- Samuel Clemmons was a River boat pilot on the Mississippi River.
He was born in Florida, Missouri in 1835. (The town no longer exists, probably because the name was just way too confusing)
Earlier in his career as a pilot trainee on the boats he was responsible to know the depths of the River and he would use a lead weight on a knotted rope line to measure those ever-changing depths.
He would call out the measurements to the captain…quarter twain, half twain, and the most pleasant sound of all to a river boat pilot…Mark Twain
Meaning two fathoms, or twelve feet…it was safe water for a river boat.
Later as a writer, Samuel, of course took on the name Mark Twain.
Twain was opposed to slavery throughout much of his life…but as a younger man he said he had thought little about it.
“The local paper said nothing against it, the local pulpit approved it and said the doubter need only look in the Bible to settle his mind regarding the matter. Then the texts were read aloud to us to make the matter sure.”
Twain married a devout Christian woman, Oliva Langdon.
He loved her enough to be willing to become a Christian for her…though of course love for a woman is not enough to actually become a Christ follower.
The Twain’s would have a lot of success…but eventually suffered loss to the point that Oliva lost her confidence in God.
Oliva Twain and Mark Twain…both struggled to make sense out of what they saw in the world…both personally…the death of loved ones.
And what they saw in the wider world…specially the horrific evil of slavery.
Oliva was surprised at the painful trial she was suffering…and it was as if something strange and unexpected were happening just to her…somehow her faith had not prepared for trials of this magnitude.
What stood out to me as I learned some of their story was the fact that what they thought was in the Bible had cast doubt on God.
I wondered if Oliva had ever read or heard Peter’s words…
1Pet. 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.
But even if she had…and she probably did…we all still have to choose to embrace into our hearts and lives…the truth of Scripture…as it confronts the difficult realities of our lives.
And as it challenges our own views of the world around us and the world in us.
In regards to slavery, I wonder if Mark Twain ever heard or read Philemon…a revolutionary book, merely one chapter long.
In that book Paul writes to Philemon, a well to do Roman citizen who had become a Christ follower, regarding his slave Onesimus who had run away and become a believer.
Paul tells Philemon to forgive Onesimus and to accept him as an equal…a brother.
Paul even offers to take on himself any punishment that Onesimus might have incurred.
This was revolutionary…but it was gospel living.
The pulpits where Twain grew up were wrong about slavery…and he possibly missed the fact that many pulpits of his time…were in fact getting this right.
And it was those pulpits that got it right…slavery has always been evil…because they got the Bible right…that inspired movements to fight slavery.
And many people, including many slaves, understood that God had not abandoned them in their suffering…many had deep, abiding faith…that made sense out of the painful trial they were suffering.
Many looked to God’s people enslaved in Egypt, spoken of in the book of Exodus…not to condone slavery…Egypt was clearly judged by God because of it…but to be encouraged that God had not forgotten them either.
It is important that we know what the Bible actually says and doesn’t say.
It came from God’s mind and will…and it means and says…what he intends it to mean and say.
The first quarter of this year we are looking at the Bible in overview in order to get a sense of the flow and continuity of the Scriptures.
I have a single goal this year: Increased confidence in the Scriptures as the God-breathed book…with authority to speak to our lives.
Last week we began, in Genesis…the book of beginnings.
We looked briefly at the struggle many have with the apparent conflict between science and Scripture.
This has been a stumbling block for people as they have “heard” that the really smart people…know the Bible is not true.
This, of course is not true…it’s not important that you remember the facts or quotes from really the smart, Nobel scientists who believe in the validity of the Scriptures…it is important that you know they exist.
The conflict is in fact…not there.
Today we will finish out a summary of the first five books of the Bible.
The first five together are called the Pentateuch (five books), the Torah(law), or the books of Moses(their author).
If you hear these terms…they are all referring to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
The OT in our Bibles is divided into four main sections
- The Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.(5)
- The history books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, etc. (12)
- The poetry books: Job, Psalms, Prov, Eccl, Song of Solomon. (5)
- Prophets: Is, Jer, etc. (17)
Originally they were divided into three scrolls, same material, different organization…law, prophets, and writings
Jesus said Luke 24:44 “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
So he was saying…the OT pointed to me…all of it.
First let’s do a quick review of Genesis
1-11: The creation of the cosmos, man, and the fall…why we are here, why we are in this mess.
12-50: The rise of a single-family line…Abraham and then God’s covenant relationship that he initiated with that family…this was the inauguration of God’s redemption/rescue plan
Genesis ends with the family in Egypt, God brought them there for their protection…now the long process to bring them back to the land of promise would begin.
