Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


2 Comments

Strangers Here- Women of the Word Part 6

IMG_8825

How did Rahab feel standing on the plains of Canaan looking at the charred remains of Jericho? Her home had been reduced to rubble and all of her friends and neighbors were now dead. They’d trusted the thick walls of stone to protect them rather than submitting to the living God that led the Israelites. For six days the people of Jericho watched with a mix of fear and curiosity as the Israelites marched around the city’s perimeter carrying the Ark of the Covenant. They’d heard the stories about this mighty God, but Rahab alone had chosen to believe and follow Him.

Trusting the God of the Israelites had made Rahab a stranger in her own city. But when the walls came down on the seventh day of the Israelites’ marching, she faced a new challenge as a stranger in their camp. From an earthly perspective, she was an outsider in both places. In Jericho her faith in God kept her apart. With the Israelites, her status as a foreigner and a prostitute probably didn’t win her many friends.

The Bible doesn’t tell us the story of how Rahab integrated into their community. Beyond what’s recorded in Joshua, chapters 2 and 6, we have little information about her.  We don’t know how she and Salmon met or when they decided to marry. In fact, it’s not until we read the New Testament that we learn they had a child. Matthew 1:5 tells us that Salmon and Rahab were the parents of Boaz and the great great grandparents of King David. The genealogy continues through the centuries until it ends triumphantly at Jesus, the Messiah.

Still, Rahab had no idea she would end up in the family line of a great king and the Savior of the world. So why did she risk it all? Why did she abandon the people of her city? Why was she willing to accept its destruction? Why did she want to live among the ones who had obliterated all that she knew and loved?

The answer is simple, really. Rahab’s eyes weren’t on her earthly surroundings–they were on God. She told the Israelite spies: “The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” (Joshua 2:11b, NIV) She knew it was futile to fight against Him or to try and preserve her city and way of life. She held those things lightly in comparison with knowing and following the living God.

Long before the words of the New Testament were inspired, she exemplified the call for all believers to live as strangers in the world. We are simply travelers passing through this life on our way to something better. The apostle Peter urges believers saying: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” (1 Peter 1:13-15, NIV 1984 edition)

Peter reminds us to fix our eyes on Jesus and to be holy or “set apart.” Living this way means not placing our hope in worldly things like financial security, physical health, or even significant relationships and meaningful endeavors. The good things we experience in this life are blessings from God, but not our ultimate hope. Followers of Jesus know these things lack lasting value compared to the hope we have through Him. We hold them loosely, knowing they are only a small taste of the true joy, security and peace that await us.

Peter continues writing in this passage: “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:17-19, NIV 1984 edition)

Rahab lived as a stranger in reverent fear. She saw God’s power and let her awe of Him guide her choices. She knew what He had to offer was better than anything else. Her example inspires and humbles me. And it makes me wonder. Am I living a life set apart for God? Do I see myself as a stranger here? Do I hold loosely to worldly comforts and pleasures, or do I put my hope and security in them? Am I attaching myself too tightly to material possessions? Am I investing my time in things that are eternal or wasting it on frivolous activities with no lasting value? Am I like the people of Jericho, fortifying my earthly protections when I should be surrendering to the One True God?

Rahab became a stranger in her city when she chose to accept a God no one else acknowledged. And she was an outsider in the Israelite camp because she was a Canaanite. But she was never a stranger to God. He knew her, loved her and had a plan for her. He redeemed her life and then placed her in a family line that would ultimately produce the Redeemer of the whole world.

It couldn’t have been easy for Rahab. There were probably days when living for God meant being lonely.  Maybe she thought she would never belong anywhere. I think we can relate with her difficulties. There are days when it’s hard to be set apart. It doesn’t always feel good to live as a stranger in our world. It can be painful, lonely and uncomfortable. But God promises this is all temporary—which is why our hope is in Him, both for this life and the one to come.

Maybe you recognize the symbol in the photo at the top of this post. The “N-O-T-W” on my family’s bulletin board is a simple reminder that we are “Not of This World” –we were made for something more. The song “Strangers Here” by Tenth Avenue North also offers a great perspective on the joys and challenges of living set apart. Click on the link below and be encouraged:

Continue reading

Advertisements


Leave a comment

The Lion of Judah- Women of the Word Part 5

IMG_8811

Reading the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, I became captivated by Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter and their many adventures in the magical land of Narnia. As an adult, I re-read the books to my kids and reveled in them again. C.S. Lewis portrays the central character, Aslan, as a Christ figure. His choice to use a lion for this role is no coincidence; he knew the deep biblical symbolism associated with this majestic animal.

