Peter Misselbrook's Blog
17/02/2019 - Psalm 19 – The word of the Lord

Psalm 19 declares that God reveals his character to us through the two great books he has written for our learning, the Book of Nature (or Creation) and the Book of Scripture.

The universe around us displays God's glory, greatness and power, from the immensity of space with all its stars and galaxies to the intricacy of the smallest sea creatures and on to the wonder of the atoms from which all things are made. Creation speaks of the greatness of its Creator and of the wisdom and inexhaustible knowledge of him who made it all and delights in it all.

But in a fallen world we easily come to mistaken conclusions about God. We see poverty, disease, pain and death and we ask, "Does God see and care?" The world around us is twisted out of shape and our fallen reading of it is blurred and distorted. The universe is not self-interpreting.

That is why God has revealed himself in the Scriptures. He has spoken to us that he might make himself known. As Isaac Watts put it in quaint English some three centuries ago:

The heavens declare thy glory, Lord,
in ev'ry star thy wisdom shines;
but when our eyes behold thy Word,
we read thy Name in fairer lines.

The rolling sun, the changing light,
and nights and days thy pow'r confess;
but the blest volume thou hast writ
reveals thy justice and thy grace…

John Calvin spoke of the way in which we need the spectacles of Scripture to see the world in right perspective. It is when we read the world through the eyes of this book that we see God's glory and grace displayed throughout creation and see all that we were made to be.

In the Scriptures we have treasures more valuable than gold and sweeter than honey. We have God's law which is a reflection of his own holy character. But this serves only to condemn our unholy characters and would drive us to despair. Isaac Watts rewrote the metrical psalms, the hymns sung by Christians in his day, so that they went beyond their Old Testament context to reflect the additional revelation that has come to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. So his hymn continues:

Thy noblest wonders here we view
in souls renewed and sins forgiv'n;
Lord, cleanse my sins, my soul renew,
and make Thy Word my guide to heav'n.

We rejoice that God has done more than warn of the consequences of straying from his commandment, he has provided us with a Saviour through whom all our transgressions are forgiven. Jesus has redeemed us through his shed blood and has brought us back into fellowship with God our Creator. He is rock on which we stand secure.

But grace does not nullify the demands of God's holy law, rather it enables us to fulfil the righteous requirements of the law through the power of the Spirit of the risen Christ within us. So we echo the words of the psalmist, "Keep your servant … from wilful sins; may they not rule over me."

Father God, give me eyes to see your glory revealed through this world that you have made and especially in people whom you have created in your own image. May I always take great delight in your word and especially in the Lord Jesus Christ, the word incarnate. Help me always to follow him and to live by his power. "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart always be pleasing in your sight, Lord my Rock and my Redeemer."

16/02/2019 - Exodus 6:28-7:24 – Water turned into blood

Moses and Aaron again went to see Pharaoh at God's bidding. Moses was 80 years old at the time and Aaron was 83; God does not do retirement.

Aaron threw his staff on the ground before Pharaoh and it became a snake. Pharaoh was not impressed. He summoned his wise men and sorcerers and told them to do the same. Somehow they managed to make their staffs turn into snakes, but Aaron's staff/snake swallowed up theirs. What Pharaoh had intended as a counter-demonstration of his power had become a demonstration that the Lord is mightier than the gods of Egypt.

But this is only the opening skirmish. The real battle now begins.

The following day Moses and Aaron are sent to meet Pharaoh as he goes out to the river. The Lord had told Moses the words Aaron is to say to Pharaoh: "The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert. But until now you have not listened. This is what the LORD says: By this you will know that I am the LORD: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. The fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water" (7:16-18). Aaron raised his staff over the waters of the Nile and struck them. The water was changed into blood, the fish in the river died, the water stank and no-one could drink it.

The passage ends with a wonderful touch. The court sorcerers manage to find a little fresh water. Maybe they fetched it from the palace cisterns. Then they changed that also into blood by their own powers. That must really have impressed Pharaoh – they added to the plague rather than bringing relief. They had robbed Pharaoh of the remaining fresh water from which he and his family might have satisfied their thirst.

It should have been clear to Pharaoh from the outset that he is no match for the God of Moses and Aaron – Yahweh, the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who acts to fulfil his promises. But Pharaoh hardens his heart against the demands of God. He would find some way to get by; he would send out slaves to dig for water.

