How to Live in a Hostile Environment
Hundreds of thousands of Christians are among those who have fled Iraq and Syria in the midst of Islamic extremism and conflict. Christians face the threat of systematic torture and mass executions. Isis has declared Christianity as the number one enemy.
Millions of Christians live in countries where they are persecuted for their faith. Many governments try to control the growth of the church. Even in traditionally Christian countries, sometimes there is hostility towards vibrant Christianity. Hostility to the people of God is not something new. People are often threatened by success, growth and large numbers.
Perhaps you are facing hostility in your workplace or even in your family because of your faith. The passages today not only highlight the reality of living in a hostile environment, but they also point out how you can survive and thrive in the midst of such hostility.
For the director of music. A psalm of David.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.
Study God’s revelation
God has revealed himself to the whole world through creation. David says that when you look at the universe it is obvious that there is a God: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge’ (vv.1–2).
Francis Collins, acting science advisor to the US President and, renowned physicist-geneticist noted for his service for twelve years as the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project, a team of over 2000 scientists who collaborated to determine the three billion letters in the human genome – our own DNA instruction book. He said, ‘I cannot see how nature could have created itself. Only a supernatural force that is outside of space and time could have done that.’
God’s revelation in creation is available to everyone. No one is excluded from this. ‘There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world’ (vv.3–4).
As we look at the world we see God’s footprint – ‘his eternal power and divine nature’ (Romans 1:20). Yet, although God has revealed himself to the entire world, much of it remains hostile to him.
Take time to study God’s creation and thank him for who he is and enjoy all the beautiful things God has made.
The Plot Against Jesus
26 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. 5 “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”
Jesus Anointed at Bethany
6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus
14 Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot —went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
The Last Supper
17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.
20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”
22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”
23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”
Jesus answered, “You have said so.”
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Understand God’s solution
Have you ever been falsely accused or betrayed by a friend? Have you had people plotting against you? Or have you ever experienced some other form of personal hostility? Jesus experienced all these things.
God has revealed himself in creation. However, his supreme revelation is in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.
God himself has come to be part of this hostile world to do something about it. In this passage we see a glimpse of God’s solution, which he achieved through coming in the person of his Son Jesus. Yet the world was hostile even to Jesus.
We should not be surprised by the world’s hostility to Jesus and to Christians today. Jesus knew he would be ‘handed over to be crucified’ (v.2). The chief priests and elders ‘plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him’ (v.4).
Jesus says to the Twelve, ‘One of you is going to hand me over to the conspirators’ (v.21, MSG).
When a woman came to Jesus ‘with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head’ (v.7), even the disciples regarded what was done for Jesus as a ‘waste’ (v.8).
There is something deeply moving about this incident. Jesus is given for us. The cost is beyond anything we can ever imagine, and his death is imminent. A jar of expensive perfume is only fitting, and yet the disciples are fussing about waste.
Most people understand your works of social action (for example, in response to poverty) but they find it harder to understand your worship of Jesus and all the things associated with it. They regard these things as a ‘waste’ and think that surely there is a better use of your time and money (v.9), but Jesus sees things differently: ‘She has done a beautiful thing to me’ (v.10). She showed her extravagant love for Jesus.
What people will do for money! Judas waited for an opportunity to hand Jesus over for ‘thirty silver coins’ (v.15). How painful this must have been for Jesus! Judas was one of his closest ‘friends’; one of the inner circle of twelve he had chosen. He knew – ‘one of you will betray me’ (v.21).
Yet Jesus in his extraordinary love, dies for them all. During a meal together, he begins to explain the meaning of his death. He explains through the breaking of the bread and drinking of wine that his blood is to be ‘poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (v.28). Jesus’ answer to a hostile world was to be crucified in order to make forgiveness and redemption possible.
Every time you receive communion, you are reminded both of the hostility of the world towards Jesus and of his love for that same world.
The Israelites Oppressed
1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; 3 Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; 4 Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. 5 The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.
