With Friends Like These…

1 “Has not man a hard service on earth,
    and are not his days like the days of a hired hand?
Like a slave who longs for the shadow,
    and like a hired hand who looks for his wages,
so I am allotted months of emptiness,
    and nights of misery are apportioned to me.
When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I arise?’
    But the night is long,
    and I am full of tossing till the dawn.
My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt;
    my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle
    and come to their end without hope.

“Remember that my life is a breath;
    my eye will never again see good.
The eye of him who sees me will behold me no more;
    while your eyes are on me, I shall be gone.
As the cloud fades and vanishes,
    so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up;
10 he returns no more to his house,
    nor does his place know him anymore.

11 “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
    I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
    I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
12 Am I the sea, or a sea monster,
    that you set a guard over me?
13 When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me,
    my couch will ease my complaint,’
14 then you scare me with dreams
    and terrify me with visions,
15 so that I would choose strangling
    and death rather than my bones.
16 I loathe my life; I would not live forever.
    Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.
17 What is man, that you make so much of him,
    and that you set your heart on him,
18 visit him every morning
    and test him every moment?
19 How long will you not look away from me,
    nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit?
20 If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind?
    Why have you made me your mark?
    Why have I become a burden to you?
21 Why do you not pardon my transgression
    and take away my iniquity?
For now I shall lie in the earth;
    you will seek me, but I shall not be.” – Job 7:1-21 ESV

Job pulls out all the stops, unleashing a torrent of pain-induced questions mixed with a heavy dose of invectives against his so-called friend, Eliphaz. He has had enough of listening to pious-sounding advice that only intensifies his misery while raising more questions than answers.

Job’s statements recorded in this section contain direct attacks on Eliphaz as well as more veiled questions aimed at God. It is partly a self-defense and a soliloquy. Job seems to be letting his inner thoughts pour out with no attempt to manage their intensity or worry about the impact they may have on the hearer. He can no longer constrain his growing frustration and allows a barrage of pent-up anger to flow from his lips unabated.

But even considering his circumstances, Job’s words are shocking to the ears. As followers of God, we can’t help but question the propriety of his unfiltered and ungodly-sounding speech. Can he say the things he is saying? Is it okay for someone to talk like that, especially to God? It all sounds so unfaithful. The degree of his pessimism appears to be off the charts. Where’s his faith? Just listen to his words:

“I hate this life! Who needs any more of this? Let me alone! There’s nothing to my life – it’s nothing but smoke.” – Job 7:16 MSG

A believer isn’t supposed to think like this, let alone talk like this, is he? Just listen to the way he addresses God.

“Let up on me, will you? Can’t you even let me spit in peace?” – Job 7:19 MSG

How can he get away with that? Shouldn’t we say something? Shouldn’t I quote a verse to him? Doesn’t he need a good dose of Romans 8:28?

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Or how about 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18? That’s a good one. “Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” This guy just needs someone to read him the proverbial riot act and tell him to shut up and shape up.

But wait a minute. Before we blow into another person’s despair with our gems of wisdom and some ill-placed and taken-out-of-context Scriptures, let’s try to understand where they’re coming from. Let’s enter into their situation and feel their pain. Let’s share their grief. Let’s get into their shoes and try to experience what they are going through.

Too often, we try to alleviate someone else’s misery because we want it to go away for our sake, not theirs. We want the other person’s pain to go away because it causes us to doubt. It tests our faith. Listen to what Job said about his friends: “They arrive so confident – but what a disappointment! They get there, and their faces fall! And you, my so-called friends, are no better – there’s nothing to you! One look at a hard scene and you shrink in fear” (Job 6:20-21 MSG).

You see, pain is – well, painful. It is hard to watch someone suffer and even more difficult to walk into someone else’s heartache and simply be there for them. We want to fix it. We want to pray them out of their situation. We want to counsel them back into wholeness. And while there’s nothing wrong with prayer or biblically-based counsel, God may simply want us to go through this moment with them to provide love and concern. He may not want us to fix them; He may just want us to care about them.

There is something uncomfortable about Job’s words in this chapter. He is being brutally honest and it assaults our Christian sensibilities. He is saying things that “good” Christians should not say. He is being TOO honest, and it makes us squirm. But in the midst of his pain, Job has lost all his pious inhibitions. He is beyond worrying about what others think about him because he is fighting for his life. Loss has a way of peeling away the layers of pretense and getting us down to the bare reality of life. It causes us to question, and those questions make others uncomfortable.

But why does the pain and suffering of others make us uncomfortable? It’s usually because we don’t have the answers. Of course, those of us who have grown up in the church have the standard Sunday School answers. We know a handful of verses we can apply to a given situation but most of us don’t speak from experience. We have been programmed with the proper responses but our words don’t always reflect a personal point of reference.

Job’s friends had not walked in his sandals. They had never been through what he was experiencing, so they couldn’t relate and it made them uncomfortable. But if any one of them had suffered the kind of losses Job had, they would probably have said less and hugged more. They would have allowed their friend to vent, understanding that it was part of the healing process.

Is there a time to speak up? Certainly. But sometimes it is enough just to show up; to give those who are going through tragedy a chance to express their grief, vent their anger, and ask their questions. God can handle it, so why can’t we? I think it’s because, in the back of our minds, we don’t like to witness the suffering of others because it raises doubts in our own minds. Where is God? Why does He allow good people to go through difficulties? If it can happen to them, what guarantee do I have that the same thing won’t happen to me?

Suffering causes us to doubt. It tests our own belief system. But that’s okay. Part of the reason God placed us within the body of Christ is that we might go through difficulty together. I can learn from the heartache and hurt of others. I can grow from their difficulty – alongside them. Job’s friends could have learned a lot – if they would have only listened.

Job made it clear. He was in pain and he was no longer willing to keep quiet.

“I cannot keep from speaking.
    I must express my anguish.
    My bitter soul must complain. – Job 7:11 NLT

And while Job’s skin was covered with sores, his mind was filled with questions. He couldn’t understand what was happening to him. He desperately needed to know he was still loved because he felt completely abandoned and alone. And in a desperate attempt to seek solace and comfort from God, he cried out, “Why not just forgive my sin and take away my guilt? For soon I will lie down in the dust and die. When you look for me, I will be gone” (Job 7:21 NLT).

It was at that moment that Job needed his friends to show up and wrap their arms around him. He needed to know he was not alone. He needed to be reminded that his God still loved him. But as we will see, Job’s friends failed to hear what he had to say. Rather than listen and love, they will take turns berating their beaten-down friend and attempting to set themselves up as his spiritual superiors and moral betters. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Journey from Merit to Mercy

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. – Hebrews 12:18-24 ESV

Two-MountainsThe author of Hebrews compares the Christian life to that of a long and arduous journey. Because of his Hebrew audience, he most likely had in mind the more than 40-year journey the people of Israel took to get to the land promised by God to their forefather, Abraham.

That trek had ended up being an ultra-marathon, covering thousands of miles and four decades, and it required incredible endurance and a constant awareness that there truly was a goal in mind. They were headed somewhere. The seemingly endless journey had an actual destination. Even on those days when it all felt pointless and mind-numbingly repetitious, they had to keep walking and trusting that God knew what He was doing and that Moses knew where he was going. At times, they had their doubts and felt free to make them known.

In these verses, the author contrasts Mount Sinai with Mount Zion. The first mountain was from their past. It was the place, early on in the Exodus story, where God had met with Moses and given him the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant. That fateful day, when Moses prepared to ascend Mount Sinai had been a terrifying and life-changing moment for the people of God.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. – Exodus 19:16-19 ESV

The physical manifestations that accompanied the presence of God on the pinnacle of the mountain had left the people in a state of fear and anxiety. The Exodus account goes on to say, “when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die’” (Exodus 20:18-19 ESV).

