Bruce Nolan worked as a not-so-mild-mannered reporter for a television news station in Buffalo, New York. Eager to make a name for himself but repeatedly rebuffed, he complained that God was standing in his way.
But God turned Bruce’s world upside-down by giving him a measure of his divine powers. After becoming the master of his destiny, Bruce’s true self-absorbed nature became abundantly clear.
You can probably already guess that I’m referring to the movie Bruce Almighty.
Throughout the movie, we witness the power struggle between Bruce and God. Finally, at the end of the story, Bruce falls to his knees in the middle of the road and cries out to God in a pouring rainstorm, “I give up, I submit to your will, I can’t do this on my own!”
Why didn’t he just give up at the beginning of the movie? It would have prevented a world of sorrow and pain. Of course, it would have brought a quick conclusion to a good movie, too.
Like Bruce Nolan, all of us engage in a similar struggle with God.
In today’s reading, we’ll examine the story of a man much like Bruce—and probably like you and me, too.
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Exodus 8:1-6. The frog invasion makes sense because the Nile River had become uninhabitable. Incidentally, the Egyptians worshiped a frog-like goddess named Hequet.
Exodus 8:15. Previously, God said he was going to harden Pharaoh’s heart. But in this verse, we read that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Although God can do anything he wants, this verse tells me that Pharaoh had already displayed hardhearted tendencies.
Exodus 8:16-19. Scholars aren’t certain of the identity of the “gnats.” They now believe this was either a mosquito or tick infestation. Pick your poison! Even the Egyptian magicians admitted: “This is the finger of God.”
Exodus 8:20-32. In light of the rotting fish and frogs, the presence of flies makes sense. In this episode, we begin to see a crack in Pharaoh’s resolve, although he changes his mind and refuses to let Israel worship in the desert.
Exodus 9:1-7. The Bible Background Commentary explains, “The plague on the cattle is regularly identified as anthrax that was contracted from the bacteria that had come down the Nile and infected the fish, the frogs and the flies.” Incidentally, the Egyptians worshipped Hathor, the goddess of love, which looked like a cow, and a sacred bull named Apis.
Exodus 9:10-12. The Bible Background Commentary further explains: “Skin anthrax would be carried by the bites of the flies which had had contact with the frogs and cattle, and would produce sores, particularly on the hands and feet.”
Exodus 9:27. This is the second crack in Pharaoh’s resolve. He admits his sin.
Matthew 19:14. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (italics added). How did this ancient society view children? Dependent and socially powerless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to people like this.
Matthew 19:16-26. The New Bible Dictionary makes an interesting insight about the rich, young ruler: “The man was rich, moral and eager for eternal life, the ideal recruit to the disciple band.”
Matthew 19:21. Obviously, Jesus doesn’t ask everyone to sell all their possessions and give them to the poor. However, he does ask us to give him everything, and in fact, he already owns it (see Psalm 24:1 below in today’s reading). Robert Gundry adds a touch of discomfort to anyone who feels relieved about not receiving Jesus’ costly directive: “That Jesus did not command all his followers to sell all their possessions gives comfort only to the kind of people to whom he would issue that command.”
Psalm 24. Whenever I read this psalm, my heart jumps. It begins by setting the scene of God’s incredible power and might. Then it delves into our preparation of entering God’s presence. Finally, the last 4 verses conclude with the procession to the Temple. Make way for the King of Glory! The band Third Day recorded this song. If you’d like to see their video, click here.
Proverbs 6:1-5. The operative verse in this passage is “Go and humble yourself.” Repeatedly in Scripture, I find that humility is not a fruit of the Spirit. God doesn’t humble us, we must humble ourselves.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
Reading about Pharaoh’s ongoing trouble with Moses and his relentless plagues, I keep asking myself, Why doesn’t he just give up? If Pharaoh would just give in and let Israel leave the country, his life would get a lot better.
Really, I think that’s the question God asks all of us. Why don’t we just give up? Why do we resist him? His resolve is much stronger than ours. And usually, after losing the wrestling match, we walk away with a host of bumps and bruises.
A few years ago I stumbled across an anonymous quote that explains some of the pain we encounter in our struggle with God: “Pain plants the flag of reality in the fortress of a rebel heart.”
Sometimes pain happens. I can’t explain it, and hopefully someday God will. But in his love, I believe God occasionally allows us to feel pain in order to plant the flag of reality—his reality—in the fortress of our rebel hearts.
One of the overarching themes of Scripture is the importance of humility. Interestingly enough, God doesn’t make us humble ourselves. Nor is humility a fruit of the Spirit. It’s an act of the will. Our reading in Proverbs 6:3 reinforces this: “Go and humble yourself.”
Unfortunately, Pharaoh never learned to soften his heart and humble himself.
Fortunately, we don’t have to follow in Pharaoh’s footsteps.
- What spoke to your heart in today’s reading?
- In what areas do you encounter your greatest struggles with God? Why do you do it when you know you’re going to lose? You do know you’re going to lose, don’t you? What have you learned from your struggles?
- Referring to children, Jesus said “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” What does this look like in real life? What prevents you from being like a child?
- Why do you think humility is important to God? Who has modeled humility in your life?
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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.