If you’ve been following along with this series of posts based on Women of the Word: The Family Tree of Jesus, then you know the next two characters in the family tree are Leah and Tamar. Both women were closely connected to Judah, Jacob’s fourth born son. Near the end of Jacob’s life, he pronounced a blessing on each of his sons. His words for Judah relate directly to the symbolism C.S. Lewis borrowed to create the character of Aslan:

“Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.” (Genesis 49:8-10, NIV)

 Despite being Jacob’s fourth son, Judah received the distinct honor of being the one through whom God’s blessing would continue. Jacob prophesied that the mantle of lordship and power, symbolized by the scepter, would remain in Judah’s family line until “he to whom it belongs” came (The Messiah). And ultimately, He would command the obedience of the nations.

The promise of the Messiah began in Genesis, first with Adam and Eve when God said that Eve’s offspring would one day crush the head of the serpent, Satan (see Genesis 3:14). The promise continued with Abraham, whose offspring would bless all people on earth (see Genesis 12:3). With Abraham’s great-grandson, Judah, we see the Messiah symbolized as a strong lion that would one day command the obedience of the nations. (We are still waiting for this part of the promise to be fulfilled).

The next time we see this term used is in Revelation, the last book of the Bible. In this yet-to-be fulfilled prophesy, the writer, John, describes the Messiah as both a lion and a lamb. The scene he describes is a vision of the heavenly throne room. In it, John sees that there is a scroll in the “right hand of him who was seated on the throne.” He begins to despair because there is no one found worthy to approach the hand of God to take and open the scroll. But John’s fears are unfounded:

“Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals… He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.’” (Revelation 5:5, 7-9, NIV)

This connection between the first and last book of the Bible amazes me. John describes how Jesus, the Messiah, fulfills the prophetic statements made thousands of years earlier. As the sacrificial lamb, He washes away the stain of sin through His death on the cross, making it possible for all who follow Him to share in His ultimate victory over death. As the lion, He represents the conquering King who will return to slay the enemies of God.

Remember the last sentence of Jacob’s blessing to Judah? He talked about Judah’s family line ruling until One came who would command the obedience of the nations. Now, read this verse from Revelation:

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’” (Revelation 5:13, NIV)

John’s prophesy mirrors Jacob’s—both show that one day the whole earth will have no choice but to bow down and worship at the feet of the Lion of Judah who the New Testament reveals as Jesus.

The seamlessness of the Bible leaves me in awe. Jesus is woven throughout the pages, from Genesis to Revelation. Taking a step back to view the bigger picture every now and then gives me an even deeper understanding of God’s greatness and the way His perfect plan unfolds in His perfect timing.

I’ve attached a song that ties together the tremendous symbolism of the Lion and the Lamb. Although this is an audio version with no lyrics written out, you can clearly understand the words of Doug Eltzroth’s song “Judah’s Great Lion Now Lamb.” So click on the link, close your eyes and take a moment to worship Jesus, Judah’s great Lion who became a lamb so that we could know God and enjoy eternity with Him. And if you haven’t read the Chronicles of Narnia, go find a copy of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and get started!

Continue reading


1 Comment

Unintended Consequences of Taking Control- Women of the Word Part 3

IMG_8796

Giddy with anticipation, the kids could hardly contain themselves as we waited for the other families to arrive. It was a warm summer morning and we’d invited some friends to join us for a day of fun at a small lake about an hour from home. All of us were meeting at a central location so we could caravan together. As an afterthought, I’d also printed directions for each family, just in case we got separated (this was before the era of smartphones and navigation systems).

Shortly after getting on the road, one family called to say they needed to make a stop but would catch up with us at the lake. An hour later, the caravan arrived and we began unpacking towels, coolers, inner tubes and water skis.   Keeping an eye out for the family who had peeled off from the group, we began our day of fun, assuming they would arrive at any minute. After an hour, I called them. When they described their location and wondered how much longer it would take to arrive, I was perplexed. They were miles north of the lake and actually needed to get off the freeway to head south toward us. I couldn’t figure out how they had veered so far off course.

It turns out that they’d decided to deviate from the directions and take a “short cut,” which actually bypassed the lake and deposited them on the freeway quite a bit north of where they needed to be. Once we figured out they were heading in the wrong direction, they turned around and eventually joined us, albeit frazzled and several hours late. I’d never thought to include directions for what roads not to take.

