Do Not Be Shocked Nor Fear Them

Israel led by pillar of cloudsI could just as easily title this post “Lessons from Deuteronomy,” but then it would have to be the first in a twenty-five part series. The book is a mixture of Moses’s summary of the exodus, his recap of the law, and a few of his gems of wisdom.

Some time ago I pulled out a handful of those gems and memorized them. They were hard because the ones I picked happened to be similar to one another. One, however, I recently put into context, and I don’t think I’ll forget it again.

Moses was recounting to the people of Israel weeks, maybe days, before they were to enter the promised land, what had transpired during the past forty years. Some of them hadn’t been born when Israel broke free of their slavery to Egypt. Some were too young to know or remember all that happened. Only the oldest, who would have been teens at the time, would nod their heads and say, I remember that’s how it was.

At any rate, Moses came to the part of the story about sending spies into the land and about their report when they returned. The people were in a near panic at what they heard. So Moses jumped in to calm them down:

Then I said to you, do not be shocked nor fear them; the Lord your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf. (Deut. 1:29-30a)

No matter the age of the person listening to Moses, they knew precisely what he meant when he said, “The Lord your God who goes before you,” because Israel didn’t break camp unless the Shekinah glory of God–a visible pillar of cloud or fire–rose from the tabernacle and went ahead of them. Then when God’s presence stopped, they stopped.

But here’s what I think is the cool part of these verses. The people of Israel had just heard the report that there were giants in the land. Giants! And they were supposed to go up and conqueror.

Then Moses said, Do not be shocked nor fear them.

Can you imagine? That’s like saying, yes, you are surrounded by poisonous snakes but do not be shocked nor fear them.

Really, Moses?

If he’d stopped there, his statement would make no sense. But he went on to explain why the people weren’t to be shocked at such shocking news: God, the very God they had witnessed leading them from place to place, would Himself fight on their behalf.

Oh. Well! Maybe giants weren’t so fearsome after all.

Interestingly, my thoughts about this verse dovetailed with my pastor’s sermon about Mary. We’re studying the book of Luke and this week we looked at the prophecy from Simeon when he told Mary, “A sword will pierce even your own soul.”

We can speculate about the scorn and ridicule Mary had to live with as an unwed pregnant woman. We know she faced the very real possibility that her betrothed would divorce her before they ever married. He didn’t because of God’s intervention. But before the rumors had begun to fade, she and her husband were fleeing before Herod’s jealousy in order to spare the life of this infant son of hers. A sword would pierce her soul.

I wonder what she thought when she got word that any number of babies the same age as Jesus had been killed in the region.

I wonder if she felt a pang of rejection when, as a budding man at the age of twelve, Jesus said He needed to be about His Father’s business, and He wasn’t talking about carpentry.

Pastor posed the question: if Mary had known all the grief she’d go through when Gabriel first announced to her that she, a virgin, would give birth to the holy one from God, would she have been so quick to say to him, “May it be done to me according to your word”?

It’s easy to say, of course she would have. But she hadn’t seen the giants in the land. She didn’t know, the way the people of Israel knew, what she was up against.

Pastor walked us through various events recorded in Scripture–things such as Jesus’s rejection in His home town (a mom would feel that for her son, but might the hatred for Him have spilled out on her?), His declaration that those who believed His words where His mother and brothers (a practical repudiation of His relationship with her), ultimately His crucifixion (the death of her first born)–which show just how acute the piercing of Mary’s soul must have been.

But Pastor pointed out that what we know of her story ends in the book of Acts. After the resurrection, the disciples, and with them Mary and Jesus’s brothers, were together when the Holy Spirit came upon them. All the heartache she went through ended up to be worth it.

The same fact the people of Israel experienced. They wandered the wilderness because of their fears, but in the end, they experienced the joy of the God who went before them fighting on their behalf.

How much more can the Christian say with joyful triumph, there might be giants in the land, but I’m not shocked, and I don’t fear them. My God already has won the victory through Christ my Savior and my Lord.

