Hear and Obey!

1 “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6:1-9 ESV

God had given the people of Israel His commands, and every single one of those divine regulations were to be treated with reverence and fear. They were not up for debate and were to be protected from any form of tampering or alteration. And God had given ample incentive for the people to keep His commands. If the Israelites would obediently and faithfully follow them, they would enjoy the blessings of God. If they chose to disobey them, they would experience very real and painful curses. The very kinds of curses God brought on the Egyptians would fall upon the people of God.

But God’s commands, while holy, righteous, and just, were nothing more than a set of rules if the people of God refused to hear and obey them. The long list of God-ordained imperatives that Moses had shared with the people was passive and, for the most part, powerless. God’s commands could not change anyone. They were intended to regulate human actions and attitudes but were powerless to change the human heart, from which all human behavior flows. The book of Proverbs has much to say about the heart.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. – Proverbs 4:23 NLT

Listen, my son, and be wise, and guide your heart on the right course. – Proverbs 23:19 BSB

Laws, even those given by God, exist outside the human heart, and while they can influence and motivate a man’s actions, they cannot alter the true condition of his heart. Jesus Himself painted a bleak image of the condition of the fallen human heart.

“But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you.” – Matthew 15:18-10 NLT

Notice that each item on the list Jesus provides lines up with one of the commands of God. While God had clearly placed prohibitions on murder, adultery, immorality, theft, and lying, it had not resulted in their eradication. Man’s sin problem is an internal one, and cannot be controlled by externally based rules. No amount of regulations and restrictions on human behavior will ever remedy the problem of sin.

God would later say of His own people:

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

They knew the rules. They could even quote them from memory. But they had a heart problem. And, hundreds of years later, Jesus would use this very passage to level a charge of hypocrisy against the religious leaders of His day. He accused them of corrupting the clear commands of God by watering them down with their own set of man-made regulations.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

So, as Moses continued his preparation of the people of Israel to enter the land of promise, he reiterated the necessity for them to treat God’s commands with reverence. And he seemed to understand that, while he could not change their hearts, he could give them ample motivation to obey God’s laws.

These are the commands, decrees, and regulations that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you. You must obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy, and you and your children and grandchildren must fear the Lord your God as long as you live. If you obey all his decrees and commands, you will enjoy a long life. – Deuteronomy 6:1-2 NLT

If they wanted to enjoy long and prosperous lives, they were going to have to obey God’s commands. Moses was making an appeal to their hearts. He was attempting to speak to them as parents and to get them to understand that their decisions, whether to obey God were going to have long-lasting implications.

Two different times in these verses, Moses states, “Hear therefore, O Israel.” The Hebrew word he used is shama` and it carries the idea of hearing or listening, but with the intent to obey. Verse four begins with the same phrase, “Hear, O Israel” and then continues with the words, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Verses 4-9 came to be known as the Shema prayer and was prayed daily by the Hebrew people. In fact, on one occasion, Jesus was approached by a scribe who asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28 ESV). And Jesus responded by quoting the Shema prayer.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” – Mark 12:29 ESV).

Hearing and obeying are inseparable partners when it comes to God’s laws. It is not enough to hear what God commands. He demands obedience. And notice that God expects that obedience to flow from the heart. It is to be an obedience based on love and obeisance. There is to be an obedience that flows from a reverent awe of God and a passionate desire to please Him for all He has done.

And Moses made it clear that the law of God was not to be seen as some external list of rules regulating behavior, but he told the Israelites “these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6 ESV). 

They were to become a permanent part of their daily lives. The Israelites were to teach them to their children. They were to surround themselves with God’s commands, allowing His holy code of conduct to permeate every area of their lives. While men tend to view all laws as restrictive in nature, the Ten Commandments were to be seen as coming from a loving God who knew what was best for His children. He wasn’t trying to be a cosmic kill-joy, arbitrarily limiting the behavior of His people. He was providing them with a divine list of carefully crafted rules that were meant to improve their lives, not inhibit their joy.

Moses wanted the people to hear what God was saying. But more importantly, he wanted them to apply the words of God to their hearts so that their behavior would flow from the inside-out. When Moses said, “Hear, O Israel” he was calling them to carefully discern the intent behind God’s laws and to see them as expressions of His love for them. If the people of Israel could grasp just how much God loved them, they would be more prone to return that love with all their heart, soul, and might.

But if all they heard was a list of restrictive rules, they would tend to respond in disobedience or, at best, a heartless obedience lacking in love and marred by hypocrisy.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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 Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Advertisements

Laws For Living

16 “‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

17 “‘You shall not murder.

18 “‘And you shall not commit adultery.

19 “‘And you shall not steal.

20 “‘And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

21 “‘And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’”  – Deuteronomy 5:16-21 ESV

The first four of the Ten Commandments are focused on man’s relationship with God. Yet, while they are vertical in their orientation, they have a horizontal aspect to them. In other words, they are intended to impact man’s earthly life.

The Israelites were prohibited from worshiping other gods. The fact that these false gods were non-existent should have made this command a no-brainer, but mankind has been in the habit of replacing God substitutes and stand-ins ever since the fall. And the Israelites had even been so bold as to have made a golden calf while Moses had been up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God.

The prohibition on worshiping false gods was accompanied by a command against creating idols of those gods. This was a particular temptation for the people of Israel, because their God was invisible. But while their God was unseen, His character was not. God had revealed Himself in a variety of ways and had proven His power, holiness, love, and trustworthiness. That is why the third commandment prohibits using His name in vain. This is not a ban on using profanity, but a demand that the people of God protect the integrity of God’s reputation. We can profane God’s name by speaking falsely about Him by questioning His love, reliability, power, or presence. To say, “God does not care” is to treat His character with contempt. To imply that God is unfair or unjust is to drag His holy name through the mud.

