They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Slave Camp at Timna

Timna, Israel

'The Lord took you and brought you out of the iron smelting furnace, out of Egypt.' - Deut. 4:20

On Saturday, April 5, 2008, we left present day Egypt and crossed the border into Israel at the Taba Border Crossing. The first place we went to in Israel, very close to the border, was a place called Timna. The area around Timna was always part of Egypt, even from the most ancient of times. They have evidence of Egyptian presence there as early as 2800 B.C.  The Egyptian empire controlled this area from then until the time of Solomon, which will be part of our story. Solomon’s Pillars, a prominent natural geographical formation named after the famous king of Israel, is located there, as are Solomon’s Mines. Timna is one of the hottest places on Earth, often getting to 125 degrees in the summer, and is usually over 90 degrees even in December. In Deuteronomy 4:20 it says, “The Lord took you and brought you out of the iron smelting furnace, out of Egypt.”

What is the significance of Timna in the Bible story? The Israelites would have passed very close to here on their way to the Promised Land. There would have been a significant Egyptian presence in Timna at that time because this area produced most of the ancient world’s copper. Copper was mixed with tin to make bronze, which was the dominant metal in the world until the invention of iron by the Philistines (1 Samuel 13:19-22). There was a large slave camp here, run by the Egyptians, to extract the copper from the rock. To get the copper out of the rock and to the right consistency required very hot temperatures. There were almost no trees here, yet they had to bring in huge amounts of wood for hot fires to smelt the copper from the rock.

'Slave Hill' with slag visible in the foreground

'Slave Hill' with slag visible in the foreground

While we were there, we went up on top of a hill that was called “Slave Hill”.Slag from the smelting process was all over the ground here and you could envision the hard labor that took place.  It was hard to imagine what being a slave here would have been like, in an unbelievably hot climate, with hot fires burning as you worked. It would have been a terrible working environment.

Now fast forward to the time of Solomon in Israel. The first wife that Solomon takes after inheriting the kingdom is the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1-2) which God had specifically told him not to do (Deut 17:17, 1 Kings 11:1-6). Then  he makes a pact with the Egyptians and Pharaoh. Solomon bought large amounts of chariots and horses from the Egyptians (1 Kings 10:26-28) which God had  also specifically told him not to do. In turn,

Solomon was allowed to take over the region of Timna to begin mining copper for Israel. To make these mines productive again, Solomon had to conscript a slave labor force (1 Kings 9:21-22). By using slaves, Solomon had taken the nation of Israel full circle; God had taken them out of Egypt to free them from slavery and now Israel was using slaves! Solomon had taken his country back to Egypt again! They were now the oppressors!

Solomon's Pillars, Timna

Solomon's Pillars

To conclude, Egypt brought tremendous suffering on the backs of their Israelite slaves. God heard their cry and intervened  and freed them from their bondage. God blessed and prospered the Israelites until they too, began to oppress and enslave people. Considering their heritage, it is hard to imagine that the Israelites would ever have thought of having slaves. However, Solomon took the Israelite nation back to Egypt both literally and figuratively. From this point on, God took his hand off Israel and they  quickly went down hill to their eventual demise at the hand of the Assyrians and Babylonians. God did not tolerate slavery and oppression, even if it came from His chosen people.

Who Gets the Credit

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.
— Deuteronomy 8:17-18

A rabbi once said,” the resume of a follower of YHVH should be very short.”

While visiting Egypt’s pyramids and temples, we saw picture after picture written on stone that told the common people that Pharaoh was responsible for all the good things that happened in life.  He made the Nile flood so that the crops would grow, he provided for the harvest, and most importantly, he handed out justice to Egypt’s enemies. Pharaoh alone was in charge and he was the one you looked to for security and blessing.

When God led the Israelites into the desert, after freeing them from Pharaoh, He was in charge.  They had to count on Him for direction, for food and water, and for protection against their enemies. For forty years, YHVH alone was the sole provider for the needy Israelites.

After YHVH took care of them and led them through the wilderness and took them to the Promised Land, He had trouble with them trying to do things on their own.  They wanted to take credit for their abundant provision and protection from their enemies. (Deut 8:17&18)

When you get to the Promised Land do you still give God credit for what happens or is it by “your strength” and “your power” that good things happen? “I landed a really good job”, or “I was sick last week, but now I am better”, or ” I got straight A’s on my report card last semester” are all typical statements that we make without thinking of the source of all our blessings. It is easy to count on God when you are in the desert and you can’t begin to do it by yourself.  But, when things go smoothly, it doesn’t take us long to try to handle it ourselves and take the credit. This is just a little something to think about the next time you are in a situation where God blesses you with something. Give Him the credit!

