The tabernacle offers real access to God, but it is limited access. Not everyone can go into the tabernacle and only a very select few can enter the Most Holy Place on a restricted basis. The priests would both serve God (28:41), and represent Israel when they did so. We see the representative part of their job description when they are directed to wear the names of the tribes of Israel engraved on stones on their chest (Ex. 28:9-12). The priests would offer sacrifices that were pleasing to God and also ones that were used by God as a means of atoning for the sin of the people. As we read these passages, we see the elaborate preparations of the priests – the beauty of their clothes and the rituals to set them apart. But we also see the precarious position that they minister in as we hear the constant reminder, “lest they die.”
Reflect and Connect: The OT practice of priesthood is fulfilled in Jesus. The book of Hebrews explains that Jesus is the great high priest who represents us before God and gives us access to the power of God. Because Jesus is our high priest, we no longer need a human being to formally represent us before God, we can all enter the presence of God through Christ. At the same time, we serve as “lowercase-p” priests when we pray for other people. Consider these NT passages in light of the OT practices we read about today:
Hebrews 4:15-16 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 10:19-22 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
I Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Exodus 25-26, 40
We are now starting to skip over some sections of material. When we skip a section of the Bible it is noted by an "*" in the reading chart. As we read through Exodus and beyond, we will try to achieve a summary of the material that is found there, but in many books, we will have to present a “condensed reading.” Our goal is to achieve an overall vision of the grand picture of redemptive history. In order to see the whole forest in its proper perspective we will need to skip past a few of the trees. For our reading today, we combined chapters that describe the role of the tabernacle, including chapter 40 - the last chapter in the book.
For the purposes of Biblical continuity, the tabernacle is essentially a “portable temple.” It is pictured the same way as the temple, except that it is made of tent material. (The temple will be built later in the history of Israel, under King Solomon and a rebuilt form would continue to be used into the time of Christ.) The tabernacle also functions the same way as the temple in that it provides a meeting place for God with his people. God introduced the tabernacle construction project with the words, “Let them make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst” (Ex. 25:8). The whole structure and all of the items placed within it were meant to be a visible symbol of how we relate to God. The sacrifices, the separate spaces, and the elaborate rituals of cleansing all combined to show that God is holy and humans are not. In the back room of the tabernacle was the Most Holy Place, where the Spirit of God was tangibly present above the Ark of the Covenant. As the book of Exodus ends, the Spirit of God descends on the tabernacle and God is really living with his people (Exodus 40:34-38). This answers a question that has been lurking ever since the Passover. That is, If God is so exceedingly holy, but his people are prone to grumbling, disobedience and even rebellion - how can he live among them? The immediate answer is: “very carefully.” The long term answer is: “Jesus.”
Reflect: Humans are prone to create religious ideas out of their own imagination. When we do this, our version of the divine is always more approachable and human-like than the living God. The structure and practices associated with the temple highlight God’s separateness and our need for mercy. How do your human concepts of God need to be recalibrated by the tabernacle?
Connect: God was made known to his people through the tabernacle, but it a limited access and a limited revelation. When God chose to reveal himself to us definitively, he made himself known through Jesus, whom John said, “tabernacled” among us. This is what the Greek text literally says, but since that is not an English word, the ESV translates John 1:14 as “dwelt among us.”
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
So, we are back to the Mosaic Law today. Having finished the landmark legislation of Moses (The Ten Commandments) we now move on to a variety of other commands. We need to add some more theological observations to our tool box as we head into this new section. Because the Law of Moses is both so important and also so expansive, theologians have spent a great deal of energy reflecting on this body of law and categorizing the various parts of it. When we look at the entire body of legislation we see three different areas of focus. This might seem a little too academic at first, but unless you have this theological map to guide you, the Mosaic Law will become an imposing wilderness of confusing commandments. We could fall into the error of either dismissing them altogether or using the Law in the wrong way. Historically, these two tendencies of “legalism” or “antinomianism” (lawlessness) have long plagued the church.
Reflect: The Mosaic Law can challenge our self-made notions of how we approach God and what serving God looks like. While none of the laws in this section are directly applied to Christians, understood properly can help us to think through what it means to live a faithful Christian life. Can you see any places where the principles revealed here can guide you to greater faithfulness?
Connect: Paul says that the Mosaic Law, in its entirety, was meant to be a training tool for God’s people as they grew in maturity and were prepared to receive Christ.