The dramatic pyrotechnic display they witnessed that day left them terrified. None of them missed the significance or symbolism of it all. Their God was powerful, holy, transcendent, and not to be trifled with. The dramatic display on the top of Mount Sinai was intended to reinforce in their minds the holiness of God. It was also a reminder of their own sinfulness. That fact would be reinforced by God’s giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses.

But as the book of Exodus recounts, the first time Moses returned from the top of the mountain with the tablets in his hands, he found the people worshiping the golden calf. Just days after the dramatic and frightening display of God’s presence on the mountain that had left them trembling in fear, they had determined to make their own god. Moses had been gone for 40 days and the people began to doubt that he would ever return. So, in his absence, they convinced Aaron, Moses’ older brother, to fashion a false god out of their trinkets of gold.

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 32:1 NLT

Angered by the actions of His rebellious people, God informed Moses of His intentions to destroy them.

“I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.” – Exodus 32:9-10 NLT

But Moses interceded on behalf of the people, pleading with God to remember the covenant He had made with Abraham.

“Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’” – Exodus 32:12-13 NLT

But their sinful actions produced painful consequences. That very day, God used the Levites to execute 3,000 individuals who had instigated the rebellion. So, from that day forward, the remaining Israelites would always view Mount Sinai as a symbol of God’s holiness and their own unrighteousness, and the Law God gave them would prove to be a constant reminder of their own sinfulness and incapacity to live obediently.

But for the believer, Mount Zion is a radically different mountain that represents an altogether different encounter with God. Mount Sinai was physical in nature and could be seen and touched, albeit on pain of death. Yet Mount Zion is a spiritual mountain. There is no smoke, fire, thunder, lightning, or ban against drawing near. Mount Zion is not only approachable, it is preferable. It is our final destination. It represents “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22 ESV).

During the reigns of David and Solomon, Jerusalem was a powerful city, the capital of the Jewish empire. It was in Jerusalem that Solomon built the temple. It was there that the people came each year on the Day of Atonement to make sacrifices to God. As the people journeyed from the surrounding areas up to Jerusalem, they would sing the Songs of Ascent found in the Psalms. One of them says, “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 125:1-2 ESV).

Jerusalem, the royal city, sat on the top of Mount Zion, where it represented the presence of God. It was there that God dwelt in the Holy of Holies of the temple. It was to Zion that the people walked in order to celebrate the various feasts and festivals. It was to Mount Zion they ascended to receive forgiveness of sin and to have their relationship with God restored.

For those who have placed their faith in Jesus, Mount Zion is the final destination on their spiritual journey. It represents the believer’s heavenly home – “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” Christ-followers are on a journey to a place where they will encounter God, but rather than experiencing fear and trembling, they will enjoy peace, acceptance, joy, and freedom from sin and sorrow. There will be no condemnation. There will be no need for the law to remind us of God’s holy expectations. We will be holy.

There will be no conviction of sin or any need for the law to expose our sin anymore because we will be sinless. In a sense, the Christian life is a journey from one mountain to another. It is a long, sometimes difficult trip away from the mountain where man’s relationship with God was marked by law, rule-keeping, disobedience, fear, and failure. It is a daily walk toward another mountain where we will find complete forgiveness, the redemption of our bodies, and our final glorification.

Paul reminds us, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21 ESV).

We are on our way to Mount Zion. That is our final destination. It is our home. And while the journey there may seem long and at times difficult, we must keep our eye on the prize. We must never turn back to Mount Sinai, marked by rules and a constant reminder of our guilt and sin. Mount Zion is our home, where we will be with all those who have gone before us and enjoy unbroken fellowship with God and “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 12:24 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

And Now, the Bad News

14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. 18 And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, 19 and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.

21 “Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. 22 And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.

23 “And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, 24 then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. 25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.

27 “But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, 28 then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. 31 And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. 32 And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it. 33 And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.

34 “Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it. 36 And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. 37 They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. 38 And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. 39 And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies’ lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them. Leviticus 26:14-39 ESV

After having listed the manifold blessings that accompany obedience, God now addresses the less attractive topic of divine discipline for disobedience. In these verses, God provides a five-stage outline of how things will turn out for His people should they refuse to remain faithful to Him, and the list of potential judgments is grim and intended to deter them from considering disobedience as a course of action. God wanted them to understand the gravity of the situation. He had set them apart as His chosen people and made a binding covenant with them.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

This agreement between God and His people sometimes referred to as the Mosaic Covenant, was conditional in nature. In other words, it was binding and required the full compliance of both parties. Through their obedience to His covenant conditions, the Israelites would be guaranteed their status as God’s chosen people and assured of ongoing presence, power, and provision.

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then…I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” – Leviticus 26:3, 11-12 ESV

But the people needed to know that there was a potential downside to this covenant that they had so eagerly ratified (Exodus 19:8). Failure to keep all the conditions of the covenant came with serious consequences, and the list of judgments God describes in these verses goes from bad to worse. It will begin with divine attacks on their bodies in the form of “wasting diseases” and assaults by their enemies that will leave them defeated and demoralized. Other nations will plunder their crops and treat the Israelites as little more than slaves. The land that God had given the Israelites as their inheritance would no longer provide for their needs. Instead, it would fall into the hands of their enemies, leaving God’s people defeated and destitute.

Continued rebellion will result in drought and famine, “making the skies as unyielding as iron and the earth as hard as bronze” (Leviticus 26:19 NLT). Rain will be withheld and crops will cease to grow. The fruitfulness of the land of promise will become a distant and fading memory. And yet God forewarns His people that this judgment will not produce repentance and obedience. Despite all that they suffer, they will continue to spurn His calls to obey, forcing Yahweh to punish them “seven times over” (Leviticus 26:18 NLT) for their sins. God vows to break their proud spirit and bring them to their knees. Yet, God predicts that His people will prove to be stubborn and unwilling to give up their rebellious ways. That will usher in the next phase of their punishment.

I will send wild animals that will rob you of your children and destroy your livestock. Your numbers will dwindle, and your roads will be deserted. – Leviticus 26:22 NLT

The creation itself will turn against God’s people. Not only will they face the threat of enemy attacks, but wild animals will rise up against them. Their lawlessness will result in chaos. No one will be safe. The first judgments primarily affected the fruit of their fields, but this punishment will target the fruit of the womb: Their children.

To grasp the full effect of this judgment, one must understand that God has always called His people to “be fruitful and multiply.” It was the command given to Adam and Eve and passed down to Noah and his sons. And while the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt, God had miraculously multiplied their number. But now, God was warning them that because of disobedience, they could expect to see their number diminish. As King Solomon would later record, children were to be seen as a gift from God.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
    the fruit of the womb a reward. – Psalm 127:3 ESV

But the Israelites needed to understand that their fruitfulness as a nation was directly tied to their faithfulness. At this point, it’s important to note what God said when He prepared to create man.

“Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” – Genesis 1:26 NLT

And God gave the first man and women a mandate:

“Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” – Genesis 1:28 NLT

Now, in the case of His chosen people, God was warning that their fruitfulness and dominion over creation would come to an end should they choose to disobey His commands.

But God was far from done because He knew that His people would find it difficult to repent and return to Him. So, He outlines the next phase of His divine judgment. In response to their ongoing disobedience, God will get personally involved.

I myself will be hostile toward you. I will personally strike you with calamity seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:24 NLT

God vows to deal with their rebellion on an intimate level, sending armies against them to mete out His divine judgment. If the people attempt to escape God’s wrath, they’ll only find themselves facing the devastation of a plague they can’t outrun. God’s judgment will be inescapable and unavoidable. God vows to inflict on the people of Israel what had been reserved for the nation of Egypt. This time, the plagues would be directed at God’s people, not their enemies. And God adds insult to injury by promising to destroy Israel’s food supply. No more protection. No more provision.