The Desert is God’s Teacher

Desert and Nile River

Desert and Nile River

When you stay in the desert for several days, as we did while on our recent trip to Egypt and the Sinai Desert, it leaves you with some distinct impressions. I want to write this little short faith lesson separately, because it applies to every desert lesson.

When you go to the desert, at least 2 things hit you quickly. As you step out of the green of the Nile and into the harshness of the desert, the contrast is overwhelming. You want to immediately turn back – the desert is not a place you really want to be. Also, as you get farther into it, you are overwhelmed by the fact that it is everywhere you look. It kind of smothers you, as it is everywhere you look and there is no relief in sight.

The faith lesson is this- we have left the impression, somehow, that when you join the Jesus movement, you get to stay in Egypt. Life is going to be okay, even better now that you are a Christ follower. In fact, if the biblical story is our example, just the opposite happens. We have to leave Egypt, and go to the desert!

We set people up for a faith crisis and a disaster, when we make following Christ like the Garden of Eden, instead of the desert. If we are supposed to be “looking good” and having it all together as Christians, then we have to fake it when the heat from the desert is killing you. We try to leave the impression that we never need help. We’re glad to give help, but we don’t want to ever show ourselves, where we’re actually in need ourselves. The desert puts you in the spot where you are forced to say, “I need help”.



When you think about the nation of Israel, its identity and character are formed from the wilderness. All the founding fathers were desert people, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David, etc. They lived in and were shaped by their environment, the wilderness. God’s people understood the desert. So many biblical images come out of the desert. The desert becomes a picture of our walk through life. As we experientially walk out our life situations, we learn to trust God to take care of us. We have both big ” T” tests, and little “t” tests that are God’s teaching moments where he says “trust me.”. When the heat is intense and trying to consume us and we are wondering how much more we can take, these are the moments where we meet God. These teaching moments change us into people who know we can’t do it on our own strength, that we must have our daily sustenance from God.

You wish you could tell people that if they join the Christian movement that their problems would be less and less until we went to heaven, but that’s not going to happen. Until we go to heaven, the desert experiences are where God meets with us and gets to know us intimately. As we walk it out, we begin to know ourselves more intimately, also, and discover what’s in our heart.

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.”
Deuteronomy 8:2-5

Adonai Nissi: The Lord, Our Banner

In Exodus 17:15, after the Israelites were victorious over the Amalekites at Rephidim, it says that Moses built an altar there and called it Adonai Nissi, or” the Lord is our banner”. I had heard this term before, when a pastor preached on the names of God, such as “Jireh” provider, “Rapha” our healer, and others. But, I never had a real clear picture of how the Lord could be a banner, until I went to Egypt.

Tenth Pylon

Tenth Pylon

First of all, “Nissi” means banner, standard, ensign, or marker. The flagpole and banner were very meaningful, even back in ancient civilization. As we began to study the Pharaoh’s at their temples, we learned that they used the flagpole to display their banners in front of every structure. They built huge, elaborate entrances to their temples and used the flagpoles to decorate the entrances. They would build a series of pylons along the front with an indentation every so often. In these recesses would go huge flagpoles, up to 100 feet high, with the banners of the king.

In fact, the hieroglyphic symbol for kingship or authority, god, and temple is the flag and flagpole. We saw this all over Egypt, carved into their stories in stone. They were saying, “He is our King, everything we do we do for Him.”

Later in the Exodus story, Numbers 21:8-9, Moses puts a snake on a pole, and it becomes like a banner.



Also, in Isaiah 11:1-10, especially verse 10 – “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples…”. Then Jesus says in John 3:14-15 – “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” As we have seen so often in studying the Exodus, it always ties back to Jesus. The banner that Moses lifts up becomes pictures of our Messiah 1500 years later.
The Lord Almighty, and his son Jesus are our banners, our ensigns, our standard and, everything we do, we do for them.

This was another great example to me that if you know the culture and history, the story was easier to understand. I now have a good mental picture of the Lord, being our banner. He is our king and we wave his banner high!

God Picks a Partner

Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. 2 You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country.
— Exodus 7:1-2

How did God begin the process of rescuing his people?  He picked a partner to start the process!  Why in the world does God need a human partner?  Why does He so often seem to pick someone to be His hands and feet and voice?  Throughout human history He has done this.  Abraham and Sarah, David, Ruth – you could go on and on – and then He picked Jesus.  And then Jesus chose disciples, common men all.  To save His people, God chose Moses, which was an interesting choice.  Let’s take a closer look at what God did to get His partner ready to lead his people out.

We first meet Moses as an infant.  God puts him in and saves him with an ark (tebah), just like He did to a remnant in the past to start over.  He gives him a name that would be his destiny; in Hebrew, his name means “to draw out”.  God also places him in a unique position in his adopted family, as a man who would possibly be in line one day to be the next Pharaoh of Egypt.

