’t want to let them go. But also remember, that at the beginning of this, the Hebrew people were broken. They didn’t believe Moses or God could save them. They just wanted Moses to go away and leave them alone as Pharaoh was punishing the Hebrews for Moses actions.

So God revealed his plan to Moses to show Egypt and the Hebrews many signs and wonders—which translated to plagues. It’s important to remember that the purpose of these plagues was not just to annoy and punish the Egyptians or convince Pharaoh to let them go, but also to remind the Hebrew people that God was their God and he had their backs.

So these plagues—like frogs and flies and hail and locusts—would affect the Egyptians but leave the Hebrews unscathed. If these had been normal events happening all over Egypt—without divine direction—these plagues would have affected everyone. Instead the Hebrews were unscathed. They would have been watching all of this in wonder and being reminded of the covenant that long ago God made with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. That they belong to God, and because of that God is looking out for them and not going to leave them to suffer.

But after nine plagues, plagues that have basically left Egypt destitute, pharaoh still has not relented and let the Israelites leave. Even though pharaoh’s own advisors begged him to just let the Hebrews go so they could get some peace. Pharaoh was still like “no, these people are mine and I will not give in to their demands.”

After the last plague, pharaoh forbid Moses from his presence ever again.

Before all the other plagues, Moses would go to pharaoh and say what’s going to come, but now he can’t. Now pharaoh said he’ll kill Moses if Moses enters his presence. So we’re going to see that for the last plague Moses goes before all the people—Egyptian and Hebrew—and warns them.

So let’s turn to Exodus 11:3-8. Can someone read that?

3 The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, Moses himself was a man of great importance in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s officials and in the sight of the people.

4 Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out through Egypt. 5 Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 6 Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again. 7 But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites—not at people, not at animals—so that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8 Then all these officials of yours shall come down to me, and bow low to me, saying, ‘Leave us, you and all the people who follow you.’ After that I will leave.” And in hot anger he left Pharaoh.

For all the other plagues, Moses has gone before Pharaoh to warn him about it before the plague comes. But this time he can’t, because Pharaoh has forbidden his presence. So Moses goes out to tell the people, and he can and people will listen to him because by this point basically everyone respects him.

Moses is the harbinger of all these plagues. He has come before them and said they will happen, and they have. And people have been paying attention to that. That’s why we saw last week that when Moses warned people about the hail, some Egyptians listened and brought all of their stuff inside, so it wouldn’t be hurt by the hail. They heeded Moses’ warning. This is also why the Egyptian advisors begged Pharaoh to listen to Moses before the plague of locusts, because they knew Moses was telling the truth.

While in the beginning everyone was skeptical of Moses, now when Moses speaks, everyone listens to him, Egyptian and Hebrew alike. So it is to everyone that Moses gives his warning of the last plague.

And this plague is the worst. This time the first born will die, from the highest person—that is the firstborn of pharaoh—to the lowest—a firstborn of a slave. And if any livestock remain their firstborn shall die too. But the Hebrews will be spared.

But Pharaoh doesn’t listen.

Can someone read Exodus 12:21-28?

21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down. 24 You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children. 25 When you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed down and worshiped.

Moses talks to the Hebrew elders and gives them specific instructions. They are to kill a lamb and then paint their doorways with the blood of the launch. When it says the lintel and two doorposts that’s the top of the doorway and the two posts that hold it up. So they took that blood and painted it on their doors.

The implication here is if the Hebrews did not do this, their firstborn too would die. They have to do this so the plague will pass by then.

Moses also instructs them that they are to celebrate this event every year. If you look back over the previous verses of chapter 12 you’ll see Moses gives the people some very specific instructions on how to celebrate this event. And Passover is something that Jesus celebrated in his day, over 1500 years later and that people still celebrate today, over 3500 years later. This is an ancient celebration. A celebration that we call Passover.

Now can someone read Exodus 12:29-30?

29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.

So the plague comes to pass and the first born of the Egyptians die. Remember these people knew it was coming, Moses warned them, so when it says they arose in the night, they probably didn’t sleep at all that night. Worried, anxious, checking on their kids. And then it happened, just as Moses said. A situation that could have been averted if Moses just let the people go.

Can someone read Exodus 12:31-32?

31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!”

So in the middle of this horrible night, Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron to him and says “go away.” He lets them go. The Hebrews win, and it has cost the Egyptians dearly.

Now I want us to pause a minute here and dwell on this, because I know some of you are concerned about and brought up numerous times the morality of Passover. So let’s think about it for a moment. What do you guys think? Here we have a situation where Egyptians have enslaved the Hebrews for generations. Then to make matters worse, the Egyptians kill the sons of all the Hebrews, in fear that the Hebrews might rise up against him. Make no mistake, the Egyptians have completely oppressed and subjugated the Hebrews.

God saves the Hebrews, by using a former-Egyptian prince born of Hebrews to come back as his mouthpiece. Moses tells Pharaoh to let them go, but Pharaoh doesn’t want to. God starts with some rather minor plagues—things that are more annoyances than death sentences. Frogs. Gnats. Flies. These are annoying and disgusting but no one is dying from this. Pharaoh is still stubborn. Then he escalates a little: boils on the skin. Personally annoying and painful, but probably not going to kill you. Pharaoh is still stubborn. Worse, Pharaoh has now gone into this whole “I’m going to lie and say I’ll set you free but not do it” sort of mentality.  So the plagues get worse to the point where they will have longterm detrimental consequences on Egypt. And we see other people get convinced to Moses’s side of things, but not Pharaoh. Pharaoh is still stubborn. So it escalates to this final plague: the death of the firstborns of all of Egypt. Finally Pharaoh lets the Hebrews go.

So what do you guys think about this story? I want to hear your thoughts.

[Let them answer.]

Note to Leader: I would like this to be an honest to goodness discussion as much as possible. So I’ve created a few talking points that you can bring up as the discussion goes this way or allows.

·         Passover Thoughts:

o   I want us to think about that word for a moment. If you’re familiar with this story you know what happens next, pharaoh is going to let them go. So you would think what the Hebrews would celebrate would be Liberation Day! Or Freedom Day! Or “Thank God for saving us from the Egyptians” Day! Instead the Jewish people celebrate Passover, which in Hebrew is Pesach. So what people are celebrating is not that they were liberated, but rather that they were passed over. Basically they’re celebrating that God didn’t kill them too. Because that would have given them the same result, in that pharaoh would have still freed their people. But God pass over them. I find this very interesting.

o   Quote from article you may want to read: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-daniel-brenner/does-passover-celebrate-the-death-of-innocent-egyptians_b_2821971.html “....during the Seder there is a tradition to express sadness at the demise of the Egyptians. The joy of the celebration is diminished at every seder by recalling the impact of each plague on ordinary Egyptians. As every plague is read, a drop of wine is removed from the cup, and at the mention of the final plague—the death of the Egyptian firstborn—our joy is diminished doubly as we removed two drops of wine from our cups.” So Jewish people recognize that their freedom came at great cost to others.

·         Just vs. Fair (a very traditional sort of interpretation)

o   Is the death of common Egyptians when it’s Pharaoh’s stubbornness (not their own) that’s keeping the Hebrews present fair? No. But Fair and Just aren’t the same thing.

o   We tend to think “fair” means equitable. Everyone gets a fair share. Everything is balance and fair.

o   Whereas “justice” has more to do with right and wrong. Is it fair that a child has to lose her father if her father murders someone else? No. But it is just that the father go to jail.

o   God’s law was the ultimate law, not Pharaoh’s. Pharaoh had to pay the price for breaking the ultimate law.

·         This is war.

o   It’s a war that the Egyptian started. The Egyptians and Hebrews were living together peaceable and then the Egyptians escalated everything. They killed the first baby. Not the Hebrews.

·         Counter-arguments:

o   Didn’t God make and love the Egyptians too?

o   What about Jesus’s whole love your enemy thing? Or turning the other cheek?

Conclusion:

I have no easy answer here for you guys. I know the traditional answers, and the pat answers. I can even provide some historical Jewish interpretations. But this isn’t a thing we’re going to find a trite answer to in Sunday School.

The Hebrews were God chosen’s people. They had lost faith. And this whole sequence is part of the story of God wooing the Hebrews back to him. When you think of it in a story context and in the greater context of the whole Bible, that’s the beauty of it. God remembering his people and protecting them, like a mother who defends her young against predators. Even when the Hebrews stray, God still loves them and brings them back home. Just like even when you misbehave, your parents still love you and try to keep you safe.

That can justify your parents killing someone who attacks you—it falls under self-defense. But it doesn’t justify your parents then going and murdering that person’s entire family—even if that person killed you. Or at least it doesn’t according to our modern sensibilities.

And that’s part of the problem, sometimes, when we view these old stories. We’re post-modern people in a post-modern world. Post-modern, post-enlightenment, literate people who have these crazy ideas about morality that probably would have been very foreign to someone like Moses. 

But I think there are a couple of things we can remember and take away here.

