Sunday, November 14, 2010
For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. — Exodus 20:11
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. — Deut. 6:15
Why the change? In the Exodus passage, the reason for the law was grounded in the character and example of God. In the Deuteronomy passage, the reason for the law was grounded in the provision and grace of God. So Exodus gave the model of Sabbath rest and Deuteronomy gave the motivation for Sabbath rest.
But in today’s reading we find a further reason why God would bring up Egypt when talking about the Sabbath. You see, the Jews not only recognized Sabbath days, they also recognized Sabbath years. And a Sabbath year was not just about rest for the land by not farming it.
The Sabbath year was about freedom.
Every seven years, debtors were released from their debts and servants from their slavery. And, according to the writer of Hebrews, in a very real and profound sense, the Old Testament Sabbath is just a shadow of something greater to come in the New Covenant in Christ:
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.
— Hebrews 4:9, 10
So to the one who does not work but trusts God, there is rest. There is freedom. There is a release from debts. There is an end to slavery. There is true Sabbath.
1. What is your first reaction at reading that all debts are canceled in the Sabbath year? Would that work in our society today? Why or why not?
2. Do you find it easy to detach and step back from all your work and responsibilities for a day every week?
3. Read Mark 2:23-28. How does this influence your view of the Sabbath?
Saturday, November 13, 2010
The Story of the Lamb
(or click here to go straight to the mp3 or here to download the podcast on iTunes)
Israel always struggled with its own sort of “spiritual” sponginess and it constantly got them in trouble. God knew this was their weak spot. Repeatedly God tells them to break down the altars to foreign gods, smash their sacred stones and cut down the idols.
A theme begins early on as the Israelites move into the Promised Land and give God something short of their full obedience. They fail to destroy cities as God directs, leaving altars and idols intact within the Promised Land. They fail to destroy the wicked inhabitants and instead intermarry with them! And Israel’s love affair with foreign gods soon begins and grows to be a rot that one day destroys the kingdom altogether.
Before we start feeling smug and self-righteous, we must ask “What are the idols of the cultures around us today”? Perhaps we have not begun worshiping at our neighbor’s Asherah pole, but there are religious views from the culture that can creep into Christianity and it’s more subtle than what the Israelites had to deal with. Perhaps some of these ideas sound familiar:
“It doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you have faith.”
“Religion is private and shouldn’t affect our public, social or political activity.”
“Jesus is just one of many ways to God. All religions are equally valid.”
“All truth is all relative. What’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me.”
These sorts of ideas make up the spirit of the age we live in. But God, revealed through his Word and his Son, insists that our faith and truth be grounded in him. God is just as jealous for his people today as he was for his people in the Old Testament times. So beware the subtlety of the modern idols if we preserve them and intermarry with pop culture religion.
1. In what ways do we as Christians give God something short of our full obedience?
2. Considering the religious ideas from the culture around us, put a checkmark next to each of the four quotes on the previous page if you have heard them before. Is it tempting to believe any of these ideas? Why or why not?
3. How might you refute such ideas in your own mind? Can you think of any specific texts of Scripture that would “break down” such a pop culture idol? How might you counsel a Christian friend who is beginning to believe in such a way?
Friday, November 12, 2010
Everything that follows Deuteronomy chapter five begins to unpack each of the Ten Commandments in sequential order. First, Moses rephrases the first commandment from a negative into a positive: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (6:5). And, in proportion to its importance, Moses spends about six chapters detailing from Israel’s history and future what that command should—and should not—look like.
And the recurring theme from Moses is “Remember—do not forget.” The turn in every human heart from the Lord to other gods doesn’t begin in the hands or the feet, it begins in the heart and mind. And so Moses tells the Israelites, as we should tell each other, “Remember—do not forget”.
Remember how the Lord found you, saved you and led you out of your captivity to sin; how God demonstrated with miraculous finality his sovereignty over your slave-master; how the Lord made provision with a lamb so that his wrath might pass over you. Do not forget and return to your captivity to sin for we have died to sin and we are now slaves to God and righteousness.
Remember it is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you were chosen, saved and redeemed; it is not because because of your superiority to those unbelieving around you in any way; it is not by your works so you have nothing to boast about. Do not forget and so become proud as if you were saved by anything of your own hands.
Remember that you have, at one time, provoked God to anger by turning away from him and to other sources of comfort, security, identity and status; that you have seen firsthand how other gods are just a shiny covering for slavery to your old master; that you have reaped only bitterness in turning to worship any other created thing over the Creator. Do not forget the grace of discipline by the Lord towards his wayward children; the mercy of his correction is better than the very best the other gods had to offer.
Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God. — Deuteronomy 10:20,21a
1. What sort of “other gods” do people worship today? What sorts of “other gods” are Christians tempted to worship?
2. One pastor has said, “When a good thing becomes a god thing, it’s a bad thing”. What do you think he means? How does that happen?
3. Do you think the Israelites liked this sort of “walk down memory lane”? When’s the last time you took time to really remember where God has brought you from? How did you feel/respond?
Thursday, November 11, 2010
If you have been following along in the reading plan, your response is probably “Yeah, right! Nothing more?!” Leviticus alone is chock full of laws and regulations on sacrifices, offerings, holy days, food, cleansing and purification just to name a few. But, to the Jews, all of those laws and regulations were just the practical outworking of how these Ten Commandments applied in their context. (The remainder of the book of Deuteronomy too will be an elaboration of the same.) While completely foreign to us, the Jews understood all these extra regulations as being each of the Ten played out in everyday life.
