Frogs

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go back to Pharaoh and announce to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so they can worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs across your entire land. The Nile River will swarm with frogs. They will come up out of the river and into your palace, even into your bedroom and onto your bed! They will enter the houses of your officials and your people. They will even jump into your ovens and your kneading bowls. Frogs will jump on you, your people, and all your officials.’ ”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Raise the staff in your hand over all the rivers, canals, and ponds of Egypt, and bring up frogs over all the land.’ ” So Aaron raised his hand over the waters of Egypt, and frogs came up and covered the whole land! But the magicians were able to do the same thing with their magic. They, too, caused frogs to come up on the land of Egypt.

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and begged, “Plead with the LORD to take the frogs away from me and my people. I will let your people go, so they can offer sacrifices to the LORD.” (Exodus 8:1-8)

Tyrants are not quick to keep their promises. As his nation was overrun with frogs, the Pharaoh recognized that they came from the God of the slaves, and he asked Moses to get his god to send them away. In exchange, Pharaoh promised to do just what the slave God said.

But of course, this was but the second plague that had come upon the land of Egypt, and like those before, though it was annoying, it wasn’t exactly devastating to his kingdom. Frogs don’t bite, they just make noise and startled people by their presence. And they were messy and really, you didn’t want them in bed with you, or in your food.

But like many a tyrant after him, who would ask for concessions, and then when they were given, would ask for some more and who never, ever did what was promised, so the Pharaoh was quick to give in to Moses. But once he got what he wanted, he felt no obligation to follow through on his promise. After all, he was talking to slaves and promises to slaves were meaningless. What could a slave do, after all if you broke a promise? Who cared what a slave thought? They were already resentful; another injustice piled on a lifetime’s worth of them, wouldn’t change their performance. Slaves were property; why worry about what you said to them? As well worry about what you said to your horse or donkey or chamber pot. Pharaoh underestimated the sort of God the slaves had–one who cared about the oppressed and one who was willing—and able—to help them. God will not forget about us.

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Here I Am

So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!”

And he said, “Here I am.”

Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Moreover He said, “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 upon God.

And the LORD said: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:4-10)

The people of Israel were in slavery because God had put them there. God sent Joseph to Egypt at the hands of his brothers so that he would be in the right place at the right time to save their lives and the lives of the Egyptians. Then God sent Jacob and the rest of Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to live. God had told Abraham that they would spend four hundred years in slavery there. And that is precisely what happened. Joseph’s enslavement, though done with evil intent, happened because it was ultimately a good thing. With Moses, the time had come at last to rescue the Israelites from their bondage, a bondage that had not come through disobedience, but through their ancestors’ obedience to God’s commands. God wanted the Egyptians to know about him. He wanted the Israelites to learn about God’s power and to give them a picture of salvation.

God intended to take the land of the Canaanites and give it to the Israelites. The Canaanites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites all spoke a language similar or in many cases the same, as the Hebrews. The Hittites, however, spoke a language related to the languages of Europe and India. The people living in the Promised Land were disunited; no one king ruled the entire area, no one language or culture bound them together beyond their evil religion, a religion that included child sacrifice. Israel would get the land of the Canaanites because God needed to punish the Canaanites.

Sometimes doing what God wants might not be pleasant. We simply must trust that God knows what he is doing and that he is doing it for a very good reason.

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Because of the violence you did
to your close relatives in Israel,
you will be filled with shame
and destroyed forever.
When they were invaded,
you stood aloof, refusing to help them.
Foreign invaders carried off their wealth
and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem,
but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies.
“You should not have gloated
when they exiled your relatives to distant lands.
You should not have rejoiced
when the people of Judah suffered such misfortune.
You should not have spoken arrogantly
in that terrible time of trouble.
You should not have plundered the land of Israel
when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have gloated over their destruction
when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have seized their wealth
when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have stood at the crossroads,
killing those who tried to escape.
You should not have captured the survivors
and handed them over in their terrible time of trouble. (Obadiah 1:10-14)

Love your neighbor even if he’s your enemy. We’d like to rejoice when bad things happen to our enemies, but God loved us when we were his. He expects us to be like him. Schadenfreude is an uncomfortable German word that has come into English; it is used for the feeling of pleasure we have when something bad happens to someone else, especially if we think they deserved it. But God tells us we shouldn’t rejoice when our enemy stumbles and so he criticized the people of Edom for how they reacted to Israel’s punishment.

The Edomites were descendents of Esau, the hairy brother of Jacob whom he had deceived and from whom he’d stolen the birthright. King Herod, the king of Judea when Jesus was born, was an Edomite. The prophet Obadiah brought a message of judgment against these Edomites for how they had acted when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem: they had rejoiced and taken part, grabbing some of the plunder for themselves. God condemned their attitude and their behavior and promised that they would suffer his wrath as a consequence, in keeping with God’s promise to Abraham: those who blessed him would be blessed and those who cursed would be cursed. Although Esau—and the Edomites—were descended from Abraham, they were not in the line of promise: that had gone to Jacob and his descendents. Jacob may have stolen the birthright, but it was supposed to be his all along, anyhow.