Galatians 3:23-24 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
Special note: Slavery in the Bible. It can be troubling for people to read regulations about slavery in the Bible, because we imagine historically recent modes of “chattel slavery” when we read Exodus 21. However, it is important to note the specific limitations in place on the practice of slavery within Israel. “When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh he shall go free” (Ex. 21:1) Furthermore, there were essentially rights and protections for people who were in the classification of “slave” (Ex. 21:2-11,20,26). Slavery was a common practice in the ancient world. The Mosaic Law does not create it, but it brings regulations and protections to an existing practice. Finally, we see that the entire practice is governed under the precept that Israel knew what it meant to live in slavery in Egypt and that God had delivered them from this (Ex. 20:1). This is clearly a very different system that what was practiced in American plantation systems. But why would God have allowed even this highly regulated practice of slavery to exist within the nation of Israel? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that it provided a means of survival for people who were living in poverty and in danger of starvation. That is, you could sell yourself in a time of absolute desperation but, there was a limit on how long you could be held. Like modern day bankruptcy, there was a process that could allow for the restoration of absolutely desperate people.
About seven weeks after the Exodus, Israel arrives in the wilderness of Sinai and came to “the mountain.” Presumably, this is where God had appeared to Moses at the beginning of the book. At this point, we can see that God’s promise to deliver his people from their bondage to Pharaoh has been fulfilled. When God first revealed himself to Moses through the burning bush, he said that Moses would lead the people out of Egypt and they “would serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12). But what does it mean to serve God? We are about to find out. Chapter 19 shows great preparation for a sacred meeting on the mountain top. All of the people were told to wash themselves and prepare themselves for a meeting with God. Only Moses will be allowed to go up to the top of the mountain (with Aaron for some portion of it) because the holiness of God is a deadly threat to mortals.
What God reveals on the mountain is referred to the “Law of Moses” or the “Mosaic Law” and forms the foundation for life for the people of Israel. Now, the Mosaic Law is laid out in many parts of the first books of the Bible. Much of the second half of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and parts of Numbers unfold this law. Then, at the end of his life, Moses summarizes these commandments in the book of Deuteronomy (the title means “second (giving of the) law.”) Because this 90-day study focuses on the history books in the Bible, we will not spend a great deal of time on the law. That is a study for another day. For our purposes, we will spend just a few days looking at some of the commandments in the law of Moses which are found in Exodus. At this point, we will be a little more selective in our reading so that we can stay on pace to finish our tour of the story of Scripture before Easter.
Here are the initial observations that we want to make:
Reflect: Your obedience cannot earn your salvation but, the Ten Commandments can show us quite a bit about the Christian life. Historically, they have been understood to function in 3 ways (“Three uses of the Moral Law”.) First, they show us wisdom about how the world works and demonstrate a basis for flourishing human life for all people. Second, they reveal our sinful hearts and drive us to deeper repentance. Third, they show Christians how to live a life of thankful obedience in the power of the Spirit. Simply look at the Ten Commandments again. How do they reveal your sin? How do they call you to a life of greater faithfulness?
Connect: Paul tells us that the law is good, but that it reveals our sin and is no longer meant to be the guiding system for the Christian life. Admittedly, the New Testament treatment of the Mosaic Law is a field of study which is complex and often confusing. Let’s simply look at one NT reference in which Paul highlights the way that the Ten Commandments reveal our sin and highlight our need for a savior.
Romans 8:7,24-25 If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet”… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
,In the immediate aftermath of the Red Sea crossing the frailties of Israel become evident. It is almost hard to imagine that shortly after this remarkable victory the people could grumble and complain. They “grumble against Moses” (Ex. 15:24 and 16:2). Then they refuse to listen to the Sabbath regulations. Then, they threaten to kill Moses when their thirst gets extreme and say the ultimate ungrateful remark, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt?” (Ex. 17:3) In spite of it all, God continues to graciously provide. He will need to straighten things out with some disciplinary action, but the overwhelming picture is one of God’s abundant and merciful provision for ungrateful and fickle people. Furthermore, even Moses begins to show cracks from the strain. Fortunately, he has friends to hold up his arms, and his father-in-law shows up with some good advice about delegating his responsibilities.
Reflect: It would be hard to imagine ungrateful attitudes developing so quickly if it were not part of our everyday human experience. In reality, we forget God’s blessings quickly and our hearts turn toward grumbling even shortly after God helps us out. Where do you need to confess a grumbling spirit and an ungrateful heart?
Connect: Paul continued to apply the lessons of the wilderness generation to the Church in Corinth, telling them specifically that these stories are meant to be an example to us. In particular, the example is that they were part of the community that experience great blessing, but they “desired evil” and “grumbled.” (Other sins that he mentioned come up later in Exodus.) The end point of his concern is that we should not allow the experience of God’s blessing to make us spiritually apathetic.