We don’t always think of the consequences of ignoring directions and doing things our own way, do we? I think most of us like to believe we’re in control. Even when things are clearly laid out for us, we’re sure we know better.

That was certainly true with Abram’s wife, Sarai, in Genesis 16. (They were later re-named “Abraham” and “Sarah” by the Lord). Despite the fact that God had promised Abram he would be the father of a great nation, Sarai got tired of waiting and decided to take control of their situation.

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.’ Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.” (Genesis 16:1-3, NIV)

Sarai’s decision to take control had some unfortunate and unintended consequences. Although Hagar did conceive a child according to Sarai’s plan, the pregnancy caused her to show contempt toward her barren mistress. Before the child’s birth, an angel told Hagar: “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” (Genesis 16:12, NIV)

And once the child, Ishmael, was born, he must have been a source of tremendous grief for Sarai. With a second family, Abraham’s heart was divided and his responsibilities were increased. And even when Sarah (at this point re-named by God) gave birth to Isaac and saw God’s promise fulfilled, Ishmael continued to cause her pain.

“ The child [Isaac] grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’ The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, ‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.’” (Genesis 21:8-13, NIV)

True to His promise, God allowed Ishmael to have twelve sons (listed in Genesis 25). However, the passage ends with a sobering fulfillment of what the angel had prophesied before Ishmael’s birth: Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt, as you go toward Ashur. And they lived in hostility toward all the tribes related to them.” (Genesis 25:17-18, NIV)

And to think, the contempt and hostility Sarah and her descendants experienced was all a consequence of her decision to take control. In spite of her “shortcut”, God kept His promises, but He also allowed the consequences of her actions.

I think we’re all tempted to take shortcuts instead of doing things God’s way. We don’t like waiting and we don’t like the time it takes for a process to unfold. We forget that growth and maturity develop slowly and that God rarely caters to our desire for instant gratification. Few of us want to walk the long, slow road of obedience and let God’s plans unfold in His perfect timing.

But when we rush God’s timing and try to “help” Him fulfill His promises sooner, we create problems for others and ourselves. It’s like trying to force a tightly closed flower bud to open instead of waiting for it to bloom. In the process of trying to get the flower to look the way we want, we ruin it.

Where are you tempted to take control instead of trusting God? What unintended consequences have you reaped from doing this in the past? Is there a situation in your future that you’re tempted to manipulate and control so it will turn out the way you want? Let Sarah’s story be a warning to you. God’s sovereignty will always prevail, but He won’t stop you from creating a mess for yourself when you do things on your terms.

If you’re tempted to take control and need some encouragement to wait on God, click on the link and listen to Meredith Andrews’ song “Soar.” It will remind you of God’s promises and that He is bigger and better than any plans you can make on your own.

Continue reading


2 Comments

The Prequel to Easter

IMG_7648

Who doesn’t love a good prequel? Imagine you’ve savored every page of an amazing story and are sad when you come to the end. To your surprise, you discover the author has subsequently published a prequel that gives the whole backstory. While you read, you’re delighted to find that it brings greater meaning to the events in the original story.

As a child, I fell in love with The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. They were introduced to me in their original order, which started with Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter first stumbling into the magical land of Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. It was not until book six in the series, The Magician’s Nephew that I discovered how Narnia had been created, where the evil white witch came from and how a lamppost ended up in the middle of the forest in Narnia. These details had context and meaning for me because I’d already become captivated with the setting and characters in earlier books.

For many Christians, the New Testament is like reading a great story that happens near the end of a series. We often hear about Jesus before we learn anything else. Our first exposure to the Christian faith focuses on the crucial fact that Jesus died for our sins. But without context, we may not understand why we even need a savior. If we don’t understand the significance of all that came before it, the story is not complete. To understand the deep meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we must go all the way back to Genesis to examine the “prequel.”

To start, we need to understand the concept of a covenant, which defined simply is “a binding relationship based on a promise.” Pastor and author Tyler Scott explains: “In order to fully appreciate the meaning of this new covenant [made by Jesus in the New Testament], we need to understand what the old covenant meant. The old covenant first began to take shape in Genesis 2. There, God makes a covenant with Adam in language that is strong, clear and definitive:”

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’.” (Genesis 2:15-17 NIV)

Scott continues: ‘This is covenant language. God says, in effect, ‘I will give you this, if you keep the conditions of this covenant, I will do these things for you—but if you violate the conditions of this covenant, you will suffer certain consequences.’ That’s God’s covenant with Adam in Genesis 2…From the covenant with Adam and Eve, we move through the Old Testament and we see God making different types of covenants…and each of these Old Testament covenants anticipates the ultimate covenant, the new covenant, as it would be established and secured through the blood of Jesus Christ.” (The Marriage Ref pages 26-27)

