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

Show Me Your Presence

Exodus 33:12-23 & 34:5-7

“The Lord would speak to Moses, face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Ex 35:11)

In 2007 and 2008, I had the great privilege to spend three weeks in Egypt studying and retracing the Exodus story. At least 14 days of that time was spent in the rugged Sinai Desert. We climbed the mountains of Sinai on three separate occasions and each time spent the whole day reliving different parts of the Exodus. During one of these expeditions we were able to study the story of Moses and his encounter with God at the “Cleft of the Rock”. By re-reading and looking at the story in its original setting, we learned a lot more about this fascinating encounter with the God of Israel.

To reset the story line, the Golden Calf Incident has just taken place and God has refused to put up with the stiff-necked Israelites any longer. In chapter 33 vs. 12-17, Moses pleads with God to not abandon them, but continue to go with them and guide them. To paraphrase Moses, he says, “We don’t want to go unless you go with us!” We can’t make it without you!” This attitude is pleasing to God and He changes his mind and tells Moses that He will, indeed go with them. Moses then has another bold request for the Lord. In the NIV Translation Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” The Hebrew Bible translates it, “Let me behold your presence.” This is quite a request from a mortal man! God then puts Moses in a crack or cave in the rock to protect him and tells him that His presence will indeed pass by.

Exodus 34:5-7, tells the story of God making good on His promise to Moses to, “cause all my goodness to pass in front of you”. It is very interesting in these verses to see what God’s glory and presence was like. It wasn’t a huge display of power, thunder, lightning earthquake and fire like I thought I remembered. God’s presence, in chapter 33:19&20, looked like and was, goodness, gentleness, mercy and compassion. In chapter 34:5-7, it further describes his presence as compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness and also forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Moses had seen God in the wind at the Red Sea and in the earthquake and fire at Mt. Sinai, all done to save and protect His people. Now, as God’s presence was shown to him again, he was also seeing another side of God-his love and compassion for his chosen people.

After the “Cleft in the Rock” experience, Moses stayed with God for forty days and forty nights on Mt. Sinai, and neither ate nor drank.

Elijah had remarkably the same experience in 1 Kings 19:10-13. God told Elijah to go to the Mountain of God, which was almost surely the same Mt. Sinai that Moses had been at. It took Elijah forty days to get there and he neither ate nor drank. God put Elijah in a cave or cut in the rock there at the Mountain of God and told him to stand there as the presence of God passed by. Elijah saw the same manifestations that Moses had seen-wind, earthquake and fire. Then God revealed his presence to Elijah in the form of a whisper. The Hebrew word that is translated there as “whisper”, is “sod”, which means a whisper or gentle sound. This “sod” is the same gentle whisper that the lover uses in the Song of Solomon to talk to his lover in bed. God loves us like a bride! We don’t even think about God in this way! It’s the Ten Commandments, discipline and punishment that so often characterize our thoughts of what God’s presence must be like.

Have you asked to see God’s face, his presence? What do you see when you see Him? What does His presence look like to you? Is it the love that the groom had for his new bride? Is His presence goodness, gentleness, compassion and abounding in love and mercy? Or do you see Him as the harsh enforcer of the rules, disciplining from afar those who step out of line? God does expect His bride to be faithful to Him, but we haven’t caught the idea of how gentle and compassionate and loving He really is toward his bride (us)!

I picked up a good sized rock from the cave we were in and put it in my pack to carry down the mountain. I am using it as a bookend in my study. When I see it, I want to be reminded of what God’s presence and glory really look like.

These words are the lines of the chorus of a new song that sings of God’s presence:

Show me your face, Lord; Show me your face,

Then gird up my legs, that I might stand in this Holy Place,

Show me your face Lord, your power and grace,

I can make it to the end, if I can just see your face.

P.S. It’s interesting that Moses and Elijah are the two present at the Mount of Transfiguration, when God once again reveals his glory and presence to men. This time, however, He reveals himself in the presence of His Son, who is the ultimate example of God’s love towards his chosen people. He revealed Himself to us in and unbelievably special and sacrificial way when He sent His Son to die on our behalf.

1 Peter 1:17-21

Lift Up Your Heads

Psalm 24

A well known Christian songwriter placed these poetic words from Psalm 24:7-10 in one of her hits songs a few years ago, “Lift up your heads o ye gates, and Lift up your heads ye ancient doors”. What was the Psalmist trying to say from his ancient time period with this beautiful prose? By looking at the ancient Hebrew translation of these words, and by learning a little bit about the pagan religions of that time period, we will see what a wonderful picture the Psalmist was trying to portray about his God, the God of Israel.

When you visit the ruins of ancient Egypt you are amazed at the majesty and splendor of the Egyptian civilization. All these unbelievable pyramids, temples and palaces were built to honor their Egyptian Gods and their Pharaohs. These were huge, impressive structures used to worship their various deities. In every temple erected to honor a god, they would build the gates and doorways for entrance on a very large and massive scale. This was done to make you think, “This must be a huge god that lives in this temple, look how big the door is to get in”! In one ancient temple they even carved huge footprints several feet apart in the floor as if to say, “Look how big and heavy and powerful our god is; here is where he just came into his temple!” The Israelites, before the Exodus, would have lived in the middle of this splendor and would have been very aware of this perception of their Egyptian gods.

