Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Moses

Who is on the LORD’S side?

Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. Exodus 32:26

Only a few weeks after being miraculously delivered from oppression in Egypt, the Israelites build themselves a golden bull, say it is a representation of the God who delivered them and begin a riotous celebration.

When Moses came down the mountain and saw what was happening he stood apart from the camp and called for those untainted with this heathenish abomination to come out to him. It appears that only the Levites had fully abstained from participation. He tells them “Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour” (verse 27).

It is not specified in the text, but it is to be assumed that the Levites had observed those who were the principal movers of this imitation of pagan worship. Three thousand people were slain.

This was a brutal lesson, but the only means of preventing this idolatry from taking hold of the whole people. We must remember that this was the very beginning of God calling out a people to be His representatives in a world where idolatrous abominations were the norm.

It wasn’t until the New Testament era that the Holy Spirit was given to all believers. During the whole era of the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was given to only a few. It was still possible for all the people to be led of the Spirit, providing they were obedient to the teachings of those prophets, priests and kings who were Spirit-led.

Believers of the New Testament era have a tremendous advantage, yet we are equally tempted to stray from the narrow way out of a misguided love for family, popularity, position or pleasure. Jesus still calls us to come apart from all these and consecrate ourselves fully to Him and to His cause. Sometimes He uses strong language, telling us we need to hate members of our own family, meaning that we must hate any pull from loved ones that would draw us away from Him.

He goes beyond even that and tells us to hate our own flesh. This is not to be interpreted as a life of severe asceticism; in another place He tells us to love our neighbour as much as we love ourselves. That is, inasmuch as we are concerned to provide for our own physical and spiritual needs, we should have the same measure of concern for those needs in those about us.

Who is on the LORD’s side? When we become followers of Jesus, we are enlisting in the service of the Eternal Creator, Lord and Saviour. It is a great and noble calling. Let us consecrate ourselves to His cause, laying aside all that would render our cause obscure and confusing to those around us and could eventually hinder us from reaching our heavenly home.

Oral history of God’s works

In the beginning, people’s memories were better than they are today. Somebody once asked Albert Einstein for his phone number. He went for the phone book to look it up. Incredulous, his colleague asked “You don’t remember your own phone number?” “No. Why should I memorize something I can look up in a book?”

There were no books, no alphabet, no means of written information sharing at the beginning of time. So people gathered around their campfires in the evening and the storyteller would tell them their history. Storytellers had a prodigious memory, but so did the people who listened. If the story teller didn’t tell the story right, his listeners were sure to notice.

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This type of oral history is still found in non-literate societies, and is considered just as accurate as written history, possible even more so due to its collaborative nature. The book of Genesis was first oral history of this kind.

Various peoples developed pictographic styles of writing that used stylized shapes to depict people, animals, places and happenings. There was a limit to how much information could be conveyed in such a manner.

Historians say that the Sumerians began to develop something approaching a phonetic alphabet which was later adopted and refined by the Hebrews. There is a missing link in this theory. The Sumerians never did go on to develop a phonetic alphabet and there is no evidence the Hebrews ever experiment with earlier forms of symbols that developed into a phonetic alphabet. But we are told that 50 days after leaving Egypt, Moses came down the mountain with tablets of stone in his hands. On these tablets, God Himself had inscribed what we now call the Ten Commandments, in a phonetic alphabet.

There is no evidence of a phonetic alphabet anywhere before this moment that forever altered human history. The second commandment says: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God.” How could this ever have been communicated in pictographic writing that consisted of images of creatures?

Up to this moment, the people had always wanted to see God as being like some creature that they were familiar with. Now God was telling them He was not anything like that, nor anything else they had ever seen. The Almighty, invisible God wanted His people to stop trying to imagine what He looked like and rather think of Him as the embodiment of qualities like righteousness, mercy and love.
This was the beginning of abstract thinking, the ability to grasp that the invisible God was always near to His children and to consider the consequences of their actions and the actions of others.

The Hebrew alphabet consisted of 22 letters, all consonants. It was written from right to left and had no punctuation. The fast letters were Alef, Bet, Gimel, Dalet. Many years later diacritical marks were added to indicate vowel sounds.

