Monday, March 16, 2009

Exodus 40:13, 34-38

"You shall put the holy garments on Aaron and anoint him and consecrate him, that he may minister as a priest to Me.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out;
but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up.
For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

Two concepts in this passage cause me to consider the wonder of the mercy of God. God displays His great mercy in the priesthood of Aaron, and in His continual presence with His “stiff-necked” people.
In verse 13, God repeats His command to Moses to establish Aaron as the first priest of Israel. Aaron had committed terrible sins in the eyes of God. He had worshiped another god, made an idol, and taken Yahweh’s name in vain. This was not an individual sin, but he led the entire nation of Israel into sin! On top of that, he lied about his involvement when questioned by Moses. And yet…this is miraculous…God, in the holiness of His character, covers over Aaron’s sin and uses him as His own minister to the Israelites.
Verses 34-38 also cause me to ponder the love, grace, and mercy of Yahweh. God chose the Israelites for Himself, delivered them from Egypt, and promised to give them a home. At this point in the story, they have already grumbled against Him and played the harlot with another god. God knows that they will repeat their offenses. How fallen we humans are! And yet…God, in His lovingkindness, continues to be with His people in a visible way! He stays with them, reassuring them of His presence and guiding them in their travels. How wonderful He is! And how terrible I am. God has graciously saved me and given me His life. He works in my life and makes Himself known to me. And yet, I am like the Israelites. I so easily forget, turn away, worry, and follow my own human plans. God is indeed merciful.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Exodus 34:10-16

Then God said, "Behold, I am going to make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform miracles which have not been produced in all the earth nor among any of the nations ; and all the people among whom you live will see the working of the LORD, for it is a fearful thing that I am going to perform with you.
"Be sure to observe what I am commanding you this day : behold, I am going to drive out the Amorite before you, and the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.
"Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst.
"But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim
-for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God -
otherwise you might make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they would play the harlot with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone might invite you to eat of his sacrifice,
and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods.

Jealousy. In this passage, God reveals part of who He is by calling His name “Jealous.” He is “a jealous God.” He tells the Israelites not to worship other gods because He wants them all to Himself. I find it remarkable that God is making this covenant with Israel even after they have played the harlot by worshiping a golden calf. Furthermore, the omniscient God knows that Israel will play the harlot with the gods of other peoples in the future! And yet He graciously tells them He is jealous for them.
I looked up “jealous” in my concordance and found that the Hebrew word means ardor, zeal, and jealousy. This is a word of passion. God wants His people. He wants them for Himself. He does not want their affections or worship to go to any entity but Himself. In His jealousy He promises to do great things for the Israelites (10) and warns them that worshiping the gods of other people will be harmful to them (11). Yahweh is a God of passion- He ardently desires that His people worship Him alone because He alone is good. He actively desires that His people not worship false gods that will result in their harm.
In Deuteronomy 4, 5, and 6, God’s jealousy is portrayed as a passion so strong that He will visit His love and goodness on thousands of generations for those who love and worship only Him. But, for those who play the harlot, He will punish them greatly.
God wants His people. He pursues them, and loves them jealously.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Exodus 22:21-27

"You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
"You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.
"If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry ;
and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
"If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.
"If you ever take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets,
for that is his only covering ; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious.

As I read these chapters, I was reminded of the popular opinion that Christianity is “just a list of do’s and don’ts.” People tend to have a negative view of the laws God gave His people. Even Christians tend to see that law negatively, as a list of rules that seems impossible to keep. We boast that we are now under grace and that the law has passed away.
But as I read this particular set of verses, I am reminded of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. My Sunday school class has been studying the Sermon on the Mount for months, and we are studying it in my Gospels class as well. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus goes beyond the external requirements of the law and tells us that the state of one’s heart is the true indication of whether one is righteous or unrighteous. As I read Exodus 22:21-27, I see some of what Jesus said about the heart’s motivation. In vs. 21, God tells the Israelites not to oppress strangers- because they had been stranger in the land of Egypt. In this case, God gives the reason for the rule- He wants them to remember their oppression as strangers in Egypt and to have right hearts toward strangers in their midst. In vs. 22-24, we can see God’s heart for widows and orphans. It seems to me He gives the Israelites this rule about afflicting the helpless because He wants them to be like Him- having a right heart towards the needy. Again, in vs. 25-27, God reveals His heart towards the poor. He is gracious and He instructs the Israelites to be gracious to the poor by not charging interest and returning a pledge before the end of the day. Even in the giving of the law, God was interested in the motive of the heart.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Exodus 29:15-21

"You shall also take the one ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram ;
and you shall slaughter the ram and shall take its blood and sprinkle it around on the altar.
"Then you shall cut the ram into its pieces, and wash its entrails and its legs, and put them with its pieces and its head.
"You shall offer up in smoke the whole ram on the altar ; it is a burnt offering to the LORD : it is a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD.
"Then you shall take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram.
"You shall slaughter the ram, and take some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron's right ear and on the lobes of his sons' right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet, and sprinkle the rest of the blood around on the altar.
"Then you shall take some of the blood that is on the altar and some of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and on his garments and on his sons and on his sons' garments with him; so he and his garments shall be consecrated, as well as his sons and his sons' garments with him.

As I was reading along in this section, I found myself admiring how beautiful the sanctuary of the Lord must have been. The details of the sanctuary, the ark of the Covenant, the tapestries, and the altar sound exquisite and expensive. The garments of the priests especially intrigued me. These garments are valuable in more than one way- each part of them has significance for Israel as a nation and for Israel as the spiritual family of God. The garments are also valuable because they are mounted with precious stones and metals.
However, my admiration turned to dismay when I read about the consecration of the priests in chapter 29. Moses was instructed to take the priests in their beautiful and shining garments and sprinkle blood on them! What a shame, I thought, to ruin these lovely and valuable robes!
But chapter 29 is about consecration unto God. The priests were to meet with God and be ministers of God to His people. Their garments make me think of human works that we present to God, hoping to be good enough to please Him or gain His acceptance. But even coming to God in beautiful and costly robes was not enough to consecrate the Aaron and his sons to God. It was by the shedding of blood and the covering of the priests with that blood that they were made acceptable before God (Hebrews 9:22). The true beauty of the priests’ consecration to God (and my consecration to God) is not in their man-made garments, but in the grace of God. Though consecration requires the awful shedding of blood, God graciously covers and accepts us.