Tag Archives: God

Zipporah (A Heart of Sacrifice) Part 2

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Exodus 3-4

As we read through the Exodus narrative, we come to the famous burning bush passage found in chapters 3-4.

Zipporah mt sinai

This is an image of a present day map showing where scholars believe Mt. Sinai (or Mt. Horeb) was located. The land of Midian is just to the east of that body of water, so this would mean that Moses would have shepherded Reuel’s flocks even beyond the traditional Midian borders. This is the place where Moses meets God for the first time and where God promises Moses that He will meet him when they leave Egypt.

Here is a picture (from Google maps!) looking out from one of the mountains in this region:

Zipporah Sinai

Remember the issue of polytheism? I believe that as we read these chapters, we can understand Moses’ response to God more accurately when read in light of his polytheistic culture and background.

Moses grew up in Egypt and would have been taught in the Egyptian ways. The Egyptian way was polytheistic (I’m thinking of at least four Egyptian gods as I’m typing this, and there were lots more!). He and Zipporah likely had a similar upbringing due to the polytheistic tendencies of the two nations. It is very possible that Moses knew NOTHING about the God of Israel, just as Zipporah knew nothing of YHWH.

You may have noticed in Ex. 3-4 that when God spoke to Moses, he wanted to know what name he would give to the people to let them know which god was coming to their rescue BECAUSE THERE WERE SO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM! I almost sympathize with him being hesitant because this seems to be Moses’ first encounter with the God of Israel.

Fred Blumenthal writes, “To have been so conditioned, and yet to see, hear and accept the revelation at the Burning Bush was an accomplishment probably unequaled in the history of mankind.

God tells Moses, (Exodus 2:23-25) I’ve heard the cries of His people. And I’m sending you, Moses, to deliver them.

Ernest Neufeld writes about the irony of God choosing Moses for this mission:

How ironic that a Hebrew child, the adopted grandson of Pharaoh, brought up in the Egyptian way of life in the royal court, was the one whom the God of Israel chose as His instrument to deliver His people from the hands of the god-king of Egypt!

God could have chosen any other Israelite, including Aaron! He could have found someone who was not so hesitant or who felt more qualified for the job. The irony is in the transformation that takes place in this all-but-assimilated Hebrew into an uncompromising champion and defender of God’s chosen people. Thus did God redeem Moses from his bondage for the redemption of the Israelites from theirs. (From The Redemption of Moses by Ernest Neufeld in Judaism)

Can you imagine how the conversation went when Moses goes home to Zipporah: (after Exodus 3:1-4:17)

“Honey, you’re never going to guess what just happened to me!” with a hint of smoke on his clothing.

“I saw a bush on fire that didn’t burn up!”

“I know, it doesn’t make sense!” “And then the bush spoke to me.”

“I swear! I’m not making this up!”

“But that’s not even the craziest part.”

“So the bush, I mean, God, He wants me to go lead His people out of slavery in Egypt.”

“No, I have no idea how that’s going to work.”

“No, I don’t know why He asked me to do it. I’m telling you, I TRIED to get out of it!”

“So do you feel like going on a trip with me? I really think this is going to be a BIG deal!”

Again, we have no such conversation recorded in the Bible, so it’s hard to know what Zipporah’s reaction would have been.

If we could recap, we’ve gotten a glimpse of who Zipporah is and some of the roles she plays. She’s a Midianite, a shepherdess, a daughter, a sister, wife, and mother. But do you get any sense of her relationship to the God of Israel?

Not really.

We just barely get a sense of Moses’ relationship with God after this encounter.

18 Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Please let me go back to my brothers in Egypt to see whether they are still alive.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” 19 And the Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” 20 So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand. 21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” 24 At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision. Exodus 4:18-26

IDENTITY: Sojourner

After Moses returns he goes to Jethro in 4:18 (yes, his name has changed. He was called Reuel in Ex. 2) and asks permission to leave so he can complete the mission God Himself has called him to do. And why would he do this?

Moses had been in Midian for FORTY years (Acts 7:29-30). That’s half of a lifetime! He was 80 years old at this point in time! Also note that Moses probably realized that he would be leaving this place of refuge, his father-in-law’s home, for good, never to return. He was still the foreigner, a sojourner in the Midianite land, returning to Egypt, the foreign land in order to bring them out to the Promised Land. It was likely out of gratitude for Jethro’s hospitality in taking him in as his son-in-law that Moses returns to take leave of his father-in-law’s household. He wanted to show him HONOR.

Isn’t it interesting that Moses gives Jethro no details concerning why he was to go back to Egypt. He just had this amazing encounter with God and says absolutely nothing about it to his father-in-law. In fact, he kind of lies about it by saying: “I’m just going to check and see if they’re alive.” !!

What is more startling is the way in which Jethro responds to Moses’ request. “Go in peace.” I’m guessing Moses breathed a sigh of relief that his father-in-law was not like Laban!

Are you surprised to read anew in verse 20 that Moses took his wife and sons with him to Egypt? By the way, he does have 2 sons but we haven’t heard about the other son, Eliezer, yet! He doesn’t show up formally until Gen 18:4 (which I’ll get to in a few paragraphs).

Regardless of how this happened, I had always pictured Moses and Aaron in Egypt, by themselves. But now we must picture Moses heading out with his family.

What kind of thoughts went through Zipporah’s mind as she trudged along beside her husband, the God-appointed champion for the Israelites?

She didn’t have the experience of the burning bush. She couldn’t see herself as an Israelite like her husband. Did she even care about them? Was she angry about leaving her home country? Or feel privilege about having Moses as a husband? Did she wish she could have talked with God like her husband did? Did her religious experiences as a daughter to a priest serve to prepare her heart for what she would encounter on her way to Egypt before the one true God? As far as we know, she had no knowledge of the God of Israel.

Is this perhaps why Moses brings her and their sons along with him, to be able to allow them to see firsthand what the God of Israel was like? How He had chosen the Israelites to be His special possession over all the people of the earth?

The only thing we know is that she went. She followed her husband as an act of submission to his leadership. She became a Sojourner too. I’ll go wherever you go. Your people my people.

Have you ever been there before? Maybe God called you to obedience in some area of life. Or maybe, like Zipporah, God called your husband to obedience and you got to go along for the ride because you are one flesh after all, so his story is your story.

My best example of this my current circumstance! How ironic! About 4 years ago Eric felt God pressing his heart to follow in obedience to seminary and beyond. As his wife, I was not a fan of this decision. I felt like God hadn’t told me anything! It was a difficult and long process for me to come to terms with seminary as a reality for our family. It would mean long hours of my husband studying in an office and not time spent with our family. It would mean fewer opportunities to get out and do outings with friends or family because that precious little time would need to be spent with our family. It would mean I might feel like a single mom at times because he would not be available to help. (I’m really not looking for anyone to feel sorry for me. I’m truly throwing a tantrum.)

To top it all off, getting to go back to school has been a dream of mine for years. I could be a professional student for the rest of my life and be completely happy with that arrangement. But it would not be me sitting in those classrooms and reading those books or writing those papers. (Some of you are thinking, “who would really want to do this anyway?!”) No, it would be my husband, the one who had no desire to sit in classrooms or read books much less write those papers.

But I saw God work in ways that made no sense in order for Eric to be able to go back to school. He showed Himself as the sovereign God over our circumstances and dreams. I became a sojourner on a journey which was communicated not to me but to my husband.

Thank you God, for this story about Zipporah. I can relate.

IDENTITY: Heroine

Then verse 24 completely throws us off our guard. What in the world is going on? First Moses is exiled, then he’s married, before you know it, he’s talking to God who gives him an important mission, and now God wants to kill him? Did I miss something here?

The phrase in v. 24 “sought to put him to death” is the same phrase used of Moses in Ex. 2:14 when he killed the Egyptian and of Pharaoh who “sought to kill Moses” in Ex. 2:15.

Victor Hamilton makes a great point that God left room for mediation, allowing time for Zipporah. We see Zipporah spring to action as if she knew exactly what needed to be done! But how could Zipporah have known what to do or that what she was doing would work? Did she know about the covenant that God had made with Abraham about the circumcision?