First off God is not a human. He is God. He is beyond our comprehension. His ways are foreign to us. There is a verse in Isaiah that says this: I’ll read it. It’s Isaiah 55:8-9

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As Christians we will spend our whole lives trying to understand God and his will for us, but the truth is we cannot comprehend him and we never will until we get to heaven and see him face to face. And maybe not even then! Who knows if at that moment we will have perfect understanding. But at least then we’ll be able to speak with him in a more direct way and sit in his presence.

Secondly, whenever you read a Bible story and you’re not sure how you feel about it or if it disturbs you, remember that is okay. Never forget that Jacob literally wrestled with God, literally fought Him. It is okay to struggle with God. It’s okay to struggle with the Bible. It is okay to doubt. God uses these struggles to teach us something and sometimes to bless us, just like with Jacob. Because after Jacob physically struggled with God, God blessed him and changed his name.

And finally, when you come across a story like this and you’re not sure how it means, I want you to take a step back and ask yourself this question. What does this story tell us about God, in light of Jesus? What do I mean by this? Well remember the Bible is not God, the Bible is simply a tool God has used to reveal himself to us. But Jesus is God. He is the living physical incarnation of our God. And as Christians we should view everything in the old Testament in the light of Jesus.

And when I look at this story, I see how powerful God is. The amazing things he can do. But also how patient he can be. God could have gone immediately to the final plague. He could have been like “DEATH TO EVERYONE” from the beginning. But instead he gave Pharaoh multiple chances to change his mind. God gave the person who had single-handedly been enslaving and subjugating his people a chance. Just as he did when he sent Jesus.

When Jesus came to this earth, the Jewish people were once again oppressed, by this time by the Romans. And the Romans were not innocent in Jesus’s death. They were the law that allowed it, the law that turned their back on him. But God even saved them. From the Roman centurion who realized after he crucified Jesus that Jesus must be the Son of God, to the people of Rome in the church Paul helped found there, the Romans were brought to God. God reconciled them to him.

And remember with Jesus we have become grafted into God’s covenant. We are now a part of God’s chosen people. So in this story of the Exodus we would not be the Egyptians, we would all—anyone of any ethnicity or background—be the ones God works tirelessly and patiently to save.

And that’s what this story teaches us about God. He’s got our back. And he will never let outside forces take us (as a people) from him. He will do whatever it takes to keep us with him, and let that be a comfort to you. 

Torn by Justin Lee

Statistics:
Title: Torn: Rescuing the Gospel form the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate
Author: Justin Lee
Pages: 272
Genre: Faith, Biblical Living, LGBT issues,
Age Range: Adult
Publication Date: January 1, 2012
Publisher: Jericho Books
Medium: Audiobook

What brought this book to your attention?

I heard about this book from two different fronts: (1) Rachel Held Evans recommended it on her blog, and (2) I stumbled across Justin Lee on the internet. I immediately knew it was a book I wanted to read, since the "Gay vs. Christian" debate is a very real debate in our modern world. I've struggled with wanting to be an "affirming" Christian (i.e. someone who wants to affirm gay relationships) but unsure how I can Biblically take such a position. So I've been trying to seek out books that discuss this issue.

This book is definitely one of those books. In Torn, Justin Lee tells his story as growing up Southern Baptist and discovering he's gay. This book is his testimony, his journey with God and his struggle with his sexuality. This is not a man who lightly made a "choice" to be gay. This is a man who struggled mightily against the sexuality he was born with, who denied it, tried to change it, and struggled with God and His Word before coming to any conclusions. This not a man who takes God's Word lightly, and neither does he ask his reader.

I've never read a book that is so fair to all parties involved. Lee is not condemning the Christians who tried to change or fix him. He understands and loves them, because they are his family, his people, and once upon a time he was them. He just wants to tell his story, so Christians understand his struggle as a gay Christian. He wants to educated and enlighten.

We of the Southern Baptist flavor of Christianity have always put a strong emphasis on personal testimonies, personal stories of how God moved in people's life. This is Justin Lee's testimony. And a very gracious and educational addition to any reading list on the topic. 

Did you learn anything?

Any Biblical arguments Justin Lee made in his book I had already heard; however, for anyone new to the discussion of the Biblical arguments for gay celibacy or gay monogamous relationships in a Christian context this book provides a high level groundwork for that discussion. Justin Lee takes a stance towards the end of where he stands on this discussion, but he is certainly not of the "YOU MUST AGREE WITH ME OR ELSE" variety of person. He's just like "This is what I believe and these are other things other people also believe."

However, I did learn a lot about the ex-gay movement. I didn't know a lot about it, because the ex-gay movement only came on my radar as it was ending. At the time this book was written, the ex-gay movement was still strong and on-going. Now most ex-gay groups have closed doors and admitted that their promise of changing people from gay to straight basically never worked.

It was fascinating and heartbreaking  to hear this personal story of a young man's struggles with trying to change his orientation, his struggles with his faith in the light of the fact he couldn't change it, and trying to figure out what it meant for his life going forward.

Did you disagree with anything?

You can and may disagree with Justin's conclusion that gay married relationships are acceptable in the Christian faith. Personally, I am becoming more convinced every day to the affirming position. However for me, one of the nice things about this book is that he allows for disagreement. He doesn't require you agree with him, because getting you to that solution is not his final point, not the purpose of his book. Justin's main point is to educate the straight Christian community on the struggles of gay Christian, and why some gay Christians get to the solutions they do: whether that's pretending to be straight, celibacy, or a same-sex marriage. Justin is clear in which solution he has chosen, but he's also clear that we should support celibate gay Christians, and that if a gay Christian decides to enter into a straight marriage they are as equally held to those vows as any straight person.

How did you like the book overall?

I loved this book and honestly think every Christian should read this book--whether you're struggling with the debate or not. Even if you think gay people should never be allowed to enter into romantic or sexual relationships and at the end of the book you still think that, the book allows for that and better shows you how to love the gay Christians in your midst. We can not help our brothers and sisters in Christ if we do not understand their struggle. We should not condemn them without listening to them. And that is ultimately Justin's moral. Listen first.

That is advice any Christian can use in any situation, but especially in this one. We jump so quickly to condemnation without even hearing people's stories and trials.

Read this book. Hear the story. You won't regret it.

Moses and the Plagues (Moses Part 4)

Note: When I did this lesson I was pressed for time. Also the teacher of the other hour of Middle School Sunday School was sick, so I taught both hours, so there wasn't as much reason for me to write up a pretty post explaining all my notes. So this post is basically just my notes. Next time I do this set of lessons I will come back and pretty this up, but for now, I present my notes.

Summary of Last Lesson

  • Moses comes to free the Israelites, Pharaoh says no, Israelites lose faith, and no one is happy.

Exodus 7:8-13: Staffs turn to snakes

  • Staff turns to snake.
  • This a sign that literally hurts no one, but pharaoh is unmoved by it. This is basically the warning shot across the bow.

Exodus 7:20-25: WATER TO BLOOD

  • Moses turns the water into blood.
  • Pharaoh’s magicians pull off the same trick
  • Pharaoh is like “meh”
  • People dig wells since they have nothing else to drink
  • God leaves it that way for seven days

Exodus 8:6-15: FROGS EVERYWHERE

  • Frogs are called. It’s super annoying.(Note: I described this to them as "frogs on your bed, frogs in your bathroom, you can't step without stepping on frogs, you're sitting in your seat and frogs in your lap. FROGS EVERYWHERE." And the Middle Schoolers were like O.O )
  • Pharaoh’s magicians pull off the same trick but Pharaoh is super annoyed
  • Pharaoh is basically like “okay okay, I’ll let you go just let it stop”
  • Moses is like “cool. Lemme tell God”
  • God stops it and Pharaoh is like “PSYCHE”
  • The people are not set free

Exodus 8:16-19: GNATS

  • Gnats are called and magicians can not recreate it. Magicians are like “surely this is God.” They beg pharaoh to relent he’s like “nah bro”
  • (Note: Imagine one of those swarms of gnats you occasionally walk into when you're outside are just around your head constantly and you can't get rid of them.)

Exodus 8:25-32: Flies and Pharaoh tries to compromise

  • Plague of flies is very similar to plague of gnats
  • Remember this three day journey to sacrifice is what was originally asked for. Pharaoh finally seems annoyed enough by all these plagues to want to allow it
  • But not TOO far, Pharaoh says. 
  • Moses stops the flies, and Pharaoh is like “PSYCHE” no one gets to go no where

Exodus 9:6-7: Livestock die

  • The moment when plagues go from mere annoyances to having for realz lasting consequences.
  • God kills the Egyptian livestock but not the Hebrew ones
  • If we look back to verse 9:3 we see this includes horses, donkeys, camels, herds, and any flocks. So basically everything.
  • Pharaoh is still like NEWP.