The fourth command centers around the keeping of the Sabbath. While the emphasis appears to be on rest from labor, the Sabbath is tied directly to the creation account found in the book of Genesis and the creation of Israel as a nation, as described in the book of Exodus. By setting aside this one day out of seven as a day of rest and contemplation, God was requiring that the Israelites reflect on His role as the Creator-God, the maker of all things. In all the activity and busyness of life, they were not to forget that their very existence was totally dependent upon God.

The second set of commands are more horizontal in nature, focusing on mankind’s interpersonal relationships. The first of these commands covers the family unit, a God-ordained institution that was to be treated with reverence and respect. He commands children to honor their parents, treating them with dignity and seeing them as the God-appointed overseers of the household. Headship and authority are essential for life to function properly. Without it, there is anarchy. And because God is  invisible and unseen, He has provided tangible expressions of His divine authority through human agents, such as mothers and fathers, pastors and elders, and governmental leaders. Our ability to show honor to those we can see is ultimately a form of showing honor to the One we cannot see.

The next command takes a dramatically negative turn, with God explicitly banning the taking of another person’s life. But the context is murder and it harkens all the way back to the days following the fall, when Cain killed his brother, Abel. In a fit of anger, fueled by jealousy, Cain took his brother’s life. In doing so, he set himself up as God, becoming the arbiter of his brother’s fate. If we turn back and look at the details surrounding that fateful event, we see that Cain and Abel had brought offerings to God, but that God did not accept the offering made by Cain.

In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. – Genesis 4:3-4 ESV

And it was God’s rejection that that angered Cain and caused him to lash out against his brother. He offered an unacceptable offering to God, which is most likely a statement about the condition of his heart, not the quality of his offering. And the true nature of his heart was revealed in how he reacted to God’s rejection. He played God and removed the one whom God had approved. Murder is man playing God. It is an attempt to diminish the value of that which God has made – human life – by determining another person’s right to exist. It is the most egregious expression of idolatry that a human being can commit.

The next command covers another God-ordained institution: Marriage. The Israelites were to respect marriage by refraining from adultery. Tied into this is the idea of covenant faithfulness and commitment. Just as a child’s honoring of their parents is ultimately an expression of honor to God, so the husband and wife who honor their marriage covenant are expressing their reverence for God. In a world where unfaithfulness was ubiquitous, God was demanding faithfulness and fidelity.

In a sense, adultery is a form of theft. It is taking what does not rightfully belong to you. And God takes this ban on stealing to another level by banning it outright. The prohibition on stealing was intended to teach the Israelites to honor the rights of their neighbor, but it was also meant to teach reliance upon God. The motivation behind stealing is usually discontment. James put it this way: “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” (James 4:2 NLT). Stealing is nothing more than rewarding yourself with that which you think you deserve, but which God has chosen to deny you. It is the taking of what rightfully belongs to someone else, and along with material things, we can steal someone’s reputation.

And this sets up the next command. Lying is a form of hatred toward others that supplies disinformation in order to place self-preservation over anything and everything.  It is meant to deceive and distort the truth for personal gain. We lie to protect ourselves or to inflate our perceived worth. We fabricate facts that make us look good. We make up false narratives intended to make others look bad. Lying can murder another person’s reputation. It is a purposeful attempt to misrepresent the facts in order to alter outcomes or improve outlooks. But God is a God of truth. And as Numbers 23:19 reminds us, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?”

The final command involves an insidious and invisible cancer that infects each and every human being: Covetousness. This is less an action than an attitude. It is an expression of the heart. It can remain hidden from those around us, but all the while it is spreading in our hearts like a deadly infection. Covetousness is ultimately selfish and self-centered, placing our own desires ahead of God’s will and the needs of others. It drives so many of the other behaviors banned by the other commands. Adultery takes place when we covet that which is not ours. Murder occurs when one person places more value on their desire for revenge than another person’s life. Stealing is the ultimate expression of covetousness. It is coveting consummated. But at its core, covetousness is a dissatisfaction with God. It is an expression of disfavor with God and His ability to provide for our needs. His gifts are not enough. His goodness is not good enough. We have to have more.

The law is good and holy. But as we saw yesterday, the law could only prescribe and prohibit. It could command and demand, but it could not force compliance. God made it perfectly clear what He expected of His people. But they were going to have to choose to obey. They could not claim ignorance, but in time, they would display their obstinance. Their knowledge of God’s law would be of little value if they failed to live in compliance with it.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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 Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Learning to Love the Law

1 And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, while I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain. He said:

“‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“‘You shall have no other gods before me.

“‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

11 “‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

12 “‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” – Deuteronomy 5:1-15 ESV

The Ten Commandments. We’re all vaguely familiar with them, even if we can’t recite them from memory. And we all have an image that comes to mind when we think of Moses holding the two tablets of stone containing the hand-carved code of conduct given by God to the people of Israel. But those commands seem distant and somewhat antiquated to most of us. And for many Christians, we operate as if the Ten Commandments no longer apply to us because we live under grace, not law. After all, the apostle Paul tells us, “Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing” (Galatians 3:13 NLT).

It’s easy to read a passage like that one and assume that the Ten Commandments are out-of-date and no longer apply. And Paul seems to support that conclusion with his words to the Christians in Rome.

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. – Romans 10:4 ESV

But before we jump to conclusions, we have to recall the words of Jesus.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” – Matthew 5:17 NLT

Jesus claimed to have come to earth in order to accomplish the purpose behind the law of Moses and the writings of the prophets. We would tend to say that Jesus came to earth to save the lost, and we would be right. Because that is exactly what the law foreshadowed and the prophecies of the Old Testament foretold. The apostle Paul tells us exactly why the law was given.

Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. – Galatians 3:19 NLT

God gave the law to the people of Israel in order that they might know just how holy He was and just how sinful they truly were. With God’s detailed list of all the dos and don’ts, shalls, and shall-nots provided for them, the people of Israel could not claim ignorance when it came to God’s expectations of them. But while His rules established clear guidelines for living, they also revealed man’s inability to live up to those guidelines. The Ten Commandments are holy, righteous, and just, providing man with a detailed list of God’s non-negotiable requirements for maintaining a right relationship with Him. But, once again, Paul reminds us that the law could never make anyone right with God because no one was capable of living up to God’s holy standard.

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. – Romans 3:20 NLT

The author of Hebrews adds that “the law never made anything perfect” (Hebrews 7:19 NLT). In other words, God’s giving of His holy law was intended to provide the Israelites with a clear standard or set of guidelines for living. But the presence of the law did not empower the people to obey. It told them what God expected of them, but did not provide them with the capacity to live up to those expectations. In a sense, the law could only condemn, not save.

Think of it this way: A speed limit sign is a government-sanctioned law declaring the legally established maximum rate of travel for a motor vehicle. It lets drivers know just how fast they are allowed to go on a particular section of highway. It cannot force them to travel at that speed. It does not limit their capacity to drive slower or faster. It simply sets the rules of conduct for that driving on that patch of road. But if the posted speed limit is 65 and you are traveling 75, every time you pass one of those signs declaring the speed limit, you will be condemned as guilty. All the sign can do is confirm if we are living up to the established standard or condemn us if we are not.

The apostle Paul describes the law as our guardian, tutor, or instructor.

Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. – Galatians 3:23-25 NLT

The law was given so that man might learn just how holy God is and just how sinful they could be. So, as Moses delivered the Ten Commandments to the next generation of Israelites, he was reminding them of the holiness of their God. They were to take God’s commands seriously and to treat them with the reverence they deserved. He warned them to “learn them and be careful to do them” (Deuteronomy 5:1 ESV). Because breaking God’s laws would break their fellowship with Him. Failing to keep His commands would place them under a curse.

The Jews would live under the guardianship or tutelage of the law for generations. From the time they entered the land of Canaan to the day that Jesus Christ took on human flesh, the Jews would be required by God to live according to His law. And, as Paul put it, the law would protect them as long as they obeyed it. It functioned as the speed limit sign on the highway of life. But when Jesus came, the law became unnecessary, because He provided a way for sinful men to be made right with a holy God. Rather than trying to keep God’s holy and righteous standards through human effort, they could place their faith in Christ. The Son of God became a man so that He might live a sinless life, keeping God’s law perfectly. He obeyed every single command given by God, accomplishing what no other man had ever been able to do before.

And it was because Jesus was perfectly obedient, that He was able to be the spotless sacrifice whose life was given as payment for mankind’s sin debt. He was the one who John described as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).  And He was the one who made forgiveness of sin possible. In other words, He provided a way for man to receive permanent forgiveness for every single violation of God’s holy law. The law revealed man’s sinfulness, but only Jesus could remove it. The law could condemn man as guilty, but only Jesus could pronounce man as innocent and righteous. And one day Paul explained this wonderful reality to a group of Jews who had gathered to hear him speak.

“Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in him is made right in God’s sight—something the law of Moses could never do.” – Acts 13:38-39 NLT

So, as Moses unpacks God’s law to the people of Israel, it’s essential that we understand just how blessed we are. We live on this side of the cross, where the curse of the law has been replaced by the blessing of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. We no longer live under the burden of trying to earn God’s favor through law-keeping. That does not mean the law is null-and-void and no longer applicable. It simply means we have been given a righteousness from Christ that makes it possible for us to live in obedience to God’s commands, not based on human effort but through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. And rather than viewing the law as our task-master, we can see it the way Paul did: “the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good” (Romans 7:12 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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 Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Live Out My Law

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— 10 how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’ 11 And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. 12 Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13 And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. 14 And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess.– Deuteronomy 4:9-14 ESV

Moses knew what the Israelites were going to need if they were to be successful in conquering and possessing the land of Canaan. This was not going to be about strength of numbers, military prowess, or well-planned battle strategies. Their only hope of possessing the land and enjoying the many benefits it offered was tied to their relationship with God. And Moses knew that they were going to struggle with faithfulness and obedience. After all, as their leader for the last four decades, he had watched them repeatedly dishonor and disobey God. Moses realized that their entrance into the land would be only the first phase of their journey. God had commanded them to take full possession of the land, which would require that they completely dispossess all its current occupants. There were to be no exceptions, no treaties, and no compromises.

But the people of Israel had a track record of doing things their way. They had a penchant for taking the easy path and doing so always required a compromise of their convictions and a disregard of God’s commands.

So, Moses reminds them of the day when God gave them His Law – the Ten Commandments. It took place at Horeb or Mount Sinai. It was there, in the early days after their exodus from Egypt, that God delivered to them a legally binding set of rules designed to establish His expectations of them. These laws would establish for them a black-and-white, non-negotiable code of conduct – a set of regulations and requirements that would set them apart from all the other nations on the earth.

But before God delivered His Law to Moses, He gave him the following message for the people of Israel:

“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 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.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”– Exodus 19:3-6 ESV

God had delivered them from their slavery in Egypt and had set them apart as His own. But it was not because they were unique or special in any way. They had not earned His mercy and they did not deserve their unique status as His treasured possession. In fact, Moses would later clarify the undeserved nature of their status as God’s chosen people.

