Tag Archives: obedience

Isaiah 1: The Consuming Fire

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I remember the first time I learned about God as the all-consuming fire. It was when I first heard about Moses (the un-cut version – not the nicey-nice children’s version). Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy groundIt was such a strange and foreign image to my mind – God being a fire. But I was young and have since learned more about this consuming fire.

The next time I remember reading about fire in the Bible was when I read about the Hebrews in Babylon. They would not bow down, so they were thrown into the fire. But then there was a fourth person in the fire! And when the three men came out (yes, they walked right through the blazing inferno), not even a hair was singed on their bodies. Okay, make a mental note: not only is God an all-consuming fire, but He can rescue His faithful followers out of a fire. (You have no idea how much I want to continue talking about this amazing story…but I digress.)

In college my Old Testament professor drove home the image of fire as a metaphor for judgment. For some reason this concept has stuck with me more than all the others. It seems like fire is sprinkled all throughout the Bible: God as the pillar of fire. Elijah at Mount Carmel. Endless sacrifices. The refiner’s fire. The tongues of flame at Pentecost. The fiery pit of hell (and those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head). Aside from these examples, the largest majority of references to fire actually pertain to judgment (whether from God or man). Frankly, I see why fire is used as a metaphor for judgment. The imagery is frightening. I can’t think of a worse way to die either – to be burned alive in a fiery blaze.

It’s with all these pictures in mind that I read through the first chapter of Isaiah. First my eye caught the words “Sodom” and “Gomorrah” (v. 9-10), and I recalled Genesis 19:24:

Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven. (ESV)

Terrifying reminder number one. Surely the Judahites’ ears perked up a little when they heard Isaiah speak the name of those two condemned cities. And then in Isaiah 1:10 he calls them “you leaders of ‘Sodom'” and “people of ‘Gomorrah.'” I’m sorry, did he just refer to us as the leaders of the worst cities ever? Why yes, I think he did.

He goes on to describe their self-centered approach to worship, calling it sinful and false (v. 13).  Now those are fightin’ words, Isaiah. We’re just doing what’s in the Law. We’re following our religion. And how’s that working out for you? God says He wants none of your sacrifices, He’s sick of your offerings, He gets no pleasure from your animal sacrifices, wishes you’d stop bringing your meaningless gifts, is disgusted by your incense offerings, hates your celebrations and festivals, believes all of this is a burden to Him and He cannot stand them (v. 11-14). He even refuses to look when they lift up their hands in prayer because their hands are covered with the blood of the innocent (v. 15). If we’re being honest, maybe Sodom and Gomorrah is a fitting description for them after all.

Following this laundry list of all the things appalling to God, Isaiah (God) tells them “Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of My sight. Give up your evil ways.” (v. 16, NLT)

Anytime someone says “get out of my sight,” it’s usually uttered with absolute contempt or disdain. And usually, the person isn’t joking around. It’s a serious matter and requires an immediate response. I suppose you could call it an ultimatum. Do X or else Y will happen to you. Isaiah goes on to tell them what they should do (v. 17) and in verse 18 we read a familiar passage:

Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as  white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool. (ESV)

But we often miss v. 19-20, “If you will only obey Me…But if you turn away and refuse to listen, you will be devoured by the sword…” (oh boy, another judgment metaphor). He tells them, I don’t care for all your “religious”, lack-luster, disingenuous worship. I want your obedience. I want to take away your sins, and I want to make you holy. In v.24-26 Isaiah tells the people that God will use judgment or discipline to make this happen. He would even bring renewal through the appointment of godly leaders. Again in v. 27-28 He reminds them to repent (wash yourselves, be clean, give up your evil ways!) and if they don’t, they’ll be destroyed, consumed. And we finally arrive at the image of fire in v. 31:

The strongest among you will disappear like straw;
    their evil deeds will be the spark that sets it on fire.
They and their evil works will burn up together,
    and no one will be able to put out the fire. (NLT)

Their own sins will set them on fire, and no one will be able to put it out. It’s one thing to have a blazing fire that can be contained. It’s a completely other thing to have a devouring fire that can’t be extinguished. That’s complete destruction. That’s an all-consuming fire. And that‘s how God describes Himself on several occasions (Deut 4:24, 9:3, Is 30:27, 33:14, Lam 2:3, Heb 12:29). What do I even make of this?

The passage in Deuteronomy tells us that God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. He refers to Himself as a jealous God several times as well (Ex 20:4-5, Deut 5:9, 6:15, Ez 38:19 and it goes on and on), and it’s almost always coupled with anger (as burning or kindled or smoking – in other words, like a fire). Perhaps we have a hard time with this fiery, jealous anger, because when we respond with jealous anger, it’s sinful. I believe we could have moments of divine jealousy, but I think those are rare. But God does not sin. His jealousy is completely legitimate and founded. His jealousy is the Lover’s jealousy written in Song of Solomon 8:6:

Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, its jealousy as enduring as the grave. Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame.

When the Bible speaks of God’s jealousy, it is usually a jealousy for His holy reputation and for those things and people who belong to Him – 1) God is jealous for His name, 2) He is jealous for Jerusalem/Zion, and 3) He is jealous for us (Ez 39:25, Zech 1:14, James 4:5). First, He is unwilling to share His glory (Is 42:8, 48:11). Interestingly God’s glory is known as the shekinah glory, and when He manifests His glory on earth, it appears as a brilliant light that blazes like a fire (Ex 30:44-45; 1 Kings 8:10-11; Ez 1:28; Matt 17:1-8). It is something that no man can behold in its fullness and still live to tell about it (Ex 33:20). Secondly, God is jealous for the place where He has said He would make His name, eyes, and heart dwell (1 Kings 9:3, 11:36; 2 Kings 21:7). This again is connected to His reputation. And finally, like the jealous lover, God is not willing to share His people (who also bear His name) with anyone or anything (Ez 36:22-32). He will defend the holiness of His name wherever He has made His name to dwell. We are caught up in a love that is as fierce as a fire.

