Do You Know The Enemy?

Scripture Focus: Exodus 5:20-23
20 When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, 21 and they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

22 Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

Reflection: Do You Know The Enemy?
By Erin Newton

I have a love for science-fiction and fantasy, including most youth fiction. The Hunger Games tells a good story about an other-worldly apocalyptic fight for survival. At the climax of one book, the scene unfolds into a life-or-death decision by the heroine. She points her weapon, and the targeted character throws his hands up and yells, “Remember who the real enemy is!”

As we read through the Old Testament, there is always the risk that we will lose sight of the battle being fought. The stories are a reflection of something greater.

Moses returns from his meeting with God to confront Pharaoh. He makes his case and Pharaoh receives it about as well as you could imagine. Terrible. Horrible. It makes Pharaoh respond cruelly to the Hebrews. Moses is distraught.

Pharaoh plays the villain in this story. There is no denying that, even if we get into circular conversations about who hardened who’s heart. The protagonist is Moses. The Hebrews are the victims of the conversational drama between Pharaoh and Moses.

Is this really a story of a righteous man versus a mean bully? No, they are simply playing their parts. They have free will to comply with or reject the requests made to them: Yahweh’s call to Moses and Moses’s plea to Pharaoh. Who is the real enemy here?

Pharaoh was Egyptian royalty and that meant he was the supposed manifestation of an Egyptian god. Moses, an image-bearer of God, was the spokesperson for Yahweh. This is not just a tale of former stepbrothers vying for influence over the Hebrew slaves. This is a story that reveals the power of Moses’ God and the impotence of Pharaoh’s nonexistent pantheon.

The next chapter opens with God’s reassurance to Moses that signs and wonders will come to Egypt. Pharaoh and his people are about to take a front-row seat to a supernatural revelation.

Do we remember who the real enemy is or are we too focused on the powers of this earth? Paul reminds us that we do not struggle against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6.12).

The conflict in Exodus is real. The oppression of the Hebrews is not lessened by viewing this as a spiritual battle. The effects were bodily and painful. There is, however, hope in knowing God is at battle in our suffering. He never loses.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Rescue me from the hurtful sword and deliver me from the hand of foreign peoples,
Whose mouths speak deceitfully and whose right hand is raised in falsehood… Psalm 144.11-2

Today’s Readings
Exodus 5 (Listen 3:15
Matthew 16 (Listen 3:43)

Read more about Christ the Enemy of Death
Christ confronts, on our behalf, our greatest enemies—sin and death. Christ is the deadly enemy of death.

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Visionaries Not Vigilantes

Scripture Focus: Exodus 4.13
13 But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

Reflection: Visionaries Not Vigilantes
By John Tillman

An aged, fearful, desert-dwelling Moses begs God to send someone else. Why? Perhaps because Moses has already failed. He tried helping his people by using violence but this neither reduced suffering nor earned him respect. He was forced to flee as a criminal. (Exodus 2.11-15)

What if Moses hadn’t been forced to flee? Imagine Moses living a pampered life in the palace, but secretly working behind the scenes dispensing vigilante justice like Batman, Zorro, the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Punisher, or John Wick. Would that have done any good or accomplished any justice?

Old Moses asks, “Who am I to lead these people?” If we had overheard this conversation, we might agree. We’d prefer the young violent hero.

We love stories of people standing up against violence…using violence. When Jesus said, “those who live by the sword will die by the sword,” he intended it as a warning, but we prefer it as a plot device. Violent people receiving violent payback is a sure box office hit.

One thing that makes us comfortable with violent heroes is the effort storytellers take to ensure we see how bad the bad guys are. The four-film-long John Wick franchise kicked off with the title character’s puppy being killed. All the violence stems from that and no one mourns the heartless puppy killer or his fellow criminals.

But what happens when God picks up the sword? We get nervous about divine violence. “Are we sure all these people are THAT bad? What if there are some righteous among the wicked? Are you sure, God?” Biblical authors don’t always write exposition about the crimes of those killed in judgment. The authors don’t tell us what they assume to be obvious: God’s hand of judgment can be trusted.

