Tag Archives: Moses

The Prayer Tower: Thoughts about Seeking God in High Places

A Personal Essay About Encountering God, Prayer, and Hiding in a Prayer Tower

The Prayer Tower: Thoughts about Seeking God in High PlacesThe afternoon assignment at a writers retreat is to take a walk and describe our observations. Leaving the rest of the group in search of some needed solitude, I come upon a sign that simply says, “Prayer Tower.” I can’t ignore the opportunity. Suddenly, my journey has added purpose.

I take a sharp left and begin my assent. A few steps, a landing, and then more stairs. Turn right, walk a bit, and climb some more, I wind my way up the hill. There’s another landing and then a U-turn, followed by more walking and more stairs: fifty steps and counting; soon seventy-five gives way to one hundred.

What will I find? Am I climbing a stairway to heaven? One hundred and sixteen steps later, I reach my destination: a platform, presumably for prayer. A prayer tower. Panting, I pause to catch my breath.

The vista is grand, with the panorama of Lake Michigan, my favorite of the Great Lakes. I look west, with water as far as I can see; the far shore hides behind the horizon’s dip. A few ships dot the distance before me. An occasional car announces its presence behind me. All around are tree-covered sand dunes, sprinkled with homes and a string of condominiums.

With winter giving way to spring, naked tree branches creak to a brisk breeze. The biting wind tightens the once warm skin of my face. Below me friends walk along the beach, next to the frigid waters with wind-swept waves. Others, having grown tired or cold, are already retreating, seeking to recapture the warmth of inside.

The sight and sounds of birds, varieties mostly unknown to me, abound, too many to count. Gulls prevail with their plaintive caw, while a diligent woodpecker tap-tap-taps, either searching for food, forming a home, or seeking to attract a mate. Gray skies, decorated with blustery clouds, complete the picture.

God’s nature surrounds me. His wind pushes against me. Only with commitment to my task do I stand firm against winter’s final onslaught. I stand in awe. I try to pray, but words allude me. Why do I need to climb a prayer tower to pray, anyway?

In the Bible Moses ascends Mount Sinai and God’s glory descends. There he encounters God’s power (Exodus 24:15-18).

Jacob dreams of a stairway connecting earth with heaven. Angels traverse it; God stands at the top. Jacob proclaims this awesome place as God’s house and the gate into heaven (Genesis 28:12-17).

Although encouraging, these verses, do not confirm that I need elevation to better connect with the Almighty.

In a less reassuring instance, Moses—denied entry into the Promised Land because of one act of disobedience—is told to climb mount Nebo. From there he sees in the distance what God is withholding from him. Then he dies (Deuteronomy 32:48-52 and Deuteronomy 34:1-6). His mountain vantage doesn’t symbolize connection with God as much as punishment for sin and a lost reward.

Other biblical accounts point to elevation as a place of temptation.

From Leviticus to Amos, the “high places” (mentioned 59 times in the NIV) are usually a site for idol worship and heathen practices, providing an ongoing snare to God’s people, repeatedly distracting them from him. Some kings remove the high places or at least try to diminish their use, only to have a future generation restore them.

The tower of Babel, intended as a monument that reaches up to the heavens isn’t an attempt to connect with God as much as an arrogant tribute to aggrandizement. God quickly ends their brash scheme (Genesis 11:3-9). I can pray anytime, anywhere, and God hears me just fine. Click To Tweet

Balaam has his issues with altitude, as well. Although God prevents him from cursing Israel when atop various mountain vistas and thereby keeping him from earning the rich rewards he desires (Numbers 22-24), things don’t go well for Balaam when a sword later ends his life, exacting God’s final punishment (Numbers 31:8). Jude labels this profit motive as the error of Balaam (Jude 1:11).

Jesus likewise encounters temptation in high places, with Satan twice attempting to use an elevated vantage to derail Jesus from his mission. Fortunately for us, Jesus prevails, and the enemy retreats (Luke 4:1-13).

Based on my quick review of what the Bible records about elevated places, it seems a prayer tower may not be the ideal place to connect with God. Yet here it is, and I stand atop it, seeking to do just that.

