Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book of the Covenant

Exodus 20:22-23:19 continues the Sinai covenant and provides additional laws. The stipulations or terms in this section are called the “Book of the Covenant” (Exodus 24:7).  These requirements were given by God but were now spoken through Moses. At Exodus 20:18-21, the Israelites asked Moses to speak to God directly after the people heard God’s voice from heaven and witnessed manifestations of God's glory and power in the thunder, the loud blast of the ram’s horn, the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain. The people said to Moses “You speak to us, and we will listen. But do not let God speak directly to us, or we will die!” (Exodus 20:19, NLT). God is transcendent (supreme), as shown by His speaking to the Israelites in a spiritual (or disembodied) voice from heaven at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:22).

God stated His basic laws – the Ten Commandments – at Exodus 20:1-17. Then, God told Moses how to apply the Ten Commandments to specific situations at Exodus 20:22-23:19 so that everybody would receive equal justice, kindness, and fairness in everyday life. The Book of the Covenant is not a collection of picky laws but case studies or case law from such topics as theft, seduction, giving, personal injury, kidnapping, gossip (false rumors), blaspheme, murder (intentional and unintentional), dishonoring parents, personal loans and interest, sorcery and occult practices (e.g., spells, magic), courtroom behavior, rape, bestiality, and idolatry. These requirements were largely expansions an explanation of the Ten Commandment. God was taking various potential life situations and teaching the Israelites how His Ten Commandments would work in their daily lives. The case studies listed did not cover every possible situation but gave practical examples of how to treat people justly. God is just (Deuteronomy 32:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:6) and God loves righteousness and justice (see Psalm 33:5; Isaiah 61:8). The Book of the Covenant revealed that God expected His people to express His love, kindness, and fairness equally to all people (e.g., rich, poor, men, woman, foreigners, widows and orphans), property and even animals to assure His justice.

The Book of the Covenant is specifically noted for its fairness and social responsibility toward the widow, the poor, and the foreigner. God insisted that the widow, orphan, poor and powerless be well treated (see also James 1:27; James 2:2-7). In fact, the poor, the widow, the orphan, the alien, the powerless, and defenseless people are objects of God’s special concern and providential care (e.g., see Exodus 21:26-27; Exodus 23:6-12; Psalm 10:14, 17-18; Psalm  146:9; Isaiah 1:23; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5; Romans 15:26; Galatians 2:10).  Repeatedly throughout the Holy Scriptures, God denounced oppression of the widow, the fatherless, the alien, and the poor (e.g., see Deuteronomy 10:17-19; Isaiah 1:17, 23; Jeremiah 5:28; 1 John 3:16-18). God expected His people to protect the oppressed and the needy members of society. The Book of the Covenant demanded the Israelites to be kind to strangers and aliens, widows and orphans, and the poor (Exodus 22:21-27; Exodus 23:9; see also Deuteronomy 24:17-21). The widow, the orphan, and the alien were in a helpless and economically disadvantaged position. The rich, wealthy, and strong must not exploit and abuse widows, orphans, aliens, or the poor but give them the help they need (Exodus 22:21-22 see also e.g., Leviticus 25:35-38; Proverbs 28:8). God hears the cries of the afflicted and suffering (Exodus 22:23, 27). When the Israelites were in trouble, God helped and rescued them. Therefore, the Israelites were not to take advantage of others in difficulty and weakness. Also, God wanted to protect the especially tender relationship between mother and offspring (see Exodus 23:19; Leviticus 22:28; Deuteronomy 22:6-7).

The Book of the Covenant also included the so-called law of retaliation (lex talionis) (Exodus 21:23-25; see also Leviticus 24:17-20; Deuteronomy 19:21). This requirement was meant to limit the punishment to fit the crime. An actual eye or tooth was never exacted. Jesus Christ objected to an extremist use of this judicial principle to excuse private, personal vengeance (see Matthew 5:43-48). By invoking the law of love, Jesus Christ corrected the popular misunderstanding of the law of retaliation and provided the Law’s originally meaning or intent (Leviticus 19:17-18, 34; see also 1 John 2:9). As Jesus Christ reminded, God’s people are not to retaliate or seek revenge of their enemies but love all people, including their enemies (Matthew 5:38-42, 44; see also Exodus 23:4-5; Deuteronomy 22:1-4; Proverbs 25:21). Instead, God’s people must leave punishment and judgment to God and God’s appointed authorities (Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8-9, 28; Exodus 22:28; Romans 13:1-7; Hebrews 10:30) and we must love one another, including our enemies (see Romans 13:8-14; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). Avenging people is God’s prerogative, not ours (Deuteronomy 32:35-36). When we are wronged, Jesus Christ encouraged all people to love, forgive and do good to those who wrong us and not seek revenge (Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:29; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; John 13:34; Hebrews 13:15-16). Believers in Jesus Christ are never called to retaliate but are called to love one another and forgive everyone, including our enemies (see Matthew 18:21-35; Galatians 5:14). All believers in Jesus Christ are “to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16, NIV). The Book of the Covenant reveals God’s instructions to wholeheartedly love and honor Him, love one another, respect people’s property, and not do such evils as gossiping, murdering, exploiting, stealing, harming animals, coveting, and mistreating people. We should act fairly and justly with all people — friends and enemies alike (see also 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9).

Apostle Paul:  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. . . . Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-10, 14-21 (NIV)

However, these various laws in the Ten Commandment and the Book of the Covenant did not change people’s hearts nor declare one righteous (see Romans 3:21-4:25). But, these commandments and laws did help to control Israel’s conduct and give order to the nation. The Holy Bible reveals that God loves order and not chaos and confusion. Even more, these various laws in the Book of the Covenant reflected God’s holy character and nature the unchanging moral principles expressed in the Ten Commandments. When obeyed, these various laws protected the people from violence, gossip (slander), extortion, oppression, sorcery, witchcraft, and mistreatment. Justice was to be fair for all people (Exodus 23:2-3). One of the most dangerous and disastrous periods in Israel’s history was the period of the Judges when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (see Judges 17:6; Judges 18:1; Judges 19:1; Judges 21:25). The enforcement of good laws does not guarantee a perfect society, but it does promote order and prevent anarchy and chaos.

Keep on loving each other as brothers (and sisters). Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. . . . Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:1-3, 15-16 (NIV)

If we truly love God with all our hearts, we will have no desire to hurt and harm others but to reach out to all people in need, even our enemies (Matthew 22:34-40; see also Luke 10:30-37). The true and living God (Yahweh) wanted to be first in the people’s hearts and lives. God’s people were not to worship, seek after, or even speak of other gods (Exodus 20:23; Exodus 23:13, 24; see also Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6, 27; Deuteronomy 18:10-12). But if God is not first place in our hearts and lives (Matthew 6:33), we will exploit and abuse people and destroy God’s earth by misuse of earth’s resources. Throughout Israel’s history, the early Christian history and today, God has repeatedly sent His messengers (prophets) to command the people to stop sinning, doing evil, and disobeying God. If the Israelites obeyed the Book of the Covenant, the Covenant Lord agreed to protect them from enemies (Exodus 23:22-23) and from illness (Exodus 23:25-26) and give them a land to possess (Exodus 23:27-31). These covenant promises were contingent upon absolute loyalty to the Covenant Lord.

