Press in to press on

Moses was not going to put up with second best. He was not going to be fobbed off with some second-rate angel. Leading the people of Israel was a daunting task at best, and he needed God himself up close and personal. They’d seen marvellous miracles when God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt, but the minute Moses’ back was turned, they’d made a golden calf idol and worshipped it, as though that had the power to help them.

They had repented, but things were just not the same. It seemed that God no longer wanted that intimate relationship with the people they’d been favoured with before. In order to find God’s presence, Moses had had to take a tent way outside the camp. The people could only stop and stare, worshipping at a distance, when the cloud of God’s presence came down on Moses’ Tent of Meeting, some way off.

Moses knew he needed God not just with him, but with all the people. (Exodus 33:12-17) Unless they too knew the intimate presence of God, what hope had they of impressing other nations? They were supposed to be the ‘promised people’ entering a ‘promised land’. Without God’s presence there was nothing to distinguish them from any other tribe, nothing to proclaim that they were the people of God’s choosing. Why bother even trying?

Finally God gave his word – ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.’

Exodus 33:12-17

Exodus 33:12-17

Without Moses’ persistence in prayer, the people of Israel may have never got a step further. But Moses was not prepared to take second best. Because he himself had a relationship with God – known by name – he was positioned to make bold requests, and not give up until he got what was needed.

It was the reason why St Paul was able to pray for the Ephesians

Ephesian 3:12-19

Ephesian 3:12-19

And it is the reason why we need to pray for one another, boldly and fervently. If the Church today is going to have the slightest chance of impacting those around us, every single one of us needs to be rooted and established in love. Every one of us needs to know we are known by name, and every one of us needs to experience the love and presence and power of God every day of our lives. Do you?

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What the butler saw

I remember in the Brownies, playing Kim’s game. About 30 everyday objects were placed on a tray. You got one minute to memorise them before they were covered over, and you had to see how many you could recall. It wasn’t my greatest skill.

When I first started attending prayer meetings as an adult, I found they were playing the same game, only harder. A whole list of items were reeled off, of situations and people that needed prayer. Then we’d close our eyes and try and remember them all to pray for them. I called it Kim’s game prayer! I wasn’t very good at that either.

Reading Exodus 33:7-11, it wasn’t how Moses did prayer either.

Exodus 33:7-11

Exodus 33:7-11

Who did the talking? Verse 9 – ‘the Lord spoke with Moses.’ Verse 11 – ‘The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.’

And that was the end of the meeting, and Moses would return to the camp.

We think of prayer as us talking to God, but primarily, we need to do a lot more listening. What is on God’s heart? What does he want for this situation or that person? Admittedly, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us how to talk to God, and I’m sure God loves to hear us share our heart with him too, but ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done’ expresses clearly that it is God’s agenda we need to be searching for, and praying into being. How can we know that unless we listen first?

Meanwhile, in that Tent of Meeting, a young man lived permanently. Joshua was Moses’ right hand man. His job was presumably to guard it from wild beasts and watch out for enemy attack, since it was outside the camp. He must have observed closely all that went on between God and Moses. He must have seen that Moses did plenty of listening. How important that was for his future career! As soon as Moses died, he was called into the office of Leader. The opening words of the book of Joshua, were God giving him clear commands for the way forward.

Joshua 1:1-9

Joshua 1:1-9

He’d learnt that prayer is more about listening than speaking. So now he was able to hear God clearly, and trust his precise instructions. How would they have ever won those battles otherwise?

And that’s how we win our battles in life too.

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It’s not what it looks like

When you’ve messed up badly, there is nothing more therapeutic, once the dust has settled, than getting up and getting on with life. Energy focused on moving forward, rather than wallowing in the quagmire of regret, can motivate and help recovery.

So in the aftermath of the people of Israel making and worshipping the golden calf, God urged Moses on in the task of leading the people into the promised land. Terrible as their sin had been, God had not finished with them. So mercifully, he still intended for them to fulfil their purpose.

As I read Exodus 33:1-6, I see two accounts of God’s orders in verse 3 and verse 5. It strikes me that verse 3 might be what God actually said, where verse 5 is what the people heard.