Published in: on October 8, 2013 at 5:57 pm  Comments (1)  
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Nine Days And Counting

I hope you all aren’t getting tired of the countdown. To be honest, I’m really enjoying thinking about Christmas and searching for a way to tie in the numbers as I count down to The Day. This one was so obvious I almost missed it — for nine months Mary carried the Christ child, sight unseen to the rest of the world. Nine months she knew a baby boy was growing inside her, a special baby boy — the Son of God.

What a whirlwind. The angelic announcement, then off to see if what he said about Elizabeth was true (it was). In those three months with her cousin, Mary undoubtedly experienced the early signs of pregnancy. Did she have morning sickness? Weight gain?

Then back to Nazareth to face Joseph. But miracle on top of miracles, he too had seen an angel, so now there was a wedding to plan. Not an easy thing to take care of during her confinement. How much longer before her neighbors would learn she was pregnant? When she no longer went to the market or the synagogue, would they figure something was wrong? Would they stop by her house to see if she was sick? How was she to explain to them about baby Jesus?

The angel had called her favored, but there were days she didn’t feel so very favored. First came the questioning looks, then the whispers, cut short when she drew nearer. She could feel the disapproval, from members of her family, certainly, if not from the rest of the community. If Joseph hadn’t stood by her, she probably would have had to leave Nazareth and move in with Elizabeth.

But one day, the fears and doubts and humiliation all seemed to wash away, because she felt little baby Jesus kick. To think that this tiny boy was getting bigger, stronger, and closer to actually coming into the world! This was the child who would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High. The angel said the Lord God would give Him the throne of His father David — a throne He would have forever.

If she wasn’t living it herself, she’d have a hard time believing any of it. She was to give birth to the King? She an unmarried girl from an out-of-the-way town in Galilee. Would one single person in Israel believe what she was going through? OK, besides Joseph. Thank God for Joseph. And Elizabeth. Even when she hadn’t started showing, somehow Elizabeth knew she was pregnant and had blessed her, blessed her baby.

Actually confinement wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to her. It would give her a little time to sort out these incredible things, try to make sense of it all, to figure out what exactly God was doing in and through her. I mean, she was going to have a baby! And a husband! These were not small changes, especially when the order was backwards like this.

But of all things, even a quiet birth at home wasn’t going to happen. Some Roman edict was forcing everyone back to their ancestral lands, and she and Joseph, both descendants of King David, would be off to Bethlehem. Right at the end of her nine months.

If she’d known everything she knew now, would she have been so quick to say to the angel, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word”? Well, she was God’s bondslave, and this is what He asked of her …

Published in: on December 16, 2011 at 5:42 pm  Comments (5)  
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Thirteen Days Before Christmas

I’ve always loved counting down to Christmas. Perhaps it started when some advertising guru began the notion of x-number of shopping days left before Christmas. I had a junior high teacher who used to put the number in a corner of the chalkboard. Once or twice my family had those advent calendars with little numbered doors or windows. On the appropriate day, we opened the correct one to reveal some Christmas surprise.

I still love the countdown as an adult — even used the nimber on the chalkboard a time or two as a teacher. I think it’s fun. It builds suspense — the ticking clock writers so often employ. But countdowns fit Christmas naturally. We have Advent candles each week and the song about the twelve days of Christmas. Why not employ the practice here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction? So today there are thirteen days left before Christmas.

Imagine. Thirteen days before Jesus came into the world as a little baby. Had Mary and Joseph left Nazareth for Bethlehem yet? Was she walking, or riding, with a hand on her back to ease the ache pregnancy can bring? Were her ankles swelling? Did she have to ask Joseph if they could stop for a short break? Did they travel in the back of the caravan of pilgrims heading south, because pregnant women this far along were supposed to be in seclusion. What’s more, were tongues wagging about this loose woman, not yet married but nearly a mother?

Did either of them tell the other about the angel visitation they experienced? Did they try to tell anyone else, or did they think such a story would only bring on more mocking and perhaps accusations of heresy?

Did people feel sorry for Joseph, that hardworking, righteous man, clearly doing something noble by planning to go through with marrying this young, wayward, shameful girl, a descendant of King David who should care more for her good name. Or did his neighbors suspect that he was the actual father, and the unborn child was a result of a secret tryst he had with his betrothed before she left to tend to her cousin.

