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)

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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, therefore, goes so much deeper than mere weekly physical rest. 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!

Manna

We now follow the Israelites as they travel through the wilderness to their next destination of Mount Sinai. How sad that after such a magnificent display of God’s miraculous power just a few weeks earlier, the people still question God’s provision and care for their lives:

There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron. “If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” (Exodus 16:2-3, NLT)

Notice that when the Hebrews allow fear to take control, they begin to engage in three very bad patterns of irrational thinking: 1.) They selectively and incompletely remember the past. They forget how bitter their bondage was in Egypt, and they grossly embellish their comforts during their time of slavery. 2.) They begin to question their leaders’ motives and accuse them of malicious intent. 3.) Although they had not actually begun to experience the effects of starvation, they anticipate and exaggerate the worst-case-scenario.

We, too, can fall into these traps of fear-based thinking if we are not careful. Fortunately, we can stand in the assurance that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). Notice that each of these three things act as combatants of fear: 1.) Power – we don’t need to fear because we have God’s indomitable power on our side! 2.) Love – I once heard it said that the antithesis of fear isn’t courage, but love. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18). And 3.) a sound mind. So much of fear is irrational. God is willing and ready to help us declutter our minds and engage in sound thinking so that we can dispel the confusion and anxiety that comes from fear.

The LORD then promises to give His children bread to satisfy their needs. The next morning, the Hebrews wake to the sight of a flaky, frost-like substance covering the ground. “Manna? What is it?” they quizzically ask. Moses explains God’s miraculous provision for His people and gives the people instruction for how to gather the bread on a daily basis.

“Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat” (Exodus 16:16, ESV). There are a number of spiritual lessons that we can draw from manna. It was to be gathered for each individual, daily. Likewise, we must, each one of us for ourselves, daily feast on the Word of God. “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread” (Job 23:12, NIV). Each day, we are invited into the very Presence of the true Bread of Life. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). It’s a free invitation! God is once again offering His children the manna from heaven — He’s offering Himself. And it’s an offer that stands fresh every morning. We need simply come.

Never try to live on the old manna, nor seek to find help in Egypt. All must come from Jesus, or thou art undone for ever… This hourly dependence our Lord is determined that we shall feel and recognize, for He only permits us to pray for “daily bread,” and only promises that “as our days our strength shall be.” Is it not best for us that it should be so, that we may often repair to His throne, and constantly be reminded of His love? Oh! how rich the grace which supplies us so continually, and doth not refrain itself because of our ingratitude! The golden shower never ceases, the cloud of blessing tarries evermore above our habitation. O Lord Jesus, we would bow at Thy feet, conscious of our utter inability to do anything without Thee, and in every favour which we are privileged to receive, we would adore Thy blessed name and acknowledge Thine unexhausted love. (Charles Spurgeon)

“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!

“I AM WHO I AM”

The end of Exodus 2 gave us insight into God’s perspective of His people’s suffering: “God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant promise… He looked down on the people of Israel and knew it was time to act” (verses 24-25, NLT). Chapter 3 unveils God’s plan to deliver His children.

“One day Moses was tending the flock… He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush” (Exodus 3:1-2, NLT). I think it’s insightful that the Hebrew word here for Sinai (or “Horeb,” as is also used) is a word that means “dryness” or “desolation.” It is from the dry and desolate places–the places where we feel abandoned and hopeless–that God often reveals His Presence in our lives. (An encouraging thought.)

God calls to Moses from the midst of the burning bush. He introduces Himself. “I am the God of your father–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” He shares His plan to use Moses as His instrument of deliverance for the Hebrews, but Moses has some reservations, doesn’t he? “But Moses protested to God, ‘Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?'” (verse 11). Moses’ big concern here is, “Who am I?” Notice that God doesn’t even attempt to answer Moses’ question. He simply responds by telling Moses the only thing Moses needs to know: “I will be with you.” Moses is asking the wrong question. Because it’s not about who Moses is – it is, in fact, all about who God is!

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But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.”God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: [YHWH], the God of your ancestors-the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob-has sent me to you. (Exodus 3:13-15)

What’s going on here is profound. The Hebrew phrase for “I AM WHO I AM” is heyeh aser heyeh. The central word, hayah, simply means “to be.” God is claiming to be “the Self-Existent One.” He is completely self-sustaining and self-sufficient. Everything and everyone else derives life and receives breath from Him. As Acts 17:28 reminds us, “In Him, we live and move and have our being… ‘For we also are his children.'” Fascinatingly enough, God goes on to introduce his name as “YHWH.” (Most Bibles denote this term by reading “the LORD” in all caps.) This “Tetragrammaton,” as it is referred to, was considered to be the most sacred of all of God’s names. It only consists of four Hebrew consonants, and we have no idea what the vowels were, or even if there were any. In fact, many rabbinical scholars believe that these four consonants are meant to form a composite of the three tenses of that same Hebrew word hayah, “to be”: He Was, He Is, He Is to Come. (Sound familiar? Compare with Revelation chapter 1, verse 4 and 8!)

It gets even better than that! This name of God is also inseparably connected with the idea of God’s life-giving breath. As Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes:

The letters of the name of God in Hebrew… are frequently mispronounced Yahweh. But in truth they are inutterable…

This word {YHWH} is the sound of breathing.

The holiest name in the world, the Name of the Creator, is the sound of your own breathing. That these letters are unpronounceable is no accident. Just as it is no accident that they are also the root letters of the Hebrew verb ‘to be’… God’s name is the name of Being itself. And, since God is holy, then so is all creation. At the burning bush, Moses asks for God’s Name, but God only replies with Ehyeh-hasher-ehyeh, which is often incorrectly rendered by the static English, ‘I am who I am.’ But in truth the Hebrew may denote the future tense: ‘I will be who I will be.’ Here is a Name (and a God) who is neither completed nor finished. This God is literally not yet…

A God who is neither completed nor finished… I am humbly reminded by this of how absolutely impossible it is to put God in a box. We can’t define Him; we can’t contain Him. God continues to grow and expand beyond our horizons of definition and constraint. That must also mean that we never reach the “finishing point” with God. We will never reach the place where we’ve experienced all of Him or where we’ve stopped growing and progressing in our relationship with Him. With God, the best is always yet to come!

It all circles back to the Creation account, doesn’t it? “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7, NKJV). So, if our every breath is an utterance of our Creator’s name–a reminder of His life-sustaining power–then that means that the very act of breathing is an act of worship! Look at what Romans 12:1 declares in the NIV: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies [your life, your thoughts, your breath–everything you are] as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship [‘this is truly the way to worship him’, NLT].” The songs we sing and the prayers we pray are all nice, but what is our Heavenly Father really looking for in His people? He’s looking for a people who simply “live life.” A people who live in such a way that every breath is a witness, a proclamation, of God’s Name–a declaration to the onlooking world of Who God Is! 

But I will reveal my name to my people, and they will come
to know its power.
Then at last they will recognize that I am the one who speaks to them…
My people will see again who I AM.
I will tell them, “I AM here. And I AM ready.
(Isaiah 52:6, NLT/The Voice, capitalization supplied)