Douglas Stuart writes that the many people groups in the ancient world practiced circumcision, including the Midianites. So Zipporah would have grown up understanding how circumcision was done and what its significance was. (NAC on Exodus)

He also writes that when she said “bridegroom of blood” (v. 25) or “relative of blood”, this phrase very well could have been the official phrase used when performing the rite of circumcision. This would have legitimized the deed. (It would be similar to the phrases we use when performing a baptism: “In the name of the Father…, buried with Christ…raised to walk…”)

If we take a step back and look at these THREE verses as a whole (v. 24-26), we find even more questions: The original text does not specify who is being referred to in these verses. The only names in the verses are God and Zipporah. Whatever translation you’re reading has already taken the liberty of deciding these factors. So there’s the confusion about who God sought to kill and who was being circumcised and who was the bridegroom of blood.

It is no wonder that David Penchansky says “Biblical scholars love this passage because it is totally incomprehensible.” (From Hamilton Exodus)

Here are the two major theories of interpretation:

  1. God was seeking to kill Gershom because he was not a part of the covenantal people yet (being uncircumcised). This theory is tied into the dialogue between God and Moses about God planning to kill the first-born son in verses 22-23. God seeking to kill Gershom would be symbolic of God seeking to kill the firstborn of Egypt.

The reason this is important is that, “If Moses [was going to] plead for God’s firstborn, if he [would] represent God at all, then his own first-born must be an Israelite. Otherwise his non-Israelite first-born will perish, as will all first-borns not protected by the blood of the Covenant. Gershom [had to] enter the Covenant in order to escape the coming [Angel of Death].” (Howell)

Also, remember the phrase about the bridegroom of blood? Howell writes that once Gershom is circumcised, he is a bridegroom (relative) by means of blood both to YHWH and to Zipporah. He states, Zipporah’s identity with the covenant community was wrapped up in her marriage to Moses. Moses was a blood relative because of genealogy and circumcision. Because Zipporah obviously could not be circumcised … her identity with Israel existed through her identity with Moses. Zipporah was considered a member of the people of Israel because of her marriage to a circumcised Israelite. Now that Gershom was circumcised, he too was a member of the people of Israel. Therefore, it is reasonable that Zipporah would say, ‘You are a relative by means of blood to me. (From Firstborn Son of Moses by Terry John in The Journal for the Study of the Old Testament in ATLAS)

  1. Another view indicates that God sought to kill Moses because he failed to circumcise his son. John Calvin’s commentary on these verses is in line with this view.

However this view also raises some serious questions. For one, did Moses even know about the covenant God had made with Abraham (since he was raised in Egypt) AND if he didn’t know, how could God punish him in his ignorance? In addition to this, why would God choose to punish him now instead of correcting him in their earlier conversations?

The suddenness of the attack might be explained if it were the case that Zipporah was pregnant with Eliezer as they traveled, then gave birth, and after the 8 days commanded by God for the act of circumcision they chose not to do it, thus incurring God’s wrath.

However, many question whether death was an appropriate punishment for remaining uncircumcised. The covenant made to Abraham is in Genesis 17:14:

14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.

Some scholars believe that to be “cut off” meant only to be “excluded from the covenant” or dismissed from the nation.

Robinson explains that, “The omission of the rite of circumcision seems to me to provide an inadequate motive for the attack for the following reasons. The command to circumcise had indeed already been given, to Abraham (Gen. xvii), but the punishment for remaining uncircumcised was stated to be exclusion from the covenant (Gen. xvii 14), not death.” (p. 11 Robinson)

Still other scholars believe that when someone was “cut off” they were killed. If you look up the word “cut off” (occurs 283 times!) and visit all of the cross references, some (but not all) seem to indicate death as in the Ex 31 passage:

Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Exodus 31:14

So your view about what it meant to be “cut off” from the nation will determine whether or not you believe death was an appropriate punishment for remaining uncircumcised.

Other scholars who discard the circumcision argument give other reasons for God seeking to kill Moses but quite frankly, they are a bit of a stretch!

One of these views claims that Moses was the object of the divine wrath due to his lack of enthusiasm and willingness to obey God’s word. And it was by the blood of his son’s circumcision that Moses’ sin is atoned for.

Still another view comes from scholar, William Propp, who explains the reason God sought to kill Moses was because of his sin of murdering the Egyptian. If you take on this view, you must read something into the text that isn’t obviously there, trying to explain a difficult passage with ideas that aren’t directly apparent in the text itself.

Regardless of which view you believe is most plausible, I want to direct your thoughts to Zipporah and her role in this narrative. Zipporah is portrayed here as the heroine (v. 26), and Jewish folklore praises her as a heroine, not just here, but in their traditions concerning her. (In fact, one tradition taught that when Moses fled to Midian, Jethro feared the wrath of pharaoh, and had Moses thrown into a hole. Zipporah tended to him for 10 years after which point Jethro found him still surviving and Zipporah then demanded that he be taken out and given to her as her husband.) (From Encyclopedia of Jewish folklore and traditions by Raphael Patai; Hayah Bar-Yitshak)

Zipporah is the one who saved Moses (or her son) from the divine wrath. In fact Hamilton writes that we might find a parallel between the women in Exodus 1-2 who saved Moses from the wrath of Pharaoh, and Zipporah who saves Moses from the wrath of the Lord. Another parallel could be the shedding of blood via the act of circumcision averted divine wrath just as “touching” the blood to the Hebrews’ houses in Egypt turned away God’s wrath from them in the night of the first Passover (Hamilton).

This is Zipporah’s first “encounter” with the God of Israel (that we know of). So this first encounter would appear to be, well, not so pleasant! What kinds of images must have come to mind as Zipporah tried to wrap her mind around the God of Israel? Did she see Him as a vindictive, scary god, out to destroy her and her family? Did it occur to her that Yahweh was not just some obscure deity that she was accustomed to worshipping? That this God was personal and had created her and loved her? Did she realize that He was the One True God?

In my Dictionary of the Pentateuch, under family relationships, I read that while blood kinship played a key role in determining your personal identity, it was in fact the issue of covenant that truly determined your status or membership in a group of people. Zipporah had no chance of being an Israelite unless she fell under the covenant of her husband (because after all, she couldn’t be circumcised).

As we think about her encounter with God, consider the customs of her time. A woman in the ancient Near East would worship the god of her father, and then, once her marriage contract had been arranged and she officially joined the new household of her husband, she would transfer her allegiance and her worship to the god of her husband.  (Dictionary of Pentateuch)

Up to this point, Zipporah and Moses were still under Jethro’s authority. Now that they have left her father’s household, she had a decision to make concerning her allegiance to God. We can’t really know for certain what truly happened in her heart, but it would make sense that this terrifying encounter could serve as a catalyst for determining her heart’s loyalty. Think about it, if you had every possible god to choose from in your worldview, and then you encountered the God of Israel in this way, wouldn’t you determine then and there that no other god could possibly be the one you would commit to follow? You might believe and know He was and is sovereign over ALL.

Here is where I see the real issue surface for this story. What was Zipporah’s experience with the gods? You perform the sacrifices, you appease the gods. When you make them angry, and they don’t give you any rain for a season or they give you destructive locusts that destroy your crops, you must offer them something to turn away their wrath. OR you offer sacrifices with hopes that you can manipulate your god into doing something for you – fertile crops, fertile wombs, better rains, etc. OR you do all these “religious” things, perform these sacrifices, to be seen as a good daughter, mother, wife, etc. But what does God say?

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. Psalm 51:16

Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. 1 Sam 15:22

Perhaps this night was God’s way of clarifying any misconceptions about who He, the One True God, was. He was not like those other gods and would not be treated as such. He desired love and obedience and a true knowledge of who He was. He didn’t want His people to simply offer a sacrifice while their hearts were far from Him. He wanted them to obey. To LISTEN to His Voice.

This woman with a heart of sacrifice would learn quickly that a heart of obedience is better.

Before Zipporah could see Him as the God coming to rescue His people, she first needed to see Him as the Almighty God, just in all His ways, and terrifying in His holiness.

God is fierce. He inspires awe and fear.

One of my favorite quotations is from C. S. Lewis, Mr. Beaver speaking of Aslan says, “’Course he isn’t safe, but he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (ch. 8, The Lion, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).” After Aslan leaves, Mr. Beaver tells the children, “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion. “ (ch. 17, The Lion, Witch, Wardrobe)

Can you imagine Moses meeting with God that first time on the mountain, and God presents Himself as a tame, fluffy bunny? No way! He revealed Himself as a Consuming Fire in a bush!

And how did the Egyptians feel about God when they were the recipients of His judgment? I’m certain they were filled with fear, even terror, at the mention of His name.