Jesus was doing the same thing Moses was doing when he said,
“’Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” — Matthew 22:37-40
Just as all the rules and regulations could be boiled down to the Ten Commandments; those same commandments could be boiled down to this greatest commandment by Jesus. And while there is beauty in such simplicity, it can be too simplistic if we try to use one phrase as the guiding mantra of our lives. Obviously God feels the same way, otherwise our Bible would be just the four verses cited above rather than the substantial book that it is.
So we, like the Jews, have been given God-inspired Scripture to better obey, follow and love God.
So we, like the Jews, have been given leaders and teachers anointed by God that we may sit under them as they unpack how that Scripture applies to our lives—and then model such a life for us.
So we, like the Jews, do not live out these Scripture-guided lives best in isolation but rather in a community of believers who can hold us accountable.
1. Do you think it would be easier to follow a Christian mantra like “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” rather than the whole instruction of the Bible? Why or why not? Why do you think God chose to communicate to us through the Bible rather than just a short, pithy saying?
2. Scripture, leadership and community all act as mirrors into our lives as to how well we are applying the word of God. Can you think of a time when each of these mirrors has shown you something in your life that you needed to change? Be as specific as possible.
3. The five books we have read for this challenge (ending in Deuteronomy) are the Jewish Law and Jesus said “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commands”. Can you think of any examples? Any points where you might disagree?
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Yet God chooses it as one of the characteristics he reveals when speaking to the Israelites. Why?
Often, throughout the Scriptures, God uses the imagery of a bride and groom in describing his relationship with Israel. Unfortunately, he was more often than not portraying himself as a jilted lover—a groom who’s bride gives herself to everyone but her groom. In fact, one prophet named Hosea was even directed by God to marry a prostitute that continually left him for other lovers as a vivid picture to Israel of their own unfaithfulness to God.
And it is in this context that the jealousy of God not only emerges but begins to look justified and righteous. God deserves the faithfulness of Israel. God is deserves the devotion, heartfelt praise, adoration, loving worship, and bride-like love of his people. Yet he gets none of it. And so God is jealous for the hearts of his people as they turn to foreign gods like adulterous lovers. God is jealous for every heart just like every married person should be jealous for the heart of their spouse.
God is jealous for your heart, your love. God is jealous for you. Does it surprise you to hear that? Just as God pursued the people of Israel in the Old Testament, he pursues you today.
But just like the Israelites, we are often at best a people of half-hearted devotion. It’s easy to give a couple hours on Sunday, maybe a couple dollars in the plate. But devotion? That’s a whole different question. Who are we the rest of the week? What do we love when no one’s watching? Who or what gets the majority of our money, thought, energy, effort, and ultimately our hearts?
God would not be a good God if he were not jealous, if he were cool with our infidelity. Jealousy in God means he is passionately concerned that our hearts are turned to the one and only thing that will ever satisfy them.
1. What was your first impression when you read that God calls himself a jealous God? Good? Bad? What about now? Does it make sense? Do you think it is a necessary characteristic of God, or one he could “do without”?
2. Is jealousy ever justified in human emotions? Why or why not? Is it healthy?
3. If you were married to God (and in a very profound sense we are as the bride of Christ), would your spouse be happy with the status of your relationship right now? Why or why not?
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
The word “Amorite” had a similar connotation for the Israelites. They knew a couple things about the Amorites, but the two that most dominated the Jewish mind was that they were notorious sinners and that they were keeping the Jews out of the Promised Land. In fact, in God’s very first covenant with Abraham (then Abram), you would read this from God’s own mouth:
In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. — Genesis 15:16
For this reason, they’re mentioned six times in the first chapter of Deuteronomy. Moses is subtly reminding them that God’s judgment and justice against this people is now in effect. For four hundred years, the grace and patience of God has allowed the Amorites to exist. This time, which could have been spent in seeking God (Acts 17:27) and repentance (Romans 2:4) was instead spent in reaching the full measure of their sinfulness.
And now as they enter the Promised Land and execute the judgment God commanded on the wicked inhabitants, Moses’ farewell speech hits some important themes. He reminds them that God is a righteous judge and never deals unjustly. He reminds them that God carries out justice through natural and supernatural means.
The balance of God’s justice and mercy is always present. Mercy towards the Amorites in his patience, justice in their destruction. Mercy towards the Jews in their release from Egypt, justice in their desert wanderings.
But for the Christian it is slightly different. We are shown utter mercy in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. And God’s justice? That was dealt upon Christ as he stood in as our representative, our substitute on the cross. Christ received the justice of God toward us, so that we would receive only mercy.
1. Why don’t we as Christians march around clearing our own “Promised Lands” like the Israelites? How do we respond to those who compare OT Israel to modern-day religious militants?
2. Are there people today you think are like the Amorites—God’s patience with them is only leading to greater sin? How should you respond?
3. Since you have received so great a gift, how do you respond? When wronged, do you deal out justice or give mercy? How might the example of Christ on your behalf change the way you behave at home? At work? How might it change the way you pray?
Monday, November 8, 2010
Before they cross over the Jordan River, a few significant things take place. Moses appoints Joshua as Israel’s new leader and gives a farewell speech. Then God gives a reminder of the covenant that they are entering the Promised Land under:
Drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places…But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.
— Deuteronomy 33:52, 55-56
Some people feel God is unnecessarily harsh on the Israelites when they read the Old Testament, but at no point does he ever leave them in the dark about his intentions. Repeatedly throughout the Old Testament the Israelites are reminded of their covenant with God, repeatedly they say “All this we will do!”, and repeatedly they break that covenant—often heinously.
This is the beauty of the Gospel. The writer of Hebrews calls it a better covenant made on better promises. Not because the first one was a bad covenant, but because it depended on two parties, God and Israel.
