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Digging Deeper into the Word

Digging Deeper: The Story of Moses

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

God on god Violence

When going to Bible college, my professors were wont to say that God’s ten plagues against Egypt were attacks against the gods of Egypt. Did not Yahweh say to Moses in Exodus 12:12, “…on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD”? Just as three meant few, forty meant many, and seven was a sacred counting, so also ten plagues, matching the ten fingers on the human hand, did represent a type of fullness… here, a fullness of judgment against Egypt and her gods. When, however, I would ask what Egyptian gods were involved and how the plagues diminished them, I never got more than one or two obvious ones tossed back at me, like “attacking the Nile (Hapi)” and “blocking out the sun (Ra).” They would usually mumble off after those and say to the rest of the class, “Any other questions before we move on?”

So that you don’t have to suffer the same unmet curiosity, let me give you a list.1 When Pharoah boasts, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?” Yahweh shows Pharaoh exactly who He is. He is the Lord of Lords.

1. The Nile turned to Blood

Hapi was the god of the yearly flooding of the Nile, which was the very source of Egypt’s life. Pharoah made the Hebrews cast their sons to the Nile, and when it was struck with Moses’ staff, it ran red like the blood of those drowned there and devoured by fish and crocodiles. Hapi was often called, “Lord of fish and birds and marshes,” as well as “Lord of the river bringing vegetation.” Everything in the Nile died.

2. Frogs Swarm the Land

Heket is a fertility goddess with the head of a frog. The frog was a fertility symbol. Yahweh makes them fertile indeed. Rather than rising with the Nile they exit from the Nile, swarm the land, and fill Egypt with putrefaction. Though Heket was also “She who hastens birth” it is the Hebrew women worshiping Yahweh alone, who “are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”

3. Lice From the Dust

Geb was the god of the soil, i.e. the dust of the earth. Yahweh “invades his territory” and brings forth lice rather than rice. He is also regarded as the father of snakes, giving a deeper sense to Moses’ staff becoming a serpent and swallowing up the Magicians’ serpent staffs.

4. Swarms of Flies

Uatchit, also called Wadjet, was the goddess of the marshes where papyrus and swarms abound. She is the goddess of the heat of noon which empowers the swarms and was closely associated with the Sun god Ra. She both wore and was the image of Pharoah’s crown, a protector of the land. Yahweh blots out the sun with swarms and devastates the land over which the Swarm goddess stood sentinel.

5. Death of Livestock

The Cow goddess, Hathor, like many Egyptian deities, has a complicated history. She was pictured as a cow or a woman adorned with cow horns. Like other cow goddesses, Hathor is also associated with the sun and sky, and thus the symbolic mother of the Pharaohs. Cows were revered as nurturers and givers of milk. She is symbolically struck down with Yahweh’s plague against the cattle of the land.

6. Ashes Turn to Boils

Isis, the goddess who resurrected her brother, Osiris, had legendary magical powers and is commonly associated with magic spells of healing for everyone, even common people. Here, even Pharaoh’s magicians could not stand before Pharaoh because the boils were tormenting them.

7. Hail and Fire From the Heavens

Exodus 9:23 says, “Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth.” As with the swarm goddess, when swarms destroy and the frog-headed fertility goddess when frogs overrun and pollute the land, Yahweh “seizes control” over the heavens and rains down lightning and lethal hail. There are a few different sky deities at play here. Primarily, we have Tefnut, goddess of sky moisture, we have Shu, god of winds and air, we have Horus, god of kingship and sky, the spirit of Pharaoh in life, and we have Nut goddess of the sky, a nourisher suckling the world. None can hold back Yahweh’s hand.

8. Locusts Plague From a Strong East Wind

Seth was the ruler of the red land, i.e. the east and west desert regions surrounding the black land of fertile Egypt. As the desert was a protective flank, Seth was thought to play his part in warding off the chaos from Egypt. From “Seth’s desert,” however, Yahweh brings locusts to finish off what remained from the hail.

