God never forgets.
I was so intrigued by this statement in the first chapter of Exodus: “Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt.” ( vs 8 ) This astonished me! Certainly, some time had passed in Egypt, but a new king came to power who did not know about Joseph? This was the man who had single-handedly come up with the plan to rescue Egypt (and all the surrounding nations) from famine. How could anyone forget about Joseph?!
How could you forget about the one person who was responsible for the fact that you were born? Apparently quite easily, according to Exodus 1.
By contrast, in this chapter, we once again are confronted with the God who never forgets. He is still remembering the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even though the Israelites are still in Egypt, God blessed them: “but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.” (vs 7)
No matter where we are, no matter what we’ve done, God remembers us. Even when our memories are shorter than the attention span of a child with ADD, God doesn’t forget us. His memory is long, and His promises are sure.
Rest in Him today.
God . . . genius.
So, when was the last time you worried about anything? Think God is too unconcerned with you to worry about the details of your life? Think He is too small and impotent to work out your circumstances? Consider this verse from today’s reading: “Pharaoh’s daughter said, ‘Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.’” (vs 9)
Perhaps it seems simple enough . . . on the surface. However, consider that the baby (Moses) was supposed to be dead because Pharaoh had ordered that all the male Hebrew boys were supposed to be dead. And his mother (the woman Pharaoh’s daughter was talking to) had hidden him in the reeds, hoping for nothing more than that he would survive. And then you realize that not only was Moses’ mother going to get her wish, but she was also going to get paid for . . . being his mom.
Isn’t that incredible? God is some kind of genius, that’s for sure! Who else could arrange matters so a person could get compensated for the very thing she wanted to do?! (I know a lot of women who would love to get paid for being a mom — ha!) Faced with an impossible decree — to kill her newborn son — this Levite woman chose to trust God instead, and she ended up with a situation beyond her wildest imaginations.
What “impossible” situation are you facing in life? I’ve faced a few, and time and time again, I have seen that God is an utter genius. He knows things that we can’t possibly know. He sees things that we can’t possibly see. He does things that we can’t possibly do. Even when we can’t see a way out, He can make a way out. He can turn circumstances that seem hopeless into situations that benefit us.
He is a total genius!
God is a promise.
There is a deliberate choice of words in the title of this post. Notice, it says God is a promise. It doesn’t say God makes promises (which is true), nor does it say God keeps promises (which is also true). Rather, it says God is a promise. What does that mean?
In the third chapter of Exodus, Moses meets God in the burning (but not-so-burning) bush. God introduces Himself to Moses and then asks Moses to go back to Egypt to bring the Israelites out to the Promised Land. Moses is a little concerned about the prospect of such a task, so he asks God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (vs 13)
You are probably familiar with God’s response. It is the famous response that landed Jesus in a lot of hot water when He later invoked the name during His life on earth (see John 8:58). God answered, “I Am who I Am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” I’m sure this is how you’ve heard the text, because it is how it is most often translated. And so we have this image of a solidly-present God, powerful in the midst of our lives.
But, the Hebrew language is very complex and filled with subtlety and nuance. So, did you know that a more accurate translation of that text renders God’s name, “I will be who I will be”? Wow! All of a sudden, our image of this solidly-present God (who, no doubt, is still present in the moment, since He is speaking to Moses) catapults off the ground and begins rolling into the future. Indeed, God is not only in our present moment, but He is already in our future, providing for us, paving the way for us.
Inherent in God’s very name is a promise, a promise to still be with us in the future, to still be good to us, to still be providing. In this moment, we can bank on everything that He is. But we can also trust that He will be, that there won’t ever be a time in the future when we will be without Him. God’s very name is a promise of His continued presence in our lives.
Who are you, God? I will be.
I love it!
God is exceedingly flexible.
I could have titled this post God kicks butt at Twister.
“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” That funny little proverb could describe God in this chapter of Exodus. He has come on a mission to enlist Moses — the man who became His great friend — to go down to Egypt and bring the Israelites out of slavery. However, it appears that Moses isn’t going to go without a fight.
At the end of chapter 3, Moses says, “Well, what if they want to know who sent me?” And God answers his question.
Then Moses says, “Yeah, but what if they don’t believe that You sent me?” And God shows him some really cool magic tricks to perform that will help to get the Israelites’ (and Pharaoh’s) attention.
Then Moses says, “Yeah, but You know I can’t really speak all that well.” And God promises to help him say everything he needs to say.
Then Moses says, “Yeah, but basically Lord, I’m not going to go. Please send someone else.” So after God’s “anger burned against Moses,” God suggests that Moses team up with his brother Aaron to confront Pharaoh. Moses reluctantly agrees.
Wow! How flexible is our God?! He wants a job done, but He’s not willing to force Moses to do it. He just doesn’t work that way. Instead, He proves that He is willing to bend over backwards in twenty different positions in order to make us comfortable.
So, the next time you’re tempted to think of God as some rigid, inflexible, unyielding deity, think of the story of Moses and remember . . . God is the original Elastic. He stretches.
God answers our questions.
Mentally, I didn’t get further than verse 2 with this chapter: “Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.’” Oh, be careful of the questions you ask!
The thing that occurred to me is that God wanted Pharaoh to know who He was! Pharaoh asked the absolute perfect question, and God was prepared to answer that question. Now, whether or not Pharaoh was pleased with the answer is something that will unfold over the next several chapters of Exodus. However, it struck me here that God answers our questions.
God doesn’t have to do anything He doesn’t want to do. He didn’t have to make us in the first place. And He certainly doesn’t have to stand for any type of questioning, let alone insubordination! But, He loves us. (He really can’t help Himself.) And because He’s a Lover, He wants to be known. He is more than happy to take whatever time is necessary to answer all of the questions we have about Him.
Personally, I think that the question, Who is the Lord, and why should I obey Him? is one of the most exciting questions we could ever ask! And it’s all because we serve a God who loves and welcomes our questions . . . and honors us by answering them.
God gets it done.
I’m not quite sure of the best way to articulate what’s on my mind regarding this chapter:
God is clever?
God is a manipulator?
God’s ways are outrageously different than our ways?
In the last chapter, I had to stop at verse 2. In this chapter, I didn’t make it past verse 1! “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.’” Perhaps you already see what I’m getting at.
God wanted the Israelites out of Egypt. And, I suppose, there were a number of different ways He could have accomplished that. However, because of the way He works, He told Moses that Pharaoh himself was going to release the Israelites. God wasn’t going to have to go to war with Pharaoh (although He certainly took on Egypt’s gods!). God knew that, by His interactions with Pharaoh, He wasn’t going to have to force the Israelites out of Egypt. Pharaoh was going to happily show them the door.
Call it clever. Call it manipulation. Call it genius. Call it whatever you want, but you must admit, God knows how to get the job done. Nothing — not even a maniacal king — is too difficult for Him! When He looks at a situation, He doesn’t see obstacles. He sees solutions. He sees people acting in ways that we can’t begin to imagine.
Even when it looks impossible to us, He knows just what to do. All things are possible with Him!
God loves "the heathen."
And so we arrive at the beginning of The Plagues. This has to be one of the most famous events of the Bible — a fearful accounting of “what God can do to you if you won’t listen to Him,” as it has been most commonly portrayed. But I think we might find something else going on behind the scenes if we look closely.
