And all the water in the Nile turned into blood. And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. … And all the Egyptians dug along the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the Nile. [Exodus 7:20b-21,24 (ESV)]

The Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. …There was hail and fire flashing continually… And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field. [Exodus 9:23a,24a,25b (ESV)]

great egretNo story is repeated more in the Old Testament than that of the Exodus. Although it is the defining moment in Israel’s history and faith, there are many who choose to disbelieve it ever happened. Yet, if it didn’t, Jews and Christians alike are basing their faith on an elaborately constructed lie. In the early 1800s, a papyrus was found in Egypt that tells the story of the Exodus from an Egyptian’s point of view. Although the papyrus itself dates from around 1550-1069 BC, it is believed to be a copy of an earlier document written between 2040 and 1782 BC. Housed in the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Netherlands, and first translated in 1909, it’s commonly known as the Admonitions of Ipuwer or the Ipuwer Papyrus.

Appearing to be an eyewitness account, the papyrus describes mayhem, drought, starvation, the escape of slaves (along with Egyptian wealth), and death throughout Egypt. Compare today’s verse from Exodus 7 with these from the Ipuwer Papyrus: “Plague is throughout the land. Blood is everywhere. … The river is blood. Men shrink from tasting… and thirst after water… That is our water!… All is ruin.” [2:5-6,10,13] Compare the words from Exodus 9 to Ipuwer’s: “Forsooth, gates, columns and walls are consumed by fire. Lower Egypt weeps… Forsooth, grain has perished on every side… The entire palace is without its revenues. [2:10,6:3,10:6] Even the mention of “lower Egypt” weeping is notable since Scripture says that only in the land of Goshen (in the upper or northern part of the country) was there no hail.

Ipuwer reports the deadly plague that struck cattle with these words, “All animals, their hearts weep. Cattle moan… [5:5] The plague of darkness is reported with, “The land is without light.” [9:11] In reporting the final plague, Exodus 12:30 says, “And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead.” Ipuwer reports that, “He who places his brother in the ground is everywhere.… It is groaning throughout the land, mingled with lamentations.” [2:13,3:14] The Bible tells us the Israelites carried away the Egyptians’ wealth and Ipuwer tells of the “gold and lapis lazuli, silver and malachite, carnelian and bronze” that were “fastened on the neck of female slaves.” [3:2]

The plagues are but a part of the papyrus and a large portion of it concerns what happened in Egypt after the plagues. While Scripture doesn’t address the after effects of Egypt’s loss of livestock, grain, wealth, first-born sons, or Pharaoh’s troops, chariots, and charioteers, Ipuwer does. He writes of the resulting chaos and ruin in the land—bankruptcy, crime, famine, rebellion, and invasion. If, like me, you ever wondered why Egypt never bothered the Israelites as they wandered the Sinai Peninsula for the next 40 years, Ipuwer’s papyrus offers a logical explanation. They were a broken nation!

Ipuwer seems to have been a real historical figure and his name (along with the title “Overseer of Singers”) was found on an ancient stone listing a group of royal scribes for the 19th dynasty. Nevertheless, the papyrus is not without controversy and scholars differ on whether it is an historical account of the events surrounding the Exodus or fiction (something called “national distress” literature.) Let us remember that once a skeptic accepts the historicity of the Exodus—the supernatural plagues and parting of both the Red Sea and the Jordan—then he is faced with the existence of a supreme being who rules over the world and directs its affairs. For those who do believe, while we don’t need extra Biblical evidence, it makes for interesting reading and even more interesting discussions with non-believers. Let us also remember that even if there were no extra-biblical evidence, lack of evidence does not mean something didn’t happen. The only way to disprove something is with evidence that it didn’t occur and that we most definitely do not have!

The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. [Exodus 14:28-29 (ESV)]

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CHAPTER 43 (Job – part 2)

Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God. [Job 1:20-22 (NLT)]

mountain blue birdEven though all that he lost was restored to Job at the end of Chapter 42, did the ten new children remove Job’s memory of his first ten or his sorrow at their deaths? While the new ones may have filled Job’s home with laughter again, there still would be an empty place in his heart from his loss. Although Job’s health was restored, would the scars from his boils be a daily reminder of his past afflictions? Would double his livestock be enough to make him forget the original herds and servants who had perished? How would experiencing the precariousness of life—the inexplicable randomness of misfortune—affect Job’s next chapter, the Chapter 43 of his life? Would he be more affectionate, patient, or protective of his children? Would he better appreciate and cherish every precious moment with which he was blessed?