6 Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, 7 but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.
8 Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labour, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
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. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
The Birth of Moses
2 Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, 2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”
8 “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
Moses Flees to Midian
11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12 Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?”
14 The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.”
15 When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well. 16 Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock.
18 When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?”
19 They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.”
20 “And where is he?” Reuel asked his daughters. “Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat.”
21 Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. 22 Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom, saying, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land.”
23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
Moses and the Burning Bush
3 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey —the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain. ”
13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers —the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob —has sent me to you.’
“This is my name forever,
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation.
16 “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob —appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’
18 “The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.
21 “And I will make the Egyptians favourably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed. 22 Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so you will plunder the Egyptians.”
Know who God is
Moses asked God, ‘Who am I, that I should go?’ God replied by telling him who He is. In the end, the answer to all our questions and problems is not to be found in who we are but in who God is.
If you asked a Jew in the first century who was the greatest person whom ever lived, they would have replied, without doubt: ‘Moses’. He was the supreme figure in their history. He rescued them from slavery into a life of freedom. He gave them the law. The book of Exodus presents us with the constitution of a new nation and introduces us to the man who was responsible for it.
A ‘new king’ came to power who ‘did not know about Joseph’ (1:8). The ‘new king’ was ignorant of the fact that Joseph had saved Egypt. The government quickly forgot the good that the people of God had done in the past. They started to oppress them ‘ruthlessly’ with forced labour (vv.11–14). They cried for help and ‘God heard their groaning’ (2:24).
People have tried throughout history to get rid of God’s people – but it has never worked. ‘The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread’ (1:12). Even today, when the church is persecuted and oppressed, it often multiplies and spreads.
Moses was Pharaoh’s adopted grandson – a powerful prince. Money, sex and power would have been at Moses’ disposal in abundance. But he chose to endure hostility instead. He obeyed God’s call and chose to identify himself with God’s people – a group of people whom those with an upbringing like Moses’ would have regarded with contempt, a slave nation.
Through the lens of the New Testament, we see that Moses ‘chose to be ill-treated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward’ (Hebrews 11:25–26).
It was not an easy choice to make. However, in the end he obeyed God’s call and took on a hostile world.
At the heart of his obedience was the recognition of who God is. God revealed himself in various ways to Moses, and promised, ‘I will be with you’ (Exodus 3:12). The revelation of his name was particularly significant, as names were understood as a declaration of a person’s character or nature: God reveals himself as, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (v.14). The only way in which God can be fully described is with reference to himself.
This name declares the unique greatness and eternal nature of our God. This name (in a contracted form) then becomes the name by which God is known throughout the rest of the Old Testament. In Hebrew it is Yahweh, normally translated into English as ‘the LORD’. Moses’ subsequent obedience to God was rooted in his understanding of who God is.
In effect, God tells Moses not to worry about the hostility he will face. All that matters is that ‘I AM WHO I AM’ is with him. He is sufficient for all your fears, anxieties and challenges.
Jesus said, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am!’ (John 8:58). The great, eternal and sufficient ‘I AM’, has drawn near to us in Jesus and he has promised to be with you (Matthew 28:20). When you know ‘I AM WHO I AM’ is with you, you can relax and be at peace.
Moses owed his life (among other people) to five brave women:
Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives, defied Pharaoh and saved the lives of hundreds of male babies.
Moses’ sister (Miriam) acted cleverly in fetching Moses’ own mother to nurse him when he was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter in the reeds.
Moses’ mother passed on great faith to her three children (Moses, Aaron and Miriam).
And most surprisingly of all, Pharaoh’s daughter had compassion on Moses and she rescued him and took him in as her own.
Verse of the Day
'I will be with you.'
Sign up now to receive Bible in One Year in your inbox each morning. You’ll get one email each day.
Subscribe and listen to Bible in One Year delivered to your favourite podcast app everyday.
Francis Collins, The Language of God, (Simon & Schuster UK, 2007), p.67.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.