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giver

Today I am looking at Exodus 35:1-19.  The passage begins where the sin of idolatry caused Israel and God to leave off.  All has been reconciled between God’s people, Moses, and God after their sin and it’s time to go back to the place where progress stopped.  These are the things God was about to have the people do when he found them worshiping the golden calf.

The very first thing he instructs is a Sabbath rest.  The very first instruction is for the people to imitate God and rest once per week.  God is essentially saying, first and foremost, trust me.  You have to trust me.  If you don’t trust me first, you won’t succeed in anything you do.  If you can’t trust me to provide for you every single day of your life – and prove it by ceasing to work one day in every work week – you can’t live at all.  Death was the penalty for breaking the Sabbath.  Death!  The very first thing God tells his people to do is trust him to give to and provide for them and the penalty for disobeying is death.  Kinda gives you a fresh perspective on how God expects us to trust him, huh?  Likewise, works religion leads to nothing but spiritual death.  The punishment for self-sufficiency in religion is spiritual death, and, eventually if not repented of, eternal death.  We must rest only in Christ and his finished work on the cross and trust him alone.

The second thing God instructs is for the people to give back to him.  That’s how it works.  God gives and provides all we need, and then expects a return.  He does not obligate or mandate the return or how much.  He simply asks for a voluntary return of gifts to be given to his house for the benefit of his people.  When we give to the good and betterment of others, God considers it giving to him.  What a generous God!

So God says, trust me to give to you and give back to each other for my glory and the building of my house.  Those are among the first instructions Almighty God gave to his people after he delivered them from oppression and slavery.  Consider that in light of the fact that each one of us is delivered from the oppression and slavery of sin.  Trusting God’s provision and giving back to him are priorities in every saved sinner’s life.

There were primarily two ways to give back to God in the building of his house.  The first was to give of their goods and the other was to give of their skills.  Those who gave of their goods were called “willing” or “generous” and those who gave of their talents were called “skilled” or “wise-hearted.”

God loves a cheerful giver.  Everyone who was able to give anything to the betterment and building of the tabernacle was called by God and Moses to give for the good of others and the glory of God.  God made it voluntary, not mandatory that the people might judge for themselves what was right to give to God.  God, in his infinite wisdom, made it less about how much we give and more about how willing our heart is to give.

I just love what Matthew Henry says:  “Those that were rich must bring in materials to work on; those that were ingenious must serve the tabernacle with their ingenuity; as they needed one another, so the tabernacle needed them both.  The work was likely to go on when some helped with their purses, others with their hands, and both with a willing heart.”  

Amen!  And that is how the church is supposed to work!  Now, I am going to do something I generally never do.  I am going to tell you a story about a man I know who embodies the truth of this passage.

My husband and I have been away on vacation over the past week.  We are in the Bahamas and we have explored the island of Nassau.  Not only has Tim given of himself and his hard-earned money so generously to bring me here, but I have watched his incredible generosity toward the local people here.  It’s not because he has money to throw away.  It’s because he has compassion for people who have less than.  He gives the vendors more than they ask for when selling their goods while most people bargain them down to the lowest dollar.  He gives people more than they expect and this is his character trait, not a one-time vacation fluke.  This is Tim, every single day.  He uses his craft to glorify God with his skills and talents.  He works hard and treats people fairly when doing a service for them.  He gives generously out of his heart a good return to the Lord’s work and the building of God’s Kingdom.  He is the same every day in the area of giving and he always thanks God for his amazing provision for our family.  The text calls a man who can work skillfully with his hands “wise-hearted.”  If I have ever known anyone who embodies this description, it is my husband.  I am so thankful that God has provided this wise-hearted, always willing to give generously to others, Christian man for me.  What a blessing he is!  Surely this is how God has instructed men to behave in the area of giving.

This is how God gives to us – more than we deserve, expect, or imagine.  He lavishes us with his love.  What a great God!  Give back to him.  He is worthy.

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mosesfacemountain-632

When the Lord was finished giving instruction to Moses and rewriting the Ten Commandments on the second set of tablets, Moses came back down the mountain to the people.  Last time, Moses found them in deliberate, devastating sin.  This time, they are awaiting his arrival in faith.  When Moses shows up, though, they are afraid because his face is supernaturally shining with God’s glory.

