“That I may dwell among them”

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.”
(Exodus 25:8)

When we studied Exodus 24 last time together, we read of the seemingly-insurmountable rift of separation between God and the people. In fact in verses 1-2, God even says, “All of you must worship from a distance. Only Moses is allowed to come near to the Lord. The others must not come near, and none of the other people are allowed to climb up the mountain with him” (Exodus 24:1-2, NLT). The situation seems pretty clear cut. God is holy. The people are not. Therefore, both parties will never be able to exist in each other’s presence. But when we move to Exodus 25, we begin to grasp the amazing realization that God actually had a plan this entire time to close that distance and breach that barrier of separation. Before the fall, mankind enjoyed complete, unhindered fellowship with their Creator. Once the rebellion happened, however, we humans created our own veil of sin separating us from our Heavenly Father. “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2, NKJV). Yet, in Exodus 25-31, with the introduction of the plans for the tabernacle, we begin to see the Father start to close that rift. The amazing reality is that God actually wants to dwell among us. He desires to “move in” with His people.

It is nearly impossible to overemphasize the importance of Exodus 25 verse 8 and how it fits into the comprehensive biblical story. From a literary perspective, this verse acts as a “hinge point” in the scriptural narrative. God will once again make His home among His children. What a mind-blowing prospect! And yet, as we continue to read through Exodus and Leviticus and so on, it doesn’t take us long to realize that there are still some serious limitations with this sanctuary business. God’s Presence among the people is limited to a single physical structure. Additionally, the people must rely on the mediatorial ministry of the priests on their behalf. They are still unable to access God directly. And from God’s perspective, this arrangement simply isn’t good enough.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NKJV). And so, in a breathtaking move that would alter the course of history, God executed the next step in His plan: He sent Jesus Christ to BE the tabernacle among us – the living, breathing manifestation of God. “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (The Message). In three and a half years, Jesus with His little band of followers would change the world. Yet, God’s plan was still not complete. The Person of Jesus Christ, while on earth, was still limited to a single physical place at any given point in time. At the end of His ministry, Jesus must tell His tearful disciples why He would need to go away for a while: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7).

The next step, Jesus instructed His followers, would be for the Holy Spirit to come. A special outpouring of God’s Presence into our lives. And where does that leave us now?

So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22, HCSB)

Unbelievable as it is, God is now able to become more Present in our lives than was ever imagined possible! You see, God’s Tabernacle among us is no longer limited by physical space. WE are His new tabernacle! “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.” (1 Peter 2:5, NLT). Through the Holy Spirit’s ministry, God dwells within our very hearts and minds. Our Heavenly Father is completely present, totally engaged in each one of our lives, every moment, every breath of every day. And, in turn, we as the church body are to serve as the vessels of God’s Presence–His Shekinah glory–to the perishing world around us.

And yet, we know this can’t be the end of the story. There’s something still desperately wrong with the reality in which we find ourselves: “And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering…” (Romans 8:23). There now remains just one final step in God’s plan of restoration for His people. It’s the event–the moment–we’re all holding out for with everything we’ve got:

And I heard a loud voice, which came from the throne, say, ‘God’s dwelling place is among men and He will dwell among them and they shall be His peoples. Yes, God Himself will be among them’…

I saw no sanctuary in the city, for the Lord God, the Ruler of all, is its Sanctuary, and so is the Lamb (Revelation 21:3, 22, Weymouth New Testament)

The Lord God Himself will be our sanctuary… No more need for a physical tabernacle structure in this coming City. Because our Heavenly Father is at last able to fully and completely dwell among His people. No more sin, no more suffering, no more separation.

Exodus 24: Ratification

Exodus 20 outlined the foundation of God’s covenant with the people in ten overarching, all-inclusive principles of relationship. Chapters 21-23 then further explored what living in God’s community would look like, all focused on how the people were to interact and behave toward each other. God essentially had to start from scratch with the Hebrews, teaching a depraved, ignorant slave nation rules for maintaining relationships. And now, in Exodus 24, we find the formal ratification, or bi-party agreement, to this covenant.