How did God appear to the Israelites as they wandered and camped in the wilderness? Not as a golden calf or a bronze snake or any other metallic or wooden object but as a Pillar of Fire and of Cloud (more like Smoke). These were not objects that could be conjured up with human hands, the Fire and the Cloud symbolized His very presence and it was terrifying.

And when God gave the people His Law on the mountain, He spoke and it sounded like THUNDER and that mountain QUAKED and SMOKED and appeared as though it would BURN UP because God. Was. There.

He is not safe, but He is good. The people were terrified of God and begged for Him not to speak to them but to have Moses speak on His behalf.

And just because God took on flesh and revealed Himself through His Son doesn’t make Him tame. The fierceness of His character did not diminish.

Jesus is portrayed in Revelation as having eyes that were like a flame of fire, His voice like the roaring waters, with a sword coming out of His mouth and riding on a horse like a victorious and yet fierce King against His enemies. (Rev. 1, 19)

Do you hear the hoof beats? They thunder and strike fear in the heart of the enemy.

Even as He walked on earth, He was anything but tame. He cut through people’s hearts with His words and confronted the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He drove out the money changers. He calmed the storms. He drove out demons. (And you better believe those demons feared Him!) He expelled sickness. He raised the dead! And He died on the cross, defeating our worst enemies, sin and death.

Who else but our fierce, fearless, terrifying God could do any of that?!

Our God is terrifying and we stand in awe and wonder fully knowing what He can do and yet aware that He stays His hand, showing mercy because of the sacrifice of His Son.

HE is no less terrifying in Moses’ time than He was when He came in flesh than He is now.

And just because we can approach the throne of grace with confidence (Heb 10:19-22) does not mean that He is not to be feared. It just means the encounter with Him is that much more awesome because we aren’t consumed.

His mercy that much greater because we aren’t destroyed.

His hand that much more powerful because we know He uses such great restraint.

His love that much more meaningful because of what it cost Him.

So yes, we can approach God with confidence but ONLY because of the sacrifice of the Son for by it alone are we given access to Him. The penalty paid to the only Holy God. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence because He FIRST entered the inner place behind the curtain, going as a forerunner on OUR BEHALF (Heb 6:19). He always goes before us to ensure our way. He is the guarantor of a better covenant (Heb 7:22), our Great High Priest forever (Heb 6:20).

The fear of God truly is the beginning of wisdom. Because it takes a wise person to know where she stands and where HE stands. And who stands in her place.

This God can be feared and yet stir affection in our hearts for He is also perfect in love. He is terrifying and yet full of love and affection for His people. It is next to impossible for us to fathom this balance because we are incapable of being perfectly loving (though I’m sure we can be perfectly terrifying in our anger!).

While God delivered judgment after judgment on Egypt, He also displayed His perfect love for Israel, His first-born Son, by rescuing them from Egypt. At Mt. Sinai He displayed His awesome power, striking fear in their hearts while still showing love to Israel by choosing them as the nation He would bless. Terror and Love mingling together in perfect harmony.

Zipporah learned the fear of God that night. He would not be mistaken as a tame, easily-manipulated god like those she was accustomed to serving. Neither was He reckless or malevolent.

He is not SAFE, but He is GOOD.

The errand, the great mission, which God sent Moses to do was a serious matter, not to be taken lightly. He would show His great power over Egypt and show His saving hand to the Israelites. But neither nation would mistake Him as a man-made god. And Zipporah and Moses needed to know this before they arrived. They needed to know who they were dealing with, and that He wasn’t messing around.

Because what happens next is the terrifying judgment on Egypt. Exodus 5-17 details all that occurred to the Egyptians. We do not know whether or not Zipporah was there to see what God did because the text never mentions her in these chapters. There is no explanation of when Zipporah left to return to Midian, but we know she did based on Exodus 18. Scholars are again divided over her whereabouts. Some believe she was in Egypt for a time until Moses sent her home for safety reasons, while still others believe she was sent home right after their terrifying encounter with God. I’d like to go with the view that she went to Egypt, at least for a time. So following in Exodus 4-17:

Ex 4:27-31 The Lord tells Aaron to go to Moses and they form their plan. Then they go to the elders of Israel and the people believed.

What did Zipporah see as she waited in Egypt?

Ex. 8 God sends frogs

God sends a plague of gnats

Ex. 9 Pestilence on the livestock

God sends a plague of boils/sores

God sends a plague of hail (flashing fire) “Um, Moses, can I go home now?!”

Ex. 10 God sends a plague of locusts

God sends the plague of darkness

Ex. 11 Plague of the death of the firstborn son

Ex. 14 God divides the Red Sea

Ex 16 God gave them manna from heaven and quail to eat.

{Stay tuned for Part 3 – Exodus 18}

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Zipporah (A Heart of Sacrifice) Part 1

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Exodus 2:15-22

What’s in a name? If I were to say certain names, they would conjure up very specific images.

Al Capone – mobster.

Mother Teresa – saint.

J.J. Watt – Texans hero!

Moses – greatest Israelite prophet

Now what about Zipporah?  *crickets*

We don’t know much about her, and what we do know is puzzling.

In the ancient near-East, to give your name to a person was to tell them the essence of who you are. This is why the naming of your children was so important and why God changed Abram’s and Jacob’s names, revealing how He was working in their lives, changing their character and purpose.

So what’s in a name?

Yahweh – God

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Exodus 3:13-15

Talk about a name! I Am! It was so powerful that the Pharisees in Jesus’ time fell down at the very name. In this passage, God identifies Himself with the Patriarchs yet reveals that He is the God who stands alone. He sets Himself apart from all people and all gods. And yet, He invites people into His story and gives them a name and a purpose.

So I asked you, what’s in a name? Zipporah – Midianite, Daughter, Sister, Shepherdess, Wife, Mom, Israelite?

Zipporah actually comes from the Hebrew root word tzipor meaning bird to be exact. The Midrash Shemot Rabbah (1:32) locates the root in Zipporah’s name. When Jethro asks his daughters to invite Moses to dine at his home, she flies off like a bird to bring him back. (Encyclopedia of Jewish Folklore and Traditions)

After Moses had murdered the Egyptian, we read:

15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. 18 When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” 21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. 22 She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” Exodus 2:15-22

IDENTITY: Midianite:  (v. 15)

As we form a picture of Zipporah in our minds, the first identity marker we find is Midianite. What did it mean to be a Midianite? Bible footnote (FN) for verse 15: The Midianites were descendants of Abraham by another wife, Keturah, whom he married after Sarah died (Gen 25:1, 2).

We first hear of this people group in Genesis 37:25-36 when Midianite merchants purchased Joseph from his brothers then led him to slavery in Egypt. Later we hear of the Kenites, probably from the Midianite clan to which Reuel belonged, who joined the Israelites, integrating seamlessly into their society (Nu 10:29-33; Judges 1:16; 4:11).

Hamilton’s Commentary also notes that Midian consisted of a confederation of peoples, one of which are the Kenites. Their name meant “smiths” or metalworkers at the mines in the mountains of Sinai/Midian. They may also be a clan of priests, of whom Reuel belonged to.

Finally we hear of the problems Israel has with the Midianites after they settled the Promised Land in Numbers 22:1-7 and after the Midianite women entice the Israelite men into idolatry and sexual immorality in Numbers 25:1-6. God orders Moses to declare war on the Midianites for their sins in causing Israel to sin and all 5 Midian kings are killed (Num 25:16-18; 31:1-18). Later we read of the judges, particularly Gideon, delivering the Israelites from the hand of the Midianites who had been raiding Israel during their harvest seasons (Jdg 6:3-6, 7). (From Archaelogical Study Bible article on Midian p. 92)

map-egypt-midian-900x709x300

The land of Midian was most likely located south of Canaan and southeast of Egypt and east of the Sinai Peninsula. It is best to think of Midian as a region rather than a specific location, however, because of the belief that they were a collection or confederation of people groups. This area is present day Saudi Arabia.

Zipporah Midian land

Google maps photo credit. A view of the terrain of Midian.

IDENTITY: Daughter of Midianite Priest

In order to fully understand Zipporah, we need to think about what it meant to be the Daughter of a priest. We can ask the question: What was Reuel’s job as a priest in Midian and how did this affect Zipporah? (v. 16) The only evidence we find in the Bible about his role as priest is that he performed the sacrifice when meeting up with Moses after the Exodus in chapter 18.