9. Blocking Out the Sun

Ra, the noon-day sun, ruler of the sky, earth, underworld, and kings. He was divine order and the source of creation. The Egyptians called themselves the cattle of Ra. Yahweh’s penultimate strike was to blacken out all the light of day and night so that painful darkness spread throughout the whole land.

10. Killing the Firstborn

Pharaoh was worshipped as the son of Ra, Horus on earth, and Osiris in death. Not only does Yahweh strike down every firstborn from beast and man, from the lowest servant to the very house of Pharaoh, but here Pharaoh is defeated in his resistance to releasing the labor force of Israel to go their way.

 

Conclusion

God said to Moses in Exodus 7:2-5:

“…tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”

Yahweh did. Egypt did. Pharaoh did. Israel did.

 

1I’ve seen some variation in the list from different scholars, particularly those who mistake Khepri for a fly-headed god, but this is a good list.

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Digging Deeper into the Word

Digging Deeper: The Story of Joseph

Author: Jonathan Pruitt, Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

Most of us know the story of Joseph well. And there are many lessons to be learned from this historical and dramatic narrative. I want to point out one of the central ideas of this story that, despite its importance, is often overlooked. It has to do with the idea that God was with Joseph. Here’s the question I want to answer: “Why was God with Joseph?”

 

The Story of Joseph

Joseph is favored by his father, Jacob, and given a “coat of many colors.”1 Joseph also tells his brothers of dreams, dreams where his brothers would bow down to him. His jealous brothers throw him into a pit and sell Joseph into slavery. A traveling merchant then purchases Joseph and takes him to Egypt. While in Egypt, Joseph faithfully serves a military officer named Potiphar, until he is falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and thrown in prison.

 

During his 13-year imprisonment, Joseph interprets the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants and does so accurately. When Pharaoh has a strange and unsettling dream, one of the servants recommends Joseph as an able interpreter. Because Joseph was able to interpret the dream, he is made second in command over all of Egypt. In Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph foresees a coming famine. Wisely, Joseph advises the Pharaoh to store grain before the famine hits. During the famine, Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt in search of food. When they arrive, they soon discover that little brother Joseph now runs the entire kingdom and doles out the food when scarcely any could be found. They end up bowing to Joseph, just like Joseph’s dream had predicted so long ago.

 

God Was with Joseph

At one of the key moments in the story, the narrator tells us this: “The Lord was with Joseph…” (Gen. 39:21a). This comment comes right after Joseph found himself unjustly placed in prison.

It is tempting to think that God was with Joseph because of what Joseph did just a few verses before. Joseph demonstrated tremendous courage and integrity by resisting the advances of Potiphar’s wife. Joseph risked his comfortable and prestigious position to do what was right. So, when we are told that “God was with Joseph” immediately after he is locked away, it may lead some to interpret the text as teaching that God was with Joseph because he did what was right. Sometimes, though, well-intentioned people can still misinterpret the narrative.

If we read the narrative again closely, we notice a few important details. For example, the Bible never says that God was with Joseph because of what he did. If we take that view, then we must read that into the text. Instead, Joseph’s dreams show that God was with Joseph at the very beginning. Joseph’s dreams show that God had planned to bless Joseph and bring him to a position of power and influence so that his brothers and even his father would bow down to him. The text confirms that these dreams were from God when we see them dramatically fulfilled at the end of the story (cf. Gen 43:28).

But why is God with Joseph if Joseph does nothing to deserve God’s favor? Joseph himself gives an almost direct answer to this question. After his brothers discover that Joseph is a ruler in Egypt, they desperately sought his forgiveness. Joseph tells them, “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” (Gen. 45:5). Joseph adds, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:7).

Therefore, according to Joseph, God had at least two purposes for being with him. First, Joseph’s position in Egypt and his ability to interpret dreams meant that there would be food for everyone during the famine; Joseph would “save lives.” Through Joseph, God provides physical sustenance to many nations when they need it most.

