Monday, June 25, 2012

Rejection of God and Self-Rejoicing

Rejection of God and Self-Rejoicing

Stephen, disciple of Christ, arrested and on trial for heresy and blasphemy, defends himself before self-righteous religious rulers, using the history of his people as an object lesson in religious rejection of God.

"This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, - Who made you a ruler and a judge? - this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, - God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers." Acts 7:35-37 (ESV)

This is Stephen's grand thesis. This declaration is the climax of his argument defending himself from the false charges of heresy and blasphemy.

This careful, sequential overview of his people's history, from faithful Abraham to Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and now Moses, leads inevitably to an inescapable conclusion: In the same way that the nation of Israel first rejected Moses as their Deliverer, so they first rejected Jesus the Christ.

Miracles proved Moses to be Israel's Deliverer, chosen and empowered by God, after forty years of rejection.

Signs and wonders proved Jesus to be the nation's Final Deliverer, after vicious, vindictive rejection at the cross of crucifixion.

Jesus was the prophet like Moses, raised up by God, empowered to lead the Jews out of a much darker wilderness than that experienced in the days of Moses.

Stephen is defending himself against false accusations and at the same time throwing back against his accusers the sin of rejecting God's sovereign rule over their lives. The Jewish leadership rejected Moses in the same way they had rejected Jesus.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Can you put yourself in the place of Stephen's accusers? What have you experienced that can compare with their stubborn rejection of what God determines is best for us? At what point in your life did your attitude toward God make a radical, 180-degree turn?

Stephen continues his harsh indictment against religious rejection of God's righteousness in Christ.

"This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us." Acts 7:38 (ESV)

CONGREGATION: ekklesia (a calling out, a popular meeting, a religious congregation, synagogue or community); from ek (origin, from out) and kaleo (to call, usually aloud); from keleuo (pronounced kel-yoo-o, meanning to "hail", to incite by word or order); from kello (to urge on)

Stephen refers to the nation of Israel, not long escaped from the clutches of the Egyptian Pharoah, as a "congregation", meaning a group called out to meet together. Most frequently, this word is translated as "church".

There are many different words used for religious groups, as well as for the buildings in which these groups meet.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? List aloud some of these different words. What implications can you pull out from the fact that "church" literally means "ones called out"? What mistaken ideas are often communicated by the word, "church"? What can we do as "church" to emphasize the true meaning of the word?

Stephen declares that an "angel" spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, receiving the commandments of God.

ANGEL: angelos (a messenger, by implication, a pastor); from aggello (to bring tidings); from ago (to lead, bring, drive, go, pass, induce)

However, the Old Testament account describes Moses meeting with God Almighty Himself.

"The Lord said to Moses, - Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever. - When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses, - Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people." Exodus 19:9-11 (ESV)

"Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up." Exodus 19:18-20 (ESV)

We often rank angels as creatures subordinate to God. Angels appear to be much more powerful than humans, yet we rightly suppose them to be only the servants, or messengers, of God.

Yet Stephen's reference to God Almighty Himself as an "angel" should give us cause to rethink our definitions.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? It's clear that God Himself met and spoke with Moses, yet Stephen used the word "angel" to describe God. Why? What implications does that hold for us when we discuss angelic beings? More importantly, what implications does it hold when we discuss Jesus Christ?

Stephen said that Moses received "living oracles" from God.

LIVING ORACLES: zao (to live) and logion (an utterance of God); from logios (fluent, an orator); from logos (something said, including the thought, a topic, reasoning, motive); from lego (to "lay" forth, to relate)

The phrase, "living oracles" becomes clearer when placed in the context described by Jesus:

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." Matthew 4:4 (ESV)

Jesus was quoting from a passage recorded in Deuteronomy:

"The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."
Deuteronomy 8:1-3 (ESV)

This passage is from words spoken by Moses to the nation of Israel, after his communing directly with God on Mount Sinai.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? In what ways is manna similar to the Word of God, the Holy Bible? How can ink marks on paper be called "living words"?

"Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, - Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him. - And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands." Acts 7:39-41 (ESV)

Despite the miracle of manna and the powerful smoke and fire of Mount Sinai, despite the miraculous delivery from the oppression of Egypty, the people of Israel persisted in unbelief and disobedience.

Moses was gone, lost at the top of a mountain. Smoke, fire, earthquakes and lightning covered the heights. The people allowed fear and self-indulgence to turn them away from faith in God. They created a golden idol, offered sacrifice to the god they had made, and rejoiced in their own work.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? In what "works" do we often rejoice? What circumstances tend to erode our faith and lead us into idolatry or "self-rejoicing"?

Image provided by Mark Smith, Creative Commons License.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Who was Timothy?

Who was Timothy?

The Book of 1 Timothy: Introduction

The Holy Bible includes two letters written by Paul the Apostle to Timothy the Pastor. With this post today we will begin to look closely at the first of these two letters.

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord." 1 Timothy 1:1-2 (ESV)

TIMOTHY: Timotheos (dear to God); from time (pronounced "tee-MAY", meaning a value, money, to esteem, dignity) and theos (a deity, a magistrate, by Hebraism very); from tino (to pay a price, as a penalty)

Timothy's name literally means "dear to God" or "very dear". The name grew out of a word meaning something valuable, something to be paid.

It seems not merely coincidental that the root of Timothy's name and the English word for divisions of day and night appear the same: time. Our word "time" grew out of the Germanic words "tidiz" (a division of time) and "timon" (an appropriate time to do something).

The decisions and events that pass sequentially through our days and nights might be our most valuable earthly possession.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? In what way is time valuable? Is time temporary, only for life here on earth? What will replace time for us in Christ, in heaven?

Timothy was a disciple in Lystra when he and Paul met.

"Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek." Acts 16:1-3 (ESV)

Modern-day Lystra is in Turkey. Lystra (A), Derbe (B) and Iconium (C) were all less than 50 miles or so apart.

Timothy was a believer, a disciple of Jesus, as was his Jewish mother, but his father was a Greek non-believer.

Timothy must have been an outgoing believer, committed to traveling at least 50 miles often, maintaining Christian fellowship with believers in Iconium. Timothy's mother probably came to Christ before Timothy was born and did not submit Timothy to the synagogue for circumcision as an infant because of her faith in Christ alone. Or perhaps Timothy's father, as an unbeliever, forbade the rite.

Paul was committed to preaching to fellow Jews, and he required Timothy to become circumcised to avoid as many closed doors as possible. Circumcision was a sacred rite for Jews. Neglecting to be circumcised was immediate grounds for rejection by devout Jews. Being circumcised would have made it easier for Paul and Timothy to meet with the religious rulers.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What other outward rites or customs, whether social or Christian, seem neccessary for your comfort, fellowship or faith? In what way could Paul's insistence upon circumcision be seen as hypocrisy or compromise?

Paul loved Timothy as the son he'd never had.

"I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church." 1 Corinthians 4:17 (ESV)

Implied in this verse is the admiration and respect held by Timothy for Paul. Timothy developed a ministry built upon the foundation of Paul's preaching of Christ.

"When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers." 1 Corinthians 16:10-11 (ESV)

We can sense Paul's concern for Timothy. Circumcision was meant to please the Jews, but Paul saw the possibility that Christians would also resist Timothy's preaching, perhaps even to the point of despising the young missionary.

AT EASE: aphobos (fearlessly); from a (not) and phobos (alarm or fright)

DESPISE: exoutheneo (to make utterly nothing of); from ek (origin, from, out of) and oudeis (not even one, none, nobody, nothing)

For some reason Paul expected that Timothy, on his own merits, would be dismissed out of hand by Christians not acquainted with him. Paul tried to support Timothy, adding his endorsement and recommendation on his behalf. Perhaps Timothy lacked confidence and experience, and Paul expected that to be a hindrance, both to Timothy himself and to those to whom he preached.

