Tuesday Teaching Tips: Bonus Episode, “Why did God ask Moses to make a bronze snake in Numbers 21:8?”

My old friend Johnson sent me this question all the way from India (I have rephrased it slightly).

“Why did God ask Moses to make a bronze snake in Numbers 21:8? In Exodus 20 he gave ten commandments and Exodus 34:17 warned them against making idols. Was God asking Moses to make an idol? Later we see Israel worshiping the bronze snake. King Hezekiah only got round to destroying it in 2 Kings 18:4.”

Let’s look at the passage in question:

“The people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.
The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.”
So Moses prayed for the people.
The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”
So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole.
Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.” (Numbers 21:4–9 NIV11)

Now let’s think about what this means.

1. God does command his people to not make, amongst other things, images of animals: ““You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God,” (Exodus 20:3–5 NIV11). This is not an arbitrary command, but, as the context reveals, one connected with the dangers of his people turning such physical representations into something to be worshipped instead of himself.

2. “Do not make any idols.” (Exodus 34:17 NIV11). This command is given with the recent incident of the worshipping of the golden calf in the background (Exodus 32:4-5). The problem there was not that the people of Israel had made something out of metal, but that they worshipped it as the representation of Yahweh. As the Tyndale commentary says about this passage: “to worship a statue while calling it YHWH is not to worship YHWH.”* The bronze snake is not worshipped. Therefore it is not an idol. It is a source of God’s power for healing given by God to his people.

3. It is very sad that the Israelites forgot the purpose of the bronze a snake and turned it into an idol. Hezekiah took drastic action in destroying it. Whether this was the best solution or not, at least it prevented the Israelites from worshipping it as an idol: “He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan. )” (2 Kings 18:4 NIV11)

In summary
The whole incident is surprising and somewhat confusing. Why a snake? Snakes are universally feared and despised – especially by Israelites, considering the serpent’s role in Eden. Why made of bronze? It must have taken Moses quite a while to make it while the plague was still raging. Why not something quick made of wood? Why the instruction to look at it? What about the inherent dangers of it becoming an idol that could be worshipped?

We can only speculate about God’s reasoning. However, perhaps this is an illustration of God calling his people back to trust in him. In the context of Numbers 21 they have demonstrated a lack of faith and trust. Sometimes the way God works is by calling us to act in ways which don’t seem humanly logical. Consider Peter in Acts 10 and 11 as he receives the vision of the animals which God has now called clean and the commission to preach the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius. I imagine Moses and Peter may have felt similarly about the strange requests God was giving them.

I hope this makes sense, Johnson, and answers your questions. If not, let me know. Please continue to send me questions about the Bible, worship, quiet times and anything else you would like me to consider.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John

*Cole, R. Alan. Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary. TOTC 2. IVP/Accordance electronic edition, version 2.3. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973. https://accordance.bible/link/read/Tyndale_Commentary#2604

The Sunday Sample: Episode 86. “Posture in Corporate Worship”

Part 4 – Raising Eyes. Malcolm Cox

What is the usefulness and relevance of movement and posture in corporate worship? This is the Fourth in a series on this topic inspired by a chapter in “Participating in Worship” by Craig Douglas Erickson.

Today we look at the issue of raising our eyes. 

According to Jesus, our eyes are windows of the soul (Matthew 6:22). Biblically eyes are connected with:

  1. God’s favour (2 Kings 12:2; Isaiah 49:5).
  2. Human religious knowledge (Genesis 3:6).
  3. Pride and last (Psalm 17:27; 2 Peter 2:14).
  4. Remembrance of the saving acts of God (Exodus 13).
  5. Spiritual blindness or insight (Isaiah 6:9-10; John 12:40; Acts 28:26-27).

What about Jesus? He “looked up to heaven” when praying over the five loaves and two fish (Luke 9:16). He prayed for the oneness of the church with lifted eyes (John 17:1). He lifted his eyes to pray at the raising of Lazarus (John 11:41).

Quoting Erickson, “The lifting up of eyes is a naturally integrating posture for prayer. As eyes are lifted, one’s whole being is turned toward God. The lifting up of eyes becomes the look of a child gazing upward into the face of a parent, fully confident of a loving and supportive relationship.”

