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Joined: 2003/7/18
Posts: 6566
Reading, UK

 Abraham, My Friend_37

Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man_37

Beware the Midianites

In our last devotional we began to explore some of the implications of the ritual of circumcision and the continuing truths that are implied in the typology. Let’s recap briefly. Circumcision is a picture of ‘no confidence in the flesh’. It is the picture of ‘denying’ oneself and of taking up our cross daily. It is a personal sentence of death on the driving energy of the natural man.

Later in our studies of ‘the making of a praying man’ we will examine the account of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. We will just touch here on the beginning of the story; And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah. And offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. (Gen 22:2 ASV) And yet we know that Isaac was not Abraham’s only son and when Abraham died we read that Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah (Gen 25:9 ASV) So why does God not recognise Ishmael as Abraham’s son in Gen 17? It all stems from Ishmael’s beginnings. His mother was Hagar the Egyptian servant girl, and his father was an uncircumcised Abram. As we commented in our last devotional, this was human power untouched by the knife; it can never be allowed to accomplish the purposes of God.

In fact, Ishmael was not the only ‘other’ son of Abraham. Following Sarah’s death Abraham took another wife who bore him a fresh family of 6 sons; And Abraham took another wife, and her name was Keturah. And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah. (Gen 25:1,2 ASV) From this fresh start we will trace the Biblical career of Abraham’s 6th son, Midian. Although God renewed Abraham’s natural powers of reproduction to enable the fathering of Isaac, it seems that Abraham retained these powers and appetites. After the death of Sarah, Abraham used this natural power and right in the taking of Keturah and his relationship with her produced this extra family of his old age. What can this signify?

Circumcision heals quickly. The scars remain but the temporary impotency is easily forgotten. Abraham was bearing ‘in his body’ the reminder that he ‘was not his own’ but ‘another’s’. What God had given to Abraham was not his to use for his own will or purpose but exclusively for the will of God. In ignoring this Abraham behaved as though he were un-circumcised. Without the inward work of heart-circumcision the outward is just a mutilation; For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: (Rom 2:28 KJV). And, in case ‘mutilation’ should seem too harsh a word, let me add that this is Paul’s description not mine; Beware of the dogs! Beware of the evil workers! Beware of the mutilators! For it is we who are the circumcision-we who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus. We have not placed any confidence in the flesh, (Phi 3:2-3 ISV)

There is a so-called ‘Irish definition’ of sanctification which describes it an event that occurs ‘once for all, daily’. ( It is time the Irish got credit for something; that is a great definition. ;-)) Circumcision was ‘once for all’ but the truth of which it spoke was to be outworked daily in the lives of the circumcised; not my will, but thine, be done. (Luk 22:42 KJV)

How are we to use the powers and hungers that God has put into our lives? There a wonderful example in the temptation narratives. Christ was hungry; that is a natural appetite, it is no sin to be hungry. In fact, if someone has not eaten for 40 days and is not hungry, he is sick; his body is closing down. God gave us hunger as part of our survival kit; it’s no accident that a ‘good appetite’ is regarded as a sign of health. Things are working normally when someone who has not eaten is hungry. In the temptation narrative, Satan used this natural hunger as the basis for a trial. Surely, if hunger is a God given gift and you have the power to do something about it, why not satisfy your hunger? Here then is the test; will you sacrifice your rightful hunger for the sake of the will of God, or will you sacrifice the will of God for the satisfaction of your natural hunger? Human hungers, of course, came under the rule of a rebellious spirit. Christ had no rebellious spirit but the simple principles still have their outworking; Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. (Heb 10:7 KJV) Paul puts his finger right on the spot when speaking of Christ’s life he says; …Christ pleased not himself; (Rom 15:3 KJV) We could follow this through at many levels but lets learn a thing or two from the consequences of a life lived for its own benefit without regard to the will of God; in our picture, un-circumcision.

There is no record that any of the sons of Keturah were ever circumcised. They were never included in the covenant and never submitted to the sign of the covenant. Midian is a man with life originally derived from God, but who lives his life for his own benefit; in contrast to Christ, Midian did ‘please himself’. Midian means ‘strife’ and the ‘uncircumcised’ will always bring strife into the purposes of God.