At the beginning of the chapter, God says, “Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” (vs 4-5)
When I read this, here is what I saw: God wanted the Egyptians to know that He was the Lord just as much as He wanted the Israelites to know Him. What does this mean? God is interested in the heathen! He loves those that the world has written off.
The plagues weren’t designed to punish and torture the Egyptians. They were designed to communicate with Pharaoh and his people. God wanted them to know that He was the One who had saved them from the Great Famine. He wanted them to know that He loved and cared about them more than the many gods they served.
There was no other reason why God needed to keep the Israelites in Egypt for the length of time it took to complete the ten plagues. He could have easily struck the Egyptians blind while He ushered the Israelites out. No, God wanted to reach the Egyptians just as much as the Israelites.
His love is not limited by our nationality or our upbringing. God doesn’t play favorites, favoring the “educated” and neglecting the “ignorant.” He has plans to reach us all. It’s no coincidence that the God who was accused of “eating with sinners” while He lived on Earth in the flesh was trying to strike up a conversation with the heathens in Egypt!
God gives us increasing light.
One thing we can say for sure about God: He doesn’t leave us in the dark. If we eventually find ourselves in darkness, it’s because we have put ourselves there and have chosen to stay there.
In the story of The Plagues, things start out with Pharaoh’s “magicians” able to replicate the signs and wonders that Moses and Aaron are performing in the name of the Lord. Thus, we might argue that Pharaoh has little motivation to believe that Moses and Aaron are actually representing any god worth listening to.
During the second plague, however, even though the magicians are able to also “make frogs come up on the land” of Egypt, God has a special trick up His sleeve. Moses tells Pharaoh that he will announce the time that the plague will come to an end. This increases “the light” for Pharaoh just a little bit. He has the opportunity to see that these frogs aren’t just some sort of coincidence.
By the time we get to the third plague, the magicians are unable to replicate it. Thus, they tell Pharaoh plainly, “This is the finger of God.” (vs 19) How’s that for increased light? That’s like a 2×4 of light whacked over Pharaoh’s head. They understand what’s going on, but Pharaoh’s not ready to buy in just yet.
For His next revelation to Pharaoh, God sends a plague of swarming flies. But this time, just to make sure there are no questions in Pharaoh’s mind about where the plague came from or what the motives are, God restricts the flies to the houses of the Egyptians. There is not a single fly to be found in the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived.
Certainly, by this time, Pharaoh has to be sensible of what’s going on. He actually agrees to let the Israelites go off into the desert to make sacrifices to God, as long as they don’t “go very far.” (vs 28) But once the flies are removed, Pharaoh changes his mind. What’s in play now? Pride? Annoyance? Maybe Pharaoh doesn’t like meeting a God he can’t control . . .
Regardless, it’s fascinating to me to see the way God is communicating something new with each plague. From the inability of the magicians to replicate it, to letting Pharaoh dictate the time it will cease, to restricting a plague so that it only hits the Egyptians . . . God is slowly letting Pharaoh know that, indeed, He is the one true God. He is always increasing His light in our lives!
God is forbearing.
Here is what I’m contemplating as I read this chapter of Exodus: God demonstrates incredible forbearance as we navigate the continuum of salvation. Now, what does that mean?
I believe that the process by which we are lost (or saved) is just that . . . a process. It’s not a one-time pop quiz where we are confronted with the opportunity to make a decision, and if we make the wrong one, Game Over. Instead, it’s a process that occurs over a (long?) period of time, where God continually comes to us, and we have repeated opportunities to respond to His Spirit or reject His Spirit.
We could, as the Bible does in the case of Pharaoh, call this the process by which we either harden or soften our hearts. We often mistakenly assume that we are neutral in this process. But that’s not necessarily the case. Our past choices greatly affect our future choices. If we reject God’s Spirit once, it makes it a little bit harder to “hear” Him the next time and a little bit easier to reject Him again. On the contrary, if we respond to God’s Spirit once, it makes it a little bit easier to “hear” Him the next time and a little bit easier to respond to Him again.
It’s a process. And it takes time. In this chapter of Exodus, we see Pharaoh navigating this process. He goes back and forth, oscillating between belief and unbelief, reluctance and willingness. At one point, he even openly acknowledges his fault in the whole deal: “Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. ‘This time I have sinned,’ he said to them. ‘The Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.’” (vs 27)
As long as God exists, there will be freedom. And as long as freedom exists, there can only be one way for this process to ever come to an ultimate end — and that is if we choose to reject God’s Spirit to the point where we destroy our ability to hear Him any longer and there is nothing more He can do to heal/save us. As long as there is the tiniest bit of willingness in us, God keeps pursuing us and pursuing us.
For God, this process must require an incredible amount of forbearance. The Bible is full of stories of people who were, at one time, God’s friends and then later turned against Him . . . and vice versa. God may not be fickle, but we are! Yet, God is incredibly patient with us, gently nurturing us and giving us time to decide for or against Him. No human parent even comes close to exhibiting the same kind of patience with their own children as God has demonstrated for us.
Time and time again, God proves that He has an amazing amount of forbearance!
God cannot be manipulated.
I know I’ve read the stories of the plagues in detail at least a dozen times in my adult life. But as I write these daily blogs, I am once again struck by Pharaoh’s audacity. Once again, in chapter 10, it’s his officials who are trying to talk some sense into him: “Pharaoh’s officials said to him, ‘How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the Lord their God. Do you not yet realize that Egypt is ruined?’” (vs 7)
What I was contemplating today was the thought that this was a man and a society who worshipped gods, who existed on the idea that a good life depended upon finding out who the god was, what the god wanted, and giving it to them so they would go away and leave you alone (or reward you with blessings). This would have been Pharaoh’s mindset, so it’s stunning to me that after seven plagues, Pharaoh doesn’t seem interested in “giving God what He wants.”
Or is that it? In this scenario, Pharaoh is also in a bit of a snare. According to Egyptian theology, Pharaoh himself was considered a god in Egypt. So maybe Pharaoh didn’t like the Hebrew God trespassing on his territory.
You see, Pharaoh didn’t seem to mind gods at all . . . until he met one that he couldn’t manipulate. Pharaoh’s frame of reference when it came to deity was that gods were there to be appeased. Like cosmic vending machines, they would spit out exactly what you wanted if you gave them what they wanted. They could be “bought and sold.”
But our God cannot be bought and sold. He cannot be manipulated, because He’s not arbitrary. The things He asks of us, even requires of us, are not idle whimsies concocted because He has nothing better to do. They matter, because we matter to Him. Whatever He asks us to do (or not do) is for us, not for Him!
In the story of The Plagues, God was introducing Pharaoh to a whole new concept of deity, and Pharaoh didn’t like it. He, apparently, much preferred the gods who existed only in his head, the ones who could be easily manipulated and controlled.
Eugene Peterson once wrote that he wished there was a sign outside every church that read, “Beware the God.” Not because we have to be afraid of getting bitten. But because when a sinful heart encounters the infinite humility and graciousness of our wonderful God, it can be all too easy to assume that we are in control. We mistake humility for weakness, and in so doing, we try to set ourselves up as god.
But the God we serve — though infinite in grace and humility — does not exist to be manipulated and controlled by His creation. And when necessary, He will provide us with powerful reminders of that!
God is slow to wrath.