“For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure. The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the LORD rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, therefore, that the LORD your God is indeed God.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT

God had made a covenant with Abraham and the fulfillment of that covenant involved the Israelites – the descendants of Abraham. By rescuing the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt, God was keeping the commitment He had made to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

“You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land…” – Genesis 15:13-16 NLT

God had been faithful. He had done all that He had promised to do, but the people of Israel were still on the wrong side of the Jordan River. They needed to cross over and take possession of the land. Which is why Moses took the time to remind them of that momentous day at Mount Sinai, when God delivered His to them His Law.

Most of the people to whom Moses was speaking would not been alive at the time this event took place. They were the new generation of Israelites. So, Moses went out of his way to describe for them the scene on Mount Sinai that day. And the book of Exodus provides us with even greater details.

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. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. – Exodus 19:16-20 ESV

It was at the top of that mountain that God met with Moses and delivered to him the Ten Commandments, carved into tablets of stone by the very finger of God Himself. And while Moses had been at the top of the mountain, the people of Israel had stood at the base, watching a spectacular display of God’s power. Moses says, “the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom” (Deuteronomy 4:11 ESV).

The people of Israel heard the voice of God, but God Himself remained invisible to them. And Moses recounts the content of what God had to say to the people that day.

“You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.” – Deuteronomy 4:12-13 ESV

God had demanded that the people keep the commands He was giving them. These were to be binding commands, not helpful suggestions. They were not up for debate. And Moses makes it clear that God had given him the responsibility to teach these commands to the people, “that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess” (Deuteronomy 4:14 ESV).

In other words, the commands written on tablets of stone were to make their way into the hearts of the people, transforming the way they lived their lives. They were to be the guiding force in their lives, determining their relationship with God and with one another. While the God of Israel was invisible, His regulations regarding their conduct were not. They were carved into stone. And these laws were not man-made, but God-ordained. Therefore, they were righteous and holy.

While the people of Israel could not see their holy God, they could demonstrate His glory through their own holy conduct. By living according to His revealed Law, the people of Israel could display His glory and goodness to the nations around them. Their compliance to His Law would set them apart from all the other people groups on the face of the earth. They could make the invisible God visible by living in accordance to His commands. And, as Moses stated earlier, by watching Israel live in obedience to God’s commands, the nations would express their awe and wonder. Which is why Moses called the people to obey them willingly and completely.

“Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations. When they hear all these decrees, they will exclaim, ‘How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!’ For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?” – Deuteronomy 4:6-8 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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 Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

He Has Made and Will Bear, Carry, and Save

1 Bel bows down; Nebo stoops;
    their idols are on beasts and livestock;
these things you carry are borne
    as burdens on weary beasts.
They stoop; they bow down together;
    they cannot save the burden,
    but themselves go into captivity.

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
    all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
    carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
    and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
    I will carry and will save.

“To whom will you liken me and make me equal,
    and compare me, that we may be alike?
Those who lavish gold from the purse,
    and weigh out silver in the scales,
hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god;
    then they fall down and worship!
They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it,
    they set it in its place, and it stands there;
    it cannot move from its place.
If one cries to it, it does not answer
    or save him from his trouble.

“Remember this and stand firm,
    recall it to mind, you transgressors,
    remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
    and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
    and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
11 calling a bird of prey from the east,
    the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
    I have purposed, and I will do it.

12 “Listen to me, you stubborn of heart,
    you who are far from righteousness:
13 I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
    and my salvation will not delay;
I will put salvation in Zion,
    for Israel my glory.” – Isaiah 46:1-13 ESV

Nabu

Incorporating humor tinged with sarcasm, Isaiah describes two of the primary Babylonian gods as bowing and stooping, as if they actually had life in them. Bel was considered the father of all the gods worshiped by the Babylonians, and Nebo was his son. These gods were worshiped in the form of idols made of stone and precious metals. In some cases, the idols made to represent these false gods were massive in size and required many men to transport them, utilizing carts hauled by cattle or oxen. And Isaiah describes these two lifeless deities as nothing more than heavy burdens borne along by dumb beasts of burden. Not only are Bel and Nebo powerless to lift the burden, they are the burden. And they are stooped and bowed, lying lifeless and defenseless on carts, as they are hauled away as plunder. These false gods will end up in captivity just like all those who worship them.

Suddenly, God speaks and He paints a strikingly different picture. He juxtaposes Himself with these impotent and lifeless gods. While they will end up being borne away on carts, God reminds the people of Judah that He has borne them from the very beginning. It is He who has carried them over the centuries, from the very moment He called Abram out of Ur. Unlike Bel and Nebo, God didn’t require a cart to get from one place to another. He didn’t require human craftsmen to bring Him into existence. He is the eternal and everlasting one. He is the uncreated Creator of all things. And He warned Moses not to allow the people to attempt to portray Him in any form whatsoever.

“But be very careful! You did not see the Lord’s form on the day he spoke to you from the heart of the fire at Mount Sinai. So do not corrupt yourselves by making an idol in any form—whether of a man or a woman, an animal on the ground, a bird in the sky, a small animal that scurries along the ground, or a fish in the deepest sea.” – Deuteronomy 4:15-18 NLT

Yet, before this command could make it from the top of Mount Sinai down to people below, something foreboding and foreshadowing happened. Tired of waiting for Moses, the people decided to make their own gods, demanding of Aaron, “Get up, make us gods that will go before us. As for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!” (Exodus 32:1 NLT). And sadly, Aaron gave into their wishes and commanded them to donate the gold necessary to make an idol.

So all the people broke off the gold earrings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron. He accepted the gold from them, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molten calf. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” – Exodus 32:3-4 NLT

This scene would be repeated in one form or another throughout the generations of the Israelites. Even though God had rescued them out of their slavery in Egypt and eventually bore them all the way to the promised land, they would continually turn to gods of their own making. And God had patiently carried the burden of their sin and rebellion for centuries. Amazingly, God reassures His rebellious people of His commitment to continue to bear with them.