Even though he questioned God, Job is Scripture’s model for patience and endurance. I know some people who could give Job a run for his money if their stories were compared. People of faith, like Job, they have experienced more than their share of life’s tragedies first-hand—things like catastrophic loss, chronic disease, severe disability, heartache, betrayal, grief, poverty, divorce, addiction, abuse, disfigurement, ever-present pain, or the loss of spouse or children. Some have moved through their Job-like experiences while others are still in the midst of them. Like Job, their story didn’t end at Chapter 42 but unlike him, their next chapter wasn’t necessarily a fairy tale ending of complete restoration. I admire them—not because of their suffering but because of what they’ve made of it—because of how they’ve written the next chapter of their lives.

I think of one couple, both of whom lost their beloved first spouses to the ravages of cancer.  Perhaps because they know the fragility of life and the pain of loss, in their Chapter 43, they seem to listen better, cherish each other more, and complain less than do most couples. I think of a friend who was nearly destroyed by mental illness and came out the other side of her darkness stronger and wiser. Having experienced the depths of despair, she makes it a point to find joy and thanksgiving on each page of her Chapter 43. The mother who lost a child seems to grumble less about the tears, temper tantrums, mess and teen-age angst of her living children. The man who who once flat-lined values each moment more than those who never have been on the brink of death. I think of a friend, suffering from Parkinson’s, who enthusiastically seizes every today because she knows that she’ll be just a little worse tomorrow. I remember a couple who lost three of their children to drugs and yet they never lost their trust in the Lord and confidence in His goodness. I think of other friends whose Chapter 43 is a continuing battle with metastatic cancer, Alzheimer’s, MS, and chronic pain yet they still bravely face each day with courage, faith, and even joy. Does their experience of what truly defines a “bad day” give them a new perspective and help them know how little is necessary to make any day a great one?

I don’t admire these people simply because they are survivors of tragedy. Anyone can survive tragedy. I admire them because they managed not just to survive but to thrive, to become better not bitter, all while keeping their faith intact. I admire them because they are examples not just of faith, but also of determination, strength, wisdom, generosity, love, joy, and even optimism. I admire them because they are making the most of the 43rd chapter of their lives. Their examples remind me to thank God for every circumstance He throws at me and to savor every breath with which I am blessed!

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. [Ephesians 3:16-19 (NLT)]

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THE PATIENCE OF JOB (Job – part 1)

For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy. [James 5:10-11 (NLT)]

campionWithin the first two chapters of the book of Job, a man whose life had been blessed with health, wealth and family loses his livestock (meaning his livelihood), along with his servants, ten children, and health. Although James cited Job as an example of patience and endurance through suffering, we really don’t know how long Job’s pain and anguish lasted.

We do know Job’s friends sat and mourned in silence with him for seven days but we don’t know how long it took for the news of his loss to reach them or for them to travel to Job. Once Job’s friends start talking, we have thirty-five chapters of dialogue followed by four more chapters of God questioning him but no way to know if it all took place in a day, several days, or even months. The only clue to the length of Job’s suffering is when he complains of being assigned “months of futility” and “long and weary nights of misery.” [7:3] Those sound like the words of someone suffering from a chronic illness but he could have been speaking figuratively—that it felt like he’d been in agony for months. Whether days or months of misery, Job maintained his faith the entire time.

In Chapter 38, God finally appears. Rather than answer Job’s questions, God asks questions of His own and Job realizes how limited his knowledge of God is. Accepting that God alone knows what is best, the man finally understands that he can’t judge God’s actions or question His reasons. Submitting to God’s authority, he repents and says, “I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” [42:6] After God rebukes Job’s friends, demands a sacrifice, and has Job pray for them, Job’s life is restored. God blesses him with health, a long life, twice his original wealth, and ten new children. It’s a real “happily-ever-after” ending!

What if Job’s story ended another way? What if Chapter 42 ended at verse 6 with Job’s repentance for questioning God? What if his health, wealth and family had not been restored? Instead of Job’s misery dragging on for several months, what if it dragged on for years? As Job continued to suffer from pus-filled boils all over his body, insomnia, nightmares, fever, and pain, how would Job’s next chapter read? After all, fairy tale endings are few and far between. Would Job remain faithful if his adversity lasted his lifetime or would he turn bitter? Would he still be able to say, “Praise the name of the Lord!” as he did in Chapter 1?

Perhaps the answer is found earlier in Job’s story, in Chapter 19. Even though he doesn’t know why he’s suffering, Job expresses confidence that God would vindicate him from his friends’ false accusations. Moreover, Job is certain that death would not be the end of his existence and that he eventually would see God—if not in his lifetime, then when resurrected in the next. After speaking with God in Chapter 42, Job knew that God had not abandoned him and had heard his prayers. He understood that God’s infinite wisdom was behind the unpredictable and arbitrary nature of life, and he no longer questioned the why of his misfortune. Even if health, wealth, and family had never been restored, by Job 42:6 the most important thing Job had was restored—his relationship with God. The lesson found in the book of Job is the same whether or not his suffering came to an end. Had his suffering continued, I think Job would have endured—would we?