Let’s face it. This chapter is problematic for God. On the surface, it doesn’t make Him look very good, does it? What can you say about a God that goes around killing children? (Oh, I wish I had more room to write about death, but I’m sure it will come in time. It’s a large Bible . . . )
In the past, I have heard commentators on this chapter not only lament the fact that God does this extreme thing to begin with, but that He does it when Pharaoh has so hardened his heart that one wonders if he’s even capable of turning around now. Well, for starters, that’s part of the point. God has given us the freedom to choose, and we have the power to do just that — even the power to so harden ourselves to truth that we will sacrifice what is most important to us in life. Add to this the Egyptian understanding that the firstborn was merely an extension of oneself, and Pharaoh demonstrates that he is so hell-bent on defying God that he doesn’t care if he gets destroyed in the process.
Isn’t that a perfect picture of sin?
Now, I wish I had a lot of room to write about God’s wrath and what it is, because some people have the (mistaken, I believe) notion that God’s wrath involves lightning bolts and hellfire and such things. But, at the very least, stick with me until we get to Romans 1. Paul perfectly describes God’s wrath in that chapter! It is God’s giving up. (Okay, I gave it away.)
God giving up. Hmmm . . . doesn’t that perfectly describe the choice God was faced with when it came to Pharaoh? When He is confronted with somebody so stubborn, so unyielding that he is willing to destroy himself in order to not give in, what is left that God can do? In the ultimate scenario (the death of the wicked), He will give up and leave those people to the results of what they have chosen. There will be no point in His continued efforts to win them over . . . just as there would have been no point in having another 50 plagues.
But that giving up, that “wrath” comes very slowly for God. It is the last resort, the final step, and He certainly doesn’t want things to get to that point. Just like He didn’t want the firstborn of Egypt to die.
How do we know He didn’t want the firstborn of Egypt to die? Because it was the very first thing He warned Pharaoh about. Have you ever realized that? It was the very first plague God informed Pharaoh about and the very last plague that actually occurred. In Exodus 4, God gave Moses these instructions: “Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’” (vs 23)
Long before the Nile turned to blood, long before the gnats, the flies, or the frogs, God warned Pharaoh about what would happen if he hardened his heart. Now, I believe that God used Pharaoh as an example of what happens when we slowly reject His Spirit to the point where we are no longer able to listen to Him. God didn’t want that to be the example. He wanted Pharaoh to hear Him and respond. Time after time, He communicated with Pharaoh in a way that would help Pharaoh understand that the gods he thought were real were, in fact, figments of his imagination and that the God who was speaking to him was the one true God.
Unfortunately, Pharaoh refused to listen. But we can learn this about God: that He makes every imaginable, every possible effort in the fight to break through to us. He wants us. And, if we force Him to, there will come a point where He gives up and stops fighting for us. But that takes a very. long. time.
God doesn't judge.
Okay, at least get one paragraph in before you write me off just based on the title of this post. What do I mean by God doesn’t judge? Check out these verses from Exodus 12: “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.” (vs 12-13)
There is a little bit of irony in these verses. First, God says “I will bring judgment,” but I believe this passage also demonstrates that God doesn’t
judge . . . in the usual way we think of God’s judgment. Usually, our typical ideas of God’s judgment involve some sort of pronouncement on His part, right? We stand before Him, and He declares us to either be “righteous” or “wicked.” Or, in this particular case, we could easily assume that God’s “judgment” would take the form of smiting the Egyptians and sparing the Israelites.
But that’s not true. The text simply says that the angel would pass over the homes where there was blood on the doorpost. So, theoretically, if an Egyptian heard what was going on and — in a fit of superstition — decided to follow along with what the Israelites were doing, their household would have still had a living firstborn child the next day. Conversely, if an Israelite household had scoffed at the idea — What could smeared blood on a doorpost have to do with anything?! — they would have been -1 child when the sun came up.
The Passover was not punishment for the Egyptians and favoritism toward the Israelites. God is no respecter of persons. Everyone had the opportunity to put the blood on the doorposts. (And, it’s quite possible that some Egyptians did, as Exodus goes on to mention that there were a good number of “foreigners” who left Egypt with the Israelites.)
So . . . what about that part that says God will bring judgment upon the Egyptian gods? This is precisely what God’s judgment means. It’s not God standing over us, pronouncing some sort of sentence. It’s His revealing what is reality. Only God can read the heart, but through tangible actions, we can make our hearts known. Those who smeared the blood on the doorposts had — for some reason or another — heard the word of the Lord and decided to act upon it. But those who relied on their belief that the firstborn were gods in Egypt and, therefore, couldn’t be touched by God realized quickly that their beliefs weren’t right. In the Passover, their beliefs (and their gods) were “judged” as false — that is, revealed to be wrong.
Don’t I wish this was a message we could get into mainstream Christianity! God’s judgment is always about revelation, not condemnation!
God knows the way.
Finally, finally. The Israelites are released from Egypt — actually, driven out by Pharaoh, as God said they would be. And now, approximately two million people (with all their flocks and possessions) are on the move toward the Promised Land.
With so many people to move, and with a still-fickle, raging king behind you, it seems reasonable that you would want to take the shortest route, right? Perhaps reasonable to us. But that’s not what God does. I guess there is no “shortest distance” setting on the God-GPS.
There was a much shorter route to Canaan through Philistine country, but God determined that this wouldn’t be the best way to lead His people. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. In Exodus 3:12, God had told Moses that they would return to Mount Horeb to worship: “And God said, ‘I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’”
God knows the way. He knew that confronting the Philistines at that moment would be too frightening for the people. And He also knew that the Red Sea (which would eventually end up in the way) was not going to be a problem. So, for us, it is worth remembering that when we look on the landscape of life and when God looks on the landscape of life, we don’t see the same terrain. God sees things in a way that we can’t.
And He knows the way. He knows the best way. He may not take us the shortest way or the easiest way or the fastest way. But He will take us in the best way. And He will be with us the entire way. During our journey, He will never abandon us. Just like the Israelites who “wandered” in the desert, we may take the longer road, but with God, we will never be lost. He knows the way.
God is a fighter.
There is something in this chapter that I like very much: “Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’” (vs 13-14)
God is a fighter. He was certainly fighting in this chapter! He was fighting for the deliverance of His people, Israel. (vs 25) And He was also still fighting for the people of Egypt. (vs 4) He is fighting to be known by His beloved children, trapped as they are in their misperceptions.
Just yesterday, I read a news story that, in his latest book, Stephen Hawking says he has come to the conclusion that there is no God. Earlier this summer, he spoke to a crew who was filming a television documentary in Britain: He said, “The question is: Is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can’t understand, or was it determined by a law of science? I believe the second. If you like, you can call the laws of science ‘God’, but it wouldn’t be a personal God that you could meet, and ask questions.”
There’s something funny to me about that last sentence . . . particularly after reading Exodus 14. It doesn’t get any more personal than this! A God who stands up and fights for you. A God who snatches you from the mouth of certain death. A God who endures derision from His enemies (and even from you!) and still fights for you. It doesn’t get any more personal than that.
God is a fighter. And He is fighting for you. No matter the situation, you need only be still. He’s got it covered.
God is a healer.
God said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.” (vs 26)
God said this to the Israelites immediately after supernaturally correcting their thirst problem. They had traveled for three days in the desert. They were weary and thirsty, and when they arrived at Marah, they couldn’t drink the water that was there because it was bitter. So God told Moses to throw some wood into the water so it would become potable. (Naturally! Who wouldn’t have thought of making the water sweet with a tree!)
