When we lived in Texas, a hail storm passed through our neighborhood leaving behind baseball-sized chunks of ice and a lot of damage in its wake. We watched the hail bounce in our backyard from the safety of our house, grateful we had heeded the weather warning and brought our cars into the garage. When it was over, we marveled at the size of the hail and despaired at the state of our roof!
This is the storm that came to mind when I was reading in Exodus. God warned Pharaoh, who had enslaved the Israelites: “tomorrow I will cause very heavy hail to fall, such as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded till now.” (Exodus 9:18) This was the sixth in a series of plagues meant to persuade Pharaoh to let God’s people go, and release them from their bonds of slavery.
A second chance
This time, however, in an act of mercy, God advised the Egyptians to gather every man and beast indoors so that they would not die when the hail came. It is the only plague where the extreme consequences are avoidable. Up until this moment, there has been no escape from the river turned to blood, the frogs, the gnats, the flies, the death of their livestock. But God graciously grants Israel’s oppressors a way to avoid death-by-hail:
“Then, whoever feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh hurried to his slaves and his livestock into the houses, but whoever did not pay attention to the word of the Lord left his slaves and livestock in the field.” (Exodus 9:20-21, ESV)
There were two responses to God’s warning: either His words were taken seriously or His words were ignored. Embedded in this contrast, the truth emerges: belief leads to action.
What about us?
This is both uncomfortable and convicting for someone like me, who grew up in the church. I’m very familiar with my Bible, can even quote the red-lettered words of Jesus. But that familiarity can breed complacency, can remove the challenge out of his parables, can make my eyes gloss over God’s wondrous works throughout the Old and New Testament.
The warning in the plague of hail isn’t just for the Egyptians, it’s for me too. Am I paying attention to the words of the Lord? Am I taking action on what I believe?
Author Skye Jethani, in his book about the Sermon on the Mount, puts it this way:
“What if the underlying malady afflicting Christians today isn’t that we take Jesus too seriously but that we’ve failed to take Him seriously enough?”
If Jesus is God and His words are true—and if we profess to believe those words—then our actions will reflect those beliefs. Our very lives will be the evidence that we take Jesus seriously. The fruit will be visible.
I would like to believe that it is obvious to all that I am a follower of Jesus, that if someone was to take stock of my planner, my bank account, my bookshelves, my relationships, and the words that come out of my mouth, they would conclude that I take Jesus seriously.
But I know I fall short. I revert back to selfishness and pride. I care more about my own comfort than justice. I show judgement rather than mercy. My words are often more harsh than gentle. I only love those who are easy to love.
Sometimes following Jesus and taking His words seriously feels impossible. Sometimes it feels easier to be my own god. This is why the Christian life is marked by repentance. That word carries a lot of shame and heaviness with it, but I’ve recently come to see it in a new light, thanks to the Irish theologian and poet Padraig O Tuama. He explains that the Greek word for “repentance” is metanoia and it means “to change your thoughts, to change your mind, to turn in a new direction, to reverse a direction and go a different way.”
He goes on to say: “A Greek word for ‘sin’ is hamartia, which means ‘to miss the mark.’ So when we discover that we are missing the mark, we reorient our direction.”
A holy about-face, if you will.
The Egyptians who did not listen to the words of God about the hailstorm had no chance to repent.
But we do.
We can read what Jesus said about His upside-down kingdom, we can remember the most important thing is to love God and love our neighbor (even the one who’s flying the wrong flag in his yard) and we can aim to take Him seriously.
And when our actions don’t reflect our beliefs, we can repent—reorient our direction—and ask the Holy Spirit for help to live as Jesus lived. Thanks to Jesus, we have an infinite number of second chances.
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