Isn’t it funny how when we are in the most danger and disobedience, we fear not the God against whom we are sinning, but when we are in a repentant and expectant posture we recognize our great need of mercy?  It seems just the opposite of what ought to be, but, no.  The more we know God and his holiness, the more we know ourselves and our unholiness.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Moses’ face was gleaming with God’s glory when he came down the mountain.  Likewise, perhaps not physically visible as Moses’s radiance, yet still recognizable, there is a certain countenance God puts on us when we have spent considerable time with Him in earnest.  Matthew Henry says, “Serious godliness puts a lustre upon a man’s countenance such as commands esteem and affection.” There is a noticeable difference between the face of man and the face of a man who knows God intimately.

Interestingly, Moses did not know his face was shining.  The most humble men are often the most used of God.  Sometimes, those who are least apt to think God is pleased with them are most recognized by others as great instruments of grace.  Conversely, those most confident in their own abilities and talents are often dismissed by their own pride and most unfit for use in the kingdom.  We ought not know our own excellence, or if we know it, cover it with a humble and gentle spirit of modesty.

Even though the people have been waiting patiently upon Moses’ return down from the mountain – the very thing that grieved them and was the source of their complaints and idolatry last time he went up – they are not excited and jubilant when Moses returns.  They are afraid because of his radiant face.  They are afraid to even come close to Moses.  Remember, last time Moses came down, he found them in their sin.  Seeing Moses’ face shine supernaturally insites guilt and fear of judgement for the guilty.  In the same way, many people today are anything but excited to hear about what God said in His Word or what we experience while in His presence because seeing someone who is the real deal makes them overwhelmingly conscious of their own guilt and quite fearful.  Henry says, “Holiness will command reverence; but the sense of sin makes men afraid of their friends, and even of that which really is a favor to them…for the most sensible proofs will not of themselves conquer an obstinate infidelity.”

After giving the people God’s laws and commands, Moses covers his shining face with a veil.  Apparently this was not to ease their fear, since he waits until after he calls them near and explains all God’s orders to them.  This was to keep the people from seeing the glory fade away.  Until Christ came and the gospel was revealed, God’s people saw but shadows of the fullness of Christ; the gospel was, as it was, veiled and concealed in the Old Covenant, fading and coming to an end, making way for the Living Word, that is, Jesus Christ.

Everytime Moses went back to speak with God outside the camp after this event, he took the veil off.  When he came out, his face shone bright again and slowly faded.  He kept the veil on among the people, but never with God.  All is laid bare in the presence of God and there is no hiding our face.  We who see God’s glory through our belief in the gospel have what the apostle Paul calls, “unveiled faces.”  Just as Moses saw God and knew him intimately, so do we who are in Christ.  Amen!

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forgiveness-and-reconciliation

In Exodus 34:10-28. God and his people are reconciled.  Peace has been made after their sin.  God has not only forgiven them, but poured his love, mercy, and affections upon them saying, “…Behold, I am making a covenant.  Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation.  And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.” ~Exodus 34:10

Not only is God making a covenant with these newly restored people, he is sacrificing other groups for their advancement.  He has again made them the very apples of his eye.

We know this because God promises to drive out all of those living in the land they are about to inhabit.  He specifically instructs them to tear down their false gods and refrain from making friends of those who worship other gods.  He reminds them – doubtless due to their most recent failures – “for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God,” and “You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal.” ~Exodus 34:14,17  Matthew Henry says, “Those cannot worship God aright who do not worship him alone…That they might not be tempted to worship other gods, they must not join in affinity or friendship with those that did….such is the corruption of nature that the bad are much more likely to debauch the good than the good to reform the bad.” 

God very specifically tells his people not to intermarry with idolaters.  The reason is that their covenant is with Him and not to be exchanged for alliances with them.  Let us remember these words anytime we are among unbelievers.

Next, God commands His people to keep feasts of remembrance, make sacrifices to him, honor the Sabbath, and come before him regularly three times per year. The reason for these feasts was to remind the people of God’s provision, to remind them to give their best to God, and to remind them to rest, obey, honor and remember Him as their only true God.

In verses 21-24, we find God all but saying, “Remember me.  Remember me.  Remember me.”  In verse 25 – Remember my provision (the manna in the desert), remember my salvation (the Passover), and in verse 26 – remember not to worship idols (The boiling of a calf in its mother’s milk was a pagan ritual and superstition.) Remember me; remember me; no idols.  Remember me; remember me; remember me.  Remember me; remember me; no idols.

Finally, he tells Moses to write it down for them.  Moses fasted forty days and forty nights and rewrote the Ten Commandments on the tablets.  How utterly amazing.  Our God is a God of reconciliation.  He is a jealous God and will stop at nothing to eradicate idols and idolatry from our lives.  He makes his people remember him that we might not sin against him.  Amen.

