Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Obedience and Seeing God

Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar. Moses alone shall come near to the LORD, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”

Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.

The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses rose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has a dispute, let him go to them.”

Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24, ESV)

Yahweh now gives the priestly leadership a chance to experience or “see” Him, though what they see appears to be Him taking human form (note his “feet”) with an aura of glory around him (crystal clear pavement like sapphire). They sit down and eat with Him in fellowship, a foretaste of the kingdom and a precursor to His presence in the Tabernacle that will soon be built. Because His presence is mediated in some way they do not die.

All this, however, cannot take place without sacrifice being made and the blood atoning for the people. God is making covenant with them through blood. The people assent to the covenant with one voice in unison, “All that Yahweh has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”

Joshua has become Moses’ assistant and he accompanies Moses further up onto the mountain where God will give him the 10 commandments written on stone. Moses has already been writing down the Law as God has given it to him, but now he will spend 40 days alone with Yahweh in the midst of a powerful display of Yahweh’s glory. Moses is still the designated leader of this nation.

God longs to fellowship with His people but it is a fellowship which requires obedience and sacrifice. Jesus has become the sacrifice that gives us entrance into God’s presence and His obedience has been credited to our account so that we may boldly come before His throne. The Father has made a way for us to be Moses on the mountain top. Let’s come to Him and let’s “see” Him and vow our obedience to Him, all the while recognizing that we cannot give it unless He works it in us and that we are nevertheless responsible for the obeying.

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Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Divine Direction

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.” And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.  (Exodus 13:17-22 ESV)

Note the kindness and patience of Yahweh as He leads His people out of Egypt.  The quicker route led through the land of the Philistines and though the people were equipped for battle, a war at this point would have tested them beyond their limits, so God sends them on a seemingly safer route by way of the Red Sea.  They must have wondered if they would ever see this day, but their patriarch Joseph did not.  He had made Israel promise that when they did return to Canaan they would bury his bones there, and so Moses takes the remains of Joseph with them.

God gives them an unprecedented means of direction and protection, His own presence manifested in a pillar of cloud during the daytime and a pillar of fire at night.  They merely followed it to know that they were on the path of His choosing.  We may long for such a guidance system.  What would it be like to have a cloud, even a small version, leading our every decision?  That would end up being a lot of pillars of cloud attending every believer’s way, and a clear sign to unbelievers of God’s presence and power.  It would be a strange world, to say the least.  It is not God’s normal way of communicating Himself.  It made sense for this mass of people (perhaps a million or two) making their way a good distance through wilderness, but not for us individually.  We are encouraged to listen to the Lord for leadership through His Word and through His witness to our spirits within.  And the two will always match.  Nevertheless, His protection is always at the ready and though He may permit harm to come to us as part of His plan, we may know that nothing does occur in our lives except it is filtered through His hands.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: What You Were Meant to Do

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”  (Exodus 3:7-12 ESV)

Yahweh has a task for Moses.  He wants Moses to go to Pharaoh and somehow bring the children of Israel out of Egypt, bring them to this very mountain on which Yahweh has appeared to Moses, Mt. Horeb or Sinai as it is known.  God wants Israel to return to the land of the Canaanites, a place they left 400 years earlier under Jacob’s and Joseph’s leadership during famine, but that is now flowing with richness and abundance.

Moses, who was ready some 40 years ago to slay an Egyptian and mediate the conflict between Hebrews, no longer sees himself as leadership material.  “Who am I,” he asks.  God does not answer with how gifted Moses is or how special, or what a great leader he will be, though none of those things are wrong.  He answers with, “I will be with you.”  No matter how gifted we are or special, what is required for successfully serving Yahweh is Yahweh’s determination to make us successful and accomplish His purposes.

Yahweh has seen Israel’s suffering and is ready to respond.  It may bother us that He saw Israel’s suffering 40 or more years before and is only choosing now to act.  But He knows the right time and His response is genuinely motivated by His compassion for His people.  He hears our cries.  In His wisdom He responds when He responds, having laid out for Abraham 400 years earlier that this would be the timing for Abraham’s offspring to be enslaved in Egypt.  He sees the bigger picture so we must trust Him with the timing.

