God Preserves a Remnant in the Midst of the Fire

A chiasm in Exodus 2:23-3:9 centered on the burning bush illustrates how and why God preserves a remnant of Israel.

Moses’ encounter with the burning bush in Exodus 2-3 is structured as a chiasm that demonstrates God’s faithfulness to his people. Through persecution, they are refined and disciplined, but never destroyed. God always preserves a remnant of Israel. (See here for more information on chiasms.)

Here is the full text of the passage:

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”

When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.

Exodus 2:23-3:9

The Chiastic Structure of Exodus 2:23-3:9

Thanks to Tony Robinson who pointed this out in his “Shemot – Moses’ Rendezvous With the Burning Bush” video on Youtube.

Exodus 2:23-3:9

A1-v23 – People groaned because of slavery
B1—-v23 – God heard their cry for rescue
C1——–v24-25 – God heard their groaning. Covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked on the Israelites and understood.
D1————v1 – Led the flock to the mountan of God.
E1—————-v2 – YHVH appeared in flames from within the Bush and Moses saw
F1——————–v3 – Moses thought, Go over and see
G————————v3 – Why the bush does not burn up?
F2——————–v4 – God saw, Gone over to look
E2—————-v4 – God called from within the bush and Moses replied
D2————v5 – Come no closer. Standing on holy ground.
C2——–v6-7 – God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw their misery and heard their crying.
B2—-v8 – God came down to rescue them
A2-v9 – God heard the cry of the people

This chiasm contains 6 levels on each side, with a 7th in the center. Each of these levels teaches truths about God’s relationship with mankind, and especially about his relationship with his people. Although we should always be cautious in formulating doctrine without explicit statements, at the very least, we can learn a lot about how the Biblical authors thought about their subjects.

In this case, we can make inferences from the connections that Moses laid out for us. In his mind, point A1 was connected to A2, B1 was connected to B2, and so on. Our job is to consider those connections and their implications in light of the rest of Scripture.

Level A: God hears the cries of his people

  • A1: 2:23 – The people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out
  • A2: 3:9 – God heard the cry of the people and saw their oppression

It might seem at times as though God isn’t listening, but he is never deaf to the cries of his people. He has not forgotten them, and cannot. He sees every wrong done to them. This ought to be a source of hope for all those whose faith is in him and a terror to those who have scorned and oppressed the people of Israel.

Level B: God will rescue his people

  • B1: 2:23 – Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.
  • B2: 3:8 – God came down to rescue them from Egypt and bring them to the Promised Land.

Periods of oppression are part of God’s plan, but they are temporary. Suffering is never a permanent state of being for the faithful. It is only a step in a process that inevitably leads to redemption and reward.

Level C: God honors his covenants

  • C1: 2:24-25 – God heard their groaning, and remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He saw the people and understood.
  • C2: 3:6-7 – I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I have seen and heard the people’s affliction. I understand.

God is faithful. He keeps his promises.

Because of Abraham’s faithfulness, God made a covenant with him that was passed on to Isaac, then to Jacob, and to all of Israel. When the text says that he remembered the covenant and saw the people of Israel, it means that he looks past the current generation of Israel all the way back to Abraham, and saves them for the sake of that ancient covenant. Because Abraham believed in God and kept his commandments, God is faithful to Abraham throughout all the generations of Israel.

If God can forget his covenant with Abraham, then he will forget that Israel is his chosen people, but God never forgets or annuls a covenant. He is always faithful.

Level D: Moses can only bring you so far

  • D1: 3:1 – Moses led his flock to the mountan of God.
  • D2: 3:5 – Then God said, “Do not come near.”

Paul wrote that the Law of Moses is a guide to lead us to Messiah (Galatians 3:24) and that Messiah is the aim of the Law (Romans 10:4). Keeping the feasts and the Sabbath and obeying the commandments are good things, but if they never lead us to Messiah, then they are ultimately pointless.