He also evidently gave Moses a unique heritage.  Evidently, there were a few Israelites who still knew of and clung to the God of Abraham.  Moses’ parent’s names, give us a clue to their beliefs.  They are Jewish names, and Amram means “exalted people” and Jochabed means “give glory to Adonai”.  This gives us some idea of where Moses got his heart.  He must have had godly parents and grandparents.

Pharaoh subdues his enemies

Pharaoh subdues his enemies

How do we meet Moses as an adult?  He kills an Egyptian!  As a man, Moses had God’s heart – he had intense sympathy and compassion.  He was a man who would hear the cry of someone who was hurting and would come to their rescue.  In the Egyptian world, the stick represented the power that the Pharaoh wielded over anyone one that crossed him.  Image after image depicts him with a raised stick over his subdued enemies.  Moses acts like Pharaoh and hits with a stick.  He has to run away, he is an enemy of the Crown.

God says, I’ll teach you to lead like me, not like Pharaoh.  So He sends Moses to the desert to tend a flock of sheep for 40 years.  All God’s partners have to be trained.  Then, after 40 years, God shows up in a bush and says, “Are you ready to tackle the mission I’ve given you?”

If you will notice in Exodus 7, that God didn’t just give the message to send, He told Moses, “you be the message”.  “I will make you like God to Pharaoh”.   1 Peter 2:5 carries that same message, you, too will be a kingdom of priests.  We are supposed to show the world what God is like.  God is still looking for partners.  Are you interested in being one of them?  Are you willing to trade your cushy lifestyle for 40 years of desert training?

Moses was a humble man going up against the most powerful megalomaniac in the world.  Doesn’t make sense!  Moses was able to hear the cry!  Do you hear it?  Or do you cover up, you and your children’s ears?  We have to learn to have God’s heart and God’s ears.  In the New Testament there are nine examples of Jesus doing something dramatic when people cry out.

When a disaster happens, we often say, God, where are you?  God is saying to us, where are you?  He is looking for partners today!  Will you hear his call?  Amen.

Kingdom of Heaven Begins

Finger of God

Finger of God

The idea of the Kingdom of Heaven is born in the Hebrew Bible with the story of the Exodus. What is meant by the Kingdom of Heaven? It is a very important concept to get a hold of.

John the Baptizer came preaching in the Desert of Judea saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near”. This phrase,” Kingdom of Heaven”, occurs 33 times just in Matthew. Jesus, in Matthew 4:17 began to preach, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” In almost every parable, He says the “Kingdom of Heaven” is like…

Paul, in Acts 28:31, says, “Boldly and without hindrance He preached the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. Mark and Luke use the phrase” Kingdom of God” to say the same thing. This phrase occurs over 30 times in Luke. In Luke 9:1 when Jesus sent the twelve out, He sent them to preach the” Kingdom of God”. In Matthew 10:7 Jesus tells His disciples, “As you go, preach this message, the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

Although the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” doesn’t actually appear in the Hebrew Testament, it occurs 120 times in the New Testament. The Hebrew phrase is “Malchut Shamayim” which would have been a common phrase to their world. The phrase was used in a pious way to avoid using the actual name of God, which was commanded in Exodus 20. So you would think of a synonym for God. God was the God of Heaven, so use heaven as a synonym for His name. If you look it up, Jesus never used God’s name in the New Testament, He calls Him Father. In Luke and Acts the phrase Kingdom of God was used when they were writing to the Gentiles. Kingdom of God = Kingdom of Heaven.

Even though the expression” Kingdom of Heaven” or” Kingdom of God” does not actually occur in the Hebrew Testament, the one fundamental theological statement that is made in the O.T. is that God is the Ruling Lord, He is God, alone, and He alone is reigning on the throne of His kingdom. This is what is meant by the “Kingdom of God”. In Hebrew, the word translated kingdom (Malkuth) is a dynamic word signifying royal power, just as the English, kingdom, means the authority and power of a king. In the biblical tradition, the idea of the “Kingdom of God” is God’s exercise of His royal power (see David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:11). To have a kingdom, you must have a king that is ruling and reigning over it.

The great example that serves as a pattern for the rest of the Bible, of God’s exercise of His sovereign power, is the Exodus. The events of God’s delivering His people out of the slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land were viewed by the Bible writers as the pattern for all His future acts of kingly power. Prophets looked for a second Exodus that would be greater than the first (see Isaiah 51:9-11 and Hosea 2:14-25), where the Kingdom of God would show up in power under the rule of His representative, the Messiah. The writings of the Essene community at Qumran showed that they believed the” Kingdom of God” was among them now.