As the people of Israel heard Moses impart these dire warnings, they must have been dumbstruck and appalled at the severity of God’s words. But the worst was yet to come. In a foreshadowing of Israel’s less-than-stellar future, God predicts their stubbornness and obstinacy in the face of overwhelming judgment, and matter-of-factly states, “I will give full vent to my hostility” (Leviticus 26:28 NLT). And what He describes next is difficult to read and even harder to comprehend. Focusing His attention on the sin of idolatry, God promises to pour out His judgment with unfathomable and unrelenting fury. He describes Israelite cities filled with the destroyed altars of their false gods and the corpses of those who once worshiped them. Those left alive will have been taken captive by their enemies. But before their cities fell, the people of God would have resorted to cannibalism just to survive.

In the midst of their suffering and pain, the apostate people of Israel will attempt to call on God for rescue, but their efforts will prove too little, too late. He will not listen to their cries or accept their sacrifices for forgiveness and atonement. They will be forcibly removed from the land and returned to their former status as exiles and slaves. And God drops the final bombshell in His escalating prediction of future judgment.

“You will die among the foreign nations and be devoured in the land of your enemies. Those of you who survive will waste away in your enemies’ lands because of their sins and the sins of their ancestors.” – Leviticus 26:38-39 NLT

God was serious. His call to obedience was not a suggestion but a command. His blessings were real and fully realizable, but they would require obedience. And if His people chose to break their covenant commitment, they needed to understand that the consequences were equally real and worse than anything they could ever imagine.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Conviction Versus Eviction

22 “You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. 23 And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them. 24 But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. 25 You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. 26 You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

27 “A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.” Leviticus 20:22-27 ESV

Long before the Israelites entered the land of Canaan, God warned them that their stay there would be a short one if they failed to keep His commands. And God used very graphic terms to describe the consequences of their disobedience.

“You must keep all my decrees and regulations by putting them into practice; otherwise the land to which I am bringing you as your new home will vomit you out. – Leviticus 20:22 NLT

This rather grotesque-sounding eviction notice was intended to underscore the vile nature of the moral conditions in Canaan. Back in chapter 18, God used the same terminology to explain why He was planning to expel the land’s current occupants.

“Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for the people I am driving out before you have defiled themselves in all these ways. Because the entire land has become defiled, I am punishing the people who live there. I will cause the land to vomit them out. – Leviticus 18:24-25 NLT

According to God, the inhabitants of Canaan were guilty of all the sexual sins and morally repugnant behaviors He had just banned the Israelites from participating in. The lifestyle of the Canaanites was in direct opposition to the will of God and their presence in the land had left it defiled. The various people groups who had taken up residence in Canaan, including the Hivites, Girgashites, Jebusites, Amorites, Hittites, and Perizzites, were guilty of every one of the atrocities God had banned. Their immoral behavior had so “sickened” the land, that it was going to vomit them up in search of relief. The Hebrew word can literally be translated, “to vomit up, spue out, disgorge.”

Back in chapter 18, God described the land as being “defiled.” The Hebrew word is טָמֵא (ṭāmē’), and it means “to be foul, especially in a ceremonial or moral sense (contaminated)” (“H2930 – ṭāmē’ – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (kjv).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 12 Jul, 2023. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h2930/kjv/wlc/0-1/&gt;). And God went on to explain that the land had become contaminated by the presence of the Canaanites. Their own defilement had left the land in a foul and morally corrupt state, leaving God with no other choice but to evict or disgorge the sickness from the land. And God warned the Israelites about mimicking the ways of the Canaanites.

You must not imitate their way of life. – Leviticus 18:2 NLT

Instead, the Israelites were to obey His decrees and regulations, so that they might “find life through them” (Leviticus 18:5 NLT). Rather than infecting the land with further moral sickness, the Israelites were to rejuvenate the land by living in obedience to the will of God. God reminds the Israelites that Canaan was the land of promise, an inheritance passed down from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

“I have promised you, ‘You will possess their land because I will give it to you as your possession—a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from all other people.’” – Leviticus 20:24 NLT

This rich, fertile land was intended to be a gift from God, but its fruitfulness had been diminished by the sinful exploits of the Canaanites. Their degraded behavior had left a stain on the land. But even in its morally compromised state, Canaan was to be the future home of God’s people, just as God had promised to Moses as his calling.

“I have promised to rescue you from your oppression in Egypt. I will lead you to a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live.” – Exodus 3:17 NLT

God had kept His word and rescued the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. He had led them to Mount Sinai, where He gave them the law, His plans for the Tabernacle, and the instructions concerning the sacrificial system. But Sinai was a temporary stop in their journey east. Their real destination was Canaan and God was going to keep His promise to give them the land as their possession.

Centuries earlier, after God had called Abraham out of Ur and led him to the land of Canaan, He revealed the future fate of His servant’s descendants.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.” – Genesis 15:13 ESV

God predicted the Israelite’s 400-year stay in Egypt. But God also promised their eventual return to the land of Canaan.

And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” – Genesis 15:16 ESV

God knew in advance that, during the Israelite’s absence from Canaan, the Amorites and all their pagan peers would turn the promised land into a moral wasteland. They would have four centuries to degrade and defile the land that God had set apart as the inheritance of Abraham’s offspring. And long before Moses and the people of Israel reached Sinai, God had assured His servant Abraham that the ownership of land would one day change hands.

“To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” – Genesis 15:18-21 ESV

But there was one condition:

“You must keep all my decrees and regulations by putting them into practice; otherwise the land to which I am bringing you as your new home will vomit you out. – Leviticus 20:22 NLT

If the Israelites dared to emulate the ways of the Canaanites, they would face the same fate. Their set-apart status as God’s chosen people would not immunize them from God’s judgment. If they failed to obey His commands, they too would face eviction from the land. God wanted them to understand that their privileged position as His treasured possession came with expectations.

I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from all other people. – Leviticus 20:24 NLT

God had “separated” them from all the other nations on earth. The Hebrew word is בָּדַל (bāḏal), and it means “to make a distinction or difference.” God had culled them from the rest of the nations, not because they were unique or deserving of His attention, but because He had determined to use them as an example of His grace, mercy, and love. He was going to do for them what they could never have accomplished on their own. He would set them apart, distinguishing them from the other nations by providing them with His laws to regulate their conduct, the Tabernacle to determine their worship, and the sacrificial system to maintain their right standing with Him. All of these things would set them apart as His chosen people. But none of it mattered if they failed to live up to their calling.

The Israelites were no different or better than the Hivites, Girgashites, Jebusites, Amorites, Hittites, and Perizzites. The only thing that distinguished them from the pagan occupants of Canaan was their relationship with Yahweh. They had been chosen by Him to serve as His “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Leviticus 19:6 ESV). But it was obedience to His commands that would truly set them apart. God had no use for disobedience priests of an unholy nation. The land of Canaan was already filled with those kinds of people. That’s why God reminds the Israelites, “You must be holy because I, the Lord, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own” (Leviticus 20:26 NLT).

