Take a second look.

On the walk to Emmaus (see Luke 24:13-31) two disciples meet Jesus on the road. Their eyes were kept from recognizing them (verse 16).

I find verses 28-29 striking –

“They approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther on. But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is already gone.” So He went in to stay with them.”

It was only after they encouraged him to stay with them that he revealed who he was. They were rewarded for being patient and hospitable. They were rewarded for being curious.

This reminds me of Moses in Exodus 3:1-4 –

“Now Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. So he led the flock to the farthest end of the wilderness, coming to the mountain of God, Horeb. Then the angel of ADONAI appeared to him in a flame of fire from within a bush. So he looked and saw the bush burning with fire, yet it was not consumed. Moses thought, “I will go now, and see this great sight. Why is the bush not burnt?” When ADONAI saw that he turned to look, He called to him out of the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” So he answered, “Hineni.”

It is from this moment that the deliverance of Israel from slavery began, because it was here that God gave Moses his commission.

In both of these verses, we learn that God rewards us for taking a second look, for being curious. We are rewarded for looking beneath the surface and digging deeper.

(All Bible translations are Tree of Life Version)

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Dividing the waters

We tend to think of Moses being the only person who divided large bodies of water in the Bible, but there were three others.

The prophet Elijah at the Jordan:
2 Kings 2:7-8
7 Fifty men from the sons of the prophets came and stood facing them from a distance while the two of them stood by the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the waters, which parted to the right and left. Then the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

His successor, Elisha, at the Jordan:
2 Kings 2:13-14
13 Elisha picked up the mantle that had fallen off Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 Then he took the mantle Elijah had dropped and struck the waters. “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” he asked. He struck the waters himself, and they parted to the right and the left, and Elisha crossed over.

The famous scene with Moses:
Exodus 14:15-22
15 The LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the Israelites to break camp. 16 As for you, lift up your staff, stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I am going to harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them, and I will receive glory by means of Pharaoh, all his army, and his chariots and horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am Yahweh when I receive glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” 19 Then the Angel of God, who was going in front of the Israelite forces, moved and went behind them. The pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and stood behind them. 20 It came between the Egyptian and Israelite forces. The cloud was there in the darkness, yet it lit up the night. So neither group came near the other all night long. 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back with a powerful east wind all that night and turned the sea into dry land. So the waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with the waters like a wall to them on their right and their left.

And last, Moses’ successor, Joshua at the Jordan.
Joshua 3:9-16 (HCSB)
9 Then Joshua told the Israelites, “Come closer and listen to the words of the LORD your God.” 10 He said: “You will know that the living God is among you and that He will certainly dispossess before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites 11 when the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth goes ahead of you into the Jordan. 12 Now choose 12 men from the tribes of Israel, one man for each tribe. 13 When the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, come to rest in the Jordan’s waters, its waters will be cut off. The water flowing downstream will stand up in a mass.” 14 When the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carried the ark of the covenant ahead of the people. 15 Now the Jordan overflows its banks throughout the harvest season. But as soon as the priests carrying the ark reached the Jordan, their feet touched the water at its edge 16 and the water flowing downstream stood still, rising up in a mass that extended as far as Adam, a city next to Zarethan. The water flowing downstream into the Sea of the Arabah (the Dead Sea) was completely cut off, and the people crossed opposite Jericho.

In spite of all these miracles, we have to remember that Elijah, Elisha, Moses, and Joshua did not divide the waters. God did. They were simply the people who God worked through to make these miracles happen. It is like when someone asks for prayers for healing, and they give credit to their pulling through to the people who prayed. We must always remember the One who answers prayers. We must pray, certainly, but it is important to remember the One we are praying to, the author of healing.

Stand up for yourself

In the 26th chapter of the book of Numbers, The Lord tells Moses to take a census of everyone who is at least 20 years old and able to serve in the army.

Numbers 26:1-2

After the plague, the LORD said to Moses and Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, 2 “Take a census of the entire Israelite community by their ancestral houses of those 20 years old or more who can serve in Israel’s army.”

After the census, The Lord says that the land is to be divided fairly.

Numbers 26:52-56

52 The LORD spoke to Moses, 53 “The land is to be divided among them as an inheritance based on the number of names. 54 Increase the inheritance for a large tribe and decrease it for a small one. Each is to be given its inheritance according to those who were registered in it.55 The land must be divided by lot; they will receive an inheritance according to the names of their ancestral tribes. 56 Each inheritance will be divided by lot among the larger and smaller tribes.”