The strongest suggestion of the reason for Paul's concern comes later in Paul's first letter to Timothy:

"Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." 1 Timothy 4:12 (ESV)

DESPISE: kataphroneo (to think against, to disesteem); from kata (down) and phroneo (to exercise the mind, to entertain or have a sentiment or opinion; to be disposed in a certain direction, to interest oneself)

"Despise" here is translated from a Greek word that differs from that in 1 Corinthians 16:11. Paul warned Timothy to expect, and confront, Christians who might negatively presuppose or discriminate against Timothy because of his young age. Paul did consider Timothy to be young, and he knew that many people prejudge all those younger to generally be inconsequential and less capable.

We've all experienced firsthand the sweeping dismissal and discrimination shown by elders to youngsters. The prejudice begins early. Middle school students ignore elementary grade children, senior high school students mock the middle school ones. College students distance themselves from high schoolers.

It carries on into adulthood. Interns must "pay their dues", youth leaders given much responsibility with little authority, apprentices made to sweep floors. Senior citizens bemoan "today's generation" and long for days long gone.

The discrimination is unfair, but it has at its root a germ of foundational truth. Paul himself warned churches to select leaders with experience.

"He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil." 1 Timothy 3:6 (ESV)

Paul did connect youth with weakness, but the weakness was in terms of experience in walking after Jesus, not merely youth. A person newly converted usually has faced few challenges and tribulations as a Christian in which to exercise spiritual muscles. Without fighting through difficulties involving sin, disappointment, truth and victory, a young believer is vulnerable to conceit, leading even to demonic pride.

However, the issue here seems to be the immediate rejection of a young leader based wholly upon the superficial appearance of youth.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What examples of discrimination have you experienced, whether that of age or any other outward appearance? What safeguards or checks against unfair discrimination can a church use to avoid falsely dismissing or denigrating other people? Does Paul's attempt to support Timothy seem a reasonable precaution?

Image of Roman coin provided by Portable Antiquities Scheme,, Creative Commons License.

Image of clock provided by Lee J Haywood,, Creative Commons License.

Images modified by the author using GIMP.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Moses Trembled

Moses Trembled

Stephen stood before the accusing council of religious rulers, defending himself against charges of blasphemy and heresy. He had quickly traced the history of the nation of Israel, beginning with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph and Moses. He is at this point reminding the court of the great disappointment that Moses must have felt after forty years of sheepherding, exiled in fear of punishment by Egyptians after a failed attempt to deliver his people from oppression.

After forty lonely, lowly years of regret, God spoke to Moses.

"I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob. - And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, - Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt." Acts 7:33-34 (ESV)

Moses was a believer. Although raised by a royal Egyptian family, Moses had learned of his people's heritage and he had joined with his ancestors in trusting the God Who Delivers, the God Who had promised His presence and a land of their own in Canaan.

Moses named his own children in memorial of God's promises: Gershom, "Refugee" and Eliezer, "God of Help". Moses believed that he was only a pilgrim, in a foreign land, waiting for God's deliverance.

But it had been so long now. All he could remember was the disappointing rejection he's experienced, rejected by his own people, threatened with imprisonment or worse, from his first attempt to act upon God's promise.

He was a believer, but disappointment and long years of boredom and tedium had made God seem far away.

Then God spoke, and Moses trembled.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What truths about God Himself are immediately seen in God's words to Moses? What truths revealed here could cause you yourself to tremble? What in you or around you tends to dilute the force of these truths, making genuine worship and trembling before God infrequent, or even non-existent?

TREMBLED: ginomai (to cause to be) and entromos (terrified); from tromos (a "trembling", quaking with fear); from treo (to "dread" or "terrify")

The burning bush did not terrify amazed him and drew him closer. Moses saw nothing terrifying, he felt no pain or pressure. But Moses felt immediate dread and terror at the sound of God's voice. At the moment that Moses heard God's voice, he was filled with awareness of God's presence, and Moses identified the burning bush as a manifestation, not of nature, but of the Creator of nature, God Almighty.

