The Shattered Covenant

Last time, we studied the first half of Exodus 32: the Israelites’ disobedience against God and the making of the golden calf. So far, we’ve read everything from the perspective of the people. Starting in verse 7, however, the focus of the story’s action suddenly shifts back to God and Moses. As the reader, we are confronted with the full, unbridled, raw emotion of a betrayed God:

The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! …I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.” (Exodus 32:7-10, NLT)

In response to God’s anger, Moses immediately throws himself into the position of intercession for the people he loves – the people he knows God loves! Notice, how Moses in his prayer first turns God’s words around and gives the people back to God: “But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, ‘O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt…?” (vs. 11, ESV) Moses then appeals to God on the basis of His reputation: “Why let the Egyptians say…?” (vs. 12) In other words, “Your glory and reputation is at stake among the nations here, God! Don’t turn Your back on Your people!” Finally, in his desperate prayer, Moses ultimately appeals to God on the basis of His covenant promise: “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self” (vs. 13, ESV). Moses knows that above all, God is a promise keeper. He knows that when all else seems to fail, he can count on God’s eternal covenantal faithfulness.

The astounding surprise of the story comes in verse 14: “So the LORD changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people” (NLT). This verse has left many confused and frustrated. How can we reconcile the idea of God changing His mind with what we read about God’s unchanging and eternal nature? “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (Numbers 23:19, NLT) What we must recognize here is that God is using “anthropomorphic” (human-like) qualities to express himself in a way that we can understand and relate to. Even more importantly, God is using this interaction to thrust Moses into a Christ-like position of intercession for his people. I like how commentator David Guzik puts it:

God did not destroy Israel, and He knew that He would not destroy Israel. Yet He deliberately put Moses into this crucial place of intercession, so that Moses would display and develop God’s heart for the people, a heart of love and compassion. Moses prayed just as God wanted him to – as if heaven and earth, salvation or destruction, depended on his prayer. This is how God waits for us to pray. (David Guzik, Commentary on Exodus)

Moses prayed the exact prayer that God wanted to hear. “That’s right, Moses! That’s exactly what I hoped you would say. You have proven to me that you have the same heart of love that I have for our people.” As I reflect on this amazing reality, I find theologian R. Alan Cole’s words particularly meaningful: “We are not to think of Moses as altering God’s purpose towards Israel by this prayer, but as carrying it out: Moses was never more like God than in such moments, for he shared God’s mind and loving purpose”(Exodus, p. 227).

But the drama of our story is not over yet. We then read how Moses goes down the mountain to fully realize the extent of the people’s rebellion. It was worse than Moses could have ever imagined. Moses immediately gets down to business and carries out a swift sentence of justice on the leading offenders. But after that, Moses again returns to the mountain to speak with God. This time, Moses isn’t pleading for the people’s lives (that request was granted earlier). The question that now hangs in the balance is: Will God choose to continue His covenantal relationship with Israel? As the reader, we are left wondering, “Can the shattered relationship between God and Israel ever be restored? Will God ever claim the Hebrews as His people again?” The end of chapter 32 leaves us astonished and dismayed with what seems to be a clear and irrevocable “NO!”

And the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book… in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin.”

So the Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made. (Exodus 32:33-35, NKJV)

In closing for this segment of the study, I would like to leave you with the thoughts of Professor Steve Rodeheaver:

That’s where our text ends for now. Plague. Israel must feel the pain of Yahweh… There was no forgiveness. It was still too soon. Imagine discovering that your spouse only married you as a means to an end. You have been reduced from a covenant partner to a manageable resource. The wound is deep. The rage is strong. Quick, automatic forgiveness? No such thing. Can the counselor coax you into forgiveness? Not a chance, not if it is going to be genuine. No, that forgiveness will have to come, if it comes, from deep within your own heart. And thus we wait to discover what lies deep within the heart of Yahweh.

[At this point], it would be easy, too easy, to jump to the New Testament and Jesus as the atonement for our sins. To make that move would be true enough, but to make it so quickly would distort the nature of forgiveness and shrink both Israel’s sin and Yahweh’s heart. The sin of reduction is huge. Only a huge forgiveness can cover it. Does Yahweh have a huge enough heart to re-covenant with Israel? So far, there is only a whisper of hope. Possibly, just maybe, plague is not the last word.

But we don’t know, not yet. We have to wait amid hushed tones of hope to see what’s in the heart of Yahweh. As a New Testament people it is an awkward place for us to be. But if we are to know Yahweh’s heart, if we are to know the heart that Christ reveals, that’s where we must be for now: the not-yet-forgiven side of forgiveness. (Steve Rodeheaver, Exodus Talks: Pastoral Devotionals from Exodus, CRI/Voice, Institute)

Be sure to watch for our next study over Exodus 33!