Second, through Joseph, God would specifically save the lives of Jacob’s family. This preserves  a “remnant on earth.” Understood within the wider context of the book of Genesis, we see that through Joseph, God keeps his promise to Abraham, to make him into a “great nation” (Gen 12:2). Without Joseph, Abraham’s family would have died in the famine. Ultimately, God would bless all people through Joseph because it is through his family that God would send the Messiah, Jesus, to save the world (Gal. 3:8).

 

God’s Reasons

So, God had his own reasons for favoring Joseph that had nothing to do with Joseph’s actions. God’s purpose in blessing Joseph was to bless others. God chose a particular person and God worked through the circumstances of Joseph’s life to include, ultimately, the entire world in the blessing of Abraham. Once we get a full picture of what God was doing through Joseph, we see that God blessed Joseph to bless all of us. God was with Joseph, in part, so that one day, he could be with all people through his Son.

One of the lessons we learn from Joseph’s story is that God loves humanity and that he will keep his promise to bless the world through Abraham, no matter what. In Jesus, we find the proof that promise has, indeed, been kept.

1It is likely that Joseph’s coat was a meticulously made tunic. The idea that it was a “coat of many colors” comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Hebrew versions suggest it was an embroidered tunic.

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Digging Deeper into the Word

Digging Deeper: The Story of Jacob

Author: Charles Hegwood, M.Div., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

The Stolen Blessing

When you think of Israel, look no further than the man who bears the name. He is the father, quite literally, of the twelve tribes. Such a man as Jacob should invoke great reverence. In fact, you would think that such a man should be a model for all of us to follow. Yet Jacob’s story is a story that is marked by his disobedience and God’s grace. Let’s look at the story of how Jacob, the man God chose to bless, lied to his father to steal the blessing from his brother.

 

Genesis 27: Background

First, let’s get a little background information that will help us to understand the story found in Genesis 27. First of all, Jacob’s very name means heel grabber, deceiver, or better put, usurper.  As we will see, Jacob lived up to his name. Before this chapter, Jacob steals Esau’s birthright by tricking him into giving up the birthright. We will see Jacob run at the end of this story only to wrestle with God and be given the name Israel. If you read on in Genesis, you will see Jacob get tricked and humbled when he was seeking a wife. I say all of this to say, Jacob’s story is one of God’s grace and mercy on a sinful man.

 

The Blessing

The story of the stolen blessing begins with Isaac realizing he was nearing death. Therefore, Isaac calls Esau, his oldest son, to receive the blessing. Fun fact, Isaac lives forty more years after this story happens. That is a slow death. Now blessings in the Old Testament are important. And if you recall Jacob’s birth narrative, he was supposed to receive the blessing and not Esau. This is in itself a bit of a problem and Rebekah, their mother, is concerned. What is her strategy for making sure God’s plan is followed? Her answer is to use Jacob to trick her husband and for Jacob to willingly trick and lie to his father. From the beginning of this story, we should be struck by the brokenness of all of our characters. Is this what God meant when he told Rebekah that, “the older will serve the younger?” Certainly not. Yet God does use this broken situation to bring about His plan.

Isaac wanted a meal hunted and cooked by Esau. Rebekah’s plan was for Jacob to deceive his father and usurp his brother by bringing the meal while wearing the skin of a goat and his brother’s clothes. This plan relied on Jacob’s ability to trick an old man who can’t see well. And he does just that. He masked his identity with fur to simulate Esau’s hairiness and with his brother’s clothes so that he smells like a man who has been out in the field.

 

The Deception

Upon entering the room with Isaac, Jacob announced his arrival. Isaac asked who it was. Time for Jacob to come clean. Except that is not what happens. Jacob lied and told his father he was Esau. When Isaac asked about how he could hunt and cook the meal so fast, Jacob invoked God in his lie. Do not pass over the fact that the man God chose to lead His people was using God’s name to aid him in a lie to steal a blessing. In fact, the verbiage used is striking, “the Lord made it happen for me.” God would have given the blessing to Jacob on His goodness and sovereignty and yet in the context of this story, Jacob is making it happen for himself. Brothers and sisters, we cannot make it happen for ourselves. We must obey God and let God work. Jacob does not.