The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said . . . . “I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. . . . Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before Me in My Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears My Name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the Lord, have spoken! . . . . When I led your ancestors out of Egypt, it was not burnt offerings and sacrifices I wanted from them. This is what I told them: ‘Obey Me, and I will be your God, and you will be My people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well!’ But My people would not listen to Me. They kept doing whatever they wanted, following the stubborn desires of their evil hearts. They went backward instead of forward. From the day your ancestors left Egypt until now, I have continued to send My servants, the prophets—day in and day out. But My people have not listened to Me or even tried to hear. They have been stubborn and sinful—even worse than their ancestors.” Jeremiah 7:1, 5-6, 9-11, 22-26 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren. With the Word Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1991.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

God’s Handwriting

Then God gave the people all these instructions: “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but Me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. . . . You must not misuse the Name of the Lord your God. . . . Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day He rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy. Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you. You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor. You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.” Exodus 20:1-4, 7-17 (NLT)

The next great section of Exodus is chapters 20 through 24. In this section, God personally spoke His Ten Commandments followed by further instructions given to His servant Moses to tell His people, the Israelites (Exodus 20:1; Deuteronomy 5:4). At Mount Sinai, God exclusively wrote and spoke the Ten Commandments (see also Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 10:4). “When the Lord finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, He gave him the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, written by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18, NLT). “The Lord wrote the terms of the covenant—the Ten Commandments—on the stone tablets” (Exodus 34:28, NLT). The Lord God proclaimed “His covenant—the Ten Commandments—which He commanded you to keep, and which He wrote on two stone tablets (Deuteronomy 4:13, NLT). The Ten Commandments are also called the “Ten Words” of the covenant or law and called the “Decalogue” (see Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 10:4). These Ten Commandments were again repeated by Moses at Deuteronomy 5:6–21 and were placed in the sacred Ark of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 10:1-5).

Notice that BEFORE God announced any instructions or commandments for the Israelites, God reminded the Israelites of His grace in redeeming (liberating) the Israelites from Egyptian slavery by His mighty outstretched hand (Exodus 20:2; see also Exodus 6:6-7; Exodus 12:1-42, Exodus 14:1-31). “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery” (Exodus 20:2, (NLT). In other words, God’s grace and redemption preceded the giving of God’s law. God expected His people to humbly obey His commandments out of gratitude for His gracious acts of redemption and salvation from Egyptian slavery. Obedience to God’s commandments was for the people’s own good (Deuteronomy 10:13). God wanted the people to always fear Him (have respect for Him); walk in all His ways; wholeheartedly love and serve Him; and obey His good commandments (Deuteronomy 10:12-13; see also Luke 12:5). Obedience to God’s commandment brings blessings and life (Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19-20; see also Matthew 19:17).

The Ten Commandments were the fundamental requirements of God’s covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. They constituted the basis of the moral principles and summarized what the one true God expected of His people in terms of their daily faith, worship, and conduct. In fact, the Ten Commandments given at Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–21 formed a central core of morality. As mentioned earlier, the Ten Commandments were written by God’s hand (Exodus 31:18). The first five books of the Holy Bible (the Pentateuch) are known as books of the Law because they are based upon on God’s Ten Commandments given at Mount Sinai (also called Mount Horeb).  Essentially, the Ten Commandments are a summary of the Old Testament Law (Exodus 20:2-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21).

By Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, the Law meant not only the Old Testament Scriptures (the written Law), but also the oral law (unwritten law) of Israel as well. The religious leaders developed these oral laws and were sometimes referred to as “the tradition of the elders” (compare Matthew 15:2; Mark 7:5; Galatians 1:14). After the Babylonian captivity, the Jewish rabbis began to make meticulous rules and regulations governing the daily lives of the people. These rules and regulations were interpretations and application of the Law of Moses, handed down from generation to generation. The Pharisees and teachers of the law considered “the tradition of the elders” equally important as the written Law of Moses given at Mount Sinai. It was not until 200 A.D. that these oral rules and regulations were put into writing in the Mishnah. However, Jesus Christ did not follow the “traditions of the elders” and was often called a lawbreaker because of His violations of these oral laws. Amazingly, Jesus Christ completely fulfilled the Sinai covenant by living totally devoted, faithful, and obedient to God and God’s instructions.

Jesus Christ moved the understanding of the Law of Moses from its external meaning into its internal motives – the heart. Moving God’s instructions from outward observance to an inward heart motivation and meaning was Jesus Christ’s concern and the original concern of Moses (see Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28; see also Deuteronomy 10:12-16). Jesus Christ taught and lived the written Law of Moses and the written Law’s true intentions perfectly. In this sense, Jesus Christ affirmed the heart and the spirit of the Law. The entire written Law of Moses stood for two great principles: love for God and love for neighbor (see Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:6, 13-14; James 2:8). The commandments to love God and love our neighbor had been in the Law all along (see Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Leviticus 19:18). Jesus Christ simply lived genuine love in His public ministry (e.g. fairness, truth, justice, mercy, humbleness, kindness, forgiveness, gentleness, and compassion) (1 Corinthians 13). According to Jesus Christ, doing to others what you would have them do to you expresses the spirit and intent of “the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12; see also Matthew 5:17; Mark 12:31; John 13:34). Even more, our love for one another obeys Jesus Christ’s royal commandment (John 15:12, 17). If we genuinely love our neighbors, we will not covet what they have, steal from them, lie about them, or do any of the other evil things God prohibits in His Holy Word. This is why love is the fulfillment of the Law (Romans 13:8-10).

Jesus Christ:  “I have loved you even as the Father has loved Me. Remain in My love. When you obey My commandments, you remain in My love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in His love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with My joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is My commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are My friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master does not confide in his slaves. Now you are My friends, since I have told you everything the Father told Me. You did not choose Me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using My Name. This is My command: Love each other."  John 15:9-17 (NLT)

The Apostle Paul recognized that the Law had been given for a good purpose. The Law was holy, just and good (see Romans 7:7-12, 14; 1 Timothy 1:8). God’s commandments revealed to the people God’s ways of living holy lives (sanctification). Because of human sinfulness, the Law became a curse instead of a blessing (Galatians 3:10-13). Like Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul saw the Old Testament Law fulfilled in the command to love, because genuine love does no harm and hurt to one’s neighbor and always seeks God’s glory (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13; Colossians 3:14; see also James 2:8; 1 John 4:8, 16; 1 John 5:3). God calls His people, through faith in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, to genuinely love one another as Jesus Christ loved the church and give His life as an offering.

God sends His Holy Spirit to now write the requirements of the Law onto human hearts. Only with the help of God’s Holy Spirit can we meet the requirement to love, which fulfills the entire Law (Galatians 5:16, 22-23; Romans 8). Through our faith in Jesus Christ, God now writes His commandments on our human hearts through the inward working of His Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Romans 8:2-4; Hebrews 8:8-12). In the Old Testament, God’s commandments were written on tables of stone (Exodus 24:12). But under the New Testament, God writes His commandments on our hearts through our faith in the life and death of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:1–3). God’s Holy Spirit makes the commandments a part of your inner being and enables believers in Jesus Christ to fulfill the righteous demands of God’s commandments (Romans 8:1–4). This is often called sanctification. Sanctification leads to loving God and loving one another (see also Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 22:34-40).

Obedience to the Ten Commandments does not and could not provide salvation (meaning declaring one righteous and justified before God) for either Jews or Gentiles (see Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:11; Romans 3:20-24, 28). God never intended His instructions or commandments to earn the people’s salvation or redemption (also called justification) (Romans 3:21-4:25; see also Galatians 2:16-17). Obedience to God’s commandments does not save people; only our wholehearted faith in God brings salvation (Romans 1:16-17, see also Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:4). Salvation only comes through our faith, particularly faith in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16-17, see also Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:4; Ephesians 2:8-10; 2 Corinthians 5:21). The Holy Scriptures teaches that salvation is a GIFT of God received only through true faith in Him (see Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). The Ten Commandments reveal God's righteousness and demands righteousness, but obedience to the Ten Commandment cannot give  righteousness (Galatians 2:21); only Jesus Christ brings our righteousness before God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Only faith and acceptance in the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse us from sin (1 John 1:7, 9; Hebrews 10:22). Even more, God provides us His Holy Spirit and our inheritance through our faith in Jesus Christ (see Galatians 3:2, 18; Galatians 4:1-7). God sends His Holy Spirit to all who believe on His Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit empower believers to obey God's righteous will – the Ten Commandments (Romans 8:1-3).