Then, God tells the people that if they will continue to listen to Him, they will not have any of the diseases that were brought upon the Egyptians. The thing about this word “disease” is that it does not necessarily describe a physical ailment, but an emotional one. The word has shades of “grief” and “regret” in its meaning. So, God is telling His people that, if they trust in Him, their hearts won’t be sick. They won’t be grieved and fearful.
For God is a healer. You see, we find ourselves naturally in a state of fear and worry. Things in this life can easily make us heartsick or heavy with grief. But knowing the wonderful news about who God is, and listening to His voice, calms our fears and eases our sickness. This is why Isaiah said about God, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” He wants to take those things away from us!
God is a healer. He can heal fear. He can heal grief. He can heal distress. Any situation that looks impossible to us (like being confronted with a bitter water supply) can be solved by Him in ways we can’t even imagine (tossing in a piece of wood will make it drinkable). And God has given us evidence — both in the Bible and also in personal ways throughout our lives — to help us know that we can trust Him fully.
So, what does your heart need healing from? Listen to God’s voice speaking to you. He is a healer.
God provides just what we need.
Ah, the manna chapter. I love this story. It’s one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I’m not exactly sure what it is that appeals to me so much, but I’m simply taken with it. I love the description in verse 17 of gathering the manna. God had apportioned an omer of manna for each person—but it’s not like there were any omer measuring cups! So, the text simply says that some gathered too much and some gathered too little, but in the end, everyone had their allotted omer.
And then I like the description about how people would try to keep some of it overnight (even though they were told not to), and it began to stink because it had sprouted maggots. But everything changed on Friday night . . . anything kept overnight on Friday didn’t spoil, and the people still had fresh manna for Sabbath without having to work to gather it.
I just love the seeming-oddities in this story, because it’s still such a wonderful example of how God wants to provide for us—even now! We may not find food on the ground in the morning anymore, but God wants to provide for us in just the same way.
He gives us just what we need for each day. His mercies—like the manna—are fresh every morning. Who knows how they come or how He gets them to us? But He does. Just as that layer of manna would “appear” every morning, God has strength, peace, and joy for us every day.
He gives us enough. With God, we are never left wanting. And—just like with the manna—it’s not about measurement, it’s about relationship. When we seek to gather in the blessings God has for us, He is faithful in His provisions. It doesn’t matter if we “gather” too much or too little, He makes it come out all right.
He wants to be our only Provider. I can emotionally identify with those Israelites that tried to “store up” today’s manna for tomorrow. It’s hard to trust—especially when you’re living in a desert without many food options! What if that layer of manna doesn’t appear the next morning? It would be very tempting to try to hang on to what you think you need. I’m the same way with other things in my life. I feel a certain amount of responsibility to look out for myself, to provide for myself, to make sure I’ve got it covered. But God is very capable of providing for my needs, and He wants to be the only one to do it! He knows better than me exactly what I need, and He’s got it covered. We can trust Him to give us just what we require—each and every day.
The Israelites ate that manna for forty years. That’s 14,600 meals. God didn’t let them down, not for one, single day. And He won’t let us down, either. He is able to provide just what we need.
So, when was the last time you expected the morning manna?
God is an exhibitionist.
No, I don’t mean that God is a flasher. I mean that He’s into exhibits . . . as in Exhibit A, Exhibit B, etc. In other words, He uses evidence—a lot of evidence—to persuade us that He exists.
I guess ten plagues, a parted sea, bread rained down from heaven, and a miracle to sweeten drinking water were not yet enough for the Israelites to understand that they were in the presence of a personal God who cared about them and wanted to provide for them. Here they are, in this chapter, once again crying to Moses that they would die in the wilderness.
And once again, God comes through with yet another evidence of His presence with them. This time, He has Moses strike a rock, and water comes out of it for the people to drink. Later, when the Israelites are attacked by a neighboring nation, God fights for Israel. But He does it in such a way that they know of His presence. While Moses’s hands are lifted to heaven, the Israelites win the battle. When his hands get tired and drop, the Israelites start to fall behind in the battle. Their winning or losing isn’t dependent upon their battle strategy or their strength. It’s just dependent upon one thing—God.
The point is that God doesn’t leave us to wonder about His existence. Paul echoes this in Romans 1:18-20 with these words: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
God has made sure that there is no reason for us to say, “There is no God.” Now, we are free to say that if we want, but according to Paul, we know it’s not true. And looking at God’s dealings with Israel, we can definitely say that God is not shy! He is bold, forthright, and forthcoming. We won’t ever have to wonder about whether He’s there or not. He always makes His presence known, because He wants to be known!
God desires intimacy.
I wonder if Moses did the right thing. He listened to his father-in-law: “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” (vs 17-23)
Moses did exactly what Jethro said. The Bible doesn’t say if he consulted God about it or not. But, we’re going to see that it won’t be long before Moses goes up Mount Sinai, and the people have already become more distanced and detached from him. Could that be because of the extra, insulating layer of “government” that was put between them and Moses, and thus, them and God? Also, perhaps this bureaucratic structure—enacted so early on—paved the way for the people to want “one of their own” to rule over them in later years when they asked for a king.
Jethro told Moses that the work was too hard for him, but God had never told Moses that. Wouldn’t a God who was able to provide for the hunger and thirst of millions of people in the desert be capable of caring for the needs of His right-hand man? Perhaps He sent Jethro to advise Moses, but since Moses and God were in the habit of speaking so plainly with one another, I would wonder why God didn’t speak to Moses Himself.
So what, if anything, would be wrong about setting up the judges as Moses did? Perhaps only in what it would communicate to the people about God. The people knew that Moses was God’s right-hand man, and it must have been incredible to be able to have access to him, to bring their disputes to him, and to feel that—in so doing—they had an ally in one who was so closely connected with their God.
Imagine if, instead of going to your local district court, you could have your case heard in the United States Supreme Court. Or, forget the Supreme Court, imagine if you could take your dispute right to the President of the United States (or the top authority in your country). Instead, there’s a system. And, unfortunately, many times, people feel as though they’ve just become a “number” in the system instead of a person who has a name.
God desires intimacy. His wish is that we have fewer layers of bureaucracy between us and Him, not more! He longed to speak to every Israelite like He spoke to Moses—face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And I think it’s possible that, in listening to the advice of his father-in-law, Moses took those wishes one step in the wrong direction. Regardless, today, be assured that God doesn’t want there to be anyone between you and Him. He certainly doesn’t need anyone between you and Him, but if, for the sake of your comfort, you do, He will graciously provide a mediator.
The desire of God’s heart, however, is intimacy. To intimately know you and to be intimately known by you.
God is not selfish.
It’s clear from this chapter that God is getting ready to set up Israel as His special nation. They are to be His chosen people, to live according to His wisdom, and to be a light to all the other nations—to help them learn about the true God of heaven.
In preparation for that, God draws the people to Mount Sinai. They have witnessed the mighty miracles that brought them out of Egypt. For three months, they have had their needs provided for. They have had food, water, and shelter. After a long stay in Egypt, they are beginning to realize that there is only one God who cares about them and is able to hear them.
And what do we see about this God in Exodus 19? We find that He is not selfish. He is not drawing these people to Himself for His benefit, but for their benefit. Their worship of Him and their obedience to Him will only make Him happy for one reason: it will prosper the children He loves. How do we know this? In verse 9, God tells Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.”