Exodus 33:1-6

Exodus 33:1-6

God did not accompany them in person as a punishment, but to keep them safe. I wonder if their ornaments reminded them of their guilt, which still lay heavily on them. Because the people did not really know God or understand his ways, they interpreted it as a harsh retribution that they deserved. So they missed his kindness and mercy.

They also missed something else. God was not sending them alone. He was sending an angel before them, who would perform the task of driving out their enemies for them. All that would be required of them was to move forward and take up residence in a land flowing with milk and honey! This was no avenging deity, but a Heavenly Father, caring for his wayward children, disciplining and teaching them right ways, protecting and providing for them the whole way.

The angel that would go before them could have been the same one that had already been promised in Exodus 23:20-23.  One who had God’s Name in him. Was this Jesus? God’s presence in the person of his son? The One whose purpose was to bridge the gap between man and God, pay the price for sin, and make a way for man to enter in to the Promised Land?

No sin is greater than God’s love. Whatever we have done, or not done, he still wants us to fulfil all he is calling us to. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. The better we know him, the better we comprehend that he is with us and for us, whatever situation we face.

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Cover up

According to my husband’s family history, one character was collecting the money for his works outing, but spent it all on beer. His poor wife had to sell her inherited shares to pay it back, to keep him out of prison. His colleagues never knew how close their trip came to being cancelled!

Moses must have felt physically sick when he viewed the scene of the Israelites dancing, probably half naked, celebrating that golden calf (Exodus 32:25-35). This was the depth they had sunk to, and no doubt that enemy spies would be watching and reporting. They had rendered themselves thoroughly vulnerable.

Did Moses sense there needed to be a blood covering for their sin, for which animals were just not enough? Perhaps that is why he gave orders for a mass slaughter. Perhaps that too, is why he offered himself to God, to stand in the gap as an atonement. Or perhaps he preferred to die than to be around to see the punishment he knew they deserved. Perhaps, too, he felt in some way responsible, as their leader.

In any case, God would not accept the sacrifice of Moses to redeem them. Only One would be good enough to pay the price for others’ sins, many centuries later. On this occasion, God himself would judge and punish the individuals according to their sin. For this purpose, God sent a plague, where he could hand-pick those most in rebellion.

And Moses lived on, and continued to lead the people. For God is kinder than we ever imagine him to be. Weak and sinful as they were, God still had a purpose to fulfil in them. Like my husbands predecessor, their sins were covered over, and life went on.

One person in this story I would have expected to have come under a harsh judgement was Aaron. Surely he should have been brought to account for his part in the miserable proceedings. Yet scripture mentions him specifically as there to welcome Moses back down the mountain with the new set of tablets (Exodus 34:30). I find it incredibly encouraging that God punishes wickedness and hard-heartedness, but not weakness. He understands our weaknesses, and “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Isaiah 42:3)

Life can get to us, and we make mistakes. But God understands. Through Jesus, he covers them over, and life goes on. We still have a purpose that God wants us to fulfil.

Exodus 32:25-35

Exodus 32:25-35

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When is a leader not a leader?

I’d been sent to take a message into another class. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I attended a fairly prestigious girls grammar school and this was late ’60’s. This didn’t happen here! The Latin teacher was doing his stuff at the blackboard, while the kids were running riot. The room was a mess, the din deafening, yet the teacher continued unperturbed! I delivered the message and exited pronto.

Becoming a teacher myself, there were times I had to fight for discipline. I would tell myself, “You are the adult here. Be the leader and the kids will follow (eventually!)” Fake it till you make it, I suppose.

Aaron must have wondered why his little brother Moses had been chosen by God and brought back from shepherding in a foreign land to become the leader to his people, while he, Aaron, was just the spokesman. But his time deputising the leadership role, and his response to Moses’ questioning explained it all (Exodus 32:21-24).

Exodus 32:21-24

Exodus 32:21-24

This was why he was not the leader.

  • Leaders guide their followers, not just observe their behaviour.
  • Leaders take responsibility – they are the ones who hold the bag and have to do something.
  • Leaders stand firm for right action. They model right behaviour, and require it from their followers.
  • Leaders are accountable. They don’t cover up with a lie.

Aaron found out that being a leader was not an easy option, and not everyone has the right skillset for the task. Like the Latin teacher.

