Monday, November 24, 2014

"Where God's Compassion Leads" (Exodus 2:23-3:12)

(1) God of Compassion

What happened at the first Christmas was not a new idea – maybe a new strategy – but not something contrary to the way God had always acted. The Israelites, groaning under the burden of their slavery in Egypt, cried out to God … presumably a constant and corporate cry for help. “Groaning” would indicate a passionate, deep, heart-felt cry. “Slavery” is a dreadful thing because freedom has been taken away, and there would no consideration of basic human rights. They would be suffering exploitation and economic injustice. How the Egyptians treated the Israelites is referred to in terms of oppression (NRSV) and abuse (NLT; 3:9). When God spoke to Moses a bit later we read (refer verse 7) words used like “distress, misery, suffering”.

We then read that their cries for help … “rose up to God” (2:23). This signifies to me that God’s attention is never removed from us for too long. It was not surprising that God heard the people’s cries – it was a natural result of God’s love for his created beings. As we read in verse 25, “God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them”; or, in the NLT, “… and [God] knew it was time to act”. Not only did God hear and take notice, but God is also caused to remember his promises to Abraham and his descendants. God’s people could not be left to flounder and suffer and die, because God had promised to bless all the nations of the earth through these descendants of Abraham. There was a lot at risk!

One word describes well God’s response to the cries of his people … ‘compassion’. We know how Jesus shows deep, gut-wrenching compassion when confronted by human need. This is who God is! All God does on this occasion comes out of faithfulness to his own character and to the promises (or covenants) he has previously made. And this compassion is NOT based on it being deserved or earned, this compassion is based purely on human need. On the basis of this compassionate reaction to their dire situation, God will over time seek further and deeper relationship with his people; it would be those with grateful open hearts that will respond and maximise the benefits of God’s acts of mercy.

God’s timing is always impeccable, even when we can’t understand it or work it out. It is often in hindsight that we see the perfection of God’s timing. The trick is to know in the midst of uncertainty, that in fact, God’s timing is perfect … God will act at the best time and in the best way. Verse 25b in NLT … “God knew it was time to act”. God’s ultimate well-timed act was the sending of Jesus. We read Paul’s words in Galatians 4:4-5 … But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. History has shown, because of a number of factors, why Jesus came just at the right time so that God’s (compassionate) purposes might be fulfilled. We can’t know why God doesn’t seem to respond in some quite similar circumstances to what the Israelites faced here, but we do know that God can and does at certain times; which should encourage us to pray.

(2) God of Action

How does God act on this occasion (in Exodus)? Well, he forms a rescue plan. And this plan not only was a deliverance out of a bad situation, but also there was an idea toward a new style of living environment – a “good and broad land” (NRSV) or a “fertile and spacious land” (NLT). For the ancient Israelites this meant literally a new place, and this is also what is needed for many modern-day refugees … a new peaceful welcoming spacious land. But in other situations, for other people, this may mean deliverance to a new family or to a new spiritual community or simply to a new way of life (that could be described in terms of a “fertile and spacious land”).

Now, this all involves raising up a leader … Moses. Because God was calling him, Moses was obviously ready – more ready than he knew. Moses had had an interesting life to say the least. From being rescued from the river Nile, to being brought up in Pharaoh’s house, to becoming an outcast for defending a fellow Hebrew against an Egyptian oppressor – fleeing to Midian and becoming a farmhand, marrying the daughter of a priest whose family he had helped, and having a son. Now Moses faced a burning bush, a full-on fire … but the bush wasn’t succumbing to the flames.

First of all, Moses wasn’t frightened nor dismissive … he was inquisitive – refer verse 3. This was an unusual happening … there might just be more to it! When he heard a voice, that he may have begun to think was God, Moses was prepared to respond “Here I am” (v.4). God then further tested his readiness. Not only was Moses prepared to take his shoes off – showing reverence, he also hid his face – demonstrating his potential unworthiness (to be so close to the very presence of God). Moses thus passed the humility test! God can only use the humble … those who have a proper assessment of themselves … a sinner needing to be saved by grace. Yet having been saved by grace, we are then able to be used mightily.

