Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Putting God First!

The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” Exodus 32:7-8 (NLT)

After God had made a formal covenant (contract) with Israel at Mount Sinai, Moses went to the top of Mount Sinai to receive from God instructions for building the Tabernacle (Exodus 24:18) and the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 9:7-11). Moses was on top of Mount Sinai forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18–31:18; Deuteronomy 9:11). The final chapters of Exodus are primarily devoted to the Tabernacle. Exodus chapters 25 through 31 record God's detailed directions for building the Tabernacle and Exodus chapters 35 through 39 tell how the Israelites carried out God’s instructions to build the Tabernacle. God appointed Bezalel and Oholiab with Spirit-filled abilities in artistic craftsmanship to carry out the construction of the Tabernacle and the Tabernacles’ furnishings (Exodus 31:1-11; see also Judges 6:34 and 1 Samuel 10:10). The Israelites were instructed by God to build the Tabernacle and its furnishings precisely according to the pattern He revealed to Moses on top of Mount Sinai (Exodus 25:8-9, 40; Exodus 26:30; Exodus 27:8).

The Tabernacle (also called the “Tent of Meeting”) was the sanctuary or place where God dwelt with His people on earth and was a holy place (consecrated and set-apart for God) (Exodus 25:8; Exodus 29:45-46; Leviticus 26:11; see also Ezekiel 37:27; Revelation 21:3). The portable nature of the Tabernacle revealed God's desire to continually dwell and protect His people. God is not an absentee landlord but a resident Landlord that wants to constantly dwell with His people. At the Tabernacle, the Israelites made sacrifices to God. Sacrifices were the only means the people could come to God and the only means whereby the people could be forgiven of their sins. Once a year, the high priest would enter into the Most Holy Place, the innermost room of the Tabernacle, to make a sacrifice for the sins of all the Israelites. This once-a-year ceremony was called the Day of Atonement (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:34).

“Call for your brother, Aaron, and his sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. Set them apart from the rest of the people of Israel so they may minister to Me and be My priests.” Exodus 28:1 (NLT)

Exodus chapters 28 and 29 describe the roles of the priests. The priests were ministers that oversaw the operations of the Tabernacle, helped the people maintain their relationship with God, and read the Law of Moses to the people (Exodus 28:1; Deuteronomy 31:9-13; Malachi 2:5-9). These priests were from the tribe of Levi and descendant of Aaron, Israel's first high priest. The priests performed the daily sacrifices, maintained the Tabernacle, and directed the people on how to follow God. In essences, the priests were the people's representatives before God and thus were required to live worthy of their office. Originally, God had intended for the nation of Israel, as His chosen people, to be a “kingdom of priests” and a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6). The Israelites as a nation and individually were to deal directly with God. However, the Israelites continually sinned and rebelled against God. So, God appointed priests from the tribe of Levi and set up the system of sacrifices to help the people approach Him.

The description of the Tabernacle and offerings made at the Tabernacle take up much of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. There are fifty chapters in the Holy Scriptures devoted to the Tabernacle: thirteen in Exodus; eighteen in Leviticus; thirteen in Numbers; two in Deuteronomy; and four in Hebrews. The Tabernacle was a beautiful and holy structure made of gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet thread; fine linen; and acacia wood (Exodus 25:3-4). These precious items were given willingly given by the Israelites to the Lord God as sacred offerings to build the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:1-7; Exodus 36:5-7). The Tabernacle represented God’s royal tent. The form and adornment of the Tabernacle was a symbolic representation of the created cosmos and similar to the Garden of Eden – Paradise (see Genesis 3:24; Revelation 21:1-22:6). At the Tabernacle, God “lived” among His people (Immanuel, “God with us”) and His people could come near to Him.

In Exodus, there is an overwhelming emphasis on the holiness of God. The priests, the clothes, the Tabernacle, and the sacrifice had to be clean and consecrated (sanctified and set apart) before meeting God (Exodus 19:14; Exodus 29:4; Exodus 30:17-21). The washing with water symbolized the removal of ceremonial uncleanness and thus signifying purity (see Matthew 28:19; Hebrews 10:22). Indeed, the almighty Creator and Sustainer of the universe deserve our holiness, reverence and repentance as we approach Him. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we have been “sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22, NLT). Cleanliness is next to godliness!  