Yet, this is not actually a new covenant at all. It is, in fact, the same covenantal promise that God made with Abram back in Genesis 15, where God demonstrated His fanatical commitment to His pledge by acting as the sole party to pass through the sacrifice. Through this dramatic act, God was declaring that He would come through on His promise no matter what, even if it cost Him His own life! (See our Stepping Stones study on “Genesis 15: The Covenant.”) The ratification of the covenant in Exodus 24, therefore, is actually meant to remind the people of the covenant that already exists. They are the people of the promise, in spite of the fact that they have forgotten.

The most important part of ratifying a covenant in the ancient Middle Eastern culture was the covenant meal. Sharing a meal together symbolized the acceptance of the agreement terms by both parties. It’s almost unbelievable that Moses and the elders of Israel are invited into God’s very Presence to partake in this sacred feast:

Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain. There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence! (Exodus 24:9-11, NLT)

This is one of the most climactic moments of Scripture! What an awesome, overwhelming opportunity! And yet, as the reader, we are left frustrated with the limited description of the encounter. Here the elders of Israel are invited to gaze upon God, and the only description we get is of His feet?? What’s up with that? An insightful article helped me realize what is really going on here, however. Bob Deffinbaugh, in “The Magnificent Meal on Mt. Sinai,” points out the relationship between Exodus 24 and two other throne room visions which we find in Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4. In Exodus 24, we are limited to a description of the sapphire foundation of God’s throne and God’s feet. In the next strategically-placed throne room vision in Ezekiel 1, we learn that there is a crystal firmament or expanse that acts as the floor of God’s throne. Therefore, in Exodus, 24, we get the idea that the elders are eating the covenant feast underneath this crystal firmament. Only God’s throne and feet are described because that’s all they could see. But in Ezekiel’s vision, the prophet gets to peer above that crystal floor. He describes more of God, but his view is limited, focusing vaguely on the waist up and the waist down. Finally, in Revelation 4, John who is called up to heaven gets the most complete picture yet! (Just read Revelation 4:2-8 sometime.) What a beautiful progression! You see, just as there is a greater and greater unveiling of God’s plan of salvation throughout Scripture, so there is also an ever-increasing revelation of the throne and the One who sits upon it.

Now, reading about all these visions made me start wondering whether we ever find a description of God’s face as He sits upon the throne. After searching through my handy Bible app, I found that, not surprisingly, we don’t ever get a description of the Father’s actual face. BUT, you know where my very lasts search hit took me? Revelation 22:4-5. The very last chapter of the Bible. It says this: “And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there-no need for lamps or sun–for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever” (NLT). Wow, what an amazing realization! You see, in some ways the story of the Bible ends in a cliff-hanger. We read from Genesis to Revelation, and we never get a complete description of what God looks like, what it’s really like to be in His Presence. But then, when we get to Revelation 22:4, we realize that WE in fact are the ones who will get to finish the story someday! It’s a moment, an encounter, that simply cannot be described in words. We will just have to wait and experience it for ourselves.

Getting back to Exodus, we next learn that, after the covenant meal is finished, Moses alone is called up to the top of the mountain to receive the tablets of the covenant from God’s hand: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain.’ …Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai” (verses 8, 15-16). As the reader, we’re sort of left hanging here again. Moses is finally invited into God’s glorified Presence, and we can’t wait to read what this experience will be like! Disappointingly, however, the perspective of the account suddenly shifts to that of the people: “To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire” (verse 17). This is all we’re told: “Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. He remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” That’s it? But I want to know what Moses did for forty entire days! (Besides writing down the instructions for the sanctuary, of course.) Was He just standing around and camping out? That’s where another very insightful article helped shed some light on this experience. When Exodus 24:15-16 says that the cloud of God’s glory “rested” or “abode” on the mountain, the word used is “shakan.” This word root is where we also find the concept of God’s “Shekinah glory” which would, of course, later abide in the tabernacle. Author Chaim Bentorah shares that the first two Hebrew letters here (Shin and Kap) form a dual root which carries the idea of rest. The third letter (Nun) speaks to the concept of faith, fertility, productivity, and is even used in the context of sexual intimacy (Biblical Hebrew Studies ). This insight gives amazing depth of understanding into what God’s Shekinah Presence is all about. It’s the combined ideas of Sabbath rest and complete emotional and psychological intimacy! So what was Moses doing up on the mountain for forty days? He and God were simply being together, enjoying each other’s company. Moses was able to complete rest in God’s love and bask in the experience of total, unrestricted intimacy–knowing God and being known by God… Completely vulnerable, and yet, completely safe.