In the Old Testament Law, God gave the Israelites more than six hundred specific commandments. All of these commandments were based on the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17). The Ten Commandments are a summary of more than six hundred specific commandments. These ten instructions or laws were for the Israelites’ good and not hurt. The Jewish ceremonial system presented in Exodus and Leviticus was fulfilled by Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, but the moral content of God's law still remains. Nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament epistles for the church to honor and obey. Only the Sabbath commandment is not repeated in the New Testament. God lavishes His unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love Him and obey His commands (Exodus 20:6). Even more, these instructions or commandments revealed God’s holy nature and character to the people would reflect God’s true nature to the world.

The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God (our vertical relationship), while the last six commandments deal with our relationship with people (our horizontal relationship). If we love God and obey Him, we will also love others. As to sanctification, God requires His people that call upon Him in faith to obey the His unchanging moral law as summarized in the Ten Commandment (see Matthew 19:17-21; Mark 10:18-21; Luke 18:20). The Ten Commandments reflects God’s righteous character and disobediences to God’s Ten Commandments make a person unclean (see Matthew 15:19-20; Mark 7:20-23).

In the first commandment, God instructed the Israelites not to worship any other gods (Exodus 20:3; see also Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Matthew 4:10; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:29-30; Luke 10:27). No other god was to rival the one true God in Israel’s heart and life (see also Exodus 20:22-26). The Israelites had just left from Egypt, a land filled with many idols, many gods, and goddess. Yet, God revealed to the Israelites, the Egyptians and the world that He was the only true and living God of heaven and earth. There is no other god like El-Shaddai – the Lord God Almighty (Exodus 6:3; Exodus 7:5 Exodus 15:11-14). “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God” (Deuteronomy 10:17, (NLT). The true and living God of Israel created all things, sustains all things, and controls all things (see Acts 18:24-28). God will not share His worship with another, including the idol of money, fame, work, or pleasure (Deuteronomy 10:20-21). “You must fear the Lord your God and worship Him and cling to Him. . . . He alone is your God, the only One who is worthy of your praise” (Deuteronomy 10:20-21, NLT). God wanted the people’s exclusive and wholehearted love, devotion, allegiance, obedience and worship as their only true God. In His public ministry, Jesus Christ lived out this commandment by living fully obedient, devoted and submissive to God with His whole heart, soul, mind, and strength (John 17; see also Deuteronomy 6:4-6).

Second, the Israelites were to not form, shape or make idols of any kind, idols made of silver or gold, or any image (human or non-human) of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea (Exodus 20:4-6, 23; see also Luke 16:13). No human or thing was to be an object of worship (see also Deuteronomy 5:8-9). God is Spirit and cannot be represented by statues or any likeness (John 4:24). When the Israelites came near and stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Israelites heard the sound of His words but did not see His form; there was only a voice (Deuteronomy 4:11-12). Because God has no visible form, any idol intended to resemble God would be a sinful misrepresentation of Him (see Deuteronomy 4:12, 15-18). Besides, God is jealous and He will not share His worship or affections with any other gods (Exodus 20:5). God desires and deserves our first love, affection, and worship (Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 5:9; Deuteronomy 6:15). Those people that were unfaithful and worshipped other gods or idols would bring down God’s judgment and wrath on themselves and their household (Exodus 20:5). Yet, faithfulness and obedience to God and His commands brought God’s lavish unfailing love on themselves and their household for a thousand generations (Exodus 20:6).  

Thirdly, the Israelites were not to misuse or disrespect the Name of the Lord God (Exodus 20:7; see also Matthew 5:34). God’s Name must always be respected, esteemed, and honored by the people and never used falsely or frivolously (Leviticus 19:12). We must respect God’s Name and use God’s Name properly with love, praise and worship rather than in falsehood, cursing or joking. Those who disrespected or misused God’s Name will not go unpunished (Exodus 20:7).  

Fourth, the Israelites were to maintain the Sabbath day as a holy day and cease from their daily duties and regular work (Exodus 20:8-9; see also Genesis 2:2; Exodus 16:23; Exodus 35:3; Leviticus 25; Numbers 15:32-36; Deuteronomy 5:13-15; Mark 2:27-28).  The Sabbath day was a day of rest before God and the Israelites were to do no work of any kind and nor shall their sons, daughters, slaves, or cattle shall work (Exodus 20:10). For six days the Lord God created the heaven, earth, and sea, and everything in them, and He rested on the seventh day after the work of creation (Exodus 20:11). So the Sabbath day is blessed and set aside for rest and worship to God (Exodus 20:11). God wanted the people to realize a holy Sabbath day of rest as the Sabbath day is God’s gift of rest (Exodus 16:29-30). Worship, meditation, and physical rest from a busy work week would characterize the Sabbath day. “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28, NLT).

The fourth commandment is the only one of the Ten Commandments not repeated after the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). The church made Sunday a day of rest and worship as they celebrated Jesus Christ’s resurrection each week (Acts 20:7). Sunday is the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day is the first day of the week – so named because Jesus Christ rose from complete death on that day (Revelation 1:10). On the Lord’s Day, believers in Jesus Christ meet for worship, instruction in the faith, doing good works, and mutual encouragement of one another (see Mark 3:4; Ephesians 5:19; Hebrews 10:24-25). Believers in Jesus Christ rested on the first day of the week (Sunday) and then they could go forth to serve the living God with the energy He supplies on that first day (1 Corinthians 16:2; Colossians 2:16–17). Besides, God’s people are restored physically and spiritually when we take one day to rest and to focus on God. To observe a weekly time of rest, mediation and worship in our fast-paced world gives us the benefit of refreshing our spirits and resting in God.

Fifth, the Israelites were to honor, respect, and highly prize their father and mother so they may have a long life filled with blessings (Exodus 20:12). Proper honor and respect in the family home became a basis for a solid social structure (see also Deuteronomy 21:18-21; Ephesians 6:1-4). Yet, God still expected the Israelites to love and worship Him before and above father, mother, brother and sister (see Matthew 10:37).

Sixth, the Israelites were not murder (Exodus 20:13). God differentiated between accidental killings from deliberate murder. Intentional or deliberate killing resulted in capital punishment (Exodus 21:12-14). Yet, Jesus Christ went further. Jesus Christ said “if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matthew 5:22, NLT). Killing is a terrible sin, but anger is a great sin too because it also violates God's command to love one another (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:6, 13-14; James 2:8). Jesus Christ said “if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24, NLT). Jesus Christ encouraged the people to quickly resolve any disputes and settle their differences (Matthew 5:25; see also Proverbs 25:8-10). Anger and broken relationships hinder our relationship with God. Jesus Christ has commanded to both love God and love people (Matthew 22:34-40). We are hypocrites if we claim to love God while hating others (1 John 4:20).

Seventh, the Israelites were not to commit adultery (Exodus 20:14). The commandment against adultery applied to both husbands and wives (Leviticus 20:10; Hebrews 13:4). The Old Testament law said that it is wrong for a person to have sex with someone other than his or her spouse (Exodus 20:14). Jesus Christ said “anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28, NLT). “Those leering looks you think nobody notices — they also corrupt” (Matthew 5:28, MSG). According to Jesus Christ, the mental desires and fantasies to have sex with someone other than your spouse is mental adultery and destroys marital intimacy. Even more, Jesus Christ said “that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful (that is a sexually immoral life-style), causes her to commit adultery” (Matthew 5:32, NLT). Divorce is hurtful and destructive. God intended marriage to be a lifetime commitment (Genesis 2:24; see also Malachi 2:15-16). God wants everyone to make every effort to forgive, reconcile, and restore relationships (1 Corinthians 7). “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4, NIV).