God didn’t want the Israelites to misunderstand. Yes, holiness can be viewed as a status conferred by God. The Hebrew word for “holy” is קָדוֹשׁ (qāḏôš), and can be translated as “set apart” or “consecrated.” God had separated the Israelites from the rest of the nations by deeming them to be His treasured possession. But their set-apart status required a distinctive set of behaviors. As His kingdom of priests and His holy nation, they were expected to live in a way that differentiated them from everyone else on the planet. Holiness isn’t just a status, it is a calling, and it requires purity, commitment, obedience, and faithfulness. Holiness is an all-encompassing lifestyle that demonstrates one’s allegiance to and love for God. The apostle Peter describes it this way:

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16 NLT

God had redeemed Israel out of captivity, given them His law, provided the Tabernacle as His earthly dwelling place, and instituted the sacrificial system as a means of atoning for their sins and maintaining their ongoing access to His power and presence. But they were going to have to live as who they were: His holy people. Otherwise, they would eventually suffer the same fate as the Canaanites.

There is an interesting parallel to this passage found in the story of Jonah. This prophet of God had been ordered to travel to Ninevah in order to deliver a message.

“…go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” – Jonah 1:2 ESV

But Jonah refused to obey God. Fearing that God’s message might result in the repentance of the wicked people of Ninevah, Jonah ran the other direction. He ended up on a ship, was caught in a storm, was cast into the sea by the sailors, and swallowed by a great fish. But what happens next is the truly interesting part. It seems that his time in the fish’s stomach brought Jonah to his senses and he prayed to God. But God’s means of deliverance was far from flattering or dignified. Notice what the text says:

And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. – Jonah 2:10 ESV

That is the same Hebrew word used in Leviticus 20. God had the fish “vomit” or unceremoniously disgorge Jonah onto dry land. Jonah’s disobedience made the fish sick. And God warns the people of Israel that the same fate awaits them if they fail to keep His commands. But in their case, it will be the land itself that vomits them up. And God ends this section with a statement that appears somewhat out of place.

“Men and women among you who act as mediums or who consult the spirits of the dead must be put to death by stoning. They are guilty of a capital offense.” – Leviticus 20:27 NLT

But this summary statement appears to be a not-so-subtle reminder that holiness is tied directly to obedience. The ways of the wicked are to be avoided at all costs. God’s lengthy list of prohibitions is meant to be obeyed, down to the last detail. God would not tolerate any concessions or compromises. And neither will Jesus. In His words to the church in Laodicea, recorded in the book of Revelation, Jesus has some strong words concerning their failure to remain wholeheartedly committed to His will.

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! – Revelation 3:15-16 NLT

The half-hearted obedience of His people is enough to make Jesus sick. Holiness demands a sold-out commitment to living set-apart lives that reveal the transformative power of God’s Word and will.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

A Faint Glow of God’s Glory

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.

34 Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, 35 the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him. – Exodus 34:29-35 ESV

Moses had spent 40 days and nights on the mountaintop in his latest encounter with God. During that time, he had gone without food and water, yet somehow God had sustained him physically. His close proximity to God had supernaturally supplemented his body’s need for physical food. Moses could have easily explained his divine enablement the same way Jesus did to His disciples.

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. – John 4:34 ESV

But the time came for Moses to leave the mountaintop and return to the people. He carried in his hands the new tablets of stone containing the Decalogue, but he was unaware of a physical transformation that had taken place during his time with God.

when he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to approach him. – Exodus 43:29-30 NLT

Moses glowed. His more than month-long encounter with God Almighty had left him physically altered. No explanation is given as to the exact cause of Moses’ glowing countenance, but it came as a direct result of his interaction with God. Somehow, the glory of God “rubbed off” on Moses, causing his face to give off a luminous incandescence that was visible to all those around him. The Hebrew word translated as “shone” is קָרַן (qāran) and literally means “to send out rays” or “to grow horns.” Evidently, his face emanated shafts of light that were visible to Aaron and the rest of the Israelites, but Moses was completely oblivious to this dramatic alteration to his countenance.

In his gospel account, Matthew records a similar experience that Jesus had with His disciples.

after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. – Matthew 17:1-3 ESV

During his time on the mountaintop, Jesus too glowed with the glory of God. And on that occasion, He was visited by Moses himself. These two servants of God had much in common, but while Moses served as the mediator of the old covenant, Jesus provided a new covenant that allowed both Jews and Gentiles to enjoy a restored relationship with God.

…dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are partners with those called to heaven, think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s messenger and High Priest. For he was faithful to God, who appointed him, just as Moses served faithfully when he was entrusted with God’s entire house.

But Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a house deserves more praise than the house itself. For every house has a builder, but the one who built everything is God.

Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ. – Hebrews 3:1-6 NLT

But on that day when Moses descended the mountain, he held in his hands the law of God, and his face shone forth the glory of God. In a sense, the tablets reflected God’s expectations of His people, but Moses’ face reflected their need for God’s power. Their capacity to obey God’s laws would not be self-produced but God-endowed. Laws written on tablets of stone would prove to be ineffective if the hearts of the people remained hardened and their faces failed to reflect the glory of God.

Moses had spent 40 days and nights in God’s presence, going without food and water, and yet he literally radiated an aura of spiritual and physical vitality. But at the sight of Moses’ appearance, the Israelites cowered in fear. It was not what they had expected. Their fearless leader didn’t look the same and his altered appearance left them confused and conflicted. The light that showed from Moses’ face didn’t attract them; it repelled them.

This scene foreshadows another time when the Son of God made His entrance into the world. The apostle John describes the coming of Jesus this way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

And Jesus would later expand on this theme of light in the darkness.

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:19-21 ESV

Moses was bringing the law of God and the light of God, but his own people rejected him. They turned their backs in fear and, in doing so, they demonstrated their love affair with darkness.

But Moses convinced them to return and “he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai” (Exodus 34:32 ESV). His face aglow with the glory of God, Moses imparted to them the commands of God – again. This was not new information, but it was being communicated to them in a new and unforgettable way. Moses was radiating God’s presence and this would have given his words far greater impact than ever before. This wasn’t simply a mortal man imparting legal requirements and moral mandates; it was a divinely ordained messenger from God communicating and reflecting the holiness of God. It was the apostle Paul who wrote “the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good” (Romans 7:12 NLT). 

This time, God was communicating His holy laws through a holy vessel to an unholy people. The glory of God reflected in the face of Moses was meant to emphasize the gravity of the message and the authority of the messenger. Moses had given them the law once before and while they had vowed to obey all that God had said, they ended up violating His commands and replacing Him with a god of their own making.

The law had not changed. What Moses communicated to the people was the same as it had always been, but the deliverer was dramatically altered so that the recipients might take his words more seriously. And evidently, God continued to bestow His messenger with a supernatural outpouring of His glory for some time to come.

When Moses finished speaking with them, he would put a veil on his face. But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil until he came out. Then he would come out and tell the Israelites what he had been commanded. – Exodus 34:33-34 NLT

This pattern would be repeated, all so that the people of Israel might take God’s messenger and message more seriously. But the apostle Paul reminds us that this divine strategy would run its course. The time would come when the glory on Moses’ face would fade, and the people’s reverence for the messenger and the message would dissipate. Sadly, Moses would continue to wear the veil long after God’s glory had faded from his face. And the people would eventually lose their fear of the light, reverting back to their love affair with sin and darkness. The apostle Paul provides commentary and much-needed insight into this fascinating passage,

The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. For his face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away. Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life? If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God! In fact, that first glory was not glorious at all compared with the overwhelming glory of the new way. So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever! – 2 Corinthians 3:7-11 NLT

Moses wore the veil to conceal the glory of God. But Paul reveals that, eventually, that glory faded. He also states that the people’s minds were veiled by sin so they couldn’t comprehend the glory of God contained in His law.

