Tuesday, January 28. Exodus 39 – Leviticus 1

Chapter forty ties up the book of Exodus in a neat package.

Remember that in chapters 25 – 31, God tells Moses how to construct the tabernacle. In chapters 35 – 39, Israel constructs it as God commanded. In chapter forty, the first 16 verses instruct on how to set up the tabernacle. In the final sixteen verses, Israel does as God commanded.

It is only when everything is done as God commanded that the glory of the Lord settles among His people. As Victor Hamilton observes: “Whenever God’s work is done in God’s way for God’s glory, the brilliant presence of His Majesty is almost a given.”

The tabernacle was set up on the “first day of the first month,” a date mentioned only six other times in the Bible. This is the second time. The first time was after the flood when the water had dried up from the earth (Genesis 8:13). Both times mark a new beginning. This time, God’s people would begin with His presence among them.

When we become Christians, God adopts us into His family and takes up his dwelling within us by means of His Holy Spirit. It is truly a new beginning, and auspicious at that, for from that time forward, the journey of our life is conducted in an intimate presence with Goe not available before, and not available to anyone outside His covenant.

Thursday, January 23. Exodus 22 – 24

In Exodus 20, we have the summary of the law of God in the ten commandments. What follows, after 20:17, is an expansion or elaboration on the summary. In chapter 24, having given Israel the law of God, Moses wrote down the laws for permanence into the “book of the covenant” (the only mention of such a book in Exodus). Moses then built a symbolic shrine: an altar surrounded by twelve pillars representing God dwelling among His people.

I find it significant that Moses calls on “young” men to be involved in the offerings. Scholars typically do not comment on this, dismissing it as simply a matter of necessity: the large number of animals would require young people of strength and vigor to manage. But this is such a matter of common sense that it hardly seems necessary to take special note of it. What Israel is about to do is formally enter into a covenant with God. It’s not something just the older people were buying into. It involved future generations. By using the youth, Moses shows that they are a valued part of the covenant agreement. Perhaps the reason we lose so many young people in the Christian faith is that we never allow them to feel that they are a significant part of the Church until their minds are already determined they are not a part by the way we have excluded them from the conversations.

Two types of sacrifices were offered: burnt and fellowship. The burnt offerings were for sin and were totally consumed. The fellowship offerings signified thanksgiving and union with God. Part of the fellowship offerings were to be eaten by the offerers and so, all Israel engages in a meal with God. Union and agreement between them is signified by the sprinkling of blood on both the people and the altar of God.

The Elders of Israel also engage in a meal with the Lord, but their position grants them an even closer communion. Covenants were often concluded with meals (cf. Genesis 26 & 31). The text says they “saw” the Lord (and yet didn’t die!). Without doing damage to the plain expression of the text, I find it significant that rather than describe God as they see him, what is revealed is the “pavement” on which the Lord walked, a sapphire as clear as the sky. It is as if they see God, but all they can bring themselves to describe is the ground on which He walked.

Significant also is Moses calling the sprinkled blood the “blood of the covenant.” The phrase will not appear again until a new covenant is offered by God, sealed not with the blood of animals, but with His own blood, that of Jesus (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24).

Saturday, February 9. Exodus 37 – 40

Chapter thirty-eight presents us new information we have not seen before, though we are likely to miss it because all of this looks so very familiar, being nearly a verbatim repetition of chapters 25 – 31.

But it is here that we learn the bronze basin and bronze stand were made from the “mirrors” of the “women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.”

In those days, mirrors were made from polished metal and so these women gave their bronze mirrors.

But the very interesting thing is the mention of the women at all. It’s a total surprise given that they have not been mentioned before. Who were these women and what did they do?

We are not told.

But I think this is one of those places we have to come to grips with in our method of biblical interpretation. Christian leaders often talk about things being “authorized,” or approved, by biblical teaching or precedent. But there is no precedent for these women. The Levites were those who served in the tabernacle, and they were all supposed to be men. But the fact of the matter was – and is – that nearly nothing in the world, and certainly not in religion, happens without the participation of women. God may (and does) have clearly defined roles for leadership and participation among His people. Those directions must certainly be followed. But after that, there may be a variety of roles that are needed that are not so specified. Just because they are not specified does not mean that such roles are precluded, and certainly does not mean that they are forbidden.

Friday, February 8. Exodus 34 – 36

If chapter thirty-four seems like a repeat of what we have heard before in this book, it’s because it is a repeat, and there is a reason for it.

When God gave Moses the ten commandments, they were the rules of His covenant. Israel’s idolatry signaled a breaking of that covenant which they had readily agreed to obey. The creation of two new stone tablets initiates the renewal of that covenant. But God doesn’t intend to give the tablets every time Israel is unfaithful. The renewal of it here shows God’s willingness to stick with Israel despite the fact that she is a “stiffnecked” people.

