Book Review: Be Delivered

The book of Exodus contains some of the most dramatic passages in the Bible: baby Moses being placed in a basket in a river after Pharaoh’s command to kill Israelite male babies and being found and rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter, God speaking from a burning bush, the plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, the golden calf.

But Exodus also contains chapters that seem a little tedious at first, like the instructions for the tabernacle and all its furnishings and the priests’ wardrobe.

A good study Bible like the ESV Study Bible and a short commentary like Warren Wiersbe’s Be Delivered (Exodus): Finding Freedom by Following God help fill out understanding of these passages.

At the end of Genesis, Joseph had brought his family to Egypt to provide for them during the prophesied famine. He knew this people would be returning to their homeland, but evidently he didn’t expect that to happen in his lifetime. He made his family promise to take his bones with them when they went back.

Wiersbe notes that “the Hebrew text of Exodus begins with the word and, for God is continuing the story He started in Genesis” (p. 17). We’re not sure how much time passed before “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8), but by that time all Joseph’s generation had died off (1:6) and the children of Israel had multiplied so much that Pharaoh was afraid they could turn on Egypt. So the Egyptians “ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service” (1:13-14). Pharaoh went so far as to call for the killing of Israel’s male babies.

After Moses’ miraculous deliverance, he got off to a rocky start trying to help his brethren: in trying to save one from a fight, he killed an Egyptian. When he realized his deed was known, he fled, married, and tended sheep for 40 years, until God called to him from a burning bush. After a lot of convincing, Moses answered God’s call to go back to Egypt to deliver Israel from 400 years of slavery.

That process did not go as Moses had thought it would, but God was in control. The plagues sent on Egypt were not random. Each plague countered a god the Egyptians worshiped. God was not just rescuing His people: He was making Himself known as the one true God. There’s evidence that at least some Egyptians came to believe on Him.

After Pharaoh finally let Israel go in defeat, they started a new chapter. Not only did God miraculously deliver them: He wanted to actually dwell among them. He taught them His ways and gave them instructions for building a meeting place.

But, though they had been delivered from Egypt, they still carried Egypt in their hearts. They complained over every little thing and blamed Moses. God was patient with them at first: they had been in Egypt for a long time and needed to become better acquainted with Him and trust Him. Eventually the people made a golden calf to worship while Moses was away receiving God’s law. And God had to deal with that. Moses’ intercession in 32:30-34 and chapter 33 are some of the most touching places in the Bible.

When the people repented, they responded to God’s command and made the tabernacle just as God had instructed. And God’s glory filled the tabernacle.

There’s a lot of symbolism in the different parts of the tabernacle, and that’s one area where study Bibles and commentaries help a lot. Wiersbe’s book had a diagram and the ESV Study Bible had several drawings about what the tabernacle and its parts looked like. Wiersbe went into a lot of detail about what each part represented.

Wiersbe’s overarching theme was freedom: the Israelites needed to be freed from Egypt physically but also in their hearts.

Fools use freedom as a toy to play with; wise people use freedom as a tool to build with (p. 13).

Exodus teaches us that freedom is not license and discipline is not bondage. God tells us how to enjoy mature freedom in His will, a quality that is desperately needed in our churches and in our world today (p. 13).

I have multitudes of places marked, but here are a few other quotes that stood out to me:

God used Israel’s experiences in Egypt to prepare them for the special tasks He gave them to accomplish on earth: bearing witness to the true and living God, writing the Holy Scriptures, and bringing the Savior into the world (p. 18).

The phrase as weak as a baby doesn’t apply in the kingdom of God, for when the Lord wants to accomplish a mighty work, He often starts by sending a baby. This was true when He sent Isaac, Joseph, Samuel, John the Baptist, and especially Jesus. God can use the weakest things to defeat the mightiest enemies (1 Cor. 1: 25–29). A baby’s tears were God’s first weapons in His war against Egypt (p. 21).

What does it mean to harden your heart? It means to see clear evidence of the hand of God at work and still refuse to accept His Word and submit to His will. It means to resist Him by showing ingratitude and disobedience and not having any fear of the Lord or of His judgments. Hardhearted people say with Pharaoh, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice?” (5: 2) (p. 41).

The same sun that melts the ice also hardens the clay. It all depends on the nature of the material (p. 41).

There was one place where I disagreed with Wiersbe. He says of Moses’ famous argument about why he couldn’t do what God commanded in Exodus 3-4 , “Moses was clothing his pride and unbelief in a hollow confession of weakness” (p. 26). I don’t think his claims of weakness were hollow. When Moses left Egypt, he was a wanted man. His misguided attempts to help his brethren had backfired. God didn’t say Moses was wrong when Moses listed his weaknesses. But God promised to be with him and give him everything he needed. I can identify with Moses a lot in these passages and have to lean on the same truth: that it’s through God’s presence and ability that I can accomplish anything for Him.