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
    until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
    I will carry you along and save you.” – Isaiah 46:4 NLT

Unlike Bel and Nebo, God would not abandon His people. He wasn’t a false god who had to be manufactured by men and carried on carts pulled by livestock. He was God Almighty, and there were no other gods like Him. And He poses a rhetorical question, designed to expose the lunacy behind their infatuation with false gods.

“To whom will you liken me and make me equal,
    and compare me, that we may be alike? – Isaiah 46:5 ESV

In an effort to get them to understand the sheer stupidity of their actions, God exposes the illogical nature of idol worship.

“Some people pour out their silver and gold
    and hire a craftsman to make a god from it.
    Then they bow down and worship it!
They carry it around on their shoulders,
    and when they set it down, it stays there.
    It can’t even move!
And when someone prays to it, there is no answer.
    It can’t rescue anyone from trouble.” – Isaiah 46:6-7 NLT

It all makes no sense, and yet, the people of Israel and Judah had made a habit of doing this very thing. From that fateful moment at the base of Mount Sinai to the days of Isaiah, the people of God had repeatedly made their own gods with their own hands. And God addresses them as what the were: Transgressors. They had violated His law – not once, but repeatedly. And just in case they might have forgotten, God reminds them of just who He is.

“I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.” – Isaiah 46:9 ESV

God has told the people of Judah that they will be invaded by the Babylonians and be taken into captivity. But He has also told them that the gods of the Babylonians will one day be taken into captivity as well, along with all those who worship them. This will happen when the Persians defeat the Babylonians and become the big dog on the block in their place. And God has revealed that Cyrus, the king of the Persians, will one day allow the people of Judah to return to the land of Canaan. These predictions and God’s capacity to bring them to fulfillment are what set Him apart. No false god could do what He does.

“Only I can tell you the future
    before it even happens.
Everything I plan will come to pass,
    for I do whatever I wish.” – Isaiah 46:10 NLT

And God’s unspoken question seems to be: “Why don’t you worship Me?” With all He has done for them over the centuries, it made no sense that they continued to forsake Him for other gods. And yet, they had, time and time again. So, He calls to them one more time, demanding that they pay attention to what He is trying to tell them.

Listen to me, you stubborn of heart,
    you who are far from righteousness:
I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
    and my salvation will not delay;
I will put salvation in Zion,
    for Israel my glory.”
– Isaiah 46:12-13 NLT

Why would they not trust God? He had proven Himself faithful. He had put up with their idolatry for generations. He had continued to care for and love them even in the face of their persistent spiritual infidelity. And now He was telling them that His salvation of them was guaranteed. It was as good as done. And as the one true God, He alone is able to say:

“I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
    I have purposed, and I will do it.” – Isaiah 46:11 ESV

God boldly and emphatically tells them,  “I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4 ESV). He’s not some stooping, bowing, lifeless idol on a cart. He is the sovereign, all-powerful God of the universe whose plan of redemption for His people is unstoppable. And all He asks in return is that they worship Him for who He is: The incomparable, all-powerful God. 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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 Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Lack of Light.

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy. In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled. For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed, when I restore the fortunes of my people. – Hosea 6:7-11 ESV

At the heart of Israel’s sin was their failure to keep their covenant with God. When He had delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, God had given them His law and made a bilateral covenant with them at the base of Mount Sinai in the wilderness. That remarkable event was accompanied by thunder, lightning, smoke and fire. After seeing this dramatic display of God’s power and hearing the holy requirements of God, the people were petrified. “Now 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.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin’” (Exodus 20:18-20 ESV).

God had chosen the people of Israel as His own. They were to be His representatives on earth, living according to His holy law and revealing to the world the blessings that come with obedience to His will. But God had warned them that there were going to be consequences to their disobedience. “The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:20 ESV). Over the years, the nation of Israel proved remarkably unfaithful, even before the kingdom was split in two. And after God had divided the kingdom, the ten northern tribes, known as Israel, took their unfaithfulness to a whole new level. And as a result, God was forced to keep His word. He was going to bring about their destruction.

Forsaking God always has dire ramifications. You cannot ignore God and hope that all will go well for you. Failure to honor and worship Him as God always leads to devastating consequences. In the case of Israel, their sinfulness spread like a plague among the people. Murder and robbery became common place, even in those cities that had once been known as sacred sites. The priests and religious leaders, rather than being icons of spiritual virtue, were fully complicit in the immoral and unethical acts of the nation. They were guilty of leading the nation astray, not only by advocating the worship of idols, but in committing acts in direct defiance of God’s commandments. God had made His will crystal clear. His commands were non-negotiable and free from interpretation.

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 … You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name. Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy … Honor your father and motherYou must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor. You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. – Exodus 20:3-17 NLT

And Israel had violated them all. Just as Adam, the first man, had broken God’s covenant in the garden, disobeying His command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Israelites had willingly and persistently broken God’s covenant with them. They had failed to take God seriously. They had doubted His word and ignored His warning about curses and promise of blessings. It is interesting to note that their failure to love God as expressed in their disobedience of His law, manifested itself in a lack of love for one another. Murder and robbery are relational crimes committed by one individual against another. Just as murder followed the initial sin of Adam and Eve, the Israelites’ forsaking of God was followed by a hatred for one another. The great Shema, based on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, was a required daily prayer for all Israelites, learned at an early age. It reads:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV

The law of God and a love for God were to be inseparable. God’s commands contained both vertical (God-focused) and horizontal (man-focused) elements. If someone obeyed God’s law out of love for Him, they would automatically express love for those around them. Obedience to God would manifest itself in mutual respect and love for others. But notice that the Shema contains the admonition to teach God’s commands to the next generation. They were to be a constant part of everyday life, dictating and determining behavior and influencing every aspect of life. But failure to keep God’s laws always follows failure to keep God as the center of your life. Disobedience is a byproduct of disbelief and distrust. Adam and Eve sinned because they listened to Satan and doubted God’s word. The people of Israel had sinned because they had forsaken God. Just as darkness is an absence of light, so sin is an absence of God. Walking away from God is like walking away from a light. You will eventually find yourself stumbling around in the dark, incapable of knowing where you are going and what you are doing.

