Don’t even think about it, Acts 7:39-43
“39 “But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ 41 That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and reveled in what their own hands had made. 42 But God turned away from them and gave them over to the worship of the sun, moon and stars. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets: “‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
43 You have taken up the tabernacle of Molek
and the star of your god Rephan,
the idols you made to worship.
Therefore I will send you into exile’ beyond Babylon.” NIV
Keith Green made a gospel album entitled ‘So you wanna go back to Egypt?’
There is a telling phrase in verse 39: ‘’…in their hearts…’’ they ‘’turned back to Egypt.’’ Probably many of us will relate to this, even if we’ve only fondly looked back for a moment. Sooner or later we will discover that we were wrong. Remember what happened to Lot’s wife when she turned her gaze back towards Sodom. And consider the words of Jesus that anyone who puts his hand to the plough, and looks back, is not fit for the Kingdom.
Although it was obvious that God was with Moses; when he was up the mountain receiving the law, the people asked Aaron to make them an idol, and they worshiped it! There is a warning in these words to anyone who even momentarily fondles the idea of backsliding – of returning to ‘Egypt’. Here it is: if you give God up for idols, He will give you up to the fruits of your choice (see also Romans 1:18ff) When you turn away from God to other gods there is always a ‘’Therefore…’’ (43b).
So if you find yourself similarly tempted, don’t even think about it!
Prayer: Help me Lord to keep my eyes looking forward, fixed on you. You have brought me out of the land of slavery. Enable me to firmly set my eyes on the prize. ‘I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.’
The prophet like Moses, Acts 7:37
“37 “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.” NIV
Centuries before Christ, Moses delivered a remarkable prophecy about the Lord Jesus (Deuteronomy 18:15). How do we know Moses was speaking about our Lord? Because Peter has already made this specific connection in (3:22). In fact, in his sermon, Peter added other words from Deuteronomy 18:15 and 19, which are not quoted by Stephen, but maybe they are inferred. The prophet like Moses is to be listened to. It is a very serious matter indeed to disregard His words.
Stephen’s sermon shows how again and again, in the history of Israel, God’s messengers were rejected – right through to Christ Himself (51-53).
Today, we face the same challenge. What is our attitude towards Jesus? Will we listen to Him?
PRAYER: Lord, I can be so self-willed; far too quick to speak, and way too slow to listen. Help me, please, to give you my full attention.
Acts 7:35- 38: Things can change!
“35 “This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness. 37 “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ 38 He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us. “NIV
Things can change!
Given time and space, things can change (35). Just wait for God. He can turn things around in remarkable ways. This ‘’same Moses’’ who had been rejected as a leadership candidate forty years earlier, suddenly found himself leader anyway. It was always God’s purpose; but now it was also God’s way and time. Earlier, Moses had attempted to lead in his own way and time, and it had proved disastrous, as when Abraham attempted to produce the child of promise by his own efforts. But the hour struck. Moses returned to Egypt with a definitive answer to their question: ‘’Who made you ruler and judge? He was sent…by God himself…’’ (35)
The reading goes on to say: ‘’He led them out of Egypt…’’(36). At one time his leadership was in question. But now, authorised and empowered by God, he did it. If God calls you, he will equip you, and although people may question your ability, or whether they actually want you, you will ‘deliver the goods’ because the Lord will cause it to happen.
Don’t lose heart. Things can change! Give God time.
A potted gospel, Acts 7:34:
“34 I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.”NIV
The rescue (redemption from Egypt) prefigured the deliverance Jesus was to achieve at the cross. It was an anticipation and foreshadowing of it. Here are four statements that encapsulate the gospel – the good news about Jesus:
‘’I have…seen…I have heard…I have come down…I will send…’’
God saw the desperate need of the human race in its estrangement from Him through sin. He heard the audible and silent cries of broken hearts (even though we broke ourselves by breaking his laws). He quite literally came down in Jesus, in the incarnation, to liberate us He went to all that trouble, out of sheer love.. Now He sends His church; His people; His ambassadors, to the world with the message of this rescue operation so that many may enter into its benefits.
When we think of all that God has done to rescue lost mankind, let’s not fail in our part to go and tell.
‘’If not us, who? If not now, when?’’
Getting a closer look, Acts 7:30-33:
30 ‘After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. 31 When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to get a closer look, he heard the Lord say: 32 “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look. 33 ‘Then the Lord said to him, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.
‘’As he he went over to get a closer look, he heard the Lord say…’’ (31). Sometimes you become acutely aware that God is wanting to get your attention. Initially, you may not know what it’s about, but you sense that there is something you need to understand, even though you can’t quite get a handle on it at the moment. It may literally be a sight in nature that grabs your attention. Every common bush is ablaze with the glory of God, if we can but see it. All creation points to Him (Psalm 19/Romans 1:19, 20). It is, in one sense, all ‘’holy ground’’. I remember a pastor saying that he’d recently put up a bird feeder in the garden opposite where he sat and had his ‘quiet time’. He told how he’d learned so much watching those little birds. As in the title of a John Stott book, the birds had been his teachers. Then, there can be seasons where you feel that, while it is important to read the whole Bible, you just have to ‘camp out’ for a time in one particular passage. The Lord seems to say so much to you through it every time you turn to it. It could even be a single verse that grabs you forcibly and refuses to let go. For a long time, as I prayed for our church on a Saturday evening, I felt I had to stay in Isaiah 60. The themes in it became the content of my requests. It somehow seemed ‘prophetic’ for us at the time, and in after years I could see at least some of these prayers being answered.