God chose the elderly, humbled, Moses, not the young, cocky, violent Moses. Where are we on this spectrum? If you are angry and frustrated (and it’s hard not to be in today’s world) turn your frustration to God. He hears our cries for justice. (Exodus 3.7-9) If you are humbled, burned out, or washed up, don’t shy from God’s call.

God calls Moses, not with a sword in his hand, but a staff. He doesn’t need vigilantes. He needs visionaries. As we work to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly” we must start with humility first. Without humility, we’ll never have mercy. Without mercy, we’ll never act justly.

From John: Divine violence is a difficult and disturbing topic. If you’d like more in-depth study on this topic Erin recommends Confronting Old Testament Controversies, by Tremper Longman. You can also hear Erin discuss some of these topics on the Faith and Culture Now podcast.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not stray from your commandments. — Psalm 119.113

Today’s Readings
Exodus 4 (Listen 4:17
Matthew 15 (Listen 4:23)

Read more about Testing Before Judgment
God’s tests prove him righteous. God is merciful and compassionate, but he does not leave the guilty unpunished.

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Testing Before Judgment

Scripture Focus: Exodus 3.18-20
18 “The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go. 

Reflection: Testing Before Judgment
By John Tillman

God told Moses to ask the current Pharaoh for a three-day journey into the wilderness to worship God, presumably at Sinai. Yet, even at the beginning of this story, we know that’s not God’s full intention. God also told Moses that he intended to take all Israel out of Egyptian slavery and return them to Canaan. Is God’s request through Moses a deception? Will not the God of all the earth tell the truth? (Genesis 18.25)

It seems to me this indicates something other than deceit. The request is not a lie. It is a test. God is testing Pharaoh’s heart. This story ends with acts of divine violence. It’s important to remember that it starts with a test. One Pharoah fails.

Another passage on divine violence is similar. God heard an outcry against Sodom. Then he sent representatives to test if the city was as bad as the report. (Genesis 18.20-21) Only after testing does God initiate judgment.

Moses, Aaron, and the slowly escalating nature of the plagues provide Pharaoh with off-ramps to escape further judgment. The plagues interrogate Pharaoh’s heart, “Are you as proud and stubborn as I have heard? Will you repent and turn from evil?” What he finds in Pharaoh’s heart seals his fate.

Typically we apply this story by seeing ourselves as Moses, Aaron, or perhaps the suffering Israelites. But it is often helpful to learn from villains as well as heroes. What does the way God tested Pharaoh tell us about God and about testing?

God’s tests prove him righteous. Pharoah repeatedly “hardened his heart” proving God right about him. Eventually, his chances run out. God is merciful and compassionate, but he does not leave the guilty unpunished. God’s final plague on Pharaoh is to harden Pharaoh’s heart further, making him incapable of letting the people go.

Are there wicked ways within us? Are Pharoah-like thoughts creeping in?

It is a good spiritual practice to regularly ask God to interrogate our hearts, to test us. Testing from God is a mercy that allows us a chance to humble ourselves and repent.

What happened to Pharaoh doesn’t have to happen to us. God’s tests for his children are not intended to lead to judgment and pain. They are intended to lead to our repentance and sanctification. Soften your heart today to hear him and obey, to repent and rejoice.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
You strengthen me more and more; you enfold me and comfort me. — Psalm 71.21

Today’s Readings
Exodus 3 (Listen 3:59
Matthew 14 (Listen 4:14)

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Woe, Whoa, Wow

Scripture Focus: Matthew 11:20–24
Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.  For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Reflection: Woe, Whoa, Wow
By John Tillman

Keanu Reeves made “whoa” famous. Owen Wilson did the same for “wow.” These words express a sense of amazement and wonder. (Or sometimes a sarcastic lack of wonder.)

Jesus repeatedly says something that sounds similar: woe. These woes are statements of judgment, not amazement. However, as Jesus reluctantly pronounced judgment on these cities he was amazed. Despite all he showed them, including miracles and healings, people didn’t believe. Jesus said to them, as God said to ancient Israel and Judah through the prophets, “What more could I have done? Why will you stubbornly refuse to believe?” (Ezekiel 33.11)

Often, our culture thinks faith is something one must cling to without a shred of surety. We want “evidence,” “proof,” or “a sign” to believe God. Even believers want signs. We want “proof” that good things will happen when we step out in faith to witness, change jobs, or give sacrificially.

