Faith and Redemption

“The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”—Exodus 12:13

The Torah portion for this week is Bo, which means “come,” from Exodus 10:1–13:16, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 46:13–28.

An impala is an African antelope capable of jumping to a height of 10 feet and covering a distance greater than 30 feet. Yet, these magnificent creatures can be kept in any zoo behind a mere three-foot wall. Why? Because impalas will not jump where they cannot see. They become the keepers of their own prison.

One of the most famous scenes in the Exodus story is when the Israelites each slaughtered lambs and placed the blood on their doorposts as God had commanded them. The blood served as a signal to God to “pass over” their houses during the final plague of the death of all the firstborn in the land, and indeed, that is how Passover got its name.

But have you ever wondered why it was necessary for the Israelites to give God a sign? After all, our God is all-knowing and all-powerful. Surely He knew which homes contained Egyptians and which housed the Israelites.

The reason, of course, is that placing the lamb’s blood on the doorposts wasn’t really for God’s sake. It was for the children of Israel.

God knew where each and every Israelite lived. However, in order to be redeemed, they had to pass a test – a test that would prove that they knew where God was. They had to demonstrate their faith in God and their belief that He was everywhere and would protect them from all harm.

In ancient Egypt, sheep were considered sacred. So when God required that the Israelites slaughter these lambs, He was essentially asking them to kill an Egyptian god. There was no greater level of faith and reliance on God than flaunting the killing of these so-called deities by placing their blood on Israelite doorposts for all Egypt to see. This was stepping out in faith to the fullest. It was a declaration that they fully trusted in the God they could not see — and then, they were seen by that very God and saved.

Often, all it takes for our own redemption is trust and faith. We can be like the impala, imprisoned by our own insecurities and fears. Or we can be like the Israelites on the eve of the Exodus — we can embrace trust and step out in faith. It’s the only way out and the only prerequisite for redemption.

The Lord Is My Light

“No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.”—Exodus 10:23

The Torah portion for this week is Bo, which means “come,” from Exodus 10:1–13:16, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 46:13–28.

A blind yet insightful Helen Keller once said: “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” As Helen learned and taught throughout her life, having sight and having vision are two very different things.

In this week’s reading, we come across the ninth of the ten plagues: darkness. This was no ordinary darkness, not just a temporary blackout with no candles to be found. This darkness was so thick that it could be felt. For three days, the Egyptians were completely paralyzed. In the meantime, “the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.” The children of Israel were able to see.

Truth be told, according to Jewish tradition, not all the Israelites enjoyed the light. You see, four-fifths of the Israelites had no intentions of leaving Egypt. They saw no point in following Moses and God into the desert and the unknown. They planned to stay in a place that at least was familiar to them, even if the conditions were horrible. Stepping into the wilderness without a clear plan of how they would live was not an option for them.

So what happened to them?

The Sages teach that during those three days of darkness, when the Egyptians could not see and gloat, these Israelites passed away and were buried. They succumbed in the darkness and there they remained. Only one-fifth of the Israelites who were prepared to follow God into the unknown enjoyed the light and lived to see the day when they would walk free.

The story of the ninth plague is deeply symbolic. As Helen Keller noted, sight and vision are not the same. The plague of darkness represents experiencing the unknown – the times in our lives that are filled with confusion and doubt. This kind of confusion has the potential to freeze us, to cause us to be stuck in one place. We can physically see, but we lack insight, purpose, and direction. And with no visibility on the horizon, we remain stuck where we are — much like the Israelites who chose to stay in Egypt.

On the other hand, there are those who are just as confused, yet they have vision, and so they have light. These are the people who have faith in God. For them, He is their light. As it says in Micah: “Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light” (7:8). When we are willing to follow God into the unknown – into the wilderness without a plan and without clarity – then we will have light even in the darkest of days.

Freedom to Serve

“So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me.’”—Exodus 10:3

The Torah portion for this week is Bo, which means “come,” from Exodus 10:1–13:16, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 46:13–28.

As this week’s Torah portion begins, Moses reiterated the well-known refrain, “Let my people go!” This slogan, now made famous in songs and movies, is the reoccurring phrase in the Exodus story. It also was a significant message in the modern-day struggle to free Jews in the former Soviet Union, where the call was again uttered, “Let my people go!” However, people often miss what immediately follows that phrase: “ . . . so that they may worship me.”