Wow! God is acting in such a way that Moses will be honored and glorified in the eyes of the people. He is deliberately acting in a way that will—in essence—make Moses appear to the people as a god. Of course, Moses’s “god-like” status is dependent upon the fact that he is actually God’s close friend. He can’t just decide that he’s going to take the nation of Israel and do what he wants with them.
But the point is that God isn’t some power-hungry, self-centered worship-monger. He doesn’t say, “Out of my way, Moses. It’s all about Me, and I’m going to make sure the people know that!” No. He shares His honor and glory with Moses so that Moses can, in turn, lead the people and they can be blessed. God’s mind and heart are on His people . . . not on His own exaltation.
To be sure, if God wanted to hoard all the power, honor, and glory for Himself, He could do it. A God who can set a mountain on fire would be an impossible act to follow! But God is less interested in making Himself look good than He is in making sure we are on the path to freedom and happiness. He cares about others first!
God is a lover.
As I read the Ten Commandments today—something I have surely done at least a hundred times in my life—I was struck by the raw heart of God, the eternal lover. Perhaps I was attuned to this because, just a couple of days ago, I mentioned the fact that God seems to desire a great deal of intimacy with us.
The first four of the Ten Commandments scream “lover” to me. They are the tender cry of a God whose heart is longing for those He loves. As I considered them in this way, I thought that the emotion was so intense, it could almost seem embarrassing.
You shall have no other gods besides me.
In other words, please choose Me! I love you, and I want you to love Me! I want to have exclusive access to your heart, soul, and mind. I want to be the only one to love you in this way.
It reminds me of a favorite love song from the past:
If you let me be / I’ll be all you need
If you take a chance / I’ll be worth the chance
If you just love me / You will gladly see / I’m all you need
I wanna be the only one to hold you / Protect you from the rain
I wanna be the only one to soothe you / Erase all the pain
I wanna be the only one to love you / Love you over again
I wanna be the only one, the only one / The only one I am
You shall not make for yourself an idol of anything else, nor bow down to them, nor serve them.
In other words, take down all those pictures of your past lovers. I want you to give yourself to Me and Me only. They don’t love you like I love you. Please don’t spend time thinking about how to get back together with them—I want you!
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
In other words, please take our relationship seriously. Don’t ignore Me just until you need something. Don’t use Me like a sugar daddy. This love I’ve got for you is the best thing you’ll ever have going for you in life. Don’t treat it lightly. Don’t take it for granted. Here I am . . . get to know Me!
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
In other words, what are you doing this weekend? How about Friday night and Saturday? I’d like to pick you up and take you out. I’d like to pamper you. I’d like to spend the whole day showing you just how much I care. Are you too busy to see Me? Can you lay aside your work, your chores, everything and just come away with Me? Let’s make it a weekly date, huh? I really want you to remember how good you have it with Me. Give Me time to love you up, will you?
So, are you blushing yet? I guess God’s not afraid to wear His heart on His sleeve. He’s desperately in love with you, and He’s out to let you know it! Have you been looking for, longing for a lover? Perhaps the search is over.
God values freedom.
It seems odd, doesn’t it, that in a chapter of the Bible which begins by regulating the trade of Hebrew slavery, we might say this tells us that God values freedom? But, there it is.
The thing I was so struck with was how God commands the Israelites to treat these slaves:
1) There was absolutely no room for stealing or kidnapping people. There are only provisions made if a servant is bought. Now, this might not seem like a big distinction to us. Indeed, our 21-century sensibilities are still outraged at the thought of buying and selling people. But God must start with what He’s got. And what He had was a whole world of people who didn’t give much of a thought to people. And so He begins by insisting that people—even if they are going to be bought and sold—are valuable and worth money!
2) After seven years, the servant could make the choice to be free. This was something brand-new. In Genesis 15, Abraham wondered aloud to God about the promise of making him a great nation when the only “heir” to his estate was the son of a lifelong servant. Now, in Exodus 21, God says that any servant—no matter their background, no matter where they came from, no matter how much they cost—would be free to choose their own destiny after six years. They could choose to go, or they could choose to stay. If they chose to stay, it would be for life. Now, after having to purchase a servant, and knowing that in six years, that servant would be free to walk away or stay, how would that motivate the owner to behave toward his servant? Quite generously, unless he wanted to lose his “investment”! Nevertheless, God introduces freedom for the slave. This, of course, was no accident. God was always keeping before the Israelite nation the reminder that He had brought them out of slavery. And He is still the only freedom there is.
3) God also introduces rights for women at the beginning of this chapter. Sure, they are still included in the “slave” category, but . . . rights for women! Apparently, God didn’t like the way He looked down and saw them being treated either.
Now, what does all this mean? It means that God values freedom. You might say, “Well, if God really valued freedom, He would have come along instead and said, ‘No more slavery! And stop treating women like property!’” And yes, He could have chosen to do that. But what would that have accomplished at that time?
Do you know how to solve this equation? x + 537 = 21x / 2968
You probably do. But you didn’t know how to solve it in Kindergarten. In math, you must begin with 1 + 1 = 2. And in the realm of morals and love, God had to begin with the Israelites where they were, not where He was!
Freedom for the slave! Equality for women! The very beginnings of these ideas are found right in Exodus 21. God values freedom—for all of us. He gives freedom to everyone, respects the freedom of everyone, and He is eager to teach us how to do the same thing.
This chapter is more about what will happen to the Israelites if/when they disobey the laws God has given them. And, for me, some interesting things emerged here. Notice the following differences involving the theft of animals:
“If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” (vs 1)
“If a stolen animal is found alive in his possession—whether ox or donkey or sheep—he must pay back double.” (vs 4)
Did you see the difference? It’s interesting, isn’t it? If a person steals an animal and it is found alive in his possession, he must pay back the offended party double. However, if he has killed it or sold it, he has to pay the owner back four or five times. Why? As far as the owner is concerned, what does it matter if the animal is found or if it is gone? Why is the owner at a greater loss if the original animal has disappeared?
Actually, it makes no difference to the owner. The difference, I believe, is in the thief. A criminal novice is likely to be less bold and brazen, to make mistakes, to “get caught” with the animal. However, a thief who steals the animal and then quickly gets rid of the evidence—by selling it or killing it—shows a greater degree of brazenness. (Perhaps he got caught with the original animal the first time around and isn’t about to let that happen again!) Thus, the more “painful” consequences.
The whole world has fallen into sin, and God is interested in turning us around. Just because the ultimate consequences of sin are not imposed by God, this doesn’t mean that He doesn’t use lesser imposed consequences to discipline us. The difference is that God uses imposed consequences to get our attention and turn us around . . . so He can save us. And in so doing, He takes into consideration the mindset and the attitude of the transgressor.
God (and thus, God’s law) is not arbitrary. Nothing He does is a coincidence or an accident. Everything He does is done for a very good reason . . . for our healing and salvation. As a good parent yanks a knot in the tail of an out-of-control child, so God disciplines us—for our benefit. And though, like children, we may not understand it all now, we will thank Him later for knowing just how to reach us with His discipline.
God does not love the poor . . .
. . . any more than He loves the rich! (I hope you made it to the latter part of the sentence!)
Because of Jesus, those of us who follow Christ have a special place in our heart for the poor. We see the outcast and downtrodden in society, and something in us cries out. If you’re like me, you feel like there is so little you can do, but you are compelled to do the small things you can to try to make a difference to those who come across your path.