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newstart

Chapter 34 begins with God’s mercy and grace on display.  He tells Moses that he will once again write on tablets and give the people His law.  Moses had broken the first tablets out of righteous anger at the people for their sin with the idolatrous golden calf.  But Moses interceded in prayer for them and forfeited personal advancement for the sake of these rebellious people.  Moses was a good leader who cared for his friends. Though there was discipline for their disobedience and not all of them escaped death because of their sin, God heard Moses’ prayer and honored it.  A remnant of God’s people were saved and received mercy because of Moses’ and God’s love for them.

The first thing I thought of when I read chapter 34 was how apart from chapter 33, we wouldn’t have a chapter 34.  In other words, Apart from God’s discipline for their sin, their leader’s earnest prayer and intercession for them, and the people’s genuine repentance, they would have had no opportunity for true reconciliation with God.  They would have had no new tablets; no second chance; no new start.  The guys who are left here as the remnant receiving grace are the guys who raised their hand in chapter 33:26 when Moses asked, “Who is on the Lord’s side?  Come to me,”  and subsequently had to execute judgment on all those who didn’t raise their hand – all the men who just so happened to be their own brothers, sons, and family members.

Matthew Henry writes an excellent summary of this event saying, “The treaty that was on foot between God and Israel being broken off abruptly, by their worshiping the golden calf, when peace was made all must be begun anew, not where they left off, but from the beginning.  Thus backsliders must repent, and do their first works, Revelation 2:5.”

All must be begun anew, not where they left off, but from the beginning.  In other words, anytime we sin, we cannot just expect time and inertia to excuse it and go on as if we did not commit treason against Almighty God and our brothers and sisters.  Many in the church adhere to this damning false doctrine.  We cannot ever just pretend that what we did to injure others and dishonor God didn’t happen or doesn’t need our full attendance and genuine repentance, both of which we are responsible to carry out to the very best of our ability.  We cannot just pick up where we left off with God or others after we sin.  We must not only stop sinning, but we must also humble ourselves and apologize to God and others, take full responsibility for what we have done, and make true reconciliation possible.

The people of Israel showed evidence of their repentance by obeying God, waiting on their intercessor in watchful diligence while he prayed outside the camp for them, and by worshiping while they waited.  All this happened in chapter 33.  Without these proofs of genuine repentance, there would be no chapter 34 – no true reconciliation between they and God and their good leader.  Neither will there be any new starts in our lives if we will not obey our intercessor, Christ, worship him only, and earnestly facilitate and desire true reconciliation after a fault.  If we will not do these things, we cannot move forward after sin.  We are stuck where we are in the wilderness until we repent with all seriousness and are willing to do whatever it takes to make things right with God and others.

So, Moses had to cut out the tablets this time, but God was giving the words.  God said, “I will write on the tablets…” but later we find Moses being called to physically record his words.  This is how the entirety of God’s Word is written.

Moses had to prepare himself and the tablets and go back up to Mt. Sinai to meet with God.  No one – not even an animal – was permitted to be anywhere opposite of the mountain where they met.  Notice how the things that they had complained and whined about before they sinned are the very things God tests them in before they move forward.  Firstly, they had to wait the same length of time they had complained about saying, “We don’t know what has become of him…” while Moses was up on the mountain getting the tablets (40 days).  God did not shorten the time to appease them or make it easier to obey the second time around.  Nor did he let them watch while they waited (they had to stay on the opposite side of the mountain) so they might “know what has become of him” this time.  They hadn’t seen before and they weren’t permitted to see now.  God was testing their faith in his display of extreme grace and mercy toward them in this second chance of sorts.

In verses 6-7, God expounds upon who He truly is.  He had already told them through the prophet who they were – stiff-necked, stubborn, sinful rebels with whom God is justly angry.  But now, in his great, inexplicable mercy, he tells Moses who HE is:

“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7

Moses agrees about who the people are in verse 8 and asks for mercy.  God gives it.

Many wrongly believe that in the Old Testament God is a different God – a God of wrath – than the God they see in the New Testament – a God of mercy.  The truth is that God is both, always.  He is just and merciful and he carries out one or the other dependant on his own choosing and sovereign will at all times in both Old and New testaments.

Here, we find that even in the very giving of the law itself, extreme grace and mercy are being displayed.  Firstly, the very giving of the law to men is grace.  The law shows us our sin that we might avoid the judgment of breaking it.  That’s grace!  Think of a government who didn’t tell you what was illegal but charged and arrested you when you broke the law!  Not so with God.  These people had repeatedly been told what God expected through their prophet Moses, it had been written down, and they had publicly agreed to keep it all the way back in chapter 24!