This jealousy, though it is a burning desire for His glory, somehow manages to be great news for us. Actually it is our only hope. In the Ezekiel 36 passage, God declares:

23I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (ESV)

His motivation is for “the holiness of [His] great name,” but we benefit from this jealousy as He makes us holy and gives us His Spirit who makes it possible for us to obey Him. The all-consuming fire came down to earth, but He didn’t devour and destroy. He came to save (John 3:16-17; 1 Tim 1:15). John 1:1-5, 14 tells us of the light that came down:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (ESV)

This is the greatest news! This is the gospel. The people spoken of in Isaiah whose own sin had set them on fire have a God who is greater than their sin. They have a God who is greater than the Law which they were trying so hard to follow (Rom 8:1-4). Come, though your sins are as scarlet, I will make them as snow. Come, I will cleanse you, giving you a new heart and putting My Spirit in youCome, I have set My name on you as seal, and I am the jealous Lover. You are Mine.

Titus: Woman to Woman

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Titus 2:3-5 – (C)Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, (D)not slanderers (E)or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, (F)pure, (G)working at home, kind, and (H)submissive to their own husbands, (I)that the word of God may not be reviled.

We all have favorite passages in the Bible. Many times we have memorized certain verses or sections in Scripture because those verses inspire, convict, encourage, or challenge us. This is definitely important for us to do, however, I wonder how many of us have forgotten the context surrounding those favorite verses. The verses for this week may fall under that category for many women.

You may have heard about the “Titus 2 woman” – she’s the twin sister of the “Proverbs 31 woman.” Chances are, before this study, most of us had no idea what the other verses in this letter even had to say. We will see how the Titus 2 woman fits into the greater picture of Paul’s message to Titus and the Cretans.

What is the greater picture? It’s simply this: The reality of the gospel is best seen in the transformed lives of His people. This is why Paul writes to Titus and the Cretans, giving the believers practical instructions for the living the Christian life. Perhaps the Cretans wanted to know if the Word of God had credibility. How would the followers of Christ live in the depraved culture of Crete? This was their chance as believers to illustrate with their very lives the power of God to change their hearts.

Women of God, adorn yourselves with the priceless jewels of sound doctrine and holy living so that you may glorify God in all you do, wherever you are.

Below is my lecture on this passage: {or you can skip the reading and watch the video here: http://subsplash.com/northwestbiblechurch/v/1aa2211)

One of our greatest challenges as we seek to understand the Scriptures is to 1st admit our own biases (because of faith tradition, experiences, our culture, etc.) and 2nd to make certain that we let God’s Word inform our views rather than letting our views inform how we read the Word. So when we read the Scripture, are we going to believe what it says and allow the Spirit to interrupt our views in order to more accurately align us to the Truth? Or are we going to say, this teaching is too hard and I’m not going to believe in this out-dated, old-fashioned, entirely too conservative view?

God give us wisdom to discern the meaning of your Word. Give us hearts that are humble and submitted to You. May we never seek to be culturally appropriate (PC), discarding biblical accuracy.

This letter to Titus is evidence that Paul saw no mission too difficult for the person of Jesus Christ. He wanted the gospel to spread to the older men and youth, to the older and younger women, and also to the slaves. He knew that the gospel had made a difference in his life, and he knew that it would impact and change forever the lives of those terrible Cretans!

Paul’s “missionary and pastoral concerns are clear. As new churches are established their credibility will depend upon the authenticity of the lives of those who claim to have been transformed by the grace of God (Titus 3:3-7). It is crucial that those recognized as leaders in those churches both exemplify such living for the Christian community and maintain the integrity of the church’s witness in the wider society.” (Wieland in “Grace manifest”).

The concern for character is equally important for the lives of the congregants which is why we have the instructions to all men and women. “None of these groups is urged to remove itself from their social environment. Instead, each is to live within it but in a new way, governed by the realities of grace and salvation into which they have entered.” (Wieland in “Grace manifest”)

3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 

Paul uses that word likewise, connecting his instructions for women to those of the men (v. 2). Before we go over the specific words in this verse, let’s get things out into the open, by addressing the issue of women teaching in the church. In 1 Tim. 2:12 Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach nor have authority over a man” but here in Titus 2:3, Paul expects the “older women” to teach the younger women. We already begin to see that this was not a matter of whether women should teach but rather WHO a woman should teach (Kostenberger p. 98).

The prohibition which Paul speaks of is that women should not serve “in church positions that would place them in authority over men, whether by teaching (in a church context) or by ruling over them in an authoritative church position.” (Kostenberger p. 135) Kostenberger goes on to say that that teaching publicly and in positions of authority over men is what’s prohibited not “informal mutual instruction that occurs among all members of the body.” (p. 167)

The reason for the prohibition? Paul “appeals to the created order, the good and perfect world God made, to justify the ban on women teaching men.” He writes that since man is created first, God has given him authority over woman and that this authority was not a result of sin or the fall (p. 177).

We will address this issue more as it relates to our passage, but let’s look at what Paul meant by:

Reverent 

Paul tells these women to be reverent and connects this with not being slanderers or drunkards.

