Exodus 40: If you build it …

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Today’s reading: Exodus 39-40.

Long before Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella built the baseball diamond in Field of Dreams, God promised to come and live with his people if they built the tabernacle. True to his word, the glory of the LORD came down upon the finished sanctuary one year after the deliverance from Egypt. God redeemed the Israelites and established a pattern that would one day be eternally fulfilled through Jesus Christ.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Exodus 40:34

I don’t want to be overly symbolic, but I think the details of the tabernacle can serve as reminders to help us be better prepared to meet God in our daily devotions. Let’s start by looking at a drawing of the tabernacle:

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As one entered the tabernacle from the east (the right in the picture), you would first come to the altar of burnt offerings where the priests made sacrifices to cover sins. As we begin our devotions, we should first confess our sins to God, removing the obstacle to our right relationship with God. We require no sacrifice except that which has already been made by Jesus. Next we come to the laver or basin of water. The priests used it to wash their hands and feet before serving, and it reminds us that we have washed and cleansed ourselves by the blood of Jesus.

As the priest would leave the public courtyard to enter the Holy Place, so the believer prepares by confession to enter God’s presence. Inside the Holy Place on the north side was the table of showbread. This bread of the presence reminds of the importance of Jesus, the bread of life, and Jesus’ reminder that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. Our devotional times should be full of God’s word including Jesus’ own words in the gospels.

On the south side of the Holy Place was the menorah or lampstand. Jesus is the light of the world, and God’s word is a lamp revealing the path for our feet. We study the Bible in our times of devotions, meditating on it to understand it fully and apply it, and memorizing it so that it is always close by in our heart and hand.

Next the priest came to the altar of incense before the veil that closed off the Most Holy Place. The fragrant aroma of the incense reminds us to pray, knowing that the prayers that we send up to God are pleasing to him. We pray in faith, knowing that beyond the veil of physical reality God hears our prayers, even as the glory of God rested upon the ark of the covenant behind the veil of the tabernacle. We pray even more boldly, knowing that the veil has already been torn open by Jesus’ death on the cross.

The Israelites’ exodus from Egypt is complete, but they are still many years from the promised land. Before I return to their journey, I want to use my next post to review some reasons why you should read through the whole Bible. Please return for that post tomorrow.

Image of baseball stadium in public domain from Wikimedia commons. Image of tabernacle by Adik86 from Wikimedia Commons; CC by 3.0

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Exodus 36-38: The tabernacle: gold with skin on


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Today’s reading: Exodus 36-38.

Who hides gold? It’s so beautiful and valuable. People wear it lavishly to put on a show. We only hide it when we want to safeguard it from theft. Yet the tabernacle in the wilderness is a treasure of hidden gold. Exodus 38 says that over 29 talents of gold were used to build the sanctuary, which is about 2200 pounds, worth $42 million at current prices. The gold was mainly used to cover the walls of the sanctuary and for the worship items in the sanctuary: the ark of the covenant and its cover, the altar of incense, the lampstand, and the table for the bread of presence. The sanctuary was a golden house filled with golden furniture.

But this golden sanctuary was covered with, and hidden by, far less valuable materials. A tent of three layers draped over the two rooms of gold. The inner layer was made of woven goat hair, most likely black in color. The middle layer consisted of ram skins dyed red. The outer layer was made of natural skins of an uncertain animal, most likely seals.

As I picture it, I see a golden building with skin on it. Not only that, but underneath the skin there is red like blood. The Hebrew word for red, ‘adam, is the root of the word used to describe the first man (both are ruddy). So this building has a man-like covering.

In a previous post I referred to Jesus’ calling his own body a temple. John said that Jesus “tabenacled” or “pitched his tent” with us (John 1:14). The writer of Hebrews said:

Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; Hebrews 2:14

And as the tabernacle was a treasure covered in skin, so we who believe in the hidden treasure of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ, are also carrying precious cargo in meager coverings:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

As I approach the tabernacle, I see a picture of God’s glory that will one day dwell fully in the person of Jesus Christ, and which miraculously dwells in believers through the Holy Spirit. This mystery, a once hidden treasure, is now available to anyone who repents and professes faith in Jesus.