In the Tabernacle were the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:31-35; Hebrews 9:1-5). The Holy Place and the Most Holy Place were separated by a curtain or the “shielding curtain”. The Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies, formed a perfect cube (15 feet by 15 feet by 15 feet) and was enclosed with “shielding curtain.” This curtain was embroidered with cherubim (angels). The Most Holy Place contained only the Ark of Covenant, which held the Ten Commandments, a pot of manna (miracle food), and Aaron's rod (Hebrews 9:4). The Ark of the Covenant represented the throne of God, the Most Holy Place was God’s throne room, and the Holy Place represented God’s royal guest chamber. The priest entered the Holy Place each day to commune with God and to tend to the altar of incense, the lampstand, and the table with the bread of the Presence. The Most Holy Place was where God Himself dwelt, His presence resting on the atonement cover, which covered the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 26:31-33). Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place once a year on the Day of Atonement to make atonement for the sins of all the people.

When Jesus Christ died on the Cross, the shielding curtain in the Temple (which had replaced the Tabernacle) was torn from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). This tearing of the curtain symbolized our free (direct) access to God because of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death (Hebrews 6:19-20; Hebrews 10:19-22). Jesus Christ has entered heaven itself for us so that we too may now enter God’s presence (see Hebrews 9:8-10, 12; Hebrews 10:19-20). No longer are people required to approach the true and living God through priests and sacrifices. In Hebrews 10:1-18, Jesus Christ is portrayed as the ultimate and final sacrifice for humanities’ sins. The New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ came to offer His body on the Cross as a living and final sacrifice for sin. Jesus Christ shed His innocent blood as a final sacrifice and an atonement to God (see Romans 3:25; Hebrews 9:12; 1 John 2:2). Because of Jesus Christ, sacrifices are no longer needed (Hebrews 10:11-12). Jesus Christ's sacrificial death effectively cleansed us from all sins through faith and obedience to Him. Therefore, daily sacrifices are no longer required because Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself on the Cross as the final sin offering. Essentially, the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 by the Romans ended the Jewish sacrificial system.

Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make His people holy by means of His own blood. . . .  Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to His Name. And do not forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. Hebrews 13:11-12, 15-16 (NLT)

Today, the only sacrifice required is faith, love, and obedience to God (see Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 5:6, 14; Hebrews 10:5-10; Hebrews 13:15-16). Faith is not merely an intellectual but a living trust and devotion to God that expresses itself in acts of love, goodness and kindness to others (see 1 Thessalonians 1:3; James 1:27; James 2:18-19). Doing to others what you would have them do to you expresses the spirit and intent of the “Law and the Prophets” (see Matthew 5:14-17; Matthew 7:12; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:8-10). Previously, the Israelites offered sacrifices to God according to the Law found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. However, the Israelites’ sacrifices to God became empty, meaningless, and half-hearted (see Isaiah 1:11-17). Although the Israelites made many sacrifices to God, they failed to obey God from their hearts and obey His moral ways (see Psalm 40:6-8; Micah 6:6-8; Hosea 6:6; Isaiah 1:11-15; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7; Mark 12:33). Sacrifice apart from faithfulness and wholehearted obedience to God’s will (e.g., mercy, truth, forgiveness, love, goodness, justice and humility) is wholly unacceptable to Him (see also 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Amos 5:21-24). The moral character and conduct of the worshipers are far more important to God than the number of their religious activities and sacrifices (see Isaiah 1:16-17; Jeremiah 7:22-23). As we humbly and wholehearted live like Jesus Christ (God’s Son), we obey God’s moral laws. God's new and living way for us to please Him is by coming to His Son Jesus Christ in faith and following Him in loving obedience (Psalm 23:3; John 10:11, 27). Through Jesus Christ, we fulfill God’s moral law as we let Him live within our hearts by His Spirit. 

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is described is Tabernacle. In describing the incarnation of Jesus Christ, Gospel writer John uses the word for dwelt, which has the idea of Tabernacle or Tent (John 1:14). Also, the book of Hebrews recognizes Jesus Christ’s connection to the Tabernacle (see Hebrews 9:1–24). Just as God dwelt with the Israelites in the Tabernacle, so Jesus Christ also dwelt in a human body as the New Testament “Tabernacle.” Jesus Christ is the perfect approach to God, who “tabernacled” or “dwelt” among people (John 1:14; Hebrews 10:19-20). Moreover, Jesus Christ is described as the Great High Priest and He has made the old sacrificial system obsolete (see Hebrews 9:11-28, particularly verses 11 and 26). Having finished the work as the Great High Priest once and for all, Jesus Christ sat down at the right hand of God the Father (Hebrews 10:11-14).