In one scene from the movie Superman, Clark Kent is upset after a football game in which he was reduced to being a manager. He possesses supernatural powers yet must hide them from peers who don’t accept him because he is not a star, only a team manager. Kent’s father slips an arm around the soon-to-be Superman and says, “Son, you are here for a special reason. I don’t know what that reason is, but I know one thing—it’s not to score touchdowns.”

Knowing what God has called you for is more than knowing your abilities and gifts.  It is listening to Him as He speaks into your soul what He wants you to do.  Maybe it is correcting something grossly amiss.  Maybe it is encouraging people who have no one in their corner.  Maybe it is providing leadership where there is none.  The point is, what He calls you to do He will equip you to do and be with you in the doing.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Using God’s Gifts

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.

Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.”  (Exodus 2:11-22 ESV)

When we have been called and gifted by God we can’t help but act in accord with that gifting.  God has equipped Moses to be a leader and a deliverer.  To everyone he is an Egyptian, but he knows he is a Hebrew and when he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew he acts to rescue the Hebrew, but not necessarily in the way God intended him to do.  And when he sees two Hebrews fighting he can’t help but challenge this, only to find out that his murder of the Egyptian is known and he must flee Egypt.  But the question, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us,” is answered by, “God.”  But Moses hasn’t asked God how to fulfill this role, acting on his own at the internal pressure he feels to lead his people.

In the land of Midian the same thing happens, with happier results.  He rescues the daughters of the priest of Midian and is rewarded with the man’s hospitality and eventually his daughter’s hand in marriage.  He begins a settled life away from any movement toward saving Israel.  But God is not through with him.

What has God gifted you to do?  Have you failed in your attempts?  Even so haven’t you seen what God has put in you, what drives you to make a difference in our world.  God is not through with you either.  Only when your gifts are used in His service will you be truly successful.

In his devotional book Daily Readings, W.E. Sangster relates the following story: Some years ago, in the midst of much toilsome work and not a few perplexities, I received a letter from a stranger. It was a lovely letter. It seemed to see right into my situation and, with almost uncanny discernment, to sense my need.  Though the letter required no answer (my correspondent explained that he did not wish to add to my work) I sent a word of the warmest gratitude, and some months later we met.  Let me tell you about this obscure disciple and something of his secret service for our Lord.  He is a shy man. It would be wrong to say that he has no gift in public speech, but he has a great gift in writing. Years ago he went to God for guidance, asking how best he could serve the coming of the Kingdom, and it was revealed to him that a ministry awaited him in correspondence. He accepted the commission.  For years he has been fulfilling it. He does it with prayer and (as he believes) under guidance. The number of people he has encouraged must, by now, be immense.  He writes to all kinds of folk, to friends, acquaintances, entire strangers, authors of books which have helped him, people in public life who are carrying great responsibilities, to the high and humble, known and unknown, rich and poor. He writes to sick people and speaks of his admiration for their courage. He lets the lonely know that he remembers them. He backs up those who are battling for social righteousness, especially when they are maligned. A letter of comfort from him has soothed a hundred broken hearts. He is a quietly happy man; happy with the happiness of those who found their work…and do it. He offers no advice in his letters and makes it plain that he expects no reply. He specializes in appreciation. There are enough critics, be believes, eager to tell a man where he is wrong.. So often has he been assured of the timeliness of his letters’ arrival that he cannot possibly doubt that he is working with Another.

Lessons From the Old Testament: Evil Instruments in a Righteous Hand

O Lord my God, my Holy One, you who are eternal— surely you do not plan to wipe us out?  O Lord, our Rock, you have sent these Babylonians to correct us, to punish us for our many sins.  But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil.  Will you wink at their treachery?  Should you be silent while the wicked swallow up people more righteous than they? (Habakkuk 1:12,13)

Habakkuk had been complaining that his own people were living abominable lives and punishment needed to happen.  There was too much injustice, too much suffering by the innocent, for God to let it continue.  But when God told him that He was going to send the Babylonians to punish His people, Habakkuk had a change of heart.  Now God was going too far, using a people even more unrighteous than his own to punish them.

There are two wrong assumptions made here by Habakkuk, and by us too, most likely.