Reuel’s name meant “Friend of God/El” or “God/El is a Friend” (From Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary by Victor Hamilton). This name likely came to him after he expressed his belief in God in Exodus 18, becoming the “friend of God”, although many believe he had always been a worshipper of God/Yahweh.

The Midianite culture was said to be a polytheistic one. Fred Blumenthal writes: “the concept of one universal God was unknown in the world at large. The overriding belief was that gods… were ruling over a distinct locality or a specific nation. Once a god’s adherents no longer lived in his domain, or if his nation no longer could serve him (and according to Egyptian belief, slaves had no god) he had lost his potency. He either disappeared or died.” (in the Jewish Bible Quarterly)

So as we picture Zipporah, you can imagine with me the kinds of sacrifices she had to make, being the daughter of a “religious leader” in her culture. I don’t know if we can truly compare her to that of a present day preacher’s kid, but I can imagine that the people held them in high regard which means they also had high expectations of her and her family. And while we don’t know exactly what their religious practices were, she would likely have been expected to participate in all their religious rites and rituals.

Zipporah Midianite tented shrine

Another reason scholars believe the Midianites were polytheistic is because of what was found from excavations done in the region. Here is a tented shrine found at Timna in northern Midian territory (tent holes in ground for poles; naos or “most holy place” in the middle right against the wall).

Zipporah Midianite gods Zipporah Midianite gods2 Zipporah Midianite gods3

Here are pictures of the Egyptian goddess “Hathor” who was a cow deity found in Midianite territory. It appears as though they often adopted Egyptian gods as their own. The middle picture shows her “cow” ears. The last picture is a defaced Hathor. The archaeologists believe that the Midianites recaptured this Egyptian land and defaced all the Egyptian god and goddess statues.

Zipporah Midianite gods5      Zipporah Midianite gods4

Lastly we have a figurine of the Midianite god-man and a bronze snake. Egyptians worshipped snakes and Midianites appeared to as well.

While it may be possible that, being Abraham’s descendants, they had heard of Yahweh, the Midianites most likely served other gods. This means, Zipporah served other gods under the direction of her father because women worshipped whatever gods their fathers served since this was a patriarchal society.

IDENTITY: Midianite Shepherdess (v. 16)

Next we see Zipporah in the role of Shepherdess. The role of a shepherd went to either servants or women. In other words, it was not the ideal job. No, Zipporah had her choices made for her. Her life of sacrifice would have been forced on her whether she liked it or not.

Being a shepherd couldn’t have been an easy task for them either based on what we know from other stories about shepherds in the Bible.

First of all, Midian has a very arid climate and rocky terrain as you see in this picture:

Zipporah Midian terrain

Secondly there were dangers of wild animals and robbers. For example David had to fight off bears and lions (1 Sam 13)! Not only that, but to water an entire flock took some time and effort (a thirsty camel could drink 30 gallons in just 15 minutes!). This explains why Reuel was surprised to find them back home so early.

Then it sounds like these ladies had to contend with other shepherds that weren’t as chivalrous as this outsider, Moses.

Zipporah well

Modern day site of Well at Midian

So back to the text:

There are so many examples of irony and foreshadowing in Exodus. Consider verse 17. The phrase “drove them away” can be seen as a parallel to Moses being driven away from Egypt by Pharaoh. And the phrase “saved them” as a foreshadowing of God saving Israel from Egypt.

The day this Midianite shepherdess took her flock to the well turned out to be the most life-changing event in all of her life up to that point. Talk about an interruption of the heart! And can’t you just see the sovereignty of God being displayed here.

Out of all the peoples of the earth, God chose the Israelites to be His special possession and for Him to be their God. To be included in this promise was a privilege that only an Israelite could enjoy. Here we see Zipporah, a Midianite shepherdess, becoming part of this grand story. And even though we may become frustrated with how little is written about her encounter with the God of Israel, we can know that it was through His sovereignty and love that He brings this shepherdess into the fold.

IDENTITY: Wife of Moses (v. 21)

The next identity marker for Zipporah is as a Wife. This part of the story actually makes me laugh every time I read it. We read about Moses rescuing these ladies, and they just leave him there at the well! Reuel seems astounded at their lack of hospitality, and wanting to thank the man who helped his daughters, he orders that he be brought to his home, feeds him, and gives him a wife from among his daughters!

Zipporah was the lucky one. This Midianite woman became the wife of the greatest prophet of Israel. And yet we have so little written about her that you get the sense that she is completely overshadowed by her husband and sometimes even by her father.

In fact when you see Reuel mentioned, he’s referred to first as priest and then almost solely as “father-in-law”. This passage establishes the important relationship being between Moses and his father-in-law when it says in v. 21: Moses was content to dwell with the man.

This gives us pause because of our current culture and the importance of the husband-wife relationship stressed in our modern times. George W. Coats writes about this in Moses in Midian:It was common in The marriage tradition, as in Genesis 29 (Jacob/Laban), to emphasize the relationship between the bridegroom and his father-in-law, not the relationship between the bridegroom and his wife. (From Moses in Midian)

We have to keep in mind that their patriarchal society resulted in different customs from our own. Arranged marriages are also something of an anomaly to us since we don’t live that way in our culture. Though it seems like a huge sacrifice to us when we read of a woman being given to a man she hardly knows, it probably seemed as natural to them as performing their daily sacrifices. Oh the irony of what sacrifices would await Zipporah as she lived her life with this man of God.

IDENTITY: Mother (v. 22)

To wrap up our passage we get a nice little bow wound neatly around a baby boy as we see Zipporah in the role of MOTHER. The very last verse rushes right into information about their offspring! In my dictionary of the Pentateuch, I read that the marriage contract was not finalized until the consummation of the marriage took place. So even though this one verse seems out of place or even like it jumped too far ahead in our timeline, I believe it was to show that Moses and Zipporah did indeed become husband and wife legally. Verse 22 tells us they had a son named Gershom which meant sojourner in Hebrew. FN: This name suggests a foreigner who was banished into exile. Because Moses had become a sojourner or stranger in a foreign land.

Because we will read more about her in the role of mother, I won’t go into further detail at this point.

{Stay tuned for Part 2 next week. Exodus 3-4}

Relentless Pursuit

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One of the things I love most about the Spirit of God is how He weaves thoughts and words together in my mind (and in other’s minds) to make the largest impact, not only in my heart but in countless others. It is completely impressive to me that He can speak one message that lands thirty different ways in thirty women’s hearts.

What is even more thrilling to me is that He uses us at all to take part in His grand mission of reaching hearts. What a privilege it is to be able to teach the Word of God and then hear how it impacted someone’s life in that very moment. I spoke about the widow of Nain, clearly a story of loss and restoration, and heard from many women how they needed to hear that God is the God who sees them. He hears their cries. He bends down to bring them out of their affliction.

I am struck with awe and humility. There’s no other way to describe it. I had no idea that what I would say would make any impact. I worked on the lesson months ago. I thought that as I typed, they were just words on a page. Any clever connections or interesting insights were divinely directed so that His message would be cast out like seeds on the tilled field. His Word goes out and it gets in.

I learned that my Father will stop at nothing to draw His people to Himself, reminding them of His simple love for them. That He sees. That He knows. And that He desires to show them mercy. A mercy that reaches down and draws us out of the misery.

His is a relentless pursuit of the human heart for His own divine glory.

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A Great Light

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Why is it that darkness can seem so dark sometimes? I’m not talking about night darkness. I mean a darkness in the soul. The darkness of evil. The darkness that you can feel and yet can’t seem to escape. It’s the kind of darkness that makes you feel like it will never pass. That you’ll be stuck in the dark forever.

The darkness is so thick, that you can’t see past it. You just can’t see period.

The thing I love about God is that He is completely unaffected by the dark.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you. Psalm 139:11-12

What is more, He is unaffected by your darkness. And at any moment in time, He can shine into your darkness, removing the feeling that it will last forever, and He brings hope. A deep, abiding hope.

Have you ever wondered why in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes,

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

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These three things are spiritual gifts. Just like someone receives the gift of teaching, so can you receive the gift of faith or hope. This is why I can pray for someone walking in soul darkness to experience God’s deep, abiding hope and know that it will happen. He’s given me the gift of faith which helps me to trust that He will bring hope where it is most needed.