  1. Greek word is hieroprepes (higher-op-re-pace’)
  2. Greek lexicon – meant “reverent, venerable”.
  3. The first part of this word hieros is translated as temple (translated this way *71 of 73 times)
  4. “The more specialized meaning priestlike, resulting from the use of the word in describing the conduct of a priest.”
  5. This word is only used in this verse.

As I mentioned above, the Greek text depicts the role of the older women in “priestly terms” which is highly unusual. (Wieland 344)

When speaking of priests, the Bible uses these phrases:

  1. “you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6)
  2. “you shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them that they may serve Me as priests” (Ex 28:41)
  3. “the priest shall burn all of it on the altar” (Lev. 1:9) “the priests shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar” (Lev 1:11) SLIDE
  4. “you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as ministers of our God…” Is 61:6
  5. 1 Peter 2:5, 9 says, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. … But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

In our verses for today, Paul may be “hinting at an analogy to service performed by women in the temples, indicating that the behavior of Christian women in their households could have the character of service offered to God.” (Wieland, 344)

In other words, the kind of character building that takes place within the home is just as important as the service that happens in the temples. Let’s face it, who in here has ever felt like what you do in the home is not highly valued or appreciated? That it doesn’t seem as important as what someone else does as a minister or missionary?

You can see what a high calling it is then for Paul to encourage these women to be reverent, like priests, whose purpose was to serve God and intercede on behalf of His people. Their work in the home could be seen as service to God, not drudgery.

Slanderers 

Paul also writes to the wives in 1 Tim 3:11 “wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.

Other translations translate this word as “gossips”, but I actually prefer the word slanderer because it gives us a much more poignant image.

  1. The word in the Greek is diabolos (interlinear) and meant “prone to slander, slanderous, accusing falsely; metaphorically applied to a person who, by opposing the cause of God, may be said to act the part of the devil or to side with him”
  2. Greek lexicon – meant “pertaining to the engagement in slander, to be slanderous”
  3. Now you understand the word “diabolos”. In fact, this word diabolos is used 35 times and 32 of those times this word is translated as “devil”. The other 3 times it is translated as “malicious gossip” or “slanderer” (like here in Titus and 1 Tim)!
  4. The devil is called our adversary, the accuser, the one who slanders.
  5. Webster’s 1828 defines slander as “a false tale or report maliciously uttered and tending to injure the reputation of another by lessening her in the esteem of her fellow citizens, defamation; to disgrace; reproach; disreputation; ill name.”

We tend to distance ourselves fairly well from the act of gossip. We know it’s a sin, and we don’t want to be considered a malicious gossip. Yet I wonder how many times we have said something to friend about another person that has left our friend with a lesser view of that individual. Ouch. That’s slander. That’s acting in line with the evil one, our adversary, the one who accuses and slanders. We are called to a higher standard, and we must rise to that height.

Slaves to wine 

This phrase kind of cracks me up. It’s seems to be a nicer way to refer to being drunk. And you know what wine can do to your tongue. It can make it loose and prone to gossip/slander. Maybe this is why Paul pairs these two vices together. Again they were to be “sober-minded” both literally and figuratively.

I don’t believe this phrase needs much explaining. Perhaps these women were tempted to drown their troubles with “much wine.” At least, that was what they were accustomed to before meeting Christ. Paul is instructing them that their behavior now is to be reverent, like a priest, not irreverent like a drunk.

Teaching what is good 

Instead the women were to spend their time teaching what is good. Paul writes to the Philippians, (4:8) “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (LOVE WHAT IS GOOD) These are the good things. Anything that’s true, honorable, pure, lovely and so on.

As a younger woman, I want you who are older (whether that means one year or 50) to know how valuable you are to the Body of Christ. Never for one minute believe that you have nothing to offer. You have been given the task to teach what is good.

That can look like teaching skills or teaching character. It can be informal or formal. That can look like spending time with a younger woman and sharing your story of how you have walked with Christ over the years. That can mean you open your eyes to discern where younger women may need encouragement or instruction, even correction. It means being a mentor and building intentional relationships with other women.

It means your work here is not complete, and we won’t let you off the hook because we desperately need you.

And to the younger women I say, we need these mature women in our lives! When you feel alone and like life is completely overwhelming because of the juggling act you do of managing the home, working, and raising your children, please know that you weren’t meant to struggle alone. Life was meant to be lived in community.

So don’t sit at home silently struggling because there are so many women who would be eager to walk beside you to encourage and teach you what is good. Besides, they want you to know that they struggle too, and I’m certain they would tell you that those struggles help them realize their need for God.

Just to be clear, I believe every woman has something to offer, whether young or old (er). The point is that we are the sisterhood! We need to be cheering one another on to love and good deeds. We must love one another genuinely and put that love to work by helping and caring for each other.

Now Paul goes on to write specific ways women can teach what is good. He says:

4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,

Here is kingdom work. Here is a priestly task. In this verse contains the simplest command with the most challenging application. This is the area in which the younger generation needs the MOST help.

Before I get into the meaning and application of the words, I do want to be sensitive to those who may not have husbands or children. These are instructions for how to love both husband and children, but you are not forgotten.

Train 

  1. The Greek word (interlinear) is sophronizo meaning “to admonish, to exhort earnestly”
  2. Greek lexicon – meant “to instruct in prudence or behavior that is becoming and shows good judgment; to encourage, advise, urge”
  3. Only used here in Titus
  4. It is in the present tense with continual action

Other translations may use the word “encourage”, but I like the word train because of the implication that this takes place as a continual and intentional teaching. Training up the next generation. However I love that within the training, encouragement also takes place. To encourage means “to give courage to; to give or increase confidence of success; to embolden; to animate; to inspirit” (Webster’s 1828).