Eighth, the Israelites were not to steal (Exodus 20:15). Stealing deprives others of what God has entrusted to them (see Exodus 22:1-5). Ninth, the Israelites were not to lie (Exodus 20:16). This commandment applies inside and outside the court room. God warns us against deception, dishonesty, and deceitfulness and commands His people to walk in all truth and moral integrity (1 Kings 2:4; Proverbs 25:18; Colossians 3:9). We must be honest with God, to other people, and to ourselves. “For there are six things the Lord hates — no, seven: haughtiness (pride), lying, murdering, plotting evil, eagerness to do wrong, a false witness, sowing discord (conflict) among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19, TLB). God desires truth in the inward parts, which will be reflected in our outward speech (see Psalm 51:6; Jeremiah 5:2-3). This commandment also prohibits insulting, false rumors, and gossip (Exodus 23:1; Titus 3:1-2;; 1 Peter 2:1).

Who may climb the mountain of the Lord and enter where He lives? Who may stand before the Lord? Only those with pure hands and hearts, who do not practice dishonesty and lying. They will receive God’s own goodness as their blessing from Him, planted in their lives by God Himself, their Savior. These are the ones who are allowed to stand before the Lord and worship the God of Jacob. Psalms 24:3-6 (The Living Bible)

Tenth, the Israelites were not to be envious (covetous, jealous, or begrudging) of others’ houses, spouses, servants, animals, success or anything else his or her neighbor owns (Exodus 20:17). Coveting includes envy — grudging the fact that others have what you do not have. The other commandments concerned outward actions, but the tenth commandment dealt with a person’s inward actions (e.g. heart desires and thoughts). God wanted to assure the Israelites did not sin inwardly (see James 1:13-15) and to be content with God’s provisions (Philippians 4:11; 1 Timothy 6:6). “Look, the highest heavens and the earth and everything in it all belong to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 10:14, NLT). Even more, Jesus Christ warned the people to “be on your guard against all kinds of greed” (Luke 12:15, NIV). Greed is essentially desires for what we do not have or desiring to have the possessions of others. Life is not measured by how much you own or possession (Luke 12:15). The good life has nothing to do with our wealth or possession because one’s life is not in the abundance of one’s possessions. A truly good life is living in a relationship with God and doing His good work. Possession never makes anyone happy for long.

When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear. And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But do not let God speak directly to us, or we will die!” “Do not be afraid,” Moses answered them, “for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of Him will keep you from sinning!” As the people stood in the distance, Moses approached the dark cloud where God was. Exodus 20:18-21 (NLT)

After God personally spoke His Ten Commandments, the Israelites witnessed God’s mighty presence – the thundering, lightning, trumpet blasts, darkness, and the smoke rising from Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:18). The Israelites stood at the base of Mount Sinai shaking with fear and awe at the presence of God’s power and authority (Exodus 20:18). After witness God’s mighty presence and hearing God’s voice, the Israelites told Moses to personally speak with God and then instruct the people with God’s instructions (Exodus 20:19). Moses told the Israelites not to be afraid because God revealed His awesome power so they will be afraid to sin against Him as the true God and would therefore obey Him. (Exodus 20:20). Moses entered the deep darkness and spoke to God and Moses became God’s spokesman to the people of Israel (Exodus 20:21-22). Moses was to make known God’s will from heaven, that is God’s instruction (commandments or law), to the Israelites (Exodus 20:22). As to altars made to worship God, an acceptable altar had to be simple altars made of earth or with natural uncut stones or boulders, and without steps (to prevent indecent exposure – nakedness while climbing up to the altar) (Exodus 20:24-26). At the altars, God would come and bless the people (Exodus 20:24).

Apostle Paul:  So put all evil things out of your life: sexual sinning, doing evil, letting evil thoughts control you, wanting things that are evil, and greed. This is really serving a false god. These things make God angry. In your past, evil life you also did these things. But now also put these things out of your life: anger, bad temper, doing or saying things to hurt others, and using evil words when you talk. Do not lie to each other. Colossians 3:5-9 (NCV)

KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan, 1992.
Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Butler, Trent. Holman Bible Dictionary. Broadman & Holman Pub., 1991.
Wiersbe, Warren. With the Word Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1991.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Hearing God’s Voice

God to Moses:  Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now if you will obey Me and keep My covenant, you will be My own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to Me. And you will be My kingdom of priests, My holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” Exodus 19:3-6 (NLT)

In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt – on the very day, the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai (also called Mount Horeb) (Exodus 19:1-2). The arrival at Mount Sinai marked a significant landmark for the Israelites. After being graciously delivered from Egyptian slavery by God’s mighty hand and experiencing the care of God’s provision in the wilderness, the Israelites would now be brought into a special covenant relationship with Almighty God. Mount Sinai is also important because this mountain is where Moses met God in a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-2, 5) and where Elijah heard God’s voice in the gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:8, 12).

At Mount Sinai, Moses once again climbed the mountain to meet with God. This time Moses appeared before God with all of Israel at the foot of the holy mountain ready to worship the true and living God (Exodus 19:3; see also Exodus 3:12). God spoke to Moses telling Moses instructions to tell all of Israel. In these instructions, God had graciously carried the people of Israel on eagles' wings and redeemed the Israelites to Himself (Exodus 19:4). God had redeemed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and bondage to become His people (Exodus 6:6-7). Now, God asked that Israel to always obey Him, serve His purpose, and keep all His instructions (Exodus 19:5). If Israel would faithfully and fully obey God, then Israel would be out of all the nations of the world God’s most treasured possession (Exodus 19:5; see also Deuteronomy 26:18; Psalm 135:4). “Now if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all nations you will be My treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5, NIV). The key words of the instructions were if Israel will obey only then would God fulfill all the promises for protection and favor promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel was chosen by God not because of Israel's merits or goodness, but solely because God loved Israel and was faithful to the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuteronomy 7:6-9). “The Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands” (Deuteronomy 7:9 (NIV).

Israel would be God’s “kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” although the whole earth belongs to God (Exodus 19:6; see also 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6). In other words, Israel was to become intermediaries or mediators between a holy God and a lost world and reveal God’s holiness and goodness to the world. In the covenant, Israel was considered God's possession (special treasure) and a kingdom whose citizens were all priests with access to God, and a holy nation devoted only to God.

In the New Testament, Peter borrowed the imagery of Exodus 19:5-6 and called believers of Jesus Christ “a holy priesthood... a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:5, 9, NKJV). Through our faith in Jesus Christ, believers are also “a kingdom and priests” to serve God and reflect God’s holiness and goodness to the world (Revelation 1:6; see also Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6). Jesus Christ has redeemed true believers in Him from slavery to sin through His sacrificial death on the Cross (Romans 3:24-25) and guaranteed believers a place in His kingdom, and making us priests to administer God's goodness to others and produce holy fruit (Ephesians 2:8-10; see also Galatians 5:22-23).

As “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” Israel was to be holy to the Lord God and totally devoted to God (see also 1 Peter 2:5). In other words, Israel was to render complete submission, allegiance, and obedience to the true and living God. The Israelites were to constitute God’s kingdom (the people who acknowledged God as their Lord and King) and wholly consecrated (holy, set apart, and sanctified for God’s service on earth). In their priestly role, Israelites were to be channels of God’s grace to the nations (see Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:6). Even more, Israel was to be God's “showcase,” proving to the world that there is but one true and living God and that serving Him is the way to fullness of blessing, joy and peace (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6). In Egypt, the Israelites were nothing but slaves who did their masters' bidding. But now the Israelites, as descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, would be God’s special people and God would use the Israelites to be a blessing to the whole world (Genesis 12:3). “All nations on earth” would be blessed through Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 18:18). Only as the Israelites obeyed God could they truly enjoy the privileges of being a kingdom of priests, God's special treasure and His holy nation (Exodus 19:3-6).