I Corinthians 10:3-12 [Our Fathers] all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
Well, Israel has escaped from Egypt, but the mighty power of Pharaoh still overshadows them. After letting them go, Pharaoh has his mind changed and he decides to pursue Israel into the wilderness. Notice how God is working in all of this to complete judgement on Pharaoh (directing Israel to a vulnerable place and hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that he stubbornly persists in his rebellion.) All of these lead to the climactic moment of deliverance in the Old Testament. Israel is delivered from the oppressive power of Egypt when they pass through the waters of judgment, but the Egyptian army is swallowed up behind them. Following the Red Sea crossing, Moses sings about God’s work of deliverance. The end result of this whole ordeal is that God was revealed to be the ultimate judge with power to direct earthly affairs and the powers of Pharaoh are severely limited. Together with the Passover, this judgment at the Red Sea becomes the definitive account of salvation in the Old Testament. What we see is that God brings our salvation by removing our enemies. The Passover reminds us that we need God’s mercy for ourselves if we are going to withstand his day of judgment.
Reflect: Rather lead Israel by a safe and easy way, God directs them to go to a place where their backs are against the sea and they have no other options. How has God used desperate circumstances in your life to make you lean on him more deeply? Is that happening now?
Connect: Paul compares the Red Sea crossing to the salvation that Christians experience in Christ. He spoke of the Israelites as being “baptized into Moses” when they accompanied him through the Red Sea. The parallel idea is that when we believe in Christ we are connected to him by faith and we experience deliverance through him. Christians pass through the judgment of God because they are in Christ. Baptism is a picture of our union with Christ. Because Jesus endure the judgment of God on our behalf, we pass through it “in him.”
I Corinthians 10:1-2 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea...
Romans 6:3-4 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
As the climactic act of God was approaching, Moses was given an unusual command. In the prior plagues, Israel was a passive bystander. But now they have a role to play. In this final act of judgment, they will finally be set free from the oppression of Pharaoh. But there is a lesson for Israel here also. When the angel of death sweeps over the land, taking the life of every firstborn son, the people of Israel need to be delivered from this same act of judgment. The houses of Israel will be marked with the blood of the lamb, and when the angel of the LORD comes by he will “pass over” the house where the blood is shed. Notice that the agency of this activity seems to be given to an angelic being whom the LORD calls, “the destroyed” (Ex. 12:23). But, throughout the chapter, God owns the activity himself – “I will pass through the land… I will strike… I will execute judgments.” This is a clear message about the identity of God. He is pure in his holiness and he is opposed to human sin. This opposition will prove to be deadly for all people, even those people that have a covenant relationship with him. While Israel needs to be saved from Pharaoh, their greatest need is to be saved from the judgment of God himself. The Passover would become a yearly feast that was intended to cement this memory into the minds of God’s people. They were saved by a substitute (lamb) and saved by grace, but they were saved from the judgment of God for their own sins.
Reflect: Often other problems loom larger in our life, but the Bible tells us that the biggest problem we each have is that we are sinners who cannot stand in the presence of a holy God.
Connect: The New Testament authors show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Passover. He is the lamb slain in our place that we can be forgiven and so that God’s judgment will Passover us.
John 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
I Corinthians 5:7 Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
Now the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh really starts to heat up. Behind all of these events is the powerful hand of God. We see this directly as God’s power works through Moses. But we also see the mysterious work of God in the heart of Pharaoh. At times Pharaoh hardens his own heart, and at times (especially as the story progresses) God hardens it. We don’t fully understand this, but we know that a hardened heart is part of God’s judgment. And here, God is working for a bigger purpose. He wants his own identity to be revealed through the events of history. God shows that he has ultimate power over creation by essentially reversing the creation process. For example, frozen precipitation brings destruction and not the normal blessing of rain. Furthermore, the God who spoke light into existence reveals himself as darkness settles over the land. The created world turns against Pharaoh because he has exalted himself over the creator. In all of this, God is working to reveal himself as the only true and living God. Notice the repeated refrain – “The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand…” Some of the miraculous signs of Moses can be repeated by the court magicians (we don’t know how), but very quickly they are shown to be out of their league. There is only one God, and he holds the power of the created world and even life itself in his hands. As we progress through the 10 plagues they get more and more severe and often show an intentional distinction between Egypt and the people of Israel. This move us to the ultimate and definitive action of God in the final plague...
Reflect: This is a warning hear about a hardened heart. On one hand, God’s purposes are mysterious. On the other hand, the end result of resisting God’s entreaties (hardening the heart) is that our hearts become hardened, and we are no longer able to respond appropriately or think rationally. Sometimes, a severe intervention from God can get our attention and help us regain perspective. If that leads to repentance, even a painful event can be a good thing.