The Tabernacle

In Exodus chapters 25 through 30, God outlines to the Hebrews what a holy community in His Presence will look like. In this plan, God will use a very special physical structure, the tabernacle, as the access point for His Presence among His people. To begin with, the entire Israelite family is invited to participate in the preparation of this sacred tent. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the people of Israel to bring me their sacred offerings. Accept the contributions from all whose hearts are moved to offer them'” (Exodus 25:1-2, NLT). A couple of important points here. 1.) The people must offer the very best of what they had. 2.) The people were only to give from a willing heart – no begrudged, obligatory offering was to be accepted. 3.) The needed gifts outlined in verses 2-7 were broad and diverse. Everything from pure gold to common goats hair would be needed for this project! These points should remind us of a few things when it comes to ministry in God’s service, don’t you think?

The chapter goes on to describe the special articles of furniture in the sanctuary. First and foremost, we read about the Ark of the Covenant which was placed in the Most Holy Place. This special case would house the law of God, the Ten Commandments engraved in stone. The box would be covered by an intricately-crafted cover, known as the “atonement cover” or the “mercy seat.” “I will meet with you there,” God says to Moses, “and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22, NLT). One commentator points out here how incredibly surprising this arrangement was. You see, the Hebrews were surrounded by pagan cultures which built grand, elaborate temples to their gods. These temples would house massive and impressive statues of the various gods. “Yet, here was Yahweh telling Moses to build a tabernacle and He would meet them in the empty space between the angels above the Ark. No image or idol of Yahweh was to be constructed. Yahweh could not be reduced or reproduced” (Steve Rodeheaver, Exodus Talks: Pastoral Devotionals from Exodus, CRI/Voice, Institute). God’s Presence resided in the empty space above–not inside–the ark! Just as Yahweh’s very name (“I AM THAT I AM”) defies any sense of boundary or restriction, so His Presence cannot and will not be contained in our narrow boxes or controlled by our capricious demands.

Three other furniture items lived in the Holy Place of the sanctuary – the Table of the Bread of Presence, the Lampstand (also known as the Menorah), and the Altar of Incense. Each of these represented God’s Presence and relationship with the Hebrew community, and each of these items also symbolize vital aspects of our Christian walk today. The Bread of the Presence, for example, reminded Israel of their constant dependence on God’s provision, and it ultimately pointed forward to Jesus Christ: “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35). I like to compare the Bread of Presence in my own life with time spent reading God’s Word and enjoying His fellowship, remembering that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, NET).

The Lampstand was to provide continuous light in the Tabernacle tent. It was to be intricately decorated like an almond tree. In Hebrew, the word for “almond” and the word “watchful” sound almost identical. We can observe this clever play on of words in Jeremiah 1:11-12: “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Look, Jeremiah! What do you see?’ And I replied, ‘I see a branch from an almond tree.’ And the Lord said, ‘That’s right, and it means that I am watching, and I will certainly carry out all my plans.'” The Lampstand, then, would remind Israel of the LORD’s ceaseless watchfulness and care. From my own life-application perspective, I feel that the Lampstand of my heart’s sanctuary is lit whenever I share the love of Christ or reflect His character to those around me. (See Matthew 5:13-16, John 8:12, Ephesians 5:7-14, and 2 Corinthians 3:18.) For yourself, what do you compare the Lampstand with in your spiritual walk?

The last piece of furniture was the Altar of Incense. It was to be placed directly outside of the Most Holy Place so that its incense-laden vapors could waft over the curtain into God’s Shekinah Presence. Revelation 8:4 reminds us that incense symbolizes the prayers of God’s people. I like how one commentator expounds upon this:

While the priest could not see through the curtain into Yahweh’s Presence, he could be assured that the fragrance of the incense passed through the curtain and permeated the air that Yahweh was breathing. We like to think of ourselves as becoming filled with the breath or Spirit of God. Here we have God breathing/inhaling the prayers of our lives. Imagine that. God breathing in the prayers and cries of our hearts, and then breathing out His Spirit upon and within us in response to those cries. Often times God seems removed, out of sight, perhaps even beyond reach. But the fragrance of our lives rises before God in prayer, penetrating the curtains of heaven. (Steve Rodeheaver, Exodus Talks: Pastoral Devotionals from Exodus, CRI/Voice, Institute)

The one final point that really struck me about the design of the tabernacle was the fact every piece of it was intended for travel. So much is written about the poles and the specifics of how the articles were to be transported. God really meant it when He said He would dwell–move in–with His people. He was ready to go all the way them, wherever they journeyed! That must also say something about how serious God is when He says to us, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). I pray that this powerful reminder will bless your day as much as it has mine.