The Egyptians were saying, “Our god is so big that it takes this big of a door for him to come in”! You would feel the god’s power as a puny human when you walked through the entrance to his temple and saw the door frame so large and impressive, flanked by enormous statues of the gods themselves.

Now let’s examine the Psalm (song) that David wrote to herald the approach of the “King of Glory”, the God of the Hebrews! The Hebrew word, “rosh“, means lintel, or top, or head, as in head of the gate. The lintel is the piece of the door post that goes across the top of the frame. So to lift up the “rosh”, or the head, was to lift off the lintel or the top of the door, or gate that was the entrance to the temple. The door was already over sized, but our God is so big that we’re going to have to lift the top off of the temple, just so that He can get in! Our God is way too big for these puny temples made by human hands!

Now, let’s read the verse again! “Lift up your heads, o ye gates, lift them up you ancient doors that the King of Glory may come in. Who is this King of Glory? He is the Lord Almighty (YHVH)! Now doesn’t this verse make you want to dance? Take the top off of the Temple! Get out of the way! Our God is huge and mighty, awesome and powerful and He is ready to come in! Who is our God? It’s YHVH, the Lord Almighty, the King of Heaven and Earth!

This theme is carried out in the New Testament by Paul when he stood in Athens, Greece in Acts Chapter 17. As he was looking at all the statues and temples of the Greek and Roman Gods that filled the city, someone must have asked Paul, “Where is your God’s temple?” Paul replied, “The God who made the world and everything in it, is the Lord of Heaven and Earth and he does not live in a temple built with human hands!” And He is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything….” My God is way too big for an ordinary temple like these!

Now don’t these verses just jump off the page and speak in a new and powerful way? Now we can understand what David was saying when he was lifting up this song of praise to His God. Get out of His way! He is coming in power, glory and honor! Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord! What a mighty God we serve!

Be Strong & Courageous: Hazaq!

Main Passages: Deut 9:1-3, Deut 31:6-7, Joshua 1, 2 Chronicles 32:6-8

As you read through the Hebrew (Old) Testament and stories of the Exodus, patriarchs and other biblical heroes, you run into a common phrase that is used by God, and the people in response. The phrase that I am referring to is, “Be Strong and Courageous!” In Hebrew, the word for that phrase is “Hazaq“. Several Bible stories emphasize this exhortation (see scriptures above), but one story really stands out in this respect and makes a great faith lesson.

The story that wonderfully emphasizes the use of this Hebrew phrase is found in Joshua Chapter 1, but really starts back in Deuteronomy 9. The Israelites are camped on the east side of the Jordan, ready to enter the Promised Land. Their leader for the past forty years, Moses, is dead and they have an unproven leader, Joshua, at the helm. Joshua is in charge of a huge congregation that has lots of problems and issues. The Israelites are about to go to a place that they have never been before. Also, they know from the spies report, that the land is inhabited by fierce tribes with giants in them that will be waiting for them as soon as they cross the Jordan (Deut 9:1-3). All this adds up to a very tense and apprehensive situation for the Israelites.

In Joshua 1:1-9, God speaks directly to Joshua and tells him “Hazaq!” “Be Strong and Courageous! Do not be discouraged!” God tells this to Joshua three times and then tells him not to worry, that He will go with them as they start this next stage of the journey.

Then, in the next verses, Joshua goes to the people and tells them,”Hazaq!” You need to be Strong and Courageous!” Don’t be afraid of the enemies we will be facing! God is going to go with us and we will possess this land that He has promised us!

If you read farther, at the end of chapter 1, you find the Israelites encouraging Joshua with the same words that he has just spoken to them. They say, “Whatever you tell us, we will do; wherever you tell us to go, we’ll go! Only, Joshua, be Strong and Courageous, Hazaq!

Isn’t it fascinating how the message of encouragement was spread down the line from God to the leaders, to the people and back! Everyone was encouraged by this command, Hazaq!

There are some real lessons of community to be learned here. One is that God has already been to that place that we are worried about going to! He is not afraid and He promised that He would go with us, wherever or whatever that challenge might be.

We need to Hazaq and believe that God will do what He says!

Another lesson to be learned from this story is that we, as a community, need to be helping others as they are going down a path for the first time that we might have already walked. From child raising, marriage problems, health issues and others, we need to helping and encouraging each other. That is the whole purpose of community; the older, more mature Christians, helping the younger, less experienced along life’s bumpy road. We need to be telling them, “Hazaq! You can do it, I made it and I know you can, also!”

Lastly, we need to be encouraging our leaders as they face the tough job of handling our challenging flock! We need to tell them that we are behind them and we support them and appreciate all the sacrifices they make on our behalf. “Hazaq! Be strong and courageous! You are doing great, blessings on you and your family! Thanks for your strong leadership!”