Exodus 9:8-12: plague of boils

  • So is a boil is basically an infected hair follicle or oil gland. It gets all red, turns into a lump, and like gets pus. So it’s a lot like a pimple but imagine it’s everywhere and can be accompanied by a fever and like swollen lymph nodes because it’s basically a staph infection in your hair follicles. Very unpleasant. This could also lead to sores which are also unpleasant and can be like blisters. So basically imagine this is a whole bunch of skin infections all over your body.
  • The magicians in this scenario are like “we can’t even show up because this is so freaking awful and painful”
  • Pharaoh is still like “newp”

Exodus 9:18-35: Hail

  • Hail is something you guys are familiar with, but it can be huge and deadly.
  • This plague is interesting because some Egyptians did listen to God and brought in all their stuff, because by this time they were like “WE GET IT. GOD IS POWERFUL.”
  • But other Egyptians didn’t listen.
  • The hail was so bad anyone who was out in it died and it destroyed the crops, though not all of them. And that’s going to be important for the next plague, because it shows the Egyptians still hav something, they still have something to lose.
  • Pharaoh once again does his whole “if you stop it I’ll let you go.” So Moses stops it and then Pharaoh is like “PSYCHE” once again

Exodus 10:3-11: Locusts

  • Locusts are bugs that come in and eat EVERYTHING. Like swarms of locusts are still something farmers fear.
  • So Moses is like this is going to happen! And you will have nothing left. The food that remains will be gone!!!!
  • Pharaoh is lke “FINE. You can go, but….who are you taking?”
  • Moses: EVERYONE
  • Pharaoh: uh, no. Not gonna happen. Rather have locusts.

Exodus 10:13-20

  • Locusts come, Pharaoh freaks out, asks for them to be removed, Moses does so, Pharaoh doesn’t let nobody go nowhere

Exodus 10:21-29: Darkness

  • Darkness for three days. That is terrifying.
  • Pharaoh is like “okay you can go but leave your livestock”
  • Moses is like “we kinda need it’
  • Pharaoh is like “THEN FINE YOU STAY”

End note: Originally I had intended to go all the way through the final plague in this lesson, but the class discussion was such that we didn't make it that far. So next lesson will be the final plague and passover!

Moses Goes Back to Egypt (Moses Part 3)

Last week we talked about how God gave Moses a mission. Who remembers what that mission was? [Let them answer.]

Right. It’s his job to go back and set all the Israelites free. Now was Moses excited about this task? [Let them answer.]

Yeah he definitely was not excited, and he gave God every excuse in the book to not do his job. In the end he mostly relented, but as we’ll see today, he’s still like “Are you sure God?” almost every step of the way, trying to get someone else to do the task. Because this is not a fun task, and one Moses doesn’t think he’s well suited for.

Now last week in one of the classes there was a little bit of confusion over the pharaohs. So I want to reiterate quickly. The Pharaoh who ordered the death of all the Israelite baby boys is a different Pharaoh from the one we’ll be talking about today. The previous Pharaoh is traditionally considered to be the Pharaoh named Seti, and if you ever watch a movie about Moses like Prince of Egypt or the Ten Commandments that’s the name he’ll have. We don’t know for sure if it was really Seti or not. Now while Moses is out in Midian, that first pharaoh dies and a new pharaoh takes over Egypt. Traditionally this pharaoh is considered to be Rameses and that’s how he’s referred to in most Moses movies. But like the first pharaoh, neither pharaoh is named in the Bible.

Moses was picked up by the first pharaoh’s daughter, making him the first pharaoh’s grandson. We don’t know how Moses was related to this second pharaoh. It could be any number of things. Royal successions are weird. He could be the first pharaoh’s son, but if the first pharaoh had no sons, he could be the first pharaoh’s grandson or his brother’s son, or some other male relation. Most Moses movies will portray them as closely related because that makes for a really good story, a great familial tension, if Moses and Rameses were close in age. But we don’t know that. Rameses could be old enough to be Moses father.

All we really know is that the Pharaoh Moses fled when he left Egypt is not the person who is pharaoh when he returns to Egypt.

Okay, so Moses is headed back to Egypt and this new Pharaoh. But God’s not sending him alone. Can someone read Exodus 4:27-31?

27 The Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went; and he met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28 Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which he had sent him, and all the signs with which he had charged him. 29 Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the Israelites. 30 Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses, and performed the signs in the sight of the people. 31 The people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had given heed to the Israelites and that he had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.

So God tells Aaron—Moses’s brother—to go meet Moses who’s on his way in. Because remember, Moses thinks he’s not very good at talking, so God was like “Okay, but your brother Aaron is, so he’ll help you out.”

Moses and Aaron meet up and Moses explains everything. Then with Aaron’s help, Moses gathers all the leaders of Israel and then Aaron explains everything. And at this point, the elders are really hopeful! They’re like “God has heard us! He’s going to save us! Thank goodness!”

They may even think it’s going to be easy and fast. Because God is God, he can do whatever he wants. So some of these people may expect that they’ll just go back, grab everyone else and leave, easy peasy. But God doesn’t always do everything the easy way, does he?

Now it’s time for Moses to let Pharaoh in on this whole freedom thing. So can someone read Exodus 5:1-5?

5 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.” 3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labors!” 5 Pharaoh continued, “Now they are more numerous than the people of the land and yet you want them to stop working!”

Moses and Aaron tell Pharaoh that God says he needs to let the Hebrews go. And Pharaoh basically laughs in their face. He doesn’t know this God. And he refuses to give up the Hebrews. The Hebrews’  are Pharaoh’s slaves, to do work for Pharaoh, and he’s not going to let them go. On top of that, we’re about to see he’s going to punish them for even asking.

Can someone read Exodus 5:6-13?

6 That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labor at it and pay no attention to deceptive words.”

10 So the taskmasters and the supervisors of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get straw yourselves, wherever you can find it; but your work will not be lessened in the least.’” 12 So the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt, to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, the same daily assignment as when you were given straw.”

One of the jobs of the Hebrews had to do was make bricks, presumably for construction. These bricks would basically be made with straw and clay. The Egyptians would provide the ingredients and the Hebrews would put it together. But as punishment for asking for their freedom, Pharaoh is basically like “We’re not providing the straw anymore. Go find your own straw. And oh yeah, you need to still produce the same amount of bricks you were making before.”

This is basically impossible.

And the Hebrews are pretty upset. They were told they were going to be freed. Not punished! Someone read Exodus 5:20-23.

20 As they left Pharaoh, they came upon Moses and Aaron who were waiting to meet them. 21 They said to them, “The Lord look upon you and judge! You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

22 Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”

The Hebrews are upset and they basically go to Moses and Aaron and are like “You said you would free us and now our lives our worse! What have you done? You’re going to kill us, not free us.”

The Hebrews lives were already hard. They were already slaves. Then Moses came along and said God wanted to deliver them out of their slavery. They probably thought that meant they would instantly be free. But that’s not the case. Instead their lives got worse. It’s no wonder they were angry. Moses gave them hope and it seemed to be for not.

And Moses instead of calming their fears and smoothing feathers, he takes their concern to God. He’s basically like “What the heck are you doing God?”

Sometimes people like to say it’s not our place to question God, and to a certain extent that’s true. We are not God. We can’t understand why he does the things he does. But right here, Moses is questioning God. He’s not just questioning God. He’s taking God to task. He’s like “Hey God, remember that thing you said you were going to do? Maybe you should freaking do it!”

It takes a lot of gumption to say something like that to God. And it would be within God’s rights to be like “Please, child, I don’t answer to you” and basically smite Moses where he stands. But as we’ve already seen with the story of Jacob and so many others, God is not opposed to us wrestling with him. It is okay to take your concerns to God and sometimes be a little angry about it. God understands your emotions, he wants you tell him what you’re feeling. And sometimes he responds with, “I’m God. I don’t need to explain myself to you. I’ve got it. Chill.” And sometimes he explains himself. Like here he will. Can someone read Exodus 6:1-8?

6 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh: Indeed, by a mighty hand he will let them go; by a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land.”

2 God also spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the Lord. 3 I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name ‘The Lord’ I did not make myself known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they resided as aliens. 5 I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. 6 Say therefore to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’”

God explains himself to Moses. He basically tells him that he’s going to make Pharaoh want to send the Hebrews out of the land, the very same Pharaoh who just basically laughed in Moses face and said he would never give the Hebrews up. God is going to change his mind that much.

Then he reiterates the covenant he made with Abraham to Moses. God has not forgotten his promises. And he says he will take them out of Egypt and back to the promised land, and through this all of the Hebrews will know him as their God.

Can someone read Exodus 6:9?

9 Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.

Moses goes back and tells the Hebrews what God told him. But the Hebrews spirit is broken. They don’t believe. And I think this is very important. We’re about to study and talk about plagues being rained down on Egypt and there will be the question of why God did this. Why did it take so many plagues and miracles to convince Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go?

And I think this is why.

I think it’s less about punishing the Egyptians, and more about making the Hebrews believe again. These are a broken people. They have lost their faith. They do not think God can deliver them. And now God is going to show them just what his might and power can do. And he is going to remind him that this covenant thing is a two-way street. He is theirs, and they are his. The Hebrews belong to God.

Can someone read Exodus 6:10-12?

