Exodus 25: Sanctuary

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Imagine you are planning to build a new home for yourself – not one someone else built but one you are designing. I’ve never done this, but my architect father did, and I know he put years of thought into the design, then many hours of drafting into the written plans, then months of oversight into the construction. He cared deeply about it. This building was not only his home but also the culmination of a dream and a personal statement about himself.

 “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” Exodus 25:8-9

Looking back from the beginning of Genesis until this point in Exodus, God has visited a few men at specific times. He came to see Noah to instruct him on building the ark. He spoke with Abraham and promised that he would have countless children. Then he manifested himself to all the Hebrew people as he came down in fire on the top of Mt. Sinai. But now God draws up plans for a permanent home among his people. It will be a sanctuary, a sacred place, and he cares about it deeply.

You can get lost in all the details as you read about the very specific design of the sanctuary, but here are a few points to remember:

  • God wants to dwell with you permanently, not just drop in from time to time.
  • There are degrees of relationship with him. It isn’t just all or none. He wants you to get closer and closer, but there are things you must do before you can before you can know him fully (and so his sanctuary has outer and inner courts and a holiest of holy places).
  • God wants to provide forgiveness through this sacred place (and so there is a mercy seat where God comes down to forgive sins).
  • God wants to give light to your path through his words (lampstand) and spiritual food to sustain you (the bread of the presence, one day revealed to be Jesus, the bread of life).

God’s plans for a sanctuary were temporary in one sense. They called for a tent, called the tabernacle, that would move with the people as they traveled through the wilderness. Later the tent was replaced by a temple, again of God’s design. Even the temple was temporary, destroyed once by Babylon in 586 BC, rebuilt and then destroyed again in 70 AD by the Romans. The ultimate design of the tent and temple was meant to point us to Jesus, whose life and body were that holy place where God dwelt fully. As Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Now believers, who have received the Holy Spirit, are God’s holy place:

You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. I Peter 2:5

As for me, I’m encouraged to know that God cares so deeply, in such detail, about all the versions of his home for me.

For further detail about the tabernacle, read this blog.

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Exodus 23: Who decides what’s right?

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Everyone has an opinion, but not every opinion is correct. However, in today’s culture, many believe that everyone has the right to live as they please. In essence they are saying every opinion is correct. This belief makes every individual the judge of what is right and wrong. This kind of logic leads to the conclusion that there is no absolute right and wrong, only varying opinions. But God says something different:

“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd.” Exodus 23:2

Moses gives the people “the Book of the Law,” God’s blueprint for the nation to live in prosperity. It’s full of guidelines that foster moral behavior and protect the lives of the weak and defenseless. Tucked in there is this one little sentence about not following the crowd, but to me it speaks volumes about the basis for determining right and wrong. “The crowd” cannot be your compass for what is right or true. Doing “what everyone else is doing” is no guarantee that you will do what you should do. Yet in our culture today, the vote of the crowd is exactly what determines truth. To be very current, if the crowd says gay marriage is wrong, it isn’t allowed, or if the crowd says gay marriage is the right thing, it becomes legal. The power of influence determines what is right and wrong.

But God says the crowd, the majority, opinion, power, or influence cannot be the source of truth because there is another authority that is absolute: his own word as revealed in the Bible. Opinions will change. Influence comes and goes. The truth never changes because it has been established by God forever.

There was a time in Israel’s history that was much like today: the time of the Judges. The author of Judges says:

In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. Judges 21:25

There are some heroes of the faith in Judges, but overall it records the repeated failure of the people of Israel to be true and faithful to the God who kept delivering them. If we want to be God’s faithful followers, we must hold to the truth revealed in his word. As for my opinion, it isn’t worth a hill of beans if it doesn’t line up with God’s truth.

Image by Linda Tanner on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Exodus 20: The lure of idols

It’s natural for us to think of God transcending time and space without limits. But much of the world throughout history has pictured its gods as being very local. This is the essence of paganism. The pagan gods were not universal but “lived” nearby and acted in that “neighborhood.” An idol, then, made sense as the embodiment or home of that local god.

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But Jehovah comes down out of heaven to the top of Mt. Sinai and demonstrates that the true God is a transcendent, universal God, God of heaven and earth, without limits.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.” Exodus 20:22-23

The Israelites are barely two months into their forty year journey to the Promised Land. God has just given them the Ten Commandments, spelling out the basics of their relationship with God and with people. One of the commandments prohibits idol worship, and before you say “that’s not one I have trouble with,” notice that God comes to the people immediately and reiterates his command to make no idols. I think he is telling them, “you’ve seen the real thing, breaking through with great power from heaven to earth. How then can you go on believing in a puny idol made by your own hands?”

