This is our third week studying the Hebrew word for hope, MIQVEH, which also means a gathering, collection, or reservoir. It is one of the words God uses to describe Himself as our Hope, as I mentioned two weeks ago. Today we are going to discuss the second occurrence of MIQVEH in the Bible. It is translated as “reservoirs” in the verse below:
Then the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and raise your hand over the waters of Egypt—all its rivers, canals, ponds, and all the reservoirs. Turn all the water to blood. Everywhere in Egypt the water will turn to blood, even the water stored in wooden bowls and stone pots.
Exodus 7:19 New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.
A few generations before this plague there was an imprisoned Hebrew slave named Joseph who rose to a place of prominence because he displayed God’s power to interpret Pharoah’s dream. Joseph was a man of extraordinary administrative skill; everything he touched became successful and prosperous, even the nation of Egypt itself. It is thought that he created an irrigation system in Egypt (perhaps to mitigate or as a result of a seven-year famine), of which the infamous Joseph’s Canal at Hawara played a part. Joseph’s principles of irrigation seemed to bless and prosper the nation of Egypt posthumously: generations later while Joseph’s descendants and the Hebrew people were being oppressed as slaves, the Egyptians were still collecting water from rivers and canals into ponds and reservoirs “just in case”. Never again would they suffer as they once had. They had learned their lesson! As the verse above indicates, the Egyptians were also about to learn a new one…
Ironically, this was a lesson that the Hebrew people, as the nation of Israel, would also need to be reminded of. The Israelites were engaging in the worship according to the pattern that had been given to them at Sinai: they offered sacrifices and they fasted. However, their prayers were not being answered and they were wondering why. This is the response God gave them through the prophet Isaiah:
No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help...
“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
Isaiah 58:6, 7, 10-11 New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.
The Israelites were acting religious on the surface, but they were insulting God by oppressing their workers and taking advantage of the weak. They pretended that God was their hope even as they were depriving others of hope! Their oppression took the form of deprived wages, denied assistance, no hospitality, ignoring relatives, false accusations and gossip. God told Israel that if they fasted from their own selfishness and greed, it would do more to put them in a receptive position to receive His favor and blessing than if they tried to get His attention through comparatively meaningless self-deprivation.
This same issue with relying on oppression to get ahead was addressed earlier by Isaiah:
This is the reply of the Holy One of Israel:
“Because you despise what I tell you
and trust instead in oppression and lies,
calamity will come upon you suddenly—
like a bulging wall that bursts and falls.
In an instant it will collapse
and come crashing down.
Isaiah 30:12-13 New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.
I find it interesting that whenever we have an economic calamity, we use similar terminology: the bubble burst, the markets fell, the housing situation collapsed…and it seems to happen “suddenly” and “in an instant” indeed, even though the pressure (with ignored warning signs) had been mounting for months, perhaps years. We don’t have to investigate very far to find out that oppression and lies are endemic to economic maladies and can be singled out as the underlying cause of all material injustice.
This principle of avoiding oppression as a means to get ahead is recurrent throughout the Bible. I wonder if the accusations against God being good for allowing suffering in the world could be immediately stopped if we would consider that it is OUR job to take care of their needs, yet God is faithful to give them justice in the end. Consider these verses:
Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but helping the poor honors him.
Proverbs 14:31 New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.
The wicked who oppress the poor are like a hailstorm that beats down the harvest.
Proverbs 28:3 The Message Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
“But you! You have eyes only for greed and dishonesty! You murder the innocent, oppress the poor, and reign ruthlessly.”
Jeremiah 22:17 New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.
Even common people oppress the poor, rob the needy, and deprive foreigners of justice.
Ezekiel 22:29 New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.
Listen to me, you fat cows living in Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy, and who are always calling to your husbands, “Bring us another drink!”
Amos 4:1 New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.
For I know the vast number of your sins and the depth of your rebellions. You oppress good people by taking bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Amos 5:12 New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.
Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.
Zechariah 7:10 New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.
But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court?
James 2:6 New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.
Wow. God sounds ticked. Is it any wonder that we see the problems we do today? We insist that He do things for us, but we aren’t willing to lift a finger for anyone else. Our prayers that we send to heaven would have been gladly received, had they not been caught on our selfishness on the way up!
Perhaps you do give to the poor, practice hospitality regularly, care for your relatives and avoid gossiping about people. If you really are genuine, then your prayers should be answered more than most other people’s. It is important that we don’t get smug, however; oppression can hide itself in so many ways that it is not always readily apparent. It is ugly to look at so we have become pretty good at covering it up, renaming it, and justifying it.