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 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?

Deliverance

The Hebrews are freed at last! Pharaoh has finally caved to God’s sovereignty and released the children of Israel. Bearing the treasures of Egypt, the Israelites parade out of the land of their bondage into a brand new life of freedom with their God. We pick up in Exodus 13, verse 17: “When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, ‘If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.'” Interesting. Have you ever felt like God was taking you on a long and unnecessary detour in your life? Well, maybe it’s because He knew something that you didn’t. Even though the Israelites “went up out of Egypt ready for battle,” God knew that they were most definitely not up to the challenge. Instead, he takes them through a detour — a detour that will ultimately cause glory to be brought to His name:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea… Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 14:1-4, NIV)

Now, what about this “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” business? Where does that leave our free will? What does that imply about God’s character of love? I think the key to understanding this issue is to remember that the term for “harden” comes from the Hebrew word chazaq which literally means “to strengthen” — in other words, to fortify a resolve that was already in place to begin with. We can think of it like this: God used circumstances that He knew Pharaoh would react to of his own free will (verse 3) in order to bring judgment upon the evil oppressor. In His divine justice, God simply allowed evil to be lured to its own destruction.

When the Hebrews learn that Pharaoh’s armies are pursuing them, they don’t exactly demonstrate unfaltering faith in God’s power, do they?

As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!‘” (Exodus 14:10-12, NLT)

It’s better to be a slave in Egypt… How sad. But isn’t that exactly what we do sometimes? Don’t we sometimes say to God through our actions, if not our words, “Leave us alone! I would rather be a slave in Egypt than journey in the wilderness with you! I would rather remain in bondage to this world–where my surroundings are at least familiar, where I am comfortable–than walk into the unknown with you!” God have mercy on us…

But I absolutely love Moses’ response to the people: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today… The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:13, NIV). The beautiful promise of Psalm 46:10 comes to my heart: “Be still, and know that I am God.” I like what Pastor David Guzik has to say on this: “Despair will cast you down, keeping you from standing. Fear will tell you to retreat. Impatience will tell you to do something now. Presumption will tell you to jump into the Red Sea before it is parted. Yet as God told Israel He often tells us to simply stand still and hold your peace as He reveals His plan.”

And then, look at God’s response: “And the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward” (Exodus 14:15, NKJV). But, wait a second! This is confusing — on the one hand, we’re told to “stand still,” but then we’re told to “move forward”? Is it possible to actually do both at the same time? Maybe we can learn a deep spiritual truth here. Maybe we can learn to be still in our hearts, having faith in God’s word, while going forward to do what we know to be right and true. Perhaps these directions aren’t so paradoxical after all.

We know the rest of the story, don’t we? We remember how God tells Moses, “Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea” (two things that Moses could do), and then how God does what Moses could not do: He parts the waters of the sea, allowing His children to cross on dry land, and then destroys the pursuing Egyptian army. The deliverance of the children of Israel is now complete. God has come through on His promise.

Deliverance

If there’s one takeaway from today’s thoughts, let’s make it this, friends: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today… The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Be still. Rest in His promise. Be at peace in His plan. And yet, don’t be afraid to move forward at His call. Step ahead in faith with what you know to be true and right in your heart. Do what is in your power to do, while having faith that God will perform what is in His power alone to do.

“Now, you will see what I will do”

As we read through Exodus 4, we see that Moses and God have been going back and forth on this “deliver my people” business for a while now, and finally, Moses runs out of excuses. “But Moses again pleaded, ‘Lord, please! Send anyone else'” (Exodus 4:13, NLT). Finally, the real reason comes out – Moses simply does not want to go. God has been exceedingly patient with Moses up to this point. God has parried every excuse Moses has brought to the table, but finally God gets a little ticked: “Then the Lord became angry with Moses” (verse 14). When God calls us to do something, He is more than willing to patiently work with our weaknesses and even our wavering faith. But when it boils down to sheer unwillingness to obey His call, then that’s what frustrates God and hinders His ability to continue working with us. But God compromises with Moses, I guess you could say. He agrees to send Aaron along with Moses. Of course, this ends up being a less-than-ideal situation since Aaron will end up causing a number of sticky patches along the way. However, under God’s direction, Moses and Aaron do eventually make their way to Egypt to meet up with the Hebrew elders:

Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel… So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped. (Exodus 4:29-31, NKJV)

Then they bowed their heads and worshiped… I love this. When we learn of God’s amazing love and when we see His revelation in our life, our only proper response is to worship. Worship is a response to what God has done for us. Worship is the glue that holds our relationship with God together.