We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away. But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand. – 2 Corinthians 3:13-15 NLT

God had a better way in mind. But for the time being, the law was meant to serve as a foreshadowing of that better way. God revealed His glory through the giving of His perfect, just, and righteous commands. But the people would be required to obey them – completely and fully. And He had given His messenger an aura of His glory to validate the holiness of His message. But time would prove that the people of Israel “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

A Glimpse of God’s Goodness

12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”

17 And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” – Exodus 33:12-23 ESV

Moses was perplexed and personally concerned about God’s decision to remove His presence from the people of Israel. As the one commissioned to lead these “stiff-necked people” (Exodus 33:3) to the promised land, Moses knew that, without God’s presence, his mission was doomed. God had declared His intention to vacate the premises because He knew the Israelites were going to continue their stiff-necked ways. Thousands of them had died as a result of their recent act of rebellion, so God told them, “You are a stubborn and rebellious people. If I were to travel with you for even a moment, I would destroy you” (Exodus 33:5 NLT).

Yet, He had ordered Moses to fulfill his original commission by leading the remaining Israelites to their final destination: “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3 ESV). Moses was expected to take this ragtag remnant of fickle Yahweh followers the rest of the way to Canaan but without the benefit of God’s presence. But the thought of trying to complete his task without God’s presence proved to be too much for Moses. So, he took his concerns to the Lord.

This time, rather than ascending back to the top of Mount Sinai, Moses entered the Tent of Meeting, “which was outside the camp” (Exodus 33:5 ESV). The text introduces this special meeting place just before Moses begins his conversation with God.

Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. – Exodus 33:8-9 ESV

This tent had served as a temporary “tabernacle” or sanctuary in which Moses would meet with God. It was located outside the camp and used as a kind of divine “phone booth” where Moses could communicate directly with God. Once the Tabernacle was constructed, this temporary tent of meeting would no longer be needed. But at this moment, with the Tabernacle yet to be built, Moses entered went outside the camp and entered the tent of meeting.

Moses had taken God’s announcement that He was removing His presence quite personally. From the moment God had commissioned him for this job, Moses had expressed his lack of qualifications.

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” – Exodus 3:11 ESV

Yet God had assured Moses, “I will be with you” (Exodus 33:12 ESV). And even when Moses had continued to express his strong doubts, God had told him, “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:12 ESV). But now, Moses was afraid that God was reneging on His promise. He had known all along that he was not up to the task, so the thought of leading the people of Israel on his own was more than he could stand. This led him to express his concern and consternation to Yahweh.

“See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. – Exodus 33:12 ESV

Moses begins his debate with a less-than-accurate statement. He claims that God has failed to identify the one who will be accompanying him to Canaan. God had clearly stated, “I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites” (Exodus 33:2 ESV). But Moses wasn’t satisfied; he wanted more information. In a way, Moses was expressing his dissatisfaction with God’s alternative plan. He wasn’t content to have an angel serve as God’s proxy or stand-in. He wanted God Himself.

This led Moses to pull out his trump card. He appealed to the special relationship he enjoyed with Yahweh.

“…you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’” – Exodus 33:12 ESV

In a way, Moses was saying, “You say you love me, now prove it.” He was appealing to God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness. Moses had grown to appreciate the nature of God and was counting on Yahweh’s unwavering commitment to protecting His own reputation.

“…if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” – Exodus 33:13 ESV

Moses was pulling on God’s heartstrings. In a rather transparent attempt to “guilt” God, Moses appealed to His sense of righteousness. Didn’t God want to do the right thing? If Moses had found favor with God, wouldn’t God want to be favorable to Moses? Moses was trying to capitalize on his unique relationship with Yahweh, in the hopes of getting Him to reconsider His earlier decision.

Having heard Moses’ plea, God gave the answer Moses wanted to hear: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14 ESV). Yet even that positive affirmation was not quite enough for Moses. He wanted God to know just how important His presence was for this mission to be successful.

“If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.” – Exodus 33:15-16 NLT

Essentially, Moses was threatening to stay right where he was. If he had to stay the rest of his life in the wilderness of Sinai, where he was confident of God’s presence, he was willing to do so. Moses was willing to give up the promised land for the promise of God’s presence, power, and provision. Occupying the land of Canaan would be pointless because it was the presence of God that set the people of Israel apart from all the other nations on earth. Real estate or a relocation to a different spot on the map would not differentiate God’s people. Moses understood that it was God alone who made the people of Israel a holy nation. And God provided Moses with the further assurance he needed.

“I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.” – Exodus 33:17 NLT

God would go with them. His presence would continue to dwell among them. But, almost pushing his luck, Moses made one more bold and daring request.

“Then show me your glorious presence.” – Exodus 33:18 NLT

Moses was asking for more. We know that when Moses entered the tent of meeting, “the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent” (Exodus 33:9 ESV). This tangible and visible sign of God’s presence hovered over the tent as Moses spoke with God, but Moses wanted a greater demonstration of God’s presence. He wanted to see God Himself – in all His glory.

And as proof of Moses’ favorable status, Yahweh agreed to give His servant a glimpse of His glory.

“I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” – Exodus 33:19-20 NLT

What makes this concession so important is that God had already revealed Himself to Moses on more than one occasion. The first had taken place years earlier at the very same location in Sinai. Somewhere near Mount Sinai, Moses heard the voice of God speaking to him from the midst of a burning bush, which caused him to draw near. But “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6 ESV).

For more than a year, Moses had also witnessed the presence of God in the form of the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Then there was the more recent occasion when he, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel shared a meal with God.

…they beheld God, and ate and drank. – Exodus 24:11 ESV

So, why was Moses requesting to see God’s glory? Notice that he did not ask for permission to see God’s face. He seems to have known better. The Hebrew word for “glory” is כָּבוֹד (kāḇôḏ), and it refers to God’s honor, splendor, or majesty. In a sense, Moses was asking to see more of God. Having feared the possible loss of God’s presence, Moses longed to see another manifestation of His glory and majesty. It is as if Moses was saying, “Show me more of Yourself!” And God’s response to Moses’ request was succinct.

I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’” – Exodus 33:19 ESV

It is unclear what Moses was hoping to see. But God is quite clear and highly specific when He describes what aspect of His glory that He will allow His servant to observe. It will be the fulness of His goodness.

“In this instance, at least, God’s glory is his goodness. It is not his power, his majesty, or his awesomeness that will pass by Moses, but his goodness. And Moses has already seen a lot of that. God has mercifully sustained his people in Egypt. That’s his goodness. God has dramatically delivered his people from their captors. That’s his goodness. God has graciously provided for his people in the wilderness and protected them. That’s his goodness. God has graciously entered into a covenant with his people at Sinai. That’s his goodness.” – Victor P. Hamilton, Exodus

God agreed to let Moses get a glimpse of His goodness, and He summarizes exactly what His goodness entails.

I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” – Exodus 33:19 ESV

To “see” God is to glimpse His goodness in the form of His grace and mercy. Moses, Aaron, and the rest of the people of Israel had seen God’s goodness repeatedly. Most recently, it had shown up in God mercifully sparing them from judgment. Despite what had happened at Sinai, they were alive and still able to worship and obey God. And God demonstrated His grace and mercy in how He revealed His goodness to Moses.

“…while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” – Exodus 33:22-23 ESV

God spared Moses” life by answering his request in this way. Had Moses seen the face of God, his life would have ended in death. But that day, Moses got a glimpse of God’s goodness and lived to tell about it. As the glory of God “passed by,” Moses was covered by the protective power of God’s goodness. The all-powerful and holy God of the universe placed His hand over His servant to protect him from certain death. Moses got to see the “back” of God, but the good news was that God was not leaving. Not only would He not abandon them., but He would renew His covenant commitment to them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

An Appeal to God’s Faithfulness

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

11 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” – Exodus 32:7-13 ESV

God knew something to which Moses was completely oblivious. For 40 days and nights, Moses had been sequestered at the top of Mount Sinai where he had just received God’s plans for the Tabernacle and instructions for commissioning his brother, Aaron, as the high priest. But while Moses had been away, things had taken a decidedly dark turn down in the valley. His brother, under pressure from the people, had decided to play the role of a priest over his very own religion with its very own god.

