My father wanted to go to Russia before he died. We went there on holiday as a family. At that time Bibles were strictly illegal in the Soviet Union. I took with me some Russian Bibles. While I was there I went to churches and looked for people who seemed to be genuine Christians. (Church meetings were often infiltrated by the KGB.)
On one occasion, I followed a man down the street after a service. I went up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. There was nobody about. I took out one of my Bibles and handed it to him. For a moment, he had an expression of utmost disbelief. Then he took from his pocket a New Testament, which was probably 100 years old. The pages were so threadbare they were virtually transparent. When he realised that he had received a whole Bible, he was elated. He didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any Russian. But we hugged each other and he started to run up and down the street jumping for joy.
The words of God are ‘more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb’ (Psalm 19:10).
Why are the words of God so precious? Jesus said: ‘People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4). The original expression means ‘is continually coming out of the mouth of God’; it is like a stream pouring forth and, like the stream of a fountain, it is never static. God is continually communicating with us. He does so, primarily, through the life-changing words of the Bible.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is pure,
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.
10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
11 By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Let the words of God transform you
We all need the transforming power of God’s words in so many ways. Whether you are seeking wisdom in stressful and complex situations, encouragement when you are downhearted, or guidance on the way forward, you can find help in the pages of the Bible.
David did not have nearly as much of the Bible as you have. But he did have ‘the law’, ‘the statutes’, ‘the precepts’ and ‘the ordinances’ of the Lord (vv.7a–9b).
He described these words as being ‘perfect’ (v.7a), ‘pure’ (v.9a) and ‘precious’ (v.10a).
In this psalm, we see some of the life-changing effects of reading the Bible. It:
- Revives your soul (v.7a)
- Brings you wisdom (v.7b)
- Gives joy to your heart (v.8a)
- Gives light to your eyes (v.8b)
- Warns you of danger (v.11a)
- Brings you great reward (v.11b).
Reading the Bible and praying are very closely associated. Don’t simply read the Bible for information, but to hear God speaking to you. The natural response to that is prayer. It is a two-way process. That is why we finish each section of this commentary with a prayer, responding to what God has shown us through his word. David goes straight from extolling the virtues of the word of God into a wonderful prayer. David’s prayer is my prayer (vv.12–14):
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
50 Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51 With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
55 In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Jesus Before the Sanhedrin
57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. 58 But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.
59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60 But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.
Finally two came forward 61 and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”
62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent.
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
64 “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66 What do you think?”
“He is worthy of death,” they answered.
67 Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him 68 and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”
Be guided by the words of God
Jesus clearly studied the Scriptures very carefully. His whole life was shaped by what he read. It was from his reading of the Scriptures that he understood what was happening to him when he was arrested. His companions try to resist but Jesus says, ‘… how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?’ (v.54). He explains to the crowd that, ‘… this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled’ (v.56).
It was the Scriptures that gave him the ability to deal with disloyalty, abandonment and false accusation. He set an example of how you can deal with these things in your own life:
Judas appears to be expressing his love for Jesus with a kiss, when actually he is betraying him: ‘The betrayer... embraced him and kissed him with [pretended] warmth and devotion’ (vv.48–49, AMP). It was the ultimate two-faced act.
Jesus knew exactly what Judas was doing. Nevertheless, he calls him ‘friend’ (v.50). However disloyal we are, Jesus remains loyal to us.
All his friends ‘deserted him and fled’ (v.56b). In the moments of triumph – when people get engaged, have a baby or do well in their exams – it is natural to want to make contact and be around them. When people are down, it is much harder to know what to say and the temptation is, in effect, to abandon them.
It is said, ‘When you are up in life, your friends get to know who you are. When you are down in life, you get to know who your friends are!’
- False accusation
Have you ever been falsely accused? It is a horrible experience. Jesus faced the terrible injustice of false witnesses testifying against him in order that they might put him to death (v.59).
