Note: I am writing this from a hospital room where my 94 year old mother-in-law is battling pneumonia. Prayers would be greatly appreciated.
God seems tough, doesn’t He? He has to be.
Just think about this most unlikely scenario. This enormous crowd of people (some scholars say about 6 million), who have been slaves under the fist of Pharoah all of their lives – and the lives of their fathers – and the lives of their fathers’ fathers – back for 400 years, are leaving to form their own nation.
This unlikely group of people, often hard-headed and self-centered, are actually God’s chosen people. They are chosen because of God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He promised to take them to their own land. And what he wants from them is to establish a relationship with Him, come to understand His ways, be faithful to Him, and some day be the nation which brings forth His salvation to the rest of the world.
They don’t look like they are on track for such a great mission, but God’s hand is upon them anyway.
As long as they are in the wilderness, God will lead them by signs and wonders. Of course, we remember the huge signs which caused Pharoah to let them leave – and which showed that God is truly God to the Hebrews.
Now, in the wilderness, they have supernatural provision. Mannah falls from the sky every morning. They are to gather enough for that day only. Any more than a day’s worth will turn rancid – except on Saturdays, when they are instructed to gather enough for the sabbath also. The sabbath is a day of rest.
The people become thirsty, and Moses strikes the rock which flows with water. God’s provision is indeed present.
Yet even with these miracles happening on a daily basis, the Hebrews are very testy. As soon as they feel a need for something, they become restless and want to go back to Egypt.
Remember, the experience of these people is a type for the new birth. How often do we see new believers get nervous when they face difficulties in their new walk? Sometimes there is the temptation to go back to their former life.
God is never pleased with that reaction to circumstances. Our walk is a journey. We can expect miraculous provision, but we have a part to play also. Our part is first of all to stay faithful to God and trust Him. Life without Him could never be better than life with Him.
So we keep walking -face forward and eyes straight ahead – looking to Jesus.
In chapter 20, we see the Ten Commandments set forth. They basically follow two major principles. Love God and love your neighbor. If you truly love God, you won’t have other idols, and you will set aside time for Him. If you truly love your neighbor, you won’t steal from him, murder him, take his wife, or covet his things.
We also see lots of strange laws with very harsh consequences. There will be more of these later, and I’ll talk more about them then.
In Matthew 19 Jesus refers to the Ten Commandments and asks the rich young ruler if he has kept them. Proudly announcing that he had always kept these commandments, the young man seems overwhelmed when Jesus says that his requirement is greater. He must sell all that he has and give to the poor.
Sometimes this passage has been used to say that wealthy men can’t be true Christians, but that’s missing the point. This man was obviously full of pride as he trusted in his own goodness to get into the Kingdom. But man’s own goodness is not what God is looking for. He is looking for those who are totally dependent on Him.
I love the imagery Jesus gives of the camel going through the eye of the needle. Some scholars say that in the walls of Jerusalem there were small doors called “eyes of the needle” within the larger gates. These doors were for security.
When camels loaded with wares came to Jerusalem, they provided a security threat. They could be carrying dangerous weapons to the city. So the camels were required to
be stripped down to their bare backs and to be slid through on their knees.
Jesus says that this is a picture of how we are to come to God. We don’t come into His Kingdom loaded with the wares of our own goodness or our own treasures. The only way to enter His kingdom is to become humble and contrite – counting on His goodness and not our own.
When someone is rich in money – or in talents or achievements, it’s difficult to be humble enough to enter God’s Kingdom. However, that humility is necessary. We have to look to His gift of righteousness and not our own righteousness to make the transfer.
We’ll see this more and more as we continue through the teachings of Jesus. This Kingdom draws us to a new life, but we have to leave the old one to access the new.
We encounter a similar paradox in chapter 20:20-28. A mother wants her sons to be first in God’s Kingdom. Jesus rebukes her.
Natural men like places of honor. They want to lord it over others, as they heap upon themselves great recognition. In the Kingdom, the opposite is true. To have the highest position in God’s Kingdom, you have to be a servant of others. Humility – and not pride – is the way of God’s Kingdom.
One paradox after another. Many must have been confused by the teachings of Jesus, but they listened anyway. This man spoke with such authority.
He still does, if we listen.