The Greeks took this alphabet and added vowels. The first letters in the Greek alphabet are Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta. The Romans adopted the Greek alphabet and provided the letter shapes we use today. The word alphabet comes from the first two letters: Alef-Bet in Hebrew, or Alpha-Beta in Greek.

Moses now had the tools to provide God’s people with a written history, beginning with the creation and following the lineage of those who were faithful to God, from Adam to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He continued to write the history of the exodus and the giving of the law. The first five books of the Bible were written by Moses and are called the Law.

There is one book in the Bible that seems to be outside the history of God’s chosen people. This is the book of Job. It is quite possible that this was oral history that Moses heard told and retold during the years he was shepherd for his Midianite father-in-law.

Job is from the land of Uz, an area in the kingdom of Edom, the possession of the descendents of Esau, the brother of Jacob and Abraham’s grandson. Eliphaz is from Teman, also in Edom. Bildad the Shuhite would be a descendant of Schua, Abraham’s son by Keturah. He would have been from an area close to Edom. Zophar was a Naamathite, indicating descent from Naamah, a son of Esau. Elihu, son of Barachel the Buzite appears later. Buz was a son of Nahor, Abraham’s brother. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law was a Midianite. Median was another son of Abraham and Keturah.

All the people mentioned are descendents of Abraham or his brother and inhabited an area east and south of the Dead Sea. Moses would have led his flocks in this area, often meeting the people of this heritage at oases. I am surmising that the story of Job became familiar to him and God told him to put it in writing for the instruction of His people. I don’t know this, but this seems the most logical route for it to have become part of our Bible. Except for the first two chapters and the last ten verses, the book of Job is a poem. An epic poem that stuck in the mind and taught eternal truths.

Let my people go

During the course of my lifetime I have heard the Nativity story told in many different forms at Christmas concerts and read still others in children’s books. Some have stayed quite close to the Biblical narrative, others have veered off into the land of make-believe in ways that left me bewildered.

Fear not, I’m not about to embark on a curmudgeonly rant. I think it will be more constructive to depict the outlines of a narrative that is hidden in plain sight in our Bibles. That is the amazing parallels between Moses and Jesus.

Both had the sentence of death upon them the moment they were born. In the case of Moses it was the decree of Pharaoh that all newborn Hebrew males should be killed. In the case of Jesus it was the decree of Herod that all children under the age of two in the region of Bethlehem should be slain.

Both were protected by a young lady named Miryam. For Moses it was his sister, for Jesus it was his mother. They are called Miriam and Mary in the Bible, due to the Old and New Testaments being written in different languages, but to their own people, in their own time, both were Miryam.

Both received invaluable help from Gentiles. Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and brought up not far from the man who had wanted to kill him. The gifts the Magi brought to Jesus were no doubt of great help in sustaining Joseph, Mary and Jesus during their flight into Egypt.

Later in their lives both embarked on a mission to deliver their people from their oppressors. Moses wrought many miracles upon the Egyptians to break their oppression of the Hebrew people and finally, on the day of the Passover, led them through the Red Sea to freedom. Jesus wrought miracles to demonstrate his power over the oppression of Satan and finally, through his death and resurrection at the time of the Passover, broke the power of Satan over mankind.

Fifty days after the first Passover (ten days march into the wilderness and forty days on the mountain), Moses came down the mountain with the laws of God written on tablets of stone. Fifty days after the last Passover, on the day of Pentecost, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit down from heaven to write God’s laws upon the hearts of the believers.

There is one major difference between Moses and Jesus. Moses, as representative of the law, could not lead his people through Jordan into the promised land. That was left for Joshua to do. The Hebrew form of Joshua is Yehowshua. That is the name that Jesus bore in his day, among his own people. Jesus comes from the Greek form of his name. Jesus, the New Testament Yehowshua, has delivered his people from their bondage to sin and has gone before us to prepare a place for us in the eternal promised land.

I would be delighted if Sunday School teachers, Christian teachers and Christian writers for children could flesh out the Biblical narrative to give children of our day a true picture of who Jesus is and what he has done for us.