He exercised extraordinary restraint. He did not answer back: ‘Jesus remained silent’ (v.63), but he allowed himself to be attacked physically (v.67), and he chose not to win the argument but rather to win the war (something for small group hosts on Alpha to remember!). He understood from the Scriptures that all of this had a purpose and would lead, ultimately, to a great victory.
Jesus’ understanding of his own identity and of his mission clearly came from his reading of the word of God. At his trial before the Sanhedrin, where Jesus appears to be a helpless victim, he is actually progressively revealed as the builder of a new temple (v.61), the Messiah (v.63), the Son of God (v.63) and the Son of Man who was to be enthroned at God’s right hand (v.64). In reality, the helpless victim is the one with all the authority and power.
The reference to being the ‘Son of Man’ is a quotation from Daniel 7:13. Jesus understood this as a messianic promise about himself, pointing to his coming suffering, his vindication and his God-given authority.
The irony is that it is the judges who are actually the ones on trial. Like them, we all have to decide what we think about Jesus (Matthew 26:66).
Family Record of Moses and Aaron
13 Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron about the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he commanded them to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.
14 These were the heads of their families:
The sons of Reuben the firstborn son of Israel were Hanok and Pallu, Hezron and Karmi. These were the clans of Reuben.
15 The sons of Simeon were Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jakin, Zohar and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman. These were the clans of Simeon.
16 These were the names of the sons of Levi according to their records: Gershon, Kohath and Merari. Levi lived 137 years.
17 The sons of Gershon, by clans, were Libni and Shimei.
18 The sons of Kohath were Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel. Kohath lived 133 years.
19 The sons of Merari were Mahli and Mushi.
These were the clans of Levi according to their records.
20 Amram married his father’s sister Jochebed, who bore him Aaron and Moses. Amram lived 137 years.
21 The sons of Izhar were Korah, Nepheg and Zikri.
22 The sons of Uzziel were Mishael, Elzaphan and Sithri.
23 Aaron married Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.
24 The sons of Korah were Assir, Elkanah and Abiasaph. These were the Korahite clans.
25 Eleazar son of Aaron married one of the daughters of Putiel, and she bore him Phinehas.
These were the heads of the Levite families, clan by clan.
26 It was this Aaron and Moses to whom the Lord said, “Bring the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions.” 27 They were the ones who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt about bringing the Israelites out of Egypt—this same Moses and Aaron.
Aaron to Speak for Moses
28 Now when the LORD spoke to Moses in Egypt, 29 he said to him, “I am the LORD. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.”
30 But Moses said to the LORD, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?”
7 Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. 2 You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. 5 And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”
6 Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded them. 7 Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.
Aaron’s Staff Becomes a Snake
8 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 9 “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle, ’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.”
10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. 11 Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: 12 Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. 13 Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had said.
The Plague of Blood
14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go. 15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the river. Confront him on the bank of the Nile, and take in your hand the staff that was changed into a snake. 16 Then say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness. But until now you have not listened. 17 This is what the LORD says: By this you will know that I am the Lord: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. 18 The fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.’”
19 The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over the streams and canals, over the ponds and all the reservoirs—and they will turn to blood.’ Blood will be everywhere in Egypt, even in vessels of wood and stone.”
20 Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood. 21 The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.
22 But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said. 23 Instead, he turned and went into his palace, and did not take even this to heart. 24 And all the Egyptians dug along the Nile to get drinking water , because they could not drink the water of the river.
The Plague of Frogs
25 Seven days passed after the Lord struck the Nile. 8 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 2 If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole country. 3 The Nile will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs. 4 The frogs will come up on you and your people and all your officials.’”
5 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the streams and canals and ponds, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.’”
6 So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land. 7 But the magicians did the same things by their secret arts; they also made frogs come up on the land of Egypt.
8 Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Pray to the LORD to take the frogs away from me and my people, and I will let your people go to offer sacrifices to the LORD.”