From my hilltop perspective, I don’t just see nature and friends. I also spot remnants of other activities. Bottles, mostly broken, suggest this place of prayer gives way to revelry in the nighttime hours. Other trash is more disparaging. I see that SB climbed a tree to carve his “forever” love to ND. I try to not consider the ramifications any further. Suddenly I don’t feel quite so close to God. This prayer tower, this high place is as much hideout as haven.

Although I encounter God in the prayer tower, I pray little. But that’s okay. I can pray anytime, anywhere, and God hears me just fine. After all, he’s always with me (Psalm 73:23).

Moses Dies Before He Reaches His Lifelong Destination

Even one sin is enough to disqualify us from attaining God’s perfect standard; Jesus bridges the gap

Moses Dies Before He Reaches His Lifelong DestinationThe book of Deuteronomy concludes with the death of Moses.

Moses faithfully leads God’s people as they wander in the desert for forty years, brings them to the border of the land God had promised to give to them, sees it from afar, and then dies before he can step into it.

It’s not fair!

How could God treat his dedicated servant this way? Yet this is what God had decided to do.

Years before Moses has a tiny slip-up. He disobeys God. God tells Moses to speak to a rock and water will gush forth. Instead Moses hits the rock with his walking stick – twice. Perhaps he’s frustrated with the people’s grumbling; maybe he wasn’t listening to God’s instructions; possibly he didn’t think it mattered.

It did.

As punishment for his mistake, God says Moses will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land, his final destination (Numbers 20:7-12). That’s the penalty for not meeting God’s exacting expectations.One mistake disqualified Moses. The same applies to us, but Jesus provides the solution. Click To Tweet

We all fall short, so death is our penalty as well. But Jesus makes us right with God, bridging the gap between our failings and God’s gold standard.

Through Jesus we will make it to our final destination, the presence of God and eternity with him.

Thank you Jesus!

Do you think God was fair with Moses? Is he fair with you?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Deuteronomy 31-34, and today’s post is on Deuteronomy 34:1-5.]

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We Need to Listen to God and Obey Him

Our actions and our lack of actions have consequences

We Need to Listen to God and Obey HimAs the Israelites prepare to enter the territory God promises to give them. Moses, relaying God’s words to the people, gives them a stern warning.

Though God plans to give the land to his people, they must do their part to fully receive it. God expects them to drive out the inhabitants, destroy their detestable religious practices, and take the land. Then they can settle down. Of course God will help his people do this, directing their actions and offering supernatural assistance. Yet they must do their part.

If the Israelites fail to do so, it will come back on them. The people they were supposed to chase away will eventually become the source of their downfall. These foreigners will cause problems and distract God’s people so that they don’t obey him and don’t put him first as they should. They will be a snare.

If this happens, the punishment intended for these foreign nations will boomerang on the Israelites.

We know the rest of the story. They do not fully chase away the other nations; they do not fully take the land. They coexist with their enemies, intermarry, and adopt their foreign religious practices, something that is an anathema to God.When God speaks we better listen–and obey. Click To Tweet

God gives them chance after chance. And though there are times of revival, they are short-lived. After several centuries of mostly disobedience, God does exactly what he warns them he will do. Because of their failure to drive out the other nations, they are themselves driven out – first the nation of Israel and later the nation of Judah.

The people hear God’s instructions, but they only partially obey, which is the same as disobedience. There are consequences.

How is partial obedience the same as disobedience? Is partial obedience ever enough? 

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Numbers 31-33, and today’s post is on Numbers 33:55-56.]

Don’t Veil Selfish Motives in Spiritual Terms

The root cause of conflict is our egos, even when we hide our agenda by citing scripture

Don’t Veil Selfish Motives in Spiritual TermsIn Numbers 12 we see a story of sibling rivalry, one at a spiritual level.

Moses, the leader of the Israelites, is confronted by his sister, Miriam, aided by his brother, Aaron. The two pair up to oppose their younger brother, Moses, the guy who ran away for forty years and abandoned his people. They had stuck around. They had suffered in Egypt while Moses had escaped.

Though Moses does return and lead the people, the older siblings, especially Miriam, wants greater recognition for the supporting role they play in this. Though her motivation is selfish, Miriam tries to make it spiritual.

She asserts that God speaks to her and Aaron, just as God does with Moses. Maybe God does; maybe God doesn’t. Though there could be some truth to her claim, the Bible says little to confirm this. We don’t know for sure.

