Bibles and Umbrellas

The stereotypical picture of an English businessman is someone in a dark suit, wearing a bowler hat, and carrying an umbrella, but it wasn’t always that way. In the early 1750s, Jonas Hanway began carrying an umbrella around the streets of London. He had just returned from a trip to France where the carrying of a parasol was the fashion.

In the early 1700s, an ingenious Parisian merchant waterproofed the parasol and invented a folding version. Thus, the umbrella was born. Impressed Hanway brought the practical contraption to England. No one else was impressed. People jeered, made fun of him, and called him a French effeminate. Michael Waters explained:

Jonas Hanway, always stubborn, paid little attention to the social stigma. An eccentric man, he was no stranger to controversy—he fervently opposed the introduction of tea into England, at one point penning an “Essay Upon Tea and Its Pernicious Consequences” (1756). He published four books on the development of British trade in the Caspian Sea, leading 20th-century scholar Charles Wilson to call him “one of the most indefatigable and splendid bores of English history.”[1]

Undeterred, Hanway continued to carry his umbrella, but soon incurred the wrath of hansom cab drivers whose business boomed on rainy days from patrons trying to seek shelter from the rain. One driver tried to run Hanway down, but Hanway used his umbrella to “give the man a good thrashing.”

Waters concluded, when Hanway died in 1786, “The rain-repelling revolution had begun, with the dearly departed Hanway as its pioneer. Not all heroes wear capes, but some carry umbrellas.”

I wonder if we can learn a lesson from Hanway as Christians. Are we ever afraid of being labeled because we are Christians? Are we fearful of sharing the good news because we are afraid of what other people will think? Friends, stand tall, carry your Bible, and, on a rainy day, don’t be afraid to take an umbrella!

  [1] Downloaded from https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-public-shaming-of-englands-first-umbrella-user March 29, 2021

“Darkness that can be felt” Exodus 10:21

The Plague of Darkness

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived (Exodus 10:21 – 23).

The tour operators in commercial caverns seem to get a perverse delight in turning the lights off. I remember visiting a cavern in Kentucky with my family as a boy. We were all huddled together. Then the guide told us to “Stand still! I’m going to turn the lights off.” He flipped the switch. Darkness pressed in on us just as God described. It was a “darkness that can be felt.” It was overwhelming. After a minute, one man could stand it no longer. He reached in his pocket, pulled out his lighter, and “flicked his Bic.” That tiny flame brought welcome relief to us all and a scowl, I’m sure, to the face of that sadistic tour guide.

I have a lot of questions about this plague. Did the darkness extinguish the light of the Egyptians’ torches too? How did Pharaoh’s messengers find Moses in the dark? Why did it take so long (three days) for Pharaoh to give in? Why did this plague seem so much worse than the other plagues to Pharaoh? It was so bad; it made Pharaoh stop resisting. (Was Pharaoh afraid of the dark?)

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the Lord. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind” (Exodus 10:24). 

However, the Lord wasn’t finished with Pharaoh: “But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go” (Exodus 11:27). It is important to remember the purpose of the plagues. Do you recall how before the plague of locusts, the Lord told Moses:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 10:1, 2).

The purpose was “that you may know that I am the Lord.” Here then is the key: Pharaoh claimed to be a god. He set himself up in the place of the Lord! This contest was no contest, and that is our lesson for today. Do we ever sit on the Lord’s throne? Do we ever act like Pharaoh? Maybe it’s time to reach in our pockets and shine a light.

The Heart of the Matter

The eighth plague, the plague of locusts, gets to the heart of the matter (pun intended).

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD” (Exodus 10:1 – 2).

Pharaoh is suffering from a hard heart. The big question is, “Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?” Did the Lord do it, or did Pharaoh do it to himself? In many places (including this passage, 7:3; 9:12; 10:20; 10:27), it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but in others, it says Pharaoh himself was responsible (8:15; 8:32; 9:34).

I remember teaching this principle to children during Vacation Bible School. We conducted a “science experiment.” The children made things out of clay, and I filled a plate with a pound of butter. Then we put them all out on the hot Phoenix summer sidewalk and left them for an hour. Both were exposed to the sun. What do you think happened? Yup, the clay turned into bricks, and the butter melted into a soupy mess. The same sun that hardened the clay melted the butter. No surprise!