The apostle John wrote, “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will 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 NLT). Israel had walked out of the light and into darkness. Their behavior was a result of their failure to honor and esteem God. And we can experience the same tragic outcome if we fail to keep God as the central focus in our lives, honoring Him for who He is and lovingly obeying His will because we know He loves us.

The Valley Between Two Mountains.

Two-MountainsFor you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 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, 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, 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

The author of Hebrews compares the Christian life to that or a long and arduous journey. Because of his Hebrew audience, he most likely has 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 had been an ultra-ultra-mega-marathon, covering thousands of miles and four decades. And it had required incredible endurance and a constant awareness that there truly was a goal in mind. They were headed somewhere. They 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 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 them the Ten Commandments. It 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 had accompanied the presence of God that day 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 physical 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 the giving of Ten Commandments by God to Moses. But if you recall, 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 pyrotechnic display on the mountain that had left them trembling in fear, they had determined to make their own god. So Mount Sinai would forever be a symbol of God’s holiness and their own sinfulness. The law God gave them would prove to be a constant reminder of their own sinfulness and incapacity to live obediently.

But Mount Zion was a different mountain and represents an altogether different encounter with God. Mount Sinai was physical in nature and could be seen and touched, albeit at pain of death. Yet Mount Zion is a spiritual mountain. There is no smoke, fire, thunder, lightning, or ban against coming 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, Mount Zion, represented the presence of God. It was there that God dwelt in the Holy of Holies. It was to Zion the people walked in order to celebrate the various feasts and festivals. It was there they went to receive forgiveness of sin and to have their relationship with God restored.

For believers, our final destination is also Mount Zion. It represents our heavenly home – “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” We are on a journey to a place where we will encounter God, but rather than experiencing fear and trembling, we will enjoy peace, acceptance, joy, and a freedom from sin and sorrow. There will be no condemnation. There will be no need for the law to remind us 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).

 

Exodus 25-26, Mark 10

The Presence of God.

Exodus 25-26, Mark 10

And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. – Exodus 25:21-22 ESV

In chapters 25-26, we have God’s incredibly detailed instructions to Moses for the construction of the Tabernacle and all the elements that were to be contained within it. God left nothing up to speculation. It was all to be done according to His design, and there was a very clear plan involved. The specificity in these two chapters is amazing, if not somewhat boring. God gives exact measurements and specific details regarding the construction methodologies and the materials to be used. And He funds it all through the free-will gifts of His people. He tells Moses to take up an offering, but only “from every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me” (Exodus 25:2 ESV). This was not going to be a coerced contribution, done halfheartedly and unwillingly. It probably didn’t hurt that the last vision the people had had of God was “like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain” (Exodus 24:17 ESV). They had just been witness to the power and presence of God, so when Moses asked them to contribute to the construction of a “tent” in which God might dwell, they were more than motivated to give. The very name, “tabernacle” means “dwelling place.” This was to be where God would meet with them. It would be a constant reminder of God’s abiding presence. And the place where God’s presence would rest would be above the mercy seat, within the Holy of Holies. The writer of Hebrews provides us with a summary description of the Tabernacle: “Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tentwas prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second sectioncalled the Most Holy Place,having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail” (Hebrew 9:1-5 ESV). The central feature of the entire Tabernacle was the mercy seat, which sat atop the Ark of the Covenant. It was into the Most Holy Place that the High Priest would enter one time per year “and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people” (Hebrews 9:7 ESV). It was there that the high priest offered sacrificial blood once a year to atone for (cover) the sins of the Israelites as a nation. This offering made propitiation (satisfaction) for their sins for one year. But each year, this same process had to be repeated. It was a sacrifice that had limitations and could never completely satisfy the just demands of a holy God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