After speaking with God, Moses returned from the mountain top and told the Israelites everything God commanded and the people responded with shouts of obedience to God and Moses reported Israel’s words to God (Exodus 19:7-8). By agreeing to obey, Israel ratified the covenant (Exodus 19:8; see also Exodus 24:3. Next, God told Moses to tell the Israelites that He would visibly appear to all of them in the form of a thick dark cloud on the third day and personally speak to the people (Exodus 19:9, 11). To prepare the Israelites for His visible arrival, God told Moses to tell the people to consecrate themselves for worship of God (Exodus 19:10, 14). There were three things the Israelites had to do for preparation to meet the true and living God in worship:  washing of their clothes (Exodus 19:10), confining the people by placing barriers around the mountain (Exodus 19:12-13; cf. Exodus 19:21), and abstaining from sexual intercourse (Exodus 19:15). In essence, this meant Israel must devote herself to God and become physically (outwardly) and spiritually (inwardly) ready to meet God. As believers in Jesus Christ, when we meet God, we too must set aside the cares and preoccupations of everyday life and devote ourselves to meet God in worship. In a dramatic way, God was not only teaching the Israelites but all people the dangers of presumptuously rushing into the presence of a good and holy God.

On the morning of the third day, there was thunder and lightning with a thick cloud on the mountain. There was a very loud blast from a trumpet, and all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord came down on it in fire. The smoke rose from the mountain like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain shook wildly. The sound from the trumpet became louder. Then Moses spoke, and the voice of God answered Him. When the Lord came down on top of Mount Sinai, He called Moses to come up to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. Exodus 19:16-20 (NCV)

On the morning of the third day, the true and living God visibly appeared to the Israelites as promised (Exodus 19:11, 16). God’s physical appearance is often called a Theophany. Thunder roared and lightning flashed from heaven, and a dense cloud came down on Mount Sinai. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and Moses and the Israelites all trembled with fear (Exodus 19:16). All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because God had physically descended on Mount Sinai in the form of fire and the whole mountain shook violently (Exodus 19:18, 20; see also Genesis 15:17). The cloud and darkness, the thunder and lightning, and the earthquake and fire, all revealed the greatness and power of the true and living God (Deuteronomy 5:22-23, 27). God’s physical appearance was often accompanied by an impressive display of meteorological sights and sounds (e.g. see 1 Samuel 7:10; Job 38:1; Psalm 18:13-14).

Then, Moses spoke to God and God thundered His reply to Moses (Exodus 19:19). God called Moses to the top of the mountain to receive His instructions for the peopled (Exodus 19:20). At sacred Mount Sinai, God gave the Israelites the laws and guidelines for right living, often called the Sinai covenant (Exodus 19:3 – Exodus 24:19). The covenant between God and Israel at Mount Sinai was the outgrowth and extension of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants. Participation in the divine blessings of the Abrahamic covenant as well as the Sinai covenant was conditioned on obedience and faith (see Genesis 17:1-27; Genesis 18:18-19; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4-5; Exodus 19:3-6; Romans 1:5).

In the Sinai covenant, the true and living God pledged (promised) to be Israel’s faithful Protector if the people promised to be faithful to Him as their covenant Lord and obedient to the requirements of the covenant. Exodus 19 gives the dramatic setting of the covenant’s introduction and Exodus chapters 20 through 23 contain God’s actual covenant. The covenant is actually a contractual agreement or treaty between God and the Israelites. Another word for covenant is “testament”. Exodus 24 shows the covenant’s confirmation. The rest of the Old Testament builds upon what took place at Exodus 19 through 24. Centuries later, biblical writers would dust off the old word covenant and apply the word covenant to Jesus Christ (e.g. see 1 Corinthians 11:25). Jesus Christ fulfilled and completed the reconciliation with God begun at Mount Sinai. The Sinai covenant had several later renewals, including Exodus 34; the whole book of Deuteronomy and Joshua 24. Sadly, the Israelites continually violated the Sinai covenant to faithfully obey God and God’s instructions. In His love and grace, God redeemed Israel and then called Israel to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:1-6), but the ancients Israelites failed God to faithfully love, trust, and obey God. God disciplined the Israelites many times for their failure to obey the covenant, but they still persisted in sin (e.g., see Exodus 32). Today, Israel has no temple or priesthood. Today, God's people (believers by faith in Jesus Christ also called the church) are God’s kings and priests (1 Peter 2:1-10), exercising spiritual authority and serving God in this world.

The covenant at Mount Sinai eventually became known as the “old covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:14) or the “first covenant” (Hebrews 8:7; Hebrews 9:15, 18). Later, God would write this covenant on the people’s hearts through the inward working of the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Romans 8:2-4; Hebrews 8:8-12). The written covenant at Mount Sinai was useful and God-given. But as the history of Israel proved, the Sinai covenant did not have the power to transform people’s lives. Something more was needed for the people. God would have to change His people from the inside out by placing His covenant into their hearts through His Holy Spirit. Amazingly, Jesus Christ completely fulfilled the Sinai covenant by living completely devoted, faithful, and obedient to God and God’s instructions. Jesus Christ’s life revealed the true intentions and will of the covenant (fairness, justice, mercy, humbleness, kindness, forgiveness, and compassion) (e.g. see Genesis 18:19; 2 Samuel 8:15; Psalm 119:121; Proverbs 1:3; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 56:1; Isaiah 61:8; Jeremiah 22:15; Micah 6:6-8 and Matthew 22:34-40).

The Israelites would remain camped at Mount Sinai for the next eleven months (Exodus 19:1 through Numbers 10:10–12). The Old Testament notes that the Israelites stayed encamped at Mount Sinai the rest of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and through Numbers 10:20. At Mount Sinai, the Israelites learned the potential blessings of obedience (Exodus 34:4-28) and the tragic consequences of disobedience to the true and living God (Exodus 34:32).

You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but He was chosen by God for great honor. And you are living stones that God is building into His spiritual temple. What’s more, you are His holy priests . . .  for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9 (NLT)

The equivalent of the phrase “out of all nations . . . My treasured possessions” found at Exodus (19:5) is used of all true believers in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5, 9). With the coming of Jesus Christ, God has extended His plan to all true believers (see Romans 2:28-29; Galatians 3:6-9). Sincere believers in Jesus Christ are a “holy nation” and a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5, 9). The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ allow all people to now approach God freely (Hebrews 4:14-16; see also 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Hebrews 10:19-25). Because Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, is alive in heaven, interceding for believers, we believers can minister on earth as holy priests. Jesus Christ “gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14, NIV). The church is a nation of kings and priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9) called to glorify God.

Like the ancient Israelites, believers today must also have complete allegiance, obedience and trust in God as well as revealing God’s nature through their good deeds (Matthew 5:13-16). All believers must “get rid of all evil behavior” and “be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech” (1 Peter 2:1, NLT). True believers in Jesus Christ are called to obedient people of God living to make God known to the world through our holy lifestyles (1 Peter 1:14-15). For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 16, NLT).  As believers in Jesus Christ, we are cleansed from all unrighteousness through our faith and obedience in God (1 Peter 2:22; see also Romans 1:16-17; Romans 4:3). God’s good blessings cannot be obtained through magic and manipulation; instead, His blessings are free to those who lovingly obey and trust in Him.

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan, 1992.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why Is Exodus So Important?