Ah, those days with Elizabeth. Did Mary tell Joseph all about them — about Elizabeth’s greeting, for example, or her own song of praise that came bubbling up from her soul? Or was it even from her? It was as much prophecy as it was praise, and who was she — an unmarried pregnant girl still living under the authority of her father — to experience such a thing? But there it was, words proclaiming God’s mercy and might and ultimately of His fulfillment of His promise to Abraham.

My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever.

Perhaps these were things to keep to oneself. Who would believe them anyway, though Joseph had been remarkable to protect her by not ending the engagement when he found out about the baby.

How odd to already know she was carrying a little boy. Jesus. That would be His name. Son of the Most High, the One to take the throne of David. How could this be? Any of it. The whole idea was a bit terrifying. And exhilarating. If only the back pains weren’t so sharp.

Thirteen days and counting.

Published in: on December 12, 2011 at 6:27 pm  Comments Off on Thirteen Days Before Christmas  
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The First Christmas Quiz

We know all about the first Christmas, right? I mean we hear about the details in Christmas carols and programs and sermons, see them depicted on cards and church bulletins and manger scenes. But do we know the Biblical version? Here’s a fun little quiz to find out. (Feel free to print it out and pass it along if you’re interested). Answers at the bottom.

Directions: based on what the Bible says, decide if the following statements are true or false. (Hint: if the Bible is silent on the matter, it should be considered false).

1. Jesus’s birth was predicted to Joseph by an angel in a dream.

2. Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’s birth.

3. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph’s place of residence.

4. The innkeeper told Joseph there was no room in the inn

5. Jesus was born on a cold winter’s night.

6. The stable was a wooden structure.

7. There were kings from the east who visited Jesus after he was born.

8. There were three of these visitors.

9. These visitors followed a star from the East to Jerusalem in search of the Christ child.

10. The star which the visitors saw was an especially bright star.

11. The visitors arrived on camels.

12. Herod told the visitors to go to Bethlehem.

13. These visitors came to Jesus and saw Him in the manger where he had been placed after birth.

14. These visitors were joined by shepherds who came to worship Jesus.

15. The shepherds also saw the star which had guided the other visitors.

16. A host of angels appeared to the shepherds and sang praised to God.

17. In a dream God warned Mary that Jesus’s life was in danger.

18. Mary and Joseph took Jesus back to Nazareth to escape the danger.

19. Mary remained a virgin and never had any other children.

20. God can do the impossible, which makes belief in the Christmas miracles possible.

– – –

1. true – though His birth was also predicted to Mary
2. true – see Matthew 1:24-25
3. false – they were from Nazareth and only went to Bethlehem because it was required by the government
4. false – the innkeeper doesn’t make an appearance in the Biblical account
5. false – the Bible doesn’t say what kind of a night it was
6. false – the Bible doesn’t describe the stable
7. false – the eastern visitors were magi or wisemen specializing in such studies as astrology
8. false – the Bible doesn’t specify how many magi there were—only that they presented three types of gifts
9. false – they saw a star in the East and went to Jerusalem where they would expect to find a king; they then followed the star from Jerusalem to Bethlehem
10. false – the Bible never refers to the star as bright
11. false – the Bible doesn’t mention camels
12. true – after learning from the scribes where Messiah was to be born, Herod told the magi
13. false – the magi came to a house.
14. false – the magi didn’t arrive the night Jesus was born; the shepherds who were already in Judea went immediately after they heard the birth announcement
15. false – the Bible doesn’t mention that the shepherds saw the star
16. false – Scripture doesn’t say these angels sang
17. false – God warned Joseph, not Mary
18. false – they went to Egypt, not Nazareth
19. false – Mary had a number of other children, among them James who wrote the book of the Bible that bears his name.
20. true – Gabriel stated this to Mary when she asked how she being a virgin could give birth to a son (Luke 1:37)

Questions? Read Matthew 1:18-2:15; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-20. Or feel free to ask them here.

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