Once Moses had arrived at the place of the burning bush, God told him to stop, then gave him instructions for existing in the divine presence. God is a raging fire that will destroy anyone who comes to close without authorization and the proper precautions. Se can never come to God on our own terms. He sets the rules, not us, and he has given us detailed instructions on how to live in his presence. The first and most important rule in approaching God is this:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:6

Moses leads us to Messiah Yeshua, and Messiah Yeshua leads us to the Father.

Level E: No one comes unless the Father calls him

  • E1: 3:2 – YHWH appeared in a flame out of the midst of a bush. Moses looked.
  • E2: 3:4 – God called to him out of the bush. Moses replied.

God revealed himself, and then Moses saw. God called out, and then Moses replied. This recalls Yeshua’s words:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
John 6:44

God is beyond our understanding, and the natural inclination of our flesh is to rebel against him and worship things that have no power to save. Before a man can be saved from his sins and evil inclination, God must make himself known and call him. That revelation and calling can take any form: an evangelist, a Gideon Bible in a hotel room, or a still, small voice that can only be heard in the heart. Without that revelation, we are lost.

Level F: God requires an answer

  • F1: 3:3 – Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight.
  • F2: 3:4 – YHWH saw that he turned aside to see.

Although we can ever see the truth about God and our need for salvation unless he reveals it to us, God doesn’t force us to act on that revelation. He extends an offer of mercy, but it’s up to us to accept it.

Level G: The bush doesn’t burn up

“Why the bush is not burned” in 3:3 is at the center of the chiasm.

Did the fire leave the bush unburned merely to catch Moses’ attention? Or did God have a specific reason for choosing this sign rather than a floating boulder or a talking goat? What is significant about vegetation?

The bush itself isn’t God. Rather God appears and speaks from within the bush. So what is the bush?

The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
Psalms 104:16

Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans.
Jeremiah 24:5

Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit.
Hosea 10:1a

For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.
Romans 11:24

Throughout its text, the Bible portrays Israel as a tree, a vine, a field of barley or wheat, etc., and God appeared to Moses on Mount Horeb to send him to rescue Israel from Egypt. The bush is Israel and the fire is the sign of God’s presence among them, just like the pillar of cloud and fire that would accompany them through their wilderness travels.

Over the next few chapters in Exodus, Israel was protected from the brunt of the plagues, while Egypt was consumed around them. The fire burned the air around the bush, but not the bush itself.

This same pattern played out over and over throughout Israel’s history: God destroys Israel’s oppressors along with the wicked, fruitless branches within Israel, but always preserves a remnant for himself.

Following the Chiasm to its Axis: God Preserves a Remnant of Israel

God is a consuming fire, hotter and more terrible than any star in the universe, yet he holds and protects those he loves. He has perfect control of his power, and will use it to refine his people and destroy their enemies. It scorches everything that approaches, burning away the dross of uncleanness, leaving only those who have placed their faith in him and in the righteousness imputed through the Covenant of the Redeemer.

This is the point of the Exodus and the focus of the chiasm: Because of Abraham’s faithfulness, God is faithful to keep the covenant that he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, particularly that aspect which promised a new covenant mediated by a Savior. He reveals himself to his people and draws them to himself, and those who respond in humility and obedience are rewarded with salvation, not only from enslavement and oppression of the body, but from the fire of eternal damnation.

God Does Not Forget the Humble

Exodus 1:13-14 – And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage… The Hebrew word translated as ‘rigour’ in v13 in the KJV is perek. Strong said that it comes from a root that means to break or fracture. So the Egyptians were not simply using the Hebrews for their labor. They were trying to keep them weak by breaking their spirit through cruel and pointless labor.

(The hard labor to which Israel was put may explain some of the disparity between the numbers of men and women who came out of Egypt. The nature of much manual labor tends to shorten the lives of men significantly, even today. Robert Sheaffer wrote, “As for contemporary American society: women live an average of seven years longer than men. Twenty-four out of the twenty-five jobs ranked worst in terms of pay and working conditions by the Jobs Related Almanac have one thing in common: they are all 95%-100% male. Of those killed in work-related accidents, 94% are men.”* If that is true for modern America with OSHA rules and modern safety equipment, it must be doubly true for slaves constructing bronze age megaliths.)

