Exodus 34: He didn’t know that the skin of his face glowed because he had been speaking with God.
Coming into the physical presence of God impacts Moses in a physical way. His face glows. I haven’t a clue as to how this works, but, apparently, it’s intentional on God’s part. Even though I can’t explain the “how” I think I may know the “why” of the shining face. When Moses comes down from the mountain the previous time, he finds that the people have cast off their faith. This time, God wants there to be something about Moses that grabs their attention; something that these who are at the kindergarten level of understanding God can grasp. Therefore, Moses’ face reflects the transcendent holiness of God. Even that’s a bit too much for them, so they ask that Moses wear a veil as he reports what God is saying to him on the mountain. Of course, preachers like me have been drawing from this story to remind people to “let their face show it” across the years and I do think God intends this. God’s people should have a “look” of inner peace, joy, hope, and, yes, holiness. Like Moses, we spend time in the presence of the Almighty and everything about us reflects that.
Take Away: “If you’re happy and you know it then your face will surely show it.” – Children’s Sunday School song
Exodus 34: God, God a God of mercy and grace, endlessly patient – so much love, so deeply true – loyal in love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
Sinai II is taking place. During Sinai I, while the people rebelled Moses was on the mountain having an awesome encounter with God. Seeing that the people rebelled against God and his ways before they could even get started Moses broke the tablets containing the Law. However, Moses still intercedes for them and God graciously gives them another chance. In fact, God is willing to reveal himself to Moses in even a more personal way than he did out in the desert in the burning bush or when he came to Sinai the first time. It’s during this indescribable encounter that the words that arrest our attention today are stated. Old Moses can hardly contain himself as he proclaims God’s mercy, grace, and patience. Nope! This isn’t Moses speaking. Instead, it’s God! So what’s going on here? I think I know. As the Almighty begins to create a people and works specifically with the man he’s chosen to lead them, he’s giving Moses a lesson in worship. And Moses gets it! He falls on his face before God. Maybe I need some worship lessons too. I’m glad the Lord is a willing Teacher.
Take Away: Thank God for Second Chances and thank him also for being such a patient teacher.
Exodus 33: If your presence doesn’t take the lead here, call this trip off right now.
Walking with the Lord
Following the golden calf incident the Lord tells Moses he’s going to change his relationship with the Israelites. Instead of being personally present, guiding them to the Promised Land, the Lord is going to assign that job to an angel. These Israelites, the Lord says, are a hard-headed people and they might just push too hard against God and be destroyed because of it. In response, Moses has another meeting with the Lord as the Pillar of Cloud descends on the Tabernacle. As Abraham interceded for the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah centuries earlier, Moses begins to deal with the Almighty. He reminds the Lord that it was the Lord, himself, who called him from tending sheep to lead these people. He doesn’t want to settle for an angel. Instead, he wants the presence of the Lord, himself, on his life and on the lives of the Israelites. In desperate insistence, Moses declares, “If your presence doesn’t take the lead here, call this trip off right now….are you traveling with us or not?” In the face of this intercession the Lord relents. It won’t be an angel who travels with the Israelites; it will be the Lord, himself. I have some theological issues with this whole exchange. After all, isn’t the Lord everywhere, all the time? Still, I’m drawn to this exchange between Moses and the Lord. As wonderful as an angelic visitation might be, it doesn’t hold a candle to the very presence of the Lord in my life. As Moses indicates, he doesn’t want to take a single step without the Lord. As I rise in the morning and enter into my day I want to do so in the spirit of Moses: I don’t want to say a word, to do a deed, to walk a step without the Lord in my life.
Take Away: I want to live in constant fellowship with the Lord, every step of the way.
A lesson on leadership
Exodus 32: Moses said to Aaron, “What on Earth did these people ever do to you that you involved them in this huge sin?” Aaron said, “Master, don’t be angry. You know this people and how set on evil they are.”
Aaron is left in charge while Moses is up on the mountain meeting with God. Just as the Lord said, there’s an idol-centered orgy going on. Moses demands an explanation from his brother who responds that these people are just bad people and there’s nothing he can do. Aaron is supposed to be the leader here, but he’s a spectacular failure. Leaders must have vision and be skilled in organizing and persuading people to work toward the fulfillment of that vision. Aaron’s view of leadership is to help the people do what they want to do already. His excuse to Moses is, “that’s just how these people are.” His error is huge and because of it he fails his people, Moses, and God. Genuine leaders don’t wring their hands as people do the wrong thing. Neither is it testing the political winds and “leading” the people to do what they already want to do, right or wrong. In fact, leadership can be lonely and occasionally it is practically suicidal. Aaron should have stood for God’s way even if it meant that the people just ran over him to do what they wanted in the first place. Moses understands leadership. He takes a position away from the goings on and calls for those who are on God’s side to join him. He’s going to make things right no matter what the cost. That’s leadership.
Take Away: Leadership is more than helping people do what they would do anyway.