(1) One form of rebellion, because it is more violent and despicable than another, is therefore more deserving of just punishment.  It is true that the more heinous the crime the more severe the punishment (Matthew 10:15), but it is also true that all sin is rebellion and desesrving of just requital (James 2:8-13).  Israel did not deserve to get off the hook because Babylon was more unrighteous than her.

(2) God cannot stand to be in the presence of evil.  This seems true on the face of it, but we find several times in Scripture when God interacts with, even tolerates, evil in His presence.  The most famous example is Satan (see Job 1, 2; Revelation 12:10).  And in fact, every human being with whom God fellowships is evil at his or her base (Jeremiah 17:9,10).

So Habakkuk is unjustifiably upset with God.  God does assure Habakkuk that He will punish Babylon, too (chapter 2).  But He is going to use this unrighteous, horrendously violent juggernaut of a nation to cause Israel to suffer.  He is going to do this because He loves Israel and wants to move them to righteous living.

So then, the real question for Habakkuk and for us becomes, “How do I live through the season of life where God looks like He is absent from the righteous, not answering my prayers for relief, and not doing things the way I think He should do them?”  Habukkuk‘s answer is in chapter 3.

I trembled inside when I heard this; my lips quivered with fear.  My legs gave way beneath me, and I shook in terror.  I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us.  Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord!  I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!  The Sovereign Lord is my strength!  He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. (3:16-19)

He honestly acknowledged that present circumstances were not going to be tenable, acceptable, good.  But he was determined to believe that God was using this for good.  And because of this truth he was going to rejoice in the God of his salvation.  He was not going to rejoice in his sufferings, but in what God was going to do by way of showing off His salvation.  He believed that God was going to prove right and fair in the end and more wise than Habakkuk in His determination to bless those He loved.

Evil instruments in God’s righteous hand means that the evil instrument does not get the last word, but the righteous hand does.

God’s Will

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:2, NIV)

Paul assumes that for the one who has been a recipient of God’s mercy of justification by faith, there is a motivation for refusing to conform to the pattern of this world and to instead be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  That motivation is that by so doing we will be able to test and approve God’s will.  In other words, we will know what God’s will is and then, presumably, we will be able to bring our lives into conformity with it.

Why does this motivate a Christian?  Why does this motivate me?  Do I want to know God’s will?  Yes, I do.  But why?  I can think of several reasons:

  • I love God and am eternally grateful to Him for giving me life when I deserved death.  He forgave my rebellion against His will and my wrong commitment to doing my own will.
  • I have become convinced that doing my own will is devastating to my well-being.  When I consider the consequences of doing my choice above God’s choice for my life in specific areas, I get scared to death of where my choice would take me.  The people it would hurt, the trusts it would compromise, the discouragements it would engender, and the shame it would evoke in me all combine to make it clear that God knows what He is doing.
  • He is God!  Why wouldn’t His will be superior to mine?  He knows all things, all possible consequences for all possible actions, and He is the source of all wisdom and knowledge.  He is the most loving Being in the universe and the most just.  I would be a fool to consider my thoughts superior to His.

But the sad truth about all this is that there is still in me a strain of doubt about the consistent value of God’s will.  When I am in enough pain I begin to wonder if God really knows what He is doing.  When I look at world events and see the suffering taking place at astounding levels, I question in my heart whether this is really the best will or plan for the world.

Am I merely supposed to submit my reason and my will to God’s and accept what He says is the right thing to do?  Given what I have learned about Him and the way He does things, as mentioned above, the answer must be “Yes.”  Why would I begin to think that my will is more good and pleasing and perfect?  It would be the height of arrogance to think that I know better than He how to run His world.

In fact, the pattern of the world (“this age” according to the Greek) is just that arrogant pattern.  Humans, as a race, are incorrigibly committed to determining their own will and destiny.  It was the first sin in the garden of Eden.  It sprang from the doubt of whether God was really good, just and wise or not.

Lord, preserve me from my own arrogance, but move in me to be transformed by the renewing of my mind so that I don’t mistake my own thoughts for your will but am able to test and approve what Your will is.  Enable me to know Your Word well enough and Your world intimately enough to not make mistakes in this most crucial of determinations.  Thy will be done.