The name of God

LORD, in upper case letters, appears 6,510 times in the English Old Testament. This is not a translation of some Hebrew word meaning Lord, but of YHWH, the name of God.

This name was first revealed to Moses in the account of the burning bush Exodus chapter 3. God tells Moses that His name is I AM. When this was written out in the Scripture it was written YHWH in Hebrew letters.

The Hebrew alphabet is only 22 letters, all consonants. Apparently this is not as much of a problem in Hebrew as it would be in English or French, due to a lesser number of vowel sounds.

Hundreds of years later vowel points were added to Hebrew, but in the meantime the pronunciation of YHWH was lost as it was thought to be a sin to pronounce the name of God. This came from the desire to avoid violating the commandment which says “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.”

Rather than pronounce YHWH the Hebrew people would substitue another word, most often Adonai, which means Lord. Whe vowel points were added to the Hebrew alphabet the voels of Adonai were inserted in YHWH, which gave Yahovah. This is undoubtedly the wrong pronunciation. To be true to the origin of YHWH in the Hebrew word for I AM, the name needs to be pronounced Yahweh (or Yahveh).

I think many readers of the Bible misunderstand the meaning of LORD in the Old Testament. It does not mean that the name of God means Lord, but simpply follows the Jewish practice of substituting Lord for the name of God. Many Jews today will not pronounce God in English and write it as G-D, omitting the vowel.

In French Bibles YHWH is translated as l’Éternel (the Eternal) which nicely captures the meaning of I AM as the name of God. But then in the New Testament French Bibles use Seigneur (Lord) just like English Bibles use Lord. The substitution of Lord for YHWH was so thoroughly entrenched by that time that New Testament writers used kurios, the Greek word for Lord to refer to God.

Did Moses speak with a stutter?

We know the story. Moses was an Israelite child raised by an Egyptian princess. After he had lived as a prince for 40 years. He fled Egypt after an unfortunate incident and spent the next 40 years as a Midianite shepherd. Now God was asking him to go back to the Israelite people, speak to Pharoah on their behalf, and lead them out from of their bondage. Moses pleaded with God to send someone else, because he couldn’t speak clearly. Some say the problem was a stutter. What does the Bible say?

“And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10). This is the verse that leads many to believe that Moses had a speech impediment of some sort. But consider the following verse from the speech of Stephen before the Sanhedrin: “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds” (Acts 7:22).

“Mighty in words” does not seem to be a description of a man who stuttered and stammered and could hardly get his words out. Josephus says of Moses that he was made a general and led the Egyptian army to a great victory. Does that sound like a man who had trouble speaking clearly? As we follow the account in Exodus, it does not appear that Moses had any difficulty in speaking to Pharoah.

What then was his problem? Remember that Moses had been raised by his parents until he was weaned. Then he became an Egyptian and later a Midianite. It is probable that he spoke both those languages without difficulty. At the age of 80, he no doubt still have retained some of the rudiments of the Hebrew tongue, but he could hardly have been fluent in that language. And here God was asking him to go back and present himself to the Hebrew people as their deliverer! Why should they believe him when he could hardly speak their language?

Finally God asked “Who hath made man’s mouth? ” There was no way out for Moses, God was telling him to go. And it worked. He relied on the help of his brother Aaron when he first met with the Israelite people, but it appears that he was soon speaking to them on his own.

Moses was the right man for the job God was asking him to do. He knew all the ins and outs of the Egyptian culture and government. He was a natural leader. But he needed those forty years of watching the sheep in the wilderness to temper his character so that he would be able to lead the Israelite people through that same wilderness.

God knows our abilities and our weaknesses, all the things we have been through in life, all the mistakes we have made. If we are willing, He can take all the lessons that we have learned so painfully and use them for the benefit of others in His kingdom. But we must not run ahead of God as Moses did when he killed the Egyptian and then had to flee. We should rather wait patiently on God and let Him show us the times and the places where we can  serve Him. Then, when He does prompt us to do something, we should not make excuses.

The origin of the Bible

[This is an attempt to write a Bible study lesson for twelve to fourteen year old children. I invite you to read it and tell me what you think. All helpful criticism, comments and suggestions are welcome.]