At this point in the story, the Bible slips in a parenthetical note. It confirms the deep humility of Moses. The implication is that Moses makes no effort to defend himself or squash her uprising. He leaves it in God’s hands. God reacts swiftly, putting Miriam (and Aaron) in their place and affirming Moses as his chosen leader.

We see this same type of conflict today with brothers and sisters opposing one another, in both their biological families and spiritual families, the church.

Though usually dressed in spiritual attire, these church conflicts are often (perhaps, always) about ego: selfish motives, greed, and pride. We want our way; we desire more power; we crave recognition. Even when we quote verses and project pure motives, the reality is that we want to be right, which means we want to prove others wrong. It’s about ego. Society dismisses the humble, but a humble spirit pleases God. This should be our ultimate goal. Click To Tweet

Churches split over such conflicts. Christians even kill one another because of such polarized disagreements. Each time we harm the cause of Jesus.

While it would be great if God would take immediate action in today’s disputes, just as he did in the case of Miriam and Aaron versus Moses, he does not. I suspect he’s hoping we will learn from this and one day grow up. I think the key is that we need to react like Moses, from a place of true humility.

Though our society dismisses the humble, a humble spirit pleases God. That should be our ultimate goal, especially in the face of conflict.

What can we do to pursue a God-honoring humility? What can we do to be a peacemaker among church conflict?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Numbers 10-12, and today’s post is on Numbers 12:2-3.]

Is it Ever Okay to Lie?

Telling the truth is not an absolute; there are shades of gray

The descendants of Jacob (Israel) are enslaved in Egypt. They are prolific and their captors fear their growing numbers. To curb their population explosion the king of Egypt commands the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill every baby Hebrew boy as he is born.

They do not. They fear God more than the Egyptian king.

The king confronts them. This may seem like a great time for them to boldly stand up to the king, proclaim their fear of God, and be ready to die for their faith. Many others in the Bible do this. Daniel and Esther come to mind.

Is it Ever Okay to Lie?This would be a great time for Shiphrah and Puah to proclaim God to the king. Perhaps their likely execution will rally their people. Their martyrdom could spark a revolution. They might inspire the Hebrews to rise up and ultimately escape. But they don’t do this. Instead they lie. They claim they don’t arrive in time, that the Hebrew women give birth too quickly. Therefore they are unable to do what the king commanded.

How does God react? He does not criticize them for lying; he does not punish them for missing this opportunity to confront the tyranny of their oppressors. Instead he rewards them for their reverence to him: he blesses them with families of their own. Apparently it was okay for them to lie.

What do you think about lying? When is it acceptable to break God’s commandment to not lie?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Exodus 1-3, and today’s post is on Exodus 1:15-22.]Is it ever okay to break God's commandment to not lie? Click To Tweet

What Does an Eye for an Eye Really Mean?

In one of the Bible’s more horrific stories, Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is taken by force and raped by the outsider, Shechem. When Jacob hears of this he does nothing, perhaps because all his boys are in the fields tending their livestock.

Then, despite his barbaric act, Shechem decides he loves Dinah and wants to marry her. He demands his father bring this about. The two dads talk about a wedding.

What Does an Eye for an Eye Really Mean?Dinah’s brothers are furious when they hear what Shechem did to their sister. They pretend to go along with the marriage talks but insist the men in Shechem’s village all be circumcised first. As the men recover from this painful procedure, Simeon and Levi, two of Dinah’s brothers, massacre the city, killing every man there to avenge their sister’s mistreatment.

Though they are right in responding to Dinah’s defilement, they overreact. While the rape of one girl is terrible, wiping out an entire town is a disproportionate punishment; it is excessive.

This is the type of thing Moses seeks to stop when he says an “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Leviticus 24:19-20). In this Moses does not give permission to seek revenge. Instead he seeks to curtail excessive retaliation, a response unequal to the crime. An “eye for eye” is a command of moderation not the authorization to pursue vengeance.

Jesus later takes this principle one step further. He says “do not resist an evil person” and then go the extra mile (Matthew 5:38-42). This is even more countercultural than Moses’s original “eye for eye” command to make the punishment fit the crime.