Genesis 3 describes Satan in the form of a serpent tempting Adam and Eve to break their covenant with God, and ultimately bringing sin into the world. He plants seeds of doubt about God’s goodness. He influences them to be ungrateful for all that God has given them and to think He is holding out on them by not letting them eat from two of the trees in the garden.   Verse 15 describes the enmity between humans and snakes. “The offspring of the woman would eventually crush the serpent’s head, a promise fulfilled in Christ’s victory over Satan—a victory in which all believers will share.”   (Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes)

The choice Adam and Eve made had a ripple effect that changed the world for all time. The consequences of their choice changed the relationship between God and humans and forever altered the course of human history

Author and apologist Josh McDowell explains: “The Bible indicates that God created man and woman so he could share his love and glory with them. But Adam and Eve chose to rebel and go their own way. They left God’s love and protection contaminating themselves with that self-willed, grasping, prideful nature we call sin… God dearly loved Adam and Eve– even after they spurned Him—he wanted to reach out to them and save them from the deadly path they had chosen. But God faced a dilemma. Because God is not only loving but also holy, righteous, and just, sin cannot survive in his presence. His very holy, just, and righteous nature would destroy the sinful couple. “ (Josh McDowell, More than a Carpenter p. 153)

Romans 6:23 makes this concept clear: “The wages of sin is death.” God’s holiness cannot coexist with sin. His holiness is like a fire that burns anything unholy in its presence.

God had a problem to solve when Adam and Eve chose to sin. Although He loved them, their choice to sin separated them from Him. “The Godhead—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—made an astounding decision. Jesus, God the Son, would take upon himself human flesh.” (Josh McDowell, More than a Carpenter p. 153)

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8, NIV)

“Because He was not only finite man but also infinite God, he had the infinite capacity to take on himself the sins of the world. When Jesus was executed on the cross more than two thousand years ago, God accepted his death as a substitute for ours. The just and righteous nature of God was satisfied. Justice was done; a penalty was paid. So at that point God’s love nature was set free from the constrictions of justice, and He could accept us again and offer us what we had lost in Eden—that original relationship in which we could experience his love and glory.” (Josh McDowell, More than a Carpenter p. 154)

“When Jesus died on the cross, he died not only for us, but he also died to meet the holy and just requirements intrinsic in the basic nature of God. The contamination was removed so we could stand clean in his presence.” (Josh McDowell, More than a Carpenter p. 155)

“When God looks at us, in spite of his tremendous love for us, he has to bring down the gavel and say death because He is a righteous and just God. And yet, because he is also a loving God, he was willing to come down off his throne in the form of the man Jesus Christ and pay the price for us, which was his death on the cross.” (Josh McDowell, More than a Carpenter p.156)

“But God demonstrates his own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV)

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-22, NIV)

Jesus made right what Adam and Eve had made wrong. Anyone who accepts the sacrifice He made can be reconciled with God.

“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19, NIV)

Understanding the prequel to Jesus’ death and resurrection makes it so much more meaningful to me. In the next few weeks I’ll wrap up our discussion of Why Do You Believe That? Then, in future posts, I’ll examine some of the other Old Testament covenants that pointed the way to Jesus. I hope reading the “prequels” will bring you a deeper understanding for what Jesus did for us. At the same time, I hope your appreciation for Scripture will grow as you see the many ways the Old and New Testaments weave together to make a complete story showing God’s incredible love for us.

(Side note: If you’ve never read the C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia go and get them from a library or bookstore and start reading!)

Click on the link to hear Kari Jobe’s song “Forever.” It’s a great reminder of what Jesus accomplished for us through His death and resurrection.

References:

Lewis, C.S.; The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe & The Magician’s Nephew; HarperCollins; 2010.

McDowell, Josh & Sean; More Than a Carpenter; Tyndale House; 1977, 2005, 2009.

Scott, Tyler; The Marriage Ref: God’s Blueprint for a Happy, Healthy, Enduring Marriage; Condeo Press; 2011.