Let me explain it this way. Have you ever been in a situation in which everything seemed completely hopeless or impossible to change for the better? And then suddenly or over time, your feeling changed to one of hope, despite the evidence of your “hopeless” circumstances? Your situation did not change. Your heart did. It was a gift from your Father who knows your needs and desires. He reaches down and helps you come out of your darkness.

This is easier said than done, I realize that. I too have walked in darkness at different points in my life and will likely encounter more. Thank God we don’t go through the hard times at the same exact moment. Some of us are in a pleasant season and can bring hope to those who are in a troublesome season. He gives us words to encourage one another. He gives us His truth to brighten up the dark places. Maybe He gives some of us faith and hope so that we can spread it to others who don’t feel an ounce of faith or hope.

Remember this with all your heart if you remember nothing else. He is the God who fights for His children and will not leave any of them alone in their darkness.

This may look like a sweet smile from your 3 year old. Or a call from a friend. Or a letter full of His truth. Or a memory of His faithfulness. Or any number of jewels that direct your heart to Him and away from the clutching darkness. Be on the look-out. He is there, and He is not silent.

Isaiah 9-2

Isaiah 9:2

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In Him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5

Widow of Nain: A Heart that Mourns (Part 2)

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This is the video of my talk at our church. Below you will find the text and pictures from the lesson. Enjoy!

widow's son and jesus

 

The widow of Nain.

She mattered to Jesus.

This nameless woman in an obscure, tiny town in Israel caught His attention. Out of all the people Jesus could have spoken to or healed or served, He chose this poor widow. And I mean, “poor” in the most literal sense.

This chance meeting would have taken place in about the middle of Jesus’ ministry.

When reading in any of the gospels, it is helpful to know a few things about the writer in order to gain a fuller picture of the particular text you’re reading. For instance, Matthew often wrote about how Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures, showing that Jesus is the Messiah for whom the Jewish people were awaiting.

Because the story of this widow is only found in Luke, it is even more exciting to dig into the peculiarities of his gospel. Luke was a doctor and wrote his account in a very thorough way, researching facts and laying out a systematic view of Jesus. God uses the human individual, with all of the intricacies of his personality and life’s trade, to present His word to us.

The first thing I want you to know about Luke is that he likes to write about the downtrodden of society – the outcast, the unclean, etc.- and how Jesus reached out to them to relieve their distress. Think about who prophesied over Mary in the temple in Luke’s gospel. A widow named Anna, the poor of society. Think about who Luke writes are the first to see the baby Jesus. Shepherds, the outcasts and unclean of society. Think about who inherits the kingdom of heaven in the Sermon on the Plain. It’s the Poor (not the “poor in spirit” as Matthew writes).

Over and over, you’ll find Luke writing from a slightly different perspective concerning those who gain the attention of the Messiah. It goes completely against the grain of their culture, and this is exactly what happens for this nameless widow of Nain.

Luke includes her story in his gospel, one which didn’t get any mention in the other 3 gospels. And by the way, the city of Nain doesn’t get mentioned anywhere else either! The important story for the city of Nain involved a widow. Their one moment of fame is found in a simple widow.

Now, the city of Nain was very tiny. Some resources I read disagree on exactly where it is located. But most of them believe it was about 20 miles from Capernaum and looked out over the Plain of Jezreel. Here is a picture of a Franciscan church that is supposedly the site of the healing.

Nain

To get a better idea of the profound oddity if would have been for Jesus’s followers to watch Him spend time on a woman, much less one who was a widow, let me take you into a bit of history regarding the widow in ancient Israel, and leading up to Jesus’ time on earth. If you do a study in the Old Testament using the word “widow”, you’ll find words like “weeping”, “mourning”, “desolation”, and “poverty”.

A woman held minimal rights to an inheritance because most often the inheritance passed from father to son, rarely passing from man to wife. And if the woman’s husband died, that bond was severed which meant there would be no connection for her to his family or his inheritance. In addition, she had already left her father’s home to marry this man, so she would have to live in a state of poverty or else depend on people’s charity.*

So to be a widow in ancient Israel meant social and economic tragedy as you learned in your personal study this week. No inheritance means no land which means no money and no food! But then at least you’d have sons who could work the land if your husband died. And at least they’d provide for your needs as a woman in a patriarchal society. But oops, our widow of Nain just lost her only son. The future is bleak and hopeless, 50 times worse than simply being a widow! You may recall Ruth and Naomi, who were both in the same predicament this widow of Nain found herself. No husbands, no children, seemingly no hope.

Remember also that Jesus, when dying on the cross, charged John the Apostle to care for His own mother, a widow.

Weeping. Mourning. Desolation. Poverty.

That is the widow’s reality now.

Then enter Jesus.

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. Luke 7:11-12

In Bible times it was customary for the widow to express her grief very outwardly and publically.

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Then she arose and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood. Genesis 38:19

And Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman and said to her, “Pretend to be a mourner and put on mourning garments. Do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been mourning many days for the dead. 2 Samuel 14:2

Extra-biblical texts also include information regarding the widow in ancient times:

Judith 8:5-6 4 As a widow, Judith stayed inside her home for three years and four months. 5 She had had an upper room built for herself on the roof. She wore sackcloth next to the skin and dressed in widow’s weeds. 6 She fasted every day of her widowhood except for the Sabbath eve, the Sabbath itself, the eve of New Moon, the feast of New Moon and the joyful festivals of the House of Israel.

Now, that is an extreme view (and far-fetched if you ask me) of what happened for the widow. The grieving process was typically 7 days long and though it starts publicly with the funeral procession, it finishes in the person’s home. You will notice in the verses from Luke that a considerable crowd from town was with her. When reading in the Jewish documents*, you will find that the community of people were expected to stop everything and join in the funeral procession. The family of the deceased would often have professional wailers, eulogizers, and flute players. (Can you imagine what their resume read? Professional Mourner. Will not do rainy days.) It appears that the town just kind of stops for the mourning procession and joins in.

Now let’s look back at Jesus. He has His disciples and a “great crowd” with Him. As they come to the city gates, they see the dead man on the plank being carried out (this was because the dead were considered unclean and would need to be buried outside of the city walls).

And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”

And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Luke 7:13

We naturally think of this scene and go “aww, He’s so sweet.” The Scripture says He SAW her.

Anyone would have known who it was that was most impacted by the deceased person’s passing because they would be closest in proximity to the wooden plank on which he was being carried.

Anyone could have guessed that this widow was devastated by her loss based on her outward expression of mourning. Anyone could have patted her arm in a comforting way as if to say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

But Jesus didn’t need to see the procession to know this woman of Nain had just lost her son. He IS the God Who Sees. He knew about it before they approached the city walls. He knew what was happening before the wailing cut through His ears. And He was the only One who could do anything about it.

Jesus saw her. Don’t pass over that statement. Jesus is the God who SEES. He is El Roi in the flesh. He saw with His divine eyes and perceived with His supernatural mind all that this poor widow was. And He KNEW her situation because He’s God. Jesus never has an accidental meeting. Do you really think that He ended up in Nain by chance? No way! Nain was so tiny that no one else even writes about it much less visits such a small, insignificant place! No, He knew that He would encounter this widow on the darkest moment of her life. And He knew He would have COMPASSION on her.

We typically speak of our emotions in terms of our heart. It was different for the 1st century folks.

The word compassion in the Greek is Splagchnizomai which has its root in Splagchnon. {I know what you’re thinking. You hoped for a prettier word for “compassion”. Well it gets even more interesting!} This word splagchnon referred to bowels, intestines, (also the heart, lungs, liver, etc.). The bowels were regarded by the Greeks as the seat of the more violent passions, such as anger and love; but by the Hebrews as the seat of the tenderer affections, esp. kindness, benevolence, compassion; hence our heart (tender mercies, affections, etc.).****

It also meant a heart in which mercy resides. This word probably came from the word “splen” or spleen {it makes sense why it sounds like a gutsy word, eh?}

I want to key in on the definition which mentioned mercy. Many times we think of mercy as God not giving us what we actually deserve (which is definitely true!). But there’s another side to mercy that is absolutely beautiful and displayed perfectly in this story of the widow of Nain.

Mercy is kindness or good will towards the miserable and the afflicted, joined with a desire to help them. It is not just passive, it is also active!

Jesus SEES the widow and moved with compassion (moved by His guts!), He extends mercy or kindness because of His desire to help her out of her misery and affliction. So His reply “do not weep” sounds, well, sweet. Like He was going to reach out and wipe her tear away with a look of genuine concern and care. That’s how I always pictured it anyway.