And here is the scandal of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is a gift. Not works. It is grace. Not merit. This covenant doesn’t fall apart when we are unfaithful, it is based on the understanding that all of us—just like the Jews—are unfaithful!
Do you feel it? Do you feel the weight lift at the reminder that we are under a better covenant than the Jews? Do you feel the evangelistic joy that stirs up at the reality of this message? How might you respond to that today?
1. You’ve been reading the Old Testament now for fifty days. Can you identify with Israel’s approach to the Promised Land saying to yourself “Finally!”? What might be going through the minds of this new generation of Israelites as they approach the Promised Land?
2. Have you ever felt God is harsh in how he deals with the Israelites? Why or why not? Israel was a theocracy, a people ruled and governed directly by God. How might this information cause certain events to be understood in a different light?
3. Is it offensive hearing that the assumption of our sinfulness and helplessness is part of the beauty of the Gospel? Why or why not? In what ways do you identify with the Jewish people thus far in what you’ve read?
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Numbers 9 and 10 show a pretty incredible picture of God’s guidance. He physically shows up in a pillar of cloud and fire. When the pillar moves, the Israelites move. When it stays, they stay. Pretty simple. It seems to relieve a lot of the confusion we struggle with from day to day. Or does it?
The pillar teaches the Israelites an important lesson. They are dependent on God for guidance from day to day. He leads them to their next stop. He goes before them to drive their enemies away and returns to protect and provide for them.
We can make this out to mean more than it says. We might imagine God pointing out all the different decisions that each of the million-plus Israelites had to make, moment-by-moment, throughout every day. That isn’t what happened. God set the general direction and gave more specific guidance for day-to-day issues through Moses. For example, they were to go out each morning and gather enough manna for that day. They weren’t supposed to gather too much or it would spoil. On the day before the Sabbath, they were to gather enough for two days and rest on the Sabbath. Other laws were also provided to give general direction, but they didn’t cover every decision.
Numbers 10:29-32 is an interesting passage. Before and after this passage, God is miraculously guiding Israel with a cloud. In these verses, we find Moses begging his brother-in-law to stay with them. Why? Hobab knows the desert better than Moses. When the cloud stops, they still have to decide where to set up camp. As they travel, they will need to find water. There will be other variables that will come up, such as storms, difficult terrain, and other “deserty things”. Hobab has knowledge of the desert that will help them. He can provide practical guidance to fill in the blanks underneath God’s overarching direction.
The same is true today. God gives us general, overall guidance, such as “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33) or “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) In addition, there are countless other morally and ethically neutral decisions that must be made each day and God doesn’t speak to them at all (like what to wear, what to have for lunch, or what job should I pursue). If we seek first the kingdom and take up our cross daily, we are free to choose in the other areas. Will I wear the red shirt or black shirt? Will I have sushi or a chilidog? Will I be a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker to the glory of God?
1. What causes the change in the Israelites attitude (11:4-9)? Do you suppose their food supply in Egypt was much meatier? Does Moses consider their complaints valid? Would you? Why or why not?
2. How have the rabble-rousers affected Moses? Why does Moses want to quit (11:10-15)? Why does he wish that all God’s people could prophesy, as did the seventy elders (11:25-29)?
3. When are you, like Israel and Moses, most likely to become discouraged with your allotment or position in life? When discouraged, do you listen more to people’s complaints, to God’s provision, or to inner doubts?
Monday, November 1, 2010
God takes sin seriously. Nadab and Abihu decide to do things their way and it costs them their life. We all rebel against God’s direction in various ways every day, but seldom does God strike someone dead for their rebellion. God usually displays His mercy, like He did with Adam and Eve. Instead of instantly killing them, He is patient and leads them to repentance.
So why do these men die instantly and others seem to go unpunished?
I don’t know all the answers, but here are a few things to think about:
1. God emphasizes the necessity of building the tabernacle by His instructions repeatedly. He carefully explains how the priests carry out their duties because they are in His presence. The Bible is clear that God cannot look on evil and that we cannot enter His presence without holiness (see Habbakuk 1:13 and Hebrews 12:14). This is a vivid example.
2. On two other occasions, God immediately judges people like this. Uzzah touches the Ark of the Covenant and is killed. Ananias and Sapphira are killed for lying to God. Both of these occur in moments where God’s revelation is clear and He is bringing revival to His people. At other times, God allows people to sin and rebel before finally reining them in. Holiness is necessary when God is near. When God is near, His presence is more intense, the people are more zealous and disciplined, and His blessing is greater.
3. Nadab and Abihu’s motives are intentionally willful and defiant. Later, Aaron’s deviations from God’s command are accepted because his motives are good (10:16-20), but they knowingly choose sin.
4. God is teaching the priests to follow Him carefully. They are called to “distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean” and “teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses." (Lev. 10:10-11) This certainly underscores the importance of listening to God’s guidance and following it carefully.
God takes sin seriously. It separates us from Him. Whether He does it immediately or waits until later, God judges our sin. Apart from holiness, we will never see Him. Thankfully, Jesus comes to take away our sin, cleanse us, and make us holy. Those who are holy will see God.
1. What does the fact that this “Day of Atonement” took place only “once a year” (v. 34) tell you about its importance? What does the fact that it must be repeated every year (“a lasting ordinance”) tell you about human nature? And what about the lasting effect of the sacrifice (see Hebrews 9:9-10)?
2. As important as this Day was to Israel for restoring a correct relationship with God, how much more important and lasting is Jesus’ “once for all” sacrifice (see Hebrews 9:11-10:14)?
