The rule in my home growing up was that, if you got spanked at school (which still happened in the 70’s), you got spanked at home. When my Mom found out that I had been disciplined at school (which happened more than once!), she would say, “Wait until your father comes home.” Those were long, unhappy hours of waiting and wondering “What is Dad going to do?” In fact, the dreadful anticipation of what Dad might do was often worse than the reality.
Now go back to the Israelites camped out at Mount Sinai. They had sinned against Yahweh by lasciviously worshipping a pagan god. Moses had averted their complete destruction by interceding for them. But then at the beginning of Exodus 33 God told Moses to go on and lead the people to Canaan “…but I will not go with you” (33.3). This was the worst possible news.
In response, Moses made one of the best decisions of his life by refusing to go anywhere. He wasn’t about to try and lead the Israelites without God.
So, the whole nation just waited and wondered, “What is Yahweh going to do with us? What’s going to happen to us?” They took off all their jewelry and finery. When Moses went to talk with God, they all stood at the entrances to their tents and watched and prayed, waiting and wondering.
We’re not sure how long this excruciating waiting lasted. Eventually, Moses worked up the courage to make a speech to Yahweh about it. Here’s my paraphrase...
“God, these are your people, not mine. I’m not going anywhere unless you go with me. You said that I have found favor in your eyes. Now please go with us.” (For the real thing read 33:12-17).
God replied, “I will do the very thing you have asked...” YES! What a relief! The dreadful waiting and wondering was over.
The question is, why did God agree to go with the people?
God tells Moses, “…because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Moses found favor with God and, as a result, all the people whom Moses represented enjoyed the benefit of God’s presence.
Does this sound familiar? It should.
On two occasions during the life of Jesus, God spoke audibly from heaven, declaring his pleasure in His Son Jesus (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). Jesus found favor in God’s sight, in a much more complete and perfect way than Moses did. As a result of Christ’s perfect obedience to the Father, all those who are “in Christ” enjoy the full benefit of God’s presence in their lives. Through faith in Jesus, we become “co-heirs” with Him, inheriting what he deserves for his obedience. Our whole hope is wrapped up in Jesus having found favor in God’s sight.
Moses’ life was a shadow of the reality which is found in Jesus.
Now the challenge is to live up to this grace and calling which we have received. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us today.
The prodigal life is often reflected in the way people live and also characterized the lives of the Israelites. “You can still be living in your home and have departed for a distant country. You can play the role of the “good son” with a heart that roams in the twilight beyond good and evil. You can even show up to church every week with a voracious appetite for idols. Not all prodigals need a passport,” stated James Smith in, On the Road With Saint Augustine. Why are we and the Israelites so prone to wander?
God has remained the same. His covenant ways and His love are steadfast, they never waver. God is true to his character, He is perfect in His love and righteousness. “God never permits His people to sin successfully.” (Charles Spurgeon) If God is immutable (unchanging), then it is my prodigal ways that lead my feet on a prodigal path. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8) How have you see this principle of reaping and sowing played out in the lives of people in scripture, in our culture, and in your own life? God was not going to ignore the golden calf and He will not ignore our rebellious hearts, either. “…our ancestors…were all baptized into Moses in the cloud…they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ…nevertheless, God was not pleased with them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as an example to keep us from setting our hearts on evil…so, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (I Corinthians 10:1-12)
We are all prodigal possibilities. When our emotions become our god, they can lead us away. Fear, sadness, anger, loneliness, seeking to assuage my emotional pain, can quickly become my golden calf. Impatient waiting on God’s answers can be that first step on a path to find the “answer” in my own way: and my god substitute rears its golden head. The Israelite’s’ fears drove them to say to Aaron, “…make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses…we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Genesis 32:23) When have you tired of waiting on God? How did you respond?
“Moses saw that the people were running wild…” (Exodus 32:25) He knew God’s character and he knew God would respond to their sinful rebellion. Moses was angry with the people (Exodus 32:19,22), but it was an anger tempered with love, which is anguish. How many of you have felt the “anguish” of loving a prodigal? You can put yourself in Moses’s sandals and understand his anguish over the rebellious path that they were embarking on. My own prodigal ways of bowing to the “idols” of life are often as foolish as the Israelite’s golden calf. “I remember…my wanderings, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet…I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail…it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:19-25). Is there anywhere in your life that God looks at you and sees your heart, “running wild?” What “golden calf” have you adopted in your prodigal path that you need to melt down and “wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord”? How will you remember God’s unfailing compassions?
How long has it been since you broke a promise? Did you say, "I will never do that again!"; sign a contract, or commit to do a job? When you made it, you sincerely meant to keep your word. But, for whatever reason and much too soon—deliberately or innocently—you broke that promise. Now you're in over your head and you need someone to intercede for you.
Who do you call when you need a mediator?
We forget, as Israel did, that God has a purpose in the testing of his people. “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20). Unfortunately, the Israelites did forget over and over again throughout their history. And God recorded their broken promises for all to read. Back in their early experience at Mt. Sinai, as we read in today’s Scripture passage, they wait for Moses to return from his second meeting with Yahweh, and they forget their promise of just a few days earlier, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do" (19:8). And they actually create and worship an idol.
