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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.
May I please have all your silver and gold?
Exodus 25: Use a seventy-five-pound brick of pure gold to make the Lampstand and its accessories.
In addition to giving Moses the Ten Commandments during their meeting on Mount Sinai the Lord gives him the plans for the design for and the furnishings of the Tabernacle. This structure is to be a portable worship center. However, its portable status doesn’t mean corners will be cut. This will be the most amazing portable structure ever built and the materials used in construction will be first rate. Even the Lampstand is to reflect this: ornate, hammered out of pure gold, and alive with symbolism. Now how are ex-slaves to come up with “a seventy-five-pound brick of pure gold?” Actually, that problem was taken care of a few months earlier, just prior to the Passover. The Lord instructed the Israelites to go to the Egyptians and simply ask for their valuables! Without understanding why, the Egyptians said, “Sure, here’s all my silver and gold!” In that way, the Israelites left Egypt carrying with them tons of silver and gold. Now, we see the rest of that story. That silver and gold isn’t to be horded by individuals. Really, it was never theirs in the first place. Instead, it’s to be used in this one-of-a-kind construction project. So, what is it that the Lord has put in my hands that was never meant to be kept in the first place? How does he intend for me to use it? In this incident from Exodus I find a practical lesson in stewardship.
Take Away: As a person just passing through this world, nothing is every permanently mine.
Exodus 24: Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it as the people listened. They said, “Everything God said, we’ll do. Yes, we’ll obey.”
Things are coming together for this nation of ex-slaves. They’ve been delivered from the bondage of Egypt, are receiving constant guidance from the Lord who is also providing their needs. Now the rules for living have been laid out. Soon, God, Himself, will write out the basics on tablets of stone. To their credit, the people are ready. They pledge themselves to obedience. Now, you and I know that this isn’t going to work out. God’s faithfulness to them will be contrasted by their failure to keep the Covenant. Still, God isn’t setting them up to fail. In this Covenant we see all the potential for success. Their failure in breaking the Covenant is what stops the plan from being a success. Hundreds of years later God will initiate another plan. You know it: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son….” Once again, and in an even more complete way, everything’s in place for success. And, once again God’s part is perfect. In fact, he’s even gone so far as to provide us the grace to make the same commitment they made. Now, Heaven awaits our response to the New Covenant.
Take Away: We have every reason in the world to live victorious, godly lives.
God will go before you
Exodus 23: I won’t get rid of them all at once lest the land grow up in weeds and the wild animals take over.
The Lord promises his people that he’ll not only be with them but will also go before them. Before they ever arrive in Canaan the Lord will already be at work there, preparing the way for them. The inhabitants of that land will be visited by “Terror” and “Despair.” Just the thought of the coming Israelites will cause them to withdraw, yielding the land to them without a fight. However, the Lord also tells them that the withdrawal of these heathen people won’t happen all at once. If all human beings desert the land then the weeds and wild animals will take over and Canaan land won’t be as wonderful as the Lord wants it to be for his people. While I know it didn’t work out, I can’t help but imagine a very different picture from both the books of Joshua and Judges. As I consider this passage I find myself thinking of God’s work in my life. As one of God’s people I have some precious promises. He’s with me and he’ll make a way even when there is no way. However, that doesn’t mean all the battles are already won. Like the people of Israel, I’m to trust in the Lord and to move forward, believing that, by his grace, I can face whatever obstacles might arise. It would be nice if all the signal lights in my life were permanently on green even as I sit in the driveway, but it doesn’t work that way. I have to move out in trust and allow the Lord to help me through the rough areas one step at a time.
Take Away: God’s work in my life is that of unfolding grace, him making the way for me, one day at a time.
Living as one of God’s people
Exodus 22: Don’t be stingy as your wine vats fill up. Dedicate your firstborn sons to me.
If anyone thinks the Law given at Mount Sinai is all about the Ten Commandments or at least is filled with regulations concerning their religion they need to spend some time in the second half of the Book of Exodus. The regulations stated here are a mulligan stew of civil, personal, and religious rules and regulations. The Lord’s just as interested in telling them how to settle a property dispute as he is in telling them how to conduct a worship service. For instance, he tells them that as they prosper in the land he’s giving them that they’re to live generous lives. Then, in the very next sentence he tells them that they’re to dedicate their firstborn sons to him. For these people, there’s to be no difference between their “religious” lives and their “secular” lives. Instead, they’re to live their “whole lives” under the authority of God. Refraining from eating the meat of some dead animal they find in the field and making sacrifices only to the Lord God are both filed under the heading of “be holy.” A lesson for me in all this is that my life as a whole is to be lived under the authority of the Lord. I’m to live a generous, honest, compassionate life. Not only am I to dedicate my children to the Lord, but, as my “wine vats fill up” I’m to be a generous person, sharing the blessing the Lord has given me. The two, secular and religious, are really just one, living as one of God’s people.
Take Away: My entire life is to be lived as a person of God.
The Ten Commandments
Exodus 20: I am God, your God.