Whilst we all understand that God is not “up there”, there’s something about looking upward which might benefit us in our corporate worship. In more traditional buildings, especially cathedrals, where ceilings are so high as to be almost “in the heavens” the opportunity to look up grants an opportunity to consider the transcendent. How might we achieve this in the various homes, halls and buildings we use? That’s something I leave with you, and I’d love to know what you think.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community. 

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 91. “How to set limits like Jesus”

We continue our series today based on the book, “Unloading the Overload: Stress management for Christians” by Chris Powell and Graham Barker.

Today we explore the issue of setting Did Jesus set limits? What is the place for prayer in this challenge?

Is it more virtuous to work ourselves into the ground? Was Jesus a workaholic? He does not appear to carry any neurotic guilt about his limitations. Did Jesus ever say no? I think we know the answer to that, but how did he handle it? There is something in his relationship with the Father which gives him discernment about healthy limits whilst avoiding self-indulgence.

To quote from the book: “For Jesus, central weight is given to the question: “What does my Father want to do here? That’s what I want to be obedient to.” Perhaps too often, in our need to meet others’ needs, we say yes to what the Father is not calling us to. And so we pay a price, breaking down under the overload. There is truth in the statement “God will not bless what he does not initiate!”.

Sometimes Jesus said “wait”. Are we comfortable with waiting? What does this mean for you and I? It means we have to learn how to say “no”. Yes, we must avoid laziness, but we must work at a pace which we can sustain for a lifetime. A helpful question posed in the book is this: “Ask: Is God the one who calls me to this, or is it my own ego or the pressure of other people’s demands?”

Scriptures referred to or you might find useful: Mark 1:14-15; Luke 5:15-16; Mark 3:20; 6:31; 7:24; Matthew 8:18; John 5; Acts 3; 4:22; Matthew 9:36; 15:23; 9:27-31; John 13:12-17; Galatians 5:1.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community. 

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John

Tuesday Teaching Tips 159, “Brilliant Barnabas – Galatians 2”

Barnabas is brilliant. But what is it that makes him so “effective” as a speaker (Acts 14:1)? We don’t know much about his technique, but we know a lot about his character and his spirituality. In this series we will investigate brilliant Barnabas in the book of Acts and beyond. In doing so I hope we will all gain insights which will help us to be as effective as him.

We move on today to Galatians 2.

Thank you for listening to this recording. You can find more teaching tips here and on the on the YouTube teaching tips playlist.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Thanks again for listening. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm

“Should I Stay, Or Should I Go?” Acts 14.1-7

  1. Enabled by God, vv1b-3

A. Belief

B. Opposition

C. Perseverance
God enabling you – ‘didomi’
How?
Discussion……

Prayer – “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4:29 NIV11)

Suppression of ego: “for the Lord”, v3

Focussed on preaching a person, not a religion: “for the Lord”

Preaching a positive message – “his grace”, not negative one

Results of perseverance….

The results of god’s enablement, vv4-6

A. People make a choice
B. Opposition
C. Moving on

Discussion
Cynics – pigs simply devour – ““Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6 NIV
When other opportunities present themselves – “Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”” (Mark 1:38 NIV11)

Summary
Expect people to choose
Expect the negative people to oppose you
Move on when to stay would prevent the gospel being spread

Conclusion, v7
Unstoppable zeal
Neither poisoning nor plots were enough to deter them
Starts with “as usual”
Ends with “continued to preach”
Fully convinced of their message
Fully convinced of God with them

God:

  • Confirmed the message of His grace
  • Empowered his messengers
  • Affirmed his bold ambassadors

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community. 

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John

The Sunday Sample: Episode 85. “Posture in Corporate Worship”

Part 3 – Praying with uplifted hands.

What is the usefulness and relevance of movement and posture in corporate worship? This is the third in a series on this topic inspired by a chapter in “Participating in Worship” by Craig Douglas Erickson.

Today we look at the issue of praying with uplifted hands. 

I’ll admit it, this one makes me uncomfortable. I occasionally lift my hands during private prayer – when I’m confident no one else can see me. I understand that it is a biblical posture for prayer. But the something about it which I find resistance. To which I find myself resisting. Why is this? Perhaps it is something to do with vulnerability. Nonetheless, let’s examine the relevance of uplifted hands in corporate worship.