Secondly, when they deliberately disobeyed God, broke the promises they had made to obey, and worshiped a different false god of their own making, God gives them a good leader’s love, intercession, and earnest care to save them from the punishment they rightly deserve!  Not only that, he gives them the gift of repentance, forgives them, and gives them a brand new start!  What an amazing, merciful, grace-filled God!!!  And that’s the Old testament, folks!

If this is beginning to sound like the gospel, that’s because it is!!!  God has always be merciful and longsuffering toward a remnant of people whom he has chosen and saved through an intercessor.  If you are part of that group, thank him for not giving you what you deserve today!

 

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presence

After the people’s sin with the golden calf and the subsequent judgements, Moses, being the good leader that he is, spends all his efforts on prayer and intercession seeking to make reconciliation for God’s people.  Moses is not moving until he knows God is coming with Him/them.  He cannot be satisfied just by arbitrarily moving on, marching aimlessly as the accepted leader of a motley crue who have no idea where they are going or who is in front of them.  No.  Moses is bent on God’s favor, and, if we study enough, we will find out why we must be as well.

  Listen to his plea to God and God’s response:

“Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.  Consider too that this nation is your people.”  And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” ~Exodus 33:13-14

In Exodus 33:13, we find that Moses’ ultimate goal is for God to be pleased with him.  Moses’ secondary goal is that God would remember His people and have mercy on them.  In verse 14, we find that God has comfort and assurance for Moses.  He says, here is what you need, Moses: me and rest.  Me and rest.  God’s presence; God’s rest.  That’s God’s comfort for weary wilderness travellers who want assurance and direction.  What a good God we serve!

Moses goes on saying, God, if you’re not going with us, I don’t want to go anywhere.  Please don’t make me move on without you!  The only way for you to answer my prayer and give me assurance that we are in your favor is your presence among us.  (Exodus 33:15)

Moses knew that the absolute only way for the unbelieving world to recognize them as set apart was God’s constant presence among them.  God’s presence was imperative to their witness in the world as the people of God.

Oh, church, if we would only recognize and understand what Moses understood!  It is not the building, the music, the charisma, or the programs!!!  The imperative to shining as lights in the world and being set apart for God’s glory is God’s presence!!!  Spend all your time and energy seeking Him and see what he does through you!

So, God assures Moses a second time in verse 17.  Moses still isn’t satisfied.  Moses continues to plead with God.  After two confirmations of God’s favor and assurance, Moses says this to God:

“Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’ “ ~Exodus 33:18

Please, show me your glory.  God, I want to see YOU.  I want to know YOU.  I want to experience YOU.  I am in this for YOU.  And if you’ll not be with me, I got nothing and nowhere to go.  Lord, let that be the attitude of every Christian!

In verse 19, God agrees to show Moses his glory and speaks his famous line that the apostle Paul repeats in Romans 9, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

In other words, God makes it very clear in both Old and New Testaments that HE gets to decide whom he will bestow his mercy upon and to whom he will be gracious.  God alone decides and determines whom he will save.

Consider the context here!  The Jews Paul was talking to in Romans 9 would have understood exactly what he was referring to.  The backdrop of God telling Moses about his own choosing and sovereignty when it comes to his mercy and grace is the golden calf idolatry.  What those people did while waiting on God in the wilderness is what humans very naturally do.  If we can screw up, we do.  What they did is most likely what we all would have done.

Men sinned.  God was angry.  Their good leader interceded for them and God spared some, not all of them.  He killed some of them with swift judgment by the sword and a plague.  For his own reasons, and according to his own choosing, God had mercy on those whom he had mercy.  That remnant understood that without God’s presence, they were not going anywhere.  It was only God’s great mercy and his daily presence that made them different and saved them out of their grievous sin.

Wow.  What a picture of what Paul was getting at in Romans 9.  It is a picture of what we all deserve sprinkled with a picture of what those God extends mercy to actually receive.  Little wonder why directly following God’s famous line about having mercy on whom he will is his promise to Moses about showing him his glory by while he is in the cleft of the rock.

Seeing God’s glory, as Moses requested, is seeing the work of God from behind him.  If we would see God’s glory, He must be in front of us and we must be following behind.  We cannot see him full-on, face to face when he sovereignly chooses who to save and why.  But if we are hidden in Christ as Moses was hidden in that rock, we can see the evidence of his grace and mercy upon the remnant as well as his swift judgment and wrath upon those whom he has not chosen.  It is like watching from behind and seeing God’s glory – as Moses did – as his sovereign will plays out in the lives of every fellow sinner among us.

God doesn’t show his face to man.  God shows his wrath to man.  God shows his mercy to man.  That is how God shows his glory to man.