The Old Testament book of Exodus is an essential and valuable resource for preaching, teaching, and counseling in the church and the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Few events in history have had such far-reaching effects as Israel’s redemption out of Egyptian slavery. Clearly the crimson thread of redemption is woven into the fabric of Exodus. The theme of redemption and salvation are expressed in both the Passover and in the crossing of the Red Sea. The Exodus event is at the very heart of the Old Testament and fundamental to God’s faithfulness and grace (Exodus 2:24; Exodus 3:6; Exodus 6:4–8; Exodus 15:13). The Exodus is to the Old Testament what Jesus Christ’s passion and work of redemption at Calvary’s Cross to the New Testament. In fact, Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery and bondage was one of the defining moments in world history. The Exodus became the standard for later instances in which God delivered His people, especially the deliverance by Jesus Christ from sin. In reading Exodus, anyone who has longed to be liberated from oppression, from emotional or psychological bondage, or from slavery to sin will recognize the power in Moses’ declaration, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord!” (Exodus 14:13).
Even more, the book of Exodus describes the meaning of a personal relationship with the one true and living God, how to establish a relationship with Him, and how to stay faithful in this relationship. The book of Exodus not only provides what is required in a faithful relationship with God, but also what God had graciously done to make that relationship possible. Exodus addresses our great needs: to be set free from slavery (Exodus 1 – 18), to know who God is and God’s character through the covenant at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19 – 24), and to experience God’s presence and fellowship through the Tabernacle (Exodus 25 –40).
To properly understand the book of Exodus, one will need to read the book of Genesis. The book of Exodus continues the story of God’s dealings with His people. The opening chapters of Genesis described a good world created by the true and living God (Genesis 1 – 2). From the very beginning of creation, God’s plan was to share His life with humans He created and to allow humans the joy of fellowship with Him. However, the world God created fell under a curse due to human disobedience and rebellion against God (Genesis 3). Progressively, humanity became deeply corrupted (Genesis 6:5). Death, violence, and confusion were rampant in the world (Genesis 4:8, 23-24; Genesis 11:9) as humans alienated and abandoned God. Yet, the true and living God established a plan to restore falling humanity with Abraham. In Genesis 12 – 50, God’s plan to restore falling humanity began to unfold. God graciously chose Abraham and his descendants to be in a special covenant relationship with Him, promising to make Abraham and his descendants into a prosperous nation through which the whole world would know God and God’s grace (Genesis 12:1-3). Abraham believed God’s promises despite the fact that his wife Sarah seemed hopelessly barren (Genesis 15:6; see also Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23), and God soon began to fulfill His promises (Genesis 21:1-7).
However as the book of Exodus begins, Abraham’s descendants were enslaved by the Egyptians. At this time, the Egyptians were a powerful and wealthy nation with great military power. Yet during the Egyptian enslavement, these descendants of Abraham had grown from seventy people to over two million (Exodus 1:1-7; see also Genesis 46:26-27; Exodus 12:37; Exodus 38:26; Numbers 1). The Israelites (also called “Hebrews” and later called “Jews”) were a large immigrant nation (see Genesis 46:3-4) and they filled the Egyptian lands (Exodus 1:7). God had promised Abraham that his descendants would multiply greatly, and they did (Genesis 12:2; Genesis 13:16; Genesis 15:5). How would a group of enslaved people ever fulfilled God’s promises to Abraham? Did God really care for Abraham’s descendants and if not, then the promises of Genesis were of no real value?
In answering those questions, the book Exodus provides a glorious and magnificent series of appearance of the true and living God. The goal of Exodus is to make known Yahweh — “the Lord” as El-Shaddai — “God Almighty” (Exodus 6:3) and the true nature and character of God. The true and living God is altogether different from “all other gods” (Exodus 18:11). The true and living God is Almighty (Exodus 5:1-2; Exodus 6:3), the greatest being in existence (Exodus 3:5-6, 14-15; Exodus 6:3), superior to all human kings who think of themselves as gods and to all the forces of nature. Yahweh is the one true God, He is Almighty – El Shaddai (see also Genesis 17:1; Genesis 28:3; Genesis 35:11; Genesis 43:14; Genesis 48:3) and He is also the Redeemer (Exodus 6:6; Exodus 15:13; see also Job 19:25; Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 59:20). The name Yahweh was known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but God’s name as the One who would redeem Israel from Egyptian bondage was not known until the Exodus (Exodus 6:5). Redemption means not only release from slavery and suffering but also deliverance to eternal freedom and joy.
In Exodus, we learn that God cares about His people, and He faithfully seeks to deliver His people from bondage and slavery. God had heard the groans of the Israelites and He also remembered His promises to Israel’s forefathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Israelites needed more than rescue from Egyptian slavery. They needed a way out of their sin and a way into an intimate fellowship with the true and living God. The people of Israel had spent some 400 years absorbing Egypt’s mistaken pagan beliefs. Egypt had many gods and goddess they worshipped. The Egyptians even considered Pharaoh to be sovereign and divine, able to do whatever he pleased. Yet, God showed the Israelites that this was not true. There is only one absolutely independent “I AM,” and that is Yahweh (see Exodus 3:6-14; Exodus 6:2-8; Exodus 20:2; Exodus 34:6-7). Now the Israelites would have to unlearn the Egyptian way of life: There were not many gods, only one God and He is Almighty. The true and living God redeemed Israel, God’s firstborn son, from Egyptian slavery so they could worship Him only as their God (Exodus 4:23; Exodus 5:3; Exodus 7:16; Exodus 8:1, 20, 26; Exodus 9:1, 13; Exodus 10:7, 24; Exodus 12:31). The true and living God is holy, deeply ethical in all of His relationships, zealously loyal to His people, and desiring to do good for them (Exodus 34:5-6).
In the plagues and the Red Sea crossing, the Israelites learned of God’s unique and mighty power over all nature and creation. The real purpose of the plagues and the Red Sea crossing was to make God known — to the Israelites, to the Egyptian, and to the world (Exodus 6:3, 7; Exodus 7:17; Exodus 8:10, 22; Exodus 9:14, 29; Exodus 10:2; Exodus 11:7; Exodus 14:4, 18). In fact, the arrival of Jesus Christ into the world was to make God known (John 17:3-4, 18). The plagues and the Red Sea crossing revealed the true and living God’s absolute power and supreme superiority over all creation and all other so-called gods. The true and living God demonstrated to both the Egyptians and the Israelites that He alone is God. Exodus shows a greater proportion of miracles – direct supernatural acts of God – than any other parts of the Holy Bible except the Gospels. In Exodus, God is presented in several important roles: (1) He controls history; (2) He is the great “I AM”; (3) He is a holy God; (4) He is the God who remembers and is always faithful; (5) He is the God who acts in salvation and in judgment; (5) He is the God who speaks; (6) God is transcendent (supreme); and (7) God desires a relationship with His people.
In the wilderness, the Israelites learned about God’s providential care and concern for their spiritual and physical needs (Exodus 15:22 – Exodus 18:27). God graciously provided the Israelites heavenly food – bread (called manna), meat to eat and water. Then, God brought the Israelites to the holy mountain, Mount Sinai to establish a covenant. This covenant was a contractual agreement or treaty between God and the Israelites. Another word for covenant is “testament”. Exodus 24 shows the covenant’s confirmation. The rest of the Old Testament builds upon what took place at Exodus 19 through 24 as God personally gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments and the case law or regulations that flow from the Commandments. The covenant presented at Mount Sinai (Sinai covenant) was designed to teach the Israelites about God’s holy nature and ethical character. God used the covenant (Exodus 19 – 24) to teach Israel who He is and what their relationship with Him should be like. In the Sinai covenant, God called the Israelites to absolute loyalty and allegiance to Him as the only God and also to an ethical lifestyle that reflected His will and nature as sovereign Creator. In many cultures, ethics and religion were largely unrelated. By contrast, most of the requirements of God’s covenant at Sinai have to do with ethics and religion. Those who are in a covenant relationship with God must treat one another ethically and be holy (see Exodus 19:5-6; Exodus 20:3-17). A person in a relationship with God must not only participate in proper worship (religion), but also treat others with fairness, justice, mercy, humbleness, kindness, forgiveness, and compassion. The key words of the covenant were if Israel will obey only then would God fulfill all the promises for protection and favor. Only as the Israelites obeyed God could they truly enjoy the privileges of being a kingdom of priests, God's special treasure and His holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6; see also 1 Peter 2:5, 9). The ultimate goal for all people is to reverential trust and respect God and obey God’s commandments, which Jesus Christ summarized as love for God and love for one another (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; see also Matthew 22:34-40). Amazingly, Jesus Christ is seen as the embodiment of the true Israel and God’s obedient firstborn Son. Jesus Christ fulfilled the Sinai covenant by living completely devoted, faithful, and obedient to God and God’s commandments.
God redeems and saves His people from slavery, including slavery to sin, and calls us into a life of holiness in order that we may have a living and intimate relationship with Him. The Tabernacle (Exodus 25–40) reveals God’s desire to live in His holy presence with His people without His people being destroyed by His holy nature (Exodus 40:34-38). For if sinful humans were to come into the presence of God, His holiness would destroy humans. The Tabernacle provided a temporary means by which the Israelites could enjoy God’s holy presence without being destroyed (Exodus 25:8). The Tabernacle shows us in tangible ways what is required to enter God’s presence. Our redemption or salvation is not merely the forgiveness of sins. God’s goal for us is that, having been delivered from the bondage of sin, we might live daily in the glory of His holy presence and reflect God’s holy and good character to the world. Reflecting God’s holy character thereby making God known to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