While the second half of the verse is not as familiar to most people, we can argue that it is the more important part of the verse. Why? Because freedom is meaningless without purpose. In fact, freedom can be dangerous without direction. The point of the Exodus was not to set the children of Israel free. The goal was that they would be free so that they could serve God.

In May 2013, famed talk show host Oprah Winfrey gave the commencement speech at Harvard University. In sharing words of wisdom culled from her own life experiences, Oprah explained that while she had been on television since she was 19, it wasn’t until many years later that she realized the point of it all. In 1994, she interviewed a nine-year-old girl who had taken upon herself to collect spare change from family and friends so that she could give it to charity. The girl raised $1,000 just from nickels and pennies. It was then that Oprah thought, “If she could raise $1,000, what could I raise?” So Oprah asked her viewers to send in their spare change. One month later, she had raised over $3 million for charity!

Oprah had an epiphany. Her purpose wasn’t just to be on television. Her mission was to be a successful talk show host so that she could use her influence to do good in the world.

God gave the Israelites freedom, and He bestows countless blessings upon each of us, for a purpose. Our blessings aren’t the end goal; they are a means to fulfilling our mission and serving our Lord. We are called upon to share our time, talents, wealth, and energy to serve God’s purposes and make the world a better place. As Mordecai said to Esther when he asked her to use her position of influence to save the Jews of Susa: “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

Let’s take a look at our blessings and the sphere of influence we’ve been given — then resolve to use them for God’s purposes. After all, it’s why He gave them to you and me.

With God’s Help by Mark D. Roberts

Psalm 60:1-12

With God’s help we will do mighty things,     for he will trample down our foes.

Psalm 60 was written in a time when Israel had been reeling under God’s judgment. He had used Israel’s enemies to discipline the people for their faithlessness. In this context, David cried out for the Lord to help Israel overcome her foes. He recognized that human strength alone would not be enough (60:11). Yet he had confidence in the Lord’s power: “With God’s help we will do mighty things, for he will trample down our foes” (60:12).

As we read this psalm today, few of us are preparing for literal battle against national enemies. Yet we all face opposition in our lives: fears that threaten to keep us from living for God each day, challenges that seem overwhelming, temptations that have tormented us for years. Our foes can also be external: a society that increasingly opposes the free expression of our faith, a culture that prizes sin, even religious leaders whose hearts and minds have turned away from God’s Word. Our enemies, though they do not wield swords and spears, can keep us from living boldly for God, serving him in every facet of life.

Thus we need the encouragement of Psalm 60:12 every bit as much as David and the Israelites needed it. With God’s help, we also will do mighty things. God will trample our foes so that we might prevail in the work of his kingdom. As Paul puts it in Philippians 4:13: “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” As we lean upon the Lord, as we walk in his ways, as we offer our lives to him in whole-life worship, the Triune God will empower us beyond our greatest expectations (Eph. 3:20).

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: What are the “enemies” you’re facing right now? How do you need to experience God’s power in your life today?

PRAYER: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are filled with your glory!

You are, indeed, a God of power and might. With your help, Lord, I can do mighty things. You have the power to defeat the foes I face, those enemies that keep me from serving you with all that I am.

With this confidence, I ask you to be powerful in my life. Defeat my foes, so that I might live my whole life for you. Energize me by your Spirit to do mighty things. Give me boldness in faith and faithfulness in obedience.

All praise be to you, Almighty God, for your power at work in and through me. Amen.

Everyone Counts

“Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one.”—Numbers 1:2

The Torah portion for this week, Bamidbar, is from Numbers 1:1–4:20 and the Haftorah from Hosea 2:1–22.

When I was in rabbinical school, I had a friend who was the eighth of sixteen children. Fifteen brothers and sisters! I couldn’t imagine what that must be like. I expected my friend to share tales of a sorry childhood – one filled with neglect. After all, how could any two parents possibly care and love sixteen children at the same time? But my friend didn’t have any sad stories. In fact, he had an ideal childhood filed with love. He assured me that he and every one of his siblings felt almost like an only child. Each felt loved by the parents as if he or she were the only child they had.