When you come to that place where you sense God has something to say to you, it is important that, like Moses, you position yourself to get a closer look. As Lent approaches, maybe you might consider showing your hunger for God in a material, tangible way: ‘Lord, what are you saying to me?’ ‘What is this change I feel in the air?’ ‘Please speak to me; make your way clear. I am ready to do your will.’ Lent can be just a religious tradition for many, I know. But how powerful might these next few weeks be in the lives of those who genuinely pant after God? Seek Him with all your heart and you’ll find Him. Draw near to Him and He’ll draw near to you. But never take an encounter with God lightly. He’s truly is ‘awesome’ – a word which is too frequently and lightly used today.
Take a closer look… and remember, this is holy ground.
PRAYER: Lord, make my life like that bush – so ordinary in one way, and yet supernaturally burning, and burning on. May people turn aside to see this miraculous fire you have lit, and meet with you. Please use me for your glory.
What’s the hurry? Acts 7:30:
30 ‘After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai.
It takes time to paint a masterpiece. How long was Leonardo da Vinci at work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? It cost him time, and much more in the process. Great art is not the work of five minutes. In Ephesians 2:10a Paul writes: ‘’For we are God’s workmanship…’’ I believe the word used in the original is ‘poem’. It points to a beautiful composition; a work of art. But God takes time over His ‘originals’.
We see this in the story of Moses. Forty years is a long period, but God will take the time to break His leaders of self-reliance and self-confidence; to purge and to prepare them. They will not be perfect, even after extended and intensive treatment. Reading the full account of Moses shows this. But they will be ready for their work. It seems to me that noise, distraction and hurry are three major weapons our enemy successfully employs today – both in the world and against the church.
The Christian life requires that ‘fruit of the Spirit’ which is ‘patience’. We will regularly find ourselves waiting for God.
I noticed recently that the BBC are showing a remake of the drama series ‘Roots’. When the book was first published, it was phenomenally successfully. Just as the first TV series was about to be shown – probably 40 years or more ago – the book’s author, Alex Haley, was interviewed and asked, ‘What is the secret of its success?’ I seem to remember that he replied like this: ‘I don’t really know, but I do remember something my grandmother said. She said, ‘’You never know when the Lord’s gonna come; but He’s always on time.’’ ‘
PRAYER: Lord, I sometimes inwardly complain about how long I’ve been on this wheel. But I know I need to thank you for the time you are taking over me; for the personal attention you are giving me, as you form me with your own Hands into the vessel you want me to be.
‘You know what thought did!’ Acts 7:20-29:
20 ‘At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for by his family. 21 When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. 22 Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. 23 ‘When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites. 24 He saw one of them being ill-treated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defence and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. 25 Moses thought that his own people would realise that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. 26 The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, “Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?” 27 ‘But the man who was ill-treating the other pushed Moses aside and said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? 28 Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?” 29 When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons.
There are three give away phrases in this potted biography of Moses. They are:
‘’…he decided…Moses thought…He tried…’’ (23, 25 and 26).
Of course, it is not wrong to make decisions. The Bible is filled with stories of people who decided to do certain things, or to not do other things. The more we read God’s Book, the more we will want to make wise choices; and the greatest decision we all face is whether we will accept or reject the Lord Jesus Christ. Neither is it a bad thing to think. There is a vast array of teaching in Scripture about the proper use of the mind. It is, indeed, possible and necessary that we should endeavour to cultivate a Christian mind. Nor is God’s Word against trying. For example, the book of Proverbs condemns laziness and commends diligence – as exemplified in the work ethic of the ant.
…to just decide without reference to God…
…to think without seeking His wisdom…
…to try without relying on the power of the Holy Spirit…
This is not the way we’re meant to live. It is possible to be a Christian but live as a practical atheist – just making your own decisions, thinking your own thoughts and trying in your own strength. Think about what happened to Abraham when he tried to do God’s work (produce the child of promise) by his own fleshly efforts. Someone said to me recently that we shouldn’t assume. ‘To assume’ they said, ‘is to make an ass of u and me.’ Moses’ assumptions collided with reality, and He came off worse. Yet God used his failure to make him into the man/leader He wanted him to be. You may be brilliant – gifted and talented – as Moses clearly was (20-22), but if you are to fulfil God’s purpose for your life you will need to be broken of self-reliance and self-confidence. God will see that this happens, even if it takes years.
PRAYER: Lord forgive me for all the things I think and do without reference to you. Help me to submit all my thoughts and plans and ways – my everything – to you. I would not live in my own strength.
Waiting for God, Acts 7:17:
17 ‘As the time drew near for God to fulfil his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had greatly increased.
Here are 4 things that struck me in this verse:
God keeps His promises. Even though a long time may elapse between the giving of the promise and its fulfilment, God is always as good as His Word;
Church growth will come about in God’s timing. All of us who are eagerly praying for growth must hold on to the truth that our prayers will be answered in God’s way and time;
This great growth – a ‘population explosion’ (Exodus 1) – began small. It started with just one man. The growth continues today. Even if your local church is small, know that you are part of something immeasurably big. You do not belong to a weak and dying organisation, whatever the cynics might say;
The growth came out of pain. Think of all that Joseph went through before this could happen; the injustice of his treatment at the hands of his brothers, and later on in Potiphar’s house. Call to mind his time languishing in prison when it seemed he was forgotten. Your suffering may seem senseless, and lonely, but who can say what great purpose God may be working out? One person’s pain may lead to kingdom advancement and church growth.