Sunday, February 5. Exodus 25 – 28

Chapter 25 introduces us to the longest speech given by God in the book of Exodus.  It concerns the building of the tabernacle and is so minute in detail that modern readers get a little glassy-eyed.

The detail is not important, for you could not, from the details given in the book, reconstruct the tabernacle or any of its furnishings.  Indeed, this is not the point of giving the details.  God will show Moses a “master plan” of all that God has in mind.  In addition, God will give the craftsmen involved the ability to understand the plan and make the building and implements God desires.

So why have the detail?

The detail, along with the notion of a master plan and inspired craftsmen, is there to remind us that when it comes to God’s house, not just anything will do.  Not even the best we have to offer will do.  The only thing that will do is what God wants.

The Church is today the temple of God, where the Lord dwells through His Spirit (Ephesians 2:21-22).  It is not now nor will it ever be a human institution, and when it begins to bear human marks that deviate from the divine order, it will become a desecration.

When you think about all these items described, hopefully you will get the point that the temple was to be impressive.  There was nothing ordinary about it, and the same is to be true of the Church.

Note that as God lays out all this, he does not begin with the plan and then, having inspired the people with its grandiose nature, call for them to give.  Moses is to ask for the gifts first, and these gifts are not just whatever folks want to give.  They are required to give what it takes to get the job done.

Note also that this is not a “clergy” matter.  The address is not to the priests, but to the whole community of Israel.  The erection of the dwelling of the Lord is a matter that involves the whole community of faith, not just the priesthood.  The care of the Church is likewise a community of faith matter for today, the Church is the community of faith.

 

Saturday, February 4. Exodus 21 – 24

The laws in Exodus give us an outline of God’s value system, and that’s one of the ways you should read them.  Chapter 21 begins with laws regarding slaves, but just because we don’t own slaves today doesn’t mean these laws have no value for us.

It becomes obvious that slavery is not a desirable life.  Notice that polygamy is not condemned in these texts.  But neither does its regulation mean “approval.”  In every example of polygamy we have in the Bible, the stories never lead us to say: “Wow, I wish I had two wives!”  The stories are filled with tragedy and complications.  The same is true with these laws regarding slavery.  Life gets complicated when human flesh becomes a possession.  You don’t want to own people, and you don’t want to be owned.

Human life is more important above all others and the one who wantonly takes the life of another forfeits his own life.  We are responsible for one another and to one another.  And so if my actions cause you hurt, even though unintentional, I’m still liable.  If intentional, my liability is greater (intent, therefore, is a factor).  Different crimes have different degrees of seriousness (thus, though all sin is spiritually harmful, one sin is not just as bad as another).

The examples given in today’s reading are designed to give us an idea about how God thinks with regards to ethics.  Because our nation is not a theocracy, and because the Church is not a political entity, the punishments prescribed here may no longer be exacted, but that doesn’t change how God feels about the behaviors involved.  The New Testament did not change God’s ethical foundation, and Christian people, if they are to be “holy” people, must likewise begin to value as God values.

 

Friday, February 3. Exodus 18 – 20

I wonder why we have the story of Jethro?

More than that, I wonder why he is so persistently referred to as Moses’ “father-in-law” (eleven times in twenty-seven verses seems awfully redundant)?

Commentators often point to Jethro’s “conversion” here with his confession: “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods . . .”

But there is a problem with this view, and a lesson for us.  Jethro undoubtedly was convinced of the superiority of the Lord.  But that doesn’t mean Jethro himself became a Jew.  To be truly “converted,” Jethro would need to be circumcised, adopt the religious ceremonies of the Jews (which, admittedly, had yet to be given) and become an heir of the land in Canaan – for this was the promise to God’s people.  While he might do the first two, he could not do the last.  Knowing there was nothing for him in Canaan, he took his leave of Moses at the end of the story and returned to his own land.

So what’s the point of the story?

First, the story illustrates surely that God’s people are often left on their own to figure out ways of doing the right thing.  Neither the law then, nor the Bible now, covers every action.  In reviewing alternative ways of doing things, even those “not of Israel” (like Jethro) may have wise ways of doing things.  This, I believe, is a healthy message for the Church.  Too often we have been stalled by God’s silence when in fact, God intended us to work it out on our own.

But second, I believe it illustrates the peculiar nature of God’s people.  Jethro could not become a part of Israel even though he was Moses’ father-in-law.  He had no share in the promises of God.  What changed when Jesus came was that being one of God’s people, with all the attendant promises, was, with the death of Jesus, opened up for everyone no matter their heritage or ethnicity.

If Jethro did not get to become a part of Israel and had no access to their promises, why would he worship the Lord?  Because, as Jethro recognized, he is the greatest of all the gods and therefore, really, the only God.

 

Thursday, February 2. Exodus 15 – 17

What does it take to write a hit tune?