God’s Wilderness Training

So Moses cried out to the Lord for help . . . .  It was there at Marah that the Lord set before them (the Israelites) the following decree as a standard to test their faithfulness (commitment) to Him. He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, obeying His commands and keeping all His decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.” Exodus 15:25-26 (NLT)

Exodus 15:22 through Exodus 18:27 describe the Israelites training journey in the wilderness while traveling from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai. During their training journey, the Israelites (also called “Hebrews”) grumbled and complained whenever they faced a crisis or trouble (see Exodus 15:24; Exodus 16:2, 8; Exodus 17:3; Numbers 11:1; see also 1 Corinthians 10:10). First, the Israelites complained and grumbled that they did not have water (Exodus 15:22-24). The Israelites had just witnessed the greatest redemption and salvation of the Old Testament one month earlier (Exodus 16:1). The Israelite people had been delivered from Egyptian slavery by the mighty hand of God (Exodus 12). Even more, the Israelites visibly witnessed God’s parting of the Red Sea and God’s miraculous deliverance from their Egyptian enemies (Exodus 14). Despite their miraculous redemption and deliverance, the Israelites grumbled and did not trust God’s continued provision of their needs. Instead of trusting God, the Israelites complained and rebelled against God. Shockingly, the Israelites went from rejoicing just a month earlier (Exodus 15:1-21) to complaining against God (Exodus 15:22-24). It is easy to worship and rejoice before God when circumstances are good, but it takes faith and courage to worship and rejoice when suffering comes (Philippians 4:10–13). Besides, the Israelites’ real problem was unfaithfulness and lack of trust in God. God was teaching the Israelites in the wilderness that He was faithful and stand ready to provide for their needs (Deuteronomy 7:9; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13).

Nevertheless, Moses continued to trust God when there was no water. When faced with a crisis, Moses cried out to the Lord God in prayer (Exodus 15:25), and the Lord immediately provided a bountiful oasis of sweet water at Marah and again an oasis of water at Erim (Exodus 15:25, 27; see also 2 Kings 2:19-22). But before providing the Israelites water, the Lord God gave the people a training lesson. God set before the Israelites the following decree as a standard to test their wholehearted faithfulness to Him, shape their character, and build trust in Him (Exodus 15:25; see also Genesis 22:1; Exodus 20:20; Deuteronomy 8:2-3). The Lord God said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you” (Exodus 15:26, NIV). God promised that if the people wholeheartedly obeyed His moral laws and not rebel against His instructions, they would receive God’s healing, protection, and provision (see 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Psalms 40:6-8; Psalm 51:16-17; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8). If we want God to bless us, we must wholeheartedly OBEY AND TRUST GOD and submit to His guidelines for living. Yes, God’s blesses are conditional on our obedience and trust in Him! Moreover, there is a lesson to be learned here: we are to pray first rather than complain. Also note that God tested the Israelites but not tempted. God never tempts His people (James 1:13). Evil tempts people (1 Corinthians 7:5) in order to make people fall and turn from God. Yet, God tests His people in order to confirm their faith (Exodus 20:20) and commitment to Him (Deuteronomy 8:2).

Despite God’s first training session and the providing of water (Exodus 15:25-27), the people once again complained against God (Exodus 16:2, 8). Even worse, the Israelites wanted to return to Egyptian slavery rather than trust and follow God (Exodus 16:2-3). The Lord God heard the Israelites’ numerous complaints and ungratefulness (Exodus 16:8-9, 11-12). In spite of the Israelites complaining, God mercifully and graciously provided from heaven meat to eat and daily bread (Exodus 16:4-5, 8; see also Numbers 11:31-33; Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). God provided all the needed meat and bread for the people by raining down food from heaven (Exodus 16:4) so the people would know Him as Lord God (Exodus 16:12). Each day God provided the Israelites necessary food to eat to teach the Israelites to look Godward and God-dependent for their daily food. Moreover, the awesome glory of God appeared in the cloud to the Israelites by providing meat and bread from heaven (Exodus 16:7, 10; see also Exodus 24:15-17; Matthew 17:5).

Yet, God wanted the Israelites to follow and obey His guidelines and instructions for collecting the miraculous food from heaven (Exodus 16:4-5, 16, 27-28). God reminded the people He would provide daily food for living (see Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3) but God also wanted the people to obey His holy Sabbath day (Exodus 16:22, 26). The Sabbath day is a day of rest set apart and dedicated for worship to God (Exodus 16:23, 25). On the sixth day, God instructed the people to gather twice as much food so they could rest on the seventh day, the Sabbath (Exodus 16:5, 26, 29). Amazingly, God wanted the people to realize a holy Sabbath day of rest as the Sabbath day is God’s gift of rest (Exodus 16:29-30; see also Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:8-10). Worship, meditation, and physical rest from a busy work week would characterize the Sabbath day. Today, Christians rest on the first day of the week (Sunday) and then they go forth to serve the living God with the energy He supplies on that first day. If the people did not follow God’s instructions, the miraculous food would become inedible (Exodus 16:20).

The Israelites called the miraculous and unique food “manna,” which means “What is it?” (Exodus 16:15, 31). The Holy Scriptures described the manna as a white like coriander seed that tasted like honey wafers (Exodus 16:31). God wanted the people to preserve a portion of the manna in a special jar so future generation would know of God’s miraculous provision of food in the wilderness (Exodus 16:32-33; see also Psalm 78:24; Hebrews 9:4; Revelation 2:17). This manna was eventually placed in the Ark of the Covenant — in front of the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant (Exodus 16:34). The Israelites ate an abundance of manna for forty years, until they reached the Promised Land of Canaan (Exodus 16:35). The manna stopped at the time the Israelites celebrated their first Passover in Canaan (see Joshua 5:10-12). The manna was available to the Israelites no matter their location in their wilderness journey. God’s daily provision of food in the desert was one of the greatest signs that Israel’s God was the true God of heaven and earth.

In John 6:25-59, Jesus Christ compares Himself to manna. After miraculous feeding the five thousand, Jesus Christ called Himself “the true bread from heaven” (John 6:32), “the bread of God” (John 6:33), the “bread of life” (John 6:35, 48) and “the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51). Jesus Christ, as the bread of life (John 6:51), provides our daily spiritual nourishment that satisfies our deepest hunger. During the exodus, the life sustaining manna did not come from Moses but from Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our true daily bread that satisfies fully our entire physical, spiritual and eternal needs (John 6:35). Everyone who partakes and believes in Jesus Christ will find sustaining life (John 6:47-48, 51, 54-59). Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” and no one comes to the living God except through Him (John 14:6). In the book of Revelation, Jesus Christ promises to provide the faithful believer the hidden manna from heaven (Revelation 2:17).