3. The role of the two goats (vs. 20-22) shows us that no single offering could fully typify the sacrifice of Christ, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29). What aspect of his atonement is typified by the goat that is killed? What distinct aspect of Christ is typified by the scapegoat?
Sunday, October 31, 2010
And it is in this setting that a few amazing things happen:
1. The glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. This was not exactly new, they had seen this same glory previously on the tops of mountains as Moses met with God. But before, the Israelites always responded in fear at the glory of the Lord, pushing Moses to the frontline to be their mediator. But not this time…
2. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the offerings. This was a clear sign from God that the sacrifices were accepted. And this approval of the sacrifice brought a new response out of the whole Israelite community…
3. They shouted for joy and fell facedown. Joy and worship. Gone is the fear that characterized this people whenever the glory of the Lord appeared.
The acceptance of the substitutionary sacrifice elicited joy and worship where before there had been only fear of judgment. And the writer of Hebrews says this of Jesus:
But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. — Hebrews 10:12-14
So what about you? Do you grasp the immensity of the substitutionary sacrifice made for you? Does it cause you to shout for joy? To fall on your face? Has it transformed your fear of judgment? Or is your response still like the Jews in the desert: fearful, flighty, fickle and cold hearted?
1. Read 1 Kings 18:16-40 (don’t worry, it’s a great story!). What similarities do you see between the two accounts you read today? What differences?
2. Now read this from Hebrews 12:28,29: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” How do the two accounts (the Jews and Elijah) give you a sense of thankfulness? Reverence and awe?
3. What is the difference between having a fear of God and his judgment versus a fear for God characterized by reverence and awe?
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Q: Why so many plagues and why so severe? Was God just wielding the ten plagues like a playground bully, twisting Pharaoh's arm until he cried "uncle"?
A: No, it was much more than just a battle of the wills. Egypt was a pantheistic society, which means they worshiped many gods. Each of the ten plagues was direct challenge (and defeat) of one or more of those gods in the minds of the Egyptians. In essence, God was demonstrating his superiority and sovereignty over all of the created order and the supposed corresponding Egyptian pantheon. Pharaoh and all the Egyptians would have rightly understood this as a sort of clash of the titans, with the Israelite God emerging as the clear victor.
For instance, darkness was an assault on the sun god, Ra. The Nile turning to blood was an attack on Hapi, god of the Nile. With each plague, the Israelite God worked his way up the rungs of the Egyptian pantheon, finally reaching the Supreme: Pharaoh himself. The Egyptian religious system held that the Pharaoh was a human incarnation of Ra and that he was a god-king. So the death of Pharaoh's first born was the death of the son of god, the god-in-waiting.
Not only was this final plague seen as the defeat of Egypt's preeminent god figure, but within it (and the Passover sacrifice and meal) was a beautiful foreshadowing of both the Old Testament sacrificial system and the eventual perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. So in each of the plagues—but especially the last—God is anything but a mere bully and arbitrary in his actions.
Q: Were all the other Egyptians (and the Israelites, too) just innocent victims suffering collateral damage in this battle of the gods?
A: No. God demonstrated his ability to execute a surgical strike when necessary. The land of Goshen, the Israelite district within Egypt, was spared some of the plagues like those of flies, darkness and livestock. We are even told that some Egyptians were spared the worst of certain plagues when they "feared the word of the Lord" and responded properly (see the account of the hail for example).
However, it is conceivable that God had designs even for those plagues that afflicted both Egyptians and Israelites indiscriminately. After all, even the Israelites delayed in honoring, fearing and obeying the direction and word of the Lord through Moses.
It is also reasonable to assume that Pharaoh was not the only Egyptian holding out hope that one of the higher and mightier deities might finally put an end to this God of the slaves. In fact, there is never any account of any repentance or pleading for mercy or sanctuary on the side of the Egyptian people. This idea seems supported by the fact that there is no account of any Egyptians fleeing to Goshen during some of the more localized plagues. Whether they still held out greater hope in their gods (and Pharaoh) or whether they simply feared Pharaoh more than God, the silence of the Egyptian population doesn't necessitate their innocence.
Q: How do we make sense of the biblical account when it says "God hardened Pharaoh's heart"?
A: This is probably one of the most common and challenging questions from the entire book. One question that I have found important to ask about this problem is: "What action is required of God in order for Pharaoh's heart to harden?"
The Bible does declare emphatically that "God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." (James 1:13,14) So God would not tempt Pharaoh and in deed did not need to if Pharaoh's own evil desire and inclination was already against God. If this is true, than all that would be required is for God to release Pharaoh and turn him over to his fallen tendency towards hardness of heart. This same progression of fallenness is shown in Romans 1 when Paul writes three times that God "gave them over" to sinful desires, shameful lusts and a depraved mind. So while God may be the passive agent releasing fallen mankind to do whatever they desire, Pharaoh and the rest of humanity would be the active agents in our sin and rebellion. Our fallenness simply dictates what we do with our freedom when God turns us loose.
The biblical writer of Exodus communicates as much when switches back and forth between the idea the God hardened Pharaoh's heart and Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15, 32). Certainly the author was not implicating God in Pharaoh's sinfulness, but it does seem he sees even Pharaoh's willful, sinful hardness as under the sovereign allowance of God.
In summary, the Bible always keeps these two ideas in balance and tension: the active willful rebellion of mankind within our freedom and the passive allowance of that rebellion under the sovereign rule of God. In this way, both the moral responsibility of man and the ultimate sovereignty of God is preserved.
If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands, even though the community is unaware of the matter, they are guilty…If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible.” — Leviticus 4:13, 5:17
Now I don't know about you, but when I read this I am glad I was not an Old Testament Jew. I imagine I would go broke making "just in case" sacrifices for all the sins I may have committed unaware (kind of like the extra salvation prayers I made as a kid to make sure I was covered, and those didn't cost me a goat or a ram).