Let’s go back to Egypt and the Genesis verse above. For years Egypt had been oppressing the Hebrews as slaves, using them for forced labor to make mud bricks. While it is not likely the Hebrews built the pyramids, Egypt profited from their “free labor”. Slaves were routinely violated and God saw it all. I think that we forget His omniscience means that God not only knows THAT something has happened, but he has an intimate, experiential knowledge of it. He sees every cell firing, the electrical impulses going down nerve pathways, the blood being spilled on the ground. Here is an example:
But the LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!
Genesis 4:10 New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.
God HEARD Abel’s blood crying out when his brother Cain murdered him. Personally, I think God feels every murder, every rape, every starving stomach crying out for food. It is a wonder He can hear anything else over all that noise. I’m pretty sure He is driven to distraction by it. And then our prayers come up for… more food. More clothes. More success. I don’t think there is anything wrong with those prayers, but they are probably less important to God than cries to God for rescue and to be allowed to live. I am not suggesting that God has to prioritize: God is not limited in His resource to meet everyone’s needs. However, I believe that God is not going to enable our disobedience by rewarding it unduly while others suffer. Meeting others’ needs is a reward in and of itself!
We are very much like Egypt. We have collected our hope into pools and reservoirs. For many those reservoirs are material possessions like houses, cars, retirement plans, etc. Those things are not at all bad, they are morally neutral; many of them have been collected according to godly principles even as the Egyptians had collected their water according to good irrigation principles. Having a pool or reservoir is not a crime; it is a sign (not the sign) of God’s blessing. For others, those pools are people; friends, family, followers, cities, communities and institutions. It is wonderful to love people, but we can all be led astray if we go along with the culture by practicing what God sees as oppression and covering it up with popular rhetoric.
What happens when our pools and reservoirs, our collections of hopes and dreams, become tainted…by blood?
I think the answer to that comes from another question: What was the tipping point in Egypt’s history? They had oppressed the Hebrews for hundreds of years and were prospering. God saw the injustice, but He was waiting to step in to stop it. I believe the tipping point came when Pharoah ordered the slaughter of all the Hebrew infants (it was also at this time that the sins of the people groups in Canaan were reaching their fullest expression). One of the Hebrew babies escaped and became the very Moses who, by the power of God, turned the Egyptians pools and reservoirs–even their sources, the rivers and canals–to blood. Those pools came to reflect the very injustice that had infiltrated Egyptian society and tainted what had once been the pride and joy of the civilized world.
Though the subject seems overdone in this pre-election season, I think abortion is going to be the tipping point that taints the pools of our material and cultural hope, though we may not see the full result for a time. We keep covering up the issue by renaming it as reproductive rights, family planning rights, and health rights. But God sees one thing and one thing only: blood. Blood with one DNA and filled with potential being spilled by someone more powerful with different DNA. Self-invented rights don’t get God’s attention over the screaming of blood: God knows He is the source of all truly ‘inalienable’ rights, especially the right to life that He gave freely as a gift. He also gave us our reproductive organs to enjoy (with instructions on how best to enjoy them), but not at the expense of His other gifts, including the right to life. God expects the strong to protect the weak; just because He does not intervene in each case does not mean that the pressure behind the wall isn’t mounting. His absence of intervention is not permission to continue; it is opportunity to repent and change course before the inevitable comes.
So let’s return to the person who has not oppressed the poor, who has helped friend and family member alike. What happens if such a person neglects to oppose this one issue, abortion? Or what if we should fail to do our part to bring an end to human trafficking, the modern sex slavery in which a girl can be bought for $150 (in the US civil war, a slave cost the equivalent of $30,000 in today’s money)? Leviticus 20:1-5, while it may not be directly enforceable today, makes it clear that if we look the other way, God holds us accountable. It isn’t enough to Him that we don’t do it, we must be fervent to eradicate it from our land. If we do not, the reservoirs of all our hopes and dreams–our economies and our institutions–will be tainted and rendered useless by the blood of those we neglected to help. The Bible makes it clear that everything touched by injustice will be destroyed beyond all hope of repair (Isaiah 30:14).
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,
and see that they get justice
Proverbs 31:8-9 New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.
So what are you doing to clear God’s ears of the noise of human suffering? Are you a voice for the oppressed? Are you willing to bring hope to those who have none?
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