So things are off to a promising start, right? The people believed! Now it’s just a matter of politely asking Pharaoh to set his slaves free, right? With God on his side, Moses is sure to have the road clearly laid out before him! Except, that’s not exactly how it plays out, is it? Exodus 5 details the disastrous fallout of Moses’ audience with Pharaoh and the painful consequences that the suffering people must bear. If we’re honest with ourselves, we can hardly blame Moses for his agonizing cry:

Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all!” (Exodus 5:22-23, NIV)

I think there’s a lesson in this reminding us that, sometimes when we follow God’s call, things may get worse before they get better. God hadn’t filled Moses in on all the details, but He had given Moses the big picture. Moses must learn to trust God with the big picture, even when the details seem to go the wrong direction. And so must we.

I appreciate Moses’ raw honesty with God. But I love even more how God responds to Moses… In response to Moses’ bitter outcry, God simply says, “Now you will see what I will do…” God isn’t angry with Moses, as we might expect. Instead He simply replies, “Just watch, Moses, and see what I can do.” Let’s remember that! Sometimes, when it seems like we’ve reached the end of our rope in life, when it seems like our backs are against a wall and there’s nowhere else to turn, just remember that those times are often the exact opportunity God has been waiting for to say, “Now, you will see what I will do!”

The LORD gently reminds Moses that He is fully aware of His children’s suffering, and that, with each stinging whip lash, His own heart has reverberated with the pain: “You can be sure that I have heard the groans of the people of Israel, who are now slaves to the Egyptians. And I am well aware of my covenant with them” (Exodus 6:5, NLT). God then wraps everything up in a beautiful restatement of His covenant. In a seven-fold “I will” promise, God reaffirms His covenant with His people:

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I AM the Lord [YHWH] and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I AM the Lord.‘” (Exodus 6:6-8, NIV)

Notice how this beautiful promise is bookended by a declaration of God’s holy name – a claim of His identity and character. Before we jump head-first into our busy schedules this week, let’s take some time to meditate on God’s seven-fold promise to us today:

  • I will bring you out from under the yoke of the bondage.
  • I will free you from being slaves to this world’s sin and addiction.
  • I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of power.
  • I will take you as my own child.
  • I will be your God.
  • I will bring you to the land, the spacious place (Psalm 18:19), I swore to give you with an uplifted hand. (That is both a promise for this world and the world to come!)
  • I will give it to you as a possession, an inheritance. (“In Christ also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” Ephesians 1:11, KJ21.)

May the Father and Son and Holy Spirt richly bless you today!

The Lukewarm Church – Laodicea

We have reached our final destination in our journey through the seven churches – the church of Laodicea. Please take some time to read Revelation 3:14-22 so you can follow along.

We immediately notice that Laodicea is the only church to receive absolutely no praise or commendation. Jesus does not waste time with flattery or undeserved praise:

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. (Revelation 3:15-17, NLT)

Wow. Christ’s words are not minced are they? Smugly self-satisfied, the Laodiceans have lulled themselves into a death spell. This is not just an apathetic church; this is an arrogant church. It’s a church that prides itself in its own spiritual “wealth” of knowledge and its own garments of righteousness. There is not a more dangerous place for a church to be than this state of arrogant indifference! Jesus pleads with the church to recognize their true state of wretched need. Jesus then invites all to come to Himself! He is the ultimate source of everything the church needs for victory:

So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. (Revelation 3:18-19, NLT)

The pure gold offered by Christ represents the truth and faith which our spiritual walk is established on. He gives His garments of righteousness which transform our character into His spotless image. And then, there’s the eye salve. With His healing eye salve, we will be able to see ourselves as we really are – sinful and in desperate need of a Savior! But most importantly, we will have sight with which to clearly see Jesus Christ, and it is by looking into His wonderful face, “that the things on earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” By beholding Him, we become transformed from the inside out!

 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)

In Revelation 3 verse 20, we find one of the most amazing invitations in Scripture: “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (NLT). As I was growing up, my mom kept this picture in one of our family rooms. It made an impression on me from a young age.

BeholdIStandAtTheDoorI love how this picture illustrates the Savior knocking gently and softly calling, “Hello? Is anyone home?” Also notice another small detail: there is no knob or handle on the outside of the door… The door can only be opened from the inside. This is the door to our hearts and Jesus cannot – He will not! – force His way in. We alone must make the choice to welcome Him.

I cannot think of a more appropriate way to conclude our study on the seven churches. Jesus stands at the door and knocks. We’ve spent the first chapters of Revelation getting to know what He’s like and what He’s all about. Now, as we face the subsequent chapters of Revelation and the sobering future that they unveil, we have a choice to make… Will we let Him in? Will we let Jesus be our Guide and Companion through as we journey through these last days of human history?