There was something very interesting though that the community of mourners would say to comfort those who mourned over their deceased relative. This is from Jewish rituals:

The gathered community lines the path, ideally from the grave to the [home], and as the mourners pass between these lines, they are greeted by each individual with the formulaic wish, “May God comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.“… But the wording of this prayer carries significance too. Its assurance of future comfort simultaneously acknowledges and validates the mourner’s present personal grief. On the other hand, its communally oriented content (among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem) both indicates that the comforters do indeed know what grief is and points out that the divine promises of the messianic healing of communal grief establish God as a comforter also concerned with healing the immediate personal grief. (**Ruth Langer)

Did you catch what happened? People were supposed to say “May God comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” What did Jesus say? “Don’t weep.”

Weeping was precisely what the widow was SUPPOSED to do as was proper in the Jewish custom of mourning. (And those people took their mourning seriously! I mean, if you are hiring professional mourners, you’re invested.)

In addition, Jesus was SUPPOSED to say “May God comfort you…” but they weren’t greeted by just another man. The nameless widow of Nain was staring right into the face of the Messiah who had come to bring healing from all of their grief. There was no longer a future promise that God would be her comforter, He was the present reality of the comfort she needed. He wasn’t simply going to validate her grief. He was going to remove it! That’s why He told her “Don’t weep.”!

Cambell writes:

The words were actually a prophecy of the miracle soon to occur. Indeed, Jesus had done something so bold as to necessitate either an explanation of His words or a removal of the cause of the tears.***

Don’t you just love Him? 🙂

14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.  Luke 7:14-15

There are three occasions recorded in which Jesus raised a person from the dead. Here in Luke 7, and also in Mark 5 with Jairus’ daughter, and in John 11 with Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus. Two accounts involve Jesus’s touch and all three involve His command to arise or get up or come forth!

Remember when I said that the dead were considered unclean? Numbers 19:11 says that anyone who touches a dead body would be unclean for 7 days. But Jesus reaches out His hand and tells the man to rise up.

It’s fun to imagine what the look on the faces of the pall bearers might have been. “First He tells her not to weep and now He’s going to touch the dead guy!” Maybe this is why they stood still. 😉 Remember, they don’t know that Jesus is the Messiah! But we know differently.

John records Jesus’ teaching just before He raised Lazarus:

25 Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  John 11:25-26

Here in the city of Nain, a seemingly insignificant widow, received her once dead, now very much alive son back into her arms. Death, where is your sting?

I sometimes am disappointed that it was men who wrote the gospel narratives. Women give so much more detail! But alas, we get no response from the widow in this passage. Not once does she speak. Nor do we see if she got to have further conversations with Jesus. What we do get, however, is the response from all of the people standing there having just witnessed the miracle.

16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. Luke 7:16-17

As we come to a close on this passage, we can glean some clues as to the reason behind the crowd’s response if we look in the Old Testament.You may recall that God raised a widow’s son in 1 Kings 17:17-24 at the request of Elijah, who is moved by the mother’s tears (much like Jesus was moved with compassion for this widow of Nain). God also raised the son of the Shunammite woman when Elisha interceded for them in 2 Kings 4:18-37. It is not too far to assume that this Jewish community would have connected the dots between the accounts with Elijah and Elisha and Jesus raising the widow’s son from the dead.

In fact, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) in 1 Kings 17:23 “and he gave him to his mother” is the same wording in Luke 7:15. This may be why they believed Jesus to be a “great prophet”, just as Elijah and Elisha had been great prophets, performing miraculous resurrections.

Jesus certainly made a big splash in this little town, and it was all for one woman. Time and again we see Jesus elevate women to a higher status than their culture gave them. He took notice of the widow from Nain. He saw her. He relieved her misery. And the day she thought she would be burying her son turned into a day where God literally showed up and did the miraculous!

But what about you? How can you relate to this widow? She woke up that morning, fully knowing her son was dead, with no hope that he would ever be with her again. There are times of waiting, times of struggle, times of pain for all of us, where it seems that there is no hope for us. A situation that seems impossible and unlikely to be changed. But with God, there is no impossible. There is no such thing as hopeless. We know that He can, but we also know that He might not. And if He doesn’t, He is still good. Thanks be to God that He knows our need. He sees us. And His mercies are new every morning.

May God comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. And may you know that the Messiah has indeed come and has taken away your grief. Amen.

 

[*This information came from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.

**From Jewish Funerals: A Ritual Description by Ruth Langer.

***From The Prince of Life at Nain by Donald Campbell.

****From http://www.biblestudytools.com Interlinear Bible (click on the word “compassion” in Luke 7:13).]

 

 

The Pursuit and the Treasure

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that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2-3

Why am I ever surprised at how good God is? Don’t get me wrong, I rather like being surprised in my joy for Him. He is a treasure that will never be fully known or discovered. This in itself is a very good thing because it means He is vast (Psalm 145:3) and beyond me (and I can put my trust in this One who is greater than me.). This also means He is eager for us to know Him, and He reveals Himself constantly (Jeremiah 24:7; 1 Corinthians 2:9-12; Romans 1:20; 2 Timothy 3:16), giving us the opportunity to be stricken with sheer joy and wonder as we enhance our picture of God. He shows us hues of blues and purples contrasted with the brilliant oranges and yellows. May you have moments where you find yourself utterly broken and at a loss as to how to express your love and gratitude for Him because of your realization about some new treasure hidden in Christ. It brings me to tears just thinking about it. I could tarry here forever…

This is exactly where I found myself today. I love it when God brings to memory an area in my life that was so difficult in the past, that I prayed earnestly for, not knowing how it would pan out, and shows me how He brought me through it and into a more beautiful place than I could ever imagine for myself (and what blows my mind even further is the thought that this beautiful place in which I find myself now is nothing compared to what’s to come!). It’s just so hard when you’re in that difficult season to see past the trial and to trust the One who stands with you in it. I’ve been there and no doubt will be there again. I hate those times yet am grateful for them after they pass. I love the closeness I feel to Him in those seasons, even though it is often mingled with frustration and fear and doubt. I am quick to despair that the season will never end, giving up hope that my situation can even be helped. I find myself being a Little Faith One. It’s in those times that He swoops in with the gift of faith, helping me to trust in Him though everything says it doesn’t make sense to believe He will make it right.

But not today.

Let me fill you in on my treasure discovery. I am an introvert who masquerades as an extrovert but is supremely awkward at times because of my shyness (or else I’m self conscious that I’m awkward which makes me even more awkward? It’s a vicious cycle folks.). I have always felt like it was hard for me to make friends because of this. This is one reason why it was so hard for me to leave our home in Oklahoma to follow God in a new journey. You mean I have to make new friends? Start all over again? This fear nearly matches my crippling fear of having to sing in public, I kid you not. So I had to mentally prepare myself for the long haul. I knew that it would take me about 8-10 years to make friends again, and that meant I would just have to be patient. May I first say that my family members are definitely my closest friends and my Oklahoma friends were just a phone call away, so I have never been truly alone. But there’s something about having girlfriends that I can meet with, and their kids can play with my kids. It just brings joy on a whole different level. Fast forward to today. I’m sitting in my living room, surrounded by five amazing women and about 400 kids (okay so I exaggerate, but there were a lot of kids!), and it occurs to me that I have friends. Good friends. And this was His gift to me just because He’s good.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.  Psalm 84:11

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:11

Please hear me when I say that it is NOT true that I only find Him good when He gives me things that feel good to my little heart. He could have left me with no friends at all. But He didn’t. I found Him good even in those times when I felt like I’d never make any friends because I knew that He was near to me, well acquainted with my grief and need for friendship. I knew that He could satisfy any needs I had. He just happened to do that with friends this time. He doesn’t withhold good from us, and the “good” can come in many forms.

You wonder what exactly the treasure is that I found? It’s His goodness and His love that pursues me with such determination, making me aware that I am His treasured daughter. I wonder if He does it for His own joy? Does He not find joy in seeing His children relish in His love? Seeing them enjoy Him? How could you not love Him? You see, the treasure isn’t the gifts He gives, although I would argue that these friends are treasures! The treasure is always Him.

What treasures have you found in Christ? Are you even looking? He’s worth the pursuit! I love how Tozer so articulately writes about the depths of God:

To have found Him and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love. A.W. Tozer.