And Moses trembled with terror.

Why? Why did Moses tremble? God had not threatened Moses. God made no accusations. God condemned nothing in the life and heart of Moses. For forty years Moses had lived quietly...the Bible records absolutely nothing sinful about his life in Midian. Perhaps he feared divine punishment for his early crime of killing a man in defense of another? Perhaps Moses saw his sin in failing to be the Deliverer of Israel, running from Pharaoh in fear rather than rousing the troops in faithful rebellion?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Why did Moses fear God at that moment? Nothing new had been revealed about God that Moses did not already know, so why did Moses not fear God before this? Should genuine, trembling fear be a part of a Christian's worship experience? Should we reject emotions of fear, or welcome them?

The writer of the Book of Hebrews cites this same incident concerning Moses. Chapter 12 begins with an exhortation to combat weariness and faintheartedness by considering the life and ministry of Jesus on our behalf. Later in the chapter we are told to expect God's discipline and correction, but it will always be for our good. Finally, we are warned against allowing a root of bitterness to grow in our hearts by rejecting God's grace shown to us. Near the end of the chapter, the fear felt by Moses is contrasted with exhilarating happiness experienced when intimately near Jesus.

"So terrifying was the sight that Moses said, - I tremble with fear. - But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant." Hebrews 12:21-24 (ESV)

For Moses, the presence of God was terrifying. Power, judgement and imminent death were the overpowering expectations of Moses when confronted directly by God. Yet the writer of the Book of Hebrews contrasts the fear of Moses with the joy of Christians.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Why does the experience of Moses at this point seem so different from the experience of followers of Christ? With which experience do you most closely identify, looking at your younger life, compared to your life now? For you, what has made the difference?

Image provided by Kevin N. Murphy,, Creative Commons License

Monday, June 4, 2012

God Spoke

God Spoke

Stephen's defensive argument began with a brief history of Abraham's life, firmly establishing the importance of maintaining faith in God's word, no matter the circumstance, distance or time it takes for God to fulfill His promises. This legacy of faith was passed from father to son, culminating in Abraham's great-grandson, Joseph.

Joseph had risen from slave to ruler of Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. But decades passed, Joseph died and the tide of favor faded.

"But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph." Acts 7:17-18 (ESV)

The new Pharoah oppressed the people of Israel, made them slaves, forcing the abortion at birth of all Israeli male infants. (Exodus 1)

This was the fulfillment of God's warning to Abraham:

"God spoke to this effect...that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years." Acts 7:6 (ESV)

Now, Stephen submits the life of Moses as exhibit number two in his defense against charges of heresy and blasphemy.

"At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God's sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father's house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh's daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds. Acts 7:20-22 (ESV)

Moses should have been murdered at birth by the midwives, under the strict law of the Pharoah. But Moses was beautiful.

BEAUTIFUL: asteios (urbane or handsome); from astu (a city)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? There seems to be many things which could be described as beautiful, many things which could inspire a description of beautiful or handsome. What difference would it have made if root of the Greek word for beautiful would have been a mountain, or a flower, a woman or a warrior? What implications could be drawn from a word meaning beautiful with a root word inspired by a city?

The ESV has Stephen saying that God considered Moses beautiful. The KJV says it differently:

"In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father's house three months." Acts 7:20 (KJV)

EXCEEDING: theos (a deity or magistrate)

Combining the thought of ESV and KJV, we can probably describe Moses as divinely beautiful, that the baby appeared completely whole, unblemished, strong and healthy.

This word for beautiful is used only twice in the New Testament, both instances describing Moses.

The Old Testament account uses a similar word:

"The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months." Exodus 2:2 (ESV)

FINE: tob (good or well); from tob (to be good, to do good or make good or well)

This is the same Hebrew word used to describe God's enjoyment of His creation. The light was "tob", the Earth and Seas were "tob", the herbs and trees, the sun and moon and every living creature were "tob".

