Posts tagged ‘Moses’

Kilauea’s Fury and God’s Promise

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 4.08.46 PM.pngIt’s destruction in slow motion.

When Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano began erupting a week and a half ago, cracks in and around the volcano began to emerge, spewing molten lava and dangerous gas.  So far, 18 fissures have opened in the ground, 36 structures have been destroyed by creeping lava, and 2,000 residents have had to evacuate their homes.  And geologists have no idea how long these eruptions will continue.  Officials now worry that the lava lake in Kilauea’s crater will fall below the level of the groundwater, which could spark dangerous stream-driven explosions, spewing boulders – some weighing many tons – into the air.

The flow of lava is nearly impossible to stop.  Its temperature checks in at around 2,000 degrees, which makes dousing it with water ineffective.  Because the lava is so heavy, diversion channels also do not tend to work.  The lava will simply flow over them.  Residents can only stand by and watch in horror as melted, red-hot rock destroys everything it is path.  David Nail, who lives on the gentle slopes of Kilauea in Leilani Estates, had his home consumed by a 20-foot tall pile of lava.  “All we could do was sit there and cry,” he explained.

Natural disasters such as this raise a perennial question about faith: why, if there is a good God, would He allow such terrible disasters to happen?  Christianity is unique in its approach to this question because it not only seeks to grapple with this quandary philosophically, but to empathize with people who have to endure the pain wrought by natural disasters personally.

Christianity teaches that the overall sinfulness of humanity affects and infects every part of creation.  The sinfulness of humanity is why earthquakes topple communities and hurricanes flood them.  The sinfulness of humanity is why severe weather strikes the south and volcanoes erupt in the west.  Because of sin, creation, to borrow a memorable phrase from the apostle Paul, “has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:22).  In this regard, the natural disasters we experience are anything but natural.  Instead, they are a result of an alien sinfulness first thrust onto the world by our forbearers, Adam and Eve.  Thus, nature doesn’t like these disasters any more than we do.  Natural disasters are painful to nature, just as they are to us.

With all of this being said, Christianity also doesn’t just wag its finger ignominiously at the sinfulness in humanity for causing the suffering of humanity.  Christianity teaches that God is in the midst of suffering.  At the heart of Christianity is the cross – an agent not only of deep suffering, but of cruel torture.  Christianity teaches that God came into suffering through His Son and endured the ultimate suffering as He bore the sins of the world in His death.  Though we may not have all the answers to why God allows suffering, we do have a promise that God is deeply familiar with suffering.  He suffers with us.

When Moses receives the Ten Commandments on top Mount Sinai, the scene looks downright volcanic: “The mountain…blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness” (Deuteronomy 4:11).  The Israelites at the base of the mountain who saw what was happening on the mountain, understandably, “trembled with fear” (Exodus 20:18).  And yet, for all the fear Sinai’s violent eruption may have caused in the people who saw it, Deuteronomy also reminds us that “the LORD spoke…out of the fire” (Deuteronomy 4:12).  Sinai may have been spewing fire and ash, but God was there, speaking His words to His people.

Kilauea is not Sinai.  I highly doubt anyone will come striding down Kilauea after its eruption with a couple of stone tablets in hand.  And yet, just as God was present with the Israelites camping in the shadow Sinai, God is also present with the Hawaiians living in the shadow of Kilauea.  And the words that He spoke at Sinai to Israel, He still speaks to us today: “I am the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:2). God still invites us to be His people so He can love us as His children.  Of this, every Hawaiian – and every person – can be assured.

May 14, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

You Don’t Want To Be Number One

"Moses with the Tablets of the Law" by Rembrandt, 1659 Credit: Wikipedia

“Moses with the Tablets of the Law” by Rembrandt, 1659
Credit: Wikipedia

Idolatry is rampant in our society.  And this is no surprise.  After all, people have loved to worship, serve, and trust in gods of their own making for millennia now.  From money to sex to power to education to an obsession with whatever rights we think we’re supposed to have, we have no shortage of gods on hand and in our hearts.  And idolatry begins when we are young.