Sometimes all a woman needs is for someone to stir the fire inside. To embolden her. To animate her. To GIVE her courage. Too many times we walk around with bleary, tired eyes and equally tired souls, desperate for someone to tell us, “chin up, this life is hard, but your job as a mom and wife is honorable and is worth fighting for. You’re doing a great job. Don’t give up.”

Perhaps you can encourage this woman by showing her what God says about the importance of her role in her children’s lives. That though she may feel overlooked and underappreciated, she has the affection and attention of her heavenly Father who sees all the work she does and tells her it’s never in vain. Maybe she simply needs to know that when she’s feeling worn out and empty, her God sees and hears and knows how to fill her back up so she can continue pouring Him out to those around her.

Love their husbands 

It was very common for marriages to be arranged during this. So that may explain why Paul instructed the older women to teach the younger to love their husbands. I don’t think that necessarily meant that they were doing a poor job of loving their husbands. It’s more likely that they simply didn’t know them prior to the marriage arrangement (so perhaps weren’t “in love” as we say these days). Regardless of this cultural nuance, Jesus teaches that we should love one another. The love must start in the home, and the teaching must be from the Word.

We all know it feels easier to love others, but not quite as easy to love our husbands and children. What I mean is that we aren’t always as nice to our family as we are to our friends and acquaintances. Perhaps this is Paul’s reminder for them all to take a good hard look at those who are closest to them and to give them the kind of love that they so eagerly give to others.

To the older women, I would say: teach the younger women what it means to love. You have experience under your belt, and the wisdom to know how to apply it. We need women who are willing to say, “here’s why it’s important to love your husband first” and then explain how to do it. Even the act of talking about your love for your husband is enough to encourage a younger woman to love her hubby.

Tell us about the kind things you do for your husband. Tell us what you did when you weren’t feeling the love but made the choice to love anyway. Speak about your husbands in ways that show you respect him so that this models for us how to respect our husbands. Tell us what it means to submit, and show us that it’s really not a dirty word.

Love their children 

As for children in the Greco-Roman era, they were not viewed the same way we view children today. Children were valued as they contributed to the larger society as a whole. A second difference is that children weren’t always raised by their parents. They often used nurses and educators to help train their children. Thirdly, most children grew up in poverty because there was no middle class – only very poor or very rich. And fourth, children in this time were often exposed to extremely violent and socially disruptive experiences. For example they were not sheltered from public executions or torture, and they were often beat as a way to produce self-control and other virtues in the child.

These children did not have what we would call a “happy childhood”. They weren’t given the chance to “just be a kid.” They were expected to work their chores, learn their parents’ trade, and learn moral lessons for the development of their character. And again the goal was for them to be productive members of society first and foremost.

Again I’m not saying that these parents didn’t love their children. On the contrary, they loved them so much that they provided ways to help them advance in their culture. Yet again Paul writes for the women to love their children. The call to love was paramount for Christ’s followers, and it had to start first in the heart and then in the home.

Older women, encourage us to love our kids. To remind us that the time goes by quickly and that we need to cherish the moments rather than wish them away because we’re tired. Show us what you did to love on your kids. Urge us not to waste our time doing too much housework or on too much media or on too much of our selfish past times.

Help us to see the value of quality time with those little ones. Teach us about what you do to balance all the roles you have. Perhaps all we need is to know that we’re not alone when we say we feel inadequate as moms and teach us that God has made us adequate as His servants in all areas He’s given us.

Younger women, let’s have a heart of humility when receiving this instruction. Let’s stay away from comparing our lives to another sister’s life. (I’m better than her. She’s better than me…) Let’s also avoid falling into the guilt pit.

I can tell you this, your adversary, the one who slanders will whisper (or shout) general, accusatory statements (I’m a terrible mother, I’m a bad housewife). He heaps on GUILT with the goal to steal, kill and destroy you.

But your God, the one who transforms and corrects will whisper (or shout) specific, convicting or encouraging statements (I called you to love and gentleness in your speech. What you said today to your son was harsh. You need to go apologize and try that again.) God brings CONVICTION with the goal of your SANCTIFICATION.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Pet 4:8

Finally Paul says he wants them to teach the women:

5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

Self-controlled, pure, kind   

This is a list very similar to the one Paul gave the older men. A list of virtues. Self-controlled, pure, kind. It should not be surprising that some of these are the fruit of the Spirit.[The reality of the gospel] is seen in transformed attitudes and behaviors here and now.” (Wieland, “Grace”)

I remember in my high school years thinking that I needed to try to be self-controlled, pure, kind. And if I wasn’t any of those things, that I needed to try harder. I had gotten it all wrong. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that produces this fruit in our lives.

It’s also about being disciplined, it’s about self-denial. It’s about choosing a life of holiness and saying no to what is impure. It’s about choosing kindness instead of responding harshly.

Remember the reputation of the Cretans? They were anything but self-controlled, pure or kind. Paul urges the women to live the Spirit-filled life. Their lives are to look different from their culture because God’s Word changes them from the inside out. {contrasted also with the false teachers’ lack of self control}

Working at home 

I wonder how many of you bristle when you hear this phrase simply because you are reading it from the lens of our culture which happens to lean heavily toward feminism and women’s rights. Perhaps some of you honestly thought I was going to tell you that this passage teaches that all women should be stay at home moms. It doesn’t. But there is something to be said of those gnawing feelings in our gut when we encounter a passage like this one that makes us feel a tad uncomfortable.