My first reaction to God's special treatment of handsome Moses is to think, "Unfair!" Thousands of babies murdered by the Egyptians saw no miraculous intervention by God because they were homely in appearance?

But God created humans especially in His own image, and image includes, if not emphasizes, appearance. To recognize beauty in the human body is to recognize the beauty of God.

Beauty, physical appearance, is as much a part of perfection as intellect, love and strength. It should not surprise us that God treated handsome Moses with favor. The greater surprise should be that God grants favor to us who lack physical beauty or mental intelligence or strength of body and heart.

Much of the world's pursuits, even its insatiable lusts, seem to be desperate attempts to reclaim a lost divine beauty, as if we are striving to recapture even a shadow of a once wonderful glory.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What excesses of the world's population could be traced back to a deep, God-given desire for something good?

God created the baby Moses with extraordinary symmetry. His appearance was pleasingly balanced, blemish-free, reflecting an attitude of healthy intelligence, skill and influence.

The parents of Moses recognized the special appearance of Moses, and it moved them to do all they could to protect the child from the murderous law of Egypt.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews cites this incident as a great example of faith:

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. Heb 11:23 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? According to Hebrews 11:25, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." In what promises of God did the parents of Moses see hope? What formed the basis of their conviction, despite outward circumstances?

Stephen says that the baby Moses was "exposed", discovered to be a Hebrew male infant, liable for death. This is a bare description of the event:

"Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him.

"Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, - This is one of the Hebrews' children. - Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, - Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you? - And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, - Go.

"So the girl went and called the child's mother. And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, - Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages. - So the woman took the child and nursed him.

"When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, - Because, - she said, - I drew him out of the water." Exodus 2:1-10 (ESV)

The discovery of the baby in the basket seems a remarkable miracle in itself.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Was this a last-resort, act of desperation on the part of the parents of Moses, or a carefully considered act of faithful devotion? What modern-day religious convictions or practices could be seen as either desperation or devotion?

The divinely handsome baby Moses caught the eyes and heart of Pharaoh's daughter. It doesn't, however, seem that his beauty tugged at her heartstrings. The baby's tears brought her to compassion and pity:

PITY: hamal (to commiserate, to spare)

It's possible that the princess had been sheltered from the consequences of the horrific, murderous law mandated by her father, the Pharoah. Perhaps Moses was the first Hebrew baby she'd seen, and the infant's tears broke open her innocent heart's capacity for compassion.

Perhaps she had heard of the law, but never looked into the face of a Hebrew mother who had lost her child to murder. Living as royalty, she would have little occasion to experience any part of the life of her father's subjects.

She claimed the infant as her own son, raising him to be an Egyptian:

"Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds." Acts 7:22 (ESV)

WISDOM: sophia (wisdom, higher or lower, worldly or spiritual); from sophos (wise); akin to saphes (clear)

There is another Greek word that often translated as wise:

"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock." Matthew 7:24 (ESV)

WISE: phronimos (thoughtful, sagacious or discreet; implying a cautious character); from phren (the midrif, the feelings, the mind); from phrao (to rein in or curb)

Sophia, the word used to describe Moses, means practical skill and ability. This sort of wisdom is different from that deeper sense of caution also called wisdom.

Moses learned the essential skills of living as Egyptian royalty, and his family, friends and servants respected his strength and self-control. They saw him as the ideal Egyptian.

But Moses remained Hebrew in heart and soul.

"When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, - Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?" Acts 7:23-26 (ESV)

Moses had forty years to study the books of history in the Egyptian libraries. He had royal authority to search out and question anyone. He most likely found his parents and required of the Pharoah their protection and support. As he grew older, his questions took him farther afield, understanding his heritage as a descendent of Abraham, seeing clearly the oppressive rule of Egypt over his own people.

Moses was Egyptian only in wealth, influence, language and custom. In his heart he was Hebrew. In his heart he was The Deliverer. He struck a blow against evil oppression. He took a step toward bringing his people into the promised land so many miles northward.

