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

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

What’s in a Name?! Three Hebrew Children – Daniel 1:6-7 & Daniel 3



The Eastern mindset tells stories that paint a picture.



Nowhere is this more evident than the story in Daniel 3, of the three Hebrew captives that we Westerners know as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

To an Easterner names are extremely important, and often a picture of the story is in the names. A closer look at the names in this story will show us how far we have missed some of the meaning intended for the reader.

First of all, why do we know these three Hebrew children by their Babylonian names, only? Almost no one has their Hebrew names committed to memory. And what do their Babylonian names mean anyway?

  • Shadrach – “I’ll do whatever goddess Aku commands.”
  • Meshach – “There’s no one like goddess Aku”, or “who is like Aku?”
  • Abednego – “Nabu’s servant”

Aku and Nabu are Babylonian gods and these were the names given to these Hebrews by Nebuchadnezzar himself in attempt to get them to conform to and worship like he wanted. Even Nebuchadnezzar has Nabu in it and means Nabu, protect my son, or protect my boundary”

Now let’s look at their given Hebrew names, which is what we ought to call them by.

  • Hannaniah – “the Lord shows grace, YHWH is my strength, only the Lord will take care of me”
  • Mishael – “who is what God is? Who is like YHWH?
  • Azariah – “the Lord helps” – God’s servant

Now, the storyline is so much deeper. Will these three Hebrews live up to the name that their parents gave them or will they act and do what their pagan names suggest?

These men come through with flying colors and paint an awesome picture of the power of the God of the Jews. Verse 17 says, ” we don’t have to defend ourselves in this matter” (the Lord will help us-Azariah). “If we are to be thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand (only the Lord will take care of us-Hannaniah). (Who is what our God is?-Mishael), but if not we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

What’s in a name? A lot, evidently, as the story shows. No longer is this merely a children’s story with a nice ending, but a testimony to the power of God and the power of His Name. The three Hebrew children definitely lived up to their given names, and did not live up to their pagan names and triumphed over the evil foreigner.

The moral of the story is never read a Bible story without looking at the names.  The names will also tell a story and make a point to the listening reader.

Another point to make here for all of us,  do you go by your Christian name at school, or work, and your pagan name on the weekends?  Do you have two names, or are you true to your given name, the one that God gave you?

10 Commandments: Marriage Contract

Law is Love

Law is Love

What if the 10 Commandments were God’s way of saying “I love you, will you marry me”? What if we did not look at them as legalistic, a set of do’s and don’ts, but instead looked at them as God’s marriage contract with us?

If you look at the events leading up to the giving of the 10 Commandments, you realize that God wanted the Hebrews for His own. In Exodus 6 it says, He saved them, brought them out and redeemed them for His own. Then he led them through the desert and brought them to Mount Sinai. In a way the desert was the courtship period because that was where they got to know each other. When the Israelites got to Mt. Sinai, they were ready for the wedding vows and the wedding contract.

In many ways, the Bible views the Sinai events as a wedding vow. What some would call legalism, God called love. We have always looked at them as a list of do’s and don’ts, but what if we changed our thoughts to “God loved us so much that he wanted to marry us and live with us and here is what each of us promises to do for the other as our marriage contract.” God says in Exodus 19:5. If you will, then I will. Reread them like this – God says “I love you over all the other nations in the world. So please:

  1. Don’t have any other lovers, no statues, no pictures
  2. Don’t take my name in vain (our name). I’ve given you my name, so don’t bring shame to us and don’t misuse it.
  3. Find time to love me and get to know me for who I really am.
  4. Get along with the rest of our family, don’t treat each other badly.

We’ve turned the Commandments into legalism. When it’s really a way to show God you love him. You show your love by telling him and doing things for him, just like you would your spouse. You want to make your spouse happy, right? Not having the Commandments would be like having a wedding without vows.

We have the privilege of being married to Almighty God, because we have been grafted into God’s olive tree.