But you know what the most amazing part of the story is? At the end of forty days, Moses is told to go back down the mountain. Why? To make a tabernacle so that this same Shekinah Presence of the LORD could dwell among the people! That’s the mind-blowing twist to the story. You see, the chapter starts out by dramatically delineating the distance, the gaping rift, between God and the people. God is holy. The people are not. Therefore, one would logically conclude that they (that is, “we”) simply cannot exist in His Presence. But, all along, God had a master plan–a plan that would finally allow Him to live again among His people.

God called Moses up for the purpose of sending him back down. The top of Mount Sinai had become the most holy place on earth because God had settled there. God called Moses into this holy place and then told him to go down and make a holy place at the bottom of the mountain. God singled Moses out from the people, but then sent him back to the people, that God might not just meet with Moses but dwell among the whole people.

Moses was granted this indescribable mountaintop experience of God, but the whole purpose behind it was to make a valley dwelling place for God. Moses is not supposed to stay on the mountain. Moreover, Yahweh has no intention or desire to stay on the mountain. Yahweh seeks to dwell among the people. Moses was called up to go down to make a place for Yahweh to dwell. Moses was called high to make a low place for Yahweh to be Present.
(Steve Rodeheaver, Exodus Devotionals)

Covenant

All along our Exodus journey, the climax has been building and building as the Hebrews approach Mount Sinai to meet with their God. On this mountain, God will finally reveal Himself to His people, and here He will invite His people to enter in to an eternal covenantal relationship with Him: “You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation'” (Exodus 19:4-6, NLT).

As we break this interaction in Exodus 19 and 20 down, however, I think it’s fascinating that God keeps emphasizing to Moses, “Don’t let the people break through the boundaries of the mountain; don’t let them see Me, or else they will die” (my paraphrase). God stresses these instructions over and over again. It’s almost as if God anticipates the children of Israel wanting so badly to see Him that they will break through the boundaries just to get a glimpse of His glory. However, the stark irony is, that when God does come to the mountain and invite the people to approach Him, the people “stood at a distance, trembling with fear” (verse 18). In fact, they find God’s Presence and voice so terrifying that they plead with Moses in verse 19, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!” They even beg Moses to wear a veil over his face when he returns from speaking with God so they won’t have to look on the residual light of God’s glory. (Make a note of that! We’ll revisit this thought a bit later.) The tragic irony of this story is that the people want nothing to do with God’s Presence. “We promise that we’ll do everything this God wants,” they cry out to Moses, “Just please tell Him to stay away from us!” It all boils down to this: Israel wanted the protection and benefits of God’s covenant, but not the relationship with the Covenant Giver. Here is a people who want to basically get as far away from their God as possible, and yet, in Exodus 19:8, they boldly proclaim, “All that the LORD has spoken WE WILL DO” (NKJV). You really think so, huh? And yet, just a matter of days later, we find the camp in full-blown rebellion against their God… How very, very sad.

mtsinai_covenant

But what does this story mean for us today? Why so much focus on the glory and the veil? What does all of this have to do with the Old and New Covenants? It has everything to do with them! It is from this vantage point that we find the stage brilliantly set for the glorious revelation of God’s New Covenant with us today. We can read about it in Hebrews, chapter 8:

If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But when God found fault with the people, he said: The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will make new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah…

I will put my laws in their minds,
and I will write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
And they will not need to teach their neighbors,
nor will they need to teach their relatives,
saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’
For everyone, from the least to the greatest,
will know me already.
And I will forgive their wickedness,
and I will never again remember their sins.”
(Hebrews 8:10-13, NLT)

You see, this time around God wants us to get something straight: It’s not about what we do for God. It’s all about what HE does for us! At the end of the day, it can all be summed up like this:

Old Covenant: “All that the LORD has said, WE WILL do” (Exodus 19:8)

vs.