Sons and daughters of Bezael and Oholiab
Exodus 31: I’ve personally chosen Bezael son of Uri…I’ve filled him with the Spirit of God.
Here we are at the familiar commissioning of Bezael and his assistant Oholiab. We know all about them, right? I’m kidding, these two men are lost deep in the pages of our Old Testaments and only the finest of Sunday School scholars knows who they are. Really, that’s too bad because today pastors of small and medium sized churches owe a lot to modern day Bazael’s and Oholiab’s. You see, Moses is receiving lots of complicated construction projects from the Lord, but, as far as I can tell, there’s not a blueprint in sight. The Lord tells Moses to just take note of what he’s being told but not to worry about the actual construction because there are two men down at the foot of the mountain that have been filled with the Spirit. The result of that filling is not that they’ll be preachers or prophets or singers. They are Spirit-filled craftsmen. All Moses has to do is give them the instructions he’s receiving from the Lord and they’ll take it from there. I firmly believe that the Spirit still empowers craftsmen (and women) for the hands-on needs of the church. For instance, when we have a church dinner, I’ve learned to stay out of the way as several women in the congregation are gifted at planning and executing church dinners. A while back someone came up with the idea of removing all the concrete sidewalks of our church building and replacing them with beautiful paving bricks. You can take all I know about stuff like that and put it in a thimble but they took that project on. I helped where I could, mainly as a “brick carrier.” Both men and women went to work on that big project and it came as no surprise to me that some of those folks knew how to do it. They handled everything from preparing the ground to knowing how to create a pleasing pattern in the bricks. In the church we tend to lift great speakers and singers but, I fear, fail to recognize the Spirit powered hands-on people. Thank God for sons and daughters of Bezael and Oholiab.
Take Away: There are many gifts for service, all of value to God and his people.
It’s a local call
Exodus 29: I’ll move in and live with the Israelites. I’ll be their God. They’ll realize that I am their God….
Moses, their leader, is on the mountaintop, both physically and spiritually, in conference with God Almighty who’s giving him all kinds of instructions. The Lord intends to make the people of Israel a unique nation on the face of the earth. Right now the Lord is in the process of setting everything in motion. In the midst of the detailed plans for the Tabernacle and it’s furnishings I hear an earth shaking promise from God. He says, “I’ll move in and live…I’ll be their God…they’ll realize that….” This concept is both humbling and thrilling. The Lord isn’t going to sit up on Mount Sinai, distant and unapproachable. Instead, he’s moving in with them. Some years ago a joke was going around about churches having a “golden telephone” providing direct access to the Lord. The punch line depended on where the joke teller lived. Of course, for me, Texas was the featured state. Using the golden telephone in Texas is much cheaper because calling heaven is local call from Texas. In this passage in Exodus we find that the Lord intends that it be a “local call” when his people call his name. He’s moving in and has no desire to be beyond our reach. It’s humbling to think that God Almighty would take such interest in mere human beings. However, it’s also thrilling to consider that he wants to move into my neighborhood and be an active participant in my everyday life. For Moses, this is all about the Tabernacle and worship there. For me it is all about Jesus coming and then sending his Holy Spirit to “move in and live” in my heart. “Oh Lord, come on in, you’re welcome here.”
Take Away: The Lord is as near as my next thought directed to him.
The Urim and Thummim
Exodus 28: Place the Urim and Thummim in the Breastpiece of Judgment.
One of the mysteries of the Bible surrounds the Urim (“light”) and the Thummim (“truth,” or “perfection”). When they’re mentioned by the writers of the Bible those writers assume everyone knows all about them, so there’s no description or explanation of how they were used. Some think they were a sort of dice used to ascertain the will of the Lord – kind of like casting lots. Others believe that the Lord used them by causing some combination of precious stones on them to glow, indicating “yes” or “no” – a sort of red light/green light approach. Apparently, the High Priest was not only the keeper of the Urim and the Thummim but also the only one who was authorized to use them in seeking the will of the Lord. I think I lean toward the red light/green light understanding of the Urim and the Thummim. After all, even as these are being used there’s a Pillar of Fire and Cloud overhead and manna appearing every morning. Having glowing stones of some sort to give direction is certainly in keeping with all the other miracles they’re experiencing daily. I can’t help but think that having a Urim and Thummim would sure be handy today. Once, when I was barely out of my teens I tried using my Bible that way. I had a decision to make and tried praying about it, and then flipping my Bible open to read the first verse I saw. I kind of got an answer, but looking back, I think I saw what I really wanted to see in the first place. These days I better understand that God calls me to a life of faith and trust. He’s a communicating God and when he has something to say to me I won’t need glowing stones or a random verse from the Bible to know what he’s saying. Still, I admit that if I had a Urim and Thummim in my pocket that I’d be tempted to use them once in a while!
Take Away: The Lord is well capable of communicating his will to me if I’ll patiently listen.