Moses had just taken down all the details concerning the construction of God’s house, an elaborate sanctuary designed to be Yahweh’s throneroom on earth. This sacred structure was to be His self-designed dwelling place among the people of Israel.

“…let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” – Exodus 25:8-9 ESV

But along with the plans for the Tabernacle, God had given Moses instructions regarding the investiture of Aaron and his sons as priests.

“…bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. – Exodus 28:1 ESV

These men had been divinely chosen to serve as mediators between Yahweh and the people of Israel, ministering on their behalf in the Tabernacle. To accentuate the sacred nature of their new role, God ordained the creation of distinctive garments that would set them apart as holy and serve as reminders of their sanctified status as priests.

But, unbeknownst to Moses, Aaron was already serving as a priest by offering sacrifices to the golden calf idol he had commissioned. Not only that, he had declared a holy day on which the people would honor their new god with sacrifices and a raucous celebration that included plenty of feasting and drinking. And, as if this wasn’t bad enough, the people “rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6 ESV). The Hebrew phrase can be translated as “they stood up to laugh, mock, or play.”

They had sat down to eat a meal but followed it with dancing and celebration. And this imagery of a feast is significant because it ties directly to the meal that Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel had shared together in the presence of God.

Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain. There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence! – Exodus 24:9-11 NLT

That remarkable moment in time was meant to seal the covenant that God had made with the people of Israel. Those leaders had been privileged to break bread with Yahweh Himself and that memorable event was intended to ratify their agreement to obey the commands of God. They served as representatives of the people and their presence before God affirmed what the people had agreed to do.

“All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” – Exodus 24:7 ESV

And yet, those very same men were part of the crowd that was feasting and playing in celebration of their newfound god. They rose up from another covenant meal and worshiped an altogether different god. In doing so, they broke the covenant they had made with Yahweh. They violated the very commands they had pledged to keep. And God was not happy.

How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” – Exodus 32:8 NLT

Even God appears stunned by how quickly the people turned their backs on Him. But He wasn’t surprised or caught off guard. In His omniscience, God knew that the people of Israel would prove unfaithful and incapable of keeping His commands. His description of them as “a stiff-necked people” (Exodus 32:9 ESV) is not a statement of revelation. It is not as if He just discovered that fact, but He has known all along. From the moment He chose to deliver them from their captivity in Egypt, He knew they would prove to be a stubborn and rebellious people, and they had proven that fact every step of the way from Goshen to Sinai.

These people had a habit of murmuring and complaining. They had a track record of ingratitude and dissatisfaction with God’s way of doing things. And now, they had topped off their not-so-subtle attitude of rebellion by dismissing Yahweh altogether. They dumped their Deliverer and replaced Him with a god of their own making. And describes their actions in highly unflattering terms.

“Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. – Exodus 32:7 ESV

The Hebrew word, שָׁחַת (šāḥaṯ), carries the idea of decay, spoilage, or ruin. The actions of the people of Israel had made them unacceptable in the eyes of God. They had made themselves impure and morally reprehensible to a holy God. In a word, they defiled themselves, and God held them personally responsible.

This led God to reveal to Moses His plan for dealing with their blatant display of apostasy.

“Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.” – Exodus 32:10 NLT

This statement was intended to let Moses know just how serious this situation was. God was so offended that He was willing to start from scratch, and this would not have been the first time. When the sins of mankind had reached a fever pitch during the days of Noah, God had chosen to begin again by destroying every human being but Noah and his immediate family. But even with a new start, humanity continued to display its propensity for rebellion and godlessness. That led God to choose Abram, a pagan from the land of Ur, through whom He started a brand new nation that eventually became the people of Israel.

But the Israelites had displayed their hand. Even after God had rescued them from their captivity in Egypt and pledged to make His divine presence a permanent part of their community, they turned their backs on Him. So, God informed Moses that He was willing to start all over again. He would reboot the system once again; this time allowing Moses to play the role of Abraham.

Moses had to have been shocked by what God told him. He too must have been angered by this latest news of his people’s rebellion. Moses must have been appalled by Aaron’s role in the whole affair. But rather than embrace God’s plan to start over, Moses intervened. He interceded on behalf of his rebellious people and begged God to reconsider.

“O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! – Exodus 32:11-12 NLT

Moses appealed to God’s faithfulness and reminded Him of His own reputation. The last thing God would want is for the nations of the world to view His actions in a negative light. For God to destroy the people of Israel now would send the wrong message and portray Him as unfaithful and untrustworthy. Yahweh would come across as just another fickle, revenge-minded deity who viewed human beings as nothing more than pawns in some kind of divine game of chance.

Moses reminded Yahweh of the covenant He had made with the patriarchs of Israel.

“Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’” – Exodus 32:13 NLT

In all of this, Moses was revealing his understanding of God’s nature and his awareness of the bigger picture concerning the people of Israel. They were on their way to the land that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That was the destination and it was all part of the sovereign strategy that God had put in place centuries earlier. This moment in the wilderness was just a phase in the long-established plan of God and should not be allowed to deter or derail what God had ordained.

Moses was revealing his growing sense of trust in the promises of God. There had been times along the way when he had been ready to give up and go home. The constant complaining of the people had gotten on his nerves and tempted him to throw in the towel. But he was learning to trust in the will of God and to view the ups and downs of life as part of His divine plan. The Egyptians had been no problem for God. The lack of water in the wilderness and the Israelite’s diminishing supply of bread had not thrown a wrench into God’s plan. And as far as Moses could see, their blatant display of rebellion should pose no threat to God’s providential plan either. Yahweh was far too faithful to let this incident prevent His sovereign will from being done.

Moses knew that God was great. He was well aware of God’s holiness and transcendence. He was intimately familiar with God’s power. But he had also grown to understand God’s unwavering faithfulness. With the plans for the Tabernacle in his hands, Moses longed to see it take form in the valley below so that the people might know and experience the joy of God’s presence. So, he went to the mat with God and urged Him to display His faithfulness once again – in a big way.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Fair-Weather Faith

1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. – Exodus 32:1-6 ESV

While Moses had been up on the mountaintop receiving the Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant from God, he had left his brother, Aaron, in charge of the people down in the valley. The last they had seen of Moses was him ascending Mount Sinai into the dark storm cloud. The thunder, lightning, and earth-shaking signs that accompanied God’s presence at Sinai had left them terrified and unwilling to go anywhere near the mountain or its summit. They wanted nothing to do with Yahweh and were content to let Moses act as their proxy.

Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud. To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. He remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. – Exodus 24:15-18 NLT

During those 40 days and nights, the people of Israel began to wonder whether Moses was ever coming back. His long delay left them concerned about his safety and their own future. What would they do if Moses never came back? For all they knew, Moses had died on the mountaintop, a victim of Yahweh’s wrath.

It’s important to remember the sequence of events that precede chapter 32. God has already given Moses His laws and regulation, and Moses has shared them with the people. Not only that, the people expressed their eager willingness to obey all that God commanded.

Then Moses went down to the people and repeated all the instructions and regulations the Lord had given him. All the people answered with one voice, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” – Exodus 24:3 NLT

Following this corporate commitment to keep God’s laws, Moses wrote them all down for posterity (Exodus 24:4). Having completed his record of God’s commands, Moses “took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people” and, once again, “they all responded, ‘We will do everything the Lord has commanded. We will obey’” (Exodus 24:7 NLT). The people had heard every one of God’s commands and had agreed to keep them.