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought! [Job 19:25-27 (NLT)]

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“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered, “We are Abraham’s children, and we have never been anyone’s slaves. So why do you say we will be free?” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, everyone who lives in sin is a slave to sin. A slave does not stay with a family forever, but a son belongs to the family forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be truly free” [John 8:32-36 (NCV)]

paradeWhile the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking were thinking of political freedom and enslavement to people, Jesus was speaking of spiritual freedom and the enslavement of people to sin. Yet, even then, the Jews were wrong. They’d forgotten about being Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt; being captives of the Moabites, Canaanites, Philistines, Midianites, Mesopotamians, and Ammonites during the time of the Judges; their Babylonian exile; Persian rule; Alexander the Great; the Ptolemies and Seleucids; and Rome’s occupation of their homeland. They hadn’t had freedom from foreign domination for centuries. Jesus’ answer, however, made it clear that He was speaking of spiritual freedom. His listeners’ hope for spiritual freedom wouldn’t be found in their ancestry; it would be found in Him—He was the Son who could set them free.

This weekend we will observe our nation’s Independence Day and celebrate the many freedoms we enjoy in this nation. Families and friends will gather for various parades, picnics, band concerts, carnivals, chicken roasts, and fireworks. Let us not make the same mistake the people of Judah did by thinking of ourselves as free when we’re not! While we may live in a nation of freedom, without Christ, we will never truly be free men or women. We won’t be free because, no matter where we live, we still will be slaves to sin.

As thankful as I am for the patriots who made this great nation a reality, I am even more thankful for Jesus and his small crew of apostles who made it possible for us to live in true freedom! The Liberty Bell rang out for our nation’s freedom but the cross gave us our spiritual freedom—freedom from bondage to sin and the freedom to serve God.

As we enjoy the fireworks and patriotic music tonight, let’s remember to thank God both for the freedom we enjoy in our nation and, more important, for the freedom we enjoy in our hearts and souls.

We lift up our hearts, O God, on this day of celebration in gratitude for the gift of being Americans. We rejoice with all those who share in the great dream of freedom and dignity for all. With flags and feasting, with family and friends we salute those who have sacrificed that we might have the opportunity to bring to fulfillment our many God-given gifts. … Come, O gracious God, who led your children Israel from slavery, keep us free from all that might hold us in bondage. Bless our country and join our simple celebration that we may praise you, our Source of freedom, the One in whom we place our trust. [Father Edward Hays, “A Pilgrim’s Almanac”]

The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [2 Corinthians 3:17 (NCV)]

Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his very own. [Psalm 33:12 (NCV)]

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swamp lilyI will be careful to live a blameless life—when will you come to help me? I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. … I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil. [Psalm 101:2,4 (NLT)]

Starting with Solomon, Psalm 101 was sung at the kings’ coronations. Believed to have been written by David, the psalm has several “I will” statements in which the king resolves to reign righteously, sing of God’s mercy and justice, and live a blameless life in his home. Pledging to refuse to have anything to do with wickedness, he promises not to tolerate crooked dealings or evil and to be so careful about the character of his associates that only those above reproach would serve him. He vows to be intolerant of slander, conceit, arrogance, deceit, and falsehoods and he pledges that his daily task will be to search out the wicked to free the city from all evil.

Perhaps because the psalm describes the proper conduct for a Christian king, it was known as the “prince’s psalm” in Europe. Ernest I (1601 –1675), the Duke of Saxe-Gotha (and known as “Ernest the Pious”) is said to have sent an unfaithful minister a copy of the psalm as a subtle way of voicing his reproach. It soon became a popular saying that whenever an official did something wrong, he would receive a copy of the “prince’s psalm” to read! With his deep concern about civil government, Martin Luther wrote an 80-page discussion of the psalm in which he expounded on the qualities of a Christian prince or magistrate. Those leadership qualities haven’t gone out of style and 21st century Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe suggests we simply call the psalm “Leadership 101.” Indeed, the psalm is an excellent plan both for virtuous living and good governance.