One aspect I noticed in this trek through Exodus was how Moses grew as a leader from quaking in his boots to confident in God’s working.

Overall I found this commentary very helpful and informative.

Book Review: Be Authentic

Be Authentic (Genesis 25-50): Exhibiting Real Faith in the Real World closes Warren Wiersbe’s trilogy of commentaries on the book of Genesis.

These chapters in Genesis focus primarily on Jacob and his sons, especially Joseph.

Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, were very different personalities. They struggled with each other even in the womb (Genesis 25:22-23), and their parents’ favoritism only fueled the fire.

God had chosen the younger Jacob to be in the line of the family He would use to bless the world rather than Esau, the older. But Jacob and his mother, Rebekah, used that information to manipulate circumstances rather than trusting God to accomplish what He had proclaimed. That brought Jacob’s conflict with Esau to a head, resulting in Jacob fleeing to his mother’s relatives.

There he fell in love and got a taste of his own scheming medicine. The next twenty years were hard, but they helped develop his character. “Little by little, Jacob was learning to submit to God’s loving hand of discipline and was growing in faith and character.”

He had twelve sons, but favored Joseph. Jacob seemed not to have learned about the dangers of parental favoritism from his own situation. “The man who had grown up in a divided an competitive home (25:28) would himself create a divided and competitive family.” Joseph’s brothers, in jealousy and hatred, sold him into slavery, took his special coat that his father had made for him, spread animal’s blood over it, then let Jacob conclude that Joseph was dead.

Though a slave, Joseph seemed to have a talent for administration. But even his master saw that “The LORD was with him, and the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands” (Genesis 39:3). Joseph rose to prominence until he became second only to his master. But then he was lied about and sent to prison. He rose to prominence there as well, and aided two of Pharaoh’s servants. But the one who was restored to his portion forgot Joseph—until Pharaoh had a dream that troubled him, and the servant remembered Joseph had helped him with his dream. So Joseph was called for, interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, gave him sound advice, and once again rose to prominence as the second in the land.

And then one day his brothers showed up in Egypt. But they didn’t recognize him. These chapters are some of the most dramatic in the Bible, keeping me in anticipation even though I have read them before and knew how the story would turn out.

Wiesrbe’s title for this commentary comes from his conclusion that, “In short, they were authentic, real, believable, down-to-earth people. Flawed? Of course! Occasionally bad examples? Certainly! Blessed of God? Abundantly.” These people are an encouragement that God works with and accomplishes His will through flawed individuals.

There were many helpful and instructive things to observe in these chapters. I was blessed to see the changes in some people—Jacob over time, and his son, Judah, especially. But a few things in Joseph’s story particularly stood out to me this time. Because Joseph so often comes out on top even when he’s thrown into dire circumstances, I think we sometimes downplay his suffering. But when he named his sons in reference to his afflictions, it really spoke to my heart:

Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Genesis 41:51-52).

Wiersbe pointed out that Joseph could have become bitter, but instead he maintained his faith in God and kept a tender heart, showing compassion towards others. “Joseph’s sensitive heart was a miracle of God’s grace. For years dead Egyptian idols and the futile worship given to them had surrounded Joseph, yet he had maintained his faith in God and a heart tender toward his own people. He could have hardened his heart by nursing grudges, but he preferred to forgive and leave the past with God (41: 50–52).”

Then, as often as I have pored over the Scriptures about suffering and reconciled myself to the fact that it’s a tool God uses in wisdom and love, I find myself still asking “Why?” sometimes. I wondered why Joseph had to go through all he did when he was one of the “good guys.” But Wiesrbe pointed out that if Joseph had remained at home as the favored son, he might have grown up into a very different kind of person.

A few more quotes from the book:

Being a victorious Christian doesn’t mean escaping the difficulties of life and enjoying only carefree days. Rather, it means walking with God by faith, knowing that He is with us and trusting Him to help us for our good and His glory no matter what difficulties He permits to come our way. The maturing Christian doesn’t pray, “How can I get out of this?” but “What can I get out of this?”

In the life of a trusting Christian, there are no accidents, only appointments.

When God wants to move us, He occasionally makes us uncomfortable and “stirs up the nest” (Deut. 32:11 NIV).

A good beginning doesn’t guarantee a good ending. That’s one of the repeated lessons taught in Scripture, and it’s tragically confirmed in the lives of people like Lot, Gideon, Samson, King Saul, King Solomon, Demas, and a host of others. Let’s add Isaac to that list.

If we obey the Lord only for what we get out of it, and not because He is worthy of our love and obedience, then our hearts and motives are wrong.

