Striking the striker—Exodus 3:20

God enacts justice, though mercifully tempered by his restraint. God had not punished the oppressors’ injustice immediately, but now his impatience was coming to an end. Harsh taskmasters struck God’s people (Exod 2:11; 5:14, 16); Moses had struck an oppressor in retaliation (2:12), but in an act of virtual futility against the greater might of Pharaoh. Now, however, the Lord himself will strike his people’s oppressors (3:20).

Through Moses’s staff, God “strikes” the Nile (7:17, 20, 25) and the earth (to produce an insect plague, 8:16-17). God sends hail to “strike” whatever is in the field (9:25, 31-2), and ultimately will strike down the firstborn of people and animals, striking the land (12:12-13, 29). But for his mercy, however, God could have struck them much harder than he did, destroying all the people from the face of the earth (9:15).

God will strike the oppressors with “wonders” (3:20), the sort of language in Hebrew that applies also to Sarah bearing a child (Gen 18:14), drowning Pharaoh’s army (Exod 15:11 in context), and other works to come (34:10).

But God was not just about striking. God will also give the people favor (Exod 3:21; 11:3; 12:36) with the Egyptians, just as he did for Joseph (Gen 39:4, 21; 50:4). Thus they would not leave Egypt “empty-handed” (Exod 3:21), just as God did not let Laban send away Jacob “empty-handed” after his years of toil (Gen 31:42), and just as Israel’s law later prohibited sending away former servants “empty-handed” (Deut 15:13).

Instead, they would “plunder” the Egyptians (Exod 3:22; 12:36)! (The term more often means “deliver,” but it also can often mean “snatch away”; here they are relieving their former oppressors from some of their possessions.) Egypt had achieved much of its wealth on the backs of slaves; now the slaves were about to get remuneration.

The Israelites plunder Egypt without fighting; they have the “favor” of the Egyptian people, who voluntarily recognize that the Israelites have been unjustly exploited but are now defended by their God. Nevertheless, “plundering” or “snatching” goods is what one normally does after battle. The oppression began because Pharaoh falsely assumed that the Israelites might war against him (1:10). Pharaoh’s unjust action, however, ultimately precipitates the very judgment it sought to evade!

God is patient, but he is also just. Some people today charge the God portrayed in these narratives as impatient and brutal; sometimes the same people deny that a God could exist in this world of injustice. God has been patient with their own unjust characterizations of him. But for them, and for other wrongdoers who refuse to change, a day of justice will come.

(For other posts on Exodus, see http://www.craigkeener.com/category/old-testament/exodus/.)

Nabeel Qureshi’s Passing and Hope

I have been praying hard for my friend Nabeel Qureshi ever since I learned of his stage 4 stomach cancer. Nabeel was so humble and a persistent and honest seeker after truth. Nabeel was also in the prime of life and health, and unlike some of us who are older, I thought, he should have decades of fruitful ministry ahead of him. I saw the cancer as an attack on his ministry that was so strategic. The survival rate for stage 4 stomach cancer is one out of 25 (4 percent) after five years, and most do not survive the first year; but those statistics are descriptive rather than prescriptive and need not limit our prayers.

Today I learned that Nabeel passed away at age 34, after over a year with the cancer.

The news is heartbreaking to all of us who loved and respected him, and sometimes things don’t make sense from our mortal perspectives.

Nevertheless, for myself and for others who are mourning, there are some things we can say for sure:

  • Nabeel touched more people in his fairly short life than most of us get to touch in a long one. God used him greatly, both to testify about the truth of Christ and to teach us Christians a much deeper love for Muslims.
  • Nabeel’s passing is NOT due to any failure of faith or lack of prayer. Vast numbers of people prayed faithfully for him; in my own case, in the past months his healing has been my most consistent prayer. Some were fasting a day each week. Some of those who prayed for him in person have seen equally incurable cases cured through prayer and experienced visible miracles—just not this time (in the hoped-for way).
  • Nabeel himself kept his lively trust in God to the end, even if, at the end, it became clear that this would not mean healing. His faithfulness in the face of death is itself a testimony for all of us who, one way or another, will also face death if the Lord tarries. Faith is not just faith that God will say Yes; faith is trusting God’s plan even when He says No.
  • All of us as believers in Jesus share the same ultimate hope. We will be reunited with Nabeel, and others, at the resurrection.
  • Each of us has our place in God’s plan, and ultimately the gates of death will not prevail against the church (Matt 16:18). That is, when God allows any of us to be taken, it does not stop God’s work. It just means we get to rest from ours (Rev 14:13).
  • The prayers will not be wasted. God sees our hearts and will still achieve his purposes.

Although this is incidental to the point, Nabeel had shared times when someone prayed for him and he had a special experience with the Spirit or even a temporary relief from the suffering. That is, God was hearing the prayers all along. Even though God has said No in this case, there is a bigger Yes in the long run. Nabeel’s labor has ended, but may the legacy of his work be multiplied a million times over in this generation.

Discussion about holiness, sanctification

Paul Moldovan asked me some questions about the meaning of sanctification for his blog, and this prompted me to think about the subject.

My answer about the meaning of “sanctification” starts like this:

I might prefer the translation “consecrate,” since there is less theological-historical baggage attached. The term means “set apart” for ritual purposes; in biblical usage this especially means set apart from what is profane for exclusively holy use. By Christ’s sacrificial death for us, God has consecrated us, or set us apart, as “saints” (literally, “the consecrated ones”) for his exclusive use. We belong to him. Now, what are the implications of this? If we are “saints” in Christ—i.e., those consecrated to Christ—we ought to live wholly for his purposes, not for our own or others.

The written interview as a whole is posted here:

https://overthinkingchristian. com/2017/08/27/what-is- sanctification-anyway-craig- keener-responds/

God’s scary promises—Exodus 3:18-19

The Lord was now “visiting” or paying attention to his people (3:16; 4:31), as Joseph had foreseen (13:19; Gen 50:24-25). Scripture also had already used this dramatic language earlier for God enabling Sarah to conceive (21:1). God does not act in equally dramatic ways at all times and in all places, but we must give heed. Sometimes when he has not been acting in a given way in our lives we question whether he has done so anywhere (cf. Judg 6:13; 2 Pet 3:4). Also sometimes when he does act dramatically we are unprepared for this new reality (e.g., Exod 14:12).

Moses himself does not seem particularly enthusiastic about this commission. Asking Pharaoh for a three-day break in the wilderness (3:18) must not sound like a very practical solution, especially when the Lord himself says that Pharaoh will not be readily persuaded (3:19). (That Pharaoh would not let them go [3:19] is fair warning that should prepare them for some difficulties before freedom, but it also would not sound very encouraging.)

A three days’ journey (Exod 3:18; 5:3) would not allow the Israelites to escape Pharaoh’s chariots if Pharaoh pursued. Anyone who knew the story of Jacob’s flight from Laban would recognize that three days was not enough (cf. Gen 30:36) when those fleeing had flocks and small children. Therefore even had Pharaoh granted this request, they could not have escaped his chariots. God thus elaborates his further plans.

For Moses, however, these might sound like merely grandiose plans; Moses has lived through disappointments and might be thinking more of his people’s tribal god at this point than of the universe’s omnipotent creator. That God can take a disillusioned and reluctant servant like Moses and make him a trusting friend of God (33:11) can remind us that there is hope for us. No matter how old or set in our ways or past disappointments we are, the Lord can build us into people of faith with a trusting relationship with him. Happily, God is the initiator; we simply need to respond.

(For other posts on Exodus, see http://www.craigkeener.com/category/old-testament/exodus/.)