The psalm’s lofty goals, however, were written by a man who didn’t live up to them and sung for other kings who couldn’t either. I’m sure David had every intention of walking in a way that pleased God. He never envisioned raping Bathsheba, committing adultery, plotting with Joab to murder Uriah, having to deal with Amnon’s rape of Tamar, nor the family and political intrigue that comes with at least eight wives and nineteen sons. When sung at Solomon’s coronation, the new king probably was filled with good intentions, as well. He never pictured having a harem of 1,000, building pagan shrines for Chemosh or Molech, or worshipping those foreign gods. Like David and Solomon, we usually start out with good intentions but seem to lose our way when it comes to achieving them. Even the Apostle Paul admitted difficulty in putting his good intentions into practice when he said, “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” [Romans 7:18-19]

In spite of our high ideals and lofty goals, sin loves to rear its ugly head. If people like David, Solomon and Paul couldn’t live up to their good intentions, what chance is there for us? Not much if we hope to do it on our own, but the good news is we’re not alone! “Thank God!” said Paul, “The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” [Romans 7:25] The rest of the answer is found in Romans 8. Today, don’t just read a portion of this beautiful chapter—please read it all.

And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. …Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. …The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. [Romans 8:2,5,11-12] (NLT)] 

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The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the Lord has told you, “You must never return to Egypt.” The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself. [Deuteronomy 17:16-17 (NLT)]

tri-colored heronThese words were among those the kings of Israel were to copy, keep on their person at all times, and read every day of their lives. Solomon was Israel’s third king and, while we can’t know about Saul or David, it certainly seems that by Solomon’s reign, the words of Deuteronomy had been forgotten or ignored.

Along with his 1,400 chariots, Solomon had 12,000 horses imported from Egypt and Cilicia. Those many horses were a sign a sign of Israel’s military might but they also were a direct violation of the Lord’s command. Worse, Solomon didn’t just return to Egypt to purchase horses; he went there for a queen—Pharaoh’s daughter! Although God had clearly instructed the Israelites not to marry foreigners, along with Pharaoh’s daughter, Solomon married Hittites, and women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, and Sidon. Apparently, foreign alliances took precedence over God’s commands. Even though the king wasn’t to take many wives, Solomon accumulated 700 of them (along with another 300 concubines).

As for God’s command not to amass large amounts of silver and gold, every year Solomon received 25 tons of gold as well as tax revenues from traders, merchants, and assorted kings and governors. Added to that was all the silver, gold, and precious gems brought to him as gifts by his many guests, like the 9,000 pounds of gold brought to him by the Queen of Sheba! Granted everyone probably has a slightly different opinion of what constitutes “large,” but I think we’d all agree that Solomon went over the top when it came to horses, wives, and wealth!

Solomon was the man who asked God for wisdom and often is called the wisest man who ever lived; yet, Alexander Whyte’s Dictionary of Bible Characters describes him as a “shipwreck” and “the most terrible tragedy in all the world.” Whyte continues, “If ever ship set sail on a sunny morning, but all that was left of her was a board or two on the shore that night, that ship was Solomon. A board or two of rare and precious wood, indeed; and some of them richly worked and overlaid with silver and gold—it was Solomon with his sermons, and his prayers, and his proverbs, and his songs, and his temple.”

During Solomon’s reign, the king wrote 1,005 songs and 3,000 proverbs, a magnificent Temple was built, and an undivided Israel experienced the peak of its power, prestige, and grandeur. These accomplishments are the “rare and precious wood” of which Whyte spoke. Nevertheless, in spite of Solomon’s stellar beginnings, the shipwreck began when ambition, wealth, pride, and lust took over his life. Along with disobeying God by amassing horses, wealth and wives, he built pagan shrines, worshipped pagan gods, worked and taxed his people excessively, and even failed to prepare Rehoboam for the throne. Solomon’s kingdom could have been blessed for all time but it was torn away because of his disobedience; by the end of his son’s reign, the kingdom was divided. I think of Alan Lerner’s words in Camelot: “Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot.” For one brief moment, Israel shone as well!

In Proverbs, we find the wise Solomon talking about discipline, good judgment, and the dangers of lust and greed. We read Wisdom’s warning that the simple, “must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way, choking on their own schemes.” Unfortunately, Solomon seemed better able to give advice than heed it and, in Ecclesiastes, we find him eating that “bitter fruit” with his words of remorse, dissatisfaction, and even self-contempt. They are the words of a man who, in spite of all his possessions and achievement, found no satisfaction in life.

Solomon’s downfall tells us that all the wisdom and wealth in the world mean nothing without the strength of character and discipline that come from God and obedience to His word. I wonder about those words from Deuteronomy that all of Israel’s kings were to copy, read daily, and apply to their reign—words that were to keep them from becoming proud and turning away from God. What, do you suppose, would have happened had Solomon actually done that?

If ever a blazing lighthouse was set up in the sea of life to warn every man and to teach every man, it was Solomon. [Alexander Whyte]

The Lord was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. He had warned Solomon specifically about worshiping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the Lord’s command. So now the Lord said to him, “Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants. [1 Kings 11:9-11 (NLT)]

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