Watch as He outpursues you while you are in hot pursuit of Him! He just won’t be outdone.

The Flow of the Gift

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Gift receive

I kinda feel like I should apologize for my lack of posting in a verrrrrry long time. I fell into a rut, and I think I’ve finally climbed back out of it with some boosts from beneath. You see, I have so many thoughts about so many different things, that I could literally post something every day. It may be only one sentence, but sure enough, I could fill up a quota for the whole week. But my problem is that I don’t want to give anyone fluff. I guess that’s not a problem though. You don’t need FLUFF! (unless it’s in the form of whipped bubbles, because who doesn’t like playing with foamy bubbles?) What you need is God. And I need Him. In fact, I am a complete mess without Him.

So all of these thoughts, where are they? I certainly haven’t filled this blog with most of them. Here’s the rut: I began thinking that what I’ve had mulling over in my mind is not that important. In the grand scheme of things, I realize I am a drop in the bucket, no one of significance. But here’s the catch. In God’s kingdom, there’s no such thing as an insignificant person. Truly, He’s the most wonderful God for so many reasons, but to think that He gave every believer gifts so that we can all benefit one another is absolutely amazing. It’s Grace. Each one has a role to play. Each one is significant. And it’s because He says so, not the world, and not me.

What’s a girl to do with the gift? I can tell you what NOT to do. The gift was not given to wear as a badge for all to see how great YOU are (or how great I am). At Christmas time, when you receive a stellar gift, you wouldn’t immediately begin boasting about how wonderful of a person you are for having received such an amazing gift. No, you (hopefully) would immediately and profusely thank the one who gave you the gift. In fact, you might feel very humbled at receiving such a nice gift whether it was because of the extremely high cost or of the high value placed on the gift. No, the gift is not for use to puff us up. It’s meant, first, for His glory.

Likewise, the gift was not meant for you or me to keep for ourselves. Whether or not you do this out of fear or out of selfishness, the fact remains that this gift was meant for the greater good. Not for me to set it aside. It’s meant, secondly, for the edification of His church.

Let me tell you something. When you belong to God, He’s prepared good works for you to do (Ephesians 2:10). He is the Giver of all good things (Matthew 7:11; James 1:17). In fact, I’ve come to realize that He gives way more than I ever imagined! Seriously take some time to think about the things He gives, just in the spiritual sense (I’m not even talking about material things). You have a unique personality with unique gifts of the Spirit, and then on top of that, as you abide in Christ, He also produces fruit of the Spirit in you. You could in theory always be overflowing with God’s grace to others because of the way He’s poured His grace into you. A constant flow from the Father to you to others, resulting in His glory, flowing right back to Him.

What’s holding you back in living out these good works which God prepared for you and equipped you to fulfill (2 Peter 1:3)? Many times it’s just believing that it’s true! Will you believe God’s word about yourself and about Him? May I encourage you today that you are an important member in God’s kingdom, designed to edify His church and bring Him glory. Think of all the times you’ve needed to know you are loved, and someone calls you up just to chat. That was Him, using one of His people, to show you love. Or the time you felt like a failure in any area of life, and a random person “just happens” to tell you how good you’re doing in that very area. It blows my mind that all of this that is for His glory actually benefits us too in the process! Only this gracious God could make it so. To be so jealous for His name and glory while still managing to bless us as we seek to bring Him this glory is truly a thing of beauty and grace. Do you see what I mean by His lavish gift giving?

Here’s your pep talk then. You feel like telling someone you admire her courage in speaking up about her faith but you think it’s might sound silly. Do it anyway. You never know when you might be His voice to that bride of Christ.

You feel like telling that girl who is always dressed so beautifully that she is beautiful and reflects Him but you think it might be awkward. Do it anyway. Be the voice.

You feel like helping out behind the scenes but you think that they don’t need your help or that it won’t make a difference. Do. it. anyway. Use the gifts.

Whatever it is that you feel like or you know you should be doing, do it! What’s flowing into you and how can you pour it out as a beautiful offering back to the One who gave it?

P.S. If you have no idea what I’m talking about when I refer to “gifts” that are spiritual in nature, feel free to visit this website to learn more about spiritual gifts: http://www.spiritualgiftstest.com/.

Fixing My Eyes

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light fix my eyes

At the risk of sounding much too simple, I’ve decided to write about Jesus. He’s always the answer in class, right? All joking aside, I have been reading about encounters that He and Peter had, and this particular week has been about the Transfiguration. If you don’t know what that means, think of a person that you’ve known all your life suddenly change into who they REALLY are. Jesus is both God and man, and as He was transfigured, the 3 disciples with Him got to catch a much bigger glimpse of the divine Jesus.

In Matthew 17, it says that Jesus’ face shined like the sun, and even His clothes were as bright as light. I love the passage in Hebrews 1:3:

And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.

Imagine being one of His disciples, having had encounters with His divinity in the form of miracles (healings, power of weather, raising the dead, feeding people out of practically nothing), but then being allowed to see further into who He was as God. Pardon, who He is as God. He is the radiance of God’s glory, an exact representation of God’s nature. The disciples have been grappling with what kind of Messiah Jesus came to be. They often struggled, like the crowds did, with wanting Jesus to be an earthly king who would rescue them from the oppression of the Romans. Peter had moments of understanding in which he confessed the knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. But then he rebuked Jesus for divulging the plan of His own death and eventual resurrection.

When Peter saw Jesus in all His radiance and glory, he did what he always does. He stuck his foot in his mouth and said the first thing that came to mind. I’ve got to laugh at this because I’ve done it too. In my haste or even excitement, I can get caught up in the moment and say some pretty ridiculous things. But then God the Father speaks out of the cloud and tells them to Listen to My Son. This seemed to have brought Peter to his senses, because he and the other two disciples end up on their faces before Jesus. I can’t decide what my favorite verse is next. Jesus bends down to touch them and tells them not to be afraid. What a beautiful picture of Jesus. He bends and He touches. See what I mean about simple? Something so simple and yet profoundly important. The very next verse says this:

And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.

What you may not realize is that Moses and Elijah were also present in this shin dig. So we have Jesus, Peter, James, John, Moses, Elijah, and God the Father present in this narrative. After Jesus stoops down to them, they look up and see only Jesus.

Peter had a history of taking his eyes off of Jesus. Remember the walking on water fiasco? He glanced at the wind and waves, taking his eyes off of Jesus. Remember his confession? Immediately afterward he rebukes Jesus for telling them He must suffer and die, taking his eyes off of Jesus. Then we have the transfiguration. Moses and Elijah show up and all of the sudden, his mouth starts flapping as he tries to lay out an agenda for their special visitors and Jesus. Taking his eyes off of Jesus. The Jesus who stands before him with radiant face and dazzling clothes. He missed it again. God bless him. I feel better already.

What does it mean for me when I take my eyes off of Jesus? Let’s say I’ve not slept well for the past month (I’ve got a 6 month old who has decided that 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. are good times to be awake). When I get up, I’m cranky and in a hurry for some reason. I want my older boys to get down to the kitchen “now!!” and by the way, you’d better clean up that mess, and why in the world are you whining again? Taking my eyes off of Jesus. Or try this on for size, I’ve got a to-do list as long as War and Peace, and heaven help the child or adult who gets in my way of completing it. Taking my eyes off of Jesus. This is a confession and not a guilt trip for anyone else who can relate. Trust me.

But what does it look like when I fix my eyes on Jesus? When I lift up my eyes, and I see no one except Jesus Himself alone? If you’re like me, being in a phase with young children, no two days look the same (and I have a feeling this isn’t the only phase in life like this, but don’t rain on my parade…let me hope). It’s not that I haven’t tried to make each day look the same, but my plans don’t work out with what my kids decide to do that day. Starting my day out tired and frustrated that my plans aren’t going as planned is typical. I simply don’t have the power to control all things. That’s when I do something that isn’t really profound at all. As my feet hit the floor, I whisper with my eyes shut tightly, “Lord help me to rely on You today because I know I can’t do this myself.” It’s called recognizing my need and surrendering. It’s called humbling myself. It’s called fixing my eyes on Jesus. There’s no limit to how many times during my day I can do this, and there’s no rule that says I’m doing it wrong when I fail. Fixing my eyes on Jesus doesn’t guarantee that I won’t have trouble. There are times when I want to act out in my frustration and say a sharp word to my kids, and in that moment, I can fix my eyes on Him or I can look away and try to do it my way. Obedience has a lot to do with fixing my eyes on Jesus. Being in His word is part two of fixing my eyes on Jesus. He’s given me His word and told me what is right to do. Am I willing to do what I know He’s told me is right? Will I obey the Father when He beckons for me to listen to His Son?