As we continue to follow the story, Jacob has at least five opportunities to stop the charade and come clean with the truth. He blatantly lies three times by saying that he is Esau. Isaac then blesses Jacob all the while thinking it was Esau. Jacob, with the help of his mother, lied and manipulated his aging father. This is broken. We, as the reader, may ask, “how can God use such a broken story?” This is a great question. It is the right question. The whole reason for us digging into this episode of Jacob’s life is to see how God uses broken people. Jacob, Isaac, Esau, and Rebekah were not able to usurp God’s plan with their sin. He will work through the brokenness to bring about what He said would happen. God uses us in our brokenness. His grace is truly sufficient. Rebekah sought to obtain God’s will through trickery. Jacob lied and manipulated his father to obtain what he thought was God’s will. Yet God blesses Jacob later with many children, some of which become the fathers of the twelve tribes.

 

Brokenness and Blessing

As we begin to conclude this account let us not run past the elephant in the room. If God can use broken people, are there consequences to sin? In this story there certainly are consequences. Jacob would have to run far away to escape his brother’s wrath. Jacob never saw his mother again. She died while Jacob was in exile. A family was broken. There was a price to be paid for Jacob’s sin. Sin always causes brokenness, but as we see in Genesis 33 Jacob and Esau meet again and it is a joyful, restorative meeting.

Digging deeper into Jacob’s story, we find sin and brokenness in relation to God’s goodness and mercy. The man named Israel lied, cheated, and manipulated people. He even used God’s name to sell his lie. And yet all that his sin broke, God restored. Jacob and Esau, through the grace of God, met again and made peace. God blessed Jacob with sons who became the fathers of the twelve tribes. The story of Jacob displays God’s grace in taking a broken man and redeeming him to bring about, in his family line, salvation for the whole world through the Savior of the world; Jesus.

 

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Digging Deeper into the Word

Digging Deeper: The Story of Abraham

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

The Abrahamic Covenant is a Covenant

Oaths are self-curses made before God or gods to establish the trustworthiness of promises or testimony. Oaths were religious tools for securing good faith between potential enemies so that they might have some relationship or safe interaction. Think of our common schoolyard oath, “Cross my heart and hope to die… stick a needle in my eye.”

We’ve all seen it. Someone is called to the stand to bear testimony in a court of law. They are asked to raise their right hand and swear an oath. “Do you swear that the evidence you are about to give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” They usually reply, “I do.”

It begs the question as to the value of “testified under oath” when those giving testimonies don’t believe in God. The godless don’t fear the consequences of lying beyond the punishment that men might give them if they are caught lying.

 

What is a Covenant?

Now, Covenants are more elaborate literary frames around the making of an oath. Indeed, The Anchor Bible Dictionary defines covenant as, “an agreement enacted between two parties in which one or both make promises under oath to perform or refrain from certain actions stipulated in advance.”1

In the Ancient Near East, there were (1) different kinds of covenants, (2) different sorts of relationships between those who make them, (3) different categories of promises that covenants might contain, and even (4) different styles of establishing them. Thus, even though there are hundreds of covenants in Scripture, the average believer is not likely to be able to name more than two or three.2

Since the Abrahamic Covenant is so vital for the Jewish People, honored and sealed in the circumcision of their sons even today, let’s lay the foundation for understanding Ancient Near Eastern covenants in general, so that we can apply what we learn later to the Abrahamic Covenant.

 

The Shape of a Covenant

The standard covenant form, other than a basic oath, is called a Suzerain-Vassal Treaty. An agreement made between an emperor lord and a lesser ruler, nation, or person. Think agreement between Greater & Lesser.

There are basically seven aspects involved which may or may not all be included depending on the situation. The Mosaic covenant is a Suzerain-Vassal Treaty between Greater Yahweh and lesser Israel, so let’s use it as a running example.

