Exodus 1:10 | Unselfishly Shrewd

Wisdom is usually thought of as a good thing but wisdom can also be abused. The word I would use to describe wisdom abused is “shrewd”. A shrewd manager for example would be someone that is a smart manager but maybe uses that smartness to an unfair advantage. Shrewd brings with it a hint of the devious. The book definition of shrewdness is good judgement that results in an advantage so my definition is too narrow. Shrewd can be a good advantage as well as a devious advantage. The Egyptian King in Exodus chapter one makes a judgment based in the devious shrewdness.

10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with [the Hebrews] or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” Exodus 1:10 ESV

These people living in Egypt have grown in number and the king has become afraid of what damage they could cause if war broke out. That is a reasonable fear for a king to think about but the second half of his thought betrays his greed to keep the Israelites when he says he does not want them to “leave the country”. Because of this desire to keep them as a benefit to his society the author states that the king wanted to deal shrewdly with them.

The result is that the king came up with a plan of selfish advantage. That plan specifically was to require the midwives to secretly kill any baby boys as they are born. That would be a very shrewd plan indeed. Fortunately, it was not executed very well.

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” 20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. Exodus 1:19-20 ESV

While the king wanted to be shrewd the midwives in response were also shrewd and responded with a lie to cover their own rebellion against his order. The midwives used wise judgment (including lies) toward an advantage. Where the king was acting in selfish advantage the midwives acted in unselfish disadvantage. Their lie could have cost them their jobs or even their lives to do the right moral thing. Because of that unselfish act God blessed the midwives.

While shrewdness seems negative on the face it is not always the case which brings me to a command from Jesus to the disciples that has always been intriguing to me. Jesus commands the disciples to be shrewd but he explains the principle used by the midwives in Exodus.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. Matthew 10:16-17 ESV

The power structure was out to get Jesus (evidenced by his crucifixion on trumped up charges) and Jesus tells the disciples to be smart in their interactions with kings and rulers. Shrewd as snakes is clearly descriptive of the Egyptian king. If he was afraid of the Israelites rising up but still wanted their service in his land then secretly killing boys would qualify as being shrewd as snakes.

Yet look at the second half what Jesus told the disciples. Jesus asked them to also be as innocent as doves and this idea is perfectly represented by the midwives and their actions to defend against the evil request of the king. They lied to the king in an unselfish disadvantage. They took a risk to be shrewd yet they did it innocently. Christ sends his sheep into the world to share the good news that Jesus will restore for us the relationship with our Creator. The good news is that Jesus saves. It is my charge from Jesus to be shrewd about how I interact with those that are hostile. But the shrewdness Jesus demands must be innocent and unselfish toward all.

Judges 3:7 | Lustful Passion and Dead Children

forgot

After reaching the Promised Land the people of Israel abandoned God for the temporary and lustful pleasures that the other people groups around them had to offer. Forgotten are the god’s of Egypt they had found new god’s to worship.

7 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Judges 3:7 ESV

Baal and Asheroth are a male and female divinity of the people that lived in the Promised Land before Israel. They are the god’s of that land and in effect the god’s of Israeli’s enemies. It is interesting how quickly the unholy surrounding culture seems to capture the imagination of the newly arrived Jewish peoples to the land. Within a generation these god’s were a trap that would plague the people of Israel until they too are driven from the land like they were commanded to do to the original peoples. These people that God judged and wanted displaced were not innocent occupants. These people were rebellious and evil before God. Looking at how Israel adopts their culture is proof of God’s justification to remove them from the land not unlike when He sent the flood that destroyed everyone except Noah. The Prophet Jeremiah more than 600 years later is telling the Nation of Israel that because of their evil God will destroy the nation and that their judgment had arrived just as it had for the peoples before them.

4 Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, 5 and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind— 6 therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. 7 And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem, and will cause their people to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of those who seek their life. I will give their dead bodies for food to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the earth. 8 And I will make this city a horror, a thing to be hissed at. Everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its wounds. 9 And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress, with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.’ Jeremiah 19:4-9 ESV

God is patient but the evil lived out by those serving false god’s is too much for God’s good character and justice to remain silent. Sacrificing children to an idol is a horrifying path of selfish evil and lest the reader think they are above such “primitive and barbaric” practices look to our own contemporary culture where children are sacrificed through abortion in the millions every year at the altar of convenience, rebellion, and sex. Nothing really changes when it comes to the nature of people.

The difference between the nation of Israel in the future and the newly formed nation of Israel is that this earlier generation repented and returned to God when they needed help.

9 But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. 10 The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. 11 So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died. Judges 3:9-11

While Caleb’s nephew, Othniel, was blessed by God and a worthy leader the remembrance and service to God by the people of Israel only lasts the remainder of his life. As noted in Judges 2 Godly leadership is a benefit to a nation however it does not have the power to change the hearts of individuals. After he dies the people returned to their rebellion and another Judge empowered by God will be needed.

One of the most amazing and powerful glimpses into God’s perspective that demonstrates God’s vision, plans, mercy, and grace is reviled to Elijah who as being hunted by Israelites who were also the servants of Baal. Paul recounts the event in his letter to the Romans.

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. Romans 11:1-5 ESV

The world may seem crazy and those that worship the gods of money, sex, and power in this land may seem to be everywhere but know that God is in control, God knows who His children are, and know that God has grace for those He is keeping from serving such evil.

Who will you serve? Who do you serve now? I pray reader that you would evaluate the priorities and the passions that you serve. If they do not come from God then you are no better off or more sophisticated than those of the past that served the Baals and the Asheroth.

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:19-24 ESV