I had a professor in my Life of Christ class who taught us about the parable of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30). In his encounter with Jesus, this young man had asked Jesus what he needed to do to gain eternal life. Jesus told him, after discussing the teachings in the Law, that he needed to sell all he had and give it to the poor. You may recall that the man went away sad because he was very rich. After reading the passage, my professor looked up from his podium and said, “if you say to yourself, I’m so glad Jesus didn’t tell me to sell all of my possessions, then perhaps this parable is meant precisely for you.”

I cannot say what you should do, but perhaps God has spoken to you on this subject. Don’t go away sad, like the rich young ruler, but rather hear the words and consider how you can be obedient to His calling, whatever that looks like.

It seems like the appropriate time to address (very briefly) the Biblical teaching of womanhood. I think it is wise to acknowledge that submission to God’s authority (and therefore Scripture’s authority) is counter-cultural. Our culture views the Biblical teaching on men and women as out-dated and even offensive. But our culture should not be our standard. Our culture should not inform our view of men’s and women’s roles. Only God has that authority, and we must allow His Word to penetrate through that lens of culture.

God has created man to have certain roles and women to have other, complimentary roles. While we don’t have time to go into those roles today, Kostenberger explains that “A difference in role or function in no way implies that women are inferior to men. Even the Son submits to the Father (1 Cor. 15:28), and yet He is equal to the Father in essence, dignity, and personhood. It is a modern, democratic, Western notion that diverse functions suggest distinctions in worth between men and women. Paul believed that men and women were equal in personhood, dignity, and value but also taught that women had distinct roles from men.” (Kostenberger, 177)

Women were given the role to be workers at home. That is undisputed. What is disputed is how that looks lived out in everyday life. We will delve into the application of this now.

Paul also writes about the need for young widows to work at home in 1 Tim 5:11-16. He counsels the widows to marry, have children, and “to manage their homes and give the enemy no opportunity for slander.” (v. 14) The reason he said this was that in this case, the young widows had gotten into the habit of “being idle and going from house to house” and had become “busybodies who talk nonsense.” (v. 13)

You can see how this kind of habit would result in a word of correction for these women. Perhaps they were neglecting what needed to be done at home in order to socialize and even gossip. Thus Paul tells them to manage their homes. Not to forget or neglect it.

Now I told you this passage isn’t saying that all women should be stay-at-home-moms. So what does it say? Well, the ESV translates it as “working at home”

NASB says, “workers at home”.

NIV translates it as “to be busy at home”.

NRSV translates it “good managers of the household.”

NLT says, “to work in their homes”.

NIRV writes “take good care of their homes”.

The Message simply says, “keep a good house”.

Living Bible says, “spending their time in their own homes.”

Amplified Bible translates it “makers of a home [where God is honored]”.

So there’s a mixture of management, good housekeeping, and creating a home where God can be honored. We’ve read every major translation, and already it is clear that this passage is VERY UNCLEAR about the meaning of “working at home”!

  1. The Greek word for “workers at home” is oikouros (oy-koo-ros) from the words oikos (house) and ouros (a guard) (interlinear)
  2. It meant “staying at home, domestic” (Lexicon)
  3. Only used in this verse

Once again it’s anyone’s guess as to what Paul was really telling them. I like the idea of being a “guardian” of my home. Yet we can’t really understand this phrase apart from our own preconceived notions of gender roles. When in doubt about a passage such as this one, it is best to consider the whole counsel of God. Where else in Scripture can I gain understanding for this particular verse?

Immediately my thoughts go to Proverbs 31. For some women, this is a bad word! I mean, who could possibly have done ALLLLL of those things? You read these verses this week, perhaps with fresh eyes to see that the Proverbs woman worked both in and out of her home. It wasn’t the case that she was stuck at home, kind of like a prisoner, as some people who have us view the idea of being “workers at home.”

In the home she:

  1. Sought materials to work with her hands (v. 13)
  2. Rises to provide food for her family (v. 15)
  3. Makes clothing and blankets for her family (v. 21, 22)
  4. “She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.” (v. 27)

Outside of the home she:

  1. She buys a field and plants a vineyard (v. 16)
  2. She makes a profit from her merchandise (v. 18)
  3. She helps the poor and needy (v. 20)
  4. She makes garments and sashes to sell at the market (v. 24)

She sounds like Superwoman, quite honestly, but this compilation of all the things a virtuous woman does reveals to us that a woman can “look well to the ways of her household” while still working outside of her home.

Other examples of women in the Bible are Abigail (Nabal in 1 Sam 25), the women who supported Jesus’ ministry (Luke 8), Mary/Martha (Luke 10), Lydia (seller of purple goods Acts 16), and Paul lists multiple women who were “fellow workers” with him (Romans 16, Phil 4).

If you are not certain what to do (to work only at home or to work outside of the home), or if you’re not sure whether this passage means for women to keep a clean home, to manage finances or the household, to raise your children, or whatever – Let’s first consider the true intent of this principle. Cultural fads will change, philosophies will go in and out of style, but the true intent of what it means to be “workers at home” will not change.

To be workers at home at its core means the home is where our primary focus should be (secondary next to your relationship to God obviously). The home is primary, so you can ask yourself, am I giving my best energy and attention to my home and if not how should I adjust my time or attention that would redirect my focus where it should be?