The point is really driven home that you could not just have confidence in your system of sacrifices. There were still too many holes. Salvation still had to come by faith in the God who would see imperfect sacrifices by imperfect persons as faith and hope in the One who was to come, fulfill the law and perfect the system. Or as Paul put it:
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin…However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. — Romans 3:20, 4:5
Hopefully this dropped home for more than a few Old Testament Jews, as Paul says it did for Abraham and David. (Rom. 4) Salvation is not in the law for we cannot keep it perfectly. Salvation is not in the sacrifices we make at the altar for we cannot sacrifice perfectly. Salvation is only in God, who justifies the wicked and credits faith as righteousness.
Salvation is only in the Messiah, the perfect High Priest, the perfect sacrifice, the perfect fulfillment of the law, Jesus.
1. Do you think God was just in making these sorts of regulations? Why or why not? Do you still feel like God treats you this way today?
2. If you were an Old Testament Jew, how would you feel when you read these sorts or regulations? (Secure, nervous, grateful, resentful, etc.?)
3. Did you pray multiple salvation prayers when you were younger to make sure you were OK (or perhaps you still do)? What do you think might motivate someone to do this?
Friday, October 29, 2010
Over and over again God directed the Israelites to make various burnt offerings and repeatedly told them that these burnt offerings are “an aroma pleasing to the Lord”. Does God really enjoy the smell of burning livestock, grain or oil? Does God even smell them as we do, since God is spirit? Or is God pleased with something above, beyond and within the sacrifices of his people? The psalmist gives us his answer:
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. — Psalm 51:16,17
God is the same way with his children as we are with ours. Just as the admittedly small gifts from our children mean so much to us because of what they represent, so too our sacrifices are pleasing to God because of what they represent: humility, repentance, grief over sin, dependence on God and obedience.
So why don’t Christians still make these sacrifices? Because, in addition to that list, all those sacrifices represented and foreshadowed the perfect sacrifice to come in Jesus’ death. And the Apostle Paul says that now we as believers are “living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” and that “we are to God the aroma of Christ”.
Did you catch that? Not only is Jesus the perfect completion of all the Old Testament sacrifices, but we as his children are living, breathing, walking-all-around pleasing aromas to God of Jesus’ sacrifice. Jesus is the sacrifice, we are His aroma to God. Let that sink in. Let that inform the way you worship next time you sing. Let that change the way you talk to and deal with others. Let that press into you as you talk to your spouse.
Jesus’ obedience, humility, dependence and sacrifice rise up from us to God.
1. What might some of your thoughts have been if you were a Levite living in Old Testament times at offering these sacrifices? Does looking back through the sacrifice of Jesus cause you to look at them differently?
2. If you lived during that time, how do you think you would have handled the animal sacrifices? Does it intrigue you? Repulse you? Do you find it primitive? What do you think God was trying to communicate by instituting such a system?
3. Read the two verses quoted at the end of the devotion, Romans 12:1 and 2 Corinthians 2:15. How does it make you feel knowing that you are the aroma of Christ (and his perfect sacrifice) to God? Does it change the way you relate to God? To others? The way you think about yourself?
Thursday, October 28, 2010
These are common questions as we finish the book of Exodus, especially as we read that “In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted”. What a simple (or would that be simplistic) way to follow the will of the Lord…just look at the sky.
But notice what that did for the faith and spiritual maturity of the Israelites. Did they become stalwart God-followers who did everything right and just as God directed? Hardly! It’s more like a parent guiding their child along by the hand; but every time they let go, the child runs to play in traffic or reaches for the hot stove. God’s babysitting of the Israelites seemed to keep them as spiritual infants, but God is more interested in making mature followers out of his children.
Why is God silent? Why doesn’t he tell us his will for us every day? Because he has given us something much better than an external babysitter, he has given us the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Counselor who guides into all truth. He has given us His Word as our daily bread that we may grow up to be mature “eaters”. As Hebrews 5:14 says, “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
Why is God hidden? Why doesn’t he make himself plain to believers—and skeptics? Jesus said that if skeptics don’t listen to those whom God sends, “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” But Jesus also said it would be better for us if he left because he would send the Spirit to guide us, teach us and remind us of the truth.
God answers these questions with the Holy Spirit and the Bible. The real question is: are you using the gifts God has given us to know him, speak with him, grow in him, find him, show him and love him?
1. Do you think it would be easier to be a Christian today if God led us like he led the Israelites? Why or why not?
2. Do you think it would be better if God communicated to us like he did with the Israelites, through a spokesman? Why or why not? What do you think it was like for the average Israelite to hear from God through Moses?
3. Read John 16:5-15. Do you agree with Jesus’ assessment that it is better that he left so he could send the Holy Spirit? Based on what you read in John, what might it be like today if Jesus was still walking around making disciples but the Holy Spirit had not been sent?
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
These are simply amazing thoughts to consider, and one is prone to a bit of jealousy when we look at the relationship Moses shared with the Lord. But it was not a perfect one. Moses’ fallen humanity still got in the way. This is perhaps no more apparent than when Moses asks to see the glory of God and the Lord replies, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live”.
When Moses saw God—or at least what God could safely reveal—he became aware of his mortality and sinfulness. Consider what Isaiah said when he was given a vision of God in his very heavenly throne room:
"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." — Isaiah 6:5
Yet this will not always be the case. A day will come when the dwelling of God will be with man. The curse that has been running through the blood of man since Adam will be wiped from our veins. The reign and rule of sin will be ended. The perishable will be clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the LORD God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. — Revelation 22:3-5
Does this not make you ache for the return of Christ? To know God closer than Moses did, closer than a friend? Does this not make your heart pulse with a compassion for the lost to join us in the city of God and of the Lamb?
1. How would you describe your relationship with God right now? Friends? Colleagues? On speaking terms? What is the closest you’ve ever felt to God? What is the furthest?
2. In what ways do you think Moses had a closer relationship with God than we do today? In what ways do you think we have a closer relationship to God than Moses did then?
3. How do you think your relationship to God will change when you get to heaven? What does the Bible tell you about that time? What do you most eagerly anticipate about that change?
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Go back and read Exodus 24:15-18. Chapters 25-31 are spoken to Moses during these forty days and we join the story back at the Israelite camp at the end of those forty days. Chapter 24 tells us that “the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain”, yet after forty days they are making and worshiping idols—and breaking commandments 1 and 2—right at the foot of the mountain. I believe that’s what some people call “gutsy”. Others might call it a “death wish”.
But really, how bad of test-takers can you be? God was pretty straight forward with the Ten Commandments. And a mountain top that looks like it’s being nuked for forty straight days isn’t exactly God being subtle about his presence. One might say they were “without excuse”.
Funny, cause Paul says the same thing about all of us (Romans 1:20, 2:1). All of us are without excuse in regards to the moral law that we have broken and the plain truth of God we have rejected. So if you’ve ever thought the Israelites were a bunch of idiots, well here’s your mirror.
Fortunately for us all, the Israelites weren’t the only ones tested for forty days in the desert. Another came who passed that test and every other one that the Israelites—and all the rest of us—have failed. Jesus passed that test on our behalf, all we have to do is accept his passing grade rather than our failing one.
Do you still live your life like you’re trying to pass that test? Relax. The grace of God is on your side, now you can live out of joyful forgiveness rather than fearful scrutiny. Do you still hold others to the same standard that you failed? Remember the mercy and grace that has been shown you. Do you still turn to your personal idols from your old life in the face of the One who died for you? Beware being so short sighted.
1. Do you think God’s response to the rebellion of the Israelites was an overreaction? Why or why not? Do you think God’s response to our rebellion is an overreaction? Why or why not?
2. Do you think God has made himself as plain to you (and everyone else) as “a consuming fire on top of the mountain” for the Israelites? Why or why not?
3. Do you ever feel like life is one big test? What do you do when you feel like that? How do you act and respond to situations? How would you behave and think differently if you believed that Jesus had already passed the most important test on your behalf?
Monday, October 25, 2010
First, God was implementing a system that would be a constant reminder of the gravity and severity of man’s sin. Today, if I lie to someone, all I have to do is repent to God and—if I’m motivated enough—the person I lied to. But under Israel’s sacrificial system, a little critter had to lose its life because of me. (I imagine the PETA of their day were in fits). As the writer of Hebrews described the Old Testament sacrificial system:
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22
Second, the Old Testament system was meant to be a shadow of the perfect sacrifice to come—and that sacrifice was going to be bloody. Again, the writer of Hebrews speaks on this:
When Christ came as high priest…he did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:11a, 12
Third, it was a constant reminder of the grace and mercy of a God who had every right to demand justice. It was a reminder of the provision that the Lord had made (and would make someday) so that a sinful people could dwell with a holy God.
Other than a nice little history lesson, what does this have to do with us? Believe it or not, there is still a similar system set up still today and you participate in it. It is a reminder of the gravity of our sin and the cost of forgiveness. It is a picture of the perfect, bloody sacrifice and a reminder of the provision of grace made by God for us sinners.
We call it communion. Let us never forget the great extent that God in Christ stooped to for us. Let us remember the merciful covering of blood that makes us right before God. So eat. Drink. Remember. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11:26)
1. What were/are some of your first responses at reading about the Jewish sacrificial system? What do you think about the comment in Hebrews that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”?
2. In what ways were the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament and Jesus’ sacrifice in the New Testament similar? Different?
3. What reasons/benefits can you see in remembering or “proclaiming” the Lord’s death until he comes? Why might it be something we instructed to do in groups as community?
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Worship is our response when God reveals Himself. Giving is one form of worship. God reveals the truth about money and possessions and expects us to respond. We see this in Numbers 25:1-7. Moses tells the people to give and receives whatever they are moved to give. He does not demand, compel, or take it from them because giving is an act of worship.
Our money belongs to God. He entrusts it to us to use as He directs. This was true for the Israelites as well. God led the Egyptians to give the Israelites items of value (see Ex. 11:2-3; 12:35-36). We think we build the business, make the decisions, put in the work, etc. What we fail to realize is that God gives us the ability and provides the opportunity. “But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth . . . “ (Deut. 8:18).
Money reveals our hearts. Wherever our money goes, our heart follows. We either worship God with our money (Ex. 36:4-7) or we worship money as a god (Ex. 32). God doesn’t need our money; He wants our hearts. Because our hearts follow our money, when we give to God, He gets our hearts too. If you want to see your affection for God grow, begin to give to the things that please Him.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also . . . No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Matthew 6:21,24
Money multiplies when we give it away. When we use what we have for God’s purposes, He gives us more.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:38
God revealed Himself and the people responded willingly. There was no need to pry the money from their fingers. Moses simply collected what their hearts had been moved to give. This was their free and willing response, not the tithe or first fruits that were commanded. This was a voluntary expression of worship by the people. When the offering was taken, there was more than enough. In fact, there was so much that they had to tell the people to stop giving because they already had more than was needed. (See Ex. 35:20-29 and 36:4-7)
1. How does the voice of the people strike you (24:3,7): Idealistic? Realistic? Self-defeating? Enthusiastic? Boastful?
2. Do you think either Moses or God expected the people to meet all their covenant duties? Why or why not?
3. Why do the people give what they do? What need does God have for riches?
Saturday, October 23, 2010
The notion of slavery immediately redlines our emotions. It conjures up pictures of slave traders physically taking people captive, subjecting them to inhuman treatment and selling them as property. The Bible is clear - trafficking in human beings is sin (see 1 Timothy 1:10 and Revelation 18:11-13).