One of the early church leaders was “Manaen, a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch” (Acts 13:1). Jesus called Herod the tetrarch “that fox” (Luke 13:2). He was responsible for beheading John the Baptist and crucifying Jesus. Manaen and Herod Antipas grew up together. They had the same education and opportunities, so why did one grow up to become a monster and the other died a beloved leader of the church? The same sun was shining on them both. The answer is in their hearts.

As I was working on this lesson, a dear friend of mine asked me, “What are the warning signs of a hard heart?” His answer is brilliant: EGO. A raging ego is a precursor to a spiritual heart attack. No wonder the Scripture repeatedly calls on Christians to humble themselves! Thanks, Tom.

Finally, the Apostle Paul told the Ephesians:

“You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:17 – 19).

Exercise: Underline the issues Paul shares in this passage that lead to or result from “hardness of heart.”

Hail No!

Did you know hail causes nearly $1 billion in damage to property and crops every year in the United States? That’s significantly more than the damage done by tornadoes. Fortunately, your chances of being killed by falling hail are much less than being struck by lightning; however, it does happen:

IN 1942 A BRITISH FOREST guard in Roopkund, India, made an alarming discovery. Some 16,000 feet above sea level, at the bottom of a small valley, was a frozen lake absolutely full of skeletons. That summer, ice melt revealed even more skeletal remains, floating in the water and lying haphazardly around the lake’s edges. Something horrible had happened here.
A National Geographic team set out to examine the bones in 2004. Besides dating the remains to around 850 AD, the team realized that everyone at the “Skeleton Lake” had died from blows to the head and shoulders caused by “blunt, round objects about the size of cricket balls.”
This eventually led the team to one conclusion: In 850 AD, this group of 200 some travelers was crossing this valley when they were caught in a sudden and severe hailstorm. An ancient folk song of the area describes a goddess so enraged at outsiders who defiled her mountain sanctuary that she rained death upon them with ice stones “as hard as iron.”
[1]

The seventh of the ten plagues of the Exodus was a plague of hail:

“Behold, about this time tomorrow I will cause very heavy hail to fall, such as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them.” Then whoever feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh hurried his slaves and his livestock into the houses, but whoever did not pay attention to the word of the LORD left his slaves and his livestock in the field … There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field (Exodus 9:18 – 21; 24 – 25).

Why don’t people listen to warnings? Perhaps they feel like they know better. (“The recommended speed is 25, but I think I can take the curve at 50.”) Perhaps they aren’t paying attention. (The ever-present “distracted driving.”) Maybe they didn’t believe it. Friends, it’s time to get ready. There is a great day coming!

  [1] Downloaded from https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/hail-no-an-account-of-the-worlds-biggest-deadliest-hailstorms March 29, 2021

Medicine Has Its Limits

Whereas the first five of the ten plagues of the Exodus affected the world around the Egyptians, the sixth plague, the plague of boils, affected them personally. The buzzing flies, annoying gnats, the death of the livestock, and their water turning into blood made life miserable. Still, those were things around them. This was different:

And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw them in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. It shall become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and become boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt.” So they took soot from the kiln and stood before Pharaoh. And Moses threw it in the air, and it became boils breaking out in sores on man and beast. And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils came upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians. But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses (Exodus 9:8 – 12).

The Egyptians worshiped many different gods, and commentators have been quick to correlate the other plagues with attacks on the various deities they worshiped. Ryken and Hughes observe:

The plague of boils was an attack on all the gods and goddesses that the Egyptians trusted for healing. When the Bible says that “the LORD … brought judgment on their gods” (Num. 33:4), it is speaking comprehensively. God defeated the entire pantheon of Egypt—Amon, Thoth, Imhotep, Sekhmet, and all the rest. Perhaps this explains why God sent such a variety of plagues on the Egyptians: He wanted to expose the impotence of their idolatry by causing each and every idol to fail in its area of special expertise. When the Egyptians were covered with painful, oozing sores, they discovered that their gods could not heal.

