The Gospel According to Moses
DAILY DEVOTIONAL READINGS BY KIM HARRINGTON
Day 57: The Source of Murmuring
Then they said to Moses, "Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness."
Here we have one of the first examples of the famous wilderness murmurings of the children of Israel—and they weren’t even in the wilderness yet, they were still in Egypt! We’ll have lots of occasions to discuss this trait as we go along in the story of Moses and the Israelites, because they did it constantly—the book of Numbers has been called "the Book of Murmurings," for example. But today, as we look at this early incident, let’s try to figure out what caused them to be such murmurers in the first place, for it was certainly something in them before Moses ever came along, something which had nothing really to do with him or the wilderness, even though all the murmuring was directed at Moses. (You pastors and leaders listening in can take some comfort in this, by the way; people murmur against you because murmuring is in them, not because you are necessarily such a terrible person or leader.)
The book of Hebrews says clearly that "Moses was faithful in all His house," while the people had "an evil, unbelieving heart," (3:5,12). Murmuring starts, not in a particular incident, but in people’s hearts. Those who murmur are basically negative and unbelieving people. They don’t have much faith in God or themselves. They’re not completely sure deep down that the Lord really could love them, because they have such low self-esteem to begin with, so they don’t have a whole lot of faith to plunge into new situations and work through the various problems and challenges that arise. As soon as a problem does present itself, they immediately assume that all is lost, that this is the beginning of the end, and feeling the need to blame someone for it, they place it all squarely in the lap of the leader, finding some minor fault in him to hinge it on. The real culprit, though, is their own negative unbelieving heart.
We’ve found that most murmurers in our experience come from dysfunctional families. Many were victims of verbal or physical abuse of some kind. Some were abandoned by their fathers. Others came from families where a parent’s alcoholism was a major factor. Alcoholics and other abusive persons are always blaming everybody but themselves for their problems, and the kids pick up on this. There is also a very negative outlook on life as a whole; "life is a bummer, and if you can lift me up into Never-Never land I’ll go along, but at the first sign of trouble I’m outa here, cuz you’re just the same as all the rest of them." The Israelites were slaves, and that’s about as dysfunctional and abusive as you can get; it’s no wonder the murmuring phenomenon was there.
But Christians—and Israelites—are supposed to be born again; they’re supposed to be strongly committed to God and His program; they’re supposed to be overcomers. "Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come," (2 Cor.5:17). It doesn’t matter who did what to you in the past, you’re supposed to be different now. Murmuring is a sin, and it’s one of the most deadly sins a person can commit. Murmuring is common in the work-place—where people are unconverted and walking according to the way of this world—but it shouldn’t ever be heard in the church, where people are supposed to be born again.
In conclusion, then, murmuring comes from having an unconverted heart. If you’re a professing Christian and also a murmurer, it’s about time to get converted, lest you meet the same fate as the children of Israel.
Day 58: When Prayer is Sin
Then the Lord said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.
When the people began to murmur against Moses at the Red Sea, he was justifiably concerned. There were hundreds of thousands of them and just one of him. It could have been dangerous. Not only that, but nobody, not even a man of the stature of Moses, likes criticism. We all want people to like us, and it’s especially painful when those we have served and tried to help turn against us. So a very discouraged Moses fell before the Lord in prayer.
God’s answer? "Don’t lay here and bellyache at Me—get out there and do something!" The suggestion is, "You’re just as bad as the murmurers," for as the people murmured against Moses, he in turn complained to the Lord. Bad people tend to bring out the worst in others, even in God’s servants. Yahweh’s’s command to Moses was to stand up, be a man and do something.
There’s a time for prayer and there’s a time for action. The exodus of the Jews out of Israel was a time for action. The man of God had already received the word of the Lord, "Go down and free my people and bring them to Horeb to meet Me." He was receiving daily directions concerning lifting the staff in this direction or that, bringing on a plague or dismissing it. God was powerfully with him. Furthermore, in this case Moses already knew what was going to happen, for he told the murmuring Israelites, "Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent." (vss 13-14). Apparently he didn’t keep silent himself, but went and moaned before the Lord anyway.