Now a quick look at how the first five books fit together…remember why we are doing this…Bible has continuity, single story, not a random book…a God-breathed book that is a record of God’s activity in history…so it has authority to speak in our lives.
We need to get the big themes into our minds.
Genesis… creation, fall, beginning of redemption…people in Egypt
Exodus…story line continues…people redeemed out of Egypt
Leviticus: Instructions for relationship with God…how God will dwell with them, and how they are to live in relationship with God.
Numbers…story line continues…people get all the way to the Promised land (takes 40 years)
Deuteronomy…Moses speech as the people get read to enter the promised land.
Now Let’s walk briskly through the last four books of the first five:
The book of Exodus begins with a summary that connects it with Genesis: It reminds us that Israel is down in Egypt and that Joseph has died.
Now a new King was on the throne and he didn’t have any knowledge or loyalty to Joseph or his family.
Exodus divides into two major sections:
Part one: Out of Egypt…Sinai and the commandments.
Second: Instructions for the Tabernacle(Portable tent worship space), sacrifices, and how the Lord would be in the midst of his people.
The book begins in Egypt and ends at Mt. Sinai…where the people camped for a year
From a reader’s perspective, first part…pretty cool…lots of exciting stuff.
Second part can be kind of a “yawn”…like reading architectural blueprints (which a few here would love, most probably wouldn’t)…or an instruction manual.
But those chapters are super important in the story of what God was up to in human history…placing himself, his presence, in the middle of his people again…pointing to Jesus in the details of the sacrifices and the Tabernacle.
- How God raises up a leader for the people.
-He does not do micro-wave leadership development…he slow cooks his leaders…Moses is old when he leads the people out of Egypt.
*In 1997, a 23-year-old man wrote a book on dating.
*In 2019, that man, now 44, desperately wishes he had not written that book at age 23.
God tends to not be in a hurry…we tend to live in a perpetual hurry…we don’t like to wait
God doesn’t mind it so much…he likes to slowly, surely make life-time leaders.
- How God takes the people…through a series of miracles from Egypt towards the Land he promised Abraham. (Some Egyptians even believed and went with them: Ex. 12:38)
- How God is still on track with his covenant…In the wilderness, at Mt. Sinai…God appears to Moses much as he did to Abraham.
-He had made a covenant relationship with Abraham…with some promises and conditions.
-Now he deepens that relationship with Moses…and gives more specific details regarding his will and ways…Ten Commandments and hundreds more laws…all designed to show how to live in good relationship with God and each other.
- How God intends to dwell with his people again:
God gives detailed plans for building the Tabernacle(portable worship tent) and for the Priests and the Sacrifices…all this so that God could dwell among them and guide them.
So again…the book of Exodus ends with the people there at Mt. Sinai.
Receiving the law from God and building the Tabernacle…where God would travel with them.
Next comes…the book of Leviticus: Essentially a “Priest’s Tabernacle operating manual”
The storyline doesn’t move forward here…but it is a key book for understanding the gospel in the OT.
As I said before Christmas…Jesus, in John 1 was said to have “Tabernacled among us”
The Word, God became flesh and dwelt(word for Tabernacle) among us in Jesus.
This was directly connecting Jesus, with the tent-like structure that God intimately designed for his people in order lead them in the wilderness.
The Tabernacle was the centerpiece around which the people were organized and how the Lord would be with them and lead them…so we get very detailed instructions about it and the sacrifices surrounding it.
Here we see both the “otherness” the transcendence holiness of God…you could die if you entered this place improperly…so far above us.
And the fact that he is immanent… right here with us…he wants to be known…to dwell right there in the midst of his people.
Jesus is “immanuel”…God with us…he Tabernacled among us.
So Leviticus points forward to Jesus in that:
-The transcendent God of the Cosmos…became immanent…made his dwelling among us.
-He opened a way that we can go straight into God’s presence without the need of a priest or a sacrifice.
*If you read Leviticus and get bogged down by the mind-numbing detail…then go to the gospels and rejoice that Jesus was the final priest and sacrifice…he was what the Tabernacle pointed to…all we need now is relationship with him.
Picks up the story line of Exodus and advances it.
At the end of Exodus the people are gathered at Mt. Sinai, receiving instructions from God and building the Tabernacle…then they get operating instructions (Levititucus)
Now its time to hit the road again.
Numbers tells of the journey from there to the boundary of the Promised Land.
But Numbers is a tale of a journey that should have taken about 2 weeks but it takes 40 years.
Let’s look at it in terms of three locations and two road trips…a story by way of a map.
1-10: Mt. Sinai: starts where Exodus left off…hanging out in Sinai
-Road trip (10-12).