It is dangerous to harden one's heart against God and resist his purposes. Nor are such dangers confined to those who, like Pharaoh, do not know God. Jonah the prophet was well aware of the character of the God he served and yet sought to resist God's will and run away from God's call upon his life. His disobedience resulted in trouble for him and for those around him, though God was gracious in rescuing both him and them from disaster.

Have we sometimes hardened our hearts against the call of God upon our own lives? How is God speaking to you now through his word and by his Spirit? How are you responding?

Today, if only you would hear his voice,
‘Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah [the place of quarrelling],
    as you did that day at Massah [the place of testing] in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me;
they tried me, though they had seen what I did. [Psalm 95:7b-9]

Almighty God, there is no power in all creation that can stand against your power, nor is anyone able to frustrate your purpose to bless those you have planned to save. Your power is gracious power and your grace is powerful grace. Keep me from having a heart that is hardened against you and your good purposes. Help me always to hear what you are saying to me and to respond quickly with a glad and willing heart.

15/02/2019 - Exodus 6:1-12 – God's promise of freedom

Moses' first appeal to Pharaoh to let the Israelites go had proved a miserable failure. Pharaoh had not only scornfully refused Moses' demand, he had increased the burden on the Israelite slaves. The Israelites had complained to Moses and Moses had complained to God.

In today's passage we read the Lord's response to Moses' complaint. "Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country’" (6:1).

In effect, the Lord is saying, "Did you really think that the Israelites would be released from their slavery just because you told Pharaoh that this is what I was demanding? No, you will not manage to free them by the force of your personality or the strength of your demands. I, the Lord, am the one who will come and rescue my people by my own power. When the Israelites are released, no-one will be in any doubt that you are not the one who has done it. It will be clear that I the living God have broken Pharaoh's power." Moses' initial demand and Pharaoh's initial response were just preparation for the real battle to come – like boxers facing up to one another ahead of their match and making all manner of threats. The posturing is now over and the real battle is about to begin; not a battle between Moses and Pharaoh but between Yahweh the living God and Pharaoh and the so called gods of Egypt.

God then reminds Moses of who he is. He is the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God who made promises to these men and who has revealed himself as God Almighty; nothing can prevent him from keeping his promises. Now he has revealed that his name is Yahweh, the God of the covenant who will be with his people to do all he has promised. He has heard the Israelites' groans and has come down to save them.

Moses is to go to the Israelites with this message from God, "I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD" (6:6-8).

Notice the repeated "I" in these verses. The emphasis is upon what the Lord himself will do precisely because he is the LORD, Yahweh, their God. The rescue of the Israelites from Egypt will be a powerful demonstration that their God is like no other; he is the living God who hears and acts to save his people and bring them to live with him.

Despite these words, the Israelites do not believe Moses, nor is Moses keen on renewed confrontation with Pharaoh. Their experience of past failure makes them reluctant now to trust God and to take him at his word.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the living God who has not been content to leave us in slavery to sin. God has seen our plight and has come down to rescue us by his own power through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We can trust him to do for us all that he has promised. We need not allow our own experience of failure to turn us away from trust in God.

Almighty God, I thank you that you save by your own power and are not limited by the failures of your people. Since you did not spare your own Son but gave him up for us all, fill us with the assurance that nothing will ever separate us from your love. You will be faithful to all your promises and will bring us safe to glory.

14/02/2019 - Exodus 5:1-23 – Israel's burdens increased

At God's command, Moses returned to Egypt along with his brother Aaron. There they summoned all the elders of the Israelites and Aaron, speaking for Moses, told them all that the Lord had said. Moses then performed the signs God had given him to prove that he, the living God, was with Moses and would perform all that he had promised. Faced with such proofs, the Israelite leaders believed what Aaron was telling them: "When they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshipped" (Exodus 4:31).

Thus far, all seemed to be going well. But now Moses and Aaron had to confront Pharaoh demanding he let the Israelites go. Initially they asked that the Israelites be allowed to travel a three-day journey into the desert to hold a festival to their God Yahweh.

Pharaoh will have none of it. He knows nothing of the Israelites strange God, the God of their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He has no intention of letting his slave labour go off on holiday. Who knows what rebellion they might plot against Egypt while they are out of his sight.