There were five genocides recorded in Scripture, that were either ordered by God or perpetrated directly by God’s hand. Each of them was precipitated by severe injustice, usually combined with sexual immorality.

  1. Noah’s flood – Tyrants who were particularly abusive toward women. Possibly sexual immorality involving demons. Completely destroyed by God except for one family.
  2. Sodom & Gomorrah – Extreme hostility toward travelers. Sexual immorality. Completely destroyed by God except for one family and one small community.
  3. Egypt – Severe mistreatment of slaves, infanticide. Brother-sister marriages were encouraged, although that isn’t mentioned in the Bible. Population decimated, economy and military destroyed by God.
  4. Canaan – Child sacrifice, hostility toward travelers. Selectively destroyed, displaced, or subjugated by Israel at God’s command.
  5. Nineveh – Unspecified systemic violence. They repented and God relented.

The victims in each of these injustices were essentially defenseless. (Sodom was already guilty before the angels arrived to witness the fact.) God acted for them and removed the perpetrators. In the case of Canaan, he used the Israelites as his tool.

In Psalm 10, David alluded to the connection between the dispossession of the Canaanites and their injustices.

v1 Why standest thou afar off, O LORD? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?
v2 The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined.
v3 For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth.
v4 The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.
v5 His ways are always grievous; thy judgments are far above out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffeth at them.
v6 He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity.
v7 His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity.
v8 He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor.
v9 He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net.
v10 He croucheth, and humbleth himself, that the poor may fall by his strong ones.
v11 He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it.
v12 Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.
v13 Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it.
v14 Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless.
v15 Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none.
v16 The LORD is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land.
v17 LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:
v18 To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.

Every biblical genocide ordered by God was prompted by ubiquitous injustice, and the plagues of Egypt were no exception. The same principle works in families. Tyranny will break family bonds as surely as it breaks those within and between nations. God executes justice for those who are unable to defend themselves. Justice might not come when we would expect it, want it, or even recognize it, but it inevitably comes. A father (or mother for that matter) who deliberately provokes his children or a husband who cruelly uses his greater strength against his wife will eventually pay a price.

(See also Numbers 3:39, 3:43, and Ephesians 6:4.)

* Robert Sheaffer. “Feminism, the Noble Lie.” The Domain of the Patriarchy. http://www.debunker.com/texts/noblelie.html.

Everything Hinges on Faith

If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can move mountains.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. (Hebrews 11:1)

We’ve all heard that quote many, many times. It’s one of the most instantly recognizable verses in the Bible. We repeat it like a mantra and cling to it like a baby’s blanket, but hardly anybody knows what it means.

I realize that might sound a little presumptuous. Faith is a thing of the heart, and I can’t see anyone else’s heart. Right?

Yes and no. Faith is the evidence of something unseen, but things that are seen are the evidence of faith.

Faith is not believing that you’re going to get what you want. It is not believing in the existence of God or Jesus or anything else. As James wrote, even the demons believe that. (James 2:19) Surely we need to do a little better than them!

Faith is believing in the person of Yeshua haMashiach (Jesus the Christ), believing in his name. That has nothing to do with how the personal label that we commonly refer to as “name” is spelled or pronounced. Faith is not believing that his name is Jesus or Yeshua or Yehoshua or whatever flavor you favor. “Name” in this context refers to his reputation, authority, and trustworthiness, as in “A good name is better than great riches.” (Proverbs 22:1) If you believe in the name of Yeshua, if you believe in the name of YHVH, then you believe that he is who he says he is, that he means what he says, that he isn’t capricious, that he never changes, and that he keeps his promises.

Faith is trusting in God’s word. Faith equals trust.

