May 2020

Hope for the hopeless – Aaron

If you have ever experienced personal failure so catastrophic that it eradicated any hope for your future, you would identify well with Aaron. Aaron lived approximately 1530 – 1410 BC and was born a slave during Israel’s enslavement in Egypt. He was the eldest son of Amram and Jochebed, an older brother to Moses by 3 years, and the first in the Levitical priesthood. He married Elisheba, and together, had 4 sons.

Hope for the hopeless – AaronWhen Aaron and Moses were in their eighties (Exodus 4:27-28; 7:7), God brought them together to lead Israel out from Egypt’s enslavement. As Moses had a speech impediment (Exo 4:10), Aaron would do the speaking on Moses behalf, because he could speak well (Exo 4:14).

Under the Lord’s guidance, Moses and Aaron confronted the king of Egypt (Pharaoh), ten times, performing miracles and calling him to let Israel go. Pharaoh refused, until confrontation number ten, when “at midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt” (Exo 12:29). Pharaoh “summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel…” (Exo 12:31). God then lead Israel out, miraculously through the Red Sea, and into the wilderness, free from Egypt after 430 years (Exo 12:40).

Three months later “Israel camped before the mountain [Sinai], while Moses went up to God” for the first time (Exodus 19:2-3, 7). Sometime later, God summoned Moses up the mountain for the 6th time, but this time he was to take Aaron, Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel with him (Exo 24:1). There they “saw the God of Israel,” yet they did not die (Exo 24:10).

The Lord instructed Moses alone, to come higher up “the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written…” (Exo 24:12). Joshua remained waiting for Moses, while the other men, including Aaron, returned to camp. “Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights” (Exo 24:18).

Meanwhile, the people of Israel grew impatient with both Moses and God. So, they came to Aaron and demanded, “make us gods who shall go before us” (Exo 32:1). Aaron collected the Israelite’s gold jewellery “and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” (Exo 32:4). Moses returned, only to find Aaron had fuelled the people into a frenzy of idol worship (Exo 32:25).

Aaron, Israel’s first high priest, who had seen God on Mount Sinai, lead Israel into idolatry. When confronted by Moses, Aaron blamed the people saying, “they are set on evil,” and would not accept responsibility (Exo 32:21-24). Moses “took the calf… burned it… ground it to powder… scattered it on water and made the people of Israel drink it” (Exo 32:20).

How could Aaron sink so low, so easily, and so quickly? In many ways Aaron reminds us of our many failings, our easy stumblings into sin, and our unwillingness to take responsibility for our sin.

Because of God’s promises, Moses’ intercession, God’s discipline, and Israel’s sorrow over their sin (Exo 32:26-33:6), God allowed Aaron to continue as High Priest. Although this was not his only blunder (Numbers 12), Aaron learned his lessons over time.

Aaron’s life displayed the mercy of God, undeserved grace, and God’s love which surpasses human reason. This is the same loving grace which saves us today. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exo 33:19). Aaron’s life demonstrates God’s holiness, God’s grace, and that God is the God of all hope, even when we are certain that we have burnt ourselves hopeless.

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Bad girl, good girl – Sarai/Sarah

Sarai lived around 2000-1825 BC, and married Abram.  Sarai and Abram had the same father, making them half brother and sister (Genesis 20:12). They were the perfect match; both tended to behave badly at critical times. Neither of them had any idea of the extraordinary life God had determined for them when they married. Nor did they realise the impact they would have on all of humanity for the future.

Bad girl, good girl – Sarai/SarahWhile Sarai was an excellent wife and life companion to Abram, she made a few shocking choices along the way. Genesis chapter 12 records Sarah’s first stumbling. Due to a famine, they moved to Egypt. Abram, realising Sarai’s beauty, and fearing that the men of Egypt would kill him to get Sarai, devised a plan. He instructed Sarai, “say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you” (Genesis 12:13), after all, they were half related. Abram was wrong in so many ways, his intent was to deceive. Equally wrong was that Sarai obeyed. Most likely out of fear, possibly from cultural pressure of a male dominant society, but she wrongly perpetuated the lie.

Well, it happened, Pharaoh conscripted Sarai into his harem (Gen 12:15-16). Eventually, in response to the Lord afflicting “Pharaoh and his house with great plagues” (Gen 12:17), Pharaoh confronted Abram. Sarai was returned, and the whole family was escorted out of Egypt (Gen 12:20). If only Sarai had stood up to her cowering husband and spoken the truth, things would have turned out quite different. However, unbeknown to either of them, God was also involved.

In Genesis 15 the Lord appeared to Abram and made a covenant with him. Included, was to give he and Sarai a son, even though Sarai was unable to bear children. Thinking she could help God, Sarai gave her maid to Abram, who foolishly slept with her. The maid conceived, then became bitter with contempt for Sarai, who then treated the maid harshly, and eventually kicked the pregnant girl out. Genesis 16 tells how the Lord miraculously fixed this terrible botch-up.

Later, when Abram was 99 years old, the Lord returned. Again, making another covenant with Abram which again included Sarai having a son. Foolishly “Abraham fell on his face and laughed” at God in disbelief (Gen 17:17). Here, God renamed them to Abraham and Sarah.

Shortly after, the Lord visited Abraham again repeating the promise of a son to Sarah.  Sarah, 90 years old, and listening from the tent door, “laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’” (Gen 18:12). Afterward Sarah denied having laughed, but she soon turned her laughing into faith. For right or for wrong, Sarah again followed the wrong example of her husband. “The Lord… did to Sarah as he had promised. 2 And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son… 3 Abraham called the name of his son… Isaac” (Genesis 21:1-3). And through Isaac, the nation of Israel has descended to this day.