There’s an old saying, "when the going gets tough, the tough get going," and it’s often applicable to the Christian life. "Moses," said the Lord, in effect, "get out of your prayer closet, quit going over all the details of what you should or shouldn’t do, and how you’re not appreciated by these people, and all the rest of that self-piteous, mealy-mouthing garbage, and get out there and do what I told you to do!" Sometimes prayer is just laziness, disobedience or even unbelief. When God has told you to do something, do it! Tarrying overlong in prayer can actually be sin, if you’re supposed to be doing something else.
Moses was supposed to be parting the Red Sea, not laying on his face before the Lord, getting depressed because people misunderstood his intentions and he was falling in the popularity polls. All that negative speaking before the Lord could have eroded the faith and confidence he’d be needing to cross the Sea and the other trials ahead. Inaction and further "prayer" would have been nothing but detrimental at this point, so God told him, "be tough and get going."
Day 59: Crossing the Red Sea isn’t Rational
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land,so the waters were divided. And the sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
Do you mind if I give vent to one of my pet peeves today? I get irritated by people who refuse to believe the clear and straightforward accounts of the Bible, and instead search for natural answers to biblical miracles. No miracle has been more maligned than the crossing of the Red Sea. Even Cecil B. DeMille’s famous movie, "The Ten Commandments," for all its impressive effects at this scene, still shows the people of Israel sloshing across in knee deep water, instead of going dry-shod, as the Bible clearly says.
Well, you can expect Hollywood to do a little interpreting of the facts; and you can expect worldly, unconverted people to doubt the Bible and search for excuses and explanations of miracles... but what about the Christian community, the Bible scholars and writers of Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and expository books and introductions to the Old Testament?! Some of the most dangerous comments on the Red Sea and other miracles come from the pages of books dedicated to the knowledge of God and His glory. Few that I’ve read will actually come out and say it didn’t happen, but the way some of then beat around the bush and search for explanations, it boils down to about the same thing.
Many scholars devote their whole commentary on this subject to a discussion of exactly where the Israelites crossed. Most settle on a swampy section north of the actual Red Sea, and though they suggest many varied opinions on why this is the most likely spot, the underlying suggestion seems to be that God couldn’t actually have brought them across where the sea was really a sea. In other places the same authors stress the inerrancy of scripture, but here they ignore the plain sense of the words: the Bible says they crossed a definite sea, not a swamp; and that it was a definite miracle, not low tide; and that their feet were dry the whole way; and that the waters were actually piled up on either side of them. I choose to believe God Himself instead of His interpreters.
The problem is the underlying assumptions of western culture as a whole. We’re taught from day one that there’s no such thing as a ghost or the supernatural; that everything has a perfectly reasonable explanation. No adult believes in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy—Mom put that dime under your pillow. There are no real miracles or unexplained supernatural phenomena... the human mind is capable of many an astounding thing—that wasn’t a healing, it was probably psychosomatic sickness in the first place...
Then when we become Bible-believing Christians we intellectually agree with the miracles of the Bible, but deep in our hearts we often remain unconvinced. Furthermore, the more educated people become, the less belief they have in the supernatural, even if their education was the seminary kind. That’s because our whole approach to education in the West is based on rationalism and secularism, and let’s face it, miracles and God and angels and demons are just not very rational or secular.
The solution, for those of you who want to change your world-view into a more scriptural one, is to immerse yourself more and more in the Bible, until the weight of Scripture is greater in your subconscious than the weight of your secular education. It may take some time, but it will be well worth it.
Day 60: The Goodness & Severity of God
Then the Egyptians took up the pursuit, and all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots and his horsemen went in after them into the midst of the sea.
The same sea that allowed the Israelites to cross safely drowned all the Egyptians when they tried to follow. The same uplifted rod caused the sea to part for the Israelites and to close on the Egyptians. The same Shekinah cloud put light in the camp of Israel, and darkness in the camp of the Egyptian army. The same God who led the Israelites to safety killed the Egyptians without mercy.
Remember that Israel is a type of the true church and Egypt is a type of the unbelieving world. The same God who sends one person to Heaven sends another to eternal Hell. This is difficult for us to understand sometimes, because we have a tendency to look at God as a kindly old grandfather, someone who wouldn’t hurt a fly, much less send someone to hellfire. But the Bible doesn’t bear this grandfatherly image out even a little. We see in the pages of His Word a God who is quick to love and kindness, yet who is not at all afraid to judge the wicked. And we see this in both the Old and New Testaments.