That still leaves the innermost layer of black goat hair. What significance, if any, does that hold for you?

You can read more about the tabernacle and the signficance of its services here.

This video gives an excellent virtual tour of the tabernacle:

Image by Kenny Louie on Flickr, CC by 2.0.

Exodus 33-34: Reflections of Glory

 

Today’s reading: Exodus 33-35.

A face is like the outside of a house, and most faces, like most houses, give us an idea of what we can expect to find inside. Loretta Young

On the verge of leaving Sinai for the Promised Land, Moses wants assurance that God plans to go with him. It’s a fair question, because God’s anger at his disobedient children threatens to boil over each time he approaches them. Moses insists that God go with them, for he realizes that without God’s presence there will be nothing to set these people apart from all the other people of the world.

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” Exodus 33:15-16

Moses’ plea gets at the heart of the believer’s purpose in life. We are to be God’s people in order to glorify God and to represent him before the world that doesn’t know him. We glorify him by reflecting back his own glory. As the moon can only reflect the sun when it lies directly in the sunlight, we can only reflect God’s glory when we are in his presence. We cannot be God’s people apart from a close and ongoing relationship with him. Moses becomes the ultimate example of this principle in the Old Testament as he enters God’s presence and comes out a changed man.

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. …  And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD. Exodus 34:29, 34-35

Moses’ face shines with the reflected glory of God. What made this happen? The answer tells us what we should be doing to fulfill our purpose:

  • We need to spend time with God. This includes worship time, but more importantly it means daily time in individual devotion, sometimes called meditation and sometimes called quiet time. It includes Bible reading, memorization, and meditation on the meaning of what we read.
  • We need to talk with God. Moses’ face was radiant because “he had spoken with the LORD.” We speak with God through prayer and by reading God’s word.
  • We need to obey God. Moses remained obedient to God’s will even though all the people around him went astray.

Paul understood the example Moses gave and saw it exceeded by Jesus. I think Jesus reflected God’s glory every day, but especially when he was transfigured on the mountain (Matthew 17). Paul knew that our mission was to become more and more like Jesus so that we would reflect his glory more and more brightly.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

What will it take for you to be a bright mirror of God’s glory?

Photo by Vanessa Gerlach on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Exodus 30-32: Faith in the unseen


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Today’s reading: Exodus 30-32.

Faith and doubt live so close together; they are like two sides of the same coin. One day both will become obsolete, and on that day we will see the truth of eternity face to face. For now, though, we live in the land of the unseen and we must live by faith.

Prayers go up by faith. In God’s ideal plan the priest burns incense on the altar in front of the veil or curtain that separates him from the Most Holy Place.

“And you shall put (the altar of incense) in front of the veil that is above the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is above the testimony, where I will meet with you. And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations.” Exodus 30:6-8

Though he cannot see it, the priest knows that the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant sits just beyond the veil. In faith he offers up the incense to God, whose veiled or unseen presence rests upon the mercy seat. The aroma of the burning incense goes up to heaven as a sweet and pleasing fragrance to God, even as our prayers offered in faith are pleasing to God. As David said, “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2).

But the plans for the sanctuary and altar are only instructions given to Moses, not yet fulfilled. Before God finishes meeting with Moses, there is a cry of tumult coming up from the Israelite camp:

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Exodus 32:1

The people cannot see Moses. He has been on the mountain for weeks. Their little faith loses sight of him and God, whose glory is hidden behind the smoke on the mountain. So the people press Aaron to make them a visible, tangible god, and fearfully he obliges them with a golden statue of a calf like Egypt’s god Apis. What contrast between the faithful service God planned and the faithless reality on the ground!

But one man of faith rescues the people from impending destruction. Moses has learned to trust God’s character, and implores God to “remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:13). Moses sees the reality of the unfulfilled promise and God relents from his plans for disaster.