NIV Study Bible, Zondervan, 2008


5 Comments

Putting Priscilla Shirer’s One in a Million in Context

IMG_7528

This week marks the beginning of a new Bible study for Focused Living at CPC. Priscilla Shirer uses the story of the Israelites traveling to the Promised Land as a jumping off place for inspiring Christians to experience God’s power and abundance. If you’re like me, you learn best by seeing the big picture before zeroing in on specific details. Since the study jumps into the story assuming you know what happened earlier, I thought putting the story into context might be helpful. In case you don’t have time to read Genesis, Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy this week, you’ll find a brief history of events summarized below with Scripture references included for you to read further.  You might find this history helpful even if you aren’t doing Priscilla’s study.

Background from Genesis & Exodus

To understand the significance of the Jews’ wandering in the desert, we need to look at a brief history of the key people and events that led up to that time in their history. (Note: the names “Jews,” “Israelites,” “Hebrews,” and “Children of Israel” are used interchangeably here).

Abraham is known as the father of the Jewish nation. In Genesis 15 God made a covenant with Abraham telling him that he would be the father of a great nation and that he would give him a large portion of land (ie: The Promised Land). Side note: A covenant is a solemn promise or undertaking between two parties; a mutual understanding that binds the two parties together and agrees they will fulfill certain obligations. Sometimes God made covenant promises to people that did not require anything of them in return, other times He made them between people and Himself.

Many years later, Abraham and his wife, Sarah, had a son, Isaac, when they were 100 and 90 years old, respectively. (In a weak moment prior to this, Abraham also fathered a son named Ishmael with his servant, Hagar, but that is another story.)

Isaac married Rebekah and they had twin boys named Jacob and Esau. (Genesis 25:19-34)

Although he was the second twin born, Jacob became the patriarch of the family by tricking Esau out of his birthright (another story for another day found in Genesis 27). God promised that He would give Jacob many descendants and that the earth would be blessed through him and his offspring. God promised to watch over Jacob and never to leave him. (Genesis 28:10-19). God later changed Jacob’s name to Israel. (Genesis 32:28) This name is where we get the terms “Israelites” and “Children of Israel.”

Jacob had twelve sons with four different women (two of them were his wives, Leah and Rachel, and two were his wives’ maidservants, Zilpah and Bilhah).   These twelve sons later became the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.   Their names were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph (his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh were heads of the two “half tribes”), Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher (Genesis 35:23-26).

One of Jacob’s sons was named Joseph. He was Jacob’s favorite son from his most cherished wife, Rachel. Because of this favoritism, Jacob was despised by his older brothers. (Part of his story is told in the Broadway musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.” Part is also told in the book The Red Tent) Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and lied to their father, telling him Joseph had been killed. Through a long chain of amazing events, Joseph ended up later in life being second in command to the pharaoh in Egypt. Joseph saved the Egyptians from a famine through God’s divine wisdom. During the famine, his brothers came to Egypt for food. They did not know Joseph was still alive or that he was second in command. Eventually Joseph revealed his identity to them and forgave them for selling him into slavery. He even noted how God had used their evil intent to bring good into his life and the lives of others. (Great story- check it out in Genesis 37 & 39-45). Eventually, with Joseph’s blessing, his eleven brothers brought their families and their parents to settle in Egypt. (Genesis 37-50 tells this story).

After Joseph died, a new pharaoh came to power in Egypt who did not know Joseph or the history of the Israelites. By this time, Joseph’s eleven brothers and all of their family members were growing in numbers. The new pharaoh feared they would become so numerous and powerful that they would overthrow him if given the opportunity, so he enslaved them and made them do forced labor building his cities. (God had foretold this to Abraham in Genesis 15:13). The Hebrews continued to bear children and grow in numbers, leading the pharaoh to command that all Hebrew baby boys be killed.

Finally, after about 400 years of enslavement, Moses was born. To prevent him from being slaughtered with the other Hebrew boy babies, his mother strategically placed him in a basket in the Nile River near the location Pharaoh’s daughter bathed. The plan worked and Pharaoh’s daughter rescued Moses from the river and raised him as her own in the palace. Moses’ mother even got to be his wet nurse. (Exodus 1 & 2)

Moses lived in Egypt as a son of Pharaoh for 40 years. At age 40 he killed an Egyptian slave master who was beating a fellow Jew. When the murder was discovered, he fled to the land of Midian, where he married and lived as a shepherd for the next 40 years. When Moses was 80, God appeared to him in the desert and spoke to him from a burning bush. He commanded Moses to go back to Egypt to ask Pharaoh to set the Israelites free. Moses was to lead them to the Promised Land, which had been promised to Abraham long before. (Exodus 3 & 4)

God promised He would be with Moses. God also told Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart and that miraculous signs would have to be performed before Pharaoh would agree to let the people go (Exodus 7).