Within a few weeks the people will have wantonly ignored the command and constructed a golden idol. There is great attraction in idol worship which we should not underestimate. Our idols share these characteristics with the pagan idols:

  • they seem precious (golden)
  • they are human creations
  • they have no power of their own
  • they are not transcendent but fixed in time and space
  • we worship them by devoting time, energy, and money to them

Modern idols tend to be the same things that cause us to sin: possessions, pleasure, power or prestige. We idolize our money, cars, boats and homes. We worship food, drugs, and sex. We devote ourselves to our work if it brings us status and pride. In all these pursuits, we are saying “I’ve found something better than you, God.” But all these other things we worship are powerless to save us. In the end they will disappoint us.

Spiritual pride is the illusion that you are competent to run your own life, achieve your own sense of self worth, and find a purpose big enough to give you meaning in life without God. — Tim Keller

Idolatry is worshipping anything that ought to be used, or using anything that is meant to be worshipped. — St. Augustine

To have a faith, therefore, or a trust in any thing, where God hath not promised, is plain idolatry, and a worshipping of thine own imagination instead of God. — William Tyndale

Self-righteousness is the largest idol of the human heart – the idol which man loves most and God hates most. Dearly beloved, you will always be going back to this idol. You are always trying to be something in yourself, to gain God’s favour by thinking little of your sin, or by looking to your repentance, tears, prayers ; or by looking to your religious exercises, your frames, etc; or by looking to your graces, the Spirit’s work in your heart. Beware of false Christs. Study sanctification to the utmost, but make not a Christ of it. — Robert Murray McCheyne

False gods patiently endure the existence of other false gods. Dagon can stand with Bel, and Bel with Ashtaroth; how should stone, and wood, and silver, be moved to indignation; but because God is the only living and true God, Dagon must fall before His ark; Bel must be broken, and Ashtaroth must be consumed with fire. — Charles Spurgeon

There is nothing so abominable in the eyes of God and of men as idolatry, whereby men render to the creature that honor which is due only to the Creator. — Blaise Pascal

Exodus 16: Will God give me what I need?

Most of the time we live in a place where we seem to get most of what we need to survive – without much trouble or help. But each of us will face days when our existence feels threatened. When you’re being squeezed by circumstances, something will come oozing out, and what comes out will clearly show how much or little you trust God to meet your need. The Israelites were in such a crunch time. They were on a spiritual and physical adventure far from their familiar, if oppressive, Egypt. What they would eat, where they would get their water, and which enemies they would face were all unknown. They were being squeezed, and what came out was not pretty:

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Exodus 16:2-3

Again, most of the time we don’t live in this kind of adventure. But maybe we should! We’re more comfortable in the routine and ordinary, but adventures of faith are where God shows up and miracles happen. They’re also the time when you may not be able to see two steps ahead, or know where the resources will come from, and feel like you are totally out of your comfort zone. This is also when we see new and amazing things happen.

The Israelites woke up in the morning and saw the ground covered with edible white flakes. They called it “manna” which means “what is it?” Someone said it tasted like Krispy Kreme ™ doughnuts.

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God used it to teach some important lessons to his people, and later to the whole world:

  • You can trust me. I will supply your needs.
  • I will give you what you need daily, not in huge amounts, so you can’t store it away and forget about me.
  • The Sabbath, again. Enough with trying to take care of yourself every day. One day a week you must stop your striving and let me take care of things.
  • You can’t live on miracles forever. A day is coming when the adventure will end and you will return to a more ordinary way of life.

Fifteen hundred years later the people of Israel asked Jesus if he was going to give them manna from heaven. They were looking for food and for proof that Jesus was one sent from God. Jesus answered:

 “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.” John 6:35-36

That brings us to where you and I live. This is our adventure. We are traveling to our own eternal Promised Land. Will we trust Jesus to supply our needs, or will we doubt and grumble like the Israelites? As for me, pass those “heavenly” Krispy Kremes™.

This song by Sara Groves sums up all those reasons why we are so slow to leave our own “Egypt.”

Exodus 13: Learn to remember

Our memories are too short. Too soon the recent and urgent replace the former important things. God knows this and encourages his people to learn to remember. He establishes systems that make sure this happens. The festivals or feasts such as Passover are one example. Sometimes God tells the people to set up physical monuments as a reminder. Stories were very important in passing this national memory from generation to generation. Eventually the stories were written down. The Jews became a people of the book.

And it shall be, when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand Jehovah brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage: and it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that Jehovah slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man, and the first-born of beast: therefore I sacrifice to Jehovah all that openeth the womb, being males; but all the first-born of my sons I redeem. Exodus 13:14-15

Moses helps the people learn to remember their deliverance from Egypt by getting them to tell the story, and by setting up a system that requires them to make an offering to redeem (buy back) their first-born. Deuteronomy 6 commands this institutional remembering:

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates.