Exodus 15 and Moses’ “Song of the Sea” is probably the earliest writing in the book of Exodus.  In fact, this song and the story it recounts was written early in the Exodus story.  It was included by Moses in the book of Exodus years later.

I wish I knew the tune, because it was the number one song of that time.  It was so popular that Miriam taught it to the women of Israel.

The song has two parts: First (verses 1 – 13), a recounting of the defeat of Pharaoh, which was, in and of itself, such an astounding victory that the story is told three times: once in Exodus 14, again in this song, and then again as the contents of the song are repeated in prose in the latter part of the chapter.  The second part (verses 14 – 18) is a hymn of assurance regarding Israel’s future.  Because of what God has done in the past, he can be trusted to fulfill His promises in the future.

The theme of the hymn is the sovereign power of God.  He hurls horses, riders, and their chariots into the sea.  He covers Pharaoh’s army and they sink to the bottom of the sea like stone.

Three other points are also made: God has, in the exodus, created a people.  Not, created people in general, but created a special people who will be known as Israel – God’s people.  Second, God has prepared a home for them in his presence.  This isn’t just Canaan, but also another place, where the sanctuary of the Lord is already completed.  Finally, God rules over all forever.

It’s a hymn whose lessons we could voice today, and if we don’t know the tune, just wait.  The book of Revelation tells us that it’s on the hit list in heaven (Revelation 15:3).

 

Wednesday, February 1. Exodus 12 – 14

In Exodus 12, for the first time in the Bible, God tells His people that some days are more important than others, some days are worth remembering – and not only worth remembering, God makes it a command.

Passover marks the day God delivered Israel from Egypt, the most important saving event in the whole Old Testament.  It would also mark the beginning of the Jewish year (observed in our March-April).

Because God was the Savior, God dictated the terms of observing Passover.  It involved roasting an animal, eating it whole, in community with others and everything about it was filled with meaning.  The Passover lamb was a sacrifice, a reminder that others died that Israel might live.  The bitter herbs reminded Israel of her bitter oppression.  Eating it dressed for travel, while standing even, remembered the hopeful expectation.

Remembering God’s saving act was not a personal thing to be remembered on a personal level.  God did not save Moses.  He did not save Aaron or Miriam or Joshua or any other single individual; God saved Israel.  Because of this, the Passover would be remembered in community.  It is interesting that the word for “community” (some versions have “congregation”) occurs for the first time in the Bible in this chapter.  The Passover celebration was not something Israel shared with non-Israelites, for the non-Israelites were not recipients of the salvation.

Today, God’s saving act is rooted in what Jesus did for us, remembered not on a day of the month, but on a day of the week, the first day, for that is when Jesus rose from the dead.  It is remembered with the Lord’s Supper, which also is eaten in community when the church assembles, and every part of it has meaning.

I like these words by J.G. Janzen: “When Pharaoh is in charge of time, one’s days become an endless repetition of wearisome toil that in time may seem to go on forever.  Past and future are just limitless extensions of an intolerable present.”  As God urges His people to “mark” time, He underscores that He is in charge of time, and in His time, He brings blessing.  We should remember it as we see the Lord’s Day approaching.  Our time is not marked like the pagans, nor is our future the same.

Tuesday, January 31. Exodus 9 – 11

Did you notice the subtle change in the story at Exodus 10?

After the plague of blood, Pharoah’s heart became “hard” and he would not let Israel go.  After the plague of frogs, Pharaoh hardens his heart against God’s command.  He does it again after the plague of flies and yes, after the plague on the livestock, the Lord hardens Pharaoh’s heart.

But here, in Exodus 10, before the next plague, the text says “God hardened [pharaoh’s] heart.”  Victor Hamilton, former professor of Bible and theology at Asbury University comments: “The point of beginning with such a thought is to show that for Pharaoh, the window of opportunity has closed.”

We’d like to think that there’s always time to come to God, become a person of faith, have God straighten out our lives.  But the sad fact is, there is a point where redemption is simply not going to happen.  Paul describes it as “having lost all sensitivity” to matters of God.

Are you there?

If you’re concerned about it, you’re not there.  But then again, if you have not yielded your life to God yet, there will come a time when you no longer can, because you’ll no longer desire it.  One poet put it like this: “On the plains of hesitation lie the bleached bones of countless millions who, at the very dawn of victory, sat down to rest, and in their resting, died.”

Monday, January 30. Exodus 6 – 8

When Moses asked God at the burning bush “what is your name?” the Lord replied I am “the I AM” (3:14).  However difficult the Hebrew of this phrase might be (and it is difficult), God narrows the name further to “the LORD,” represented in most newer English translations with the world”Lord” in all capitals.

How do we deal then with Exodus 6 and God’s statement that he did not make Himself known as “the LORD”  to Israel’s ancestors?  The name is used by Eve (Genesis 4:1), Noah (Genesis 9:26), Abraham (Genesis 14:22) and Sara.  In fact, it occurs 148 times altogether in Genesis.