Rest assured you can work outside the home and still have your home as your primary focus. Likewise you can stay at home and be focused on everything but your home (children/husband).

Once again though, what would obedience look like for you in this area? How is the Spirit using this passage to convict or encourage your heart today? I’m going to move on now because this term relates very closely to the next phrase.

Submissive to your husband 

  1. To submit (Greek lexicon) hupotasso – meant “to subject oneself, be subjected or subordinated, obey; of submission involving recognition of an ordered structure, with appropriate respect shown to the correct entity (toward a husband)”
  2. Comes from two Greek words hupo (under) and tasso (to arrange/put in place). Tasso refers to an authority structure presently existing that is put in place by God. Also speaking of a person put into a specific position, to put someone over or in charge of someone or something.
  3. This word is “A Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.

This word is so FULL of meaning that it’s hard to know where to begin! I want to start, however, with the part of the definition that defines Who puts someone into authority. It is God who places people into authority. Think of the steward whom the creditor left in charge. The money he was given did not belong to the steward, but he was still responsible for what he did with that money.

Or for a modern day example, we can say that God has given us children and we are in authority over them though we are still only His stewards (because they still belong to Him at the end of the day). The parent-child structure is one that exists because it was placed there by God. The word hupotasso carries a sense of responsibility for the individuals under our care and not the negative connotation of oppression or misuse of power by an overlord.

What I love about this last definition is that it is a voluntary attitude that has as its goal the relief of a burden. I also liked that it is a cooperative action and does not give the impression that you are butting heads or fighting against one another.

Charles Spurgeon wrote this to the wife in his congregation: “Don’t you try to be the head; but you be the neck, then you can turn the head whichever way you like.”  🙂 !! (in autobiography)

Now I know this too is a hot topic and perhaps this term makes you cringe so much that you can’t see straight to listen any further. Remember the Biblical teaching is that man was created first and therefore was given authority by God over a woman (Kostenberger, 174). I would think now is the appropriate time to show you the cross reference for this term.

It is found in Genesis 3:16: 16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for {against} your husband, and he shall rule over you.

When I read this verse, my first reaction was, how in the world does this relate to submission? Then I remembered what I had learned long ago about the curse. Some scholars believe when it says “your desire shall be for your husband” that it is referring to the desire to be in control over your husband (to usurp the natural order). This is why you have a footnote in your bible that says the word “for” can be translated as “against”. “Your desire shall be against your husband.” God follows up this statement with “he shall rule over you.”

Now if part of the woman’s curse is the desire to have power over her husband, you can see why so many women bristle at the thought of submission. The natural order is for the man to rule over the woman and the woman, after the fall, says, “uhhh no thanks, I’ve got this.”

But if we think of submission in the context of a loving, Christ-centered relationship in which your goal is to cooperate and help carry a burden, the idea of submitting isn’t so bad. If we know this is the “ordered structure” that God put into place, we can trust that there’s a reason for it. However I understand that not every woman has a loving, Christ-centered relationship with her husband. Some men truly are like the harsh overlords who want to rule over their wives with iron fists. This is also their struggle after the fall.

Now going back to working at home combined with the idea of submission (cooperation, relieving a burden). A Biblical view of this would be:

God has given each woman the gift of womanhood. You aren’t meant to be like a man. You were created as a woman. It’s GOOD that you were created this way. You can celebrate your femininity and not see it as a thing to be rid of or free from. Nor do you need to try to grasp the role God gave to man.

I liken this teaching on men’s and women’s roles to that of the roles God gives to His church. God has given each member spiritual gifts in order to serve His body. Paul is very clear that all members are important and serve a special purpose. Just because someone is given a certain role does not mean that their role is more valuable than your role. Role or function in no way implies inferiority or superiority of the members.

Likewise we should not be jealous of someone’s gifting, seeking to take on that role we haven’t been given. We can be content that the Gift-Giver has generously given us the task we are meant to live out.

Men can be men. Women can be women. And it’s beautiful.

God designed a woman to care for the home in a way that takes the pressure off of the man (relieving a burden). It’s being a steward or a good manager, assuming responsibility for that part of your lives together. You’re working in cooperation with that husband of yours and in the meantime creating an environment that is nurturing and God-honoring.

I realize there are women who do not ever marry, and to them I would say, you’re still managing a home! And to the single mom, I salute you. You’re doing so many extra jobs while still creating a loving/safe home for your kids. To manage a home is a special calling for us, one that many women don’t feel very qualified or even good at doing.

It’s no wonder Paul tells the older women to train the younger ones to be workers at home. Yes, please, do tell. 🙂

Word of God not be reviled 

Wieland writes, “The behavior of the younger women in their households is to be such ‘that the word of God may not be discredited’…. Though the world they inhabit may be characterized by [evil and selfishness] (Titus 3:3) members of the emerging Christian communities…” were to live above reproach.

To wrap up this section, Paul notes that the whole purpose – the very reason – for the older women teaching the younger women was that the Word of God would not be reviled. NIV uses the word malign, RSV says discredit. NASB says dishonored. NLT uses the phrase bring shame. Once again let’s look at the Greek and discover the other places where this word is used:

  1. Greek word blasphemeo (blas-fay-meh’-o) in Lexicon meant “to demean through speech; an especially sensitive matter in an honor-shame oriented society; to speak in a disrespectful way that demeans, denigrates, maligns.”
  2. If you go to the word of origin (blasphemos) and break up this word you get blap’-to (to hurt, harm, injure) and pheme (fay’-may) (meaning fame, report)

This word is used in a number of passages in which the religious leaders accused Jesus of speaking blasphemy, mostly in relation to His claims of deity (Matt 9:3, 26:65, Mk 2:7, Jn 10:36). It is also the word used when people insulted Jesus on the cross (Matt 27:39, Mk 15:29, Lk 23:39). The main verse that relates to our Titus passage are found in Romans 2:24, “You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.