Faith can be clung to, like a life raft, in a sea of doubt. (And aren’t we glad it can?) But unbelief can also be clung to in a sea of evidence. We should ask ourselves if we are clinging to doubt. Are we using a demand for certainty to fend off faith? 

The condemned towns had a special opportunity and they wasted it. They still rejected Jesus. To whom much is given, much is expected. (Luke 12.47-48) We might wish that we had the same opportunity they had: to see Jesus in the flesh, to see healings, etc. But Jesus also said, “To those who are faithful with a little, more will be given.”

If we are faithful with what we are given, we will see more. There are many things given to us so that we may believe. But the best two to focus on are the Bible, a miracle you can hold in your hands, and prayer, our miraculous heart-to-heart connection with God. How we steward these gifts may affect what other signs we see. Maybe the reason we don’t see evidence of the next step of faith, is because we haven’t taken the step that we have been shown?

Also, perhaps your stepping out in faith to act is the evidence someone else needs. Just prior to this chapter, Jesus sent his disciples out to the towns with miracles, messages, and peace. To whom might Jesus be sending you?

Perhaps your faithful obedience can take them from “woe” to “wow.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
He sent forth his word and healed them and saved them from the grave.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy and the wonders he does for his children.
Let them offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and tell of his acts with shouts of joy. — Psalm 107.20-22

Today’s Readings
Genesis 50 (Listen 4:54
Matthew 11 (Listen 4:06)

This Weekend’s Readings
Exodus 1 (Listen 2:32Matthew 12 (Listen 6:41)
Exodus 2 (Listen 3:18Matthew 13 (Listen 6:41)

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Rulers with Borrowed Scepters

Scripture Focus: Genesis 49.10
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.

From John: Rulers with borrowed scepters abound. This post from 2021 reminds us that, even the best of them is not worthy of the honor we owe to Christ.

Reflection: Rulers with Borrowed Scepters
By John Tillman

Most of what Israel says to Judah has little to do with the son in front of him, but the Son who was to come through him.

The ruler prophesied would eventually come to Judah. The staff of rulership that Israel saw, resting between the feet of Judah’s descendants, would one day be claimed and taken up.

Ten tribes broke away from the Davidic kings’ after Solomon’s death. The Northern secessionists kept the name, Israel, and the Southern kingdom, composed of Judah and Benjamin, was called Judah after the tribe of its rulers.

Judah and Benjamin managed to preserve their identities and heritage through Babylonian captivity and, eventually, were returned to their capital of Jerusalem to rebuild. The northern tribes were less successful, if at all, in holding on to their unique identity. This is perhaps due to how muddled and corrupted their identity was even before captivity.

The Northern kingdom never had a ruler who could be classified as “good.” In fact, King Ahab, whose name is synonymous with poor leadership and corruption, might be considered one of the better kings Israel ever had. He set quite a low bar, but most who came after him were even worse. Almost half of the kings of Israel took the throne by insurrection or assassination.

The rulers of Judah fared better but still suffered political swings from evil and idolatrous rulers to pious and faithful reformers. However, none of them were the one foreseen. That is Jesus alone.

Jesus is the king we are waiting for—every other ruler is using a borrowed scepter.

From Joseph’s beneficent Pharaoh to Moses’s genocidal Pharaoh, rulers are highly variable. But no ruler, not the best of Pharaohs or of Judah’s kings, not any emperor or empire past, present, or future, is worthy of our unswerving loyalty. Any of them will betray our hopes. None of them can be trusted to deliver us. The best human rulers are but poor stand-ins for Christ and the worst of them are anti-Christs.

No matter if we live under Pharaohs or Sauls, under Davids or under Ahabs, under Hezekiahs or under Nebuchadnezzars, they are only shadows that will pass and grass that will dry up and blow away.

We, like Simeon, (Luke 2.25) are waiting for our true king, Jesus, the root of Jesse, the “glory of Israel.” (Luke 2.29-32) Our king and kingdom are from another place. (John 18.36)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Exalt yourself above the heavens, O God, and your glory over all the earth. — Psalm 57.6

Today’s Readings
Genesis 49 (Listen 4:54
Matthew 10 (Listen 5:07)

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