So he (Moses) stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him. . . . The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up to the Lord on the mountain. Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness (to make atonement) for your sin.” So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed. They have made gods of gold for themselves. But now, if You will only forgive their sin — but if not, erase my name from the record You have written!” But the Lord replied to Moses, “No, I will erase the name of everyone who has sinned against Me. Now go, lead the people to the place I told you about. Look! My angel will lead the way before you. And when I come to call the people to account, I will certainly hold them responsible for their sins.” Exodus 32:26, 30-34 (NLT)

While Moses was receiving instructions from God on building the Tabernacle (Exodus 24:18–32:15), the Israelites were at the foot of the mount growing restless and impatient (Exodus 32:1). The Israelites thought God and Moses had abandoned them in the wilderness to die even though they had visible seen God and His glory in action (Exodus 32:2). So, the people decided to forsake the true and living God and build their own gods in their personal liking to worship. The Egyptians and the Canaanites worshipped a bull and a heifer. So, the Israelites created a golden calf to represent their god (Exodus 32:3-4; see also 1 Kings 12:28-29). The gold probably came from part of the plunder brought from Egypt (see Exodus 3:21-22; Exodus 11:2-3; Exodus 12:35-36).

However, the people quickly forgot God’s gracious actions of delivering them from slavery and bondage (Exodus 20:2). Despite God’s grace and faithfulness, Israel broke their promise and wholehearted commitment to Him (see Exodus 19:8; Exodus 24:7). God had warned the people repeatedly to worship and serve Him alone as Israel’s only true God (see Exodus 20:5; Exodus 23:13, 24). Yet, the Israelites did not live by faith in God. Instead, the people violated God’s specific commandments recently given them:

“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 bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a Jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.” Exodus 20:2-5 (NLT)

The people persuaded Aaron, Moses’ brother and second in command, to make an unholy image and Aaron sinfully submitted to the people’s demands (Exodus 32:2-4; see also Exodus 6:20; Exodus 24:14). Aaron was a great communicator, public speaker and Moses’ mouthpiece (Exodus 4:14). Although Aaron was a great communicator, he was not as effective leader as Moses. Aaron’s major failure was his weakness of yielding to public pressure (Exodus 32:2-4). Instead of standing firm for God while Moses spoke with God on top of Mount Sinai, Aaron yield to the people’s desire for an idol. In essence, Aaron had no backbone to stand against the people’s blatant betrayal and idolatry! Even worse, Aaron took the rebellion a step further by proposing a syncretistic worship of the golden calf and God (Exodus 32:5). After building the calf, the next morning the people sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings (Exodus 32:6) and celebrated with feasting, drinking, and pagan partying (Exodus 32:6; see also 1 Corinthians 10:7). The people were running wild and completely out of control (Exodus 32:25). Disorder and chaos reign among people who refuse to obey and worship God.

God saw the evil and corruption committed by the people and told Moses to quickly return to the people at the foot of the mountain (Exodus 32:7-8; see also Genesis 6:11-13). As an all-knowing and all seeing God, He witnessed the stubbornness, rebellion and idolatry of the people and wanted to destroy the Israelites and make Moses into a great nation (Exodus 32:7-10). God witnessed the Israelites’ blatant disobedience and rebellion from heaven and He wanted to transfer to Moses the pledge originally given to Abraham (see Genesis 12:2). The Israelites had violated God’s commandments in their actions and hearts.

However, Moses interceded for the Israelites. Moses pleaded for God’s mercy and forgiveness toward Israel (Exodus 32:11-13, 30; see also Luke 23:34; Romans 9:1–4). Moses asked God to remember His great promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel with whom He had promised to multiply their seed as the stars of heaven (Exodus 32:13; see also Genesis 12:7; Genesis 15:5; Genesis 22:16-17). So, God graciously relented and changed His mind about the terrible disaster He had threatened to bring on His people (Exodus 32:14). Although God is merciful but He is also just (fair) and will not allow sin to go unpunished. The people had been repeatedly warned against idolatry and yet they willfully disobeyed God. “Then the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made” (Exodus 32:35).

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan, 1992.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren. With the Word Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1991.

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