It’s as if Paul has need to address the very same problems in every town where he preached the gospel. These Jews in Rome, who claimed to know God and His Law, did not DO God’s law. You might say they didn’t practice what they preached. And this is why the Gentiles who didn’t follow God’s Law were speaking blasphemy/shame/reviling/maligning God’s name. It’s the age old question, “why would I follow your God if you act like every other person in the world?”

The real question is, what difference does the Word of God make in your life? And the real answer is, it should make your life dramatically different from the world. The real reason? Because this Word comes from the Father, it is God-breathed, and His Spirit changes us from the inside out so that we resemble God and not the world.

So you want to make sure the Word of God is not blasphemed. Okay. Live. It. Out. How? You’ve got to be in it to know what it says. And you must be submitting to the Spirit who uses the Word to transform our lives. No longer following the flesh but walking by the Spirit. Finally, women teach, train, encourage one other with the Word of God.

The idea of women mentoring women is a thing of beauty. We saw how Jesus elevated the status of women in our first “interrupted” series. Now as we read Paul’s letter to Titus, we are beginning to see how the status of women came to be viewed in reverent terms. The older women are like the priests who served in the temple and they are now called to train the younger women as their priestly apprentices, serving God.

May we be a community of women who are devoted to God, dedicated to the truth of Scripture, and passionate about the spiritual health of our sisters in Christ.

How does this process start? With God’s Word. His Word pricks our hearts and emboldens us to live it out! Many of you may feel a quickening in your spirit even today telling you that you can be a mentor to a sister.

Be reverent. Okay, what’s one way that I can do that?

Love your husband. Okay, what’s one way I can love my husband today?

Love your children. Okay, how can I tangibly show my kids love today?

Be kind. Okay, what kind thing can I do today?

It’s not rocket science. It’s daily making the choice to be reverent. To love your husband, your children. To be kind. Even when your flesh is screaming just the opposite response. It’s not putting the confidence in the flesh. It’s putting the confidence in the Spirit, submitting to His leading, and following in obedience when that still-small voice says, “here’s the way, walk in it…”

Let’s take a good hard look at this passage and decide to believe what it says. To take God at His word when He says that He will use His Word, through the Spirit, to transform our lives. Older women, are you teaching/talking/conversing the younger women? Younger women, are you listening to those who can give you wise guidance? Ladies, we are the sisterhood. Let us care for one another.

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}

Good Works

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Something that has been on my heart for a long time has been serving where you are, no matter what that service looks like. It also means serving even if you never receive any positive feedback. Really, it’s about obedience.

I have always had a hard time accepting facebook and blogging. First because you lay yourself out there for all the world (or at least your circle of friends) to see. Secondly because it can become a trap for pride and self-promotion. Vulnerability and Pride aren’t my two favorite things in life, so I often avoid facebook (plus, I just don’t feel like I have anything clever to say most of the time). Now blogging. This is another story.

I went to a conference in which I learned about a very important perspective concerning ministry. It had to do with expanding your ministry through…drumroll please… blogging! I’m not saying this is for everyone (although it seems that everyone is blogging), but I had already had a sense that I should be writing. So what’s a girl to do, but obey? Even if it means I get no feedback. Even if it means I might be putting myself in some uncomfortable situations of vulnerability.

So what about you? Perhaps your service is to your family, something that’s very behind the scenes and certainly gets little to no feedback!

Be obedient.

Maybe it’s to serve someone at work who doesn’t know Jesus from Paul McCartney.

Be obedient.

Your service may be a full time job in ministry (and I’m sure that sometimes you wish you DIDN’T get feedback since it can often be negative or discouraging).

Be obedient.

Whatever it is, think of these service opportunities as ways in which your Father has specifically designated you to help fill needs for His church and for the lost. Think of what you’re passionate about as you minister and realize that your passion comes from Him. Yes, you’ll get discouraged when you don’t see immediate results. Or when people don’t get as excited about what you’re passionate about. Or when you feel under-appreciated or invisible. But take heart in knowing that He has ordained you for this service.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8

Your service = good works. Good works = the glorification of your Father. God prepared you for these good works, and He will make sure you have all you need to accomplish them.

Junior Holy Spirit

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Hello, my name is Ashley Farmer, and I have a problem.

I’m a recovering legalist, but I sometimes revert back into the destructive habits of my old self. One of those habits: looking at where my neighbor is going wrong and trying to correct her (or just thinking about how she could be doing better). Yeah, it’s a pretty bad problem.

I’ll never forget the term a youth pastor threw at us one Wednesday night. “God doesn’t need any ‘junior Holy Spirits’ running around.” Junior Holy Spirit. Yeah, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be called the TRInity if there were four members…or 4 kajillion depending on how many people have tried it out.

The point of the lesson, all kidding aside, was that we as Christians don’t need to try to “convict” others of their sins because frankly that’s what the Holy Spirit already does perfectly. Now there is a whole other discussion concerning the issue of confronting a believer caught in sin, and this is prescribed in God’s word (one reference is in Galatians 6:1). But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to the person who thinks it’s her job to point out where another person is going wrong. In my case it often stems from my own tendency to be critical of myself (I need to follow the rules…be a good legalist).