God expects us to love our neighbors, even those neighbors who hate us. When our neighbor is in trouble, we’re supposed to help him, whether he’s a nice guy or not. True love is not dependent upon the worthiness of the one who needs love.

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Purpose of Discipline

But if his descendants forsake my instructions
and fail to obey my regulations,
if they do not obey my decrees
and fail to keep my commands,
then I will punish their sin with the rod,
and their disobedience with beating.
But I will never stop loving him
nor fail to keep my promise to him.
No, I will not break my covenant;
I will not take back a single word I said.
I have sworn an oath to David,
and in my holiness I cannot lie:
His dynasty will go on forever;
his kingdom will endure as the sun.
It will be as eternal as the moon,
my faithful witness in the sky!” (Psalm 89:30-37)

Dogs don’t—and can’t—understand why they have to go to the veterinarian. The experience is nothing but unpleasant and meaningless for the dog. We understand, but we can never get the dog to understand. But the dog still loves us and trusts us. We’re smarter than dogs. So God has explained the purpose of the pain he sometimes lets us experience.

God’s discipline, like that of an ideal parent, comes from love. When the neighbor children misbehave, I do not put them in time out. I do not take their privileges from them. I do not send them to bed early. They’re not mine and I don’t care what they do. But my children I love and so they will get it if they misbehave: I care what sort of human beings they will grow up to become. Likewise, if God had just let his people do whatever they please, whenever they please, he wouldn’t be showing them much love. He had made a promise to David and his offspring: they would be his kings forever. But that came at a cost. Because they belonged to him, God was responsible for their discipline. Discipline would save them. Only through discipline, could God keep his promise that David’s throne and kingdom would go on forever.

“As eternal as the moon” is not to be pressed literally, since all physical things will have their end. But the timescale, compared to human lifespan and the transitory nature of all things human, serves as a useful picture for eternity. Accept God’s discipline as simply more evidence of how much he loves you.

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Ezekiel 18

The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:

“ ‘The parents eat sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.

“Suppose there is a righteous man
who does what is just and right.
He does not eat at the mountain shrines
or look to the idols of Israel.
He does not defile his neighbor’s wife
or have sexual relations with a woman during her period.
He does not oppress anyone,
but returns what he took in pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
but gives his food to the hungry
and provides clothing for the naked.
He does not lend to them at interest
or take a profit from them.
He withholds his hand from doing wrong
and judges fairly between two parties.
He follows my decrees
and faithfully keeps my laws.
That man is righteous;
he will surely live,
declares the Sovereign LORD.

“Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things (though the father has done none of them):

“He eats at the mountain shrines.
He defiles his neighbor’s wife.
He oppresses the poor and needy.
He commits robbery.
He does not return what he took in pledge.
He looks to the idols.
He does detestable things.
He lends at interest and takes a profit.

Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.

“But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things:
“He does not eat at the mountain shrines
or look to the idols of Israel.
He does not defile his neighbor’s wife.
He does not oppress anyone
or require a pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
but gives his food to the hungry
and provides clothing for the naked.
He withholds his hand from mistreating the poor
and takes no interest or profit from them.
He keeps my laws and follows my decrees.

He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people. (Ezekiel 18:1-18)

You are not being punished for the sins of your parents; there is no such thing as a generational curse. I suppose that if your parents were drug users and in and out of jail, poor, homeless, and you didn’t always get fed, that you are, in that way, suffering on account of your parents. But that’s just the circumstances you happen to be in—the natural consequences of your parents’ bad choices. It is not God’s judgment on you. God does not hate you. You are not being punished. You are not bound by your parents’ choices, nor do you have to repeat what they have done. Each person is punished for what they do, not for what other people do. Your suffering, if you are suffering, is a consequence of collateral damage, not God’s judgment on you.

Likewise, you are not your children. They are free and will do what they will; they will make their own choices, and their choices will not always be the best. But that’s on them, not on you, nor is it a reflection on you or your parenting. God is not responsible for the choices that Adam and Eve, or their descendants have individually made. So why should you think you’re responsible for your children’s choices? That is their doing—and our doing. We did not always choose wisely; don’t be surprised that your children aren’t always choosing wisely, either.

Your job as a parent is to always be there for your children and to love them. You are not to blame, and you do not have the power to shield them from their bad choices or the consequences of them. You do not have the power to make other people conform to your desires.

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Why Do You Bother?

One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:6-12)

Do you serve God for what you think you’ll get out of it, or because of what God will get out of it? That is, do you love yourself alone, or do you love God? Satan was certain that Job cared about God for the same reason most people care about anything: because of what he got out of it. Most relationships in the world are tit for tat: you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We spend time with people we like, who like us back. We love people because, in some way, they’re useful to us: they’re fun, make us laugh, or in some way benefit us. As soon as that benefit leaves—they disappoint us, betray us, mistreat us, or don’t give us what we need—we leave them in search of someone else. We find new friends who will treat us better.

So Satan had good reason to think Job would turn against God as soon as the pain started. Satan had a lot of experience with human beings and he saw how we treated each other and why they usually related to each other. Satan didn’t understand love, since he hadn’t really ever experienced it before. Job was a big surprise to him, a man who served God because he loved God, not because he saw a payoff down the line for it. Loving is not always the easy thing to do. But God always loves us, no matter what.