10 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, 11 “Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his land.” 12 But Moses spoke to the Lord, “The Israelites have not listened to me; how then shall Pharaoh listen to me, poor speaker that I am?” 13 Thus the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, and gave them orders regarding the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, charging them to free the Israelites from the land of Egypt.

God speaks to Moses again, and tells him to go back to Pharaoh. But Moses is like “I couldn’t even get the people I’m supposed to free to listen to me. Why is Pharaoh going to?” Moses is trying to get out of his job again, but this time it’s not just because he hasn’t even tried. He’s talked to Pharaoh once and he’s talked to the Israelites. And neither time has it gone well. Moses is kind of like “I told you so God. I can’t speak well and that’s the downfall of this whole plan of yours.”

God doesn’t even deign Moses’s doubts with a response this time. Instead he’s just like, “Here’s my plan.”

Can someone read Exodus 7:1-7?

7 The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. 2 You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his land. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. 4 When Pharaoh does not listen to you, I will lay my hand upon Egypt and bring my people the Israelites, company by company, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. 5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them.” 6 Moses and Aaron did so; they did just as the Lord commanded them. 7 Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.

God tells Moses he has made him like God to Pharaoh. What does that mean? Well remember, Pharaoh would consider himself a god. Pharaoh was the representative of the Egyptain gods on earth. God is basically sort of elevating Moses to that same status. Moses is God’s representative on the earth. Moses will be speaking God’s words to Pharaoh. Later in the Bible the word prophet will be used for this, for someone whose job it is to talk with God and speak God’s words to his people. Here it says Aaron is Moses’ prophet. That basically relates back to the whole, Moses thinks he’s a bad speaker thing. Moses will tell Aaron what God tells him and Aaron will put it in pretty and clear words for pharaoh to listen to.

God tells them to go back to Pharaoh and ask them to let the Hebrews go, but that God will harden pharaoh’s heart. What does this mean? Well people argue about this. For some people it means God actually kept Pharaoh from realizing he should let the Hebrews go. God purposefully affected the pharaoh so he’d be stubborn. And God’s reason for this is he wants to show all his wonders, to convince not just the Egyptians but also the Hebrews that God is God. Then once God has done all the wonders he intends to do, he changes pharaoh’s mind so that pharaoh releases the Hebrews.

The other interpretation is that God knows what pharaoh is going to do, because God is God and he can see everything—past and present. So he doesn’t have to actively harden pharaoh’s heart, he knows that pharaoh will choose not to let the Hebrews go. And God knows exactly how many signs and wonders it will take to get pharaoh to change his mind.

This is basically a mini predestination vs. free will debate—which we briefly talked about a few weeks ago. Both interpretations are equally valid. Regardless, in both situations God is sovereign. Pharaoh’s stubbornness is used to further God’s plan—whether it was God who made Pharaoh stubborn or Pharaoh who chose to be. Because pharaoh was stubborn, God was able to basically show off his impressive miracles, signs, and wonders, and remind the Hebrews that he is there God and he is capable of more than they can possible imagine. 

We see something similar to this again in the New Testament. I want you guys to flip to the book of John. Remember John is the fourth book of the New Testament. In the Gospels—the books of the Bible known as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—Jesus performs many miracles. He turns water into wine, he heals cripples and blind people, he raises people from the dead. But still people didn’t believe in him. The verses we’re about to read are talking about that. So in the first verse when it refers to “he” it’s referring to Jesus but when it says “they” it’s referring to people who didn’t believe.

Can someone read John 12:37-43?

37 Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

“Lord, who has believed our message,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart and turn—
    and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. 42 Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

So this section is talking about how Jesus did all these miracles, but people still didn’t believe in him. Not just that they didn’t believe he was the Son of God and Messiah, but they thought he was a fraud! They saw these miracles with their own eyes and still tried to discredit them.

The writer of John—which is John—references the book of Isaiah to explain this, saying God hardened the hearts of these people. But then he also talks about people who want to believe but basically they love their power more than they love God, and they know if they follow Jesus they will lose favor with the religious authorities—who hate Jesus.

Those people God didn’t actively harden their hearts. They chose not to follow Jesus. They chose their power over Jesus.

And the religious authorities John is referring to? Did God actively harden their hearts? Maybe. This is the same debate. God certainly has the power to do so, and there are many Christians who believe this is how God operates. He chooses actively who believes or who doesn’t. However, this can also be reconciled with freewill. The Pharisees and religious leaders choose not to believe Jesus because it is a threat to everything they ever believed to be true. And if Jesus is real, they will lose all their power. Because these guys had a lot of power as the religious leaders of Israel. They had wealth, they had the trust of people, and they had to a certain extent the trust of the Roman government. They had a lot to lose by saying that this Jesus guy was the Messiah.

This debate of predestination vs. free will is not one we’re going to solve today. I don’t think anyone on this earth will ever solve it while living. I think in a strange way we can’t understand both are probably simultaneously true, and it’s probably really complicated and has to do with the fact that God sees so much more than we do, and we’re incredibly limited by this three dimensional, time bound earth. Whichever you choose to believe, I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong. As previously discussed, I lean heavily towards free-will but the Presbyterian Church as a denomination accepts predestination as true.

Regardless, of where you fall on the debate, we do know something. Jesus came to save whoever would believe in him. It’s John 3:16.

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

We can argue about who creates that kernel of belief in a believer, but do not doubt that God loves you and this verse applies to you. Because it does. When I memorized this verse in the King James it says “whosoever believeth in him.” There is an old hymn we used to sing when I grew up where the main chorus was “whosoever surely meaneth me.” If you believe it means you, it does. Whosoever can mean everyone in here if you just believe.

And with that we’ll stop. Next week we’ll talk about the plagues of Egypt.

Loki, The Prodigal Son, and Me

Note One: This is a remix of my original series of posts on the subject, which you can read here: I am Loki.

Note Two: This is the story of how the movie Thor helped me understand the prodigal son story. But I want to say upfront: if your parents are abusive (physically, emotionally, verbally, etc.), you are in no way obligated to ever go home to them. Even if they accuse you of being a “prodigal.” Even if they say you are “bitter.” Take care of yourself. This is just the story of how Thor helped me come to terms with the prodigal son story and your mileage may vary.

*  *  *

There is a story as ancient as time.

Two brothers.

They both seek to be blessed and loved.

One brother is favored. The other brother is not.

The ending isn’t always the same. Sometimes a brother is killed (Cain). Sometimes he must flee (Jacob). Sometimes he is sold into slavery (Joseph). Sometimes he demands his inheritance and leaves of his own free will (Luke 15).

It is a story we still tell. Even to the point that is serves as the emotional backbone of an entire superhero franchise.

For a story to be repeated so many times, it must be important. It must bear truth.

For a story to be spoken by Jesus, it must be truth.

For a story to be put in a Marvel movie, it must have a hero and a villain. And the clear hero of the Thor franchise is Thor, while the villain is his brother Loki.

*  *  *

There is a son who demands his inheritance. He doesn’t want to stay home and work under his father’s rule. He wants to strike out on his own, be his own man.

His father allows him.

But things do not go the way the son expected, and soon he seeks to come back to his father’s house.

His father runs out to greet him, kisses him, and throws him a party.

There is another son.

This son stayed home. This son believed that staying home and serving his father was for the best—possibly for his own gain and possibly because he honestly wanted to do what was right and serve his family. This son never strayed. He never wandered. He never caused his father to worry.

And he watched as his father stared out the window, almost every day, hoping that a wayward child might come home.

So maybe he worked harder. Trying to please his father, to erase the sadness from his face. If he just worked harder, if he was just a better son, if he just did more, maybe his father could forget all about the son who abandoned him.

And one day the son is working out in the fields, doing his duty to his family. He looks up and sees in the distance that there seems to be a commotion at the house.

He sees a servant and asks what is going on.

“Your brother has returned!” the servant responds joyfully. “We’re throwing a party!”

Returned? A party? But no one told him. Were they going to let him work in the field through the entire party? Was he going to be out here doing his duty to his family for no reward while his brother who abandoned them was getting a party?

So he sulks in the field—doing his work, his duty, because it seems that’s all he was ever good for anyway.

The father comes out eventually, perhaps suddenly remembering he has two sons. But he does personally come out—finally—and personally invite him into the party.

But the son is hurt. And his hurt manifests in anger.

He says angry words, which his father hears, but his father does not hear the words on his heart. For even though he is a grown man, his heart is crying a child’s lament: “I just want you to love me.”

And for that he is the villain of this tale. For that he is immortalized by churches as the brother whose heart was too encased in bitterness that he wouldn’t join the party.

Was his heart hard? Yes, his heart was glass. It had withstood all the scratches of the past several years. It was scratched when his brother left, saying “I don’t care about this family.” It was scratched when his father would stare out the window lost in sadness instead of paying attention to the son he had at home. It was scratched every time the son started a conversation with his father about his own hopes and dreams, only to have the conversation turn back to the lost brother.

But his heart was glass, so it could withstand that. Because hard materials can be scratched without compromising their integrity.

But his heart was glass, so when he wasn’t invited to the party—when his own father briefly forgot about his existence—his heart shattered. Because hard doesn’t mean tough. And glass is brittle.