Pharaoh decides to nip this rebellion in the bud. He orders that from now on the Israelites will not be provided with the straw they need for the making of bricks. They will be required to find their own straw but will still be required to produce the same daily quota of bricks. A proportion of the Israelite workforce would no longer be making bricks but would be scouring the surrounding countryside to find and gather straw. The brick makers would be reduced in number but still required to make the same quantity of bricks. The burden of their slavery which had already prompted cries for relief is now increased – all because of Moses.

Nor was Pharaoh ready to hear the complaint of the Israelite foremen. They were harried out of his court with the accusation ringing in their ears that their people are just plain lazy!

The Israelite foremen complain to Moses saying, "May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us" (5:21). Moses then complained to the Lord, "Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all" (vv. 22-23).

Have you ever had the experience of seeking to be faithful to what you believed God had called you to do only to find that it brought trouble on you and upon others rather than blessing? Have you ever felt like complaining (or perhaps actually complained) to God at such a time – complaining that the trouble is all his fault?

Take heart that God in infinitely patient with us and unfailingly compassionate towards us. He does not respond with anger to Moses' complaint. He does not even point out that he had told Moses in advance that Pharaoh would harden his heart. As we shall see tomorrow, God responds by repeating his promises and assuring Moses that he knows what he is doing. He is at work in this very situation to demonstrate that his power is greater than that of Pharaoh and of all the gods of Egypt. He will rescue his people from their slavery as he has promised.

God can be trusted even when it seems that evil has the upper hand and is increasing.

Father God, teach me to trust you in the dark times when everything seems to be going wrong and all my best efforts for you seem only to make things worse. You have shown us your faithfulness and saving power in raising the Lord Jesus from the dead. Help us to remember that your Spirit at work in and through us is greater than all the powers of this world and that you, our God, always have the last word.

13/02/2019 - Exodus 4:1-23 – Moses returns to Egypt

Moses' mind is racing ahead. He can see all the difficulties in the task before him. Firstly, the Israelites may simply not believe that God had appeared to him and commissioned him to rescue them from Egypt.

No difficulty is too great for God. Moses is given three signs to demonstrate not only that God has sent him, but that God is with him in all that he has sent him to do. In the first, Moses is told to throw his staff on the ground and it becomes a snake. Moses runs from it in terror, but the Lord tells his to grasp it by the tail. It immediately turns back into his staff. Perhaps the Lord is teaching him not to run from what frightens him but to take hold of it in God's name. We need to learn the same lesson.

Secondly, Moses' hand is made white and leprous and then restored again. Lastly, he is told that he will have power to turn water from the Nile into blood. The last of these signs anticipates the plagues God will send upon the Egyptians; it is therefore a sign that God has come to make life difficult for the Egyptians until they let the Israelites go. By these signs the Israelites will believe that God has sent Moses.

Now Moses comes up with another problem. He who was raised in the court of Pharaoh, raised to be a prince in Egypt, now claims that he is not the right person to go and talk to Pharaoh. For a man who claims to be slow in speech and ill-equipped to talk to Pharaoh he seems very free in speaking up before almighty God.

God is wonderfully patient in his response to Moses; "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say" (4:11-12). God is the one who created Moses and raised him up for the very purpose of being his spokesman before Pharaoh. Moreover, he will be with Moses and will give him the words to say when he needs to say them.

Moses has run out of objections. He has no more excuses to bring before God so he simply blurts out, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it" (4:13).

God is angry with Moses. Yet even in his anger he is full of grace. He has already put it in the heart of Moses' brother Aaron to slip out of Egypt to look for Moses. He will return to Egypt with Moses and will act as the front-man for what God is about to do through Moses.

How like Moses we often are. We know that God plans to build his kingdom in this world and to use us in his work, but we have eyes only for the difficulties. When all other excuses run out we fall back on the plea, "Let someone else do it." We need to recapture the vision that God can do great things through broken people; to be like Isaiah who saw the holiness of the Lord and his own unworthiness but who responded to God's call with the words, "Here am I! Send me" (Isaiah 6:8).

Creator God, you know all about me. You formed me when I was in my mother's womb. You are the one who has shaped my character and abilities. Thank you that you have also prepared work for me to do for the building of your kingdom. Show me your glory and your power. Help me to follow faithfully in the footsteps of your Son, whose meat and drink it was to do your will, knowing that he is always with me, to the very end of the age.

