Monday, February 15, 2016

Do You Want Peace? Be Respectful, Be Wise, and Follow the Path

In this week’s study, we’ll look at how being respectful, being wise, and following the God-ordained path can bring us peace.
            As we roll up our treasure map and move forward on our hunt for peace, we’ll head for the “book of Exodus,” where we find Moses after his burning bush encounter. God has given him instructions to return to Egypt to tell the Pharaoh — the ruler of Egypt — that God wants Pharaoh to let His people (the Israelites) go — to release them from the bondage of slavery. He wants Pharaoh to find someone else to make his bricks for him.
            But before Moses picks up and leaves on his mission, he goes to his father-in-law, Jethro, and says to him:

            “Please let me go and return to my brethren who are in Egypt, and see
             whether they are still alive.”

             And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in Shalom.” (4:18)

            So let’s examine what just happened here. Moses has had an encounter with God, and God has given him explicit instructions on where to go and what to do. Moses has received a Divine calling and been given a responsibility to surpass all other responsibilities, to change the course of history. To confront one of the most powerful rulers on earth and lead millions of people to freedom in a promised land flowing with milk and honey. It will be an event that will identify Moses and his people for eternity, one that will be taught in schools and recreated in books and modern movies. (And argued about for centuries.)
            Yet, what is the first thing Moses does after receiving this divine calling and direction from the Almighty and heading out on a journey that will likely take Moses away from the employment of his father-in-law for a very long time, or permanently? (Keep in mind that Moses tends Jethro’s animal herd. In essence, he works for Jethro.)
            What does Moses do? He goes to Jethro and asks for permission to go!
            He has just received a calling from the Creator of the Universe, and yet he humbles himself before his father-in-law. He just received Divine direction, and yet he extends Jethro the respect and courtesy due his position in the family.
            Moses is probably the most humble person you’ll ever meet in the Bible (outside of Jesus), and it’s worth noting the example he sets for us.
            He wants to part ways (at least temporarily) with Jethro on good terms. He even says, “Please.” Moses wants to leave his father-in-law in peace and receive the blessing of Shalom from Jethro before he goes.
            The passage implies that Moses doesn’t give Jethro some long-winded explanation of why he’s going, or regale Jethro with a detailed account of what happened to him at that burning bush, or brag about being chosen by God to ride off to Egypt, conquer Pharaoh with just a shepherd’s rod as his “weapon,” and become a national leader.
            Moses gives Jethro a reasonable, nothing-out-of-the-ordinary explanation for why he wants to go. And Jethro gives Moses the blessing he seeks: “Go in Shalom.”
            “Go in rest and happiness, Moses,” Jethro is saying. “Have peace in your heart that I have given you my blessing.”
            Now, what if Jethro had said, “Well, uh, no Moses. I really need your help. I’m getting on in years and need you around. You’re the only one I can really trust, and you’re a great shepherd. None better, in fact. Where will I find a replacement for you? Uh, sorry, but I don’t think so. It’s not convenient for me right now.”
            Then I think Moses would have divulged more details. But I don’t think Jethro’s refusal would have changed Moses’s mind and caused him to stay home. If it had, God would have found him again in the desert and probably chewed him out and ordered him to go. (Moses didn’t seem too thrilled about going anyway, so maybe he would have used Jethro’s refusal as an excuse. But that’s not what happened, so we can move on.)
            But Jethro is a wise and gracious dad, and he sends Moses off with a blessing of peace.
            But can you imagine what Jethro would have thought if he’d arisen one morning to find Moses, his daughter, and his grandsons gone, and his wild stock wandering shepherdless around the rocky hillside? No doubt he’d be upset enough about the lack of Moses’s concern for, and neglect of Jethro’s possessions. But what do you think would hurt his heart more? I suspect his heart would be crushed by the lack of respect Moses showed toward him as a person. A person in general, and a person in a position of familial authority. And the hurt would be compounded by the memory of the kindness Jethro had once shown Moses. Don’t you think maybe he might be just a little bit angry? Or devasted? Shocked even?
            But none of those things happen, because Moses did the right thing, and God made sure Jethro let him go in Shalom. Jethro gives Moses a parting blessing. And that blessing may have been helped along because Moses was respectful.