(3) God of Faithfulness

God explains to Moses that having observed the misery on earth and heard the people’s cries, that he has “come down” to deliver them (v.8). This is personal!! Again, this concept of ‘coming down’ is consistent with what will happen many centuries later with Jesus. God’s ‘coming down’ on this occasion will involve the ongoing leadership of a person dedicated to God’s cause. God says to Moses (v.10), “Now go … for I am sending you to Pharaoh” (NLT); or better I think (given what follows), “So come … I will send you to Pharaoh” (NRSV).

You want me to do what? I have a bit of a chequered history with the royal family!! And there is a bit of tension between me and the Hebrew people as well. How does God answer these doubts?? What of great importance follows??? All protests become insignificant when we hear, “I will be with you” (verse 12)! There will still be difficulties and challenges for Moses to cope with … things would actually get worse before they got better … yet this is the best guarantee we could have!! There is no contradiction between God saying he will personally respond and then actually calling Moses to complete the task … because … “I will go with you”! This will be a partnership!

But before this guarantee came, Moses utters the words, “Who am I … that I should go to Pharaoh” (verse 11)!?!
What do you think lies behind this???
·        Guilt, shame
·        Identity crisis – born a Hebrew, but brought up as an Egyptian (literally “who am I”?)
·        Lack of confidence, self-doubt, feelings of limitation
·        Fear, lack of courage, unwilling to take a risk
·        Only sees the difficulty and probable failure, i.e. lack of faith.
The guarantee stands!!

Understanding our weaknesses will help us allow God to work through us; however dwelling on our weaknesses, or hiding behind them, will render us ineffective. God meets us initially where we are, at our recognized point of need, and from here we are led on to an understanding of our needs at a deeper level – which we should not ignore. A proper realistic view of ourselves is what we need to lead us toward a proper trust in God. We come as we are, open ourselves to Jesus, receive his forgiveness, fix our eyes on him, then go with Jesus through life … learning along the way. Then any task we are called to, is a task that God can accomplish through us. The “Come no closer” of verse 5 has now given way to “So come … I will be with you” (v.10,12). The protest, “Who am I …”, should have come to an end – it no longer stands up.

There will eventually be a “sign” that God has truly called Moses and has been with him all the way (v.12b), but that “sign” will not be seen until the job is done. Moses will have to exhibit faith to experience the results which will vindicate the whole effort. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating!

(4) People of Prayer & Compassion

So what might we want to cry out to God about?
Are we attentive to how God might answer?
What if we ourselves are asked to participate in a ‘rescue plan’?
Can we apply God’s promise, “I will be with you”?

The world, this country, even elements of our own community are in great need. What are we crying about? In the story of the exodus, clearly the people’s prayers led to a remarkable outcome. God wants to hear our cries. This is part of our participation in his compassion for the world. In some mysterious way, our cries of pain energise God’s compassion. God’s action was decisively for the oppressed, and against their oppressor Pharaoh. The protests and cries of the victims, and those who intercede for them are always heard by God. Psalm 103:6-8 says, The Lord gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly. He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel. The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love (NLT).

Do we join God in his nature of compassion? Do we back our prayers with action? Or, do we perhaps just go through the spiritual motions a bit? Perhaps we don’t unleash enough of God into certain situations!

Why doesn’t this happen, or that happen, we wonder! Have we cried out? Have we gone out on a limb??

God has a consistent mindset of bringing people out of bad situations into new hope, out of slavery into freedom, out of darkness and into light, out of death and into life. This is no matter whether they have fallen into bad situations through the behaviour of others, or got themselves into trouble and they themselves bear the responsibility. This is how God responded to the “fall”, and how God continues to respond. Ultimately of course, God responded to the sin problem in the world with Jesus. But this shouldn’t have been unexpected, because God was always seeking to get close up and personal and save his people.

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