“The LORD” is the proper name for God.  It is a name He gives himself.  It is a name distinct from the names of the gods of the Canaanites or the Egyptians, peculiar to the God of the Bible.  By the time Moses wrote Genesis, Israel knew God by this name and so Moses, in recounting the story of Israel’s forefathers, also uses the name so that Israel will understand it is “the LORD” who is the main character.

Chapter 5 ended with Moses’ complaint to God about his own lack of success and God’s seeming unfaithfulness.  God does not rebuke Moses, but instead, renews the promise underscoring its trustworthiness four times in three verses with these words: “I am the LORD.”  God Himself stakes the reputation of His name on the fulfillment of his word.  Moses is still stuck on his own lack of ability.  Deliverance has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with God.

It’s important to remember that fulfilling God’s promises is God’s work, and not dependent on us.  Our task is to be faithful to God.  He will certainly be faithful to us.

 

Sunday, January 29. Exodus 2 – 5

A “golden parachute.”

That’s what it’s called when an executive has a clause in his contract specifying that if he is terminated, he gets a lot of money to go.  It keeps employers from firing key people capriciously, and ensures that if an executive is let go, his fall is gentle.

Not everyone has or gets one of these.  Only the most valued of employees.

And so it is ironic that Israel, slaves in Egypt, are promised one when they leave the land.  The Egyptians will pay them (and pay them well) to go (Exodus 3:21-22), and Israel will leave Egypt for “the promised land,” a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

Now you see the importance of the Joseph story.  God’s people are not immune to difficult times.  But God’s people, because they are God’s people, are destined for His care above all others.  They will not languish forever.  They will not “rise” to the top, they will be brought there.  God certainly loved the whole world enough to give His son for them, but He only saves those who believe in that son, and only those people have God’s promised protection, deliverance, and inheritance.

 

Saturday, January 28. Genesis 48 – Exodus 1

Note the similarities and differences between the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh, and the blessing of Jacob and Esau.  Isaac is nearly blind when he confers the blessing.  So is Jacob.  The blessing of the older belongs to the younger of the sons in each case.  There is some maneuvering with the blessing of both, in the case of Joseph, he positions Ephraim, the eldest, that he might be nearest Jacob’s right hand.  In each case, the expected order is switched.

The difference here is that the decision to bless the younger first is deliberate, once again emphasizing that blessing comes not from birth, birth order, or ability, but solely by grace.  The lesson is pointedly made in the next chapter as Reuben loses the birthright of the eldest son because of his behavior and that birthright does not pass down the line as we might expect, falling on Judah, but goes to the very end of the line, falling on Joseph (you will see this plainly in 1 Chronicles 5:1).

Jacob is now in Egypt, but he believes his descendants will not stay.  They have land in Canaan, and he knows God’s hand will take the family back there as surely as it brought them to Egypt.  And so, Jacob, in essence, adopts Manasseh and Ephraim and in this scene, assures Joseph that the boys will receive their rightful place as his sons.  When the writer of Hebrews in the New Testament talks about Jacob’s great faith, this is the illustration he uses.

All God’s gifts are by grace, given as he sees fit.  People of faith realize that and accept them humbly and gratefully, seeing in them also an assurance of a blessed future.

 

Friday, January 27. Genesis 45 – 47

The total reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers will not be complete in chapter 45, but it is now well on its way.  This very crucial stage begins with the offended.  Joseph realizes his family is in desperate straits.  Were it not for his position and the blessing of the Lord, all of his father’s house would be destroyed.  It is his conclusion that God has worked through the mean-spiritedness of his brothers to save them all.  Five more horrible years of famine were to come that would impoverish even the Egyptians.  Joseph’s family in Canaan didn’t have a chance – except for Joseph.  Joseph begins to see through God’s eyes.

The second stage is the forgiveness itself, which Joseph offers his brothers.

The third stage comes with assurance that the relationship is restored.  We will not see this stage until chapter 50 when the brothers, fearful that Joseph’s goodwill would last only as long as Jacob lived, make up a ruse and tell Joseph their father’s dying wish was for the boys’ reconciliation.  Joseph recognizes this for what it is and weeps that his brethren would think his forgiveness so shallow and he assures them it is deep and real.

Why would the boys be so insecure?  They never learned to get along with one another.  They are not peace loving, why would they expect Joseph to be? That’s why Joseph, as he sends them back to get their father tells them: “Don’t quarrel on the way!”

Which brings me to the last point today: Had Joseph stayed in Canaan and never been sold, his environment would have never changed and he might have become every bit as divisive as his brethren.  It took a drastic change to enable Joseph to grow differently.  When Jesus calls us to follow him, he doesn’t call us to drag all that baggage of our previous identity with us.  He calls us to leave it behind, and sometimes, it means we, in the words of the old hymn, “let goods and kindred go.”