And, of course, God has a soft spot for the poor. In Jesus’s day, poor people lived under a double curse. First, they had to deal with the economics of being poor. Second, they lived in a society where the prevailing religious viewpoint was that riches were a sign of God’s favor; thus, if you were poor, you were “a sinner.” So that’s why Jesus made a special point of reaching out to the poor, to show that God loved them just as much as the rich.
We see that in Exodus 23 as well. God commands the Israelites to provide justice for the poor: “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.” (vs 6) He also commanded the Israelites to farm their land in a way that would benefit the poor: “For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it.” (vs 10-11)
This is expected from God, the Champion of the Underdog! But then, Exodus 23 also includes this curious command: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.” (vs 2-3) I think God must have known that many people, when seeking to do good, have the tendency to take it too far. Having climbed out of one ditch, we’ll veer across the road and happily smash into the other.
God commanded the Israelites to care about the welfare of the poor because, left to their own devices, they would have been much more likely to cater to the rich. (Hmmm . . . perhaps not much has changed!) However, God’s ultimate aim was to teach the Israelites about doing what was right. He didn’t want them to cater to the rich in neglect (or abuse of) the poor. But neither did He want them to treat a rich person unfairly for the sake of a poor person . . . just because they were poor.
These commands are rooted in the way God sees us and treats us. In His eyes, we are all equals. He doesn’t love poor people more than rich people. And He doesn’t love rich people more than poor people. He loves us all equally. He provides for the needs of everyone, not just a select few.
So, God is no respecter of persons—rich or poor. When He looks at us, He doesn’t see labels. He sees His children. And I think that’s how He would like our eyes to function as well. Instead of seeing people as labels—rich or poor, black or white, young or old, male or female—He wants us to see God’s children when we look out at the world. That is the first step to living a truly just life.
God longs to be seen.
There’s a line from an old movie bouncing around in my head. (Unfortunately, I can’t remember which movie!) A man and woman (who have some history) meet again.
The man says, “It’s good to see you.”
And the woman replies, “It’s good to be seen.”
As I read this chapter of Exodus, I thought about that little piece of dialogue. I was amazed (even though I know I’ve read this before!) to find this piece of information here: “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” (vs 9-11)
They saw God? This didn’t jive with one of my preconceived(?) learned(?) bits of info about God: that nobody can see Him and live. Now, I know full well that we’re going to run into that in a few chapters when Moses asks to see God’s glory. You remember the story, right? God puts Moses in the cleft of the rock and covers him with His hand. Then, He says that He’ll pass by and let Moses look at His backside (?!) since nobody can see His face and live.
But here, in Exodus 24, is the description of a feast that Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy other people ate in God’s presence! Wow! I am actually quite jealous. I can’t imagine what that would have been like.
And here’s what this tells me about God: He longs to be seen. He longs to be known. God isn’t out to hide from us. Rather, we know from the story in Genesis, that it’s we who are hiding from Him! He longs for us to know Him just as well as He knows us. He longs for us to see Him just as well as He sees us.
What’s even more amazing to realize is what this dinner party must have meant to those people on the mountain. They had just come out of slavery in Egypt, where there were more “gods” than you could count or keep track of. And while they had idols—statues and things to represent their gods—they had never actually seen any of those gods. (And that would be because they didn’t exist . . . )
They worshipped all those gods blindly. They had never actually seen them, and they never would. But Israel’s God was different. He met the people who worshipped Him—personally! He invited them up on the mountain for a meal. He spent time with them. I mean, to these people, this must have been something more incredible than they could have ever imagined. Now, when they went to worship “their God,” they could put “a face” with “a name.” This was a God they had seen, had talked to, had eaten with.
Today, God still doesn’t ask us to worship Him blindly. He always connects seeing with believing. Yes, He is (literally) the only God in heaven and earth. But He is also the only God who will come to you in person, who will spend time with you, and who longs to be seen and known.
God wants to be close to us.
“Just like me, they long to be close to you,” sang Karen Carpenter. It is also the revealed heart-cry of God in Exodus 25. Here, He requests offerings from those who are so moved—offerings of gold, silver, bronze, and other expensive items. Does God want to go on a shopping spree? No! He wants to build a home.
“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them,” He says in verse 8. All along, God’s wish has been to be with His children. If you’re a parent with grown children—especially if they live far away from you—you know this wish all too well. It’s something that doesn’t go away.
God has this desire as well. He wants to live with us. He wants to see us, and He is out to make any arrangements He can to accomplish His goal. He’s like an estranged parent who has gone to court to fight for custody—even just visitation!—of His children. He just wants to be with us.
Not only does He intend to live in this sanctuary that the Israelites are going to build, but He is planning something even more intimate: “There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you.” (vs 22) Once again, God’s heart is exposed on His sleeve. Yes, we have done Him wrong. Yes, we have been nasty to Him. Yes, we have prostituted ourselves to other gods. But God can’t hold a grudge. He can’t help Himself. He just wants to be close to us.
God doesn't cut corners.
Have you ever wondered why Exodus 26 is in the Bible? Why in the world did Moses feel it necessary to include the detailed blueprints for the sanctuary in Scripture? Does it matter if we know exactly how long the walls were supposed to be and what color they were dyed? Does our salvation depend on knowing how many loops the curtains had?
Of course not. So why include it in the Bible?
Well, I really can’t speak for Moses. I don’t know what his motivation was for writing it all down for posterity, but I do know one thing it teaches us about God. He is an absolute stickler for detail. This God doesn’t cut corners. He is intentional, and nothing He does is an accident. It’s all on purpose.
I’m currently reading Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design by Stephen Meyer. In the book, Meyer points out the fact that the highly-intricate sequencing of proteins in our DNA resembles complex software programs. And, of course, we all know that no complex software program ever created itself. All of the technology we know and enjoy is the product of intelligence. So, Meyer concludes, why should we assume that DNA is not the product of intelligence?
Indeed, he quotes Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA, as saying, “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.” Why must they constantly keep that in mind? Because what they’re looking at bears all the hallmarks of intelligent design! And they are the same hallmarks as those we see in Exodus 26.
God doesn’t do things by accident. And because He doesn’t cut corners when He creates, that means you are not by accident either. You are special, valuable, and loved. In God’s eyes, you are truly one-of-a-kind. He knows everything about you, down to the very last detail. He doesn’t leave anything to chance, doesn’t take anything for granted.
If He took so much care and concern in constructing something like the sanctuary, how much more care and concern does He have for you!
God is the light.
At the end of the instructions for building the sanctuary comes this commandment from the Lord: “Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning. In the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain that is in front of the Testimony, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the Lord from evening till morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come.” (vs 20-21)
At the sanctuary, there would be lamps burning throughout the night, all night, every night. The purpose of this? To remind the Israelites that God is the light. No matter how deep the darkness, He is the light. As David said in Psalm 139, “The darkness is not dark to You. Night is as bright as day.”
How much easier and less stressful our lives would be if we remembered this! That darkness is not dark to God, no matter how pervasive it seems to us. God can deal with the darkest of situations . . . because He is inherently light. Darkness must flee from Him. Darkness is transformed by Him. As John said in John 1, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”
The lamps were there to be a constant reminder to the Israelites that they weren’t alone. They hadn’t been abandoned in the wilderness. They weren’t neglected in the night. The ever-shining Light of the World was with them always. They weren’t orphans.
Oh, if we could only catch a vision of these lamps! For the earth is slowly and continually descending into more and more darkness. And now, more than ever, we need to remember that no matter how dark our surroundings, God is the light. And He is always with us!