I remember a chapel service I conducted for a childcare center at the church I used to serve.  I was talking to the kids about the First Commandment, which I paraphrased like this:  “God is number one.”  It was with this paraphrase that I heard a little two year old voice pipe up from the back of the room:  “No!” the voice protested, “I’m number one!”  I was taken aback.  So I tried to clarify:  “You are special and important,” I said, “But God is number one.  He’s number one over everything.”  The voice, however, wasn’t buying it.  “No!  I’m number one!” it fired back.

By the end of my chapel message, it was almost comical.  Whenever I said, “God is number one,” this little voice would respond, “No!  I’m number one!”  It seems the idolatrous desire to take God’s place is ingrained in us from the earliest of years.

Martin Luther comments on the First Commandment:

Now this is the work of the First Commandment, which enjoins, “Thou shalt have no other gods.” This means, “Since I alone am God, thou shalt place all thy confidence, trust, and faith in Me alone and in no one else.”[1]

I love how Luther describes the spirit of the First Commandment not in terms of obedience, but in terms of faith.  In the First Commandment, Luther explains, God invites us to trust in Him rather than in the idols we make for ourselves.  Why?  Because the idols we make for ourselves take from us, hurt us, and condemn us. The true God, however, gives to us, blesses us, and saves us.  Idols pain us.  The true God comforts us.

The pain of idolatry becomes especially acute when the idols we make for ourselves happen to be ourselves.  When we are our own gods, we are inevitably left disparaging and hating ourselves, for we fail ourselves and find that we are not the kinds of gods we need ourselves to be.

The First Commandment, then, is not just a dictate, but a promise – a promise that we do not have to worry about running everything as number one gods.  The real God already has that number one spot – and all the responsibility and peril that comes with it – covered.  So don’t just obey the First Commandment, have faith in the One who issues it.  For it is only by faith that this commandment is kept.


[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 44, J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 30.

October 14, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments

The Exodus Belongs To Jesus

“The Israelites Leaving Egypt” by David Roberts (1830)

One of the things for which I am deeply grateful is the hard work of New Testament textual scholars who search out and study ancient copies of biblical manuscripts, comparing and contrasting their little differences, in order to try to discern what the oldest, best, and, hopefully, original reading of a biblical text may have been.  The standard for wading through the myriad of texts out there for pastors and scholars alike is the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece.  Your English Bible, if it is of recent translation, is more than likely based on this Greek text.

When I was in seminary, Nestle-Aland’s Greek New Testament was on its twenty-seventh edition.  Recently, the twenty-eighth addition hit the presses.  And though there are many notable changes and improvements, one change rises above the rest.  It is in Jude 5.  The NIV translates the verse this way:  “I want to remind you that the Lord delivered His people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.”  Here, Jude hearkens back to God’s rescue of His people out of Egypt as well as their unfortunate subsequent destruction because of their rebellion.  He references the exodus to warn his readers against those “who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4).

Interestingly, there has been a fair amount of dispute over the text of Jude 5.  The NIV translates it according to the preferred reading of Nestle-Aland’s twenty-seventh edition.  But the twenty-eighth edition makes an important change:  “I want to remind you that Jesus delivered His people out of Egypt.”  Rather than having “the Lord,” a title for God generically, deliver His people out of Egypt as the NIV translates it, the twenty-eighth edition of Nestle-Aland says this verse should read that it was Jesus specifically who led the people out of Egypt.  Bruce Metzger, a world renowned textual scholar, notes that “critical principles seem to require the adoption of ‘Jesus,’ which admittedly is the best attested reading among Greek and versional witnesses.”[1]

The change from “the Lord” to “Jesus” is of inestimable significance, for it gives us an important window into the way first century Christians understood God’s work in Christ.  Christ was no one new when He was born in Bethlehem; rather, He was older than creation itself.  Indeed, He was active in creation itself (cf. John 1:1-3).  And He has been active throughout the course of redemptive history, long before His incarnation.

Thus, wherever there is rescue, wherever there is salvation, wherever there is freedom, wherever there is hope – be that in the Old Testament or in the New Testament – there is Christ.  Christ is present and active throughout all of Scripture.  Christ led the charge out of slavery in Egypt for the Israelites and He leads the charge out of slavery in sin for us.  Jude 5 says so.


[1] Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the New Testament, 3rd ed. (New York:  United Bible Societies, 1971), 726.

November 26, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,038 other followers


%d bloggers like this: