11. “It will be all right” Expectations

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 11. “It will be all right” Expectations 

Ex 32:1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Trouble at Sinai: The story of Israel and the Golden Calf at Mount Sinai is one I would much rather avoid for it is horrifying on so many levels, but it is the natural follow-on to the thoughts we had about Pharaoh and how the godless human race behaves. Let’s cover the details quickly:

  • Moses goes up the mountain to receive more law from God and stays there forty days (Ex 24:18).
  • Some of the people down below give up waiting for Moses and demand that Aaron make ‘gods’ for them to follow (our verse above)
  • So Aaron made a golden calf (Ex 32:2-6a) and they offered sacrifices before it.
  • Then they held a celebration party (32:6b)
  • Moses comes down, sees the revelry and calls on the Levites to execute all the revellers. Three thousand died. (Ex 32:19-28)

Why so Bizarre:  There is a lot more to the story but those are the basics. Left to themselves for forty days without leadership, and Israel turn to idolatry. Now what is so incredible about all this is that Israel had seen the Lord at work:

  • Through the ten plagues in Egypt (Ex 5-12)
  • Killing Pharaoh and his army (Ex 14)
  • Providing miraculously for them on the way to Sinai (Ex 16,17)
  • With sights and sounds at Sinai (Ex 19,20)
  • With the revelation of Himself to their leaders who saw Him (Ex 24:9-11)

Why? Why? Why?  So how could it possibly be that within a very short while, some of the people (the fact that only 3000 were killed out of a population of possibly nearly 2 million suggests it was only a relatively small number of the whole who did this) seem to forget all they have seen, and they turn to idolatry like other peoples (and they had covenanted to go with God Ex 24:7) and act so badly? For an answer we have to answer, as we did in the previous study, the deceitful human heart.

Human Failings: How is this all about expectations? Well let’s try and think of reasons that people act like this – and I suggest we all do in a greater or lesser measure. Oh yes we do; I see it in my own responses and I see it in other people. One month we can be at a great Christian convention committing ourselves body and soul to the Lord, and a month later we are complacent and indifferent and when calls come for people to attend the prayer meeting, the Bible Study, or join an outreach team, we are ‘too busy’ or ‘too tired’. Sadly, for some of us, it will get worse. We will do things – and let’s not bother to list them – that we know are plain sinful, whether (OK I will list some) watching pornography, making designs on another man’s wife or another woman’s husband, oh so accidentally it came about! Or we cut corners at work, cheat in exams, falsify accounts, oh the list goes on and on. This is what human beings do – even Christians!!!! How can we do it?  It’s all about expectations. Let me explain.

Poor Memories: Having said that, we must dispose of one truth that isn’t about expectations, I believe, and it is the fact of our poor memories and tendency to live for the present. Isn’t this why Jesus said of the communion service, “do this in remembrance of me”, because he knew we have the tendency to so easily forget. There are a number of things in the Old Testament as well, where God got Israel to do things that would act as a reminder. It is probably in the realm of sex that ‘immediacy’ kicks in most strongly. We know that the forbidden fruit, even just this one time, will have consequences that will develop and wreck our lives, but we push on nevertheless and our lives are never the same again.

Deceived Thinking: But I think the expectation issue in all of these things above, is summed up by the philosophy that Satan got Eve to subscribe to – “It will be all right.” So we see whatever it is in front of us and he whispers, “It will be all right,” and linked with that, “God won’t do anything, what does He care about this, it’s such a small thing.” But the truth is that it isn’t such a small thing, it’s the start of something which, if He doesn’t step in and act, will multiply and multiply and get right out of control. It is the false and foolish belief that these things DON’T have consequences that releases human beings to do foolish things that run contrary to God’s design.

Israel were supposed to be a light to the rest of the world, revealing the Lord to His world, revealing His ways to the rest of the world. Forgetting the past year and giving way to present desires was foolish and went directly against the very reason God had set Israel free from Egypt and was taking them to their own new land.  They may have thought, “It will be all right, Moses is not here, God isn’t watching, nothing will happen,” but that was deception and we know where that comes from. Moses did return, God was watching and this could not be permitted to continue, and a simple scolding would not achieve that.  Drastic steps were required.

Resisting & Overcoming: How do we counter such things? Overcome evil with good, the Scriptures teach, so how do we do that. We fill our hearts and minds with His word as we meditate on it daily. We pray and seek His face daily. We worship with all our hearts. We give ourselves over to His purposes and declare ourselves available to Him on a daily basis, and we listen for the leading of His Spirit to be a blessing to those around us. And we also remain alert to resist unwise courses of action. We steer clear of temptation and avoid compromising situations as far as it is possible.  If we fail and fall, repentance is the start of the way back and seeking His grace. It’s not the end – but it’s better if we can avoid falling off the rails to start with!

77. Leaving Sinai

(We pick up again to work to complete our travels in the Exodus)

Part 8: Sinai to Kadesh

Meditations in Exodus: 77.  Leaving Sinai

Num 10:11,12  On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the Testimony. Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran.

According to dates in Exodus, the Israelites had been at Sinai eleven months. They had received the Law and the Covenant had been established and the Tabernacle set up in the centre of the camp. Now the pillar of cloud starts to move. We continue the story of the Exodus in the book of Numbers and from Chapter 10:   They set out, this first time, at the LORD’s command through Moses.” (v.13) Whether at the first sign of the cloud moving Moses calls the leaders to break camp is unclear. In the earlier part of chapter 10 here, the Lord gives instructions for two trumpets to be made and they will be blown at Moses’ instruction to signify the breaking of camp. That presumably happens

Our verses above tell us they travelled to the Desert of Paran which is a large desert area across the north of the Sinai Peninsular but Num 11:35 shows us they went via Kibroth Hattaavah and Hazeroth before they finally got there. Later in chapter 10 we read, “So they set out from the mountain of the LORD and travelled for three days.” (10:33) This is three days before the next incident is recorded.

Now before we move on to that, it is worth pondering the state of mind that should be in Israel when they leave Sinai. They had been there almost for a year and much had happened in that time although it was spaced out. They had watched the Lord’s spectacular display of clouds, thunder and lightning and trumpets, they had seen Moses go up and down the mountain to meet with God and to come back and record the laws the Lord had given to him. Moses and his leaders had gone up the mountain and ‘seen’ God. They had then seen Moses go up the mountain for forty days and they had become restless so that a group of them basically rebelled and demanded a visible god which Aaron gave them. When Moses came back down, judgment was brought on this group. The Lord had subsequently called Moses up the mountain for a further forty days and this time no one dared stray. Moses came back down  and the next record we have is of the cloud starting to lead them off.

They have much to think about. They are now a unique people in covenant with God. There is no other nation on earth like this. Now perhaps they struggle to grasp that concept because they are, at the moment, just a group of people of one ethnic group, wandering through the desert and, unlike other nations, they do not yet have their own land so, to be fair to them, it may be a little difficult to grasp the whole idea – but they nevertheless have all the testimony of what went on at Sinai. More than that they have the testimony of their journey to Sinai and all of the wonder of leaving Egypt. That journey, we said, to Sinai had been used by the Lord to build trust in the people for the Lord.

Bear that in mind as we now read, “Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down.” (Num 11:1,2) Now we need to note, we’re into a very different ball-game now from that previous journey. On the trip from Egypt to Sinai, the had complained a number of times but each time the Lord had simply provided for them. On this journey they have only got to start grumbling and the Lord sends a disciplinary judgment – fire that burns the outskirts of the camp. Was that where the grumbling was I wonder?  So often grumbling comes from the periphery of the church, those only half committed to the church. No lives appear threatened but what has changed? Sinai!

It seems as if from now on the Lord EXPECTS Israel to get it together better than they did and when they get it wrong now, He deals with them. No longer does He just provide; now He challenges them. This is that accountability thing again and He has clearly raised the bar of His expectations in respect of them. They have had so many unique experiences over the past couple of years, more than you and I can ever expect to have in our entire lifetime, that really and truly they OUGHT to have learned. We won’t go over their testimony again, we’ve done it at least twice already. The simple lesson: they have no excuses.

Now having said that about them, can I say it gently, how about us?  We may not have been around seeing plagues and all the other stuff we’ve been seeing in these studies, but how about THE Book, how about the INDWELLING Holy Spirit, how about GIFTED MINISTRIES in the Church, how about the TESTIMONIES of great saints down through the ages, we have all this.

Our younger son used to do high jump. He’s very tall but he could easily jump over a bar higher than his head. I say ‘could easy jump’ but whenever we went to watch him jump for competitions and every time he started his semi-circular run up to approach that bar, I held my breath, inwardly thinking, he can’t do that’ it’s impossible –  but he did it until he was the last one left jumping. The bar has been set high but you can do it, God has given you the grace to do it, whatever the ‘it’ is that God has put before you and you’ve been backing away from. You have His word, you have the Law, you have the testimony of all he has done and specifically done for you, you have His Holy Spirit, you CAN do it. No more excuses, you are not Israel, you are a child of God with all that that means. Do it! Go for it! Be blessed!

52.An Unshaken Kingdom

Meditations in Hebrews 12:  52.  An Unshaken Kingdom

Heb 12:28   Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.

The writer has just set up two pictures, one of Mount Sinai and one of Mount Zion. Sinai represented the old covenant and Mount Zion represents the new covenant. Now he takes those two pictures and, slightly extending them, uses then as a further argument to encourage ongoing faith.

Don’t refuse God: He starts this part with a simple exhortation: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” (v.25a)  Both covenants are about God and us, about how God speaks and we obey; that is at the heart of both. But then he uses the first as a comparison to highlight the second and provide the basis of the argument to put teeth into the exhortation: “If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?” (v.25b) In the days of Moses, the people were slow in obeying the Lord who spoke from Mount Sinai; that is the starting point of this argument. So if we have God who now speaks directly from heaven, he continues, shouldn’t we all the more pay attention when He brings us warnings.

Old Covenant Shaking: But he then takes us on to a new avenue of thought: “At that time his voice shook the earth.” (v.26a) He refers to what happened when Israel got to Mount Sinai: “The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently.” (Ex 19:18) That was the old covenant experience but since then the Lord has spoken again: “but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” (v.26b) This was a reference to an Old Testament prophecy: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: `In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Hag 2:6,7)

A Future Shaking: He explains this: “The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” (v.27) When the Lord said, ‘once more’ through Haggai it was like Him saying, “Once again I will shake everything, and the intent was that material things would be removed and only spiritual things would remain.

The Present Kingdom: This brings us to the present kingdom of God: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” (v.28a) i.e. because we are receiving a spiritual kingdom that cannot be shaken and removed, there is a natural follow-on: “let us be thankful.” (v.28b) i.e. because we have a new long-term security this should leave us feeling thankful but, more than that it should stir something deeper within us in respect of the Lord: “and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” (v.28c)

Right Response is Awe: The reference to ‘reverence and awe’ again has its origin in the Old Testament record: “for our “God is a consuming fire.” (v.29 quoting, “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Deut 4:24)  The thinking behind that is that God is protective about His kingdom and His people and, wanting us to understand the reality behind these things, wants us to have right responses to them. A right response to knowing Him and experiencing His kingdom should be an awe or respect for the Lord that stirs not only thankfulness but also worship.

Recap Chapter 12: So let’s recap what we have seen in this chapter:

  • First, (v.1) an exhortation, bearing in mind all the testimonies of chapter 11, to throw off anything that might cause us to fall short of them (implied),
  • Second, (v.2,3) an exhortation to use Jesus as a further example to encourage us,
  • Third, (4-11) teaching on understanding discipline which God brings to all His children in His desire to change us to conform to Jesus; discipline is simply training that brings us into line with His will,
  • Fourth, (v.12-17) various exhortations to live holy lives,
  • Fifth, (v.18-24) a teaching using the analogy of two mountains representing the old and new covenants and their differences
  • Sixth, (v.25) a further exhortation to listen to God and obey Him,
  • Seventh, (v.26-27) a teaching that although there were shakings with the coming of the old covenant, the Lord had said He would shake things (in the end days?) so that only His kingdom would stand.
  • Eighth (v.28,29) a final exhortation that this should stir within us a sense of thankfulness and worship in respect of our God who has done these things.

A Review: Now as an overview of this list, note there are five sets of exhortations – to cast of distractions, for focus on Jesus, to live holy lives, to be obedient and to be thankful worshippers.  These are backed by three teachings

– about discipline as part of the life of the Christian,

– about the differences between the two covenants and how the second one should motivate us and, finally,

– about our present experience in an unshakable kingdom that gives cause to be thankful and worship.

Many of these things can be seen as things to help the first century believers as they struggled in the face of persecution and countering heresies. We might find it valuable to go back through the list above and check off our lives against the five sets of exhortations to see if we are conforming to them in our lives today.


51. Two Mountains

Meditations in Hebrews 12:  51.  Two Mountains

Heb 12:18,22  You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire…. but you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem

The flow: This book is full of analogies and now we come to yet another one. It is difficult at first sight to see the continuation, how this flows on from what he has just said but in the verses we have recently been considering he was speaking about discipline from God which only showed we are sons (v.5-11), then there was a call to strengthen up (v.12,13) and then some practical exhortations (v.14-17), at the heart of which there is the emphasis on the need for God’s grace (v.15) in order to be holy (v.14) and not to demean our spiritual heritage (v.16,17).

Two ways of looking: Now depending on how you think about God, those verses can either appear bad (painful discipline, needing to be holy, hard God who calls you to account) or good (God treating as sons who he loves and for whom He desires strength and blessing in the Christian life.) It depends very much on our starting position, what we think about God, and so perhaps that is why our writer now gives two pictures of how God has been revealed, in the Old and then New Testaments.

Sinai NOT our experience: Verses 18 to 21 remind us of some of the aspects of the experience Israel had with the Lord as an embryonic nation but says that this is NOT what WE have come to: “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” There was mount Sinai, scary signs, and a trumpet blast and a warning to not even touch the mountain and even Moses found it scary. But that is NOT our experience. It was their because they were in the early stages of learning about God but in our case we are a long way down the path of revelation with the whole Old Testament, and now much of the New in existence when this writer was writing.

Our Experience, Mount Zion: No, our experience is something quite different: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (v.22-24)  We need to look at the various elements of this passage.

God’s home: A threefold description of the dwelling place of God which perhaps is more easily understood in reverse: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” (v.22a) The city of the living God – the dwelling place where the heart and life of all existence dwells. It is a heavenly city, a place of fellowship and community, the reality of the dwelling place that had for years been considered to be the temple on one of the hills of earthly Jerusalem, Zion.  But that had been like a temporary stopping place for God’s presence which had slowly departed prior to the Exile, as seen in the book of Ezekiel. But we haven’t come (notice the verb indicates this has already happened  – ‘have come’) to a temporary place but the eternal dwelling or place where God can be found.

Home of the angels:  “You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.” (v.22b) Wherever there is revelation of the heavenly throne room, there are angels. Be under no illusion, we have access to the heavenly throne room, for the moment purely by the Spirit in prayer or worship, but one day in reality. This is our home, our ultimate destination.

Home of the church: “to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.” (v.23a) Again revelations of heaven in scripture show there are people there. This is the destination for the church, all those born again, known from before the foundation of the world and whose names are recorded there.

Home of God the Judge:  “You have come to God, the judge of all men.”  (v.23b). We’re on a repeat track now, a form of Hebrew parallelism. We’ve already noted that it is God’s home, but it is also the place where He holds court , where He judges and  holds all mankind accountable.

Home of the redeemed:  “to the spirits of righteous men made perfect.” (v.23c) But it is not the place of condemnation, it is the place of revealing the saints, all the believers who have received Jesus as their Saviour, who have come to perfection, completion in the work of God. it will be a place of great joy.

Home of the Redeemer:  “to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (v.24) Jesus comes bringing in the new covenant sealed with his own blood, bringing about a completed work.

The blood of Abel?  Abel was slain by Cain and God said to Cain, “Your brother’s blood cries out” (Gen 4:10) i.e. it cries out for justice. Jesus said, “Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.” (Lk 50:51) i.e. Abel was the first human being to have his blood shed by violent means, the first to cry out for justice. The Hebrews writer writes of him, he “still speaks, even though he is dead” (Heb 11:4),  and so there is a sense whereby his spilled blood continues to cry out to God for justice to be applied, i.e. it demands for justice to be done, but, we now read, the blood of Christ “speaks a better word”  The Message version puts it well: The murder of Jesus, unlike Abel’s—a homicide that cried out for vengeance—became a proclamation of grace.” And the Living Bible puts it, “ Jesus himself, who has brought us his wonderful new agreement; and to the sprinkled blood, which graciously forgives instead of crying out for vengeance as the blood of Abel did.”  Abel’s blood demanded justice, Jesus blood brought mercy and grace and forgiveness through justice being satisfied.

And so: We started out by saying that it is possible to take some of the earlier verses negatively and so that is why the writer comes with these explanations. Everything about these verses shouts, “God loves us, Jesus died for us, he’s for us, all so we could share eternity with him in the most wonderful of experiences.”  Hallelujah!

61. Covenant Commitment

Part 7: The Divine Encounter at Sinai

Meditations in Exodus: 61. Covenant Commitment

Ex 19:7,8   So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD.

And so we now come to a new phase in the life of Israel. They have been delivered out of Egypt and they have traversed the desert, down through the Sinai Peninsular until they have reached that same mountain where the Lord first revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush. I would pause at this point and have to ask a question or two. This series is about the Exodus; how far do we go?  We have seen the actual Exodus and their desert travels out of Egypt and down to Sinai. Might we say this is the end of the Exodus?

No, I believe we need to go on and see the big picture that will conclude when they actually go to enter the Land. The Lord’s intent was declared right at the beginning of His encounter with Moses: I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey–the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” (Ex 3:8) That was the Lord’s goal, the end play, if you like, of the Exodus. Now I am also aware that we are about to plow into large swathes of Law but I am going to restrict our studies to the historical incidents, having dealt with the Law in a completely different set of studies (see ‘Lessons from the Law’)

So they have arrived at the mountain and, as we saw in the previous study, Moses instinctively(?) goes up on the mountain, perhaps to the place where he had previously met the Lord and the Lord declared His intentions about the future of Israel – a covenant or agreement between Himself and Israel. He would bless them and make them a special people if they will obey Him. It is really that simple. So now we pick up the story.

So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. (v.7) Now be very clear about this; Moses conveys to the elders exactly what the Lord had said. There can be no mistaking it, it is very clear. Now observe the response: The people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has said. (v.8a) The people were very positive, which is excellent, and we will go on to see that a number of times they reiterated their commitment to the Lord. So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD.(v.8b)

So Moses goes back up the mountain a second time to meet with the Lord. The Lord could have spoken with Moses at the bottom of the mountain in front of the people but by this constant going back up on the mountain there is a sense of the Lord being divided off from the people and we are going to see how that feeling is about to be accentuated. So Moses goes to tell the Lord what has happened (as if the Lord didn’t know!!!) but before he can speak, The LORD said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you. (v.9a) This is the Lord doing all He can for Moses and his people to make very clear what is going on – this is a close encounter of the divine kind, a real encounter that the people will be able to hear; they will hear God’s words spoken out loud.

I believe the Lord only speaks out loud on very special occasions – and this is clearly the most special of occasions. Then Moses told the LORD what the people had said.(v.9b) Yes, the Lord would have known that the people had said, but there is this expression of personal interactive communication so that Moses is seen as the mediator between God and His people.  Some of the things that are going on here almost appear staged so that a point will be made and remembered. If Israel had any doubt before, it should be quite clear now that Moses has a very personal relationship with the Lord.

So now the Lord gives Moses some instructions to pass on to Moses that are clearly designed to lay down a new understanding about the Lord: And the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, `Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. He shall surely be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on him. Whether man or animal, he shall not be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they go up to the mountain. (v.10-13)

Now what is going on here. Well, we have just seen the elders of Israel agree to the covenant that the Lord proposes but it almost seems to come too easily. Perhaps it is the same feeling that it seems that many (young) Christians have, that God is ‘their friend’ or ‘their buddy’, i.e. well, God has made Himself known to us and we are clearly a special people, He’s for us, we’re for Him and everything is at peace in the world. So in some senses I believe that is healthier than the opposite extreme that God is a ‘hard man’ who is only looking for an excuse to punish us. Both extremes are wrong.

Yes, we do have an intimate relationship with the Lord but we should never be casual about it and it is that, I would suggest that is behind these instructions to Israel now. For us today it needs to be more of an attitude than a series of actions as seen here. But what do we see here?  First, there is a call to personal preparation to meet God; see the language – ‘consecrate, wash’ i.e. cleanse yourself as far as you are able. Do what you can to be in a right attitude when you approach the Lord.  Second, there is a warning to keep a respectful distance. This is almighty and all-powerful and all-wise and all-knowing holy God that we are talking about. Never ever reduce Him to buddy status.

In respect of God we have no rights, we cannot demand anything, but the truth is that He has initiated the possibility of relationship and so, third, there will be times of intimate closeness but they will be when God decrees. When a divine ‘ram’s horn’ is blown we may draw close. For us today it is when the Holy Spirit comes. Then is the time to know the wonder of divine intimacy, but not before. Jesus died to bring this possibility about; let’s not be casual about it. Reverence and respect, yes, but amazingly the New Testament tells us that we can now call him ‘daddy’. Amazing! Wonderful! Hallelujah!

60. Arrival & Encounter

Meditations in Exodus: 60. Arrival & Encounter

Ex 19:1,2   In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt–on the very day–they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.

Modern interpreters prefer ‘third full moon’ to third month and the suggestion is that it took them something like seven weeks to get there from the time of leaving Egypt. This is one of those times that you wish there had been more detail given. Does the fact that they are confronted by a mountain make Israel have any feeling that they have ‘arrived’?  Did the pillar of cloud go up on the mountainside? Was that what made Moses go up for we read, Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain(v.3a) The important thing, as far as what had been happening over the past seven weeks, was that Moses left Israel behind. They camped out and presumably put up their tents at the base of the mountain while Moses went off mountain climbing.

Perhaps it was a case of Moses going up on the mountain to find the place where he had previously encountered the burning bush and first met with God. Presumably when he saw the cloud was leading them to the mountain – which he recognized – he guessed that this was to be another time of encounter with the Lord.

If this is true then his expectations were fulfilled because somewhere up there the Lord spoke to him: This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: `You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites. (v.4-6) Previously the Lord has simply told Moses that He would give them the Promised Land. Now He makes a more personal declaration in respect of Israel, so let’s note what he says.

First he tells Moses to pass this on to Israel. This we might take for granted but actually it is not merely for Moses, it is for the whole people. They are to hear this from Moses and take it in and understand it in some measure at least. Second, they are to be reminded of all the Lord has done for them, delivering them from Egypt. This comes up again and again, this reminder of what the Lord has done for this people, because it is that which forms the core of their relationship with Him. He saved them and that is why they exist today. It is that simple and that profound. Third, their future is to be based on a covenant or agreement. Their part will be to obey God fully. It is that simple and that profound. Fourth, if they will do that, He will consider them His treasured possession (a possession of immense value) and will make them ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’.

Now that description bears some more thinking. The role of a priest is to bring people to God, to be the intermediary for the people. Israel’s role is to bring the world to God. As Isaiah put it, they were to be a light to the nations: I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isa 49:6). Indeed, he went on to say, Nations will come to your light,” (60:3) and The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory. (62:2) It can be argued that the first of those three references applied to the Messiah, but is seems, taking other references as well, that it also applied to Israel as a people.

Now this is integrated with the second thing He said of them, that He would make them a ‘holy nation’. Now the word ‘holy’ is often misunderstood. First and foremost, it is a characteristic of God and something, someone or some place is designated holy ONLY because His presence is there. But in respect of God it means utterly different, pure, complete, utterly good, love, all of these things go to make up the full meaning of the word ‘holy’.  Don’t just see it in a moral way, although there is a moral dimension to it, but sum it up by ‘utterly different’. That is what this nation, Israel were to be, BECAUSE God was with them.

Today every Christian IS holy because the Holy Spirit indwells them. That is our state when we are born again of the Spirit. Sanctification is about the process that is lifelong, whereby the outer me is being changed into the likeness of the inner One who indwells me.  So this nation was to be utterly different from any other nation on the planet and because of that they were to reveal the Lord to the rest of the world.

The apostle Peter declared to the Church at large, “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” (1Pet 2:9,10) Observing the history of Israel throughout the Old Testament, I would suggest that the Sin which inhabits every human being blinded them to the reality of the wonder of this and although they were this sort of nation on occasion, mostly they failed to live up to it. The challenge must be, will we be this utterly different people today who will reveal the Lord to the world around us, not a prissy, self-righteous difference, but a difference that reveals the love and utter goodness of the Lord in us?  Observing how in the West at least, the trends of society are towards godless self-centredness, one must conclude we are not doing very well so far. A challenge to pray, to think and then to do – in ways that we have not known or done so far!

53. The desert of Sin – Contrasts

Meditations in Exodus: 53. The Desert of Sin – contrasts

Ex 16:1   The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt.

There is a temptation here to jump to a wrong conclusion and try to make something of the name but the Sin that makes up the bigger name Sin-ai is not the sin we know about. Centuries before, a warlord from the north by the name of Naram-Sin came south to conquer this land. He headed a cult that worshipped the moon-god Sin (pronounced sign). Over the years his descendants continued to worship the moon-god Sin and thus the region along the Gulf of Suez became known as the wilderness of Sin and entire peninsular named Sinai.

The Sinai that is mentioned in verse 2 is likely to be the mountain that they eventually reach where they encounter the Lord. They don’t know it yet, but this was the place where Moses had encountered the burning bush and been commissioned, and where Aaron had met Moses (Ex 4:27). It is clear (and Moses would know this) that the Pillar of Cloud is leading them in that direction. Moses might well wonder if the Lord has some purpose behind this that has not yet become clear.

For the purposes of meditation there are some interesting things in this verse 1. First, The whole Israelite community set out.”  Just catch the reality of this, because is it significant in the things that follow. It has been suggested that there may well have been a million or even over two million people – men, women and children – in this group. It is a massive group of people making their way slowly through the desert. So large a crowd was it that they no doubt stretched out over miles of track or dunes.

The point I would make is that the further you were from the front, the less sense you had of being led by this incredible pillar of cloud. It was no doubt sufficiently big that it could be seen from a distance but when you are a distance from the presence of God it is easy to feel that distance and feel separated from His wonder. I think this when every now and then reports come in of the Lord moving powerfully in this area or that area but in my area of the desert all is quiet. The fact is that the Lord does move in different geographical locations and it takes faith to believe what others are experiencing. It is important if you are ‘further back’ not to let the enemy sow negatives.

But then we read, “The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai.”  Elim was the place of God’s blessing and abundant provision and Sinai was the place of encounter and law-giving (though they don’t know that yet). They are part way between these places of provision but this present place is just desert, a desert with a murky history of moon-worship, a place of nothingness. If only the Christian life was a smooth even ride, we might think, but it isn’t. The word that describes it is ‘change’ and many of us don’t like change, but change is the name of the game in the world at large and it is the same in the Christian life. Yesterday may have been a day of abundant blessing but today seems quiet, and so we are left wondering.

If you were Moses, you would be anticipating the arrival at Mount Sinai but that is some way off yet. Often we live with anticipation of something we know is coming – we look forward to birthdays, anniversaries, even Christmas perhaps, Thanksgiving, or other memorable and happy times. Because we are post-modern people there is a tendency to be living in an ‘experience-orientated’ life and so are either living on the memories of the last big experience (the last holiday perhaps) or in the anticipation of what we see coming. The danger in that is that we miss out on the significance of TODAY.

Ah, but ‘today’ is simply a desert experience for many of us, the same old thing, the same routine but it is never just the same for we live in a fallen world and things go wrong – at work, at school, at home even – and so the desert keeps on. The ‘same old’ can give a sense of being dry and arid and one of my biggest concerns to do with local church is that so often we do the same thing week in, week out, and so it becomes routine and we lose any sense of anticipation of God turning up. He may turn up in the place of the news but back home here, it is another thing altogether. Be honest, is your church life more like a desert, does little change, does little happen? The life of the Spirit surely should be full of ‘life’ and life brings change in people, change in circumstances; isn’t this what our church life should be?

But then we read this was, “the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt.” A month has passed, (Passover was the 14th/15th of the first month) they have been traveling for a month and a lot has happened. When you are plodding on through the desert, time drags. Add that to the difficulties of desert life and it is not surprising when, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” (v.2)

So here is the crunch lesson: when life feels like a desert, and the last great blessing is some way behind you, and any anticipated further good time is some way ahead, how will we act? Jesus said, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8)   He was, of course, referring to his Second Coming, but it is a valid question for us every day. In this desert will we remain a people of faith or will we become grumblers? Yes, I have previously confessed to naturally being a grumbler but that is the natural side of me and by God’s grace I am slowly (very slowly) learning not to grumble in the desert but to praise Him, turn to Him for His daily resources, and look with anticipation to what He might do if I am available.

Don’t let the ‘desert’ get to you. His grace IS sufficient, but we do have to pause up and draw on it on a daily basis. If you are feeling dry, is it because you haven’t paused today to draw from the springs of living water that are there for you that Jesus spoke about? Don’t let the dry feeling continue; His resources ARE there for you right now.

38. The Law

Meditations in Malachi : 38.  The Law

Mal 4:4   Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

If Christians get confused over any issue, I would say it is the issue of the Law of Moses and the position of the Law as far as we Christians are concerned in everyday life. Here in the verse above, we find the Lord calling to Israel to “Remember the law.” Remember means more than just bring to recollection; it means bring it to recollection and then follow it, do what it says.

So why did God give Israel the Law to start with? Well He gave it to them at Mount Horeb, otherwise known as Sinai, at the time when He called them into being as a nation. But they weren’t just any nation, they were His nation, His special people called to receive all the goodness of His love and thus become a light to the rest of the world to reveal Him. The Law would help them do that.

So what do we find in the Law? First of all we find guidance on how to live as a community of God’s people, instructions about how to hold a right attitude about God (Ex 20:3-7).  Second, comes guidance on how to live as a community, relating to one another. (Ex 20:8-17).  Third, we find the ordering of that society and the recognition that people will do wrong, and so what should happen in such circumstances. i.e. how to ensure justice is seen to prevail. (Ex 21-23).  There is a recognition within this of the sinfulness of mankind, and the fall of human beings that needs to be taken into account. Fourth, there were rules for establishing a meeting place with God (Ex 25-27) and then a priesthood to administer it (Ex 28-29). This was to establish a procedural basis for the way Israel as a whole would worship the Lord. Fifth, there were extensive instructions for bringing offerings and sacrifices to the Tabernacle as expressions of their love for God and for their penitence after sinning (Lev 1-7). Sixth, there were what we might summarise as dietary or health laws (Lev 11-15) designed to maintain good health among the community. These are the basic laws; there are others but they will either fit the above descriptions or are repeats of the above.

So how might we summarise the Law?  Jesus summarised it for us: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40)  From the above we see the ‘loving God’ parts being expressed in the first part of the Ten Commandments, the establishing of the Tabernacle and Priesthood, and the law of offerings and sacrifices. The ‘love your neighbour’ part was expressed in all the rest of the laws.

So does the Law apply to us today? The Ten Commandments certainly do for they are general laws applicable to any community anywhere in the world and without them such a society becomes superstitious and turning to idolatry and the occult, and then anarchistic, harmful and destructive. The rest of the ‘society’ laws were specifically for Israel as a unique but primitive agricultural society in that land in that part of history. The ‘worship’ laws depended on the existence of the Tabernacle and then the Temple, and a priesthood, none of which exist now. Moreover the New Testament tells us that Jesus is the fulfilment of all of the sacrifices, so we no longer have to offer sacrifices for our sins. The law is useful however to show us that by keeping rules we simply fail again and again, and therefore we have to turn to God for some other way of being right with Him – and that, of course, is through His Son, Jesus Christ.

So do we no longer have laws that apply to us today? Change the word ‘laws’ for ‘instructions’ and you will find that the New Testament is full of them in the Gospel but mostly in the Epistles. There are there to act as guidelines for us. We aren’t saved by keeping them, only by turning to and trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross, but they are there for guidance for daily living. Some are specific and some are general: “Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat (Specific). And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.” (General) (2 Thess 3:12,13). The epistles are full of such instructions and they are things to be followed as we work out our relationship with the Lord on a daily basis. And they are there to bless us, because they come from a God of love!

12. Nothing Like This

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 12 :  Nothing Like This!

(Focus: Deut 4:32-40)

Deut 4:32 Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created man on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of?

It is essential, in these studies within Deuteronomy, to constantly remind ourselves of the context. At the beginning of chapter 4 we saw: Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.” (Deut 4:1,2)  It looked like Moses was about to launch into a reminder of the various decrees or laws that God has imparted to them but his long warning to keep those laws reverted into yet another reminder of what God had done for them back at Sinai and how He had forbidden Moses to enter the land. He then went on prophetically to warn about the future apostasy and the Exile, but concluding that even there, if they sought the Lord He would be there for them. Under-girding it all are historical references. You cannot study the Law without seeing its historical context.

But now, for yet further encouragement towards obedience, he take a broad sweep of history asking if they know anywhere in history have they heard of any such a thing happening to a people? He becomes more specific, detailing why what had happened to Israel is unique: “Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived?” (v.33) The Sinai experience was unique in history. “Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?” (v.34) i.e. in all the world religions and miscellaneous religious beliefs, have you ever encountered a God who has done what the Lord has done for us?

He then moves on to give explanation for what has happened: “You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.” (v.35)  No, the only answer to all this is that God IS and He wants you to know Him – and there is no other like Him!  He speaks again of Sinai: “From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire.” (v.36)  You’ve heard Him, not just heard about Him!

He goes back a stage to remind them about the Exodus from Egypt: “Because he loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength.” (v.37) Yet again, there is that hint that goes right back to Abraham. But He has a specific purpose for delivering you: “to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today.” (v.38)  Taking the Promised Land is the end product of the present stage of His plan for Israel.

Now, remember that this is a quick overview of history that says what has happened has been unique. He is saying all this, as we’ve noted a number of times, to reinforce his calls for obedience and to encourage them to take note of, hold on to and obey all the laws that the Lord has given them. As a conclusion to this last overview he instructs them: “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.” (v.39). That has got to be the end conclusion: there is only one God and they have encountered Him.

So why, again, is he saying this? To encourage them to “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time.” (v.40). There is a cold, progressive logic in all that Moses is saying. What is His ultimate goal? It is to get them to obey God’s laws when he is gone. How? It is by helping them see the laws in historical context. Never lose contact with the truth that they are a people promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a people miraculously delivered from Egypt, a people who encountered the Lord at Sinai and a people who have been both disciplined and blessed by Him since! These laws are not a bright idea from Moses. They are the rules for a peaceful life from the Designer of the human race Himself. Never forget it!

For us today this is not just cold academic information. It shows us the base for the nation of Israel – their testimony and their law. But it also reminds us that we too have a faith that is grounded in history. We are what we are because God came to earth in time-space history two thousand years ago in the form of His Son. All else follows from that! The experiences we have today, of the Lord Himself as expressed by His own Holy Spirit, are measured and assessed in the light of all that was said and done in that period of history as recorded in our New Testaments. Without it we are at sea, adrift in a world where anything goes. We are anchored by the word of God which is grounded in history. Hold on to that, remember it, and be assured by it.

10. Learn from Moses

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 10 :  Learn from Moses

(Focus: Deut 4:21-28)

Deut 4:21-24 The LORD was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the LORD your God is giving you as your inheritance. I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan; but you are about to cross over and take possession of that good land. Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Check the context. Moses has just reminded Israel of their encounter with the Lord at Mount Sinai when He had conveyed the Law to Moses. That followed an initial call to obedience and to follow all of God’s laws, which were to be passed down through the generations. They were to see those laws in the context of their encounters with God. They were to remember the sense of awe that they had had at Sinai. This was a holy God, a God who held Himself at a distance and yet who still communicated with the people to draw them into relationship with Him. Yet things could go wrong and when that happened, there would be consequences! This reminder will come again and again: there are consequences for disobeying God. Thus he now uses himself as an example of this very thing.

He has already made brief reference to this: Because of you the LORD became angry with me also and said, “You shall not enter it, either. But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it.” (Deut 1:37,38) and further reference: “But because of you the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me. “That is enough,” the LORD said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan.(Deut 3:26,27). Now he reiterates that for the third time: The LORD was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the LORD your God is giving you as your inheritance.” (Deut 4:21). When Moses had failed to properly represent the Lord, the Lord was going to discipline him so that all Israel and all future leaders would know that the Lord would hold them to a higher level of accountability.

Moses then contrasts Israel with himself: I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan; but you are about to cross over and take possession of that good land.” i.e. this is what is going to happen to me, but not to you!  He continues, Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden. You will be going into the land, you will have an ongoing relationship with the Lord, so you need to remember these things and learn from them and hold firmly to the covenant agreement and obey the Lord and not make any representations of the Lord in the form of an idol.

In the previous meditation we saw that the Lord had given a long warning not to make any representations of him in any form whatsoever and He is now reiterating that. Moses’ reference to himself comes between these two calls to avoid idolatry. It is as if he is saying, “Look, if you disobey God and make idols there will be severe consequences. You have seen what is to happen to me because of my disobedience. Make sure that doesn’t happen to you –  for it will if you are disobedient!” Look, he goes on, “the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” God will not just sit back and let you get away with it. If you set up competitors to what He is really like, these idols that can in no way represent Him, He will come and deal with you for (implied) you are to be a light to the rest of the nations and you are to represent Him to them. Idols will not do that!

He then goes on to warn them prophetically what will happen if they do turn to idols: After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time–if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God and provoking him to anger, I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed. The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.” (Deut 4:25-28) i.e. God WILL hold you accountable and will not let you continue to represent Him.

We have to go to Jeremiah to see this being worked out. There the word of God comes again and again to call them back to Himself, but eventually Nebuchadnezzar comes and takes them out of the land and they end up in Babylon for the seventy year exile. Moses is doing all he can to keep Israel on the straight and narrow. He has reminded them of his own situation, a living example of disobedience and when they soon lose him and have to enter the Land without him, they will know that disobedience has consequences. They should bear this in mind when they hear this warning against idols. They probably cannot see the importance of this warning but Moses has spelled out that their very future depends on obeying it. They can never say they were not warned!