Now that I am a parent and grandparent, I can understand how my friend’s parents could love so many children at the same time. Each of my children and grandchildren is special in their own unique way. When we get together as a family and even one member isn’t there, it doesn’t just feel like we are less in numbers – we are simply less. Because each and every family member adds so much – is so much. Each one matters, and nothing could ever change that. No matter how large my family grows, I will always love each child immensely.

In this week’s Torah portion, God counts the children of Israel. Of course, He already knew how many there were, but He wanted them to know that each one mattered and that each one counted. If someone was missing, God would notice and God would care.

It’s like that with us today as well. There are more than seven billion people in the world today. There are more than a billion people in China alone. With all the people sharing this planet with us, it’s easy to think that God doesn’t notice us. We could make the mistake thinking that we don’t matter much or that we aren’t loved very much.

But nothing could be further from the truth. It doesn’t matter if we are the only human being on Earth or if we are one in ten billion, or a billion billion – to God we are like an only child. He loves us and cares for us just as He would if we were the only one. Not a single one of us is dispensable and each of us is so very precious to God.

God sees us as invaluable; it’s time for us to see ourselves — and each other —that way also.

Living with Direction

“Now the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father went out among the Israelites, and a fight broke out in the camp between him and an Israelite.”—Leviticus 24:10

The Torah portion for this week is Emor, from Leviticus 21:1—24:23 and the Haftorah from Ezekiel 44:15–31.

There is a great quote from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland with a profound message. Alice has arrived at a crossroads and she doesn’t know which path to choose, so she asks advice from a Cheshire cat sitting in the trees: “Which road do I take?” she asks. “Where do you want to go?” the cat responds. “I don’t know,” Alice answers.” “Then it doesn’t matter,” says the cat.

If you don’t know where you want to go in life, then you can take any path at all, even those that may lead you to places you never intended – or wanted – to be.

This week’s Torah portion ends with the tragic story of a man who blasphemed God’s name and was punished by death. The story begins: “Now the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father went out among the Israelites, and a fight broke out in the camp between him and an Israelite.” If we translate the verse, phrase by phrase, exactly as it is written in the original Hebrew, the verse is slightly different. It reads: “And he went out, the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father, among the Israelites . . ..”

This slight nuance prompts the Sages to ask: Where did this fellow go? The verse says “And he went out,” but it doesn’t tell us anything about where he was headed – only that he was “among the Israelites.”

The Sages suggest that perhaps this ill-fated man had no idea where he was going either. They see him as a lost soul, hinted at by his mixed lineage – part Egyptian, part Israelite. Perhaps he himself didn’t know who he was or what he truly believed. This man was without direction in life.

And as often occurs in life today, when people have no direction, they sometimes end up on roads that lead them astray. If this poor soul had a destination in mind when he “went out” perhaps he would have passed by the fight that led him to curse God and he might have lived. But once he got off track and made a wrong turn, he started down a dangerous road and was ultimately lost forever.

The tale of the blasphemer is a cautionary one. It warns us of the consequences about speaking against God and also the danger of living life without direction. We need to be crystal clear about where we are headed in life if we want to ensure that we stay on the right track. Every decision we make and every step that we take ought to be guided by our desired destination. Wherever we go, let’s make sure that we are headed toward God.

Tozer Devotional-The Blessedness of Obedience

The Blessedness of Obedience

It will take more than talk and prayer to bring revival. There must be a return to the Lord in practice before our prayers will be heard in heaven. We dare not continue to trouble God‘s way if we want Him to bless ours. Joshua sent his army up to conquer Ai, only to see them hurled back with bloody losses. He threw himself to the ground on his face before the Ark and complained to the Lord.

The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant . . . That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies . . . because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction” (Joshua 7:10-12).

If we are foolish enough to do it, we may spend the new year vainly begging God to send revival, while we blindly overlook His requirements and continue to break His laws. Or we can begin now to obey and learn the blessedness of obedience. The Word of God is before us. We have only to read and do what is written there and revival is assured. It will come as naturally as the harvest comes after the plowing and the planting.

Yes, this could be the year the revival comes. It’s strictly up to us.