Slavery in the Old Testament is different than what we picture. It is driven by economic reasons. They do not have the sophisticated bankruptcy laws that we have today. If a person was faced with overwhelming debt, he could sell himself into slavery in order to pay his outstanding debts. These slaves were generally paid for their work and able to save enough money to buy their freedom. They were often entrusted with large amounts of money and responsibility (see Matt. 25:15). To ensure that they were not abused, God declares this an open-ended relationship, in which the slave is given his freedom after six years.
While this still sounds odd to our modern ears, it was a helpful act. A destitute person was guaranteed food, shelter and income (see Genesis 47:23-25). A curious result of this arrangement was that some found the security and blessing of their master so beneficial that they will chose to willingly remain a slave in his service (a bondservant). Exodus 21:5-6 prescribes the way this decision was to be made public.
Many of the New Testament authors, including Paul, Peter, James and Jude all refer to themselves as bondservants of Jesus. This idea is drawn from the bondservants described here in Exodus. They all understood that Jesus had forgiven the immense debt of their sin. As a result, they willingly submitted their lives to His service. This is what it means to be a Christian. God has forgiven your debt, provided for you, welcomed you into His family, and secured your future. In return, you voluntarily choose to live your life to serve Him.
As Christians, we no longer seek our pleasure or the praise of men. Instead we seek to please Jesus, knowing how much He has already given for us and trusting that He has only the best planned in the future.
1. Choose one: Widow, orphan, or a poor person. How could the church take responsibility for the special needs of that person? How could the church align its social programs more with these priorities for “holy” living?
2. Why tell Israel that God is sending his angel to prepare their way? How should this have made them feel about entering the land? (Exodus 23:20-30)
3. How else does God ensure that Israel will reach their goal? What do health and fertility have to do with that (vs. 25, 26, 30)?
4. What conditions or roadblocks are put on them? How would such forced delays and detours be received? What do verses 29-30 teach you about God’s work in your life?
Friday, October 22, 2010
Worship is about revelation and response. God takes the initiative and reveals Himself to us. We respond to what God reveals. This pattern is clear: We see God (19:4) and He expects complete obedience (19:5). The problem is, we can’t see God or obey what He commands, so how can we worship? Jesus enables our worship by revealing the Father and offering His obedience in our place.
God reveals Himself in different ways. Sometimes it is miraculous – a burning bush or a cloud covered in smoke and fire. At other times, it is more ordinary – words on a page. When God spoke to Moses on the mountain, it was the same as when the people read the Ten Commandments. In fact, it was better because the people didn’t want God to speak to them. They were too afraid. They wanted Him to go through someone else.
Lightning and fire were too much, so God used Moses. The words of Moses were not enough, so He did even better. He stepped out of heaven and became a man so that we could see and know Him. Not through fear and fog, but in grace and truth. Jesus came so we could see God (Hebrews 1:1-3) and how He would respond in our shoes. Jesus loved His enemies, prayed for those who persecuted Him, extended grace to those in sin, and loved the Father so much that He gave His life in obedience. He revealed God’s character and how we should live.
Jesus perfectly reveals the Father, but we still fail to obey. The Ten Commandments are entry level and we cannot keep them. We worship other things, lie, steal, have sex with people we aren’t married to, and want what others have. Our disobedience earns God’s wrath.
We can’t obey, so Jesus obeys for us. He responds perfectly, lives obediently and keeps all of the commands. His life fulfills the righteous requirement God’s Law demands. Jesus earns the Father’s acceptance and approval.
On the cross, Jesus exchanges places with us. He takes our sin on Himself and absorbs the wrath of God against it. He offers His righteousness to us in exchange for our sin. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21)
The cross reveals God’s judgment on sin and His offer of new life through faith in Jesus. He wants us to respond by faith in Jesus. The Israelites failed because when God spoke, they didn’t respond with faith. Jesus offers salvation from God by rest from our work and trust in His work for us. Respond with faith in Jesus. (Hebrews 4)
1. What barriers has Jesus set aside so that we can draw near to God with confidence (see Hebrews 10:19ff)? What does Peter urge us to do to become “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, belonging to God” (1 Pet. 2:9)?
2. What does it mean that God is jealous? How does that trait define the terms of this covenant? What was an idol then? What about now?
3. What shift in focus do you see between verses 1-11 and 12-31? How does Matthew 22:37-40 help you understand the Ten Commandments?
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Life is a struggle. Sin strangles us. Disappointment crushes us. People let us down. Sometimes it’s hard to just put one foot in front of the other.
How do we respond? Usually, we respond by trying to solve it on our own. We watch Rocky, Gladiator, or Braveheart, get all pumped up and try to do it ourselves. Another response is to curl in a fetal position and wait for Jesus to come back. Neither one is the right call.
God gives victory, but we have to fight.
God visibly teaches this to Moses and Israel. They are attacked by the Amalekites. God doesn’t intervene and strike the Amalekites dead. Instead, the Israelites have to fight. They don’t fight alone though - God is fighting for them and through them. God’s involvement is obvious because when Moses raises the staff of God, they win. When he lowers the staff, they lose. There is a difference between fighting with God on your side and fighting on your own.