People who do not have a system of writing pass on their history from generation to generation by story telling. They sit around a campfire in the evening, or in a warm lodge during the winter months, old and young together, and the storyteller recounts a story from their history. The storyteller knows the old ones have heard these stories hundreds of times and they are so firmly fixed in their minds that he dare not change even one little detail. This is called oral history and it is as reliable as written history.

The book of Genesis is oral history that was later written down. During the whole time period covered by Genesis storytelling was the only means of recording history. Some other peoples developed systems of recording events through the use of pictographs. Pictographs use symbols that represent birds, animals, flowers, trees and people to tell a story. Such a system cannot record all the details found in oral history.

The first chapter of Genesis is not like the oral history of the rest of the book. It is an eyewitness account, but there were no people to see what was happening in those first six days. The only one who could have provided these details is God Himself.

How did this get put into writing? We have no description of how it happened, but we know that the Hebrew alphabet was the first phonetic alphabet. There is no record of any such alphabet, no written history, no written law, before Moses went up the mountain and spent forty days with God. When Moses came down from the mountain he had the ten commandments written in a phonetic alphabet. It is logical to think that this is when he began the task of putting the book of Genesis into writing and that God revealed to him the details of events that had no human witnesses.

A phonetic alphabet uses symbols to represent each sound that makes up a word. This made it possible to record oral history word for word. The Greeks took the Hebrew alphabet and changed the shapes of the letters. The Romans changed the shapes again to give us the alphabet we now use. The word alphabet comes from the names of the first two letters. In Hebrew they were Aleph and Bet. In Greek they were called Alpha and Beta.

Now the people of God had a system for recording their history, their poetry and the words of their prophets. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. Through the centuries that followed God inspired other men to write events and prophecies so that they would be preserved for future generations. This is history that we can trust.

Look up the verses and write in your own words how you would explain them to someone else.

1. Exodus 20:4-6.
How would it have been possible to teach this with pictographs that were themselves a likeness of things on the earth?

2. Joshua 1:8.
Why should we read the Bible?

3. Luke 1:1-4.
Luke was a careful historian. He checked his information, gave the names of important Jewish and Roman officials and other information that help us connect the events in his gospel to events in other written histories of the time. Does that help you to trust what he tells us about Jesus?

4. Acts 26:26
The apostle Paul is telling king Agrippa that the events of Jesus’ life were well known at that time. Why do you suppose some people today would try to say they never happened?

5. Deuteronomy 4:2.
How might we add to, or diminish from, the words of the Bible?

Hitherto hath the LORD helped us

What is it that prompts us to want to make resolutions about all the things we want to do better in the coming year? Isn’t it the consciousness of all the ways that we have failed to live up to what we wanted to be and do in the past year? Why do we think we have it in our power to do better in the new year?

But has the Lord ever failed us? Why not look back at the year that is ending and remember the many ways in which He has helped us, and then go forward into the new year with the confidence that He will once more lead us to many victories, large and small?

As the children of Israel wandered through the wilderness for forty years, it seemed the men who came out of Egypt could not remember from one day to the next how the Lord had helped them. They continually complained to Moses, “Why have you brought us into this wilderness so that our children will die here?” But it was the fathers who had come out of Egypt who died in the wilderness because every time a new difficulty presented itself they could not believe that God could help them.

It was the children who grew up in the wilderness who entered the Promised Land, those born in Egypt and those born in the wilderness. They saw God working continually to help and sustain them and trusted He would continue to do so. They crossed the Jordan and in just four battles they had control of all the land.

Two of those who had been adult men when they left Egypt survived to enter the Promised Land, Joshua and Caleb. Caleb was the older, he had been forty when they left Egypt and was eighty when they came into the land. As Joshua was dividing the land, Caleb came to him and said, “Remember that mountain where we saw the giants? Give me that mountain, if so be the LORD will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as the LORD said.” And so he did, it doesn’t even sound like it was much of a battle.

May we enter the new year with the faith of Caleb, remembering that “Hitherto hath the LORD helped us,” and trusting that He will continue to help us.

