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Shemot/Exodus 34:10 "Behold, I am making a covenant: before all your people I shall do wonders ..."
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The word - a Nif'il participle form, feminine plural - comes from the root verb , which has a consistent set of meanings such as "to be extraordinary", "to be wonderful, marvellous" (Davidson). The participle, therefore, working from "things being wonderful" is usually translated "wonders" or "wonderful, great things" (e.g. Daniel 11:36). The text, then, recordsHaShem speaking to Moshe and telling him that He is making a covenant, and that the covenant explicitly includes doing wonders before the people. Yet the immediately following chapters and verses record no such wonders until, perhaps, "the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of HaShem filled the Tabernacle" (Shemot 40:34) right at the end of parashat Pekudei. This caused the commentators to try to explain away HaShem's words in the light of the following text.
Rashi goes perhaps the furthest, claiming that the word is derived from the different root - - which means to separate or distinguish. This enables him to translate the phrase as: "before all your people I shall make distinctions", and point to Israel being set apart from all the other nations.Rashbam extends that to suggest that HaShem was going to distinguish Moshe from all the rest of the people, because of the way Moshe's face would shine when he had been talking with HaShem. Ibn Ezra is prepared to accept the meaning "wonders" but suggests that this refers only to the miracles already performed in Egypt. The Sforno is uncomfortable with taking the argument that far and instead comments that only the generation of Moshe saw the wonders because they were only done in Moshe's merit. This idea is amplified by Hirsch who declaims that Moshe's ministry was a unique creation in the history of the world, so was not subject to the normal physical rules of the universe, thus allowing miracles and wonders as long as Moshe lived.
1 Kings 18 records the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Ba'al and Asherah on Mt. Carmel. Throughout the episode, the people show resistance to Elijah's challenge. Elijah starts by asking the crowd of witnesses who have gathered to see what happens, "'How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the L-rd is G-d, follow Him; but if Ba'al, follow him.' But the people did not answer him a word" (1 Kings 18:21, NASB). The people might have seen lots of ritual before, but were not interested in taking a position. Elijah's logic seemed reasonable, but the people refused to commit themselves. The story is well know, but pick up again immediately after the fire fell from heaven at Elijah's request: - and all the people saw and they fell on the faces (v. 39). The Hebrew text tells us something important about the way the people reacted: the first verb - - is singular, while the second verb is plural. All the people saw, as one, the fire fall; there was no getting away from that - everyone present had seen it. But a typical crowd reaction followed: some of the people hit the deck instantly, others took a little longer and some - either curious or skeptical - didn't want to do it at all; they only lowered themselves reluctantly to the ground when they saw that everyone else already had and that they would stick out like a sore thumb if they remained upright. Even in the face of an open miracle, there were those who didn't want the consequences that would follow - having to acknowledge and worship HaShem rather than Ba'al - and so tried to deny the miraculous wonder that had been performed. Elijah's subsequent flight the next day from Jezebel's threats shows that he too recognised that even miracles were not enough to change the dominant nature of the culture of Israel.
Man has always had a tendency to downgrade G-d to fit his own expectations. From the very beginning, Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden came about because the enemy caused her to downplay G-d's words because of logic. Throughout history we can see the same scenario being played out again and again. The gifts of the Holy Spirit have been suppressed for centuries - apart from odd bubbles of life - because their operation wasn't in line with the expectations of the church, be that clergy or laity. They remain suppressed by a significant block of churches, the cessationalists, who are forced to downgrade the words of Yeshua and Rav Sha'ul in order to support their claim that the gifts were only intended for the apostolic age and have now been withdrawn because the "perfect" has come (1 Corinthians 13:10) in the form of the New Covenant scriptures. Many believers live stunted spiritual lives because their expectations of the way G-d works have been shaped and constrained by the traditions of the church since the time of the Enlightenment, when reason triumphed over faith and the supernatural was declared impossible because G-d was bound just as much by the physical laws of nature as man is. It is no coincidence that such disbelief in the supernatural is also often found hand-in-glove with replacement theology, which denies that G-d's covenant with Israel continues or that Israel is to play any other part in the eschatalogical outworking of the ages.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the mighty preacher of Victorian England, was involved - in the closing years of his life and ministry - in what became known as the Downgrade Controversy. In 1887-88 Spurgeon was increasingly concerned about the advance of Higher Criticism and other liberal attacks upon the veracity and authenticity of the Bible, in particular upon its inspiration. He saw that many educated people were moving over to the prevailing scholarship which saw the Scriptures as nothing more than the writings of man and not inspired by G-d - if indeed there was a G-d at all - and that this position was being taught to the next generation of ministers in training. After a series of articles in his magazine Sword and Trowel and bruising but private correspondence with the council of his denomination, Spurgeon felt that he had no alternative but to resign from the Baptist Union. He could no longer, in spite of many years of close personal friendship in some cases, fellowship with those who denied the inspiration and truth of the gospel or, by remaining quiet within the Union, condone their teaching. The leaders of the Union and lecturers in the Union colleges had downgraded their vision of G-d to match the circumstances and experience of their lives, rather than focusing on the truth of G-d's word and lifting their lives to conform with that truth.
In our lives today we too face the same challenges. Rival attractions vie for our attention and favour, be that Amazon, Facebook or simply radio and television. There is a constant torrent of material in every public arena that seeks to deny G-d, to encourage us to be more materialistic and buy more stuff, and to downgrade what faith we have to what society considers reasonable. But the same G-d who provided for our people in the wilderness, sent the fire on Mt. Carmel and - most importantly - raised Yeshua from the dead, is still active and working in His world to call men into relationship with Himself and enlist them as workers in His vineyard. Whom will you believe - the god of this age (the Devil) or the G-d who made the whole universe and has cut His covenant with us?
Further Study: Joshua 24:14-15; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Application: If you think about it, have you allowed the world to shrink your ideas about G-d? Has He become tame to you because the world says that you shouldn't expect any more? Why not turn to G-d today and ask Him about a small miracle to set you back on track again?
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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