God remembers us.
And now we come to the priestly garments. Here’s the thing I loved about this chapter: “Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a gem cutter engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in gold filigree settings and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the Lord.” (vs 11-12)
What’s interesting to me about this is that God certainly doesn’t need these names engraved on stone to remember, does He? Is He incapable of remembering His children without physically seeing their names engraved on Aaron’s clothing? Of course not.
So what’s the point of setting these stones on the clothing as a “memorial before the Lord”?
Here’s what I think: God wants us to know that He remembers. He wants us to remember that He remembers. For God, the fact that we know that He remembers us is just as important as the fact that He remembers us in the first place. The stones on Aaron’s clothing were not for God’s memory, but for the Israelites to know that they were remembered.
And what wonderful symbolism, as well, that Aaron carried the names of the Israelites over his heart. Whenever he went before God, the names of the Israelites were there, reminding him that God’s people are near and dear to His heart, just as they were physically near to Aaron’s heart.
Today, God is saying to us, “I remember you. So I want you to remember that I remember. Never forget how special and important you are to Me!”
God gives the full treatment.
As part of the process of ordaining Aaron and his sons to be priests over Israel, they were to be sprinkled with blood: “Take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on its head. Slaughter it, take some of its blood and put it on the lobes of the right ears of Aaron and his sons, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet.” (vs 19-20)
It’s interesting to note that Aaron and his sons were sprinkled with blood on their heads, hands, and feet. The first thing I thought about this was how God was consecrating both their thoughts and actions to Him. And that led me to thinking about how God, if He is Lord, wants to be Lord of all of us, not just some of us.
This reminded me of what of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes from Mere Christianity:
“When I was a child I often had toothaches, and I knew that if I went to my mother, she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother—at least, not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right.
“And I knew those dentists; I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie; if you gave them an inch they took a mile. Our Lord is like the dentists. If you give Him an inch, He will take a mile. Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of or which is obviously spoiling daily life. Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked for; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment.”
Praise God that He gives us the full treatment! He doesn’t want to be Lord of one part of our lives. He wants to be Lord over all our lives. He wants us, just as we are. This isn’t about control . . . it’s about love. Because we are His precious children, He wants to know us fully and be known by us fully. He wants to have every part of us so that we may live life to the fullest.
He knows just what we need, and He is fully committed. He will never stop at anything less than 100 percent. Why? Because He doesn’t love us any less than 100 percent! If we allow Him, He will always give us the full treatment!
God is the only life-source.
Any time Moses “numbered” the Israelites (took a census, basically), they were required to pay a “ransom” price for their lives: “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them.” (vs 12)
What was the purpose of this payment? What sort of plague would come upon the Israelites if they didn’t pay up?
Here’s what occurred to me: God was trying to teach the Israelites that their lives were not their own. In other words, He needed them to remember that they had no power within themselves to create or sustain their lives. They were totally dependent upon Him for every breath, every moment of life.
Thus, the “plague” that would come upon them if they didn’t fulfill this commandment would be the plague of self-sufficiency. They could easily fall prey to the plague of autonomy. Being required to basically “pay for your life” would be a definite reminder that your life was in another person’s hands—in this case, God’s hands.
Another interesting thing to note was that this payment was required, no matter the amount of money you had: “The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives.” (vs 15) To me, this is further indication that the payment of the money was for the sake of the Israelites, not because God wanted money. Everyone—from the very rich to the poorest of the poor—needed to remember that God was their source of life and that they were dependent upon Him.
God is the only Source of life in the entire universe. Every day we enjoy is a gift from His gracious hand. Every breath we take is only possible because He created us and is sustaining us. There is no inherent life in anyone or anything outside of Him. Everything that lives and moves and breathes is powered by His sustaining energy. He alone is life!
God is the Savior. He is the only Savior. And one of the ways He helps us remember that is by giving us the Sabbath, a day when we stop working and rest in Him. I love how God says it in this chapter: “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.” (vs 13)
The word translated holy in that verse is the Hebrew word Qadash, which means to be honored, to be treated as sacred. So what God is saying here is that we should keep the Sabbath day in order to remember that God is the one who honors us. He treats us as special, precious children.
It is because of this relationship that God saves us. He saves us because He loves us. He saves us because, in His eyes, we are valuable treasures. But we can only enjoy the advantages of this relationship when we take part in it. If our attitude is one of autonomy and self-sufficiency (remember that “plague” from the previous chapter?), we will work and work to save ourselves. That only leads to a dead end.
Since God is the only Source of life in the universe, we can’t find it without Him. We can’t work for it or obtain it on our own. He is the only one who creates and saves. And the Sabbath is a weekly reminder (even a confrontation!) that we are dependent upon God, and that He loves us and honors us as His children.
God is a know-it-all.
Are you surprised by the events recorded in Exodus 32? Whether we are surprised or not, I don’t believe God was surprised in the least. In fact, He just spent the last several “chapters” in Exodus laying out commands for the Israelites that had to do with idolatry, sacrifice, autonomy, and self-sufficiency.
So, when I say that God is a know-it-all, that doesn’t mean He goes around with a haughty attitude. I simply mean that He actually does know it all. By the events recorded in Exodus 32, we can see that God knew exactly where the hearts of the Israelites were headed. He knew they were prone to idolatry. He knew they would prefer gods they could “control.” And before things got out of control at the base of the mountain, He had already laid out in detail the commandments and requirements that would help them steer clear of their tendencies.
God knows our hearts, and He is always engaged with us, on the offensive with us. He implements the measures He knows we need, helping us to move step-by-step from slavery into freedom. Just as He rescued the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt (and then began the difficult task of removing Egypt from within them), so He knows just how to rescue us from whatever is keeping us bound.
When it comes to His creatures, God is definitely a know-it-all. Our job is simply to relax, rest, and trust in His wisdom.
God prefers "face to face" communication.
I’ve always felt a little jealous of Moses. The Bible says that God “would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” (vs 11) I’ve always thought about how wonderful that would be!
But I had never realized before that this statement is in the very same chapter of Exodus as this statement: “And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence . . . But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’” (vs 19-20)
Those two statements seem a bit contradictory, don’t they? If God says that no human may see His face and live, yet the Bible also says that God talked to Moses face to face, which is it?
I guess it’s both. We know that being in the Lord’s presence (even when not physically seeing His face) changed Moses’s physical appearance. He would come out of the Tent of Meeting and his face was so bright with God’s glory that he had to wear a veil so he wouldn’t scare the people. So, God was probably not exaggerating when He said that to literally see His divine face would be a catastrophic event for sinful humanity.
On the other hand, God talked to Moses as a man would talk to his friend. The Bible calls that “face to face,” and I think that means with openness and honesty. Instead of describing a physical aspect of the relationship, this was describing the quality of the relationship. God spoke openly with Moses. Not with signs, symbols, and parables, but in plain speech.
That’s how He wants to talk to each of us. Often, I think He is hindered from doing that because of our preoccupation with other things. We don’t have much time to talk to Him, so He must resort to other methods that the still, small, plain-speaking voice. So I will praise Him that He will use the thunder, lightning, and smoke when we need it!
But His heart’s desire is to speak with us face to face, as a man talks to his friend.
God in His own words.
I’ve always loved this chapter of the Bible. Have you ever wondered: if you ask God what He’s like, what will He say? Moses did just that, and in Exodus 34, he received an answer.