 

 

 

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tent

As the remnant moved on from Mt. Sinai in the aftermath of their sin, God’s mercy finds them once again.  What an amazing God we serve!

Wherever they settled Moses would pitch a tent outside the camp and meet with God.  Moses called it the “Tent of Meeting.”  Not only Moses, but any one of the people could go out to this place and seek the Lord.  This is quite amazing because God had just told them how his presence among them, even for a moment, would rouse his anger and consume them because of their sin.  (Exodus 33:5) Yet God is full of mercy and bent on reconciliation if his people only humble themselves, repent, and seek him in prayer.

We, too, must be ready and willing to extend mercy and be bent on nothing less than reconciliation with one another after offense and injury.  This is truly how we live the gospel and glorify God among fellow sinners.  This is how we look like God; imago dei.

When Moses went to inquire of God and intercede for the people, the people would get up, stand at the doors of their tents and watch.  (Exodus 33:8) This demonstrated their willingness and interest in being made right with God after their sin.  They didn’t sleep in and let Moses worry about their standing with God.  No.  Anxiously and intently, they watched and waited for God to show up and their leader interceded on their behalf.

Likewise, we ought to learn to watch and wait on God with great respect and diligence at all times, but especially after we have fallen into sin.

Once Moses entered the Tent of Meeting, a cloud would descent and stay at the entrance of the tent.  When the cloud was present, God was speaking with Moses.  During this time, all the people would worship at their own tent doors.

When we see God moving in the life of our leaders, we, too, ought to stand, wait, and worship.

Amazingly, here, God spoke to this man, Moses, face to face.  Moses is the only person we know of that had this kind of experience with the Almighty.  Yet, today, God speaks to each and every one of his people through His Word and His Spirit if we only listen.

Moses was so concerned with listening to God that he left his apprentice at the Tent of Meeting to live just in case God spoke when he was away from the tent.

Lord, let me listen like that!  God is always speaking.  The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets. ~Psalm 50:1  Lord, help me listen.

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choice

After the Levites kill their own brothers and friends  on behalf of God for the golden calf idolatry, God gives them some more consequences for their rebellion.  In Exodus 33, the Israelites are told to depart from the base of Mt. Sinai.  God restates his promise to bring them into the promised land, but there is one catch – he’s not coming.

God is like, time to leave here.  You still get the promised land, guys!  But I’m not coming with you.  God’s immediate presence would not be there with them.

How many churches today operate this way?  Yet many are perfectly content to do so.  So sad.

“When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments.  For the Lord had said to Moses, ‘Say to the people of Israel, “You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you.  So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.” ~Exodus 33:4

Therefore, they were not content.  They did not rejoice.  They did not go on with business as usual.  They did not plan outreach.  What they did was mourn.

Half their company just died by the sword of their own brothers.  The text does not say they mourned then.  But for this, they mourn.  Why?

This was a bigger, more severe judgement and tragedy than losing half your friends and family in a day.  We know this because the latter just happened and these people didn’t mourn.  They did not mourn until God said he would remove his presence.  The is absolute worst thing God can do to human beings who love him is separate himself from them.  What was the lowest point of Christ on the cross?  The separation of he and his Father.

One day these guys were fixing to become a nation of priests, the next God tells them to dress in their skivvies and has his prophet tell them who they really are.  Not priests.  Nope.  Stiff-necked, stubborn, rebellious kids who don’t listen – that’s who they are.  That’s who we are when we fail to patiently wait on God, be faithful, and obey Him despite our circumstances.

God moves even their leader outside their camp.  The plans God was giving to build the tabernacle there at the base of Mt. Sinai were no more.  They had to move on, and this, without the immediate presence of God.  The bottom line was that because of these guys’ impatience and unbelief, they suffered greatly.  Their impatience led them into the sin of idolatry.  Their idolatry caused many of their brothers and friends to be killed in a civil war of sorts and these guys who are left are shamed with what they must wear.  They don’t get to serve God in the ways he originally had planned for them – at least at this point.  Not only that, but he moves their leader, Moses, outside the camp because he does not want to be close to them.  Even one moment keeping company with them would cause God to destroy their rebellious, ungrateful selves.

Here is a picture of every single one of us when God’s mercy finds us.  We are stubborn.  We are rebellious.  We are idolatrous.  We are impatient.  We are unfaithful and unbelieving.  We are ungrateful.  We are separated from God because of our sin.  We are in desperate need of mercy and forgiveness.  We need an intercessor and a clean slate.  These guys had Moses.  We have Christ.  Let us trust in Him when our sin separates us from God.

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