12/02/2019 - Exodus 3:1-22 – The burning bush

Moses had now been a shepherd for 40 years. Perhaps these many years were God's means of preparing him to become leader of his people. No time is wasted with God.

One day Moses' attention was drawn to a bush that was ablaze with fire but was not consumed. As he took a closer look he was stopped in his tracks as God spoke to him from within the bush. The burning bush is a picture of the God's glory – a glory that blazes but does not consume. Moses was told to take his sandals off his feet because the place where he is standing is holy ground – made holy by God's presence. The act is symbolic, Moses stands naked before the living God.

God says that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who is faithful to his promises. He has seen the misery of his people, heard their cries, and his heart is moved at their suffering. He has come down to rescue them from the oppression of the Egyptians and to bring them into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. This must have filled Moses' heart with joy, until God adds, "So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt".

"Who am I", asks Moses, "that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" The answer is that he is the one whom God has chosen and prepared and whom God will use to do this task. Nor will he do it on his own; God will be with him in every step of the task. The proof of God's presence will be the success of the task; Moses will lead the people out of Egypt back to this very spot where they will worship God for his deliverance.

Many people think God is far away. Despite all of the injustice, pain and suffering in the world, God remains dispassionate and far off – he does nothing. Nothing could be further from the truth; God sees the suffering of his people, hears their cry and comes down to save. He did it at the time of the Exodus, and he did it supremely in the Lord Jesus Christ, the one in whom God came down to save his people.

Moses asked what he is to say to the leaders of the Israelites when they ask him who this God is who has sent him to rescue them from Egypt; what is this God's name? God declares that his name is "I am who I am" (or, "I will be what I will be"). He gives himself the name Yahweh (traditionally, but incorrectly, transcribed as Jehovah). What does this enigmatic name mean?

God is declaring far more than his self-existent and unchangeable nature. God declares his character in terms of his relationship with his people as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God of the covenant; God of the promises. This is his name forever – he is the covenant keeping God. He will be with his people and will fulfil all that he has promised to them. He will bring them out of slavery in Egypt into the land he has promised them. God's revealed name is his declaration that he will be all that he has promised he will be in relation to his people.

Yahweh God, faithful God, thank you that you are a covenant making and covenant keeping God. Thank you for the Lord Jesus in whom all your promises find their focus. Thank you that you are a God of compassion who has redeemed us in Christ, setting us free from slavery and making us free to serve you. Thank you that you are not far off but have come to be with us and to bring us into your holy presence. Teach me more of the glory of your grace revealed most fully in the Lord Jesus Christ. Help me also to see that you choose to work through me, weak though I am, to accomplish your purpose to bring blessing to the world.

11/02/2019 - Exodus 2:1-25 – A false start for Moses

Pharaoh was intent on decimating the Israelites and had ordered that every male child born to an Israelite woman should be thrown into the river.

Amram and Jochebed received the gift of a healthy baby boy. Jochebed knew that she could not keep him hidden from the Egyptian terror squads, so she hit upon a plan. She would comply with the letter of Pharaoh's law while doing all she could to preserve the boy's life. She made him a watertight basket of woven reeds and placed him in the river, sending his older sister, Miriam, to watch what would happen.

Pharaoh's daughter, coming to the river to bathe, finds the baby, takes pity on him and decides to keep him. Miriam offers to find someone to nurse the baby who is promptly handed back to his mother, but now with the protection and payment of the royal court. Once the child is weaned, he is handed back to Pharaoh's daughter who names him 'Moses' and brings him up as her own son.

This remarkable story, like that of Joseph, shows that God is at work through even the darkest pages of history to save his people and fulfil his own purposes. The very means that Pharaoh has chosen for the destruction of Israel – throwing baby boys into the river – is the means used of God to preserve the life of the one who will lead Israel out of captivity.

Moses grew up in Pharaoh's household and was educated as an Egyptian prince, but he never forgot that he was an Israelite. One day he decided to go and see how his people were being treated. He saw an Egyptian foreman beating an Israelite slave and in anger he killed the Egyptian. The next day he saw two Israelites fighting. His attempt at mediation was rebuffed with the words, "Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?" 

