Today's Reading: Exodus 7-9
I know Spring house cleaning is around the corner. It is the time when I pull out furniture to do the behind the scenes vacuuming. I clean out drawers and cabinets, discarding unusable or non used items. Flower and herb beds are cleaned out and perennials are pruned. It's a big job to clean all the debris.
But can we imagine the mess in Egypt after all the plagues? Piles of frogs alone would drive me absolutely crazy, not to mention the damage after the hail storms, the stinky, soiled bandages full of boil pus, and rotting cattle. Pee-ew!
What was the reason for all this mess, pain and suffering?
Whenever I am reading scripture, I have a tendency to get distracted by all the sights, sounds and smells of the story. It's like I have theological ADHD. One way I try to focus is to watch for patterns of words or phrases. Did you find the same ones I did?
Pharaoh's heart was hardened...Let my people go.
These two tympani drums seemed to keep me on track as I rambled through the garbage yard of Egypt. Today, though I saw something different than I ever had before. I saw God's reason for Pharaoh's stony heart and all the plagues.
Now before I go on, I have to tell you that I used to think the plagues were to soften Pharaoh's heart. I thought the plagues were used by God to make Pharaoh so sick of the Israelites that he would finally let them be freed from slavery.
And I also thought the "Let my people go..." was all about freedom for the Israelites. Their cry to God came up from the brick yards of hard labor. They were unable to enjoy the liberty we in America assume to be our right.
But I was wrong.
Funny how scripture corrects one if one begins reading carefully under the power of the Holy Spirit. It's sort of like reading under the influence of the focusing drug, Ritalin.
There was a reason for the hardened heart of Pharaoh and the letting go of God's people. Did you see it?
Pharaoh's heart was hardened by God in order that God might multiply God's signs in Egypt, and so the Egyptians would know "I am the LORD" when the God's people are finally brought out.
God wanted to display his power and his glory. He wanted everyone to stay, not just for the pre-game entertainment--all the signs which could be mimicked by the magicians in Pharaoh's court--but for the full game plus the fireworks at the end.
It is as if God was saying, I want to settle, once and for all, that I am more powerful than any king or kingdom on earth. I created everything and everyone, and by golly, I'm in charge.
And, by the way, I don't want to keep this a secret. I want everyone to know: I am the LORD! I want them to know, not just tolerate or ascent to this fact, but have their lives flipped over by the reality dawning upon them. I am the LORD!
God wants to be known. In fact, God demands our knowledge of himself. And God wants to be known for who God truly is, not who we think or want God to be. God will go to all sorts of measures to show his glory and to display God's self.
The second thing is this. God said "Let my people go, that they may serve me." The people of Israel were not brought out from Egypt to be masters of their own lives. No! They were brought out from the slavery of Egypt to be enlisted into the service of the most high God.
In some of the Bibles, the Hebrew word 'abad is translated "serve," but other translations use the word "worship." This Hebrew word insinuates both, along with the idea of "tilling the soil."
I have a dear friend who challenges the mentality that the only thing the church needs to do is preach to the gospel to "save" people...make sure people come to the altar, confess their sin and get baptized. But he argues that people are saved, not to just escape the fires of hell, but to serve. Saved to serve!
It is not good enough just to know God. We are also called to serve, worship and tend God's fields. We will be slaves to either the Pharaoh of this world or we will worship and serve the LORD of the universe. We don't really have any rights. We don't really have any power over our own lives. Serve Pharaoh or serve the LORD.
I wonder if the story of Egypt and Pharaoh is really about one slave owner saying to another slave owner, give me my slaves back. They do not belong to you, they are mine.
This might jar our self understanding. Have I ever considered, "I am a slave of the LORD?" In Hebrew, the word for servant and slave are the same. We tend to use servant more frequently, because it sounds nicer on our American ears. But for today, I'm going to ponder this slavery thing.
I am a slave of the LORD. I have been brought out of Egypt and Pharaoh's grasp to worship and serve the LORD. Everything that happens in my life is to convince me of who God is, and to move me from serving Pharaoh to serving the LORD.
It's all for a reason.
That's a lot to think about...