Next, the Israelites camped at Rephidim and there was once again no water to drink. As before, the Israelites continued to sin against God by complaining and rebelling against God instead of turning to the living God in prayer and trust (Exodus 17:1-3; see Exodus 15:24). As before, Moses cried out to God in prayer and God answered Moses (Exodus 17:4). For years, Moses patiently put up with the Israelites’ grumbling and complaining. Instead of lashing out at the people, Moses patiently interceded with God time and again for Israel, pleading for God to have mercy on His people. Graciously and despite the Israelites’ grumbling, God miraculous provided water from the rock for the people (Exodus 17:5-7). God commanded Moses to strike the rock; and the rock gave forth water (Exodus 17:5-6). Moses called that place “Massah” and “Meribah” because the Israelites quarreled and tested God by saying “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7, NIV). This miraculous providing of water from a rock was celebrated by the psalmist and prophets (see Psalm 78:15-16, 20; Psalm 105:40-41; Psalm 114:8; Isaiah 48:21). In 1 Corinthians 10:4, the Apostle Paul points out that the smitten rock represented Jesus Christ. The rock pictures Jesus Christ who was smitten for us (1 Corinthians 10:4) that we might have life-giving water of the Holy Spirit within us (John 7:37–39). The manna (spiritual food) and the water (spiritual drink) were used by Apostle Paul as figures representing the spiritual nourishment that God continually provides for His people through Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:3-4). Jesus Christ is bread of life and the water of life (John 4:14; John 6:30-35).

While the Israelites were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them (Exodus 17:8). The Amalekites were descendants of Esau – the Edomites (Genesis 36:1, 12, 16) and were long-standing enemies of Israel (Genesis 14:7; Numbers 14:43, 45; Deuteronomy 25:17-19; 1 Samuel 15:2–3). Then, God showed the Israelites once again He would fight against their enemies (Exodus 17:8-15). The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim (Exodus 17:8). But, the Amalekites were fighting the wrong group — people led by God. In this battle with the Amalekites, we are first introduced to Joshua. “Joshua” means “The Lord saves.” The Greek form of the name Joshua is the same as that of the name Jesus. Later, Joshua would become the great leader that brought the Israelites into God’s Promised Land. Moses instructed Joshua to choose some mighty men to fight against the Amalekites while he stood on top of the hill with the staff of God in his hands (Exodus 17:9). Joshua followed Moses’ instruction (Exodus 17:10). Joshua and the Israelites fought the Amalekites while Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill seeking God’s help for victory (Exodus 17:10). Joshua led Israel to victory as Moses interceded in their behalf in prayer. As long as Moses lifted up his hands to the throne of God, the Israelites were winning, but whenever Moses lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning (Exodus 17:11, 16). Aaron and Hur stood by Moses’ side and held up Moses’ hands toward God (Exodus 17:10-13). Hands held upward toward heaven is a symbol of appeal to God for help and empowerment (Exodus 9:22, 29; Exodus 10:12; Exodus 14:16; Exodus 17:11; see also 1 Kings 8:22, 38, 54; Ezra 9:5; Psalm 88:9; Psalm 143:6). The Israelites defeated the Amalekite army with the sword (Exodus 17:13) at Rephidim. Moses built an altar and called the altar “The Lord is my Banner” or “Jehovah-Nissi” (Exodus 17:15). This Banner recalled Moses prayer with upraised hands to God (Exodus 17:11-12, 16) and testified to God’s power displayed in the defense of His people in battle. As Christians when we face the battles of life, we are also to remember that God is our Banner and He gives us our victory (John 16:33; 1 John 5:4–5). The battle against the Amalekites was not won by Israel’s smarts or might but by God’s strength.

God’s mighty and miraculous deliverance of the Israelites against the Egyptians had spread to neighboring nations. Jethro, a priest of Midian and father-in-law to Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and the Israelites, and how God redeemed Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 18:1). Moreover, Moses told Jethro about all the hardships and struggles the Israelites had experienced along the way and how God faithfully rescued His people from all their troubles (Exodus 18:8). Jethro was also called “Reuel”, which means “friend of God” (Exodus 2:18) and he was a non-Israelite (Exodus 2:16). Jethro was delighted when he heard about all the good and miraculous things God had done for Israel as He saved and rescued the Israelites from the Egyptian slavery (Exodus 18:9). Even more, Jethro worshipped and praised Almighty God (El Shaddai) for Israel’s deliverance from the powerful hand of Egypt (Exodus 6:2-3; Exodus 18:10, 12) and acknowledged that the Lord God (Yahweh) is “greater than all other gods” (Exodus 18:11). Like Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-24), Jethro was a Gentile priest (Exodus 2:16) whose worship indicated that he knew the true and living God. Exodus 18:7-12 with Jethro provides a striking example of how the God of Israel revealed Himself as the true and living God not only to Israel but also to non-Israelites (see also Joshua 2:9-11 as to Rahab; Joshua 9:9-10 as to the Gibeonites). God not only loves Israel but He also loves the world (John 3:16). Even though God chose Israel, He has love and concern for all people of the world.

The next day, Moses took his seat to hear the people’s disputes against each other from morning till evening (Exodus 18:13). Jethro saw that Moses was wearing himself out serving the people as leader and resolving the people’s disputes (Exodus 18:14, 17-18). Moses was trying to do all the work himself, and he was not making a distinction between major matters and minor problems. This work load was not good for Moses as his job was too heavy a burden alone (Exodus 18:17, 19). The method used by Moses was inefficient and physically impossible. Moses was a great man, but he could not do the work alone. Jethro suggested a simple, but wise solution to Moses. Jethro advised Moses to share and delegate some of his responsibilities in leading the Israelites and resolving the Israelites’ disputes (Exodus 18:19-20). Jethro advised Moses to teach the people God’s decrees and laws on how to conduct themselves before God and according to God’s will (Exodus 18:15-16, 20). Moreover, Jethro advised Moses to select some capable, honest and trustworthy men who reverentially trusted God and hated dishonest gain (not covetousness) and appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten (Exodus 18:21-22, 26; see also Acts 6:3). These leaders would help carry Moses’s work load and Israelites leaders would always be available to solve the people’s common and minor disputes, while reserving the major and difficult cases for Moses (Exodus 18:22, 26). Note that Jethro expected Moses to seek God’s will first in the matter (Exodus 18:23). What seems like good counsel from people might be bad counsel in God’s sight, so we must always seek God’s directions first. Jethro’s intervention and assistance to Moses literally made the difference between Israel’s life and death. This Midian priest not only helped Moses care for his family but also wisely advised Israel’s greatest prophet in properly leading God’s people (see also Exodus 18:2-6, 18). Note that Jethro’s advice did not suggest that Moses abandon his responsibility as intermediary between Israel and God nor shun his role as the only source of legislative power and the origin of judicial authority (Exodus 18:20). Instead, Jethro advised Moses to teach the people the laws and to delegate the lighter cases to morally qualified men (Exodus 18:21-22 see also 1 Timothy 3:1–3). In difficult and major cases, Moses laid the matter before God Himself (see Numbers 27:5–11). These are important principles of leadership.

Fools reject their parents’ correction, but anyone who accepts correction is wise. Proverbs 15:5 (NCV)

Amazingly, although Moses was a leader and great prophet (Deuteronomy 34:10), Moses humbly respected and followed Jethro’s wise advice (Exodus 18:7, 24; Proverbs 15:5). Exodus 18:13-27 reveals a lot about Moses’ character and personality. It would have been easy for Moses to become defensive when Jethro offered advice. But instead, Moses showed Jethro respect. Moses humbly listened and responded willingly to Jethro’s advice (see Numbers 12:3). God also wants His people to be humble and obedient people with a teachable spirit and demeanor and not rebellious and prideful people (see Genesis 26:5; 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Psalms 40:6-8; Psalm 51:16-17; Psalm 119; Proverbs 12:15; Proverbs 13:10; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8). The Holy Scriptures repeatedly teaches that God dislikes pride, disobedience, and rebellion spirits but give His grace to the humble (see also Proverbs 8:13; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).

Believer’s Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995.
KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
Word in Life Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren. With the Word Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1991.