At the end of the chapter is an interesting event. Moses’ face, having been forty days in the presence of the Lord is glowing. It must have been a frightening sight. And so, Moses, in order not to scare anyone, covered his face.

The New Testament takes another tact with this. Covering his face was a way of hiding the fact that the glowing face was glowing with decreasing intensity. Moses’ slowly disappearing “shine” might have opened the door for some critics to assert He no longer had a relationship with God.

You may want to argue with this observation, but it is the observation Paul made in 2 Corinthians 3. He did it there to make this observation: Moses may have had a decreasing glory of God in his life, but we, as Christians, because of Christ, are intended to have an increasing one.

Thursday, February 7. Exodus 31 – 33

Who should do any task?

The right answer is: “the person who can.”

It is true that Bezalel and Oholiab were chosen by God to oversee the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings, but God didn’t just choose them; He gave them the ability to get the job done. Entirely too often, leaders among God’s people are chosen for tasks beyond their ability to perform.

Does that mean that God cannot empower them to do the job?

No. But He must empower them. If He doesn’t, it is pointless to keep a person in a position who cannot do the job simply because they were appointed, or they feel that it is their “calling.” Concerning special servants in the Church (sometimes called “Deacons), Paul wrote: “They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.” When the early Church needed leaders to make sure some of the disadvantaged of their number were taken care of, the Apostles called for men who were “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” Don’t think that just meant they were good moral people. As in Exodus 31, having the Spirit of God meant having an ability to do a task. It should mean that in the Church today.

Half way through chapter thirty-one, the Lord underscores the importance Sabbath observance. Two observations are in order. First, just as circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham, Sabbath observance was the sign of Israel’s covenant with God. It is not a Christian ordinance because we are not a part of the covenant of Israel. But second, you need to ask why God would give such a law.

He never intended His people work all the time. God could take leisure. So can His people, simply because they are His people. We pray for daily bread, not “much goods laid up for many years.” Our trust is not in economic well-being, but in the Lord. Regular rest, abstaining from normal labor, is the way we fulfill the intent of God without being under the covenant of Israel, and the way we show we too are children of God.

Wednesday, February 6. Exodus 28 – 30

Exodus 28 describes the clothing of the priests.

No one, serving the Lord, would, even by their dress, be seen as ordinary, indistinct from the world. God’s servants would dress in a way that would bring then “dignity and honor,” a point that should not be lost on those who serve the Lord today. Notice also how the whole of the people of God were such an integral part of the dress of the priests. The small “clips” on the shoulders of the garments were engraved with the names of Israel. The breastplate was to likewise have their names, along with precious stones that stood for the value of Israel before the Lord.

The symbolism seems clear. The priests were to ever have the people of God on their hearts, and their duty was to bear them, carry them, on their shoulders.

All Christians are called to be priests. The religious thinking of our modern world seems much more concerned with the “world” and serving the world than concern for the family of God, the Church. We are chastised for being “inward focused” rather than outward. It is certainly true that the Church has been so guilty of “navel gazing” that we have forgotten our mission to make disciples, but this criticism against the Church has inadvertently and improperly led us to believe the Church is less important than the world.

It is not.

Christians must make sure that the health and well-being of God’s people is primary in our thinking. After all, why would anyone want to be a part of a family the family itself did not value? The Church must constantly be on our heart as we bear one another, members of the Church, on shoulders of compassion and grace.

Tuesday, February 5. Exodus 25 – 27

As the Lord describes the tabernacle beginning in Exodus 25, he moves from the Most Holy Place outward, beginning with the holiest item in the Most Holy Place, the Ark of the Covenant. Once the furnishings are described, the tabernacle itself is addressed in chapter twenty-six and finally, in twenty-seven, we move outside the tabernacle to the courtyard and most holy item there, the altar.

As you make this move, notice that the items of each place become less and less precious (from gold to bronze), symbolizing the distance from the Lord.

The altar itself was to have “horns” on its corners, perhaps symbolic of the animals that were to be offered there. The altar was a small city of refuge, a place where the innocent might come for safety until guilt or innocence might be sorted out (1 Kings 1:50).

Almost as an after-thought, there is mention of a “night light” to burn in the Holy Place, just outside the curtain to the Lord’s presence. Light, standing for truth, justice, and the presence of God, was to always be visible as one approached his dwelling, and the priests were to make sure that light always shined in the darkness. No matter how dark the night, Israel always knew the light of His presence would be there for them, as it continues to be for us.

Monday, February 4. Exodus 22 – 24

Chapter twenty-two looks like a hodge-podge of property laws. These aren’t our laws today. How can they apply to us?

We should not just consider them “property laws,” or even “various laws.” They all have to do with one thing: the responsibility of the individual in the community.

To steal something is one thing – but not without consequence. To profit from your theft is even worse. You have a responsibility to the one you have wronged and it is more than just saying you are sorry; it may involve the sacrifice of your life.