Then in Numbers 27:1-4 we have this situation –

The daughters of Zelophehad approached; Zelophehad was the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh from the clans of Manasseh, the son of Joseph. These were the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. 2 They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders, and the entire community at the entrance to the tent of meeting and said, 3 “Our father died in the wilderness, but he was not among Korah’s followers, who gathered together against the LORD. Instead, he died because of his own sin, and he had no sons. 4 Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan? Since he had no son, give us property among our father’s brothers.”

Women are standing up and asking for their inheritance. Moses doesn’t know what to do, so he wisely asks The Lord.

Numbers 27:5-7
5 Moses brought their case before the LORD, 6 and the LORD answered him, 7 “What Zelophehad’s daughters say is correct. You are to give them hereditary property among their father’s brothers and transfer their father’s inheritance to them.

I always thought that these verses were a great argument for standing up for your rights. The Lord agreed with the women and included them in the inheritance. This could be used as a justification for women having greater roles in the church – (if you ignore that Jesus said that we should all be equal and have no one above us other than God – which means that all ordained people are going against Jesus’ express commandments).

But then in reading it again, I noticed that The Lord at no point said to count only the men. That was assumed. By men.

How much else has been assumed, and how much else of women’s rights have been taken away because someone ignored what was said by God?

Just like the daughters of Zelophehad, we have to stand up for our rights both in and out of church, or we will be left out of what is rightly ours.

(All Bible translations are HCSB)

Lifting up the snake

What is Jesus referring to when he says the following words to Nicodemus?

John 3:14

14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.”

He’s referring to when the Jews were wandering in the desert. Once again, they are impatient and irritable. Once again, some of them complain. The Lord sends snakes to kill many of them as a response. Here’s the story he is referring to –

Numbers 21:4-9
4 Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became impatient because of the journey. 5 The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!” 6 Then the LORD sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died. 7 The people then came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you. Intercede with the LORD so that He will take the snakes away from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. 8 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.

This time is different from the many other times they have complained. Often it is Moses who intervenes, but here the people admit that they have done wrong. Often Moses steps in to avert a mass destruction of all of Israel by the Lord when they are ungrateful. This time they realize they have sinned and ask Moses to intercede with the Lord for them. The Lord tells Moses to mount an image of a snake on a pole, but they have to look at it. They have to seek it out to recover.

What Jesus is saying is that in the same way and for the same reason, he is to be mounted on a pole. Only those who admit that they have sinned and seek him will be saved from death.

Moses and the Messiah

Moses (Mosheh) משה Messiah (Mashiach) מָשִׁ֫יחַ

What is the same – the Mem מ and the Shin ש

What is different? The Yud י is added, and the Hey ה is a Chet חַ

What do the same letters mean? These are the qualities that Moses and the Messiah share.

Mem means water – a large amount, overflowing – waves, flood. Water with no boundaries. Chaos, overpowering. The letter Mem also turns a verb into a noun. It is actuality. Reality is made through chaos.

Shin means tooth, a sharp rock, cliff, crag. Consume, destroy. Shin turns a verb into the person doing it. (Who has done this thing..)

Both are active, both involve chaos and change of an overwhelming kind. Both involve a change from the normal to a totally different way of life. Both involve transformation from action to actuality.

What do the different ones mean?

Yod represents a closed hand, the right hand, to strike or pierce, a blow. Deed, work, to make, responsibility.

Hey – as a prefix this letter serves as the definite particle, the. It also means Lo, see, behold, (therefore) a lattice or window for that purpose. It is a frame that reveals.

Chet means to fence in, destroy. Private, to separate. Create anew, an enclosure, fenced in, ark, refuge.

They Hey in Moses’ name was pointing the way, saying look at what is coming. They Hey is a marker, a sign, saying look for something like this to come, but more and bigger.

Through the hand of power, of strong action, a new creation is made.

Both Moses and the Messiah are to lead people out of slavery and bondage – one from physical slavery, the other from mental slavery.

The Burning Bush

Let’s look at the story of Moses and the burning bush.

Exodus 3:1-10

Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the back of the wilderness, and came to the mountain of God, unto Horeb. 2 And the angel of Jehovah appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. 4 And when Jehovah saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. 5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. 6 Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. 7 And Jehovah said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; 8 and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: moreover I have seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
(American Standard Version)

Notice that Moses was simply walking along. This amazing sight just happened, unexpectedly. Notice that God only started speaking to Moses when he turned aside to look at it. From that encounter, Moses is called to lead Israel out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom.