We live in front of the curtain which will one day be forever drawn back. In fact, the unseen reality is that Jesus has already torn apart the curtain that separated us from the Most Holy Place. Through him we have access to God now, at every moment. But we must live out that reality by faith. We walk by faith. By faith we please God. By faithfully praying we please him. As for me, let me be found trusting faithfully in the unseen reality of God’s presence as he receives the sweet aroma of my prayers.

“And yet when I wish to explore how faith works, I usually sneak in by the back door of doubt, for I best learn about my own need for faith during its absence.  God’s invisibility guarantees I will experience times of doubt.  Everyone dangles on a pendulum that swings from belief to unbelief, back to belief, and ends – where?”  Phillip Yancey

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” St Augustine

“Believers, look up – take courage. The angels are nearer than you think.” Billy Graham

“Faith indeed tells what the senses do not tell, but not the contrary of what they see. It is above them and not contrary to them.” Blaise Pascal

“If any of you should ask me for an epitome of the Christian religion, I should say that it is in one word – prayer. Live and die without prayer, and you will pray long enough when you get to hell.” Charles Spurgeon

Exodus 28: Standing in the doorway

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Today’s reading: Exodus 28-29.

Yesterday we saw how God carefully designed a home that would be his dwelling place among the people of Israel. He would no longer make sporadic visits, but would live among them. Today we read about the doormen for his sanctuary: the priests. Like any good doorman they have a uniform that sets them apart. Like doormen they open the building to allow the people to enter into God’s presence. But going far beyond the usual responsibilities of a doorman, they take the guilt of the people upon themselves as they make offerings to God to remove the guilt.

“Make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it as on a seal: HOLY TO THE LORD. Fasten a blue cord to it to attach it to the turban; it is to be on the front of the turban. It will be on Aaron’s forehead, and he will bear the guilt involved in the sacred gifts the Israelites consecrate, whatever their gifts may be. It will be on Aaron’s forehead continually so that they will be acceptable to the Lord.” Exodus 28:36-38

God says that the priest bears the guilt. He carries the guilt from the people and lays it before God. God in turn disposes of the guilt in exchange for the offering the priest brings. This exchange is a foundational principle in the relationship between God and mankind. God is holy and just. He keeps a strict accounting of sin and guilt.His holiness requires the removal of sin. His justice requires payment for the sin.  But he is also merciful. He has provided a way to remove the guilt; only it is not without cost. The exchange must be made.

Fifteen hundred years later, Jesus said, “I am the door of the sheep…. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture…I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:7-11). Jesus compared himself to the shepherd who lay down in the opening of the sheep pen each night, serving as door and doorman. Jesus laid down his life for us as a good shepherd would do in order to protect his sheep. By giving his life, he made the exchange that was necessary to meet God’s qualities of holiness and justice. He became the ultimate priest, bearing our sins to God who then mercifully disposed of them in exchange for the life of his son.

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? … But when this priest (Jesus Christ) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God … For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10:1-2, 12, 14

For more discussion about the priestly garments, read this blog.

“That’s who Jesus Christ is. He became the final Priest and the final Sacrifice. Sinless, he did not offer sacrifices for himself. Immortal, he never has to be replaced. Human, he could bear human sins. Therefore he did not offer sacrifices for himself; he offered himself as the final sacrifice. There will never be the need for another. There is one mediator between us and God. One priest. We need no other. Oh, how happy are those who draw near to God through Christ alone.” John Piper

“There He stands, clothed not now with linen ephod, not with ringing bells, nor with sparkling jewels on His breastplate. But arrayed in human flesh He stands; His cross is His altar, His body and His soul the victim, Himself the priest. And lo! before His God He offers up His own soul within the veil of thick darkness that has covered Him from the sight of men. Presenting His own blood, He enters within the veil, sprinkles it there, and coming forth from the midst of the darkness, He looks down on the astonished earth and upward to expectant heaven and cries, ‘It is finished! It is finished!’ That for which you looked so long is fully achieved and perfected forever.” Charles Spurgeon

Exodus 25: Sanctuary

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Today’s reading: Exodus 25-27.

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.

Exodus 23: Who decides what’s right?

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Today’s reading: Exodus 22-24.

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