This passage is not about finding a “magic stick.” Instead, it’s about recognizing God and His presence in our lives. When faced with trouble, He doesn’t expect us to wave some wood in the air. He does expect us to acknowledge Him in everything that we do.
We accomplish that through prayer. Paul says, ““I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone . . . I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer . . . “ (1 Timothy 2:1; 8). When we pray, we surrender to God and ask Him to fight for us.
We need God but we also need others. The Israelites would have never won if Moses stood alone. He got tired and gave out. Aaron and Hur were an essential part of the victory. Many of us fall because there is no one with us. We fight alone and no one is there when we need help.
One reason we fight alone is that we think people will let us down. They will! We all fail one another sometimes, but we can’t give up. When Jethro tells Moses that he needs others to help, Moses has to choose from the people who were just complaining against him! There are no perfect people, but if you try to face life on your own, you will struggle. Jethro echoes God’s words about Adam – “It is not good for man to be alone”. (Genesis 2: 18) We need God at our side, but we need other people there too.
1. What does this passage teach about the authority of Moses and God? About stress? Obedience? Trust?
2. What were the key elements to Jethro’s plan (vs. 17-23)? What would have appealed to Moses, and to the people, about delegated leadership? What would have been hard for either one to swallow about this idea?
3. What are the long-term benefits of organizing the church into small groups the way Moses did? What are the pitfalls of doing it that way?
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
We don’t want God to lead us; we want Him to serve us. Israel continually proves this. God uses Moses to lead them but they repeatedly grumble against God and rebel against His instructions. If they don’t grumble, they just ignore His guidance. They’re no different than us.
God miraculously liberated them from slavery and then they want Him to be their servant. If He will not serve them, they would rather suffer as slaves. Their rebellion causes them to remember the experience pleasantly.
Pride is their biggest problem. Throughout the Bible, we are told that our pride places us in opposition to God (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). That’s exactly what we see here.
God is gracious and loving, but He demands that we submit to Him. He promises to provide, but we have to forsake our agenda and follow His. If we obey, He promises to bless us. His intent is not to harm but to heal.
God sends trials to test their hearts. In each, He gives simple instructions to see if the people will obey Him. It isn’t difficult. Throw a specific piece of wood in the water. Gather enough food for your family for one day. Don’t store any. Gather enough for two days before the Sabbath. Trust me to provide bread from nothing. Trust me to do it again. Instead of obeying, they repeatedly ignore His commands.
We are no different than the Israelites. We don’t want a God who leads us. We don’t want to obey Him. We’re rebels. Slavery to a cruel taskmaster is preferable to humbling ourselves before a loving God.
Jesus demonstrated that suffering brings us closer to God (Hebrews 2:10, 1 Peter 2:21). Suffering perfected Jesus because He saw trials as a test from God, humbled Himself and trusted God.
Our suffering will either be pointless or purposeful. It all depends on how we approach it. We should learn from the example of Jesus and not that of the Jews. In times of suffering, submit yourself to God, continue to do good, and trust Him.
1. How can the Israelites turn from prison to praise to protest so quickly?
2. What is the essence of their complaint and God’s cure? Why hadn’t God led Israel to sweet water in the first place? What was his object lesson?
3. Marah and Elim are about 9 miles apart. What does that say about our patience? God’s provision? His discipline?
4. What were the promises and requirements associated with God’s provision of the manna? Why provide food that only lasts one day (vs. 19-21)? What was different about the sixth and seventh days (vs. 22-30)? What does this say about the trust relationship that God requires?
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Following God is seldom quick, safe, or easy. God’s plan seldom aligns with ours. In fact, from our vantage point, He often seems to be making several strategic errors.
It always seems like there is a quicker way than the one God chooses. There probably is a quicker way but we aren’t prepared for it. We are tempted to think that God has called us to do something, so the faster we can get it done the better. That is seldom true. God is more concerned with creating the person than executing the plan. What God wants accomplished, He can achieve with anyone or anything at any time - even a donkey (Numbers 22:21-33) or a pile of rocks (Luke 19:40).
God takes time to prepare the person. Moses spent 40 years in the desert, Paul was in the desert for 3 years, and even Jesus spent 30 years preparing before taking his ministry public. It takes time for God to prepare the person and He knows when we are ready for the task. There was a quicker way out of Egypt for Israel, but they weren’t ready for it. They would have had to fight and they weren’t trained. Because He knew them and what they were ready for, God led them along a longer route.
Difficulties and obstacles also arise in the path. The two we face the most often are people and circumstances. We see a person who opposes us and worry ourselves sick about them. If it’s not a person, the circumstances we face terrify us. Sometimes it gets really bad and the two collide in an acid reflux inducing, insomnia laced, perfect storm.
That’s the situation Israel faced. The most powerful man in the world was leading the army of a superpower to chase them down. They were not prepared to fight and the path to run was blocked. God sees farther than we can and provides options that we do not recognize. When you say “impossible”, the noise you hear in response is God’s laughter.
God takes His time to lead us down the long road so we can come to the end of ourselves. When we finally arrive, we find that He has been sitting there waiting on us the entire time.
1. What is God’s assessment of the Israelite’s emotional state? How did he allow for that? With God having defeated all the gods of Egypt (see 12:12), why do you think the Israelites were afraid of one more battle? Would you have been fearful too?
2. How equipped were the Egyptians? The Israelites? How did that make the Israelites react (14:6-12)?
3. What is the one “sea wall” or “pursuing army” you fear most in the coming week? Why this? How is God leading you up to this point: In circles? In the dark? Through fire? Or do you feel abandoned by those you’ve trusted?