God sent ten plagues on Egypt, one at a time, to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Each time, Moses warned Pharaoh in advance that God would send a plague, but he wouldn’t listen. The plagues were: 1) turning all the water in Egypt to blood 2) filling the whole country with frogs 3) filling the land with gnats 4) sending swarms of flies 5) sending a plague on all of the livestock 6) sending a plague of boils on people and animals 7) sending a violent hailstorm   8) sending a plague of locusts to ravage the land 9) sending darkness over the land for three days straight.

When Pharaoh still would not relent, God sent the final plague. This time, all the firstborns in every family would be killed. The Passover was God’s protection against this plague for the Israelites. (Exodus 12:1-30)

After the tenth plague, Pharaoh finally let the Israelites leave Egypt. (Later he changed his mind and pursued them into the wilderness. You may know it if you ever watched the animated movie “The Prince of Egypt” or the new movie “Exodus.”)

In Exodus 12:14-20 God commanded the Israelites to commemorate the Passover for the generations to come. The celebration was also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  (This is the feast Jesus and His disciples celebrated together on the night before He was crucified.)

God led the Israelites as they fled Egypt and began their journey to the land He promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

After fleeing Egypt and passing through the Red Sea, on dry ground, Moses led the Israelites into the desert on their way back to the Promised Land. At the base of Mount Sinai, God re-established His covenant with the people, renewing what He established with their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In Exodus chapters 19-24, God added further clarification to the covenant, which became known as the Sinaitic Covenant (because it was established at Mt. Sinai).  One of the central portions of the covenant God gave was the Ten Commandments. These commandments explained God’s design to enable His people to have a right relationship with Him and others. (Exodus 20)

God promised that He would give the Israelites the Promised Land, but on the brink of entering it, they lost trust in Him. When the Israelites reached the border of the Promised Land, they sent spies to scout out the land and the people living in it. The spies reported that it was a good land that flowed with milk and honey.   However, they also reported “The people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large…We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” (Numbers 13:28 & 31 NIV)

Joshua and Caleb were the only two of the twelve spies who disagreed with this assessment and encouraged the people to trust God and take possession of the land with God’s help.   Ultimately, the people allowed their fear to consume them and refused to enter the land. (Numbers 14:1-24)

Joshua and Caleb were the only two people out of the roughly two million Jews who trusted God and believed He would deliver the Promised Land into their hands. This is what inspired Priscilla Shirer’s title One in a Million. The rest of the Israelites refused to trust God and carry out His plan. Once the people made this decision, God declared that they would be cursed to wander in the desert until they died. The ten spies who scouted the Promised Land and gave a bad report to the people were struck down and died of a plague before the Lord. Only Joshua and Caleb survived. Because of this, the people changed their minds and tried to enter the Promised Land, although they no longer had God’s blessing. They were attacked by the inhabitants and turned away. (Numbers 14)

Because of their failure to trust God, the Israelites were cursed to stay in the desert for forty years until the entire disbelieving generation passed away. God would keep His covenant and go before them into the Promised Land, but only two members of the original group would enter the Promised Land: Joshua and Caleb.

At the end of his life, Moses spoke to the next generation of Israelites as they were on the brink of crossing into the Promised Land. All of them were born while their parents and grandparents had wandered in the desert for forty years. He laid out the blessings they would experience if they kept their covenant with God and the curses they would endure if they didn’t. (Deuteronomy 28-30)

Priscilla Shirer refers to different segments of this Bible story throughout the study. She also uses the parts of it as symbols for different aspects of our spiritual lives:

-Egypt represents times when we are/ were in bondage to sin.

-The desert wandering/ wilderness times symbolize seasons in our lives when we are trying to follow God’s plans but are unsure of where He is leading us. They can also be actual times of difficulty, such as dealing with an illness or financial struggles; emotional, such as dealing with broken relationships or grief/loss; or spiritual, such as struggling to figure out God’s plan.

-The Promised Land represents abundant life found in Christ (John 10:10). Reaching the Promised Land is about our attitudes changing as we choose to trust God. Our actual circumstances may or may not have changed, but we’ve experienced a personal and spiritual transformation that causes us to approach them from a new perspective.

Hopefully this summary will help you to have a sense of the context of the Old Testament references as you complete the study.

If you can identify with being in bondage to sin or wandering in the wilderness then you will find comfort and encouragement in Kari Jobe’s song “I Am Not Alone.” Click on the link for five minutes of great worship.