The next main event in the life of the Midianites is the fact that Moses sought safety in their territory as he fled from Egypt; Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well. Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father's flock. (Exo 2:15-16 KJV) We discover that Midian has set up his own priestly system. We always need to remember that human nature is instinctively religious and this is often a curse rather than a blessing. This priest of Midian is known as Jethro, meaning ‘His excellency’ and Reuel, meaning ‘the friend of God’. We don’t know who called Jethro ‘the friend of God’ except that it was not God Himself who reserved this description for Abraham. Reading between the lines it seems that Jethro-Reuel (His Excellency, the Friend of God) had a very mixed theology. When God delivered the Israelites from Egypt his comment is recorded; Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them. And Jethro, Moses' father in law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God: and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses' father in law before God. (Exo 18:11-12 KJV). ‘Now I know…’ He was impressed with God’s power and it modified his theology, but there are important ingredients which are missing from Midian; there is no covenant with God and no circumcision. Later the Bible records the story of another man who used God’s power for his own ends. It is interesting to see the company he keeps as the story opens; And Moab said unto the elders of Midian, Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field. And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time. He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam the son of Beor to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt: behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me: (Num 22:4-5 KJV) Balaam the mercenary prophet was on hire to the Moabites and the Midianites. Can you begin to see the pattern of how Midian is prepared to use spiritual power for his own ends?

Moses’ wife was a Midianite; her name was Zipporah. He passed into her family and under the shadow of his father-in-law, Jethro-Reuel. Let me suggest a scenario which may explain the strange events that occurred in the inn when Moses was en-route for Egypt. Moses had been circumcised as an 8-day infant. He marries into a family which is religious and has lots of theological information but which has no covenant with God and no pattern of circumcision. Their first child is called Gershom. Can you imagine the scene with this baby boy? “It’s time for him to be circumcised,” says Moses. “Barbaric ritual,” says Zipporah. But these are early days and Moses’ will is honoured; Gershom is circumcised. Later another child is born. Memories of his people and his life in Egypt are dimming now; Moses is becoming Midianite. When Eliezer was born the scene is re-enacted. “It’s time for him to be circumcised,” says Moses. “Barbaric ritual,” says Zipporah. “Oh, alright dear,” says Moses, “just as you like…” I base this scenario on Exodus 4 which tells us that Moses took his wife and ‘sons’ with him towards Egypt, but that when God attacked him, it was only necessary for Zipporah to circumcise her ‘son’. Her reaction is typically Midianite; Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. (Exo 4:25 KJV)

God will not have ‘loose-cannon’ human energy on his payroll. Israel was to be delivered by God’s strong arm, not man’s. Moses almost lost his life and his mission through this compromise. God’s will must be done in God’s way. When the time came for Israel to leave Egypt, the Passover meal and consequent freedom from Egypt’s power was only available for the circumcised; But every man's servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof. (Exo 12:44 KJV) And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof. (Exo 12:48 KJV)

When they left Egypt Jethro-Reuel makes another appearance. “What you need” he explained to Moses, “is some organisation and structure.” He may have been the world’s first management consultant! His solution is a hierarchy of authority. [Ex 18:19-26] Moses ‘implemented the recommendations’ but there is no word from God to confirm the advice or the action. It is sobering to see how God handled this problem in His own way and time; And the LORD said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee. And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone. (Num 11:16-17 KJV) Midian is never short of ideas and methodology but God’s pattern is very different. God’s pattern is based not on hierarchy and specialist knowledge but on men who have waited in the presence of God and received His enabling Spirit.

Just time for one more glimpse at the Biblical tracing of Midian’s career… And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds. And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them; And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. (Jdg 6:1-4 KJV) This is the final revelation of Midian; he began through unbridled energy and lived his life without covenant or circumcision. In Jethro’s family he is seen as religious and a willing fellow-traveller in God’s way, but he secretly resents and despises the faith that demands the bearing of a cross. Then we see his hostility coming even more clearly into focus as he hires Balaam to curse the people of God, and now we shall see him in open confrontation, robbing Israel of God’s full harvest.

What a picture it is of lives brought to poverty by ‘uncircumcision’; when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them; And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. Just imagine the time and effort that has gone into ‘sowing’ and reaping and winnowing and all the animal husbandry and then comes Midian… and left no sustenance for Israel. The work of years… lost because of Midian. Beware the Midianites!!

Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. (Rev 3:11 KJV)

Ron Bailey

 2004/9/21 10:45Profile

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