How does your behavior toward another person change if you have faith in that person? You listen to what he says. You take his advice. How does your behavior toward God change if you have faith in him? You obey him. This is what James meant when he wrote that faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26) If your faith does not lead you to greater obedience over time, then your faith is a vapor. Nothing but hot air.

What else happens when you have faith? Mountains and trees start moving. Probably not literally, but in a manner of speaking.

“Truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

According to Scripture, the sick, injured, and disabled are made well by faith. It doesn’t say made well if it fits into God’s plan or if the stars are aligned. James wrote, “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” (James 5:15)

A couple more examples:

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. (Matthew 9:22)

And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:52)

There are a lot more where those came from if you need more.

This is a hard thing to accept. We all suffer. We are all sick. We all know of someone who died of an illness or injury. Nobody wants to believe that the only thing standing between wellness and suffering is a simple matter of trust, but the testimony of Scripture is crystal clear: “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick.”

But we also know that many people of apparently great faith have suffered. Timothy had chronic stomach problems. King David grew feeble and died at a relatively young age. There is no question that these men had faith!

How is it possible for Yeshua to say that faith will make you well while we know that many great people of faith were not well?

I think here is where we encounter the problem of not being able to see into other people’s hearts. It isn’t necessarily that they don’t have faith–they might or might not–but that they have not yet attained the level of faith to which God is leading them in their current trial.

Personal trials–including sickness, persecution, and every other evil which the faithful suffer–are never without purpose, and that purpose is never to inflict pain simply for the sake of pain. Our God isn’t cruel or spiteful. Nothing can come against you unless God allows it, and “all things work together for the good of those who have faith in God.” (Romans 8:28)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3)

The purpose of all trials is the building of faith. If you have given your life to Yeshua, then you will suffer trials, if not by the hand of men, then by the hand of God. God doesn’t enjoy your pain. He hates it! But very little spiritual growth comes without hardship of some kind.

Almost anyone who has accumulated a great deal of earthly wealth will tell you that it wasn’t easy, and if it came easily, it goes easily too. It follows then that anything of eternal value–I don’t mean salvation itself, but the rewards of the faithful in Heaven–must be that much more difficult to obtain, and “difficult” is a relative concept. Some people learn multiple languages easily, while others struggle with even one language. Some people understand computers instinctively, while others can’t tell a boot menu from a Cavender’s catalog. The things that are hard for me might not be hard for you, so that you would shrug off the trials that severely test my faith.

If you have faith like a mustard seed, you can command mountains to move, but a mustard seed and a mountain might look very different from one person to another. The faith required to overcome any given obstacle depends on the person doing the overcoming. Whatever trial you are facing, it’s the trial that God has decided you need in order to develop your faith to the next level, and it’s not the same trial that I’m facing even if it looks the same from the outside.

You will always have trials because God wants you to continue to grow throughout your life. When all your troubles end, you should wonder if God has given up on you. But your goal should never be to accept pain and sickness as your sorry lot in life. It absolutely isn’t! God wants you to be well. Yeshua has already paid the price for your healing, and if you reject it, you are rejecting what he has done for you.

Your goal should not be to learn to accept your pain but to overcome it, to grow in obedience, in your relationship with the Father, until your trust in him crowds out that metaphorical mountain, and you or your daughter or your neighbor gets up and walks as you command it in Yeshua’s name.

Faith isn’t a name-it-claim-it game. You don’t get to bend reality to your every whim just because you claim to be a “child of the King.” Faith doesn’t say, “I’m healed because I said so.” Faith says, “I’m healed because God promised healing to his obedient, faithful servants, and God doesn’t lie.”

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10)

There’s nothing wrong with wanting and praying for nice stuff, but that’s not the point of faith. If you have faith that you will get what you want, you might or might not get it, but you definitely won’t get what you need. No, your faith belongs in God and in his Word. Not just the parts you like. If you really trust God, you’ll trust his word on all of the less pleasant stuff too.