First of all, the Biblical perspective:

  1. A gesture of invocation – Exodus 9:29
  2. A plea for God’s help – Psalm 27:2; 87:9; 142:6
  3. A blessing of the Lord’s name – Nehemiah 8:6; Psalm 62:4; 133:2.
  4. A blessing of others – Luke 24:50.
  5. Dedicating things into the Lord’s service – 1 Kings 8:22.
  6. Indicating the offering of one’s own self – Psalm 140:2.

The early church appears to have prayed in this way:
“Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.” (1 Timothy 2:8 NIV11)

Tertullian (an early Christian writer) commented that such a posture recalled Christ on the cross: “Not only do we raise them (our hands), we even spread them out, and imitating the passion of our Lord, we confess Christ as we pray.”

To quote Eriksson again, “Through the uplifting of hands the body urges the opening of one’s spirit to God’s blessings. When the palms are directed forward, it expresses and evokes a reverence before the presence of God. With arms lifted high there is a suggestion of surrender, not as that of a vanquished person but of one who freely submits to the kingdom of God.”

These gestures are common in charismatic Christianity and some similar traditions. Not so much in my background or current practice. However, perhaps not only our congregations but I myself should consider the value of this posture in corporate prayer.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community. 

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John

Three Big Questions Class 3: “Why would a good God allow suffering?”

Three Big Questions

Class 3: “Why would a good God allow suffering?”

Introduction

  • “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….” (1 Peter 3:15–16 NIV11)

Before you begin

  • Note: this is a sensitive and difficult topic – avoid simplistic answers
  • Ask what it is about this topic that interest them
  • Ask what kind of evidence they would need in order to trust in a good God
  • Ask if they would be open to revising their opinion if convincing evidence/arguments were presented to them
  • Do not trivialise suffering

Introduction: deal with your elephant

If we are going to help people with their questions about suffering, it presupposes that we have worked through our own and found our own perspective on suffering that makes sense to us. 

You have to make peace with your own suffering if you’re going to help other people understand suffering and God. 

Questions needing an answer

  • God could have created a world without suffering. Why didn’t he?
  • Suffering is pointless
  • The fact God allowed suffering shows us he is not a God of love

Positive aspects of suffering 

  • It’s how we g……..

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Heb 12:11

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Rom 8:28–29

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10–11

  • It’s how we find t…..
  • It points us towards G…
    1. “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” CS Lewis, “The Problem of Pain”
  • It m…………….. us to make a difference
    1. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV11)
    2. ““The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”” (Luke 4:18–19 NIV11)

Conclusion

  • How do these thoughts affect your view of God?
  • How do these thoughts affect your view of Christianity?
  • Would you like to know more?
  • Scripture to share: “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”  John 7.17

Resources

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community. 

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John

Quiet Time Coaching: Episode 90. “How to handle praise and criticism”

How do we handle the twin pressures of praise and criticism? What is the healthy spiritual response? What inspiration can we derive from Jesus and the scriptures?

We delve into my teenage memories and an old appraisal……

“Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (John 6:15 NIV11)

More Scriptures referred to in this episode: Luke 4.1-11; John 2.25; Proverbs 27.6; Jeremiah 31.3; John 13.35; Revelation 3.9.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community. 

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John

Tuesday Teaching Tips 158, “Brilliant Barnabas – 1 Corinthians 9.6”

Barnabas is brilliant. But what is it that makes him so “effective” as a speaker (Acts 14:1)?  We don’t know much about his technique, but we know a lot about his character and his spirituality.

In this series we will investigate brilliant Barnabas in the book of Acts and beyond. In doing so I hope we will all gain insights which will help us to be as effective as him.

We move on today to 1 Corinthians 9.6.

Thank you for listening to this recording. You can find more teaching tips here and on the on the YouTube teaching tips playlist

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community. 

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org

Thanks again for listening. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.

God bless,

Malcolm 

Three Big Questions Class Two: “Did Jesus Rise?”

We take a look at objections to the resurrection and evidence for it.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15–16)

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Resources

Next week

  • “Why would a good God allow suffering?”

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community. 

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

Please pass the link on, subscribe, leave a review.

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John