  1. The party issuing the treaty has a preamble or introduction. See Exodus 20:1a “I am the LORD your God…”
  2. There is a historical prologue where the mutual history of those involved is written out. It is a big “You owe me” declaration. See Exodus 20:1b “…who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
  3. There were stipulations listed.  See Exodus 1:2-17, which lists the ten commandments. They are expanded in the Book of the Covenant in Exodus 20:22-23:33 and expanded again through Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
  4. Provisions for deposit of the text. Copies of the treaty were usually kept in sacred places such as the shrines of the gods or goddesses invoked as witnesses. See how Yahweh gives two tablets of the ten commandments in Exodus 32 (one for each party) which Moses breaks over the incident of the golden calf. Yahweh gives two more in Exodus 34. Both sets are placed, according to Moses in Deuteronomy 10:5, inside the Ark of the Covenant before the Lord.
  5. Periodic public readings of the covenant were also arranged as a reminder to both parties of the specifics of the treaty.  Deuteronomy 31:9-13 and 24-26 detail this reading as to occur every seven years. We actually find this reading in Joshua 8 and another renewal in Joshua 24.
  6. A list of divine witnesses was made. These witnesses were expected to wreak vengeance if an individual did not maintain his side of the treaty.  The Exodus version has no other witnesses given, as Hebrews 6:13 notes, “For when God made a promise to Abraham since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself.” The Deuteronomy version, however, does call witnesses. Yahweh calls nature itself to witness against Israel should they prove unfaithful.
  7. Blessings and curses were evoked.   If the covenant was not kept, these gods were to destroy the individual and all that belonged to him.  If the individual kept the treaty, these gods were to bless and protect. Often curses were assumed in the way the covenant is enacted. Sometimes they are painfully drawn out as we find in Deuteronomy 28.

 

Types of Covenants

These covenants usually had some form of ratification ceremony, which was often directly related to aspects of the curses. These acts often symbolized the ingestion of the curses, such as in Exodus 24, we have the communal meal on the Holy Mount before a revelation of Yahweh. Other times they acted out the violence of the curses, which we will see in the Abrahamic Covenant when Yahweh passes between the severed parts of the animals. Sometimes public pronouncements were made to accept the consequences of the covenant, such as the cry of the people in Joshua 24:24, “The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.”

Covenants can also be made between equals. These are usually covenants of peace, like an armistice, which we see between Laban and Jacob in Genesis 31 or even covenants of familial bond like we see when Jonathan gives David his robe and armor in 1 Samuel 18.

Covenant ratification acts, i.e., the professions or antics associated with actualizing a covenant often became shortcuts to enacting commonly known covenants where all the parties understood the stipulations, curses, and blessings without having to state them publically or write them.

So, covenants of peace and protection were automatically made by eating from someone else’s table… whatever form that table took. We see this all over scripture, but most explicitly in Joshua 9 when Israel covenanted peace and protection with the Gibeonites by tasting their disgusting rations. This is the reason for Saul’s reluctance to eat from the table of the witch of Endor, in 1 Samuel 28, and the cause of her insistence that he does… given his penchant for killing witches.

Sometimes you might find someone employing family language like father, brother, etc. We see this in 1 Kings 20:32 when the king of Israel declares of Ben-hadad, with whom he’d been fighting, “Does he still live? He is my brother.”

Sometimes simple gestures enact covenant bonds, like seizing hands, grabbing someone’s garment hem, or, as noted above, giving garments.

One special form is a covenant of grant, where a Suzerain bequeaths a blessing to a subordinate who has pleased him or her in some special way. There are three powerful examples of these in Scripture: The Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 15 which is a land grant; the Phinehas Covenant in Numbers 25, which is a priest grant; and the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7, which is a dynasty grant. This is an important realization when trying to interpret them in Scripture and when trying to understand their impact on Biblical theology as a whole.

Look for this discussion to be continued in the second part of this blog.

 

1The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1st ed., s.v. “Covenant” (New York: Doubleday, 1992).
2We have yet another problem in this lack of awareness, which I cannot cover in full here. That is treating covenant like an idea and not a literary or social form. Here the believer confuses promises and covenants and finds covenant everywhere some agreement is worked out. Failing to understand the nature of covenants, they fail to both see the ones that are dancing before their eyes and intuit their presence in plain sight.