It is a hard job to be a leader: whether in a classroom, a nation, a business, a church or any other setting. They don’t always get it right. We need to pray for our leaders MORE than we criticize them. When we do make comments, we need to remember and remark on the positive, good things they’ve accomplished, before we launch into a tirade of negativity. That helps them to hear what we are saying, but it also help us to keep our hearts right and our ears attentive to God’s opinion.

As we come to a General Election in the UK, we need to remember these things. As well as when we chafe at the bit in church or at work. The bible tells us to pray for our leaders (e.g. 1 Timothy 2:1-3) for a good reason. Just think what a difference it would make if we ALL prayed BEFORE we moaned!

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A sound worse than war

As I turned the key in the lock, a foreign sound told me something was wrong. The smell of wetness and dust and plaster assailed me as I walked in, moments before the sight of streams of water pouring through a buckling ceiling into a sodden sofa, flooding the new carpet. I raced upstairs to find the bath tap pouring full blast into an overflowing bath. Our small children had been having fun paddling in it earlier in the day, then, all going up to the toilet together before our trip out, one of them had evidently used the bath tap to wash their hands, and left it running, plug still in. Six hours of devastation while we’d enjoyed a day at the seaside!

As Moses descended the mountain holding the precious tablets on which God had carved out the Ten Commandments, a sound alerted him that all was not right. Joshua placed it as the sound of war, but Moses, warned by God, knew it was something even worse. Two sights assailed his eyes as he entered the camp – the dancing, and the calf – and inflamed him to white hot anger. Dashing the tablets to the ground, he swiftly destroyed the golden calf the people had foolishly worshipped, and began to take back order in the camp (Exodus 32:15-20).

Exodus 32:15-20

Exodus 32:15-20

We were determined that none of our children should take the blame for the disaster that took months to clear up. We never asked who did it, and made sure they knew it was just a mistake; we were not cross with them – as parents we were responsible if anyone was.

Moses, on the other hand, was dealing with adults who knew better. They had witnessed miracle after miracle, and knew what was going on with Moses. There was no excuse. Moses was right to be furious.

There are terrible atrocities going on in our world today. We sit on comfortable sofas and watch the news. ‘How awful!’ we say, then sleep peacefully at night.

There is a time for righteous anger, and there is plenty to be incandescent about. Too easily it washes over us, perhaps over-faced by the volume of atrocities. What can I do anyway? Pray this if you dare.

Dear Lord, inflame me to righteous anger over the issues that you want me to get involved in; give me courage and wisdom to make my action effective; and give me tenacity to keep going until it’s resolved. Amen


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The right choice

Here’s the choice. You can be top dog, your family can become the greatest nation on earth and all your current problems can be whisked away instantly. OR you can wear yourself out trying to get a huge group of stubborn, unruly scoundrels to behave themselves and conform into some sort of society. Which would you choose?

That was the choice set before Moses in Exodus 32:7-14. The people of Israel had got antsy when Moses had gone to meet with God; and when he didn’t reappear after a few weeks, they decided God and Moses had abandoned them, so used their own gold to make an idol for themselves and worshipped it. God saw what was going on, and was understandably angry.

The choice God gave Moses is an interesting one. On the surface, it was a no-brainer, and it’s hard to imagine why Moses didn’t take him up on the easy offer. But by threatening to entirely wipe out the ‘stiff-necked’ lot, it subtly pushed Moses to take up their cause, to want to protect them, to want to take up the hard, hard, path of leading this rabble and shaping them into a nation worthy of the calling God had put upon them.

God loved that people, he had invested a lot in them, and knew that in spite of their weaknesses, he could use them as a nation. For all that, he knew Moses had one monumental job ahead of him, and he would need all the guts and determination known to man. He knew the people would run Moses ragged, that there would be times he himself would want to give up, so he had to make Moses sufficiently doggedly resolute to see the job through.

The threat to destroy them worked. Moses chose the hard path, and committed himself to the task of leading the people.

I’ve often got worried about making the right choices in life – what does God want me to do? But God wants us to do the things that are on his heart, even more than we want to do them! He is clever enough and loving enough to help us to come to the right decisions, sometimes without us even realising how we got there. If our lives are submitted to God, and our hearts are in sync with him, we don’t have to worry about getting it wrong.

Exodus 32:7-14

Exodus 32:7-14

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