There is definitely a difference in motives between the person who confronts a believer caught in sin and the person who tries to convince a believer or nonbeliever that he/she is sinning. The former does so out of love and obedience, and usually the confrontation takes place with another person to mediate or encourage repentance alongside the “confronter” (and this is not someone that the confronter gossips to about the “sinner”). The Junior Holy Spirit would try to confront alright, but it would be out of a spirit of pride or selfishness to make herself look better, more spiritual, or to belittle the other person (if it sounds ugly and looks ugly, it’s probably because it IS ugly).

I don’t believe a single person would say (or want to admit) that this is an area in which she struggles. Who is brave enough to walk up to a friend (or acquaintance) and say, “you know, you are so prideful and I can’t stand that about you”? Uhhh…chances are very few would do that. But I do believe there are times when we fall into the Junior Holy Spirit trap, only it looks a little less ugly, if you will.

I’m referring to the insidious, I’m-more-spiritual, comparison game that goes on in our minds. Here I am trucking along in my walk with Jesus, and though I know I’m far from perfect, I don’t do “really” bad things. Bad things like so-and-so does. I begin to dwell on that person’s issue. I get worked up over his behavior to the point that my focus is not so much on what I need God to work out in my life but what needs to happen in this person’s life. Why??! Why do I do this? I feel like Paul when he says, “I do the things I don’t want to do” (see Romans 7).

I think I can easily struggle with this problem because I’m recovering from legalism. If I follow all the rules, I will be rewarded, and everyone (especially God) will like me. When other people don’t follow the rules, it will bother me because that’s not the way you play the legalism game. So if someone isn’t playing by the rules, I should probably be upset about it and wonder why they’re getting away with it. I may even be brave enough to say something to them, although it will likely come across as judgmental. Red flags should go up all over the place if this is my thinking.

God throws up the time-out sign and says, “since when does your obedience depend on another person’s actions, My child?” Uh… *gulp* it. doesn’t. I’m sure God ever-so-gently speaks over me, “why are you wasting your time thinking about how so-and-so needs to change? That’s always been My department. You have no control over what other people do, and you need to let it go.”

Trying to be a Junior Holy Spirit is hard impossible work.

What’s a girl to do? My obedience does not depend on another person’s actions. If God tells me to serve someone who has trouble with pride, and I think to myself “gee, I really don’t want to serve her because she’s just expecting people to serve her…” then I have an obedience problem. The other person is not my problem. I am my problem. 

Will it be hard to obey when God calls me to serve a difficult person? You bet. Does this mean I’m off the hook? Not on your life. Should I try to make myself obey? Well, it’s not about trying harder to do better (remember this Just Try Harder?). It’s about abiding in the Vine, relying on Jesus to change your heart as you are in constant submission to His leading. The struggle of the flesh (I don’t really want to obey) will be strong against the spirit (I want to do what God calls me to do). But the good news is, the real Holy Spirit knows how to do His job (on me and on everyone else). He is at work in you, willing you to work for God’s purposes and pleasure. So let Him do His job. He doesn’t need our help.

Saying good-bye

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Saying good-bye.

Do I really have to do this? This is one thing that has constantly gone through my mind over the past 2 months.  I never thought I would ever leave this place – a place, I might add, that we always joked about being “stuck in” after college. We always tell people, “yeah, once we graduated, we just stayed and never got out!” But now we have to say good-bye. If we had done this about 4 years ago, it may not have been so hard. But roots are deep. Memories are here.

I’m not trying to be too melodramatic because quite honestly, there are worse things that can happen to a person! But I’m a melancholy personality, so that means I can be a little dramatic, right? I don’t handle change well because I’m a planner (also a part of that lovely type A personality). If it wasn’t in my plans, I just kinda flip out.

For a while.

I know, it’s kind of ridiculous.

But imagine feeling like you fit so well in a place, whether it’s a job or a church or a ministry. That feeling that you are doing what you’ve been called to do and then God calls you to do something else. Yeah…that.

“Something else” doesn’t mean “entirely different” because I may end up doing the same things in our new place that I’m currently doing here (and really, it’s not about me anyway although I act like it is sometimes). So I keep asking myself why I’m still freaking out about this whole thing. If I’m honest, it’s because I have a hard time starting over. It takes me a while to warm up to someone or to a ministry. It just takes time to work yourself into friendships and ministry opportunities. The problem is that not only do I have a problem with change, but I’m also not good with patience either. It takes time and hard work to start over in everything. I just want it to happen NOW because that is what would be convenient for me. I feel comfortable with things fitting the way they should.

Comfort.

This is where I have to ask myself, is this journey about me and my comfort? Or is this about bringing Him glory? Following His leading? Obedience. Now I’m not going on the mission field, so my story isn’t quite so dramatic as that. But in the end, this is still about obedience and following a call. Leaving what’s comfortable and familiar and going to a place that is mostly unknown. Will I choose to go with grace or am I going to dig in my heels and thrash and scream, oh so ungracefully? Heavens, let me not be so much about myself that I look like a toddler throwing a tantrum over a toy.

So I say good-bye. And then I thank God for technology because it’s not truly good-bye (but let this melancholy girl have her drama…just a little…and then scold her if she starts to slide into a tantrum).

My challenge for you is be obedient.  You may not be going overseas for missions (not everyone is called to that). You may not be going into ministry full time (not everyone is called to that). You may simply hear Him say, “I want you to go here. Just trust Me. I’m worth it.” (absolutely every believer is called to THAT!) And then you have a choice. So what’s it going to be?

Say good-bye.