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The Jewish people have survived deadly persecution and widespread geographic dispersion. Yet many other nations have come and gone with little trace. John Patrick MD presents a lecture called “Why are there no Hittites on the streets of New York?” that helps explain this. For years the Hittites were dismissed by experts as a figment of the Bible, until more modern archaeology revealed their large Middle Eastern empire. But now the Hittites are gone. You will not find any living example of their race or language or culture in New York or elsewhere. Why did they disappear and the Jews survive?

Dr. Patrick says the Jews survived because they are a people of the book, the Torah, and they kept the command for fathers to teach it to their children. The family function of passing the knowledge in the book, and the virtues it taught, from one generation to the next worked. It didn’t matter where they lived or what language they spoke as long as they learned the book. Learning the book allowed them to promote the virtues that are necessary to maintain a nation. Being a people of the book let them continue as a people.

Think about America today. Do we have such a book? If we were uprooted and taken captive elsewhere, would our culture survive? Once we might have said that the Bible was our book, providing a common story, virtues, and purpose, but that is no longer true. The closest thing we have today are TV and the movies. Would they allow us to pass along America as we know it? I don’t believe, taken as a whole, that they teach the virtues that are necessary for our nation to survive.

What are you doing to remember? Start by learning the Bible and its virtues. Teach it to your children. And don’t forget to set up your own memorials to remind you of how far God has brought you (I Samuel 7:12).

Exodus 12: More than a baby

When it’s not all about Santa and shopping, Christmas tends to focus on the baby in the manger. We are celebrating that baby’s birth, but I think it’s time to acknowledge that the baby grew up. When I wish you a happy birthday, I don’t think about the baby you but the you I know now. I celebrate the present you, all that you mean to me, and all that you’ve done. Let’s think about all that Jesus did today as we celebrate his birthday.

Exodus 12 foreshadows the most important thing Jesus did: shedding his blood so that we could each one receive forgiveness by God’s grace through faith.

    Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down. Exodus 12:21-23

As Paul said, Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed for us. By his blood we are spared from the spiritual death that awaits all those who die without faith in Jesus. John the Baptist said, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Our sins can be taken away because the baby in the manger grew up and walked down the road to Calvary’s cross. Handel’s Messiah is a perennial part of Christmas celebrations and he got it right. His music didn’t end when the baby was born, but his most celebrated song celebrates the King of King and Lord of Lords who shall reign forever.

Exodus 7-9: A Hard Heart

With apologies to Dickens: Pharaoh’s heart was hard, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Pharaoh’s heart was as hard as a nail. You could go further and say that Pharaoh was Scrooge-like in the hardness of his heart. But try to understand the cause of Pharaoh’s hard heart, and then the questions begin.

Some things we can say for certain. God knows Pharaoh, and he knows how he will act. He tells Moses, “I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him” (Exodus 3:19). Even before Moses confronts the Egyptian ruler, God declares, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21). God gives reasons for his action: so the Egyptians will know that he is the Lord (Exodus 7:5), so he could show his power and so his name would be proclaimed in all the earth (Exodus 9:16), and so the Israelites could tell their children and grandchildren how God dealt with the Egyptians and so the Israelites would know he is the Lord (Exodus 10:2).

It’s also true that Pharaoh hardened his own heart when faced with some of the plagues Moses brought upon Egypt. Twice Pharaoh repented of his hard heart when he saw the extent of God’s judgement, but he hardened his own heart when the plague was removed.

When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts. So Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the LORD had said through Moses. Exodus 9:34-35

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Paul addressed these events in Romans 9, removing any doubt about God’s involvement in hardening Pharaoh’s heart. He went on to justify God’s action:

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? Romans 9:19-24

Paul says we have no more right to second guess God than a pot has the right or ability to second guess the potter. He implies that God creates each of us for his own purposes. He echoes God’s explanation in Exodus that God raised up Pharaoh and hardened his heart in order to demonstrate his power. I do wonder what it means that God endured with patience a “vessel of wrath” like Pharaoh. Why would the potter need to endure his pot or be patient with it?

Many arguments about the Bible boil down to one of two conclusions, but I think sometimes both conclusions are true. With man it may be either/or. With God it can be both/and. God did harden Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh did harden his own heart. God did raise up Pharaoh in order for God to demonstrate his power and bring to himself a people on whom he could shower his mercy. Pharaoh did despise his own repentance. God knew Pharaoh’s heart even before he hardened it. I wonder what he saw there?

I’ll leave you with a haiku about Pharaoh. It isn’t very theological, but I think it captures the tension between him and God:

God pushed him

to be hard-hearted —

it was so easy.

– Robert Dellinger