New Covenant: “I WILL put my laws in their minds, and I WILL write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10)

That is the fundamental difference between the Old Covenant and the New. In actuality, this has always been God’s plan for us. There’s a sense in which God never intended there to be an Old Covenant versus a New Covenant. The problem with the Old Covenant isn’t God’s posture towards us, because that has remained eternally unchanged — it’s ours toward God. The problem is the veil that lies over our hearts and minds. The veil came about because the children of Israel did not want to look at the glory of God. God’s Presence was entirely too disruptive and unsettling for them. Instead, they believed they could keep their end of the covenant in their own strength — without the transforming power of God’s Presence, without the relationship. And this is, in fact, something that we can be just as guilty of today. You see, God’s glory in our lives can be quite an uncomfortable thing. God’s glory unleashed can take us for a pretty wild ride — a ride where we aren’t the ones driving! We simply can’t remain unchanged in the face of it. That’s a pretty terrifying prospect for us. We would often prefer to “obey” on our own strength, in our own way — just like Israel. And so, we look for “veils” to keep God’s Presence at a safe distance from us. As 2 Corinthians 3:14 says, “the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth.” We may go to church, read a daily devotion occasionally, and listen to KLTY during our morning commute, but when it comes to really allowing the transforming power of God’s Presence to be unleashed in our lives… Well, we too often decide that we’re much more comfortable simply “standing at a distance.”

Now, here’s the amazing piece of the picture! Thanks to the life and death of Jesus, “whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:16). Because of our massive failure to understand and respond to the invitation of relationship offered through the first presentation of the covenant (Hebrews 8:8), it was necessary for Jesus to introduce the second presentation of the covenant. We broke covenantal relationship the first time around, and God responded by allowing Himself to be broken, to be torn apart at the cross. But, praise God, in that sundering of the Godhead, something else was also was also ripped down — that separating veil: “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 24:51). What fantastic news! The largest veil of all has already been torn apart! What’s left is for us to allow those little veils in our lives to be pulled down, so that we can directly behold God’s glory — the glory that comes from a living, breathing daily relationship with Him, in His abiding Presence. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NKJV). This glory transforms us from the inside out! All of the sudden, we realize that we don’t have to work to earn anything with our Heavenly Father. We simply accept, in a beautiful Sabbath rest, the unspeakable gift which He has given us. We are then able, as we surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit, to live in complete harmony with God’s breath-taking covenant and His eternal Law which governs it.

Unlike your ancestors, you didn’t come to Mount Sinai-all that volcanic blaze and earthshaking rumble-to hear God speak. The earsplitting words and soul-shaking message terrified them and they begged him to stop…

No, that’s not your experience at all. You’ve come to Mount Zion, the city where the living God resides. The invisible Jerusalem is populated by throngs of festive angels and Christian citizens. It is the city where God is Judge, with judgments that make us just. You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant…

(Hebrews 12:18-24, The Message)

The Law, Part 3 – Relationships 101

Each of God’s commandments defines a safeguard to our relationships. Conversely, the breaking of any one of these principles results in the fracturing of a relationship — either with God or with our neighbors. The last six commandments focus specifically on our relationship with others. The fifth commandment, of course, addresses the love and respect which we owe to our own family, our parents in particular. The remaining commandments instruct us not to murder, cheat on our spouse, steal, lie, or covet.

As we explore God’s law and its demands on our lives, we tend to get caught up on the “don’ts” of it all. In his writings, however, Martin Luther makes that fascinating point that whenever there is a negative prohibition in the commandments, then a positive implication is, in fact, assumed. Pastor Stephen Um expands on this and explains that, for example, when we are told not to murder, the inverse application is that we are to radically love others. (This includes our neighbors and our enemies! See Matthew 5:44.) And when the commandment says not to commit adultery, the assumption is that we are supposed to be uncompromisingly faithful to our spouse. (Matthew 5:27-28.) We are to recognize sexuality as something that is a gift from God and, therefore, treat it as a covenantal commitment. And when it says we ought not to steal, we realize that we ought instead to be fanatically generous with what we do have! (Matthew 5:42.) And to not lie, of course, means that we live a life of complete transparency and extreme integrity. As Jesus expounded, “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No'” (Matthew 5:37).