Because despite all his hard work, it seems in the end, no one really cares about him.

*  *  *

The prodigal son story always bothered me. From my teens years, through college, and graduate school, even after college, this story filled my heart with anger.

I had heard too many preachers expound on this subject. I had heard to many “prodigals” speak of how comforting it is that the father saw the “prodigal” from the window, meaning the father must always have been there at the window waiting for him.

If the father was waiting at the window, didn’t that mean his other son was being ignored? Why didn’t the father even consider sending a servant out to get the other son? He had to find out from a passing servant for goodness sake. Doesn’t that show the father in fact doesn’t care about him?

“But everything you already have is mine,” says the parent. Because yes, father, what I care about is your financial wealth, and not your attention, time, or love. Obviously.

*  *  *

There is a king, called Odin, who has two sons, close in age. He raises them in competition, telling them they are both meant to be kings.

But there can only be one king of Asgard.

The oldest son takes after his father. He is all brawn and athleticism, quick to make merry and quick to anger. He is brash and bold. A golden child. He is called Thor.

The younger son takes after his mother. He is quiet and reserved, slow to speak and slow to anger. But his mind is frighteningly fast and others can not keep up with its twists and turns. He is called Loki.

The two are inseparable. They are best friends and bitter enemies.

Only one child can receive the father's ultimate blessing and birthright. Only one child can be king.

In the end, it seems that it is Thor who will become king, but on the day of his coronation something goes wrong. Frost giants--the Jotun, who are the mortal enemies of Asgard--attack.

The father, who is still king despite the started coronation, thinks no action should be taken. Thor thinks Asgard should bring its full might to bear on Jotunheim.

Thor says, "As king of Asgard...!"

"But you're not king. Not yet," his father reminds him.

It will be Thor's inheritance to be king, but it is not yet his inheritance to have.

Once his father leaves, Thor devises a plan to go to Jotunheim anyway. He decides to punish them himself. As if he was king. But he's not.

He starts a war.

In the end his father is there to save them, as fathers do. And there are harsh words spoken between father and son. The father calls his son vain and cruel. Thor calls him a fool.

Odin realizes his son is not ready for the inheritance he is demanding, maybe not ever ready for it. So he banishes him.

Leaving another son left behind.

Loki.

Quiet Loki. Cunning Loki. Mischievous Loki.

Loki, who more than anything just wants to be loved.

But while following his brother to Jotunheim Loki discovered something horrifying.

He is actually a Frost Giant.

Suddenly Loki is re-watching his whole life with a different lens. Things that didn't make sense as a child--times when he was treated differently from Thor for no apparent reason--suddenly make sense. The pieces fall into place. Because Loki is a Frost Giant, and his parents have known that all along. That's why he's different.

That's why no matter how good he is, no matter how hard he works or tries to excel, he is never going to be king. Because a Frost Giant is never going to sit on the throne of Asgard.

Loki is confused and angry, but ultimately nothing has changed other than life makes more sense. His desires are still the same. He still wants to be his father's son. He wants to be Thor's equal. But most importantly, he wants to be loved.

Odin has a heart attack and is placed in a coma. Suddenly Loki is king. Because he's the only one home. He's the only one there to take care of Asgard. Because Thor was brash and demanded his inheritance before it was rightfully his. Now Loki has the burden of the entire family, people, and world on his shoulders.

Loki, the son left behind, must do his duty.

And Loki is king. He is now within his rights to demand the retribution from Jotunheim that his brother also wanted. But Loki learned from Thor's blunt force attack on Jotunheim. He cannot win such a battle. So Loki devises a clever plan. Perhaps too clever.

He invites the king of Jotunheim into Asgard to kill Odin, as if Loki is a traitor. The king takes him up on the offer. But right when the king is in Odin's throne room, Loki kills him. In one fell swoop Loki topples the Jotun's government and saves his own father.

A clever plan. Too clever for anyone else to understand. They can't understand it, so it backfires.

The prodigal son returns at the climax of Loki's victory.

Thor claims he's changed. He is a better man and able to be king after maybe three days on Earth. And as always everyone falls all over the prodigal son returned.

Suddenly Loki is the bitter son in the background, the villain.

But he did it for his family--his adopted family that he still loves regardless. He even killed his own biological father--the king of Jotunheim--to prove how much he loved his adopted family!

But it's not good enough. It never is. He is always second. Always one step below. Always the bitter, angry brother in the background.

In the end when Odin looks at Loki and says, "no Loki," Loki breaks.

He did everything for Odin. He just wants to be the son Odin wants, the son he esteems, the son he loves, and instead Odin looks at Loki as if he's the biggest disappointment.

And in that moment, Loki realizes there is nothing he can do. He will never be equal to Thor. He will always be Loki, the mischievous one. Never the thunder god.

So he gives up.

Because it's hard to love them. It's too hard to continue trying. It's too hard to get continuously rejected. So he gives up.

He lets go.

Everything in Loki's life was done to be a better son, a better part of the family, to prove himself an equal part of the family. Instead they think he's the villain.

And if they're going to think he's a villain, he might as well be one.

*  *  *

I don’t know if it’s true for everyone whose sibling goes prodigal, but for me when a sibling went astray, I wanted to work harder, to be a better child. Not necessarily for myself—but because I didn’t want my parents to hurt anymore. I thought if only I was better, if only I was a perfect child who demonstrated that it wasn’t their parenting, but rather that other child’s own personal ways that led them astray, maybe they’d feel better.

I did everything right.

I got nothing I wanted.

Because you can’t erase another child’s delinquency with your own inerrancy.

But Lord did I try.

I failed. I felt like a failure. I felt taken for granted. 

I felt unloved. Because the amount of time and worry my parents expended on this prodigal child—on a child who wasn’t even there—was more than it seemed I ever got.

And I felt that either my entire life was going to be this: being a perfect child who cannot afford to slip up and do anything wrong lest I cause my already hurting parents even more pain and disappointment.

Being the non-prodigal results in things like this. I call my parents weeping, over a serious issue in my life. But oh hark! Call waiting pings! AND IT’S THE PRODIGAL. “Oh joy! The prodigal is calling! We must answer! Just to hear their voice!” The parents hang up on the weeping child who needs them with a “we’ll call you back.” I am left on a dead phone line not sure how to progress. How long will their phone conversation last? Will they call me back?

I didn’t know. I just knew the prodigal was more important than me.

Always.

So I hardened my heart against these parental infractions against me, because isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? The good child just takes it, right? We don’t leave. We don’t fight. We just submit.

Our heart gets harder.

Our heart gets brittle.

Every time the prodigal hints they might come home, we throw the party! And when the prodigal doesn’t follow through or leaves again, it’s the child left behind who picks up the pieces. And for that the good child gets no praise. No reward. Because their behavior is expected.

So perhaps it’s no wonder I would walk out on sermons about the prodigal son. That I would get in fights with people in my Bible Study over what this story meant, that usually ended with me in tears.

*  *  *

There is a moment in Thor where Loki and his mother are having a conversation by the sickbed of Odin. They're talking about why Odin and Frigga never told Loki he's a frost giant. His mother is trying to explain. Loki doesn't get it, and he's worried about his father, who seems so frail, so sick, so old. Loki loves his father and doesn't want him to die. And his mother tells him to never lose hope, not for his father or for Thor. And Loki responds:

"What hope is there for Thor?"

Oh, that question. That is not a question where Loki is condemning Thor. That is not a question of wishing the brother was gone. The emotion of the question is, "Why are we talking about this right now? We're supposed to be talking about me and the fact that I'm a frost giant and you never freakin' told me? Can we please get back to me?"

But of course he doesn't voice that. Because that would be selfish. And we're not supposed to be selfish, no matter how much we work just for our parents’ attention. 

Oh that feeling. I know that feeling so well. In the past decade, I would say that 75% of my conversations with my parents revolved around my older siblings. And to this day I have put it up with it with little complaint just so I could talk to my parents. Because that's the topic they cared about. And I just wanted to talk to them. 

So Loki is at home without Thor, and he's enjoying as much as he can. This single child attention is all he ever really wanted, even if it is tainted with the occasional discussion about Thor. 

And then the prodigal returns. 

He claims to have changed. He claims he's different. And it doesn't matter that you've been working the fields at home or just saved your father's life. Your mother goes from mid-hug with you to flinging herself into Thor's arms. Leaving you just standing there. 

Leaving you bitter.

And the story of the prodigal stops there, but the story of Loki goes on. Because Loki goes where I've always thought to go.

When you have a sibling go prodigal and you see all the attention that gets them--attention you want--you have this serious temptation to go prodigal yourself.

I can't explain to you the number of times I'd seriously considered going prodigal, for a short while, so that I could get all that attention, worry, and concern to myself. And then I could come back to open arms and a party. 

I'd considered it so many times. I'd been deeply tempted. But it would hurt my parents, and I wasn’t callous enough to hurt them on purpose.

But Loki, Loki who has done everything for his parents, for his family, who has tried so hard to no avail, he does it. 