13-19: Kadesh Barnea(Wilderness of Paran)
-Road trip (20-21)
Ends with Moses looking into the promised land, giving them a final speech.
Three camp out and two road trips:
Wilderness at Mt. Sinai: (Exodus ended)
-Got the ten commandments, built the Tabernacle…been there for a year
-Organize everyone around the tabernacle…God’s presence is at the center
-God powers up the Tabernacle…Now…it’s time to go.
Road trip: finally on the road again, everything is organized, soon they will be in the promised land….they got their own pillar of fire as a GPS…everyone is “high fiving”, excited.
But…after just three days on the road…”are we there yet, are we there yet?”
*They gripe about hunger and thirst, Moses’ own family rejects him
*Not a good trip…they arrive at the border of the promised land
*God provided lots of good, they suffered lots of bad stuff…because of their own folly.
Next camp out: Kadesh Barnea (wilderness of Paran):
-They send twelve spies to scout out the Promised Land…10 come back shaking and afraid, and two say “let’s go in!”
-The ones who are afraid start a mutiny and want to take the people back to Egypt…amazing after all this they are more afraid of men than of God.
*God honors their choice to not go in…that generation will die in the wilderness.
*Reoccurring theme in Scripture: God will remain faithful to his promises…but he will let people waste their lives if they are intent on doing so.
Road trip: This time after about 38 years of waiting
*It can be a bit confusing here because we often think they sort of walked around in the wilderness for 40 years…dropping like flies until the old folks were all dead.
But they mostly camped there in that area near the rebellion for years and years.
Then when that generation was finished…God powered up the Tabernacle and moved them up to Moab to get them ready to finally go into the land of Promise.
So there were many years of looking at that Tabernacle (powered down)…just waiting.
But now they are on the move again…
Finally, time is up for the Egypt born generation..the desert born can now go in.
And there is where something interesting and strange and instructive happens that happens at Moab…something that seems out of place…but its not…it points again to Jesus…and the Covenant.
If you get caught up in the weirdness of a talking donkey and a pagan priest named Balaam…you will miss the point.
When the people get to Moab: The king of Moab is freaked out that this huge group of people have arrived in his land…and he knows the rumors that a powerful God is with them.
He doesn’t know that “THE” God is with them.
He hires a pagan priest named Balaam to pronounce curses on them…not a priest of the true God…he practices things that are forbidden by God.
He has a strange encounter with a talking donkey…but that is not the main point.
Balaam says okay to the king, for some money…he will ask their God to curse them…which to me is really dumb…but he is probably an arrogant guy…he is at the very least a foolish man.
Reminds me a group of guys in the NT called the 7 sons of Sheva, who have this exorcism business…they went around casting out demons in the name of “Jesus who Paul preaches.”
Evidently it worked for a while…such is the power of the name of Jesus.
But then they encountered a particularly stubborn demon…who said “Jesus I know, Paul I have heard about…who are you?”
He beat them senseless
So likewise…silly Balaam is going to try and get Israel’s God to do his bidding to support his personal business…even though he himself does not know God.
Three times he tries to curse them, three times the words come out as blessings.
Last blessing is that out of Israel will come a king from Abraham’s line who will bless all nations…speaking of Jesus.
That’s the point…From this foolish…pagan priest for hire…God speaks blessing on his people…and confirms his covenant again.
Balaam would eventually be killed by Joshua’s soldiers for his wickedness.
But here in Numbers as Israel is rebelling down in the camp…complaining against God.
Up in the hills God is protecting and even blessing them.
Book ends here in Moab…the last generation has died, Moses is about to die and he gives them his last words.
Words of Warning and encouragement to walk in obedience to God…to live God’s good life by letting him define good and evil…words that speak…again…of a future king.
That speech, is what the next book…book five of the first five…Deuteronomy is all about.
So in the first five:
How we got into this mess
God’s solution initiated and demonstrated over long periods of time.
All five books point over and over to Jesus in unique and profound ways.
Obviously there is a lot here to digest…but our purpose is overview…macro not micro themes.
We saw that the covenant with Abraham is relationship with God by faith…it cannot be earned.
The covenant with Moses showed what a life of faith looks like in practice.
We must move in obedience into the life that God has graciously given to us.
But we can also choose to live in opposition to God…to reject him and if we do then he will honor that choice…he will let us waste our lives.
He will not drag people into relationship with him, or obedience to him…or into heaven with him.
He will, in his mercy however, bring hardship to help us see the vanity of life apart from him
So God’s primary concern is that he be known and in knowing him…we would make him known to others….this is love God, love people.
Over and over he says in the OT: “Know that I am God”
Why is this so important to him?