The tenth commandment drives us even deeper into what it means to live in harmony with God’s law. I like how Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile describes the root of coveting: Imagine that your heart had a pair of hands, and, with those hands, it begins reaching, grasping at things that are outside of its fence of proper ownership. That interior grasping for things that do not belong to us consumes our thoughts and desires. It eventually leads to the breaking of the other commandments in God’s law, all to the ultimate injury of our neighbor! See how devastatingly vicious the cycle is? Pastor Anyabwile goes on to point out yet another deeply-rooted transgression that our hearts can lure us into: “In the act of coveting, what we’re actually saying is that God has not apportioned His creation properly; He hasn’t given us everything that we desire.” It all goes back to the first lie of the serpent, doesn’t it? “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1) In other words, much like the serpent in Eden, our heart begins to accuse God of not giving us everything we need to be happy. We begin to distrust His motives and distort His character.

In closing, I like how Stephen Um summarizes it all: “You cannot break the rest of the commandments without first breaking the first commandment.” In other words, we are led into breaking God’s statutes when we begin to look at something other than God as our primary source of value — when we follow after another “god.” This ultimately takes us down a road to broken trust and fractured relationships.

But God wants to take us down a very different path, doesn’t He? God wants us to find comfort and security in the protection of His law! And so, rather than thinking of God’s law as an arbitrary set of dogmatic rules, let’s start thinking of them as promises! In reality, each of the commandment acts as a beautiful promise reminding us of God’s power to recreate us into new beings who can and will live in harmony with God’s eternal law of relational love. From now on, every time you read a commandment, read it from God’s point of view, like this: “I promise you that I will create you into a person who won’t ever want to injure yourself or others by ____” (You can fill in the blank.) Isn’t it amazing what God is willing and eager to do in our lives if we will just let Him?

As we close up our three-part study on God’s law, I wanted to share a piece of an enlightening article I read entitled “The 10 Commandments, Sayings or Promises?” Let’s spend some time thinking this week about how each of God’s commandments translates into a beautiful promise for our lives today:

  • Promise #1 – You do not have to live in constant disappointment anymore.
  • Promise #2 – You can be free from rituals and religion and trust in a relationship.
  • Promise #3 – You can trust in a Name that is above every Name.
  • Promise #4 – You can rest.
  • Promise #5 – Your family does not have to fall apart.
  • Promise #6 – You do not have to live in a constant state of anger because you will be motivated by love and not hate.
  • Promise #7 – You do not have to live a life dominated by the guilt, pain and shame associated with sexual sin.
  • Promise #8 – I will provide.
  • Promise #9 – You do not have to pretend.
  • Promise #10 – I will be enough.

The Law, Part 2 – Sabbath

At the heart of God’s law, we find the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). The Sabbath promise acts, in many ways, as the central connecting point between the first half of the Ten Commandments and the second half. It’s a command that intersects our relationship with God and our relationship with others. The Sabbath promise takes us right back to the creation story. In fact, it is the one commandment that gives us a direct reason to obey it, all because of who God is (a Creator God, no less) and what He has done for us: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (verse 11).

The Sabbath reminds us that we were designed for a weekly rhythm of work and rest. Although we are to labor for six days of the week, there is one day, the seventh, where we are supposed to let it all go and simply cease (what the word sabbath literally means). It’s a day where we stop worrying about how we are going to balance the checking account at the end of the month. We lay aside the distractions of our careers and the frenzied consumerism of the world around us. It’s a day where we exercise our complete faith and trust in God’s provision for our lives. It’s a day where we place our relationship with God and our relationship with others (verse 10) as our highest priority. In fact, Jesus went on to expand the meaning of the Sabbath by emphasizing our responsibility to others, to our community. Jesus was all about healing sickness, relieving suffering, lifting burdens, and breaking bonds on this extra special day, and we should be, too! “Therefore it is right to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12, WNT).

The Sabbath promise goes so much deeper than mere weekly physical rest, however. The Sabbath signifies a salvational rest. It’s a day where we remember that we can stop working to earn anything with God. We can’t impress Him. We can’t earn our way to heaven. Instead, we simply rest in His sacrificial provision for us. In Ezekiel 20:12, God reminds us why He gave us His Sabbath: “Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” It is so that we would be reminded weekly that HE is the one who sanctifies our hearts, purifying our lives and washing us clean from all sin.

rest_here

Sabbath is so much more than a day of the week. It’s an attitude. It’s a state of being. We can either live our lives striving to get something that we already have, or we can begin abiding in the promises that God has bestowed upon us. (See John 15:1-8.) The Sabbath, at its core essence, is an invitation from our Heavenly Father to lay aside our own man-made works and attempts at righteousness and surrender our hearts to the sway of His Holy Spirit’s rule. We are to simply rest in the assurance of His grace and love.

