Description: The fact of Israel's history up to our day illustrates how history and fantasy differ. Fundamental criteria for truth demonstrates what is real and what is not.
Exodus 20: Idols
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
If you’d like to look at Exodus 17 — we did that chapter last Sunday and I just want to touch on
some of it and then go on. I thought I’d start with the famous soliloquy of Shakespeare’s in Hamlet
and it’s the one that we know well, but there’s a certain phrase in it that ties up, I think, with
what God wants to say to us in this chapter,
“To be, or not to be — that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep —
No more — and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep —
To sleep — perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub.”
And then he goes on to wonder if he can commit suicide and eventually decides no.
But it was that phrase that I thought was very real and true, “To die — to sleep — No more; and by
a sleep to say we end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” And
that’s what struck me about what God has to say to us in this chapter, “the thousand natural shocks
that flesh is heir to.” I’ll show you what I mean in Exodus 17:1, “All the congregation of the
people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the
Lord, and camped at Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people
found fault with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ And Moses said to them, ‘Why do you
find fault with me? Why do you put the Lord to the proof?’ But the people thirsted there for
water, and the people murmured against Moses, and said, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to
kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?’ So Moses cried to the Lord, ‘What shall I do
with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pass on before
the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which
you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you
shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink.’ And Moses did
so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah,
because of the faultfinding of the children of Israel.”
Those two words “Massah” and “Meribah” mean proof and contention. The Israelites were in contention
with God. “Because they put the Lord to the proof by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” I
think that’s one of the thousand natural shocks. The ridiculous thing with the Israelites is you
only need to read a few verses to see that they had not one natural shock, they had not two natural
shocks, they had a thousand natural shocks. I mean, they kept on with this in Exodus 14:10, “When
Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were
marching after them; and they were in great fear. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord;
and they said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to
die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we
said to you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better
for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’” And of course, it was proven wrong;
the whole charge and accusation was proven wrong, “And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand
firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom
you see today, you shall never see again.’” That’s what happened, water washed right over them, it
didn’t matter to them.
A few verses later in 15:22 it says, “Then Moses led Israel onward from the Red Sea, and they went
into the wilderness of Shur; they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they
came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named
Marah. And the people murmured against Moses,” the same deal, “saying, ‘What shall we drink?’ And
he cried to the Lord; and the Lord showed him a tree, and he threw it into the water, and the water
became sweet.” And there again, yet another one of these jarring shocks, “What do we do? What do
we do? God is letting us down. We’re in trouble. Why did you bring us here?” And you think,
“Well, that’s it.” But no, it goes on.
You can see how the thousand numbers add up in Exodus 16:1, “They set out from Elim, and all the
congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai,
on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the
whole congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and
said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by
the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill
this whole assembly with hunger.’ Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I will rain bread from
heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove
them, whether they will walk in my law or not.” Of course, God provided the manna and the quail and
it’s after those incidents that you come to Exodus 17.
What struck me in my own life and I don’t know if it strikes you in your life; you could wonder when
they will ever learn. It seems that we refuse to learn that repeatedly the Father lovingly comes
under us with his everlasting arms again and again in situations where the Egyptians are after us
and there’s only the ocean before us; the ocean on one side and the sea on the other side, and the
desert on the other side, and there’s no way out and God comes in and makes a way out. We know
those times; we can look back to some of those moments and there’s a way through that we didn’t see.
Or we come to a place where we don’t see how we’re going to make it; we don’t see how the money is
going to work out, how the bread or the water is going to be there. We don’t see it, yet God seems
to provide manna in the wilderness; where we think there’s no possibility of anything that we need,
here God provides it. And it seems that we all here in this room have incident after incident where
we’ve seen God’s faithfulness and yet we have “the thousand natural shocks that fair flesh is heir
to.” And that’s what it is, it’s that shock, after shock, after shock. It’s a dreadful image to
put before us, but it’s like somebody in the electric chair where the shock goes through the body.
It just echoes through the whole thing and reverberates through the whole frame and it’s like that;
if you think of those moments, you can almost feel the perspiration, the cold sweat, or the moment
of the adrenaline pumping, or the moment of the heart beating faster, or just that coldness that
comes over you as you see the bank account, or as you see that this thing is not working out, or you
hear the rumble in the car, or you hear the crack in the pipes, or anything. And suddenly it
reverberates through the whole frame, the thousand natural shocks, and it jars the whole being and
it of course undoubtedly does harm to our bodies. Undoubtedly it does harm to our minds and
emotions. Undoubtedly it wears them and makes you a little older a little faster.
I know that the Savior is able to make you live as long as he wants you to live, but I’m sure that
he allows those reverberations to come through us not just to frighten us with the idea that we’ll
grow old fast, or we’ll die early but to let us know, “This isn’t the way this is meant to work.