He is good…the source of our life, the purpose of our existence and our only hope for lasting happiness.
What is the greatest concern of any good parent?…relationship with the child for the good of the child and the joy of the parent.
God made himself known to Abraham…so that Abraham could make him known to the nations.
God gave Moses the Law so that Moses could know how to love God and love others.
You can boil the Ten Commandments (Entire OT) down to: Love God, Love people.
Jesus said as much when he said “This sums up the Law (the first five books) and the Prophets…love God with all of your being and love your neighbor as yourself.”
If this is the case, if God is so intent on being known…then why doesn’t he just “show up”?
Right Now, all the time?
He did back then…why not now? Where is he.
“Can I get a burning bush? It would really help my faith.”
God did show up…but remember there were lots of years of waiting…Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Israel (400), Moses (80), Israel (40)….on and on.
So don’t believe it was ever a “miracle a minute”.
- The obvious answer to “why doesn’t he show up” is “he did”.
Jesus is God incarnate.
-Some believed, some did not…much the same as it is for those who have not seen him with their physical eyes…some believe, some do not.
In fact Jesus said “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
- If he showed up in his full glory…it would be difficult to “choose” him
It would be like a massive EMP(electro magnetic pulse): he would simply short circuit our wills by his sheer glory…but he would not necessarily gain our love.
- What would follow this initial over powering EMP
We would become accustomed to him showing up…but if we did not learn to love him we would only fear him…we would learn to hide from him.
-Like Adam and Eve did…don’t forget they choose against relationship with God in spite of the fact that he regularly “showed up”…I mean walked in the garden with them.
- Many have seen and do see God’s actions…but fail to see God in those acts.
-People saw Jesus heal, raise the dead, raised from the dead…and they attributed it all to anything other than God.
-People see the creation and attribute it’s obvious design to blind forces of chance.
-The see people transformed by God…and fail to recognize God in it.
-If God showed up over the city tonight in some visible way (other than the way he already does) and declared Jesus to be the Son of God…then in a year the same number of people would believe had that not happened.
*If you doubt this…read Exodus and Numbers…and remember that we are not better or different than the people who consistently “saw God show up” and consistently choose against him.
- Finally, my assumption based on God’s desire to truly be known is that he would do whatever he could to make himself known
So since he doesn’t “show up” in overt ways…as a normal course of action…apart of course…from showing up in the lives of his people…then I assume he doesn’t think it’s a good idea.
*I also assume he knows what is best.
God spoke to Gideon…then did miracles for him…and Gideon ended his life far from God.
God spoke to Jonah…showed him miracles…and Jonah’s heart remained far from God.
Same for Israel, same for the Kings.
He has of course…shown up in human history…and he has shown up in an amazing way by giving us his word.
That same word makes it clear…what is means for him to “show up”….what he is trying to say to us.
He wants relationship with us…but life is not about us…never has been…never will be.
What he has shown us in the story of Israel and the Gospel of Jesus is that…Life is about what God is doing, not our own comfort, not our own personal fulfillment…life is not about us.
God invites us into his life…we do not get to demand that he make his life about us…we must yield to him, he does not yield to us.
When we try to make life about us…we make life miserable.
We want relief more than we want God.
So God and others must yield to our wills…when they do not we become unhappy, angry, more demanding, less trustful.
This demandingness is what ruins our faith and robs our joy and ruins marriages and other relationships and often ruins health…the relationship of chronic demanding is chronic bitterness.
While the result of trust and gratitude is chronic joy.
Jesus, the one who was “truly human” yielded to the will of God and served those he came to save.
The OT storyline is: Man making life about himself, deciding for himself what is good and evil.
Then God’s long plan of redemption was Jesus, God become man to live as a “true human” and die for our redemption.
Jesus…for the joy set before him endured the cross.
He said “Not my will but yours be done”
He yielded his life to the Father and gave his life for his friends.
This is the path laid out for us…it is the good path…all other paths are empty.
How is your own demanding heart a stumbling block to your own happiness?
We demand that God yield to our will…and we become angry, frustrated, and distrustful when he refuses to do so.
This spills over into anger, frustration and distrust when people around us likewise refuse to submit to our demands.
We make ourselves into mini-gods…demanding from everyone…yield to my will!
All of this is at odds with our design purpose: to love God, love people.
Ironically…when the God took on human form…he did not demand…he yielded.
-To the will of the Father
-His life for his friends
Demanding is the path to misery…Jesus showed the path to joy, to happiness.
Holiness is happiness.
Holiness is to be set apart for God’s purposes
God’s purposes are that we love him (live trusting him) and love others(live serving them).
Let’s repent, of our demanding…from God and others…and let’s move towards joy.