This structure was to be the dwelling place of God. It was designed to house His presence and was to be a central focus of the Israelite community all through their years of wandering through the wilderness. It was to this place that they would come to regularly offer sacrifices to God. Within the Holy of Holies and inside the Ark of the Covenant were contained the copy of the Ten Commandments, given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. The tablets of stone contained God’s holy, righteous and unwavering expectations of man. But on top of that same Ark was the Mercy Seat, aptly named, because it was there that God meted out His undeserved grace and mercy each year, forgiving the people for all the ways in which they had violated His commands throughout the year. It is a picture of God’s law and love, His righteousness and mercy, His justice and patience. The very fact that God would dwell among men who regularly and willingly disobeyed Him is remarkable. The idea that God would offer a way in which men could enjoy mercy when what they really deserved was His wrath should not escape us. It is all a picture of the mercy made available to mankind through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Again, the writer of Hebrews makes the connection for us: “ But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12 ESV). Christ not only performed the role of the High Priest, entering into the Holy of Holies to offer a sacrifice on behalf of the people, He came presenting His own blood as the payment that would satisfy the just demands of a righteous, holy God. And unlike the yearly sacrifice offered by the human high priest, Christ’s sacrifice of His own life was a one-time event, fully covering the sins of mankind for all time. “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12 ESV). He did what He came to do and when He was done, He returned to His Father’s side. The Tabernacle was a foreshadowing of what was to come. It was a glimpse into a greater sacrifice yet to be given. It offered a temporary reprieve from God’s justice. But it would not be until Jesus Christ came in human flesh and died a sinner’s death on the cross, that God’s demands for justice against the sins of mankind would be completely satisfied.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man cannot satisfy God on his own. Our very sin nature makes us an unacceptable payment for our own sins. We can’t pay back God for all the sins we have committed against Him. From the earliest days of the people of God, a substitute sacrifice was necessary and the shedding of blood was required. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Over the centuries, tens of thousands of innocent lambs, goats, and bulls were slain in order to pay for the sins of mankind. And while the sacrifice of these animals was ordained by God, it was never intended to be a permanent solution to man’s problem. Speaking to His Father, Jesus said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book’” (Hebrews 9:5-7 ESV). Ultimately, it was going to require the death of Jesus on the cross to fully satisfy the just demands of God. His innocent life and substitutionary death was the only way the sins of mankind could be paid for once and for all. And just as in the days of Moses, men still need a stand in, a substitute to pay for their sins. Our sins make us unworthy to come into God’s presence. The commands of God condemn us as law breakers and deserving of death. But God extends mercy. He offers a way in which we can enter into His presence, free from guilt, uncondemned by the law and free from the penalty of death. All because He provided His own Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The reading of the details of the Tabernacle and all its elements can be somewhat boring and uninspiring, until I remember that it is a picture of what God has done for me. It is a reminder of God’s intricate, detailed, marvelous plan to provide me with a means by which I can stand in His presence, forgiven and sin-free. The Tabernacle was costly. It contained materials of great value. It was the most priceless place in the entire camp of Israel. It was the central focus of their community and the pride of the nation. I should hold the death of Jesus Christ on my behalf with the same value. I should not take for granted the priceless gift I have been given by God in the form of His Son. Peter reminds us to conduct ourselves with fear, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV). My access to God’s presence came with a price. A great price. It cost God His Son, and Jesus His own life. In the book of Mark we read the story of Jesus and His encounter with Bartimaeus, the blind beggar. When this man heard that Jesus was near, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47 ESV). Even when those around him tried to shut him up, he only cried out louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:48 ESV). And Jesus stopped, turned to him and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51 ESV). And suddenly, Bartimaeus, an undeserving sinner, found himself standing in the presence of God Himself, being offered an opportunity to receive something he didn’t deserve: healing. His sight was restored. His faith in Jesus’ ability to provide healing and wholeness resulted in something he could have never provided for himself. And that has been my experience with Jesus. He has healed and freed me from the blindness of sin and the darkness of a life lived outside of His divine presence. I have been shown mercy by the God of the universe. What an incredible reality.

Father, I can’t thank You enough for providing the means by which I could be made right with You. Without Your Son’s death, I would have no life. Without His sacrifice, I would still be blinded by sin, living in darkness and completely unable to change my circumstances. Thank You for providing Your Son as my substitute and satisfying Your just demands for my sins. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Exodus 19-20, Mark 7

Not Up For Interpretation.

Exodus 19-20, Mark 7

Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ”This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”  You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men. – Mark 7:6-8 ESV

Most of us have no trouble believing in God. It’s obeying Him that tends to be the problem. All of us have had parents, and none of us would argue that point. Be there were more than a handful of times when we argued with our parents, rejecting to submit to their authority over our lives and refusing to admit that they might know best for our lives. We treat God in the same way and so did the Israelites. They had the normal human tendency to see God as some kind of helpful deity who existed for their good and to bring them glory. They saw themselves as special because they had been chosen by God. They viewed themselves as set apart from the rest of humanity and worthy of some kind of recognition for their status as God’s hand-picked people. In a way, God was little more than a cosmic servant who was there to meet their needs. He provided them with food. When they were thirsty, He gave them water. He was like a divine concierge, providing advice, directions, and helpful travel tips. He had even promised to give them their own land, flowing with milk and honey. It was easy for the israelites to assume that this was all about them. But chapters 19-20 of Exodus provide a stark wake up call to all those who might want to turn God into their own personal genie, obligated to grant their wishes and obligated to obey OUR every command.

What does this passage reveal about God?

After nearly seven weeks of travel, the people of Israel arrive at the foot of Mount Sinai. But this was not going to be just another camping spot. There at that remote place, they were going to get an introduction into the true nature of their relationship with God. He was going to give them an up-close and personal glimpse of His true personality and clearly communicate His expectations of them. Theirs would no longer be a casual relationship, but a covenant and conditional one based on obedience and purity. God didn’t mince any words when He told them, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 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 19:4-6 ESV). Their relationship with God was conditional. There were going to be expectations and requirements if they wanted to remain His treasured possession. They were going to have to a holy nation. And God would make it unmistakeably clear what that meant.

In order to get the attention of the people, God appealed to their senses. He used imagery and sounds to convey His power and greatness. He did not want them assuming He was anything like the false gods they had worshiped in Egypt. They had been mute and immobile, powerless to do anything for themselves, let alone for the people who bowed before them. The Psalmist described them well when he wrote, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not talk; and they do not make a sound in their throat” (Psalm 115:4-7 ESV).

The Israelites were going to learn that their God was not like the other gods. He appeared in a thick cloud on the top of the mountain, accompanied by thunder and lightning, and the sound of a trumpet blast. His presence caused the entire mountain to quake. And He struck fear into the hearts of the people. He warned them to cleanse themselves and not to come near to Him, lest they die. Their purity was a prerequisite for coming into His presence and a protection against His holy wrath. This God whom they had taken so lightly and treated so disrespectfully was going to make sure they understood the true nature of their relationship with Him. They were going to learn that they existed for HIS glory, not the other way around.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When God laid out the commands He was going to require that the people keep, He included some that dealt with their relationship with Him, and others that had to do with their relationships with one another. It was going to be impossible for them to maintain a right relationship with God if they failed to treat one another with respect and dignity. Their holiness was to be holistic. In other words, it was to affect every area of their lives. Their set-apartness was to be all-encompassing, influencing their interactions with God and with one another. But they would struggle with God’s commands from this point forward. Even all the way up until Jesus’ day, the people of Israel would find themselves struggling to keep their commitment to obey God’s commandments. Which is why Jesus so harshly condemns them, reciting the words of Isaiah the prophet, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7 ESV).