With all their weaknesses and faults, the sons of Jacob will carry on the work of God on earth and fulfill the covenant promises God made to Abraham.

Years later, Jacob would lament, “All these things are against me” (v. 36), when actually all these things were working for him (Rom. 8:28).

God’s delays are not God’s denials.

Too many Christian believers today think that God can use only His own people in places of authority, but He can work His will even through unbelieving leaders like Pharaoh, Cyrus (Ezra 1: 1ff.; Isa. 44: 28), Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 25: 9; 27: 6), and Augustus Caesar (Luke 2: 1ff.). 

The only people God can forgive are those who know they’re sinners, who admit it and confess that they can’t do anything to merit or earn God’s forgiveness. Whether it’s the woman at the well (John 4), the tax collector in the tree (Luke 19: 1–10), or the thief on the cross (23: 39–43), all sinners have to admit their guilt, abandon their proud efforts to earn salvation, and throw themselves on the mercy of the Lord.

According to Hebrews 11:13–16, the patriarchs confessed that they were “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” A vagabond has no home; a fugitive is running from home; a stranger is away from home; but a pilgrim is heading home. They had their eyes on the future, the glorious city that God was preparing for them, and they passed that heavenly vision along to their descendants.

One of the major differences between a church and a cult is that cults turn out cookie-cutter followers on an assembly line, while churches model a variety of individual saints on a potter’s wheel.

Martin Luther said it best: This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness; not health but healing; not being but becoming; not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified. (Edwald M. Plass, comp., What Luther Says, vol. 1 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 234–35).

The book of Genesis provides for a rich study. I enjoyed Dr. Wiersbe’s aid on this trek through the book.

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Book Review: Be Obedient

Be Obedient (Genesis 12-25): Learning the Secret of Living by Faith by Warren W. Wiersbe is the second in his three-part commentary on Genesis. These chapters cover the life of Abraham.

Humanity had not had a good track record so far In Genesis: sinning in paradise, murder, drunkenness, immorality, and rebellion. But in His longsuffering, God continued working with man.

In this section, God called Abraham to leave his family, his country, and his idols and go to the land where God sent him. God promised Abraham He would bless him, make his name great, make of him a great nation, and through him bless “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:1-3).

Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were not sinless examples of living by faith. While I am not happy when anyone makes wrong choices, I am encouraged that even towering figures like Abraham were not perfect, and we can confess our sin, be forgiven, pick up, and go one. Abraham and Sarah are both listed in what is sometimes called the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11.

Ultimately, Abraham’s story is about God showing grace and faithfulness and setting aside a line of people through whom the promised Messiah would eventually be born.

In the last chapter, Wiersbe lists several ways “all the nations of the earth” are blessed through Abraham.

  • “Abraham left us a clear witness of salvation through faith.” Romans 15:3: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
  • “Abraham also leaves us the example of a faithful life. James used Abraham to illustrate the importance of proving our faith by our works (James 2:14-26). Wherever Abraham went, he pitched his tent and built his altar, and he let the people of the land know that he was a worshiper of the true and living God.”
  • “From Abraham, we learn how to walk by faith.”
  • “Abraham gave the world the gift of the Jewish nation; and it is through the Jews that we have the knowledge of the true God plus the Word of God and the salvation of God (John 4: 22).”
  • “Finally, because of Abraham, we have a Savior.” Matthew 1:1 begins, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

Here are a few of the other quotes that stood out to me in this book:

Living by faith means obeying God’s Word in spite of feelings, circumstances, or consequences. It means holding on to God’s truth no matter how heavy the burden or how dark the day, knowing that He is working out His perfect plan. It means living by promises and not by expectations.

“The victorious Christian life,” said George Morrison, “is a series of new beginnings.”

God alone is in control of circumstances. You are safer in a famine in His will than in a palace out of His will.

When you disobey the will of God, the only right thing to do is to go back to the place where you left Him and make a new beginning (1 John 1: 9).

God’s remedy for Abraham’s fear was to remind him who He was: “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (Gen. 15: 1). God’s I AM is perfectly adequate for man’s “I am not.”

The Hebrew word translated “believed” means “to lean your whole weight upon.” Abraham leaned wholly on the promise of God and the God of the promise. We are not saved by making promises to God but by believing the promises of God.

In times of testing, it is easy to think only about our needs and our burdens; instead, we should be focusing on bringing glory to Jesus Christ. We find ourselves asking “How can I get out of this?” instead of “What can I get out of this that will honor the Lord?” We sometimes waste our sufferings by neglecting or ignoring opportunities to reveal Jesus Christ to others who are watching us go through the furnace.

Once again, I am indebted to Dr. Wiersbe for his helpful insights.

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