I am amazed at medical progress just in my short lifetime. Polio and smallpox have all but been eliminated. When faced with a pandemic, we race into the labs to develop new vaccines – and that’s a good thing, but we need to be careful to remember medicine has its limits. The gods and magicians of Pharaoh were powerless. Ryken and Hughes rightly remind us:

As a result of our advanced knowledge of the body and its various ailments, it is tempting to make medicine an object of faith. Most patients go to the hospital believing they will be cured. However, it doesn’t always work out that way. Doctors and nurses sometimes make mistakes. They don’t always make the right diagnosis or prescribe the right treatment. Besides, there is still no cure for death. So medicine has its limits.[1]

There is still a powerful place for prayer!

  [1] Ryken, P. G., & Hughes, R. K. (2005). Exodus: saved for God’s glory (p. 272). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

The Curse of a Hard Heart

The fifth of the ten plagues of the Exodus was the death of the Egyptian livestock. The Egyptian animals died, and the Israeli animals did not. Moses and Aaron were not required to do anything. They didn’t strike out with their staves. This was an act of God alone. Moses was only required to announce it. It came directly from the Lord. Likewise, Pharaoh didn’t repent or ask Moses to intervene on his behalf. All Pharaoh did was investigate:

“And Pharaoh sent, and behold, not one of the livestock of Israel was dead” (Exodus 9:7).

It has been my experience that once people have made up their minds, nothing will sway their hard hearts. They may call for “proof” – “If God exists, let Him strike me down!” – but even evidence won’t change their minds. “Don’t confuse me with the facts!”

In November 1945, Advertising and Selling magazine published an article by Roy S. Durstine entitled, “Don’t Confuse Me with the Facts.” He reported on a meeting between the advertising executives and a client:

A group from the agency had just finished its presentation of a market survey. The findings were conclusive—clearly showing that the policies being followed by the client could lead only to disappointment and perhaps disaster.

Despite the facts given in the presentation, the client had no desire to change the strategy that had been previously selected.

“I still think we’ll go along as we have been doing.”

“But how can you say that in the face of this evidence?” protested the agency man.

The client stared at the presentation, deep in thought. At last, he reached for a cigarette and said softly:

“Don’t confuse me with facts!”

But the client wasn’t the first to make that claim. Thousands of years before, Plato said, “I’m trying to think, don’t confuse me with the facts!” But most famously:

During the Watergate Hearings in August 1974, the pro-Nixon Representative from Indiana, Earl Landgrebe (in)famously retorted, “Don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind’s made up.” He went on to say, “I’m going to stick with my President even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot.” The next day Nixon resigned…and a few months later, Landgrebe was voted out of office.[1]

Pharaoh knew the Egyptian livestock were dead. Pharaoh knew the Lord was behind it, “But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go” (Exodus 9:7).

That’s the curse of a hard heart.

  [1] Downloaded from https://utahavalanchecenter.org/blog/16319 on March 28, 2021.

Fear of Flies

Fear of Flies

The last thing a kayaker does before pushing away from the shore to face white water is seal himself in his boat with a “spray skirt.” It wraps tightly around the rim of the cockpit and keeps the foam and spray on the outside of the boat. John, my Army buddy, was a great kayaker, but I remember how one day, he sealed himself in, braced hard in the water with his paddle, and pulled into the middle of a raging stream. Then suddenly, he sat bolt upright, dropped his precious paddle, and began pounding on the deck with his fists. When he sealed his spray skirt, he sealed a vicious grey fly inside. In the dark, the bug began to lunch on John’s exposed legs! I can still hear John screaming as his boat slowly turned upside down! Then it was silent save the roar of the river as his overturned boat was carried downstream, bouncing off the rocks.

That was a single biting fly. Can you imagine swarms of the little devils?

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself to Pharaoh, as he goes out to the water, and say to him, thus says the Lord, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. Or else, if you will not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants and your people, and into your houses (Exodus 8:20, 21).

I don’t like flies. I don’t think anyone enjoys a swarm of noxious flies swarming around them, whether they are biting flies or not. Can you picture them in your eyes, in your nose, and your mouth? It was too much for Pharaoh too. This time, he agrees to let the Israelites go into the wilderness to worship the Lord, but as soon as the flies were gone, so was Pharaoh’s promise. He didn’t keep his promise.