What about you? How are you fixing your eyes on Jesus?

May we be able to say that we lift our eyes to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, even as we stumble and fail. He is faithful.

[Now let’s all sing “Fix My Eyes” by For King and Country!]

The Day I Knew Ashleyland Didn’t Exist…

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I know you’ve done it too.

Please tell me you’ve done it too. Because then maybe I won’t seem so crazy.

Creating scenarios of how things might be is unfortunately a large part of my thought life. “When we move into our house then…” “When the baby comes then…” “When my husband starts his classes again then…”

Sometimes the part after the “then” is pleasant, like a daydream. “When we move into our house, then I’ll feel more settled here.” But most times, it’s not so pleasant. “When the baby comes then I’ll be getting no sleep at all. Plus, my youngest will become the middle child, and he already plays that part all too well.” “When my husband starts his classes again then I’ll be a complete wreck trying to do this parenting thing at night by myself.”

It’s as if I’m constructing my own little world all in the comfort of my own mind. Ashleyland. Yeah, that sounds pretty ridiculous.

Life gets interesting when the scenario doesn’t quite play out like I’d imagined. Who am I kidding? It rarely turns out like I imagine! And most of the time, it’s a very good thing.

Jesus speaks to this issue and calls it by name – Worry. Well, that’s the unpleasant side of it anyway.

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:31-34

The pleasant side of this thought game is more like planning, or trying to project our desires/plans onto the future. I call it the “pleasant” side because, even though it’s highly unlikely in our daydreaming state to really get what we want, it’s still nice to dream about how nice things could be.

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9

Did you notice a common denominator between the worry and planning sides of our thought life? God is in them both. Or at least, He NEEDS to be in them. Jesus says that our Father knows exactly what we need, so that means we should not worry about how things will turn out.

Easy for Jesus to say… is my first response to that statement. Jesus and the Father have such a unique and close relationship that Jesus can speak this statement without flinching, without second-guessing, and He completely believes it 100%.

That’s exactly the kind of relationship the Father desires to have with each of His children. He wants us to believe Him without flinching, without second-guessing. The best part about believing Him is that He doesn’t disappoint.

Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. Psalm 34:5

Paul and the writer of Hebrews both speak about how we can have hope in God because He had sent His own Son, delivering His promise of salvation for all. I would say that if He can deliver in this, a MAJOR issue, He can deliver in ANYTHING else that this life brings our way.

Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” Romans 9:33

17In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. 19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, 20 where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:17-20

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:1-5

In other words, trusting or believing God (hoping in Him) does not leave us disappointed or ashamed. You might say it would make one unflinching. Steadfast. Confident.

Now the flip side or the pleasant side of this is that we also can trust God to plan our ways, in the most perfect way. Remember, God is in the worry side and the planning side. We can plan our lives until we earn an “expert” rating in our own little worlds. However, planning doesn’t make it so. And there’s the rub! A man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. No amount of daydreaming will ensure that I’ll get just what I want. Even more interesting to ponder is that what I want may not be the best anyway. This is quite possibly the most obvious reason we should trust God’s heart for us. He directs our steps for good, and not to harm us. Sometimes His good feels painful (like in times of discipline), but it’s ALWAYS good (see my previous post on this!).

To take a peek into Ashleyland recently, you may go here. I can’t promise that you’ll even find it interesting, but you will find that it is what I’m really thinking…

Thank you, Dr. Dobson

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Family Portraits (Joseph) 145

I’m a mom of 3 boys. I’ve heard it said that a boy is noise with dirt on it. No truer words have ever been spoken.

I know a family who has 5 boys, so I know that 3 isn’t that spectacular.

However, I maintain that 3 boys is definitely more than I bargained for!

You see, as a mom, let me state the obvious. I’m a girl. GIRL. Totally girl. I may have had my bout with tomboyhood when I was young, but I’ve been over that for a long time.

I like my house clean. I like to be treated gently. I like getting my nails done, my hair done, and getting dressed up. I like having conversations that involve girly things like shopping, decorating, cooking, gardening, and occasionally I’ll go renegade and talk about tennis or camping (just to stay adventurous of course). I like my sleep. And yes, I like it to be quiet every now and then.

Yet most of these things DO NOT HAPPEN.

A clean house, no one can find. This is the proverb in our house anyway. Cars, trucks, superheros, blocks, Toy Story underwear, and any number of guns litter the floor at any given time (and you can always find at least one toy in each room, even closets). If there’s water to be spilled, it is, so watch your step in my kitchen. Oh, and we’re still potty training, so we get to find little brown nuggets sometimes. Delightful, you envy me, I know it.

As for being treated gently, fuh-get about it! We wrestle and smother and pretend to be ninjas (which means I have to be THE expert ninja just so my 1 month old has a fighting chance…pun intended). I couldn’t count high enough to record the amount of times that I’ve told my middle child to sit down on the couch rather than jump or tumble or slide or wrestle on it. So I stray from the couch, seriously, because I don’t want to be his target.

Every now and then I may break free to get my nails and hair done. That’s actually one of the strongest options I have of all the above. But it just doesn’t happen nearly often enough. I also “dress up” in my summer dresses even on laundry days just so I feel feminine. But then my dress often becomes a “toy” for the middle boy, so there goes that luxury.

Now the conversations. Those get interesting with boys. I just heard my oldest tell his grandma that his baby doll’s name is “Fart” (we use it for them to practice on a pretend baby so hopefully the real baby will survive them). Lovely. We talk about superheros and being strong and racing. We hear a lot of poop and fart jokes, and they’re only 5 and 3 years old, God help me! Half of what I say to them is “no, don’t jump on him”, “please don’t destroy that toy”, “clean up your mess”, “no, we don’t pee on the carpet…or tile…just the potty”, and any variants of these phrases. I read them books so that we can have somewhat intelligent conversations.

Sleep. I gave up on that. My oldest has always gotten up “early” and the middle one started getting up just as early once they started sharing a room. It’s like they have a radar that tells them they might be missing something daring or fun or mischievous so they obviously must get up early so as not to miss these appointments. Heaven help me, I just want them to sleep a little longer or at least stay in their rooms so I can get a shower. But then, the strawberry incident happened, and their wall has a smearing of strawberry on it…another story for another day filed under “Epic Messes That Happened in the Morning before Mom Came in the Room.”

I think you can already guess what I have to say about it being quiet around here. NO CHANCE buddy. Quiet time or nap time isn’t really quiet. It’s just not fair. I imagine all those families with only girls having the best quiet time complete with silence and everything. They probably even read their books quietly and get to paint their toenails. I’m just hoping my boys don’t FIND my nail polish.

I admit, all of what I’ve written sounds like I’m whining. I also admit that I’ve been mourning the fact that most of these things don’t happen for me. I would love to have some daughters. I just hope I don’t have to wait for daughter-in-laws to make that happen (although daughter-in-laws are pretty special…I would know because I happen to be one *wink*). I fully expected to have at least one daughter by now, but God has given us boys. So what’s a girl to do? Well, this GIRL bought Dr. Dobson’s Bringing Up Boys, because I apparently don’t know the first thing about boys (and quite frankly they drive me crazy because they’re just not like me and I have a NEED to understand them).

Thank God for Dr. Dobson!

As much as this girl would like to calm down these boys, she knows that they were meant to be men! They’re chock full of testosterone and that is how they were meant to be. All the danger, all the impulsiveness, all the spirit of exploration, and all the messes are just part of being a boy. Hallelujah, there’s a reason for it all! I have not been given these boys by accident, and so I want to do the best I can to raise them into men. We need men who are so full of energy and drive that sometimes they make messes as they press on toward their goals (but also know how to clean up those messes). We need men who will be strong yet know how to treat a lady with gentleness and respect. We need men who can talk about manly things and solve problems with their man logic (we all know a woman’s logic is questionable at times…and some would say it doesn’t exist…but I digress). Men need to be men, not women. Wish me luck and say a prayer for me. I want these boys to be strong, God fearing men one day, even if it means I have to (temporarily) say goodbye to some girly things (or at least save them for a girlfriend or my mom).