May we learn from Moses’s words and follow Jesus’s.

What do you think of Moses’s “eye for eye” command? What about Jesus’s instruction to go the extra mile? What do you think of Moses’s command to take an eye for eye? Click To Tweet

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Genesis 33-35, and today’s post is on Genesis 34.]

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What Do We Do To Dishonor God?

In his letter to the Christians living in Rome, Paul talks about people who attempt to live life according to a bunch of religious rules, that is, the law. The result is that God is disrespected, not so much by the people themselves, but by those on the outside looking in. In short, others harbor contempt for God based on how his followers act.

However, this isn’t the first time this happens. Paul is actually quoting from the book of Isaiah. What Isaiah writes is not his words, but God’s. God complains that because of his people’s failures, he doesn’t receive respect from others.

In both cases, the word the Bible uses to describe this is blaspheme. Others blaspheme God because of the behavior of those who claim to follow him. To blaspheme is to speak of God in an irreverent, impious manner; to disrespect, show contempt, dishonor, slander, or abuse him.

I fear we have learned nothing from Isaiah or from Paul. Today we still do the same thing. We claim to love God, yet too often our words or our actions cause those outside of our faith to shake their heads in derision. They mock us and they disrespect God; he is blasphemed – because of us.

How do we do this?

  • We hate when we should love.
  • We act with malice to those deserving compassion.
  • We judge others even though we aren’t supposed to.
  • We reject people on the fringes of society, the very people Jesus embraces.
  • We are exclusive, even though God is inclusive.

Forgive us God, for our blasphemy. You deserve better.

[Romans 2:24, Isaiah 52:5]

Women in the Bible: Zipporah

With the Pharaoh out to get him, Moses flees for his life. He marries the shepherdess Zipporah, daughter of the priest of Midian. They have two sons: Gershom and Eliezer.ZIPPORAH

Years later when Moses and his family travel to Egypt, God afflicts Moses. This is apparently because Moses had not circumcised his son Gershom, as God commanded the Israelites to do through Abraham.

Just as God is about to kill Moses, Zipporah takes decisive action, circumcises Gershom, and touches Moses with the removed skin. This appeases God and Moses is spared.

Zipporah does what her husband did not do, she obeys God’s command, and saves her husband’s life.

[Exodus 2:15-22, Exodus 4:24-26, and Exodus 18:2-7]

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Women in the Bible: Jochebed

The Egyptians fear the mushrooming population of the enslaved Israelites and command all the Israelite baby boys be thrown into the Nile River. However, one mother sees something special in her baby and hides him for several months. When she can conceal him no longer, she does indeed put him in the Nile River, but not before protecting him in a watertight basket. Then she strategically places the basket where he might be found by a compassionate person. Her daughter hides nearby to see what happens.Jochebed

When Pharaoh’s daughter comes to the river to bathe, she discovers the baby and wants to keep him. The girl offers to find a woman to nurse the baby; she then goes and gets her mom. Although the boy should have been killed, the Pharaoh’s daughter saves him and even pays his biological mother to care for him.

When the baby is weaned, his mother gives him back to Pharaoh’s daughter—who names him Moses.

This mother’s name is Jochebed and she has two other children, Aaron and Miriam.

Jochebed, like many moms, sees promise in her child and takes extraordinary measures to make sure he can reach his potential.

[Exodus 2:1-10, Exodus 6:20, Numbers 26:59]

[Discover more about the Bible at A Bible A Day.com: Bible FAQs, Bible Dictionary, Books of the Bible Overview, and Bible Reading Plans.]

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Listen Carefully to What God Says

For four decades Moses led the people as they wandered in the dessert. Once when they were thirsty, God told Moses to hit a certain rock with his walking stick. He did and water gushed out.

Later on, the people again clamored for water. This time God told Moses to speak to a rock, but Moses hit it instead. Though the people still got their water, Moses earned a reprimand for his actions.

We don’t know for sure why Moses disobeyed God and hit the rock the second time, but it might be because hitting a rock worked once, so he did it again. He placed experience over God’s word. Though this worked out for the people, it didn’t work out so well for Moses.

Moses’ example reminds us that it’s important to carefully listen to what God says and then to precisely obey him.

[Exodus 17:6-7 and Numbers 20:7-12]