Thursday, February 07, 2013

God As Strategist -- Exodus 7:14-19

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn; he refuses to let the people go.  Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he is going out to the water, and station yourself to meet him on the bank of the Nile; and you shall take in your hand the staff that was turned into a serpent.  And you will say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness.  But behold, you have not listened until now.”  ‘Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, I will strike the water that is in the Nile with the staff that is in My hand, and it shall be turned to blood.  And the fish that are in the Nile will die, and the Nile will become foul; and the Egyptians will find difficulty in drinking water from the Nile.”’”  Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, over their streams, and over their pools, and over all their reservoirs of water, that they may become blood; and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’”
As I reread this passage again prior to meditating on it, I could not help but believe God has a side of Him we seldom consider Him to have.  On close examination, this passage along with many others in Scripture, point out to God being the ultimate “strategist”. 
To begin with, we note that the previous passage ended with Pharaoh rejecting Moses and Aaron and their plea to let the Israelites go from Egypt.  God wastes no time in speaking to Moses again.  He does not wait on this occasion for Moses to steep in his feelings of rejection and failure.  He knows Moses and He remembers the doubts that Moses can easily adopt and project and the complaining that goes along with them.  God knew He had to act quickly in order to keep Moses encouraged and willing to continue the mission.  Perhaps this is not a perfect analogy, but what comes to mind is the football coach that calls a time out – not to hear from his team as to why they cannot tackle the opposing quarterback or another receiver, but rather to give them some new instructions, a different technique that will bring them greater success.  No point in always rehearsing over and over again what went wrong.  The gain is to be had in talking about what we will do different.  Recently our family discovered the seriousness of the memory loss of an elderly parent who is a nonagenarian and lives alone.  Most members were quick to cooperate on what needed to be done although it would have been easy for each one of them to have said, “You know, I told dad several years ago, I was willing to . . .” and each one could have added their own version of what they had offered or suggested in the past to have better addressed then the potential of the current situation.  Doing so would not have helped.  What mattered was what we all did next.  So it is in God’s dealing with us.  What we did or did not do in the past is of little importance compared to what God wants us to do now.
The next thing I note is that God sends Moses back to Pharaoh “in the morning”.  Why couldn’t he go later that night or the next afternoon?  Why did it have to be in the morning?  Again it is a strategic instruction.  It is in the morning that Pharaoh goes down to be close to water and water was going to become very important in God’s next action against him.  So Moses is told to actually go at a particular part of the day and to station himself at the bank of the Nile River where Pharaoh will be going.  And God tells Moses to take again in his hand the staff that he had used and God had turned into a serpent in his previous visit to the Egyptian ruler.  Here is God paying attention to details like a great strategist.  As one reads the whole of Scripture, one sees this over and over.  A great strategist, be he/she a military one, or a political one, or a business one knows that while the overall plan can be an excellent one, it can fail miserably because of either a neglect or poor execution of the details.  Moses, “go in the morning, stand by the bank of the Nile, and take the staff you had last time.”
If anyone ever tells you that Christians should not strategize or plan, you can refer them to this passage.  There is clear precedent for it in the very approach God takes with things.  He wants us to be well-equipped and well-prepared to deliver on the plan He has given us.
We also note that Moses was told once more to go in the name of God Himself.  He was not to go on his own steam or rely on his own fame or position.  When we go, we need to first be sure that God is sending us to go and second to let those to whom we are sent know that it is God Who sent us and it is in His name we are going.  Do we do that?
Interestingly too is the fact that God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh that he has “not listened until now”.  Can you imagine that a representative of slaves telling the King of Egypt “you’re not listening”?  The only way we could get away with anything like that is if we say it in the name of God, that is, “Mr. President or Mr. Prime Minister, so far you have not listened to God and it’s high time you did.”  I think that Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, author of book The Harbinger and the 2013 speaker at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast in Washington was doing just that when he spoke there in January 2013.  There is a time and a way to tell people where they have fallen short.  But the messenger needs to be grounded in the instructions of the Lord.
And then God turns His attention to how He will next attempt to get Pharaoh’s attention and ensuing agreement to let His people Israel go.  God is going to use Moses’ staff to turn all the water of Egypt into blood and not only will the water become undrinkable, but all the fish therein will die.  We may ask why God chose water of all things to take away from the Egyptians.  And the answer for me seems to be because water is necessary for life and ultimately God strikes that to point out He is the master of life and death.  He alone can give life or take it away, and all of nature is at His disposal.  And when God goes after something, He does not just strike what is readily available.  He ensured, by further instructions to Moses, that all the water of the land would be impacted – not just natural deposits of it, but water reserved for farming, irrigation, recreational pools, drinking, reservoirs, etc.  Do not get God strategizing against you; He may not pick and choose how He moves to display that anger that gives rise to His actions.
Our text tells us that the water was turned into blood.  Why not just turn it muddy?  The Bible commentator Matthew Henry, in commenting on this chapter, has some interesting thoughts on the reason for this.  He suggests, 
Egypt was a pleasant land, but the noisome stench of dead fish and blood, which by degrees would grow putrid, now rendered it very unpleasant.  It was a righteous plague, and justly inflicted upon the Egyptians. For, (1.) Nilus, the river of Egypt, was their idol; they and their land derived so much benefit from it that they served and worshipped it more than the Creator. The true fountain of the Nile being unknown to them, they paid all their devotions to its streams: here therefore God punished them, and turned that into blood which they had turned into a god. Note, That creature which we idolize God justly removes from us, or embitters to us. He makes that a scourge to us which we make a competitor with him. (2.) They had stained the river with the blood of the Hebrews’ children, and now God made that river all bloody. Thus he gave them blood to drink, for they were worthy, Rev. 16:6. Note, Never any thirsted after blood, but, sooner or later, they had enough of it. (3.) It was a significant plague. Egypt had a great dependence upon their river (Zec. 14:18), so that in smiting the river they were warned of the destruction of all the productions of their country, till it came at last to their firstborn; and this red river proved a direful omen of the ruin of Pharaoh and all his forces in the Red Sea. This plague of Egypt is alluded to in the prediction of the ruin of the enemies of the New-Testament church, Rev. 16:3.  (4.) But there the sea, as well as the rivers and fountains of water, is turned into blood; for spiritual judgments reach further, and strike deeper, than temporal judgments do. And, lastly, (5.) let me observe in general concerning this plague that one of the first miracles Moses wrought was turning water into blood, but one of the first miracles our Lord Jesus wrought was turning water into wine; for the law was given by Moses, and it was a dispensation of death and terror; but grace and truth, which, like wine, make glad the heart, came by Jesus Christ.
I am convinced God is a Master Strategist.
Finally, I want to draw your attention to something that I had not noticed until now.  Look closely at what God tells Moses to say to Pharaoh.  In the very quote that Moses is supposed to use, God utters these words that He wants said, “I will strike the water that is in the Nile with the staff that is in My hand.”  Notice anything strange about that?  I didn’t until just now.  Whose hand is the staff in when Moses is uttering those words to Pharaoh?  Well, physically it is in Moses’ hand.  But what does God say?  He refers to the staff “that is in My hand.”  Remember that God had told Moses that he would be like God to Pharaoh.  Well, this is God striking the water with His hand holding the staff.  As a Christian do you live your life with that kind of confidence when you go out to do God’s biding?

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