Connect: The Bible warns God’s people against hardening their hearts. We can’t assume that our response to God is something that we can do at our leisure. Assuming that we can do what we want and then go back to God’s way when we choose is itself an act of arrogant disregard for God.
Hebrews 3:12-15 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
Our first glimpses of Moses as the mighty servant of God don’t exactly inspire confidence. He is reluctant to accept the mission, complaining that he isn’t a very good speaker. (As if, his eloquence was going to be the deciding factor in this confrontation.) Then on the way back to Egypt he is nearly killed by the angel of the LORD for having neglected to circumcise his son. (This is admittedly a strange part of the story.) And then, the first confrontation with Pharaoh ends not with progress – but with things getting worse. Now they have to make bricks without straw and still keep up the production levels. The people of Israel are now mad at Moses for deepening their problems. But God is not discouraged in the least. He is the Sovereign LORD of the universe and will accomplish his purposes in spite of the weakness of his servants and the might of the opposition.
Reflect: When the problems in our life loom large, we are reminded that God is always bigger and more capable than any opposition.
Connect: Paul assures Christians that God is able to work all things for our good. That does not mean that all events are good – many are painful or even heartbreaking. But it means that God’s almighty power is able to direct all events for his purposes, which is for the ultimate good of his people.
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Day #18b: Exodus 3. “I am”
I am glad that we can get a whole day to discuss this one chapter, because it is one of the most important ones in the Bible. In Exodus 3, God enters the story in a new way. He reveals himself to Moses in the burning bush, promises action for oppressed Israel, and reveals himself by the divine name. When Moses asks God, “Who shall I say sent me?”, God answers, “I AM WHO I AM.” That sounds cryptic to us, but it is a revelation of God’s character. God’s defining aspect is his underived self-existence. It is what sets him apart from every other thing that exists. Every other thing is created by God. It is “derived” by God’s power – that is, it comes from God. But God does not come from anything else. As we learned in Genesis, “In the beginning, God…” Before anything was created, God was. There was never a time in which God did not exist. All other aspects of our experiential reality were created, but he is uncreated. The Hebrew word for “to be” was represented by the (Hebrew) letters YHWH. This was understood to be the personal name for God, in distinction from the more general title of “god” – which could be used for other, false, gods. The name that sets the God of the Bible apart from every other deity that can be named or imagined is his unique divine name, “YHWH.” This name became so sacred to the Jewish people that they stopped speaking it out loud. Instead, they would say, “The LORD” whenever the name of YHWH was written. Later, Bible translators were uncertain of how to render this, or even how to pronounce it. Early English translations rendered the divine name as “Jehovah.” Later translators rendered it as “Yahweh.” Following the practice of the Jewish scholars, most modern translations write the name “the LORD” (notice all caps) whenever they encounter this word in the Hebrew text. This is distinct from the word “lord” (not in caps) which is a title of respect that can be used for people. Traditionally, the first five books of the Bible were attributed to the authorship and direction of Moses, so it is understandable that the name YHWH was used, even prior to the burning bush revelation (for example, in the book of Genesis._ The thing that we want to understand is that, generally speaking, when God is referred to as YHWH (“the LORD”) it is showing the specific relationship that he has with his covenant people. On the other hand, when the term “God” is used it often speaks of God in a more general way and may even be used for false gods or angels.
Reflect: God invites you to be on a “first name basis” with him. To call God, “The LORD” is to know him as the uncreated, self-existence deity that is the source of all things in existence. We have a powerful friend.
Connect: The New Testament is written in Greek and not Hebrew, so the authors don’t use the Hebrew letters YHWH and therefore, the same sort of capital letter distinction does not exist in the New Testament. But in his letter to the Philippians, Paul proclaims that Jesus is given “the name above every name” and shows that all humans will one day confess that he is “Lord.” This is a clear reference to the divine name and he is showing that Jesus shares the same divine name “Yahweh.” Furthermore, when Jesus says about himself that “I AM”, he is assuming to himself this divine identity – an action that his listeners understood to be an infuriating claim to divinity.
Philippians 3:9-11 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
John 8:58-59 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
*Note: When the schedule of readings was first published, I made a mistake and cut out this date. Since other parts of this program had already been published using the dates, it was easier to simply create “Day 18b” than shift the whole schedule back a day. So, the technical count for 90 days is a bit off, but I hope that you will agree that is not a very big deal. – MK
This blog is part of the ministry of City Reformed Presbyterian Church. Unless otherwise noted, the entries are written by Matt Koerber. This is part of a project that our church is doing as we read through the narrative sections of Scripture between early January and Easter 2020. New entries will be scheduled to drop automatically at 5:00 am on the scheduled day.