The apostle Peter's first message as a preacher of Christ described the powerful self-awareness driving Moses, his intense loyalty to God's plan for his life:

"Moses said, - The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people." Acts 3:22-23 (ESV)

This unshakeable faith in God's hand upon his life did not happen instantly. Moses argued, complained and bargained with the beginning. But God brought Moses into, and through, difficulties and disappointment that resulted in deep, heartfelt faith and conviction.

Peter cited the faith of Moses in his appeal to non-believers to worship Christ, persuading religious Jews that Jesus was the long-awaited Savior-Prophet come in the power and likeness of Moses.

Stephen is declaring the same truth.

Moses failed in his first attempt deliver his people from oppression and into their God-given promised land.

"The man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, - Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?" Acts 7:27-28 (ESV)

The just revenge exacted by Moses, killing the Egyptian oppressor, resulted in nothing but exile. His fatherly intervention between two of his quarreling brothers crumbled into an acrimonious threat thrown back at him: imprisonment for murder.

Moses fled.

"At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons." Acts 7:29 (ESV)

The land of Midian was east of Egypt, named after a son of Abraham, by his second wife, Keturah. (Genesis 25)

Midian must have been a long distance from Egypt, or perhaps the route was rough...Pharaoh sought to kill Moses for the murder and defection, but failed to capture him.

On the map, Midian appears to have been desert, but at the time Moses lived there, it provided water and pasture for sheep at least. Moses became a shepherd and lived there for forty years, marrying and fathering two sons.

Moses appears to have passed on to his sons the legacy of their great ancestor, Abraham. Moses named his first son Gershom, from a word meaning a refugee, one driven out from a possession. The Old Testament account records Moses saying, "I have been a sojourner in a foreign land." Exodus 2:22 (ESV)

The second son was named Eliezer, meaning God of help. Moses said, "The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh." Exodus 18:4 (ESV)

Moses regarded Egypt as a foreign country, one in which he grew up, but now one to which he belonged. Moses continued to hold tightly to the heritage of faith in the God of Abraham, trusting God to fulfill His promise of land in Canaan.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Compare your own life right now with that of Moses, especially at the time when Moses was exiled from Egypt, herding sheep hundreds of miles from the land promised by God. Little wealth, little influence and only his small family with him. What similarities can you describe between your life and his, physical or spiritual?

After forty years of lonely exile, God spoke to Abraham.

"Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord." Acts 7:30-31 (ESV)

Forty years of waiting for Moses...over four hundreds of years for the nation of Israel.

God had warned Abraham of 400 years of affliction and oppression in a foreign land:

"The Lord said to Abram, - Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions." Genesis 15:13-14 (ESV)

The nation of Israel, the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, began their sojourn in Egypt when Jacob, by then renamed Israel, moved with his family to Egypt to live with his son, Joseph.

The move was not without sorrow and reluctance, even fear. God spoke to Jacob/Israel on the eve of leaving his cherished land of promise:

"God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, - Jacob, Jacob. - And he said, - Here am I. - Then he said, - I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph's hand shall close your eyes." Genesis 46:2-4 (ESV)

This must have been intensely intimate and encouraging for Jacob. God promised to be with him, even in a foreign land, and promised to keep all His promises, including that of the land of Canaan.

Jacob's family at that time, the nation of Israel, consisted of 70 persons, including children. (Genesis 46:27)

Over 400 years later, Moses would lead the nation out of oppression:

"The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt." Exodus 12:40-41 (ESV)

By this time, Israel would number well over a million strong, with 603,550 soldiers alone. (Numbers 1:45-46)

Abraham's descendents spent over 400 years in a foreign land, most of that time as oppressed and low-caste, forced laborers. Moses spent forty of those years as disappointed, lonely sheepherder.

Until God spoke.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Can you describe your conversion as Christian as "God spoke to me?" How does God speak to you now, after years of being in Christ?

Image of burning bush provided by Paul Walker,, Creative Commons License

Image of map of Midian from