As part of the ceremony to inaugurate the institution of God’s laws, Moses offered blood sacrifices and sprinkled some of the blood on the people, telling them, “Look, this blood confirms the covenant the Lord has made with you in giving you these instructions” (Exodus 24:8 NLT). They had made a vow to obey all of God’s commands, and now that agreement had been sealed with blood, making it binding and carrying a penalty of death if they broke their commitment. This auspicious ceremony was then followed by a special invitation-only meal between some of the leadership of Israel and God Almighty.

Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain. There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence! – Exodus 24:9-11 NLT

Then Moses was told to ascend back to the mountaintop where God promised to give a copy of the Ten Commandments written by His own hand.

“Come up to me on the mountain. Stay there, and I will give you the tablets of stone on which I have inscribed the instructions and commands so you can teach the people.” So Moses and his assistant Joshua set out, and Moses climbed up the mountain of God. – Exodus 24:12-13 NLT

Moses left Aaron and the elders of Israel in charge during his absence. These were the very same men who had been given the privilege of seeing the God of Israel and eating a covenant meal with Him. In sharing that meal with Yahweh, they had personally sealed their commitments to the covenant and pledged themselves to see that every law God had given was obeyed by the people of Israel.

What happens next is critical. According to chapter 24, Moses returned to the top of Mount Sinai, “And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud. To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. He remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights” (Exodus 24:16-18 NLT).

This brings us to the events recorded in chapter 32. At the end of the 40 days, “When the Lord finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, written by the finger of God.” (Exodus 31:18 NLT).

Moses left the mountaintop with the God-inscribed copy of the Decalogue and all the instructions regarding the construction of the Tabernacle and the establishment of the priesthood. His arms and his mind were full of the divinely revealed will of God for the people of Israel. It is essential to understand that Moses was coming down from the mountain with not only the Ten Commandments but the plans for the Tabernacle, the house within which God’s presence was to dwell among the people. God had made a commitment to live among His chosen people in a house that they could construct with their own hands and pay for with their own resources.

But all that God had shared with Moses regarding the Tabernacle stands in direct opposition to what was taking place down in the valley. In Moses’ absence, the people began to have second thoughts about Yahweh. They were well aware of His commands and had heard every one of the regulations contained in the Book of the Covenant. They had even given their hearty approval and voiced their full commitment to living their lives according to God’s law.

But it took just over a month for the people of Israel to lose all their enthusiasm. The longer Moses delayed, the more they began to have second thoughts about everything. In their minds, Moses was Yahweh’s official representative and spokesperson. If Moses wasn’t coming back, their link to Yawheh would be broken. After all, it had been Moses who showed up in Egypt with news of their deliverance by the hand of Yahweh. And Moses had been the one to lead them out of Egypt and into the wilderness with the help of his God. But with Moses apparently gone, they began to question Yahweh and all the commitments they had made to Him.

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 32:1 NLT

With Moses out of the picture, the people turned to Aaron. At this point, Aaron had no concept of God’s plans regarding the Tabernacle and his future role as the high priest. That information resided with Moses and he had not yet returned to share it. So, when the people came to Aaron and expressed their desire to replace Yahweh with another god, he eagerly obliged them.

“Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.” – Exodus 32:2 NLT

Little did Aaron know that he was taking what belonged to Yahweh and ordering it to be used for idolatry. He was unaware that God had given Moses a very different use for the resources of the people of Israel.

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” – Exodus 25:1-9 NLT

Aaron ordered the people to donate their gold earrings to construct an idol that was intended to replace Yahweh. This false god would take the place of the one true God. And in carrying out the will of the people, Aaron violated the very first commandment of the Decalogue.

“You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.” – Exodus 20:3-5 NLT

And the man who oversaw the construction of this false god was the one whom God had chosen to serve as the high priest of Israel.

Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. – Exodus 32:4 NLT

God had great plans for Aaron and the people of Israel. They had no way of knowing that Moses was on his way down the mountain with God’s blueprints for the Tabernacle and His plans for the atoning work of the priesthood. The creator of heaven and earth was getting ready to take up residence among them, and yet they were busy replacing Him with a false god of their own design. And when Aaron had completed the construction of the golden calf and its accompanying altar, the people exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4 NLT).

Buoyed by the people’s enthusiasm, Aaron declared a feast for the following day so that the people might worship their newfound god. And sadly, the text records that “The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry” (Exodus 32:6 NLT).

Don’t miss the irony in all of this. Moses was coming down the mountain with all the details concerning the Tabernacle, the priesthood, and the sacrificial system. He had the plans for the Bronze Altar and directions for how the people might receive atonement and cleansing for their sins. But before his feet could reach the valley floor, the people of Israel had decided to come up with a plan of their own. It took just 40 days for the Israelites to forget Yahweh and every commitment they had made to Him. In their minds, He had always been Moses’ God and not their own. So, when Moses failed to return, they seized the opportunity to seek and serve another god.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Law and Love

12 “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. 13 But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. 14 But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.

15 “Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.

16 “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.

17 “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.

18 “When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, 19 then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed.

20 “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.

22 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

26 “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. 27 If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth.

28 “When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. 29 But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 If a ransom is imposed on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is imposed on him. 31 If it gores a man’s son or daughter, he shall be dealt with according to this same rule. 32 If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. – Exodus 21:12-32 ESV

Love God. Love one another. Jesus said that these were the two greatest commandments, and He declared that they encapsulate all that is contained in the law and the writings of the prophets (Matthew 22:40). When God told the Israelites, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 ESV), He was expecting more from them than just blind allegiance. He desired their willful devotion and unadulterated love. If they truly loved Him they would never consider worshiping another god in place of Him. Their fealty to God was to be an outward expression of their love for Him.

God describes His people as “those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:6 ESV). In other words, their obedience to His law was to be a manifestation of their love for Him. It was to be a delight rather than a duty. Honoring His name through their actions demonstrated their love for Him. Keeping His Sabbath holy was an outward sign of their inward devotion to Him. Refusing to bow down to false gods was evidence of their unwavering fidelity to Him alone.

And their love for God was to be accompanied by a love for one another. Six of the ten commandments had to do with tangible examples of how that love for others was to show up in everyday life. And in the Book of the Covenant, the expanded addendum to the Decalogue, God gave further commands regarding the interpersonal relationships between His chosen people. These laws were intended to deal with the everyday issues of life in a community. But, ultimately, they were intended to provide practical guidance for how to love others well, even while living in a sin-darkened world.

In his first epistle, the apostle John describes in great detail the kind of love God expects of His people. He begins by describing God as light.

God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. – 1 John 1:5-6 ESV

According to John, fellowship with God should produce fellowship with others.

…if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. – 1 John 1:7 ESV

It is our love for God that makes possible our love for others. To truly love others is countercultural and runs contrary to our basic sin nature. And John warns, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 8 ESV).

The law was given so that the Israelites might understand their sinfulness. The commandments found in the Book of the Covenant deal with sin-fueled behavior in a community context: people abusing, misusing, dishonoring, defrauding, and even murdering one another. They contain unflattering examples of unloving actions perpetrated by those who claim to have a relationship with God. But John writes:

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. – 1 John 2:4-5 ESV

Obeying God’s commands was a means of proving one’s love for Him. And His love is perfected or fully accomplished through the one who loves others well. Ultimately, it is not our obedience that proves our love for God; it is our love for others. John amplifies this idea in the fourth chapter of his letter.