He gives up. He let's go. He goes prodigal. 

And it does get him attention. It works. His father goes to great lengths to send Thor to Earth in The Avengers in order to bring Loki home. He’s getting attention. What he always wanted. 

But the cost is too great.

The cost is villainy.

*  *  *

The story of the prodigal son doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It comes in a context of people complaining to Jesus that he hangs out with degenerates. Specifically, the people complaining are Pharisees and scribes, i.e. religious people, who are basically complaining that Jesus should hang out with them, the good people, and not the sinners/bad people.

Jesus responds with three stories.

In the first story, a shepherd with 100 sheep sees one go astray. He chases after that sheep, leaving the others behind. But then he brings that sheep back to the flock, and everyone celebrates that the lost sheep has been found!

In the second story, a woman with ten coins loses one. She searches the whole house looking for it until she finds it and now has ten coins again. Everyone celebrates the lost coin has been found!

The third story is the story of the prodigal, and it differs from the other two.  The first half, verses 11-24, seem to be very in line with the first two stories. A man loses a son. When the son is returned to him, he celebrates for his lost son has been found!

However, even in this first part there is a difference. The father did not go out looking for the son. He did not abandon his son at home to go find the prodigal. The father remained home, and the prodigal had to return of his own free will.

The other difference with this story is that it doesn’t stop in verse 24, it keeps going, and we get the perspective of the son left at home. The shepherd’s story doesn’t tell about how the sheep feel to be left behind by the shepherd. Presumably coins don’t have feelings to consider. But sons do.

If Jesus was just telling a story about God rejoicing when lost things are found, he would have stopped in verse 24, so why did he continue?

Well, who is Jesus talking to here if not the brothers left behind?

The father in the story isn’t rejecting the older brother. He is explaining himself, just as Jesus uses these three stories to explain himself to the Pharisees. But I also think Jesus is not rejecting the Pharisees here. Jesus is often harsh to the Pharisees in the gospels, but I don’t think this is one of those cases.

The Pharisees here are the sheep who haven’t wandered, the coins still in the purse, the brother at home. They’re already there. That’s the whole point of what the father says to the older brother. This story is an explanation to the Pharisees that they’re already home, and Jesus is trying to find the ones who are not and bring them home.

But the story of the sons is left open ended. It doesn’t end with the older son defying the father or the older son going into the party. We’re left hanging. Because ultimately, I think this story is an invitation to those very people Jesus is talking to. They’re not sheep. They’re not coins. They’re sons. And they can either join the party or leave.

No one ever talks about that.

When this story is preached the other brother is either villainized or worse—ignored. They just stop the preaching at verse 24. Because we other brothers aren’t important to the prodigal story, right?

But that’s not what Jesus is saying. Because this isn’t a sermon for prodigals. This is a sermon for the “other” son. Jesus is trying to reach the Pharisees. He is trying to explain to them why we celebrate for the prodigal, but that doesn’t mean God loves them less. It doesn’t mean they can’t come to the party.

God isn’t punishing them for not getting lost.

God is giving them a choice.

They can come to the party or not.

*  *  *

Loki could have come home at the end of the story.

He could have let Thor help him up. He could have seen how much his brother loved him—risking his own life just to save him despite all the villainous acts Loki had done. He could have had an honest talk with his father about how the false competition Odin had placed Thor and Loki in all their lives hurt them, and that Loki was no longer willing to play the competition game but he still loved them all.

But he didn’t.

Loki chooses to fall into a void, to possibly die, rather than face his family. He ultimately ends up in the clutches of Thanos—tortured and abused—before making it back to Earth where he regains familial attention, but not in a good way. As a supervillain.

*  *  *

I don’t want to be a supervillain.

*  *  *

Whenever I thought of the prodigal's brother, whenever I thought about my own situation, all I could think was "it's unfair", and then my mind would start churning justifications, times when I've been hurt and neglected. And you know what, it's not fair. I have been hurt. I have been neglected. I have been wronged.

But churning, holding on, acting on those justifications when it can't change anything--because you can’t change anyone else—that was leading me towards a path of villainy. It was leading me towards a path where I chose to go prodigal even though I knew it would hurt people. 

It didn’t matter how many times people said “bitterness will eat you up” or “you have to let it go.” Because the hurt ran so deep, the wound was so raw, and I knew I was justified. People could say let it go all they want, but how do you let something go when your heart is in glass pieces on the floor? You can’t glue it back together the same. Nothing will ever heal that.

My justifications weren't wrong. The “other son” is not wrong when being mad he wasn’t invited to the party. Loki's justifications of the unfairness of his life aren’t wrong. Thor has been favored over him. Brawn is valued more than brain in Asgard. He will never get to be king or equal to Thor no matter how hard he works, because he's a frost giant. He is completely 100% right.

And it doesn't matter.

No, that's not right. It's not that it doesn't matter. It's that somehow I've got to choose to be better. Because if I don't, if I don't choose to change my path, I'm going to come back in The Avengers with an alien army and try to subjugate the world. 

I don't want to be a super villain. 

I have to choose not to be a super villain.

This seems a simple conclusion--choosing a different path--one I should have realized a long time ago. But in Christian circles we have a saying, where things go "from your head to your heart." This idea has been in my head all my life, but it was the movie Thor that moved it into my heart. 

Because my life isn't about them, my family. It's about me. I can't change them. I can't make them treat me differently. But I can change me.

Because I may deeply empathize with Loki, but I don't want to be him. I don't want to be Thor either. I want to be me. I want to be who Loki would have been if he hadn't snuck frost giants into Asgard and tried to destroy Jotunheim. I want to be who God wants me to be, and that's not a person who holds onto anger.

I can't change what's happened to me. I can't change how others will treat me. But I can change who I become. 

It's all about choice. 

And I choose not to be a super villain.

 

Loneliness, Social Media, and Creating Community

The Sermon

In a sermon series claiming to be about Christians and Social Media, my pastor preached on the topic of loneliness. Loneliness, he said, afflicted many Americans, many Christians, many people. And that loneliness could only be exasperated by looking at social media.

It became very clear very quickly—as it does every time my pastor talks about social media—that he has no familiarity with “social media” outside of Facebook. And that while he admitted social media was a tool and therefore was what you make of it, it seemed he couldn’t see a social media that created actual interaction, actual community, actual growth.

In my pastor’s mind, the lonely person scrolls through his Facebook profile, looking at what everyone else has, and just getting lonelier and lonelier.

The pastor also made the valid points that

(1)    Lonely individuals cannot expect their loneliness to be fixed unless they speak and tell people they are in fact lonely.
(2)    If a lonely person speaks up, it’s the responsibility of the Church to rise up and meet that need.

But all of these points were couched in an anti-social media message. As if, a person could not be involved in social media and admit they are lonely. As if a lonely person is somehow making a choice between the time they spend on social media and hanging out with loving church members who want to cure their loneliness.

I listened to this message getting more and more upset. Getting angry. Wanting to stand up and shout.

Because I have been lonely in our church.

And the pastor was so incredibly wrong.

My Reaction

I don’t usually so vehemently disagree with the pastor. This was just a very specific topic, one practically designed to make me upset—though the pastor had no idea.

When I started attending our church, in around 2012, I was incredibly lonely. I was over 1,000 miles away from anyone I knew—family, friends, anyone. I had come to Albuquerque from grad school in Atlanta for a job. I lived alone, and being an introvert, for the most part I enjoyed it.

But I was lonely. It’s hard not to be when you spend every single day alone. When you work, come home, and do…what exactly?

So I did what every lonely person who is a churchgoer has been told to do. I got involved.

I went to church nearly every Sunday, not just service but the young adult Sunday School. I went to every young adult event the church held. I joined a small group, and at least two committees. I joined the handbell choir. I volunteered with a local convention—Bubonicon, and joined the Albuquerque Science Fiction Society.

But these were just…events. Things to do. Get involved, they say. They don’t ever say that keeping busy doesn’t fill the hole in your heart. Keeping busy doesn’t fill the void left by an empty couch or eating every meal alone.

I told people I was lonely. I told people at church. One or two of them even invited me over for dinner, once or twice. I remember one time a couple invited me over for pizza and to watch Captain America: The First Avenger with them and I was ecstatic. I came home and called my mom. “Mom, someone treated me like part of the family. Someone had me over and let me eat dinner with their kids and watch a movie with the family. Someone saw me, remembered what I liked, and said, let’s involve this person in our life.”

It never happened again.

I burned my hand on Father’s Day—a second degree burn that seared whenever I took it out from under the water—and had no one to drive me to the hospital. I sat on the floor of my kitchen and cried for an hour until one of my coworkers finally called me back.

So many times I was sick, and just needed someone to make me chicken noodle soup and maybe pick up some medicine for me—so I wouldn’t be the one puking in the aisle at Walmart (though I’m sure Walmart has seen worse). But I had no one to call because well….all the church people have families. They live far away. They have things to do. And to be honest, if given a choice between taking their kid to soccer practice and helping out a puking 26-year-old, no one chooses the latter.