9 Moses said to Pharaoh, “I leave to you the honour of setting the time for me to pray for you and your officials and your people that you and your houses may be rid of the frogs, except for those that remain in the Nile.”
10 “Tomorrow,” Pharaoh said.
Moses replied, “It will be as you say, so that you may know there is no one like the Lord our God. 11 The frogs will leave you and your houses, your officials and your people; they will remain only in the Nile.”
12 After Moses and Aaron left Pharaoh, Moses cried out to the LORD about the frogs he had brought on Pharaoh. 13 And the LORD did what Moses asked. The frogs died in the houses, in the courtyards and in the fields. 14 They were piled into heaps, and the land reeked of them. 15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.
The Plague of Gnats
16 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the ground,’ and throughout the land of Egypt the dust will become gnats.” 17 They did this, and when Aaron stretched out his hand with the staff and struck the dust of the ground, gnats came on people and animals. All the dust throughout the land of Egypt became gnats. 18 But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not.
Since the gnats were on people and animals everywhere, 19 the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the LORD had said.
The Plague of Flies
20 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the river and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 21 If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies; even the ground will be covered with them.
22 “‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land. 23 I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’”
24 And the LORD did this. Dense swarms of flies poured into Pharaoh’s palace and into the houses of his officials; throughout Egypt the land was ruined by the flies.
25 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.”
26 But Moses said, “That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the LORD our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us? 27 We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, as he commands us.”
28 Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the LORD your God in the wilderness, but you must not go very far. Now pray for me.”
29 Moses answered, “As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the LORD, and tomorrow the flies will leave Pharaoh and his officials and his people. Only let Pharaoh be sure that he does not act deceitfully again by not letting the people go to offer sacrifices to the LORD.”
30 Then Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD, 31 and the Lord did what Moses asked. The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained. 32 But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.
Obey the words of God
Moses and Aaron listened to God’s words and did exactly what God commanded them to do (Exodus 7:6). They obeyed the word of God. On the other hand, in stark contrast, Pharaoh constantly refused to obey. He stubbornly disobeyed the word of God.
At this stage in history, Moses may not have had any written words from God. But the Lord spoke to Moses. He heard the word of God over and over again (6:13,28; 7:1,14,19; 8:5,16,20, and so on) and did what God commanded. The heart of God’s word was, ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me’ (for example 7:16; 8:1; 9:1,13; 10:3).
We should not be surprised that the magicians and sorcerers ‘by their enchantments and secret arts’ (7:11, AMP) were able to perform some of the same miracles as Moses (7:22; 8:7). The devil is an imitator. He is able to perform destructive signs and even some that may appear constructive. His aim is always to deceive.
Today, God often works through the gifts of the Spirit, such as prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues and words of knowledge. The fact that the devil may attempt to imitate such gifts through telepathy, spiritualised ‘healing’ or even speaking in tongues, does not mean that you should avoid such things – but rather be discerning about them.
Look to the fruit. The Egyptian magicians imitated Moses’ miracles ‘by their secret arts’. The effect of these magicians was not neutral. They were evil and had the effect of hardening ‘Pharaoh’s heart’ against God (7:22).
It is clear that Pharaoh hardened his own heart against God, ‘He hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron’ (8:15; see also v.32). At the same time, he reaped what he had sown. God hardened his heart (7:3). The two are complementary. God’s hardening of the heart follows Pharaoh’s own hardening.
God gives people so many opportunities. Through Moses, God repeatedly spoke to Pharaoh. Pharaoh had plenty of opportunity to respond and ultimately, he refused to do so. Moses, on the other hand, walked in a very close relationship with God; praying to him often (8:12,30) and listening to his words.
It is encouraging to know that Jesus had ‘more than twelve legions of angels’ at his disposal. Even if he didn’t call on them at that time, hopefully they are being sent out all over the world to help us now!
Verse of the Day
‘May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer’
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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 quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)