And so it begins. This God who spoke to Moses through the burning bush, this God who brought the plagues to Egypt in securing their freedom, this God who delivered them at the Red Sea now describes how they’re to live. He didn’t bring them up out of Egypt so they could do their own thing, living as they pleased. The Lord God brought them out of slavery to be his own people. Their relationship to their God is going to be very different than the Egyptians relationship with their gods. The very first thing their Redeemer does is state Ten Commandments to them. These Commandments are just as focused on how a man treats his neighbor as how a man relates to his God. In this new relationship with the Almighty they’ll treat the Lord with absolute reverence, but they’ll also treat one another with respect, honesty, and fairness. One doesn’t have to be Jewish or Christian to recognize the brilliance of the Ten Commandments. In just a few words the foundation is laid for a God-fearing and just society. To this day there’s no finer expression of how society can function at its best. This gift from God to his people is every bit as impressive as was his parting the Red Sea for them.
Take Away: We can find no better set of rules for living than what we find in the Ten Commandments.
The frightening side of God
Exodus 19: Warning! Don’t climb the mountain.
Of all the appearances of God on earth in the Bible the coming of the Almighty to Mount Sinai is the most impressive. Earlier, the Lord appeared to Moses in a burning bush. Now he appears to Israel in a burning mountain. There are thick clouds, thunder, earthquakes, and the sound of trumpet blasts. The people are warned to keep their distance or die. As I read this event I find myself wondering why God came in such a dramatic way. Centuries earlier, he came to the first man and woman for a quiet conversation in the cool of the day. Later on he wrestled with Jacob through the night. However, here at Sinai the appearance of the Lord is the most dramatic event to have ever happened on the face of the earth. I think the Lord’s making the point that he’s not a God to be trifled with. If he’s to make Israel into his own people they must grasp something of his holiness. They need to see him as more than a God who gives them free food each morning and who helps them win battles. Instead, they need to see the awful power of his holiness. This is a God to serve, to reverence, and to obey. Before Moses ever begins his unforgettable encounter with the Divine there are lessons to be learned. We Christians focus on an entirely different view of God. We see him as a meek Carpenter who loves us even to a cross. That, of course, is a correct view of the Lord. However, there’s more to him than that. Each of us must spend some reverent and fearful time at Sinai if we’re to begin understanding who God is.
Take Away: Mt. Sinai is a good place to take some “reverence lessons.”
What an offer
Exodus 19: Everything God says, we will do.
The miracle at the Red Sea has provided a deliverance that will be remembered forever. However, what’s about to happen is intended to form these newly freed slaves into a people of God. They’re camped at the foot of Sinai and the Lord is stating his plan for them. If they’ll listen obediently to his words they’ll be a unique people on the face of the earth: a kingdom of priests who enjoy the blessings of the Almighty. The elders of Israel immediately respond that “everything God says, we will do.” I know that I’m standing at the beginning of what will be a long, failure-filled journey. They won’t even break camp at Sinai before there’s a massive spiritual failure. Still, if I stop looking ahead and simply consider this exchange, I’m impressed by what I see. First, The Lord’s making the wonderful, amazing promise of connecting their lives to his. They don’t deserve it but in an amazing act of grace the offer is made. Second, they say “yes.” Again, I know that many failures are coming, but in this time and place, when God offers them this unlikely partnership, they respond with just the right answer. In spite of the fact that I know things aren’t going to always work out as they should I also remember here that had they said, “No” the story would end here and now. In saying “yes” to God they open the door to an unprecedented relationship with him. To some extent, all human beings receive this same offer from the Lord. We can respond that we’re not worthy or that it’s too hard or that we’re likely to fail. Know what? He already knows all that. Still, the offer is there. When the Lord calls my name, I can respond no better than these ancient Israelites did: “Everything God says, we will do.”
Take Away: I can’t do better than saying the “big yes” to the Lord.
Having a Moses Complex
Exodus 18: This is no way to go about it. You’ll burn out…you can’t do this alone.
Moses is overwhelmed by his responsibilities yet he presses on. From morning to night he deals with the issues of leadership as this nation of former slaves struggles with issues of personal responsibility. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, visits and sees what’s happening. Moses needs to get organized by surrounding himself with capable assistants. That will be best for him, for the people of God, and even for the leaders he enlists. To do otherwise is to invite disaster because Moses does have a job to do and if he burns himself out trying to do everything he’ll end up doing nothing. Moses accepts the word of wisdom from Jethro and surrounds himself with competent, God-fearing, loyal people. I think we pastors sometimes have a “Moses complex.” It isn’t entirely our fault. The “higher-ups” are very pastor focused and our lay people will cheer us right into the grave as we try to do it all. We’re wise to spend some time listening to old Jethro and begin handing some things off to good people who are likely more gifted in specific areas than we are anyway. That will free them up to do what God gifted them to do and it will also let us focus our energy doing what we’re called to do in the first place.
Take Away: Leadership doesn’t mean doing everything.