            Moses does go to Egypt and lead God’s people to freedom. You can read all of the exciting scenes in the next twelve chapters. And then in Chapter 17:13, we find Moses sitting before a stream of Israelites who have lined up to be judged by Moses. Essentially, they're bringing their complaints and questions before him, and they want him to make a decision about their concerns. Moses sits there from morning until evening, listening and dispensing wisdom. And his father-in-law Jethro, who has joined the wandering Israelites, is evidently sitting near Moses and watching all of this listening, arguing and judging. And he doesn’t like what he sees.
            Jethro asks Moses what he’s doing, and Moses explains the process. Jethro listens and then delivers a judgment of his own: “The thing you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself.” Then Jethro outlines for Moses how he should choose qualified, exemplary, God-fearing men from the twelve tribes who will first learn the statutes and laws from Moses and then will be sent out among the people to be judges themselves of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Great matters they should bring to Moses. Together, they will rule the people.
            Then Jethro finishes by saying, “If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in Shalom” (18:23).
            Moses does follow his father-in-law’s advice and sets up the Wilderness College, the first theological institute for higher learning. And the selected men gather to learn and then spread out among their people to judge small disputes and dispense decisions. The “hard cases” they take to Moses.”
            Moses had been trying to do all of the listening and decision-making on his own, and Jethro had recognized that Moses was on the fast track to burnout. Jethro gave Moses advice that would help him endure physically, spiritually and emotionally, and allow the people to go in rest and happiness. They would be content. (Can you imagine how quickly contentment would dissolve if they had to stand in line for hours, or days, just to have their time with Moses for a “hearing” about their issues? It doesn’t sound very practical, and, (living in a desert environment myself), I can’t imagine it was good —emotionally or physically — for the people to be sitting out under the hot sun for hours! Not only would Moses be better off, so would the people.
            Moses takes some good father-in-law device and establishes a justice protocol for the people. He demonstrated wisdom when he took sound advice.
            But now we’ll close Exodus and open the pages of “Leviticus,” Chapter 26 verse 6.
            The title of this chapter is: “Promise of Blessing and Retribution.” The word “blessing” sounds really nice, but the retribution thing (punishment for doing wrong) doesn’t sound appealing. But that’s exactly what this chapter is — God instructing the Israelites on what they need to do to uphold their side of the agreement and how God will bless and reward them if they do; and how the people will suffer and be punished if they do not heed God’s words and live according to them. Then God tells them what they’ll need to do to re-establish their relationship with Him in order to once again enjoy His favor and peace.
            It’s a beautiful and then ugly and then redemptive picture. In verse 6, God says,

            “I will give Shalom in the land, and
            you shall lie down, and none
            will make you afraid;
            I will rid the land of wild beasts,
            and the sword will not go through
                        your land.

            That sounds like a blessed picture of prosperity, rest, happiness, health, peace, safety, and welfare. Conditions of life all of us seek. But is there any way for us to find it?

Questions to Ponder

1. Let’s consider Moses’s actions with his father-in-law Jethro following Moses’s encounter with God. God has spoken to him, selected him for a humanely impossible task and given him directions on how to accomplish it. And what was the first thing Moses did? He went to Jethro and asked to go. Moses didn’t make a big deal about what the God of the Universe had asked him to do. He gave Jethro a practical reason for leaving, and Jethro not only told him he could go, he told him to go in Shalom. He gave Moses a traveling blessing.

            My questions for you today are: When God directs you to do something BIG like
            he did Moses, what is your reaction? Do you sound the alarm and blow your horn
            so that everyone sits up and notices? Do you just pack up and “leave” without
            warning to your loved ones and expect them to go along with the calling
            because you’ve been called?

            Do you possibly give some of your relatives or friends too much information
            about your calling? Do you give them more than they can understand or
            handle? Do you talk too much? (That’s me. Completely guilty on that one. Because 
            I am often driven by guilt, I sometimes feel as though I need to give
            someone every reason in the book as to why I’m doing something I’m
            doing. I’m desperate to explain myself.) Do you need to be wiser about how
            much information you share about what God has called you to do?

            Conversely, do you demand that people explain themselves when they tell
            you they need or want to do something? When they honor your position,
            do you lord that position over them or graciously release them? And do you
            put the icing on the cake by offering them a blessing of Shalom in their
            journey, even if you don't understand why they're going?

            Is there someone you need a blessing of Shalom from in regard to your
            calling from God? Have you asked them for it, or just charged off without
            saying anything? If so, perhaps you should return to them, apologize, and
            ask them for their blessing. Tell them how important it is that you receive it.

2.  When Moses takes Jethro’s advice to set up a “court system” it brings relief and order to Moses and to the Israelites. Dr. John MacArthur writes about this event in The MacArthur Study Bible: “Jethro’s practical wisdom was of immense benefit to Moses and the Israel, and has been lauded as an example of delegation and management organization by efficiency experts for centuries—and still is.” MacArthur goes on to say that the same spiritual qualities that Moses looked for in the men he would choose were also required qualities of the New Testament leaders (see Acts 6:3, 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9).

            Is there anything in your life that you need to delegate to someone else? Are you,
            or others, missing out on Shalom because you are too controlling, afraid to let
            go and teach others to follow in your footsteps and lead?

            Are you doing things in your life that are too much for you right now? In order
            to have Shalom in your life, would it be better if you dropped the activities
            altogether, or delegated some of the responsibilities to someone else? If so,
            pray that God will show you godly people you can teach or to whom you can
            turn over responsibilities. Or seek out a wise, godly counselor who can pray
            with you and help you identify where in your life you can reduce.

3. When you consider verse 6 in Leviticus, do you believe it is possible to achieve that kind of peace today? This verse talks about an environment that sounds like nirvana, a utopia.
            I think we are often in danger of claiming every verse in Scripture as our own, as   
            promises made directly to us. These promises of blessings and retribution were
            written specifically to the Israelites thousands of years ago. They are Old Covenant 
            blessings for obedience, curses for disobedience, and a provision of repentance.

            But we now live under the New Covenant blessings — where redemption has
            been provided (to those who accept it) through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Because 
            of that, I see this as more of a picture of the New Heavens and the New
            Earth, something we will enjoy in the future. Yet we can learn from it: God does
            have standards, and we would do well to live by them, if we want our hearts filled with
            Shalom. Holding this future vision in our hearts gives us hope! And with it, a deep sense 
            of peace.

           Look around you? Who usually has the most Shalom in his heart? It’s the person who chooses carefully and lives wisely on the path that God has laid out before him.

Next week we’ll study Shalom in the "book of Numbers." It's an exciting — and challenging — study! (And it will be a much shorter one, too.)

Until then, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter! Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!

In Christ’s love and peace,


When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer

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