I was terminally lonely while an active vocal member of my church, and the only thing that saved me, the only thing that was there for me, was social media.

Facebook

Facebook isn’t my social media tool of choice, but it was on Facebook that I stayed up until two in the morning talking to one of my friends as she cried.

It was through Facebook my high school friend Nicole and I discovered a shared love of Marvel and began texting.

It’s through Facebook that I keep up with my college friends.

It’s through Facebook that I see pictures of my nieces and nephews.

These things don’t make me feel lonelier. They help me feel connected.

Twitter

While living alone I lived tweeted every show and movie I watched. To my amazement, people just began responding. Suddenly I was never watching anything alone, but watching it with other people. And it wasn’t just my TV watching habits they cared about.

I tweeted about my writing, and they connected. I tweeted about feeling sick, and suddenly women were asking for symptoms and suggesting remedies.

I came into contact with a group of writers from Indiana, and would later learn they were all in the same writer’s group and considered me their “Imaginary Friend.”

I traveled a lot for work and discovered people wanted to have dinner with me when I was in their town.

I had people.

Everywhere.

Blogs

Miss Snark’s First Victim—a blog—hosted a “Critique Partner Matching” event. To help aspiring authors to connect with other aspiring authors. I met Jamie.

Jamie is another rocket scientist, around my age, who writes Middle Grade and Young Adult science fiction and fantasy, like me. But Jamie’s friendship didn’t just stop at reading each other’s manuscripts and giving feedback. Jamie met a need no one else had even realized I had.

Every week we watch—still to this day—Arrow together. Even though we live across the country from each other, through the power of the internet, we get on our computers, we start our recording at the same time, and we watch the same show, chatting the entire time. This grew from Arrow to include Falling Skies (while it was on) and Flash.

Watching TV as a family had been something sacred growing up. Watching a show we all loved—Stargate: SG-1—and spending the commercials talking about it. Suddenly something that had been missing from my life for a long time was filled.

It wasn’t just TV.  It was friendship. It was community. It was family.

Jamie became a part of my family.

Tumblr

A work friend brought me onto tumblr, and specifically into the mysterious and wondrous thing called fandom. While on this social media site, writing “headcanons” about my One True Pair, I met a woman who at the time I only knew by a tumblr name.

She was hilarious, imaginative, and pushed me like no one else ever had.

Eventually we moved beyond tumblr and to gchat. And we talked all the time.

Suddenly instead of spending my evenings alone, every day, I spent them with this awesome person, whose name was Caitlin. We didn’t live in the same state or time zone, but I wasn’t alone anymore.

Caitlin became—and is—one of my best friends. The person who I can talk to about anything: fandom headcanons, issues at work, and topics that are too TMI for most people.

It’s Caitlin who helped me through those terrifying early days of dating my now husband. It’s Caitlin that my husband conspired with when it came to planning surprises. It’s Caitlin who flies to Albuquerque every year so she can stay up with me to the wee hours of the morning for the Bubonicon Late Night Auction. It’s Caitlin who I still talk to nearly every day.

Conclusion

Social media did what the church failed to do. Through social media, people invited me into their homes—not for a quick dinner on one occasion but rather every night. To talk about my day, to talk about my interests, to get involved in my interests, and just show over and over again that they cared about me. More people than I can name or give credit to in a blog post: Sarah, Katie, Galen, Kat, Sam, and so many others.

This is what it takes to cure people’s loneliness. Not a onetime dinner and a movie. Not a onetime lunch. A continuing presence in someone’s life.

What does this look like off of social media? If you’re not a social media savvy person who wants to reach out to the lonely people around you?

Invite people into your life. Don’t just pat yourself on the back for helping a lonely person out once. Make someone part of your family.

Don’t tell me you’re too busy with your own family—focusing on your kids and their events or whatever. Because the only local friend I have who has done this for me has two kids of her own. But she is still there for me. There to go to lunch. There to invite me over to dinner with her family. Inviting me to the movies with her. Inviting me to weekly trivia. Helping me with learning how to create cosplays and craft. And just being all around awesome.

Lonely people come in all shapes and sizes. Young single people far away from their families, women who feel like they’re being swallowed by the title of “mommy,” men who feel like no one understands them when they talk, and older people who once had homes full of kids and now find it’s just…empty.

Reach out to people beyond the events. Form bonds with people outside of your family unit. Form community. Invite people into your life.

That is how we stop loneliness.

Moses & God (Moses Part 2)

Alright guys, it’s been a few weeks since we last talked about Moses and Spring Break was in there, so let’s recap and make sure we’re all on the same page.

Jacob and all of his sons moved to Egypt where things were pretty good. But then the Israelites started multiplying at a rate that frightened the Egyptians. So when Joseph and his whole generation was dead, including the Pharaoh he was BFFs with, the new pharaoh looked at this situation and was basically like “This is not good! These Israelites are going to join together with our enemies and overthrow us.”

So what was his grand plan? Not to make friends with them or better assimilate the Israelites in Egyptian culture, no. He decided the bets plan was to kill all the male babies. Needless to say, the Israelites were not happy about this.

One woman named Jochebed wanted to save her baby, but she knew she couldn’t hide him. It was inevitable that pharaoh’s men would find the baby and kill it. So she built it a little floaty basket and sent him down the Nile River—which would have been extremely dangerous.

Pharaoh’s daughter was out bathing in the water when she saw the basket. She pulled the baby out of the basket and basically decided that even though the baby was a Hebrew, she was going to raise him as her own.

That’s basically where we stopped. The Bible then skips forward a few years to when Moses was grown—at least a teenager if not a little older. Please go get your Bibles and turn to Exodus. Remember, Exodus is the second book of the Bible.

Can someone read Exodus 2:11-15?

11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. 12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?” 14 He answered, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses.

But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well.

Moses is grown up and he goes out to the Hebrews. It says “his people” which makes it seem like he knew he was a Hebrew. Most movie adaptions of this story make the revelation of his birth a shock to Moses—whether it’s Prince of Egypt or the Ten Commandments—but we don’t know if that’s true or not. All we do know is at this point, when Moses goes out and see the Egyptian beating a Hebrew, at that point, Moses already knows he’s a Hebrew.

So Moses goes out and sees these people who are his people, not different from him except in the chance that he got found by an Egyptian woman. In another life—he would be one of these slaves doing forced labor. And he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. And he couldn’t take it.

He kills the Egyptian.

But it very carefully says “he looked this way and that” before he did it. He didn’t want anyone to know what he’d done because killing an Egyptian is not just against God’s law—which he may or may not have known at this time—but against Pharaoh’s law—which he definitely would have known.

He doesn’t want anyone to know what he did.

But the next day he goes out and he sees two Hebrews—his people—fighting each other. And he’s basically like “Isn’t your life hard enough without you guys also beating each other up?” But the Hebrews don’t want his opinion.

The Hebrews probably don’t know Moses is a Hebrew—he would seem Egyptian to them—and even if he was Hebrew, they don’t want his opinion. And it turns out, they know he’s a murderer.

Somehow the word spreads and Pharaoh finds out and Pharaoh is mad. Killing an Egyptian is not cool for the adopted son of his daughter to do. Pharaoh wants Moses to pay the penalty, which is death.

But Moses doesn’t want to die so he flees. And he ends up in Midian.

Can someone read Exodus 2:16-22?

16 The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. 18 When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.” 21 Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. 22 She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.”

In Midian, Moses basically meets a priest and his daughters. When he’s sitting at the well, the daughters arrive to water their father’s flock and are basically bullied by some other shepherds. But Moses defends them. So they take him home and introduce him to their dad. Basically Moses decides to stay here with these people forever. He marries a woman named Zipporah and they have a kid. Does it seem like Moses has any intention of ever going back to Egypt? [Let them answer.]

Definitely not. And why would he? He’s wanted for murder there! Sure he’s abandoned his people who were suffering—a people that he surely felt for at one point, that’s sort of the whole reason he killed that Egyptian was to save one of his own people. But now Moses seems determined to put that all behind him. Now that his own life is in danger, he’s not going back there. He’s not willing to risk himself for the Hebrews.

Moses is living a pretty good and decent life in Midian….while his people are suffering.

Can someone read Exodus 2:23-25?

23 After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24 God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

Moses may have forgotten his people, but has God? [Let them answer.]

No. He has not.

Can someone now read Exodus 3:1-3?

3 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”

Moses, however, is just living his life in Midian, being a shepherd. He’s out one day with his flock and he sees something crazy. There is a bush that’s on fire…but it’s not burning up.

You guys have seen something be burned before, right? When logs and paper and other things burn, the material turns to ash. This is natural. But this bush wasn’t turning to ash. It was on fire and nothing was happening to it. That’s a pretty crazy thing, and Moses thought so to.

Can someone read Exodus 3:4-6?

4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

The burning bush has Moses attention, and then it really gets his attention when God’s voice comes from it. God calls his name, and Moses responds. God tells Moses to remove his sandals because he is on holy ground. Why? Why remove his shoes? This wasn’t something that was required of priests later in the old testament when they entered the temple and were in the presence of God, so why require it here?

