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Issue No. 17

27 Apr - 3 May 2009

Thinking Points

by Mickey Chiang

Moses and Midian
After Moses killed a brutal Egyptian overseer, he fled from the killing wrath of Pharaoh.  His no-frills flight was, he thought, on a one-way ticket to anywhere out of Egypt.  But God guided his footsteps to Midian, a land across several hot deserts from Egypt.

Few people travelled from Egypt to Midian, in the western desert of Arabia, except Midianite merchants.  One such group bought Joseph from his brothers and sold him as a slave in Egypt (Gen. 37:26-36). This is hardly a good introduction to the Midianites.

In Midian, Moses went to the rescue of seven daughters of a priest, Jethro alias Reuel.  The girls were prevented by other shepherds from watering their flock.  Again, Midianite men are not favourably presented in this account.

Moses was obviously a hunk of a man, to browbeat, or beat up, the Midianites and water the girls’ flock.  A chivalrous hero was Moses.  Suitably impressed, Jethro invited him to a meal.  You might say:

            A heroic deed led to a quick invite,
            To Jethro’s tent for a quick bite.
            Then one day, without much hoo-ha,
            Jethro gave Moses his daughter Zipporah!

Thus Moses became a shepherd for forty years, looking after Jethro’s sheep.  What a big change from a princely life in Egypt!  I wonder how many sheep a Midianite priest could afford in those days.  It took seven girls to look after them; did Moses look after them all by himself?

Moses’ life changed again when he met God at the burning bush.  God sent him to Egypt to secure freedom for his people, the Israelites.  We know that he brought Zipporah and their two sons Gershom and Eliezer with him, for Exodus 4:20 tells us, “So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt.”  And we know they were with him for part of the way, for Exodus 4:24 says, “At a lodging place along the way … Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it”.  However, did Zipporah and her two sons go all the way to Egypt?

For the next we hear of them is in Exodus 18:2: “After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her and her two sons.”  Here’s something to think about.  Did Moses send them away before reaching Egypt, and if not, was it before or after the Exodus from Egypt?

Since Moses lived with Jethro for forty years, we might assume that Moses’ sons were adults when they set off for Egypt.  If so, they could protect Zipporah on the return journey.  But were they?  Didn’t Exodus 4:20 say Moses put Zipporah and her two sons on ONE donkey?  Can three adults ride one donkey at the same time?

If Gershom and Eliezer were still young children, Moses could not have sent them back during the journey to Egypt, for there were only two men, Moses and Aaron, available to escort them back to Midian.  However, we know that both Moses and Aaron reached Egypt.  So we must conclude that Moses sent back his family after arriving in Egypt, and probably after the Exodus started.  How do we arrive at this conclusion?

In Exodus 18:1 we see that Jethro “heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt.”  In the absence of radio, television, and newspapers, who was likely to report all this back to Jethro except Zipporah, or the person or persons who escorted her and the two children back to Midian, after the Exodus?

Midian cropped up again in Numbers 25.  At Shittim the Israelite men “began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women” (v6) and through their influence the Israelites ate at sacrifices to their gods and bowed down to those idols.  God’s wrath fell on the Israelites in the form of a plague.  Just as the Israelite assembly was weeping before God, an Israelite man brought a Midianite woman into his tent in front of them.  Phinehas, Aaron’s son, entered the tent and drove his spear through the man into the woman’s body.  How did Moses feel, since he was married to Zipporah, a Midianite?

And when God told Moses, “Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them” (Num. 25:16), how would Moses have felt then?  Did Moses take action?

Significantly, the last major task God gave Moses before his death was, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites” (Num. 31:1).  This time, Moses sent out 12,000 Israelites to attack the Midianites, “and they killed every man” (31:7).  I wonder how Zipporah felt, if she was still alive then.  Wow, those were really tough times, weren’t they?

Chapel Summary

The speaker for last week’s Chapel was Mr Lai Pak Wah, our alumnus and faculty-in-training, who recently took time off the busyness of his doctoral studies at the University of Durham, to teach an intensive course, The Roots of Christianity: Early Christian History, Theology & Spirituality. During Chapel, Pak Wah showed us how the early Christians, especially from the 2nd to the 4th  centuries, loved and appropriated Paul as a model for Christian spirituality.  With quotations from the sources, Pak Wah demonstrated how Chrysostom interprets Pauline spirituality as identifying with Christ's incarnation, death and resurrection. Augustine complements this by stressing the significance of God's gift of redemption and the Holy Spirit for a Christian to be able to  properly to love and obey God again. These twin concerns are, of course, Pauline emphases. Pak Wah then asked whether these concerns are appropriated in our world.

On the imitation of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Pak Wah warned against a particular Singaporean perversion of this emphasis on self-sacrificial living: workaholism. Some diagnostic questions are: Is it dying with Christ or workaholism when:

1) We find our identity and meaning in our job, career and/or church ministry?
2) We think we are indispensible to ministry?
3) We equate spiritual maturity with how much service we are rendering to the church?
4) We minister only out of a sense of obligation?

On the primacy of grace, a Pauline emphasis picked up by Augustine and the Reformers, Pak Wah also warned against two ways in which this can be misinterpreted.

First, there may be such an overemphasis on blessings to the exclusion of the call to imitate Christ.  Secondly, there may be a passive approach towards the development of godly virtue. This can result in us measuring spirituality by the amount of church work we do, resulting (ironically) in a new legalism.

We thank Pak Wah for his walk through some Patristic thought, an area most of us have ventured little into. His piercing questions certainly help us to hold a mirror up to ourselves, that we may see who we truly are, and how much (or little!) we look like Christ.

Weekly Highlights

Chapel speaker for 29 April is Mr John Chong Ser Choon. Chapel begins at 12pm every Wednesday.

The Chapel speaker on 6 May is Rev. Jimmy Tan. He is the Pastor of Bethel Presbyterian Church and the focus of his sermon will be, Saved by grace; Disciplined by effort – are the two contrary? You are welcome to join us.

Courses commencing in May 2009

The Genesis of All Things: Genesis 1-11 (OT370, 1.5cr) May 4, 11, 18, 25; (Mon 7.15-10.15pm)
Lecturer: Dr Augustine Pagolu

Change of commencement date
TENT Module - Theology of Work, (new dates) May 13, 20 & 27 (Wed 7.20 - 10pm) Lecturer: Dr Toh See Kiat

Registration is open for all courses. Visit www.bgst.edu.sg for course description and registration (under Course & Events/Course Schedules).

News Bits

Faculty News
Dr Quek Swee Hwa preached at Bethesda (Katong) Church on 26th April. His sermon was entitled Glory in the Presence of God (Jn. 17: 1-8).

New Students enrolled for the Graduate Diploma in Christian Studies
Mr Lim Teck Chye Allen worships at St. John’s St. Margaret’s Church and is actively involved in the music ministry, leading a discipleship group and mentoring young Christians.  He is an alumnus of the University of Essex and an engineer in the marketplace.

Mr Chia Chian Hong is a member of the Pasir Panjang Hill Brethren Chapel and has experience in leading cell groups. He is a Course Trainer in Project Management and an alumnus of the University of Singapore and Brunel University.

Course Fee Revision
We are revising our course fees. For details, please follow this link www.bgst.edu.sg/pdf/fee_revision.pdf

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