How anyone is able to call God cruel or unloving, I can’t understand. Even in reading the widespread wrath of God in Revelation, we see mercy smeared all over it. Even as plagues of destruction are looming, Jesus is calling out for people to repent so he can offer salvation instead of destruction.
- 1-8 – God promises to restore Jerusalem and paints a desirable picture of the state to which it will return.
- 14-17 – God reminds the Israelites of why he brought destruction on their ancestors and explains how he would like for them to live so he can fully prosper them.
- 1-21 – This describes a series of seven plagues poured out on the unrighteous of the earth.
- 15 – Here we hear Jesus’ voice inserted in the series of plagues. Jesus is breaking in to give yet another plea for people to repent. The people are hearing what is to come and his hope is to save as many as will turn.
- 3-8 – David admits humanity’s insignificance in comparison to God and understands that it is a privilege to even be able to request of God. Then he continues to ask for God to reach out to him.
I’ve heard a number of people say they wish God would just give them specific instructions. Do this. Don’t do this. Then it would be far easier to follow them. We see in today’s Zechariah reading, and we’ve seen it so many times before in Scripture, that there are some specific instructions. With these, you can’t go wrong. Be kind. Show mercy. Help the poor. Hopefully that helps.
- 1-8 – The horses and chariots seem to represent God’s power returning to Judah and Israel.
- 9-14 – Zerubbabel and Joshua were to work together to rebuild the temple.
- 8-10 – God tells the Israelites, through Zechariah, exactly how he wants them to live. He is looking for kindness, mercy, and help for the poor.
- 11-14 – The Israelites didn’t listen but hardened their hearts.
- 1 – Though “plague” is never an enjoyable thing, it is good that the wrath of God will soon be over.
- 1-4 – David admits his past sins and repents. He knows that no one can stand before God’s righteousness.
- 9-12 – David not only looks to God for forgiveness, but also for protection from enemies.
- These are fascinating examples of creatures who have been given little but make the most of it. Presumably, we could learn a lot from them.
Joel was incredibly familiar with Scripture, but that causes him not to go into great detail of what he’s trying to accomplish or what exactly needs to happen. But, like many of the other prophets, he’s calling the Israelites to repentance. It’s interesting. Check it out.
Suffering is terrible. It is particularly hard when it comes by no fault of your own. Today’s Psalm is a good one to turn to when your suffering blind sides you and there was nothing you could have done to prevent it. Turns to God, not to despair.
- 3-9 – Through Balaam’s obedience to God, he is blessed with a greater understanding and insight to God’s plan, provision, and protection for the Israelites. He expresses this in this oracle.
- 1-5 – God takes idolatry and worship of other gods very seriously.
- 9 – A plague killing 24,000 people seems harsh, but God’s plan was to set the Israelites apart. When they intermixed with other nations, they often fell to the temptation of worshipping other gods. Clearly this Israelite who took the Midianite woman did so without regard to the congregation and interfered with worship in doing so.
- 8-15 – The first people to find out about Jesus’ birth are shepherds, one of the lowliest jobs in their society.
- Simeon offers a special blessing for Jesus because it had been revealed to him who Jesus was. Notice that he also is described as having the Holy Spirit upon him. The Holy Spirit was active and working in people well before Jesus officially sent him to the disciples after his resurrection and ascension.
- This Psalm is good for times when we suffer through no fault of our own. David calls out to God and trusts him to take care of him.
Anyone reading the account of the plagues in Exodus comes upon a troubling phenomenon: sometimes Pharaoh hardens his own heart (8:15), whereas other times (7:3, 10:1) the Lord hardens Pharoah’s heart. Which is it? If it is the Lord who causes Pharoah’s heart to be hard, then how is it fair for Pharaoh to be held responsible for his actions?
Short answer: I don’t know.
Longer short answer:
The Bible is not a legal brief, written and revised countless times by people trying to close every possible loophole for future liability. The Bible is not an airtight mathematical theorem of a complex geometry problem. The Bible is instead a collection of writings that reflect God’s interactions with men and women over the centuries. The Bible tells the great story of redemption; it does not attempt to answer every question, reconcile every inconsistency, and remove every nuance. If it were a legal brief, you’d need to fire your lawyer. But, it’s not. The purpose of the Bible is not to defend God from a lawsuit; one of the purposes of the Bible is to tell us what we need to know about God’s plan of salvation.
I’ve wondered if perhaps the parts of the Bible that give us difficulty, that trouble us, are perhaps the parts of the Bible to which we most need to pay close attention. Maybe God wants parts of the scripture to trouble us. Maybe the parts that give us pause are the parts over which we most need to pause.
Beware Theological Schemes That Explain Everything
I tend to be wary of theological explanations that have an answer for every difficult spot in the scriptures. It is true that sometimes we have difficulty in the scriptures because we haven’t studied enough, and in these times explanations can be helpful and clear up a perceived difficulty that really isn’t a difficulty at all. But other times, the scripture is just difficult, and no one can really give a satisfactory explanation. The Bible is not a legal brief–ambiguity is allowed. The Bible is not a mathematical proof–you are allowed to have remainders that don’t completely fit into the system.
Two Ways of Understanding Pharoah’s Hard Heart
- Maybe we take the text at face value: sometimes Pharaoh deliberately resists God, and sometimes God supernaturally increases Pharaohs resistance. This seems unfair, but our perspective is admittedly limited, and maybe the Exodus can only happen if Pharaoh becomes more and more stubborn. Maybe things have to get worse before they can get better. As we’ll see, God will ultimately use Pharaoh’s evil against itself, so as to lead the Egyptians to destruction in the Red Sea. And, as the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 9:14-19, we are not in the position to judge the Lord’s actions. We are not God.
- Maybe God just gives Pharaoh over to the desires of his heart. Maybe God doesn’t make Pharaoh do anything: maybe God just lets it happen. Maybe God knows that Pharaoh is not going to relent, but God’s foreknowledge might still allow space for Pharoah’s free (wicked) choice.
I don’t have a good answer to this theological problem, but maybe that’s okay. After all, life is not neat; life does not conform to a legal brief or a mathematical theorem. And neither does scripture.
What do you think?
The Passover is brutal. First borns of every creature die and you save your own family from this destruction by slaughtering a flawless lamb and wiping its blood above your door. But Passover is an expression of mercy and justice still celebrated today. The Passover and final plague bring the story of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt full circle. In Exodus chapter 1 we read of the Pharaoh exterminating every male Israelite born. At The Passover, the Egyptians felt the consequences of their sins.
- God continues to call Moses to enact the plagues, “lift your hand, etc.” God does not need us but calls us and uses us for his purposes
- 24 – Pharaoh sends Moses away but God doesn’t seem to be convinced he will actually let him go
- 11:7 – God makes it clear that Israel, not Egypt, is his chosen nation
- 11 – Eating normally happened in a relaxed, reclined position – fast food was not a thing
- 1-13 – The Passover becomes an annual celebration – it is the festival Jesus was celebrating when he was arrested and crucified – he became the sacrificial lamb like each household needed. This is why some people say phrases like “covered by the blood of the lamb”
- A parable aimed at those who have been faithful over time and those who come to faith in the last hour – both receive salvation – do we begrudge those who came to faith at the last hour and receive the same reward?
- Jesus predicted his death multiple times but no one believed him
- 26-28 – we want status and acknowledgement, Jesus calls us to humble ourselves instead
- Continue to work for the things that are important. When you stop doing those things, you’ll be left behind.