You’re not meant to have a thousand natural shocks like this. You’re not meant to repeatedly find
yourself in a position where you’re struck by terrible anxiety or terrible fear or apprehension.
It’s like him saying, “When you hear your car vibrating like mad you know it isn’t meant to go this
way, it isn’t meant to work like this. There’s a piston not firing, or there’s something wrong with
the system.” Now it seems that is what God is doing to us when we come to those moments and we
don’t trust him. It seems to me its part of the thousand natural shocks our flesh is heir to. It’s
interesting he uses flesh and one can’t tell until we meet Shakespeare, but he probably uses it just
in terms of the natural human body, but it’s interesting that he uses the word flesh and who knows
— poets write better than they know.
It seems that it is the flesh that is heir to those things. Heir in the sense of it inherits them;
the carnal natural inherits those things, the spiritual nature doesn’t because it rests in the
Father’s arms. So it seems that what God is saying to us through Exodus 17 is “Are you going to go
on like these children of mine in the wilderness did year after year being shocked when some
situation or set of circumstances comes up that you yourself had not planned for, and that you
yourself cannot see an answer to? Are you going to continue to experience shock and crisis and
wringing of hands and worry in the heart? We all know that worry in the heart that says, “How am I
going to get out of this one?” Sometimes its “How is God going to deliver me from this?” But
usually its “How am I going to get out of this one?” And the Father is saying, “You’ve seen my
record, you’ve seen how I’ve looked after these Israelites, even when they continued to rebel
against me. Now that’s what I’m like; I am your faithful Father; I have foreseen every eventuality
that will occur in your life. I have made the rough places plain for you. I have gone ahead of you
and I have made the crooked things straight so that when you come to an uncertainty I, as your
Father, would have the pleasure of seeing you, my son or my daughter, simply put your hand in mine
and say, ‘Father, thank you that you have a way through this. Thank you that you foresaw this. I
trust you. I know you’re there. I know you’ve allowed this lion to come into my path simply to see
me looking up into your eyes and not into its mouth.’” It seems that is what the Father is asking
With people like us who don’t murder each other, who don’t kill each other, who don’t steal from
each other, it’s not those things that give the Father pain. It’s our continued uncertainty about
him, our continued distrust of him. Maybe you say, “It’s not that I’m distrusting him, it’s not
that I’m uncertain of him, it’s just I don’t think of him at that moment.” Well, that’s it you
know; we don’t think of him at that moment and we’re not depending upon him; our minds are not
stayed on him and that was his promise, “I will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on
So it seems to me that what God is encouraging us to do is not simply to speak to each other when we
miss it, because we can all do that. I mean, if you’re in difficulty I can say, “The Father will
take care of you,” and then you gather yourself together. Or, vice versa, but it’s not just that;
most of all its inside ourselves that we would be delivered by our oneness with Jesus, our
contentment with what he wants for us at every moment;
that we would not experience those thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.
Because I’m sure you agree with what has been my experience; that you have no energy to help or
attend to anyone else in those moments. I mean, you don’t care what anybody else is doing because
you’re so preoccupied with your own trouble. And it means at that moment not only is love and care
and concern not going out to others, but there’s no praise going out from your heart to God.
There’s no love, there’s no good and most of all it seems to me it’s a dreadful offense to the one
who has been faithful beyond what you could define as faithfulness.
Think of the numbers of mornings we’ve gotten up without a thought of him and he’s raised the sun or
turned the earth around. He just keeps on being faithful. And it seems that it’s the most dreadful
offense we could give to a father like that, to continue in this – I was going to say childish, but
I think it’s not just childish, it’s not just stupidity, its rank rebellion and distrust. Now you
might say, “Well it’s just that I’m not thinking of him at that moment.” But if we’re not thinking
of him at that moment it’s because we’re thinking too much of what’s going on in the world and it
seems to me at that moment the world events are more important to us or seem more powerful to us.
And so there’s some sense in which we’re not worshiping him day-by-day, and moment-by-moment, and
So the Father I think gives us this plain historical record so that we’ll see that. And of course,
we read last Sunday the very plain promises that he made and it wouldn’t do us any harm to look at
them. Deuteronomy 7:9, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps
covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand
generations.” And it’s one of those that we really need to remember, “Know therefore that the Lord
your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and
keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” That God is eternally faithful.
I caught myself saying, “Well yes Lord, I can trust you in situations where I can see and understand
how you’re going to deliver me.” And I saw that of course it isn’t trust at all because the things
where I can see the way God is going to deliver me are not specifically God’s work at all, they’re
just my own human ability, maybe enlightened by his Spirit, but they’re just what my own renewed
mind is able to see, “Oh yeah, I see how this will work out.” Usually, actually if we’re honest,
we’re not seeing how God will deliver us, we’re seeing how we’ll work out the cash flow for
ourselves, or how we can fiddle this or fiddle that and make it go.