Despite Sarah’s intermittent failings, God blessed her greatly. For those of us who have ever mocked, laughed at, doubted, or complained to God, Sarah shows us the blessings of having hope in her loving God. Sarah was not dependant upon her ability to please God, or the behaviour of her wayward husband. Sarah was relentless in her faltering but genuine faith in God. Sarah’s life places the beauty of God on display. For this, and other character traits of faith, Sarah appears in Hebrews 11:11, the hall of faith, as an example “since she considered him faithful who had promised.”

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For better or for worse – Jephthah

Jephthah was the victim of a misguided family and his own equally misguided decision-making process.

For better or for worse – JephthahGilead was Jephthah’s father, but not by his wife. Rather, Jephthah’s mother was a prostitute (Judges 11:1-2a). He lived between approximately 1200-1125 BC.  As Jephthah’s half-brothers “grew up, they drove Jephthah out” (Judges 11:2b) because they considered him an illegitimate child. Moving to the land of Tob, Jephthah gathered around him a band of raiding renegades who helped him gain the reputation of being a great warrior (Jdg 11:1, 3).

Sometime later, the Ammonites made war against Israel. So, Gilead’s elders sent for Jephthah, “come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites” (Jdg 11:6). To which Jephthah replied, “did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” (Jdg 11:7). Well said Jephthah! To which they had no sensible answer. Following some negotiation, “Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and leader over them.” Notice also, that “Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah” (Jdg 11:11). Jephthah had not totally excluded the Lord from his thinking or in his commitment in leading God’s people.

Despite a detailed negotiation attempt with the king of Ammon, “the king of the Ammonites did not listen to the words of Jephthah” (Jdg 11:28). Although he was an accomplished warrior, Jephthah did his best to preserve Israel through negotiation. But, war with Ammon became inevitable. Jephthah, forced to lead Israel into war, and desperately wanting victory, made an outlandish vow to the Lord. Judges 11:30-31 records that vow, “if you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” Good grief man, what have you done? Was he hoping a pet animal would come out to greet him?

Well, Jephthah warred with Ammon, “and the LORD gave them into his hand. 33 And he struck them… twenty cities, …with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued” (Jdg 11:32-33). “Then Jephthah came to his home…. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child” (Jdg 11:34). What would he do? He had vowed to the Lord, and the Lord had answered favourably with a great victory over Ammon.

Jephthah grieved deeply as he explained his vow to his daughter. However, his daughter responded with an amazing attitude towards the Lord and her father. She said to Jephthah, “do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth…” (Jdg 11:36). As requested by his daughter, Jephthah allowed her 2 months with friends to grieve. Then, “she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow” (Jdg 11:39).

“Jephthah judged [lead] Israel six years,” then he died (Jdg 12:7). During that time, he also attempted to negotiate peace with his offended cousins, the Ephraimites. Again, words failed, and he led another victorious battle, killing 42,000 Ephraimites.

Woven into Jephthah’s complex life was faith in God, earning him a place in Hebrews chapter 11. He along with others “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises… were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war…” (Heb 11:32-34). Despite inconsistencies, Jephthah was a man of his word, who honoured his vows no matter the cost. He preferred negotiation to war but was not afraid of war when words failed. For these qualities, God used Jephthah to fulfill His divine will for the nation of Israel.

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Never too late – Haggai

Haggai was born a Jew during the nation’s exile in Babylon. He lived between approximately 550-475 BC and recorded his prophecy in about 520 BC. By the time of Haggai’s prophecy, the Lord had returned His people from exile to their homeland, and they now lived in the luxury of the finest houses (Hag 1:4), while God’s temple lay in ruins. Sadly, they resisted all invitations to rebuild the Lord’s temple (Hag 1:2).

Never too late - HaggaiSo, the Lord spoke to them through Haggai, reminding them that even though they had all that they wanted, they were still not satisfied. “You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. 7 Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways” (Hag 1:6-7).

Courageous Haggai spoke the word of the Lord to people who were not interested. Even so, He did not dilute or smoothen out the message to prevent discomfort or a poor self-image within his hearers.

Similarly, when God wants our attention because we are ignoring Him, He often introduces difficulties, problems, and even pain. He was the same with Israel, the Lord “withheld the dew, and the earth withheld its produce. 11 And I (the Lord) have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth.” “I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord” (Hag 1:10-11; 2:17). The problem was, Israel did not have the spiritual ability to do what the Lord asked of them, and God understood this.

Realise that this is what a loving God is willing to do, instead of leaving sinful people to isolation and independence from Himself, He graciously engages with them, turning up the volume to get their attention. Then look what happened: “Zerubbabel…  Joshua …with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God …and the people feared the LORD. 13 Then Haggai… spoke to the people with the LORD’S message, I am with you, declares the LORD” (Hag 1:12-13). What changed? What happened to cause this radical turn around?

It was the Lord who happened. First, notice where God was during this whole affair – He was with them. Even in His disapproval, the Lord did not abandon His people. Second, notice that it was the Lord who “stirred up the spirit” within every person, from the common community person to the highest-ranking leader, God happened within them. Haggai 1:14, “the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel… of Joshua…  and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God”

Haggai was willing to be the mouthpiece of God’s message. Many would have looked on and said, “it’s too late, you are wasting your time Haggai.” But then God happened! Today as you, and the people close to you, face uncertainty and feel as if you are drowning in your lostness, invite God to happen. Acknowledge that despite your lack of spiritual sight, God is present. Invite the Lord to stir up your spirit and the spirit of those close to you, to work in your hearts the things that only Almighty God can do in turning people to Himself.

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