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Respect

“‘Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.

“‘When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

“‘Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.

“‘Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the LORD.’” (Leviticus 19:32-37)

How you treat those who can’t do anything for you says a lot about you. Rising in the presence of the aged and showing them respect costs you nothing and doesn’t do a thing physically for the them: it puts no money in their pockets and no food in their bellies.

Those who are strangers, who do not belong to your people, should be treated as well as if they were old friends and part of your family. The Israelites had been ill-treated in the land of their sojourning. God reminded them to not act like the Egyptians, but instead to show love.

An ephah and a hin were measurements of weight. An ephah was a dry measure equal to about 3/5 of a bushel—think of 11 two liter bottles of soda—and a hin was a liquid measure equivalent to about a gallon. A merchant had power over his customers and taking advantage of them was very easy: the merchant had the scales and the baskets and the customer had no way of checking to make sure everything was accurate. Rather than doing what you can, do what you should, do what you’d like them to do to you. Who you are when no one is looking is who you really are.

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Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

“Do not steal.
“Do not deceive or cheat one another.
“Do not bring shame on the name of your God by using it to swear falsely. I am the LORD.
“Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.
“Do not make your hired workers wait until the next day to receive their pay.
“Do not insult the deaf or cause the blind to stumble. You must fear your God; I am the LORD.
“Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.
“Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people.
“Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the LORD.
“Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. Confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
“You must obey all my decrees.
“Do not mate two different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two different kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven from two different kinds of thread. (Leviticus 19:11-19)

There is more to righteousness than simply behaving well toward others. Outward actions, for good or ill, have their origins in what people are thinking, what their desires might be, how they are feeling at any given moment. Bad decisions can grow from exhaustion, headache, or stress. Hate festers a long time before it results in outward violence. Evil is sometimes not an action, but the failure to act. The mixing of things that shouldn’t be mixed symbolizes the importance of not mixing evil with good, or hatred with love. Some things should not be compromised.

It was common in Hebrew writing to have a summary statement followed by explanations or expansions upon that summary statement. And so the summary statement in this passage—of “do not steal”—is followed by explanations of what might constitute stealing: “defrauding your neighbor,” making hired day workers wait for their pay, gossip—which robs people of their reputations—and stealing the life of your neighbor through inaction when you could have saved it.

The context of the phrase upon which all the law hangs—to love your neighbor as yourself—was when you were least likely to feel affection for your neighbor: when he has wronged you and you want justice. God makes it clear that loving your neighbor is not always easy.

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Careful Eating

God spoke to Moses and Aaron: “Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them, Of all the animals on Earth, these are the animals that you may eat:

“You may eat any animal that has a split hoof, divided in two, and that chews the cud, but not an animal that only chews the cud or only has a split hoof. For instance, the camel chews the cud but doesn’t have a split hoof, so it’s unclean. The rock badger chews the cud but doesn’t have a split hoof and so it’s unclean. The rabbit chews the cud but doesn’t have a split hoof so is unclean. The pig has a split hoof, divided in two, but doesn’t chew the cud and so is unclean. You may not eat their meat nor touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.

“Among the creatures that live in the water of the seas and streams, you may eat any that have fins and scales. But anything that doesn’t have fins and scales, whether in seas or streams, whether small creatures in the shallows or huge creatures in the deeps, you are to detest. Yes, detest them. Don’t eat their meat; detest their carcasses. Anything living in the water that doesn’t have fins and scales is detestable to you.” (Leviticus 11:1-12)

You are what you eat. God loved his people, and so his purpose in giving them the dietary restrictions was not to make their lives less fulfilled or more difficult than they otherwise might be. Yet, when we get to the New Testament, those dietary restrictions were not imposed on the non-Jewish people who were coming to Jesus. So if there were some health benefits or protections associated with the food restrictions and if that had been their purpose, then freeing the Gentiles from the restrictions might be taken to mean that God didn’t love Gentiles as much as he loved the Jewish people. So health probably has nothing to do with it.

Why then were the Israelites allowed to eat some animals but not others? Why such detailed specifics and lists regarding so many different sorts of creatures? God’s purpose was relational. The two major sections of the Pentateuch that elaborate the dietary restrictions are introduced or concluded with the statement that Israel was to be a “holy people of God” and that they were to “be holy because God was holy.” They were not to render themselves unclean by what they ate.

Just as the prophets of God had to act out their prophetic messages—as when Hosea married a prostitute, Ezekiel cooked bad bread over cow dung, or Isaiah ran about naked—so the people of Israel illustrated to themselves and to their neighbors their relationship with God. God had told them that every aspect of their lives should be in the presence of God: when they got up, when they went to sleep, when they walked along the road and went about their day, God was always to be with them. Even in what they ate, they couldn’t get away from God’s presence in their lives. There was never supposed to be a moment when they didn’t feel God’s presence. After Pentecost, however, God began living inside his people. The external reminders of God were therefore no longer necessary. God is always with us now.

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