Sometimes we’re the same way. When times are tough, we turn to the Lord and beg for help, but when He answers our prayers, we conveniently forget. Perhaps, today, we should spend some time remembering – and thanking – the Lord for all of His blessings?

Learning to Live with It

The third plague happened when Aaron struck the earth with his staff, and the dust became a swarm of “gnats,” but what are gnats? The Hebrew word doesn’t help us very much. It’s only found here in Exodus 8 and Psalms 105:31, which is referring to this event. The word refers to tiny two-winged insects. They could be either gnats or mosquitoes. (Although the American Standard Version, King James Version, New King James Version, and English Revised Version translate it as “lice”! The New English Bible, for some reason, has “maggots.”). The notable point of this plague is that the Egyptian magicians couldn’t reproduce it with their trickery. I like what D.K. Stuart says about this event:

What is notably different about the third plague is the failure of the magicians. They had been able to make it look as if they could change water into blood and produce frogs by their magical arts. But what magician has ever done a trick with trained mosquitoes?[1]

Let’s reread the text:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt.’” And they did so. Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt. The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said (Exodus 8:16–19).

Whether you picture gnats, mosquitoes, lice, or maggots, the effect is the same. It’s not pretty! I would have to agree with the magicians, “This is the finger of God.” What I can’t understand is Pharaoh’s reaction. He “hardened” his heart. He didn’t even ask for this plague to be lifted!

Sometimes we turn a blind eye to sin. Perhaps we have become so accustomed to it, we no longer even see it, or, worse, we no longer care. Have we learned to live with the bugs?

  [1] Stuart, D. K. (2006). Exodus (Vol. 2, p. 211). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Why Wait?

As a little boy, the second plague was my favorite:

Thus says the LORD, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will plague all your country with frogs. The Nile shall swarm with frogs that shall come up into your house and into your bedroom and on your bed and into the houses of your servants and your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls. The frogs shall come up on you and on your people and on all your servants” (Exodus 8:1 – 4).

Can you imagine? Frogs in the living room. Frogs in the bedroom. Pull back the sheets and “ribbet” – frogs in your bed. Look in the mixing bowl: frogs. Look in the oven: frogs! Frogs everywhere!

Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Plead with the LORD to take away the frogs from me and from my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the LORD” (Exodus 8:8).

The amazing thing for me comes next. When Moses asked Pharaoh, “When?” (verse 9), Pharaoh replied, “Tomorrow” (verse 10). It was the same as saying, “Let me spend one more night with frogs on my pillow.” Why would he do such a thing? On the other hand, when someone has a toothache, and you suggest, “Let’s go to the dentist!” How often have you heard them reply, “It’s not that bad”?

Likewise, I have always been amazed at the end of a Bible study, when someone is ready to be baptized – to be cleansed from their sins – and they say, “Let’s wait until Sunday.”

I don’t understand. In the case of toothaches, frogs, and sin, “Why wait?”

What Will You Have to Drink?

There are two aisles in our small-town grocery store that are devoted to drinks. The shelves are weighed down with Coke and Pepsi products. Diet drinks, power drinks, flavored drinks, vitamin water, bottled water, distilled water – the variety is amazing. However, there is still nothing as refreshing as drinking cold, clear water right from the stream. Perhaps those days are gone. “Beaver Fever” and pollution have ruined those sources of refreshment, but I remember canoeing in Arkansas on a summer day. It was hot work, but all you had to do was lean over the side and drink your fill from the river. I remember countless times drinking from the streams that sprang directly from a snowfield.

Water is essential to life. Scientists tell us we are made up of mostly water. Without it, we would die in a matter of days.

Now turn your imagination to ancient Egypt: the land of the Nile. For the first of the Ten Plagues, Moses struck the river in front of Pharaoh with his staff, and the water turned into blood. The fish died. The water stank and no one could drink from it. Can you imagine the children returning to their mothers with a bucket of blood? Can you see the people rushing to the riverbank and then pulling back in horror? “What has happened?” But “Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened” (Exodus 7:22). In desperation, for the next seven days, the people dug for water. That gave them enough time to change the question from “What has happened?” to “Why has this happened?” That is a far more important question for us to ask. Think about it. “Why are these things happening to me?”