Moses' hope to relieve the suffering of his people backfired. The news of what Moses had done soon got back to the palace and Pharaoh determined to put him to death. Moses had to flee for his life to the land of Midian.

Through an act of kindness, Moses is received by the family of a priest in Midian. Reuel (also known as Jethro) gives Moses his daughter Zipporah to be his wife and together they have a son whom Moses names Gershom, 'alien', as an expression of the fact that he is now living in a foreign land.

Moses may have made a complete hash of trying to alleviate the suffering of his people. He may think that he has had to abandon them to their fate, but God has other ideas. As the years pass, the Pharaoh who had sought Moses' life dies, but the Israelites continue to be ill-treated slaves in Egypt. Their cries are heard by God who is determined to fulfil his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He had told Abraham that his descendants would become slaves to another nation but that he would set them free and bring them back to the Promised Land (Genesis 15:13-19). He had told Jacob not to be afraid of going down into Egypt; God would make them into a great nation and would then bring them back to the land he had promised to give them (Genesis 46:2-4). The time of fulfilment is about to arrive.

Father God, help me to learn this clear lesson that I can trust you in all circumstances. You will use even those things that seem to threaten me to accomplish your good purposes. Yet I confess that all too often I make a hash of things when I come up with my own plans and seek to do things in my own way and by my own power. Help me to see that your plans are so much better than mine and that I am powerless compared with you. Enable me to discern your plans and to be used of you in what you are doing in the world rather going my own way.

10/02/2019 - Psalm 17 – When I awake I will be with God

There are many psalms that we find it easy to identify with and echo in our own prayers. Others may seem to use language that is strange to us, language we would not dream of using – though they may express ideas that often occupy our private thoughts. Psalm 17 falls into this latter category.

The psalm is a plea for God's help uttered from a situation of distress and perplexity. The psalmist has always been careful to live a life pleasing to God. He has not sought to do evil and has been careful to speak always with truthfulness and sincerity. He has paid attention to God's word and has kept his feet firmly on the path God has set out for him. Nevertheless, some who care nothing for God seem intent on his destruction. Why do bad things happen to good people – or at least threaten to happen to good people? It just does not seem right.

So the psalmist pleads his integrity before God and even challenges God to look right into his heart and see if there is any evil in him. This is the basis of his appeal for God's help.

This is the plea of an obedient child. If we had sent one of our children to perform some task for us and, precisely because they followed our instructions, they got into difficulties, what would we expect them to do? I expect that they would say, like the psalmist, "I've followed your instructions and it's landed me in problems. You got me into this mess, please now help me get out of it." That's what our children would say to us and this is what the psalmist is saying to God.

The psalmist is confident that God will hear and answer his cry (v.6). He knows that he is loved by God and will not be abandoned. He pleads, "Keep me as the apple of your eye" (v.8). The original Hebrew expression may have the meaning "the little man of the eye". If you look into someone else's eyes, you see a tiny reflection of yourself in their eye – you are the little man of their eye. So the psalmist asks that he might remain in the centre of God's sight and attention. He pleads that he might shelter under God's protection as a baby bird shelters under its mothers wings. He urgently pleads that God would rise up and rescue him from the trouble he is in.

Thus far, we can identify with the words of the psalmist, but he then turns to calling down curses on his enemies and their children (v.14). We would not wish to imitate him by using such words in our own prayers. But God does not turn away from the psalmist's cry and the psalmist is confident that he will be vindicated.

And this leads us to the remarkable closing words of this psalm, "As for me, I shall be vindicated and shall see your face; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with seeing your likeness" (v.15). Here, like Job, the psalmist expresses the confidence that even if he should be killed by those who now threaten him, he will yet live to see God's face. He expresses a confident hope in the resurrection.

We who have come to trust in the Lord Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord, have even more reason to believe that beyond this life we will awake to see God's face and be made perfectly like our glorious Saviour. We, even more than the psalmist, have reason to approach the throne of God's grace and seek his help in every time of need.

Father God, we thank you that even when we feel surrounded by dangers and threats we can be confident of your unfailing love and saving power. Lord Jesus, we thank you that you have gone to prepare a place for us in your Father's house and that we will one day awake to see your face and be satisfied at last when we not only see you as you are but are made like you.

Peter Misselbrook