As you mature in your spiritual walk, you will continue to encounter more obstacles as opportunities for greater maturity, your heart will become more aligned with God’s, and your desires will be conformed to his. Your behavior will conform more and more to his unchanging standards. Your prayers will become more effective because you will pray more for those things that God wants you to have in the same spirit of humility as the centurion in Matthew 8 and less for those things that you want you to have in the spirit of pride that Saul evidenced in 1 Samuel 28.

The faith that gives substance to our hopes is substantial in itself. It is founded in the very name of God and results in obedience as surely as light follows the sunrise. The faith that gives evidence to our spiritual eyes that God’s promises are sure is a faith that is proven by a history of reliance on those very promises.

Just as the last time I wrote about faith, I am addressing myself more than anyone else, because my prayers aren’t always granted. Real healing is a very rare thing in my experience. I need greater faith, which means I also need greater faithfulness. If you haven’t read my blog post from last week on faith (or even if you have), I invite you to read it and join me in creating a plan for developing greater personal faith in God. And I want to add one thing to the 4-part prescription in that post: obedience. It is self-evident that if we trust God, we will do what he says. So I’m going to find something God said to do, that I’m not doing, and I’m going to do it.

The Plan

  1. Alter my environment in a way that promotes faith.
  2. Feed my faith with regular, positive input.
  3. Take some risks based on God’s word.
  4. Actively invite more of God’s light into my life and look for ways to reflect it back into the world.
  5. Identify something God said to do, that I’m not doing, and do it.

If you want to grow with me, leave a comment below. You don’t need to say exactly what’s in your plan, though you can if you want. Just tell me that you’re with me.

The Greatest Leaders

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Anyone who wants to be President badly enough to make it happen is almost certainly unqualified for the job.

None of the greatest men of God in Scripture sought power for themselves. Consider these highlights from the lives of Abraham, Moses, Gideon, and David, all undoubtedly great leaders.

Abraham

Abraham was an extremely wealthy man, a king in his own right. Everything he he did prospered, yet he was never greedy, never took power where he didn’t already have authority, never engaged in military conquest. When he went to war against the four Mesopotamian kings to rescue his nephew Lot, he refused any reward from the five Canaanite kings whose people he also saved.

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.” (Genesis 14:22-24 ESV)

After his wife Sarah died, he asked Ephron, a Hittite prince, to sell him a cave as a burial place. During the negotiations The Hittites called Abraham “lord” and “a mighty prince,” and Ephron offered to give him the cave for nothing. He bowed to all the people and paid more than the market value.

Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “But if you will, hear me: I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” (Genesis 23:12-13 ESV)

Moses

Adopted into the house of Pharaoh, Moses actively tried to protect his people, the Hebrews, from oppression, not as a prince of Egypt, but as a fellow Hebrew.

When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:13-14a ESV)

After forty years of exile in the land of Midian, God called Moses to confront Pharaoh, but he resisted. He had no desire to engage in national politics or to be the leader of his people.

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11 ESV)

But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10 ESV)

Even after many years as the reluctant leader of Israel, he remained a selfless and humble man.

Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3 ESV)

And Moses was very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, and I have not harmed one of them.” …And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD.” And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. (Numbers 16:15,28-31 ESV)

Gideon

When the Midianites continually raided the land of Israel, Gideon, also known as Jerubbaal, did all he could just to protect his own family’s livelihood. Leading an army was the furthest thing from his mind when God sent an angel to call him to do just that.

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (Judges 6:12-16 ESV)

And when the war was over, Gideon had won a lasting peace against Midian and settled inter-tribal disputes, Israel asked him to rule over them as king. Instead, he gave them a new religion (for what it was worth) and returned to his own home.

Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.” …So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon. Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. (Judges 8:22-23,28-29 ESV)

David

When the prophet Samuel anointed David to be the new King of Israel, instead of declaring himself and forming an army, David became the servant, personal musician, and right-hand man of the King Saul who had been anointed before him. He had a number of opportunities to seize power, but he always refrained.

He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed.” So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way. (1 Samuel 24:6-7 ESV)

Years later when his son Absolom rebelled and David was forced to flee Jerusalem, he humbly accepted severe criticism from a man of Saul’s house, allowing that the man might even be right.