I don’t know and my commentary didn’t have a very good answer either. It hypothesized that maybe it was a standard tradition of something to do before a superior person. Or it’s possible it’s because….God is trying to instill in Moses that this moment is special.

Moses isn’t entering the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple. He hasn’t gone through the purification processes required to do such—which serve the dual purpose of making someone clean and also putting their mind on the seriousness of entering God’s presence. Moses just kind of stumbled upon God, while doing his job, in the middle of the wilderness.

But God’s presence is holy no matter where it is—in a Temple, Church, on the street, at school, or in the middle of the wilderness. So maybe God wanted Moses to do something to recognize that holiness, so that Moses would realize the seriousness of this conversation.

God then explains to Moses he is the God of Moses’s people, and Moses hides his face, afraid to look at him. This makes me wonder if Moses does indeed know a little bit of who God is. Having been raised as mostly an Egyptian, it’s very possible his Hebrew religious education was lacking. But it’s also possible that since Jochebed was around when he was a small child, she might have taught him some basics. Or it’s possible covering your face is also a thing Egyptians would do should they come face to face with God. Regardless, Moses realized he was talking to someone of the upmost awesomness and importance and that deserved his humility and respect. And Moses was also probably a little afraid.

So why is God talking to this runaway murderer named Moses? We’ll let’s see. Can someone read Exodus 3:7-10?

7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

God has a mission for Moses.

Not just any mission: no, God wants Moses to go back to Egypt, where he is basically a wanted criminal, and somehow free all the slaves from under the rule of the Egyptians and then take them to the land God promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—which is currently inhabited by a bunch of other people.

Do you guys think the Egyptians are going to be happy to see their free labor go away? [Let them answer.]

Yeah, no. This sort of thing rarely goes well historically. Slavery has sometimes ended without bloody revolutions, but that takes a long slow time, during which many people remain enslaved until the higher up people finally ever so slowly realize the people they are enslaving are humans too and maybe they shouldn’t be doing this. For slavery to end this fast? As fast as a guy coming in and saying “Let’s stop this now.” That usually takes a war or a revolution, as shown in our own country’s long history with slavery.

Or it takes a divine intervention, which in this case seems to be happening. It just so happens that God’s plan for a divine intervention involves Moses.

How do you guys think Moses feels about this? How would you feel if God gave you this huge responsibility? [Let them answer.]

Well let’s see what Moses says. Can someone read Exodus 3:11-15?

1 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:

This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.

Moses doesn’t want to go, and he gives God excuses on why he can’t. First he’s all like “Who am I to do this? Surely I’m not qualified.” To which God basically responds, “Your qualifications don’t matter, it’s mine that do. I’ve got your back.” Does that satisfy Moses? No! Next he’s like “But if I go, who will I say sent me when they ask me your name?” God has an answer for that too, which we’ll come back to.

But Moses doesn’t stop with the excuses there. Oh no.

In Exodus 4:1 he says “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” Which is basically “suppose they think I’m insane?” God has an answer to that too. He changes Moses staff into a serpent, and is like basically show them this trick and they’ll see the power I have given you.

Then can someone read Exodus 4:10-13?

10 But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” 13 But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.”

Here Moses is like “God I’m not good at talking. Don’t send someone as bad at talking as me.” And God’s just like “Dude, I will give you the words to say.” And Moses is still like “But don’t send me God!”

Moses is literally talking to God, he has literally been given a divine mission from God, and he just doesn’t want to do it.

There is often when people in life are just like “If God just told me what to do, I’d totally do it!” But Moses is a prime example of sometimes we just don’t want to do what God says. Sometimes what he asks us to do is too hard.

We don’t want to go to Egypt. We don’t want to have to talk to people. Life in Midian is good. Moses has a wife and kids, a family. His life is simple and easy. But God doesn’t always call us to the simple and easy life does he? Sometimes he tells us to go back to the land where we can be arrested for murder, and go anger the most powerful guy in the whole world by telling him you’re taking all the Hebrews and leaving.

Sometimes what God asks us to do is really hard.

And sometimes we feel like we’re not the best person for the job. We think “God can’t want me to be a pastor, I’m not good at talking!” Or “God can’t really mean for me to help homeless strangers, I’m an introvert who doesn’t like meeting new people!” Or even “God can’t mean me to move to a land where being a Christian is illegal to spread the word there, I could die! That’s not safe!” But sometimes God really means for us to do those things.

Just like Moses.

In the end Moses does agrees to do it. He gathers his family and he goes back to Egypt. We’ll see what happens when he gets there next week. But for now I want to back up a little.

When Moses asked God who he was, what did God say? Can someone re-read Exodus 3:14?

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

When Moses asked that question he was probably looking for an easy answer, like “oh yeah tell them my name is Bob.” In the ancient Egyptian religion that Moses would have been familiar with, every god would have had a name like Horace, Set, Osiris, and others. But God doesn’t give Moses a name.

He says “I am who I am.”

God’s answer is basically to state his existence. I am who I am. My Jewish commentary says this could also translate to “I will be what I will be,” meaning “My nature will become evident from my actions.” This can also be seen when God says many times how people will know him as Lord because of the wondrous things he will do. Basically a sort of “the proof is in the pudding.” You’ll see I’m God because it will become evident.

My Christian commentary also says it can be translated to “I cause to be because I cause to be.” Which is a statement of creation, that God is then indicating he created everything. I creates and sustains the world, and that name reveals that.

Why are there so many translations for what seems pretty standard? It’s because state of being verbs are weird. In English our state of being verbs are I am/You are/He is/They are. Or in past tense, I was/You were/He was/They were. When you say “I am” you usually follow it up with an adjective or a statement of who you are. “I am happy.” “I am Susan.” “I am hungry.” “He was cool.” You’re making a statement about your state of existence. I currently exist in a happy state. I exist as Susan. I exist in a hungry state. He existed in a cool state.

God says I am, he is…what? He is…everything. Creation is his signature. Everything is God. God’s name is that he exists. He is.

Now in Judaism, this phrase “I am who I am” is roughly translated to the name Yahweh. When people refer to God as Jehovah, that is a mistranslation of Yahweh. And if you’ve ever watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in Latin Jehovah is spelled with an I because there are no Js in the Latin alphabet, fun fact that’s a little off topic. Jehovah is a mis translation that people often still use, we see it in a lot of hymns and old writings. So just know that.

But God says his name is “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh” in Hebrew, I will be What I will Be, I am who I am, I cause to be because I cause to be.”

Now we’re going to flip way forward in our Bibles. I want you guys to flip forward to the Gospel of John. John is the fourth Gospel, which makes it the fourth book of the New Testament.

Before we read it a few things. In this section Jesus is talking to Jewish religious leaders in what was probably the temple courtyard. These Jewish leaders are not happy with what Jesus has been saying or doing. And as per usual, they’re basically trying to trap him into saying something wrong. And Jesus had been talking about God and Abraham.

Ok can someone read John 8:57-59.

57 Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

The Jewish leaders ask him if he’s ever seen Abraham and he says “before Abraham was, I am.”

I AM.

Does that sound familiar to any of you guys? [Let them answer.]

Yeah. In that sentence, right there, Jesus is claiming to be God.  Before Abraham was, Jesus existed. But he’s not just saying that. If you just wanted to say you were alive since before Abraham, you’d say “Before Abraham was, I was.” “Before my little sister was born, I was born.” But that’s not what Jesus says.

The Gospel of John is written in Greek, the words he used were “ego ami” (Ἐγω εἰμι) which translates to that present case existence. I AM.

Before Abraham was, I AM.

You’ll hear people say Jesus never directly claimed to be God, and to a certain extent that’s true, because he never said anything that translates into English as “I am God.” And even here, the words are Greek, he didn’t call himself Yahweh. But he is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, claiming to be God right here. He is very clearly calling to the meaning of Yahweh and the name God gave himself when talking to Moses. And if that’s not proof enough, what do the Jewish leaders do in response? They pick up stones to stone him. They’re furious at him and according to the Jewish Law. It’s Leviticus 24:16, which I’ll read for you:

16 One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death

Anyone who says something blasphemous is to be put to death, and this thing that Jesus said? Claiming to be the God, claiming to be I AM, that is the most blasphemous thing you can do! No wonder these Jewish leaders wanted to kill him immediately.

And this is not the only time Jesus says something like this. Pastor Doug likes to call them “I am” statements. They are all over the Gospel of John.

Our God doesn’t have a name. Our God is. He is. He exists. And Jesus lays claim to that. Before Abraham was, I AM.

Jesus is God, and right here he says it.

And this is part of why studying the Old Testament is actually so important. Without that context, without knowing who Abraham is—God’s chosen father of his people—without knowing the conversation between Moses and God, you might be able to infer that Jesus is claiming to be immortal, but it’s hard to see it in its full depth. But these Jewish leaders Jesus was talking to would have spent their whole lives studying the Old Testament and they knew exactly what he was saying.

And now, we do to. Jesus is the very same God who spoke to Moses in that burning bush.