If you start a fire, you are responsible for containing it and even though accidents happen, accident or not, you are responsible. There is no such thing as “finders keepers losers weepers” in the Bible. A man’s property remains his property. If you find something, you have a responsibility to return it, or to find the owner. If you make no attempt, and the owner sees his property, you must not only return it, but also pay back double its value. If someone entrusts something to you, and you accept that responsibility, you are responsible for its safe-keeping. There will be no excuse for an “accident.” You are responsible.

Why are laws having to do with sorcery and sacrifice to other gods and sexual immorality mixed in with these laws?

It is because our responsibility in the community is a serious thing, and while things and people are not the same, responsibility to things, people, and God are all serious matters. This kind of ethics should be characteristic of Christians. We don’t live like the rest of the world, a fact I believe is emphasized by verse 31. We’re not animals. Animals look out for themselves and for their own. God’s people, however, look out for the community and understand that their place in the community is defined by God, and our place with God is determined to some degree by how we fulfill those responsibilities.

Sunday, February 3. Exodus 18 – 21

Exodus 19 begins a block of material that stretches all the way to Numbers 10, a block dealing with the happenings at Sinai. Though combined with some narrative sections, this block contains the law of God received at the mountain.

As the chapter, and God’s law, begins to unfold, four things stand out:

First, is the conditional nature of God’s promises. God had chosen Israel to be His people, His “treasured possession.” There would be certain benefits of such a status. The status itself was not dependent on Israel’s behavior. She would always be God’s treasured possession no matter how she acted. But God’s response to her, treating her as His treasured possession, was dependent on her behavior. This remains true. Today, Christian people are God’s people, His treasured possession., no matter how we behave. We are called to make sure our behavior is consistent with our status. If it is, God will treat us according to the status He has given us. If it is not, He will not. There is no benefit to being the people of God if we don’t act like the people of God.

Second is the calling of God itself. Israel was to be a kingdom of priests (19:6). Outside of Isaiah 61:6, this is the only time this statement is made in the Old Testament. The description underscores the status of God’s “treasured possession.” They (and we – 1 Peter 2:5,9) had a close relationship with and access to God that other people did not have. The purpose of this relationship was to serve as a mediator between God and mankind. Just as the Levitical priesthood served as an example to all Israel of what it meant to belong to God, so all Israel was to serve as an example to all other nations.

Third is the serious nature of approaching God. ‘Prepare to approach the mountain,’ Israel was told, ‘but don’t touch the mountain.’ The Lord, of course, is always with us, and we are always in His presence – as was Israel. But when we approach the Lord formally, serious consideration must be made. No one should do it lightly, without preparation. Saturday is a day of preparation for Sunday when we approach God as His people to worship. Sowing wild oats on Saturday and praying for crop failure on Sunday is not even close to proper preparation.

Finally, I am struck by the quickness of Israel’s response to God. She agreed to God’s laws before she ever heard them. Of course, what alternative did she have? But that’s not the point. In her quick, unthinking response, we are introduced formally to the less than serious way she took her relationship with the Lord. It won’t be the last time we see it.

Saturday, February 2. Exodus 14 – 17

Exodus 16 is about “contentment,” a necessary component of faith.

Israel has already demonstrated herself to be a nation of whiners – malcontents who are willing to rebel at every perceived misfortune. She was paralyzed with fear when she saw Pharaoh’s armies (to the extent that God had to say: “What are you yelling about? Press on!). At Marah and Elim she grumbled because the water was unfit for consumption. In chapter sixteen she “grumbles” about the lack of food.

Do understand: these are real problems, and there is nothing wrong with making your needs known to God, or even showing frustration to God when your back is against the wall and you don’t know what to do.

But that’s not what is going on here. In each case, Israel complains and grumbles against Moses.

Was it because she was afraid of the Lord?

Perhaps. But I rather think that Israel grumbled against Moses because she did not recognize her situation was really the work of God. It was, to her, a human exercise, a hair-brained scheme of Moses he had duped them into accepting.

Like Israel, we often want to blame others for our troubles. We would do well to at least consider that, perhaps, our trials are a necessary part of our deliverance. I’m not saying that’s always true, only that we should consider the possibility. So, for example, when financial reversals come, it could be our own mismanagement that has brought them. On the other hand, God may have brought them Himself, deliberately, that we might learn to make do on less, learn to be content with enough bread for the day at hand, and trust Him to take care of the future rather than depend on ourselves.

Health reversals may result from the natural aging process, or from our own personal inattentiveness to physical well-being, or perhaps, God wants us to realize that none of us was intended to live on the earth forever. Our hope is not here, but there, in His presence, and life here, short or long, is but a time of readying for an eternity with Him.

One way or another, God has brought us to this time and place. He will lead us home, and contentment amid all adversity and dependence on Him is a sign of faith. Indeed, without them, faith does not exist.