Wedding Ring

Wedding Ring

If you reread the Mount Sinai events and think of how much God must have loved us and all the things he did for us to bring us to His own, it should motivate us to want to please him. Can you remember back to your wedding and how beautiful your bride was and how happy you were and how much you wanted to please them? We need to reclaim that love affair, that feeling with God. We please him by obeying him. Jesus said, if you love me, you will keep my commandments.

God loves us like a bride! He called us “segullah” – His treasured possession. Marriage partners during this time in history would each give the other a treasured possession to keep as a symbol of the wedding. This is the word God uses – “segullah” – to describe us – we are His treasured possession.

We are the bride of Almighty God and His son, Messiah Jesus. They have done so much for me; I cannot help but want to do my part also, to love and obey. The people said, “Everything you have said we will do!” Jesus said, the most important commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and might (Matthew 22:34 – 40). This is how we say “I do” – by being obedient. Could we do any less? Tell the Lord, I Do!, I Do!, I Do!

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!

Who gets the credit?

A rabbi once said the resume of a follower of God should be very short.

While we were in Egypt, we saw picture after picture that told the common people that Pharaoh was responsible for the good things that happened in life.  He made the Nile flood, he provided the good crops, he handed out justice to Egypt’s enemies; he alone was in charge.

When God led the Israelites in the desert, He was in charge.  They had to count on Him for direction, for food and water, and for protection against their enemies.  After He 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 it on their own again.  Read Deuteronomy 8:17 and 18:

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.

When you go 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 got a job.”

“I was sick, but I got well.”

“I got straight A’s this semester.”

These are all typical statements we make without thinking of the source of all our blessings.  It is easy to count on God when you’re in the desert and you can’t begin to do it yourself, but when things go smoothly it doesn’t take us long to try to handle it ourselves and take the credit.

Three Tests

In the story of the Exodus, the Israelites are faced with three tests starting in Exodus 15:22-27.

  1. At Marah, after they had had no water for three days, God led them to water but it was bitter. In verse 25 it says there he tested them.
  2. In chapter 16, verses one through 36. God again tested Israelites concerning the manna. Verse 54 says “in this way, I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.”
  3. Their third test was at Rephidim and the water from the rock incident. Again, they were without water, and they actually tested the Lord saying, is God really among us or not? Huge mistake. Moses called the place Massah (testing) and Meribah (rebellion). See Psalms 95:7-8 and Hebrews 3:7 to 19.
Water from the rock

Water from the rock

Now, fast forward to Jesus. How many tests, did he incur and where did those tests occur? Three in the wilderness. The first similarity that you catch is that Moses in Deuteronomy 9:9 says. “When I went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the LORD had made with you, I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water.” Jesus follows Moses’ example by going up on the mountain and eating nothing for 40 days and nights.

When the devil tries to test Jesus, when he knew he was hungry, by telling him to turn the stones into bread, Jesus quotes the Deuteronomy 8 passage where it says that God caused the Israelites to hunger and then fed them with manna, so that they would know that man does not live by bread alone.

In Luke, Jesus’ second test comes as the devil leads Him up to a high place and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world and says. “I’ll give it all to you if you will worship me.” Jesus again quotes Deuteronomy, this time 6:13: “Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.”

In the third test, the devil told Jesus, if you are the son of God, throw yourself down and God will save you. Jesus again quotes Deuteronomy 6:16, which says don’t put the Lord your God to the test. Don’t test God’s faithfulness like the Israelites did in their third test at Massah and Meribah. They were saying “God give us a miracle!” God gave us a miracle, his son died for us.

The similarities in the Exodus test, and Jesus’ tests are very evident. And you know a Jewish mind would immediately go back to Deuteronomy 8 when they heard what Jesus did. Matthew’s order of the three tests swaps numbers two and three and RVL suggests that Matthew changed the order to correspond to the Shema – love the Lord your God with all your heart (food, sustenance), all your soul (gave his son, gave all), all your might (could have had all power and might but rejected it). Jesus faced those three tests continually – all your heart, all your soul, all your might.