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:19-21 ESV

The laws found in the Book of Covenant are essentially God’s non-negotiable requirements for expressing love in a cultural context. They were meant to show the Israelites how God’s love was to guide the lives of His people. Moses would later remind the people that their status as God’s treasured possession had been unearned and undeserved.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 ESV

God had chosen them based on His love for them – even when they were unloveable. And it was that gracious, merciful love that should motivate their love for one another, as expressed in their obedience to His commandments.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8 ESV

Each of these laws is undergirded by a love for God. That is why Moses told the Israelites, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations…” (Deuteronomy 7:9 ESV). Again, the keeping of the commands was not the real point. But in keeping the commands, they would be expressing their love and devotion for God as they funneled that love to one another through tangible actions. And Jesus would later express the same idea to His disciples:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. – John 14:23-24 ESV

This section of the Book of the Covenant contains laws that deal with different kinds of crimes, including capital crimes, personal injuries, and criminal negligence. They range from cases of homicide to physical and verbal abuse. These verses go into a great deal of detail but also provide general principles concerning human interaction in a fallen world. These things were inevitable, even among the chosen people of God. They were not immune from the temptation to sin against one another. So, when they did sin, God wanted them to know how to deal with the aftermath of their unloving and selfish decisions. Nothing was left to the imagination.

To take another person’s life was an expression of hate rather than love. To strike another person, causing them bodily injury, was an act of violence and evidence of a lack of love. Throughout these verses, God uses words like striking, quarreling, cursing, stealing, and striving. They describe behavior that is antithetical to love and in contradiction to the very nature of God. God is love (1 John 4:8). It is not a byproduct of His nature, but it is the very essence of who He is. And that love is to be manifested in the lives of His people. But when they fail to do so, there must be consequences. When hate shows up, justice must be meted out. When a lack of love results in harm, restitution must be made.

God knew His people were going to struggle with keeping His law. He also knew that they could find it difficult to love well. That’s why He provided laws designed to regulate loveless behavior among His people. Their failure to love was inevitable. But more hatred and vengeance would not be the answer. Even in dealing with the lack of love among themselves, the people were to respond with love, not hate. Justice must be served, but not at the expense of love. Sin must be properly dealt with, but always in a loving and God-honoring manner.

…this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:21 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

All For the Glory of God

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” – Exodus 20:12-17 ESV

The book of 2 Chronicles records Solomon’s dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. He had spent years supervising the construction of this magnificent structure that was to serve as the dwelling place of God on earth.

I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.” – 2 Chronicles 6:2 ESV

But Solomon understood that the God of the universe could not be contained in a structure built by human hands – no matter how glorious and opulent it may be. So, he asked God to honor the temple by answering the prayers of all those who view it as a symbol of His glory and greatness.

“But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you, that your eyes may be open day and night toward this house, the place where you have promised to set your name, that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. And listen to the pleas of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen from heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” – 2 Chronicles 6:18-21 ESV

On that auspicious occasion, God gave His visible approval of Solomon’s beautiful creation by filling it with His glory (2 Chronicles 7:1-3). Then He made Solomon a promise.

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. – 2 Chronicles 7:12-14 ESV

God reminded Solomon that the people of Israel bore His name. They were His representatives on earth and, as such, they were to honor Him by the way they lived their lives. But His people had a track record of disobedience and rebellion. They found it difficult to live in keeping with His will and in compliance with His law; a problem that extended all the way back to Mount Sinai. Ever since God gave His law to Moses, the people of Israel had revealed their inability to live up to its exacting standards. And yet, each of the laws found in the Decalogue was intended to help differentiate the people of Israel from the rest of humanity. They alone bore God’s name and their adherence to His law was intended to set them apart as a one-of-a-kind nation that shared a totally unique relationship with Him.

The laws God gave them were not disciplinary or punitive. They were a reflection of His divine character and provided insights into His priorities concerning mankind. They reveal God’s divine perspective on the human condition. That’s why six of the ten commandments are horizontal in their emphasis, dealing with the interactions between God’s people.

In the fifth commandment, God places a high priority on authority, demanding that His people show proper respect and honor to their parents. The family unit was God’s idea and He created it with a hierarchical structure that served as a model of His own role as the Heavenly Father. Just as He gave life to all humanity, the father and mother were the means by which children came into the world. And as God’s co-creators, they were worthy of honor. A child who refuses to live in obedience to his parents will find it difficult to submit to the will of a God he cannot see.

The apostle Paul reiterated this command in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.

Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.” – Ephesians 6:1-3 ESV

It is essential that children learn to live in submission to God-ordained authority if they are going to be contributing members of God’s family. Learning to obey begins at home. Household rules are the foundational platform for teaching obedience to God’s law. A child who refuses to obey and honor his parents will find it impossible to submit to the will of God.

It is interesting to note that the very next commandment prohibits murder – the willful taking of innocent human life. This appears to reflect back on the very first family God created. Adam and Eve produced two sons, Cain and Abel, and it was not long after sin entered the world, that Cain made the fateful decision to murder his brother. Motivated by jealousy and driven by a desire for self-determination, Cain decided to play god and take the life of his brother. In doing so, he took that which did not belong to him. He robbed Abel of life and stole glory from God, who is the giver of life.

The next command continues the theme of taking that which does not belong to you. In this case, it deals with adultery, the sin of taking another man’s wife. With this command, God is displaying His high regard for the institution of marriage and all covenantal relationships. Adultery reveals a blatant disregard for that which God deems binding and unbreakable. Jesus would echo His Father’s words when addressing the issue of divorce in His own day.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” – Matthew 19:5-6 ESV

It is not a coincidence that God used the sin of adultery to describe the unfaithfulness of His own people, declaring, “Have you seen what fickle Israel has done? Like a wife who commits adultery, Israel has worshiped other gods on every hill and under every green tree” (Jeremiah 3:6 NLT). Infidelity would become a regular and recurring problem for the Israelites – within their marriage relationships but also in terms of their faithlessness to God.

Again, the eighth commandment carries a prohibition against taking that which does not belong to you. This time the context is stealing the property of others. Theft shows a disregard for the other person’s rights and reveals a lack of faith in the providential care of God. To take what belongs to another is to say that God has not provided for your needs. An Israelite who would steal from one of his brothers or sisters was giving evidence of a lack of faith in God. The apostle James describes the real problem behind the act of theft.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:2-3 NLT

The ninth commandment prohibits the taking of someone else’s reputation. To bear false witness is to spread inaccurate and damaging information about another person designed to question their integrity and destroy their name. It is hateful and harmful. It is to purposefully spread lies about another person with the intent to rob them of honor and esteem in the eyes of others. This was the very sin God accused His people of in the book of Ezekiel.

I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations.” – Ezekiel 36:22-23 NLT

The people of Israel had robbed God of glory by questioning and doubting His integrity and honor. Their behavior demonstrated their lack of trust in His goodness and greatness. Their actions were a form of bearing false witness, making false statements about the faithfulness of God that questioned His power and provision.

The last of the ten commandments deals with the problem of coveteousness. At the core of coveteousness is a lack of contentment. Coveteousness is an obsessive desire to possess what God has not provided. That which we covet is not a legitimate need but a self-determined want that we demand to be fulfilled at all costs. The focus here is less on the external act than the motivation behind it. Coveteousness displays a lack of faith in God’s provision. Seeing someone who has been blessed with a spouse, a house, an asset, or anything else of value, and demanding that those things be yours, is to question the integrity and goodness of God. It accuses God of favoritism, inequity, and injustice.

Ultimately, all of these commands point back to God. The interrelational aspect they describe has far more to do with the Israelites’ views of God than anything else. The manner in which they treated one another would be a direct reflection of their understanding of God and their relationship with Him. He was calling them to a life of holiness that was intended to illustrate His own set-apart status. They were to be holy as He is holy. They were to reflect His character by valuing what He valued and holding in high esteem those things that were near and dear to His heart.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.