Would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets

The words of the title are taken from the eleventh chapter of Numbers. Moses had complained that he was not able to bear the load of leading and caring for all the people who were with him in the wilderness. God instructed him to bring seventy elders of the people to the tabernacle and there He would give each of them a portion of the spirit which He had given to Moses. Moses and the elders did as God had commanded and when the spirit was given to the elders they began to prophesy and could not stop.

However, two of the seventy did not come to the tabernacle. No reason is given but we must assume that it was not because they rebelled against God’s command,for the Spirit was given to them also and they began to prophesy.

When Joshua, Moses’ servant, heard of this, his immediate reaction was that this was disorderly and must not be allowed. “My lord Moses, forbid them,” he said. The answer given by Moses reveals the greatness of his love for the people of God:

“Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them” (verse 29).

Moses’ wish is fulfilled in the gospel dispensation. Ever since Pentecost, every born again child of God, young or old, man or woman,  has received the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has been given to guide us personally in the way of truth, but also to empower us to share this truth with others, unbelievers, those new in the faith, the confused and discouraged. Even those who may be considered spiritually mature need the spiritual admonition and counsel of their brethren.

God has ordained that ministers and deacons should be ordained in each congregation for the orderly functioning of the church. But most congregations do not start out that way. I have been involved in three young congregations that did not have any ordained leadership. Two of those groups have grown into fully functioning congregations, with two ministers and a deacon in each place. In the third one, we all gave up and moved away. The problem seemed to be a feeling that without an ordained minister we couldn’t do anything. I don’t think such hand wringing is pleasing to God, who has given to each of us a portion of His Spirit.

Even in well-established congregations, with one or two or three or more ministers, if everything is left to the ministers the congregation will not prosper spiritually. Christian life is not meant to be a passive activity. God has given His Spirit to each of us to be used in some way for the benefit of the whole body.

Thine be the glory

Numbers 14:11-12 — And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them? I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.

These people had seen the plagues by which God punished and tormented the Egyptians, had been miraculously led through the Red Sea, eaten the manna which appeared each morning, seen the glory of God on Mount Sinai and been led by the visible presence of God in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. And still they could not believe that God was able to lead them into the promised land. No wonder He was ready to disinherit them.

The promise to make of Moses an greater and mightier nation than the Israelites must have seemed almost irresistable. Yet Moses’ immediate reaction was to refuse it and to intercede for Israel.

Numbers 14:13-16 — Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;)  and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou LORD art among this people, that thou LORD art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying, because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.

Notice that Moses’ concern for the glory of the LORD completely overshadowed and obliterated any temptation he might have had to accept the glory that God proposed to him.

Can we do any less today? If we want to be known as men and women of God, our sole concern must be His glory. In chapter 20, God tells Moses to speak to the rock and it would give water for the people. But Moses became impatient with the people: “and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also” (verses 10-11). God still provided the water, but for this one act, where Moses spoke as though he was the one providing the water, God would not let him enter the promised land.

We are treading on dangerous ground when we begin to feel that we deserve some of the glory for the good that we do. God alone must receive all the glory.

How did I get so old, so fast?

elderly_mancaneMy cousin Ted turned 76 today. No, that’s not Ted in the picture. It looks more like me, except that I can still stand up straight and I’m not nearly that skinny — yet. I’m working on it, but it’s coming pretty slow.

There was a day when I believed that anyone past thirty was over the hill. In the spring of 1971 I was the manager of a country grain elevator in Manitoba. A semi load of bagged fertilizer pulled in just after supper one day; I think the driver was about 20. We got to work and unloaded that trailer, then had a beer before he left. I remember him remarking that he would have to tell his friends that he had met this 29 year old guy and he still seemed young! I remember it like it was yesterday. After all, it was only… let me see now… it was only 43 years ago.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge in those years — I still have more hair than the guy in the picture, but it’s white now. So is my beard. And I don’t drink beer anymore. You can read my last post to find out why.

I’m still 3 1/2 years younger than Ted, but that doesn’t seem like much anymore. We’re both past the best before date of threescore years and ten mentioned by Moses.However, it took Moses until he was eighty to dsicover his calling in life, perhaps there is still work for us old folks to do in God’s kingdom. At any rate there are still things to learn, even at this age.

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