"Behold the goodness and the severity of God!" Paul exhorts us in Romans 11:22, "to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you will be cut off." The same God who grafted the Gentiles into the vine and into His own family, cut off the Jews because they did not believe in their Messiah when He came. And the same God who extended such deep and undeserved mercy to you can cut you off, as well, if you cease from walking with Him.
Look at 2 Corinthians 2:14-16. "But thanks be to God who...manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life..." This reminds me of the rod and of the sea. The same instruments of mercy to one may be instruments of wrath to another. The same Gospel that saves the person who believes condemns the one who doesn’t believe. Mark 16:16 says "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, he that believeth not shall be damned," (KVJ). It’s the same message again, the goodness of God toward one and the severity of God toward another.
Be not mistaken, God isn’t not whimsical or unfair. He doesn’t simply choose to save one and condemn another. The difference between God’s dealings with people is their own response. The one who believes and obeys receives His mercy and love; the one who refuses His love and chooses to walk contrary to His will, gets condemned. There was a mixed multitude of Egyptians and others who crossed the Red Sea safely with the Israelites; but those who stayed in Pharaoh’s army and didn’t submit to God were destroyed. Give your life to Jesus today—completely—and enjoy God’s salvation and love.
Day 61: Our Warrior God
Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and said, "I will sing to the Lord for He is highly exalted; the horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea."
The song of Moses and the children of Israel at the Red Sea became a popular chorus a few years back, but I sometimes wonder how many modern Christians would be rejoicing and dancing to the tune if they paused to consider the lyrics and the context of them. Thousands of Egyptians had just been killed in the sea and their bodies were still floating on the waters as the Israelites danced and sang before the Lord. The other plagues had also taken their toll. We know for sure that in every family in Egypt there was at least one death, the firstborn. In the last few weeks the Lord had executed wholesale judgement and slaughter on Egypt, and that’s why the Israelis were dancing and rejoicing with their tambourines alongside the Red Sea.
That seems to fly in the face of quite a bit of the humanistic sentiments of modern Christianity, and perhaps even the teachings of the New Testament like "turn the other cheek," and "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." Some teachers and leaders in the early church had so much difficulty with this and other passages in the Old Testament that they suggested doing away with all of it! Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament and Jesus, the God of the New were obviously different in character, according to their reasoning, and they wanted to serve the kind and gentle Savior rather than His angry, vengeful Father.
Modern Christians receive the Old Testament as part of the Bible, but seem to be less honest and thoughtful than the early church critics; they simply say God used to be like that but now He’s not, and we’ll stick to the New Testament for our teachings. Neither the early church or the last days church really comes to grips with the warrior God (Ex 15:3), and both reject the inspiration and validity of the Old Testament, when it comes right down to it.
Jesus and the apostles had no such confusion in their minds over the character of God, or the validity of the Old Testament for every day and age. It was the only Bible they used, and if it wasn’t truly inspired or valid for every age, then neither is God. They served a God who is both merciful and stern, who judges the righteous and unrighteous without respect of persons, who fights for His servants and against His enemies. It all made sense to them. God wants to save everybody, and through Jesus He has extended an offer of pardon and mercy to the whole world, but He still must judge sin and unrighteousness and idolatry. To those who reject His mercy the judgment is all the more severe, because they are without excuse now—they have persisted in being His enemies, though He has humbled Himself and sought reconciliation with them.
We last days Christians may very well see a scene similar to the one the sons of Israel saw at the Red Sea. God will "repay with affliction those who afflict you [His people] and give relief to you who are afflicted...when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus," (2 Thess 1:6-8). Let’s come to grips with our ideas of His character before then, so we can rejoice as the Israelites did in God’s victory.
Day 62: Expressing Joy Before the Lord
And Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing.