Jesus said in Mark 1:14-15, that the time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. This appears to mean that the time for waiting is over; God is now initiating the Second Exodus. When Jesus’ read the Isaiah 60 and 61 passages that predict the 2nd Exodus and the arrival of the Messiah, He says, “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. It’s here, the kingdom is here! So the concept of the” Kingdom of God’ is interwoven throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. But the concept of the “Kingdom of Heaven”, the place where it was born, where God first shows up in great kingly power to his people, is the Exodus, in Egypt. All the rest of the Bible is shaped by the Exodus. It is the pattern by which the rest of the Bible develops. What was the pattern?

Hathor & Osiris

Hathor & Osiris: gods of Egypt

The Kingdom of Heaven starts when God acts in great power and the finger of God shows up (Exodus 8:19, 31:18, and Psalms 8:3, Luke 11:20) – also similar phrase the “hand of the Lord”. Pharaoh’s magicians recognized these great powers as they saw the miracles of the plagues unfold. They told Pharaoh, this is just the finger of this God working, as if to say, what would happen if He put his back or legs into it. You better not mess with this God, He is all powerful.

After bringing the miraculous 10 plagues on the Egyptians and defeating the Egyptian gods, God leads his people out to a place where they camped at Pi Hahiroth. Here, He again acts in unbelievable power as the waters of the sea are parted and the Israelites walk through on dry ground. This leads to the 2nd step of the Kingdom, people call Him Lord. Exodus 14:31 says “And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in Him and in Moses his servant.”. They stood on the bank of the sea and danced and sang a song to God and called Him Lord. He is our God; we will follow Him, and not the old ones we used to follow in Egypt. “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord”, says chap 15 vs. 11. Think about that based on where they had just come from. The Lord will reign forever and ever says vs. 18. The children of Israel have finally decided who the King is! It’s not Pharaoh or the gods of Egypt who they were to serve.

What started as a night of great terror for the people turned into a great victory, by the finger of God. They came out of the water a different nation. Here, the nation of Israel was born, through wind (ruah) fire and water. The Red Sea became a birth canal through which they emerged as a new people. This is the first time a whole community of people called Him King. It is interesting to note here that the people were saved first and then believed. Our philosophy is that you believe first and then you are saved.

Immediately after this great miraculous saving experience God takes his people out into the harshest desert in the world. This is the third part of the Kingdom of Heaven story:

  1. The finger of God shows up and acts in great power
  2. People see and call Him Lord and King, and
  3. People obey the king.

God is saying you have called me King? Are you sure? Let me show you how to make me your king. Let me take you out to the desert. We’re going to leave the fertile place, the place with lots of water and food, and we’re going to go to a place where it’s hot and dry and you will have to count on me for your food and water. If you obey me in these circumstances I will make you a kingdom of priests.

Are you going to be willing to take on the yoke of obedience in your daily life? If you’re going to call me King and Lord, then you must go out and do my will. I want my will to be done. To call Him Lord we must be obedient to Him.

The Kingdom of Heaven is found in the desert. God did not let his children go the easy way. He led them into the most severe desert in the world, “to humble you and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger…to teach you that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”. Deut 8:2-4 (also read rest of Deut 8). The desert is the place where He gently and patiently takes us to teach us and demand from us, obedience. God’s desert plan is to put us in tough circumstances so we can see who we are and what we are doing here, and what is in our hearts. We can’t get away with just calling Him King; we have to make Him King, by being obedient, by actually serving Him and doing his will.

It seems, in the church today, we want to see the finger of God, and we want to see His great power displayed. We like calling Him Lord and King with our praise songs, but to submit to His will? We want very little to do with the obedience part. The Kingdom of Heaven shows up when people obey, it doesn’t come without obedience.

Exodus 19:4-6 says it perfectly: “‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ “. This conversation took place at Mt. Sinai and God was extending his covenant relationship to all the nation of Israel. This was an outgrowth of the covenant He had set up with Abraham in Genesis 15, 600 years earlier. “Now if you will” and “then I will” are covenant expressions. If what? If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then what? He will make us His treasured possession and we will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Israel was to be God’s kingdom (the people who acknowledge the fact that you are our King), and like priests we are to be wholly set apart to do his bidding, His will and His service. We are to be a holy nation – a nation that is set apart both individually and collectively as different, distinct people that are doing His will. We are to be set apart that much that we are like priests serving in God’s kingdom. We don’t call Him king, we make Him king.

In summary, we have grossly under stressed obedience. The Lord’s people should be a people who are called to and driven by obedience. We want to make our king dance like He made us dance. We should want to do everything in our power to make Him king. Obedience is always the response to grace. How else could we respond to what He’s done for us? We must walk as Jesus walked, must do what He says. I hope I can catch the importance of this in my life so His kingdom will come to me right now where I am, not just someday in heaven.