From the story in Joshua we learn that this “Hazaq” thing is contagious! Everyone drew strength from God and each other. The combination of trusting in God and in their leadership won them many battles and entrance into the Promised Land.

An interesting foot note to this encouraging dialogue in Joshua comes from how the Jews have used the lessons learned in this Exodus story in their Synagogue worship. Marvin Wilson’s book, “Our Father Abraham” (pg 190) describes how, in both the ancient and modern day synagogue services, when the congregation completed the reading of the Torah passages on Shabbat, the entire congregation would turn and shout loudly to each other,”Hazaq! Hazaq! Venith Hazeq! Be Strong, Be Strong, Let us strengthen each other!” They would say this three times in a row, in response to the three times that God told Joshua that in Joshua chapter 1! We must stand together as a church community and help each other down the difficult paths of life. Like our ancient Jewish forefathers, this should become our watchword to each other as we face the high climbs, the rocky paths and the dark places that make up our journey together in life. Hazaq! Hazaq! Venith Hazeq! Be Strong and Courageous! Give each other strength!

The Olive Tree: Our Jewish Roots

The olive tree is probably the most frequently mentioned plant in the Bible. It was the most important plant in the Jewish culture because it provided so many necessities for their lifestyle. The olive tree was used for its fruit to eat, oil for fuel for their lamps, for medicinal and cosmetic purposes, and ceremonially in their Temple functions for anointing and sacrifices. The wood was also an important fuel supply and was used in construction. The olive tree and the olive oil were considered a major source of wealth from the earliest of times in Israel. Because it was such an important part of their lives, the olive tree was often used by the Scripture writers in imagery to describe or depict various things about the Jewish people and their nation. A closer look at some facts about the olive tree itself, and some Bible passages showing how God used it to symbolize the Jewish nation and the coming Messiah, will provide some valuable insights into understanding the scriptures.

The olive tree thrives throughout Israel. The ability of the tree to grow on rocky hills makes it well suited to grow on the terraced hillsides that make up Israel’s landscape. The tree itself has a huge fat trunk and a relatively small canopy of foliage. It is extremely long lived; some trees are over two thousand years old. They begin to produce olives after 6-10 years of growth.  After an olive tree reaches a certain point in its growth, it won’t produce much fruit, so the tree has to be severely pruned and cut back to the stump. Then, new shoots spring from the stump and it begins to produce fruit again.

All through the Bible, Israel is compared to an olive tree (e.g. Jeremiah 11:16, Hosea 14:6, Psalm 52:8). God was patient with the growing tree; he watered it and dug around it, and expected it to bear fruit. When the tree did not bear the fruit that He expected and instead bore the fruit of worshiping other gods, he cut the tree down (Jeremiah11:17, Psalm 52:8, also Matt 3:10, 7:19). Remember what happened to Israel and Judah when God finally had enough of their rebellion?

Then, out of this stump (Israel), God brought forth a new shoot as described in Isaiah 11:1, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him”. Jesse, if you remember, was David’s father. What are the roots of this stump of Israel? The roots are the patriarchs of Israel’s lineage; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the faithful forefathers of the Jews, the founders of the people of God. Every Christian finds his spiritual origin in Abraham and the Jewish forefathers. Galatians 3:29 says, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise”. If the patriarchs are the roots and Israel is the stump, then what is the shoot? The “shoot” was the promised Messiah, Yeshua Hamashich-Jesus! Jesus is the new tree that springs out of its old Jewish roots to start again God’s promise of redemption to his people! The fruit that Jesus would bear would be the fruit of obedience to his Father. To make it even more certain that Jesus was “the Shoot”, Jesus’ home town was Nazareth. The word Nazareth comes from the Hebrew root word, “netzer”, which means, “shoot or branch”. So Jesus, the shoot from the stump of Jesse, was from the town in Israel called “Shootsville”!

Where do we Gentiles fit into this picture? This beautiful picture of God’s people and the Messiah as an olive tree was completed by Paul in Romans 11:17-21. The Gentiles are the wild, uncultivated olive branch that is grafted into the shoot that sprung up from the stump! We now get to share in that nourishing sap from the olive root and we are to bear fruit from that nourishment! It was purely by God’s grace that the wild shoots were allowed to be a part of the tree! Read the rest of these verses; branches were broken off because of their unbelief, and we got to take their place. But we are not to be proud or arrogant about that fact, because if God didn’t spare the natural branches, what will he do to the wild ones that were grafted in?

The images here are powerful for Christians! First of all, although God cut many branches off the Jewish tree, he did not uproot the tree, but left the stump. The shoot of Jesus and the branches of his Gentile followers, grew from a Jewish stump. We have Jewish roots and Jesus is our Jewish branch. Also, the olive tree image is a constant reminder that Jesus is our source of life-He is our branch! From this source of nourishment, we are to bear fruit, fruit that will last (read John 15:16).

Now, go back and read John 15:1-17, Matthew 3:9-12 & 7:19,Luke3:9 & 13:6-8, Romans 11:17-24,&15:12 and Revelation 5:5 and see if the meaning isn’t much richer. What a privilege it is to be grafted in to the source! Are you bearing the fruit?