I don’t know just when and where it started, but somewhere along the way, serious Christians got the idea that not only is sin bad, but so is having fun. Christians should be serious and sober, goes that thinking, and any sign of pleasure or joy is bad. Therefore the only acceptable instrument in church is the somber pipe organ, and the people must sing with dignity and reverence. Many of us have come a long way from that thinking in the last twenty or thirty years, but it still binds a lot of people in various ways.
It shouldn’t. Miriam and the ladies here in Exodus are one of the early Bible examples that teach us the validity of expressing joy, and even dancing before the Lord as an act of worship. I have heard worship described as being in a state of total abandonment in adoration of the Lord, and that seems to be what happened to Miriam and the Israelites. Their hearts overflowed to such a degree that they had to find a suitable expression for what they felt, and the only thing appropriate seemed to be dancing and leaping and beating on tambourines. They were lost in the Lord, they had forgotten about their dignity and self-respect, they were oblivious to onlookers—it was just them and Jesus that day, and they didn’t care who said what, because they were worshipping their Savior and Redeemer.
The forgiven prostitute in Luke chapter seven provides a similar illustration. She wept and kissed the Lord’s feet, lost in her worship and adoration of Him, and she didn’t care who saw her or what they thought. Not so Simon the Pharisee. He was upset at this unseemly behavior. Religion to him was serious business, not weeping, and certainly not dancing, I’m sure. But Jesus scolded not the harlot, but the pharisee. The Lord looks at the hearts, and there’s no mistaking a heart full of devotion and zeal.
Joy is not evil. Dancing before the Lord is both scriptural and valid for today and any day in which people love the Lord. There certainly is a time to be serious, and even a time to express sorrow, but if that’s all you have to express, you’re in an unenviable position in life. Jesus came to do more than that for you. Relax and join the worshippers and praisers, the Miriams of this world that express their hearts before the Lord—and win His blessing and approval by doing so.
Day 63: Dancing Before the Lord
And Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing.
In recent years the subject of "dancing in the Spirit" has come up often, and sometimes been a source of contention and strife in charismatic circles. Many argue that there is a scriptural precedent and that by all means we should worship the Lord in this way. Others are opposed to it, saying that it’s excessive, emotional and not "in the Spirit" at all. Let’s take a look at this subject today.
There is a scriptural precedent, and that’s where we must begin. We do many things that have no scriptural precedent in our churches, so we may as well do the things that are scriptural. Miriam and the ladies danced before the Lord here in Exodus fifteen. David the king danced before the Lord when he brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem—and if he was dancing no doubt many others were, as well. Dancing was a common form of celebrating in the Hebrew culture, as it is in many other places. Israelites engaged in victory dances when their victorious armies came home. Weddings were celebrated with dancing. Dancing was even part of the temple worship of the Old Testament—the Psalms exhort us to praise the Lord with dancing (Ps149:3, 150:4).
That’s all I need to get my feet moving! Some will say, however, that there is no record of New Testament dancing. While dancing is not specifically mentioned, we may still assume the apostles and early church practiced it on occasion, as they did the rest of the Old Testament temple worship. The great new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah mentions dancing—"again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful," (Jer 31:4). Dancing is part of both covenants, Old and New.
Is it really "in the Spirit?" Probably not, if your idea of that is that the Holy Spirit is giving you the steps, or that it is some sort of prophetic action. It’s an expression of worship, it’s you praising God, and rejoicing in the victories He has wrought for you. If you’re sincere and spiritual, it’s as spiritual as you are.
Is it supposed to be spontaneous, or can it be choreographed, practiced ahead of time, and performed as an art, like many do today? Frankly I prefer spontaneously breaking forth into dance, people getting so excited about the Lord that they, like David, literally dance "with all [their] might"—it seems to be the pattern described in scripture. Nevertheless I understand that there was such a thing as rehearsed dancing in the Hebrew culture, as well, so you can do choreographed dancing as well if you do it unto the Lord, and to inspire others to worship Him.
The important thing is that if you dance, you do it with all your heart; and if you prefer not to, you don’t find fault with those who do. David’s wife Michel was punished for her aloofness and disrespect towards him and the other dancing worshippers, and perhaps her example crossed Jesus’ mind when he told the Pharisees, "We played the flute for you and you did not dance," (Mt 11:17).
All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Version unless marked otherwise.
Copyright © 2005 Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.