Here’s how God describes Himself:
3) Slow to anger
4) Abounding in love and faithfulness
5) Merciful to wicked, rebellious, and sinful people
6) Disciplines by letting sin’s consequences unfold
What do you think of His self-description? Do you agree/disagree? Do you think God has a P.R. Department? That He tries to say He’s one way, while He acts another way?
If you were designing the perfect Deity, would you want to add anything to the above list? Would you want to remove anything?
This is God in His own words. To me, it’s fascinating.
What’s even more fascinating is that He doesn’t just say, “Here’s how I am. Take Me at My word.” On the contrary, He has provided evidence for us to consider. Everything that comes before this declaration and everything that comes after will reveal to us whether or not God has accurately portrayed Himself here.
God values willingness.
As God was contemplating the building of His holy temple, He gave this command to the Israelites: “From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering of gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.” (vs 5-9)
The thought for today is simple. God values willingness. He’s not into force or coercion. He is not interested in bossing us around. He is interested in having a relationship with us, a two-way street, something in which we are willing to participate.
The temple of a god on the earth was an important thing! It’s where the people would go to “communicate” with their deity. If there was anything for which God could have commanded the very best, it would have been the temple. Yet, He doesn’t demand an offering. He requests an offering from those who are willing.
God wants us. But He doesn’t want us kicking and screaming. Our willingness is important to Him!
God provides all that is needed.
So the Israelites begin to build the sanctuary, God’s dwelling place. It’s a project God has specifically commissioned, and He has asked for their willingness to partner with Him in building a house for Him. And nestled in the description of all the building is this little piece of information: “And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.” (vs 6-7)
What they had was more than enough. God gave skills to the craftsmen for building. He blessed the people with material goods, and they were willing to give—more than enough! What God had commissioned, He provided for. All the tools and talent were gifts from His hand.
I so often forget this! I so often lose sight of the fact that God has more than enough to equip me to do everything He has commissioned me to do! The only part I give is the willingness. Since He won’t force me to follow His plan for my life, I can choose to miss out on what He wants me to do. But if I’m willing, I will find that everything else is provided.
What about you? Facing a tough job? Something that looks too massive for you to handle? Put your willingness on God’s side, and watch all the ways that He will provide everything you need to get the job done!
God notices the little details.
Did we need to have an entire Bible chapter about the building of the sanctuary elements? Every little detail is mentioned—from the cups on the lampstand to the gold rings on the four corners of the ark. The description seems just as careful as the actual crafting probably was.
So why is this here, and more importantly, what does it communicate to us about God?
God notices the little things. He pays attention to detail. He gets very specific—just like a good Creator. He didn’t say, “Okay, I want a table and some sort of lamp and a . . .” No, He spelled it out. He made sure the Israelites knew that the little details were important to Him.
This is great news for us, because it means that God notices (and is interested in) all the little details of our lives, too. Sometimes it might be easy to imagine that God is “somewhere out there” and that He is so big that He is too busy to notice what’s going on with us. But He knows it all, right down to the very last gold ring.
Jesus confirmed this when He said, “What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” (Matt 10:29-31)
I love the last part of that text. Don’t worry. You’re worth more than small birds. God knows all the little details about you, right down to the very number of hairs on your head. You’re on His mind. You’re in His heart. He knows and cares about everything that happens to you.
God is precious.
Even in the instructions on how to build the sanctuary, God was trying to teach the Israelites that He is holy and precious. He wanted them to know that He was to be reverenced . . . not because His holy ego demands respect, but because as creatures, our best good comes when we respect our Creator.
One of the ways God communicated this in the sanctuary instructions was through the use of different materials. Three different building materials were used in the construction of the sanctuary and its elements: gold, silver, and bronze. Only gold was used to cover the “most holy” things, the things that held or signified God’s immediate presence.
The Ark of the Covenant, the Table (which held the Bread of the Presence), the Lampstand, and the Altar of Incense were all covered with gold. The more common areas of the sanctuary and the everyday altar for offerings utilized silver and bronze. In this way, the Israelites understood that the finest things in the sanctuary were the things that represented God Himself, and thus, that God Himself was the finest thing in their lives.
God still wants us to realize that He is the most precious thing in our life. No matter what other things of beauty surround us, He is the best, the cream of the crop. Everything golden is in Him!
God doesn't make copies.
If you have never seen Milos Forman’s Oscar-winning 1984 film, Amadeus, you really must. It is arguably one of the best films of all time. It is also (though I don’t know if the writer or director intended this) one of the best examples of the insanity and self-destructiveness of sin. If you have seen it, you will surely remember the scene where Mozart’s wife brings a portfolio of her husband’s music to Antonio Salieri for review.
Salieri: Are you sure you can’t leave these and come back again?
Contstanze Mozart: It’s very tempting sir, but it’s impossible, I’m afraid. Wolfgang would be frantic if he found those were missing. You see, they’re all originals.
Contstanze Mozart: Yes, sir, he doesn’t make copies.
Salieri: These, are originals? (Contstanze Mozart nods.)
Salieri (narrating): These were originals. First, and only, drafts of music, but they showed no corrections of any kind. Not one. He had simply written down music already finished in his head. Page after page of it . . . as if he were just taking dictation! And music, finished as no music is ever finished. Displace one note and there would be diminishment. Displace one phrase and the structure would fall.
God doesn’t make copies either. He is an “originals” kinda guy. In Exodus 39, it says that the breastpiece for the clothing of the high priest was studded with four rows of precious gems: “In the first row there was a ruby, a topaz and a beryl; in the second row a turquoise, a sapphire and an emerald; in the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst; in the fourth row a chrysolite, an onyx and a jasper. They were mounted in gold filigree settings. There were twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.” (vs 10-14)
The high priest would wear the stones over his heart in order to signify that the Lord kept His people close to His heart at all times. And what did you notice about the stones that represented the twelve tribes of Israel? They were all different! There weren’t twelve rubies or twelve diamonds or twelve emeralds. Every stone was different. Every stone was unique. Every stone was an original.
This is precisely how God sees us. You are infinitely precious to Him, because God doesn’t make copies. You are a one-of-a-kind original, and God loves you just as you are! He can’t replace you with anyone else, and that’s why He’ll not leave any stone unturned in His quest to have a relationship with you. He can’t fill your place in His heart with anyone else.
God doesn’t make copies. He loves each of us as if we were the only one to love!
God does what He says.
“If you build it, he will come.” This is, perhaps, the most famous line from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams. But what you may not know is that the author of the film script had lifted this directly from Exodus. Not the exact wording, but the concept.
“If you build it, I will come.” That was God’s message to the Israelites about the sanctuary. No other god in history had promised to dwell among a group of people. No other god in history had approached people in a personal way with an offer of a personal relationship. The God of the Israelites was different.
I wonder what it must have been like as the architects and craftsmen studied the plans laid out by the Lord and, slowly but surely, handcrafted all the items as they had been described. They labored to make everything just right. Did they wonder what would happen when they were done? Like all the sacrifices they’d made to the gods in Egypt (who never bothered to show up, much less come through for the people), did they wonder if it would all be in vain?
But then, we read verses 34 and 35: “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 upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” The Israelites built it, and God actually showed up! And He showed up in a major way. The tabernacle was so full of His glory that Moses couldn’t even squeeze himself in.
God always keeps His promises! We can take His Word to the bank. He promised to dwell among the people if they would make Him a dwelling place. They did. And He did.