To illustrate this point, I want you to try something with me: Take a really, really deep breath and hold it for five seconds. Now, slowly exhale… Did you feel it? That that one fleeting moment of almost complete peace and relief? That indescribable feeling of just letting it all go? That right there is a taste of what Sabbath is all about–both in the physical sense, as well as in the spiritual! “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9-10). God’s invitation for us to enter His rest is standing wide open. What a beautiful promise to start our day with.

Happy Sabbath, friends!

The Law, Part 1 – Worship

The Hebrews’ journey reaches its climax at Mount Sinai. Here, in Exodus 19 and 20, God reveals Himself to His people, and, here also, God unveils His eternal law. What comes to your mind when you think of the “Ten Commandants”? Respect? Awe? Discomfort? Fear, perhaps? How sad that so often we react to God’s law from a position of obligatory compliance or even fearful obedience… That’s never how God wanted it to be. James 1:25 identifies God’s commandments as the “perfect law of liberty.” Psalms 19 calls them “perfect,” “sure,” “true and righteous altogether.” God knows what will bring us ultimate peace and happiness in this life, and so He reveals the formula to us in ten principles of relational integrity and love.

As we explore these ten eternal principles, let’s notice that, before telling us anything about our part in all this, God first introduces His law by making a statement about who He is: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). Our God has redeemed us from the slavery of our past. He has rescued us from certain death and claimed us as His very own — that is why He is worthy of our worship and obedience.

The first three commandments define the safeguards of our relationship with our Heavenly Father. The first forces us to reckon with a God who simply won’t settle for anything less than to be the supreme priority in our lives: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (verse 3). There are many competing “gods” in our world today – financial success, career prestige, even relationships. Anything that we begin to look to as a source of fulfillment, meaning, or security above our Creator is a false god in our lives.

The second commandment is not so much a warning against running after other false gods (a mere repetition of the first commandment) as it is a warning against creating God into our own image. Pastor John Lin summarizes it this way: “Worship God according to who He is, not according to who we want Him to be. In other words, do not worship false gods and do not worship God falsely.” We can be in danger of breaking this commandment when we relate to God based on how we believe He ought to act or what we believe He ought to give us: relationship stability, health, job security, lifestyle comfort, etc. When we do this, we have, in fact, imposed our conception of “God” onto the throne of our hearts. We’ve created our very own “custom designer God,” as Lin puts it. But as God told Moses, “I AM THAT I AM.” He is YAHWEH, the Self-Existent Eternal One. God, in His very name, defies any sense of boundary or restriction. When we attempt to put God in a box and constrain Him to who we want Him to be, then we have broken the second commandment. We’ve duped ourselves for an idol molded after our own image.

The third commandment also has profound implications on how we live our lives and how we worship our Creator. This commandment goes so much deeper than merely addressing how we should use or not use God’s name in our sentences. Remember that God’s name is a representation of His character, a reflection of who He is at His core Being. When we accept Christ’s rulership over our lives, we become Christ-ians, don’t we? We take God’s holy name onto ourselves, and we become representatives of His character and kingdom to the onlooking world. To take God’s name in vain, then, is to misrepresent Him to those around us. It’s to treat a waitress rudely. It’s to flip someone off on the freeway. It’s to make a back-stabbing comment about a coworker. This gets uncomfortable real fast, doesn’t it? The implications on our daily lives reach far and deep…

In His law, God isn’t trying to make a big list of “do’s” and “don’ts.” He is outlining timeless principles of relational love. These first three commandments each deal with the place God is to hold in our hearts and how we are to reflect that relationship to the world around us — our worship, in other words. And why does God make these demands on us? Is He trying to be an arbitrary dictator over our lives? No. Our God is a Father of indescribable love. He knows that only He can provide the fulfillment and satisfaction that our hearts yearn for. He knows this because He designed us. And so, it is only when we place God–and only God–on the throne of our hearts, and when we worship Him as He really is, and when we take His name and character onto ourselves to let it rule over every facet of our lives… Then THAT is when our heart will satisfy its longing and fulfill its ultimate desire. Augustine sums it up this way: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