So actually we say, “Oh, we’re trusting God when we see how he can deliver us,” but what we’re
saying is we’re trusting the real “god” because we can see how the real “god” can deliver us; we’re
seeing how we can deliver ourselves and we’re trusting ourselves and we’re saying, “Lord, we’re okay
here. We’re alright; keep your hands off we can manage this.” So it’s not trust. Then I saw
suddenly that trust is only trust in God when you can’t possibly see how God can deliver you. When
you can’t see how he will deliver you.
Now it seems to me that’s real peace, when you come to that place of submission to him and awareness
of your own powerlessness and weakness. That’s real trust where you say, “Lord, I can’t see how
you’re going to deliver me but I trust you.” And I don’t know about you all, but I think I was
tempted at certain points in my life to think that way of thinking was all right for incompetent
people; they’re wee souls who can’t just see. There’s a dear friend that I had called and I think I
told you about him, he died apparently two or three years ago. But he was in my class in grade
school and was one of triplets. Actually, one of his brothers is praised by James Galway in his
autobiography as somebody who taught him a lot of the tricks with the flute that he knows.
So there were three interesting brothers, but Leslie was retarded. He was in my class in school but
he should have been way beyond, but he trusted God and he came to Jesus in a little endeavor society
that I was part of. And he worked in the local newspaper office; the newspapers came out there from
the machine and he set them there. That’s what he did all day. And I, at one point in my life,
could see, “Well, I could see how Leslie has to trust you because he can’t understand a thing. He
can’t possibly see how things would work out.” So it’s very easy for those of us who feel competent
and capable to think, “Well, that’s for the birds. That’s for the weaklings. That’s for the weak
ones or the weak minded.”
But real trust in God is only trust when we cannot possibly see how he will answer us or deliver us.
That brings a realm of peace and rest in our life that nothing else brings and that is wonderful
when you get to that place, because then you can’t be shook. Then it doesn’t matter what happens;
you can’t be shook, you can’t be shaken. You’ll walk even all the time.
1 Kings 8:56, “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he
promised; not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he uttered by Moses his servant.”
Not one word has failed. So he promises that he will be our refuge and our fortress, a very present
help in time of trouble, and not one word has ever failed of a good promise like that. So we’re on
solid sure ground, we have someone that we can trust.
Maybe we could look briefly at the last part of the chapter. It refers to Satan’s opposition in the
world, because Exodus 17 recounts the opposition of the Amalekites to the Israelites but really the
Amalekites stand for the whole world of men and women that are determined to destroy the body of
Jesus, because Israel stands for the new Israel and Amalek was the first nation that determined that
they would get rid of these Israelites. Then in 17:8, “Then came Amalek and fought with Israel at
Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose for us men, and go out, fight with Amalek; tomorrow I
will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” And it really stands for all the
forces that will come against us, and those forces are not just labeled Amalekites, or Philistines,
those forces are at times labeled Murdoch, though Murdoch himself isn’t the cause of it, but all the
dear entrepreneurs and tycoons that control all kinds of media empires, control all kinds of massive
chain stores, control all kinds of businesses in the world. They’re often the unknowing, sometimes
the knowing, servants of Satan but they are bent on proving that Christ did not overcome the world,
and on proving that the body of Jesus cannot survive in God’s world and they’re bent on destroying
the little baby that was almost destroyed by Pharaoh and all those forces are arrayed against us.
We should not be paranoid, there’s no place for that kind of weeping self-pitying approach that many
evangelicals take, “Oh, we’re persecuted, we’re being opposed. We don’t have a chance.” That’s
ridiculous! But the fact of the matter is that there are all kind of Amalekite powers that are
arrayed and are determined to prove that Jesus did not overcome the world and that he is not able to
make a way in this world apart from weapons of the world. And so when the Amalekites come against
us we’re in the same position as Moses. And you may say, “Oh yeah, we get our rod and lift it up,”
but that wasn’t the significance of the rod at all and you it in verse 10, “So Joshua did as Moses
told him, and fought with Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.” See,
you do have to fight, you have to go out and sell, you have to go out and get radio stations, but
that wasn’t where the victory was. In verse 11, “Whenever Moses held up his hand,” this is very
humbling to all of us who pray, “Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he
lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed.” You can’t believe it! It’s one of those things that you read
in the Bible and think, “Well, it’s kind of magic.” It’s so ridiculous, but it’s there in God’s
word, “Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek
prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon
it, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands.” It seems so silly to us. “One on one side, and the other
on the other side; so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua mowed down
Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.”
Now I don’t know, I suppose I read it as a would be liberal and I thought, “This is silly stuff.