How many burning bushes are in your life? How many places where God is are you ignoring? We have to stop and slow down and take time to notice where God is breaking through into this world. We have to make space and time for God, otherwise we’ll miss our call. Is God in the sound of the siren of the firetruck racing by? Is God in the cry of the small child wanting to be held? Is God the still small voice in the storm? God is in all of that and much more. There are many amazing things small and large that happen all around us all the time. It is only when we turn aside and give attention to them that God will then speak to us.

God doesn’t always appear to us as an angel. Sometimes God comes in dreams. Sometimes God appears as three strangers such as happened with Abraham in Genesis 18.

We have to slow down and treat everyone as if they might be an angel in disguise. In Greece, they always make sure to have sweets available because they don’t know if the person who shows up at their door is God. I’m not saying that everyone is holy. But I am saying that everyone has the possibility of having God within them. And I’m saying that our world would be a nicer place if we treated every single person with that level of love and attention.

God is always willing to reach to us and talk to us. We just have to stop and take the time to notice. Imagine what would’ve happened if Moses had not taken the time to stop and slow down. The Israelites would still be stuck in slavery. God called Moses from the burning bush to set people free. It was only when he turned aside that God spoke. He could have kept on walking. How many times do we keep on walking?

How many other releases from slavery are we missing out on because we don’t believe that we are being called by God? Notice that God didn’t free the Israelites on his own. He required Moses. He required Moses’ full participation. God uses all of us like that.

Is God calling you? Do you think you’re not special enough? Moses wasn’t special. He was an average person at an average time and in an average place before God called him. He became special because he said Yes to God. It was only after he said Yes and he started working with God that he became special.

You’re being called right now from the burning bush. Stop. Turn aside. Pay attention. God is calling you to free people from the slavery of guilt and shame and from playing small. God is calling you from within the slavery of fear and doubt and addictions. God is calling you.

Say Yes.

Just like Moses, you can do it, with God’s help.

Together, you can lead people out of pain and into life.

The serpent story.

In this story, the Israelites are in the desert. They are complaining, again. Let’s look at this story in full to start off with.

Numbers 21:4-9
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

Now, let’s break it up into sections to look at it more closely. Here’s verses 4-5.
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”

This is a fairly common complaint. No food, not water. They often complain that things were better for them when they were slaves in Egypt. This is fairly common for people on general. We will leave a bad situation and then return to it. It is “The devil you know” idea. How often do abused women return to their abusers? How often do drug addicts relapse after recovery? Way too often. This is human nature.

Notice that they complain that there is “no food” and then in the same sentence they complain that they “loathe this worthless food”. So what is it? Is there none of it, or is it “worthless”? You can’t complain about the taste of food if there isn’t any there to eat. This is very important to notice. It proves that there was food – just not what they wanted.

Things don’t get better after they complain – they get worse. Here’s verse 6.

6 Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.

This hardly seems fair. In other examples, the Lord gets Moses to either strike or speak to a rock and water gushes forth, or the Lord sends manna or quail. Here, the Lord doesn’t send food or water. The situation gets a lot worse with snakes.

I’m sure they had food and water, but not enough to keep them happy. I don’t recall anywhere in the Exodus from Egypt that the people starved to death or dropped dead from lack of water. Generally what killed them was what happened after they complained. That is a good thing for us to ponder on. We should appreciate what we have.

The Israelites finally understand that they shouldn’t have complained. What they had wasn’t awesome, but it wasn’t awful either. Here’s verse 7.

7 And the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

I find it interesting that they just asked for the snakes to leave – they didn’t ask again for food or water. Perhaps they realized that what they had was enough.

The story concludes in verses 8-9.
8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

Notice that the Lord didn’t remove the snakes. Instead, the Lord sent a way to get healed from them instead. The Lord has the power to make the snakes disappear, but didn’t. Why? And why make it so that people had to do something special to get healed?

I’m reminded of some of the stories with Jesus. The lepers had to go to the priest to get the ritual blessing before they were totally healed. The cripple had to wash in the pool at Siloam. The palsied man had to straighten out his arm. People sometimes had to do things to get the healing they wanted. It wasn’t done to them. They had to participate. Often they are told that their faith has healed them. It wasn’t something passive. They were active agents in their own healing.

The snake on a staff symbol is used today by doctors. It is known as the caduceus, but from what I’ve read on Wikipedia, it really should be the Rod of Asclepius. This is interesting, because many doctors as well as scientists are not religious at all. They believe that healing comes from them, not from the Lord.

It is also interesting that it was a snake that was the source of the sickness, but also the source of the healing. I’m reminded of the snake in the Garden of Eden. It was seen as the beginning of all sin, as it led the people astray from the commands of the Lord.

All Bible verses are RSV.