They had long lost their awe and fear of God. They had once again turned Him into some kind of disembodied force who existed for their good and their glory. They had taken His commandments and given them an interpretation that better suited their own desires. They had come up with their own set of rules, designed to make them feel holy and righteous. They had so dumbed down God’s standard for holiness that it had long ago lost its holistic sense. Their treatment of God and of one another had become surface-oriented and superficial. Which is why Jesus had to remind the disciples that true purity was personal and internal, not external in nature. “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23 ESV). It’s interesting to note how many of the things listed here by Jesus are directly dealt with in the Ten Commandments given by God at Sinai. The people of Israel had made it all about the externals, and in doing so, had forgotten to deal with their hearts.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God’s holy requirements are not up for interpretation. It’s not left up to me to decide whether I think I’m holy or not. God sets the standard. And while it might be an impossible standard to keep, that doesn’t give me the right to dumb it down or trick it up by providing my own interpretation. God’s righteous standards remain the same. And God still expects His children to live up to those standards. But He has provided a way to make it possible. He sent His Son to be born as a human being and live a life according to God’s righteous standards. Which is exactly what Jesus did. He did what no other human being had ever done. He kept God’s commands perfectly and completely. He lived a sinless life so that He could become the unblemished sacrifice that would pay the penalty for our sin-stained lives. And then He provided His Holy Spirit to live within us so that we might have the same power to live obediently and holy – according to God’s standard, not our own. Like Paul, I want to be able to say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). I want to live it in His strength and according to God’s standards. I want to live it holistically and completely, not compartmentalizing my life or categorizing my sins in a convenient attempt to make myself look better.

Father, I want to honor You with my life. I want to make all that I do all about You, and not me. Forgive me for sometimes thinking that You exist for my glory. Give me an ever-increasing awareness of just how holy You are and how You have set me apart to live a distinctively different life – in Your strength and according to Your standards – so that others might know that You are God, not me. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 28

Law-Lovers.

“God detests the prayers of a person who ignores the law.” – Proverbs 28:9 NLT

The verse above contains a pretty serious statement. It should grab out attention and make us question what it means to ignore the law. What law is he talking about? And what does it mean to ignore it? You and I certainly don’t want to find ourselves in the position where God detests our prayers. We don’t want to find ourselves crying out to God only to have Him refuse to hear or answer our prayers because of the fact that we have ignored His law. This Proverb, while a collection of independent wise sayings, does have somewhat of a theme. Most of the verses can be tied right back to the Ten Commandments, the original Law of God given on Mount Sinai to Moses during the days of the Exodus. Here they are:

  1. You must not have any other god but me.
  2. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens of on the earth or in the sea.
  3. You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
  4. Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. You must not murder.
  7. You must not commit adultery.
  8. You must not steal.
  9. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.
  10. You must not covet.

If you notice, the first four regulate our relationship with God, while the last six deal with our human relationships. Now if you go back to Proverbs 28, you will see that most, if not all, of these verses have to do with our outlook on the law of God and its impact on our relationships with others. Throughout this Proverb you see contrasted the wicked and the righteous or godly. One group rejects the law of God while the other embraces and obeys it. “To reject the law is to praise the wicked; to obey the law is to fight them” (Proverbs 28:4 NLT). God’s law is the standard for all life on this planet. How we treat Him and how we relate to one another is contained in the law. It gives us the basis for all our interactions. Without a standard, everyone does what is in their own best interests and according to their own set of self-centered rules. It leads to corruption, graft, greed, abuse, neglect of the poor, and justification of all kinds of harmful actions. We are warned, “Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe” (Proverbs 28:26 NLT). To walk in wisdom is to live your life according to God’s terms, in obedience to His law or standard for life. God cares deeply about our human relationships. He wants us to treat one another with care, concern, respect, dignity, love, and honor – because all mankind is made in His image. But when we reject God’s law and disrespect our parents, murder out of hatred or for personal gain, take another man’s wife, steal what belongs to someone else, discredit another human being, or desire what they have more than we desire a relationship with them, we are fools. We lack wisdom because we are rejecting the conditions for life given to us by God Himself. It results in “moral rot” as described in verse 2. It leads to abuse and oppression. It becomes contagious, leading even good people to do bad things. It causes men to justify their actions and to reject accountability for the wrongs they commit.

The Ten Commandments begin with four statements about honoring God. We are to treat Him with respect, dignity, and honor at all times. As Proverbs 1:7 says, “Start with God – the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning” (Proverbs 1:7 MSG). Our relationships with men are all based on and dependent upon our relationship with God. Wise rulers are those who know God and honor Him with their lives. They live according to His rules and don’t rule based on their own set of subjective standards. Wise parents are those whose households are God-honoring, where He is lifted up and held as the standard for life. Wise young people obey the law because they love God. Wise vendors don’t try and take advantage of their customers in order to make a buck, because they love God and know that dishonesty is dishonoring to Him. The wise commit sins, but immediately confess them to God, because they know He sees and they value their relationship with Him more than any pleasure their sin may provide.

Loving the law is simply loving God. It is obeying His Word because you trust Him. It is doing what He says because You recognize that He knows best.

Father, You did not leave us here to do whatever we want to do according to our own set of subjective standards. That is what leads us to sin and causes us to harm one another. You have provided us with Your standard for living and You have given us the rules for governing our relationships with one another. But it all begins with our relationship with You. Help us to trust You more, and to rely on the fact that Your law is good, holy and right. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org