Why go to all this trouble symbolically to show us how important it was for Moses to hold up his
hands to you.” But then as you come to respect God’s word historically and then spiritually by
faith, you begin to realize it’s all there for a good reason and good purpose. And actually, that
was true; that’s how important prayer is in the victory of the body of Jesus in this present world.
And we need to see why they went to the trouble of holding up his hands; why did they go to the
trouble of getting a stone for him to sit on? Why do we go through the trouble of having prayer on
Saturday morning? Why do we go to the trouble of praying for each other? That’s why: because it is
a spiritual battle.
It’s simply God’s way.
God has promised, “If you pray to me, and ask me to do things, I will do things for you.” That’s
it. And he tests us out for a while by maybe not answering some of our early prayers to see if we
will believe him. He wants to know, “Will you do what I command you to do?” And I would encourage
any of us here who have found that we’ve prayed and we haven’t got answers to our prayers, or we’ve
prayed and we wonder if it’s worth praying, it’s God’s way. It’s his only command and what he’s
doing by holding off answers is testing to see if you going to pray because you get answers or are
you going to pray because he told you to pray? Are you going to pray because you obey him and trust
him, or are you going to pray because you see the benefits of prayer in your hands, in which case
you’re only praying for your own selfish reasons? It is just so plain that there is something
miraculous in prayer that it’s silly to say that. It’s just a fact that God has ordained this.
There’s a philosophical problem that you bring up in early philosophy classes; the billiard ball.
You shoot the white ball at the red and you knock the red ball into the pocket and you say that the
white ball hitting the red ball caused it to go into the pocket. The philosophical question is of
course, did it? Can you prove that that cause brought about that effect, or did that effect just
happen to take place at that moment and was actually brought about by something else? And of
course, when you begin to go behind that little philosophical question you can see that God made
this whole world, he made it so that if that white ball touched the red ball the red ball would go
that way. And actually it is true that in a way there is no cause and effect, there’s just one
great first cause. He has arranged a whole series of things that happen one after the other and we
can never really prove that one causes the other.
It’s the same with this whole matter of prayer; God has said, “Just as if you knock that ball
against that ball, that ball will move, so if you close your eyes and you ask me to do things the
things will be done and that’s the way the world works.” And that’s the way, above all, the battle
goes in business and in ministry and so we in our business ministry, are forced to see that for us
prayer is everything. For us, prayer is the whole explanation. We can appear to make money the way
other people make money, but we know why anybody makes money and we know above all that God is able
so to govern those laws, and so to modify, and so to use them that we are actually able to make
money in places where the normal world people do not make money.
So our victory is entirely different from the victory of those who work in the flesh and you see
that so plainly in verse 11, “Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he
lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed.” That’s God saying to us that’s the way it is for us; whenever
you hold up your hands in prayer you will prevail. Whenever you lower your hands in prayer the
world will prevail and that’s just the fact of the matter. Then in verse 14, “And the Lord sad to
Moses, ‘Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly
blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.’” A promise that God will eventually destroy
the forces that are arrayed against the body of Jesus. Probably on the final day when he comes
again, or at the famous battle he will destroy all the forces of Babylon and all the forces that
will oppose Jesus.
“And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, the Lord is my banner, saying, and ‘A hand upon
the banner of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.’” Of
course, that’s what goes on today; he has battles still with Amalek and it’s important to be able to
interpret that rightly. We’re not saying that everybody who opens a chain store and won’t buy from
us is personally antagonistic to us; they aren’t, there’s no antagonism to it at all. But in the
realm of the spiritual world it is still Amalek that is operating, because we believe God has called
us to allow Jesus to do something through us here in the world of business, and we believe it is
Jesus who is doing this and every time he begins to move, Amalek comes against him. So in a real
way we’re in exactly that eternal struggle that will continue until Jesus finally comes and destroys
the antichrist. But the beauty of it is that because of the same struggle, we have the same power.
We have the same power.
Let us pray. Dear Father, we thank you that it is your will for us to simply pray, and pray, and
pray again. That it is your will for us that we triumph by the blood of the cross and by our
testimony. It is your will that we would triumph by the victory of Calvary being manifested through
the power of the Holy Spirit in answer to our honest, simple prayers. Lord, we thank you. We thank
you that it is your will that we would live free from the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir
to and we would live in the cocoon of your faithfulness. That we would exist in the world and be
with it — raw and hand-to-hand with no quarter given, and that in our hearts and our spirits we
would dwell in the cocoon of your presence and your protection and your kindly guarding grace and
Father, we thank you. Thank you Lord that the battle is yours and that the Lord will fight for us
and all we have to do is obey and do what you tell us to do. The shocks you bear and bore in your
own body on the tree; the peace, the trusting walk, and the victory you have given to us. We thank
you Lord, for your goodness to us and pray that the grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit will be with us now and ever more. Amen.
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