“The LORD is my banner”

At the Lord’s command, the whole community of Israel left the wilderness of Sin and moved from place to place. Eventually they camped at Rephidim, but there was no water there for the people to drink. So once more the people complained against Moses. “Give us water to drink!” they demanded… “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Are you trying to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:1-2, NLT)

Our chapter starts out with a somewhat sobering thought… It can be a bit of a scary thing to read “At the Lord’s command…” and “but there was no water” in the same verse. Perhaps our first lesson here is that sometimes God can lead us through difficult roads in life, but we must remember that hardships and trials do not mean that our Heavenly Father has ceased to guide us.

In their panic, the people cry out to Moses, wrongly channeling their desperation to human sources. Moses, however, cries out to God–the only true Source of help. Notice the LORD’s answer to Moses in Exodus 17:5. I think verse 5 can be broken down to three life-application points to aid us when we face life’s challenges, especially if we operate in a leadership role: 1.) “Walk out in front of the people.” Never forget that people are watching! In fact, it is often when challenges come our way that others will examine our lives most closely. Use these challenges as an opportunity to lead others! As we read in 1 Timothy 4:12, “be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” 2.) “Take your staff…” Utilize the resources that are available to you–even if it’s just a stick! Do what is in your realm of control, however limited, and trust that God will do what is in His realm of control. 3.) “Call some of the elders of Israel to join you.” Don’t try to do it all by yourself. Surround yourself with a team of fellow believers who share the vision and the mission!

The subsequent miracle of the water from the rock reflects Christ’s mission on this earth. We read in John 7:37-38, “On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, ‘Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.'” 1 Corinthians 10:4 also tells us, “[All] of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ.” What a beautiful illustration of Christ’s sacrifice and provision for us.

In the next section of Exodus 17, we read of a cruel and dastardly attack by the Amalekites. Deuteronomy 25 informs us that they actually assaulted Israel at the rear of the camp, where the elderly and children lingered. As the Israelites begin their counterattack, Moses climbs a nearby hill and raises his hands over the fray. As long as Moses holds his hands up over the battle, the Israelites have the advantage. But as soon as he drops his hands, the Amalekites begin to dominate. So what’s the big deal about Moses holding his hands up? What Moses is actually doing is engaging in the Hebrew posture of prayer–he’s praying and interceding for his people. But this kind of life-or-death intercession prayer is emotionally, psychologically, and physically exhausting. Moses’ strength begins to fail. He realizes that this is a task–a mission–that he cannot accomplish alone. Moses must depend on two of his trusted friends to support him in this vital endeavor, upon which Israel’s victory depends. Sounds a lot like what we talked about above, right? This Christian walk is not something that you can do solo. Even our prayers are limited in effectiveness if we try to do it all on our own! It is essential to engage ourselves in the church community and to surround ourselves with other Christ followers.

“After the victory, the LORD instructed Moses, ‘Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder…’ Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the LORD is my banner’)” (Exodus 17:14-15). Where are the altars in your life? What has been written on your scroll as a permanent reminder of what the LORD has done for you? As one of my favorite authors writes, “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us…” This passage also introduces a new name for God, a new way of understanding His character and His relationship to us. “The LORD is my banner.” What is a banner? What functions does it serve? I can think of a few: 1.) Banners designate ownership. 2.) Banners act as a rallying point during battle. Prior to modern warfare, as long as you could still see your army’s flag in the fray, you knew you still stood a chance in the fight! 3.) Banners announce victory! A victorious army receives the right to take down an enemy’s flag and raise its own. Can you reflect on how God has been your banner in each of these aspects? The thing with a banner, though, is that it’s easy to wrap up and put away. Yet, a banner doesn’t do any good tucked away, does it? It ceases to perform any useful function. The only way a banner can serve its intended purpose is to unfurl it and fly it high. I want to close out my week by flying high God’s banner of ownership and victory in my life. What about you?