When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! The LORD has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.” Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?'” And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the LORD will look on the wrong done to me, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing today.” (2 Samuel 16:5-12 ESV)

When the war was over and Absolom dead, that same man was the first to greet David on his return and begged his forgiveness. His advisor Abishai urged David to have the man killed, but David refused.

Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the LORD’s anointed?” But David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be as an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” And the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king gave him his oath. (2 Samuel 19:21-23 ESV)

Susceptibility to political ambition seems to be the greatest weakness of representative democracy. We choose our leaders by how well they appeal to our vanity and greed instead of how well they appeal to God’s Law and mercy.

I don’t have a better suggestion. I don’t have any ideas for fixing a broken political system because I am convinced that no political system can be fixed, that whether we are a democracy or a monarchy has almost no impact on whether we are cursed with great leaders or with power hungry tyrants.

Mohandas Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” However leaders are chosen in any nation and in any political system, history indicates that we almost always get the leaders we deserve. If we want better leaders, we must become a better people. If we want leaders like David and Moses, we must become like David and Moses ourselves, not seeking after power for our own purposes, but able and willing to wield power when necessary on behalf of our families, communities, and nations. We must obey God’s Law, hear his voice, and act fearlessly when we are called.

Nominal leaders are superfluous and incidental in a nation of Davids. As Gideon said, “The LORD will rule over you.”

Circumcision and Blood

Regarding circumcision, someone recently asked me,

If God is so loving, why base his entire covenant with His Chosen on violence especially against the most helpless? The whole point of Jesus’ ministry was to replace that law with a new standard of gentleness and forgiveness, so why seal it with still more violence? It just doesn’t add up to me.

His covenant was (and is) based on redemption and restoration. Circumcision is only a sign of that covenant. There is a lot of blood involved in God’s interaction with mankind. I don’t completely understand that, but I recognize a few hints. First, for whatever reason Adam chose death over life, and that decision has affected everything. The violence is already there by the actions of people, and the controlled violence of blood covenants serves in part to restrain the uncontrolled violence of mankind’s natural tendencies. Second, blood has some kind of cleansing property in a spiritual sense in that it allows God to interact with people who would otherwise be too repulsive to him. Third, blood symbolizes the life-and-death nature and permanency of covenants. It’s a solemnizer.

Yeshua fulfilled God's Law in three ways.I can understand your confusion regarding the apparent disparity between Jesus’ message of love and the necessity of his violent death. It never added up for me either. However, the problem is in our perceptions of Jesus’ ministry and purpose. He didn’t come to replace the law with a new standard. In fact, he said the exact opposite: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy [kataluo: to tear down], but to fulfil [pleroo: to build up or to carry into effect]. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” If fulfilling the law is the same as annulling it for everyone else, then Jesus’ statement here was meaningless: “I am not come to destroy, but to abolish.”

Jesus mission in regards to fulfilling the Law was three-fold. First, he completed or built up our understanding of it through his teachings on the two central commands of Torah: love God and love your neighbor. Second, he fulfilled (and will fulfill) various prophecies embedded in the Law. Third, he fulfilled the requirement of blood to allow us to approach God (or God to approach us) despite our spiritual stench. This is a physical manifestation of a spiritual law that we don’t have to understand in order to take advantage of. Something like quantum theory. The laws that govern the interactions of subatomic particles are incomprehensible to most of us, but still necessary for life. The thing that we have to acknowledge is that nothing other than the mercy shown through his blood (and no other action, inaction, or attitude) would be entirely sufficient to restore us to a right relationship with God.

For what it’s worth, you’re in good company. Moses’ wife was none too happy about circumcision, either. “Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.” Blood is a mysterious thing that science can never quite understand, and violence does solve some problems.

More info:

Blood Draws Near by Jon Behrens
Circumcision and Cutting a Covenant by Walter Snyder
The Seven Everlasting Covenants by Monte Judah