How long are you willing to wait for God to answer before you break a promise or turn to a "god" of your own making?
We are likely to harshly judge Aaron and the people for this unholy blot on their history. But wait! How many times have you and I made a commitment similar to Israel’s? “We will do what you say, God.” Whether in a public confession or in your private prayer closet, haven’t you made such a commitment—perhaps several times? And what has been the result? Without question, God has allowed you to be tested on that commitment—usually, pretty quickly, too.
We are often so impatient with God or others that we decide to take things into our own hands. The other half of this tragic story reveals Moses at his very best. God was so angry at the idolatry of his chosen people, his “special possession,” that he threatened to wipe them out completely. He even offers to make Moses the leader of a brand-new nation to be God’s people. Wow! Think of that! Not many men could resist that offer. But in a face-to-face meeting, Moses negotiates with God.
The New Living Bible commentary on this passage notes:
Moses exhibits astounding unselfishness and commitment to the Israelites. He could have agreed with God—let's scrap these people and start fresh. Instead, he presents a compelling argument to God (32:11-12) and asks God to spare his chosen people. . . . Moses reminds God that the Israelites are "his own people" and that if he decimated the Israelites it would look to others like God had reneged on his promises. . . and if God were to break this covenant, he would be acting against his own nature.
Would you be as bold before God as Moses was?
You and I often feel inadequate to approach God on the behalf of another. And we are, apart from the help of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26). The amazing truth is that as believers we can approach God's throne boldly because we are covered with the blood of Christ. Not only that but the writer of Hebrews says, "This high priest [Jesus] understands our weaknesses, for he faced all the same testings we do. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God" (Hebrews 4:15-16 NLT).
Has God put someone in your life who needs your intercession or for whom you can humbly and boldly "negotiate" with God? Or are you the one who needs Moses to go to God for you? wjbd & gmd
Parents may say something like this to their children: If you obey, I’ll buy you an ice cream sundae taller than the Empire State building! But if you disobey, I’ll put you on a plane to Timbuktu and it’s a one-way ticket!
God, the Perfect Parent, has similar things to say:
Walk before me faithfully and be blameless, and . . .
I will lead you into a land flowing with milk and honey
By the blast of my nostrils, I will pile the waters up
I will carry you on eagles’ wings
I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the enemies out of your way
I will break the bars of your yoke
Every place where you set your foot will be yours
You will always be at the top, never at the bottom
I will prepare a feast of rich food for all people
Every valley will be raised up; every mountain and hill made low
The heavens will rain down righteousness
The trees of the field will clap their hands
The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.
But if you remain stiff-necked and do not circumcise your hearts, then . . .
I will make the sky above like iron, the earth beneath like bronze
I will pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols
I will draw out my sword and pursue you
I will make you so fearful that the sound of a wind-blown leaf will put you to flight
I will turn the rain into dust and powder
Your carcasses will be food for the birds of the air
You will become a thing of horror and an object of scorn and ridicule
You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both day and night
I will send you back in ships to Egypt
You will offer yourselves as slaves, but no one will buy you
Even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen
I will lift your skirts over your face and show the nations your nakedness
I will sweep everything away from the face of the earth
I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices.
(For these words from God, see: Gen 17:1; Ex 3:17; 15:8; 19:4; 23:28; Lev 26:13; Duet 11:24; 28:13; Isa 25:6; 40:4; 45:8; 55:12; Mal 4:2 Lev 26:19, 30, 33, 36; Deut 28:24, 26, 37, 66, 68; Isa 1:15; Nah 3:5; Zeph 1:2; Mal 2:3.)
Life Application Questions
The wisdom is unmistakable. Being faithful as a truth-teller establishes and confirms identity. This is as authentic today as when God’s instructions were first provided.
During training days, when the people of God were being called, formed, and enlightened as to their new identity, specific instructions were provided. Exodus 23 specifies a few of these, some of which remain among the elementary truths of our Faith: “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness” (Exodus 23:1).
There was an extensive pagan culture long ago. The training day instructions were vital in shaping the people while laying out particulars for the new nation; yes, they were to be a peculiar people, a royal priesthood called into holiness.
In this way, God’s spoken instructions, apparently later to be written, functioned as the teacher, the trainer, the tutor; or, in the words of an earlier day in our language, the pedagogue was functioning as intended. It is an old word and has slipped into near archaic language. Yet the pedagogue remains a perfectly acceptable way of imaging how God interacted and continues to interact with disciples.
Our brother Paul once wrote: “Wherefore the law was our pedagogue in Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after the faith has come, we are no longer under a pedagogue.” (Galatians 3:24-25 Douay-Rheims translation of 1899, American Edition)
A contemporary translation is provided by the New International Version: “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”
Do parts of God’s elementary instructions, regardless of the era in which they were first delivered, encourage decisive behaviors for you?
An extensive resource hyperlink—if you choose to invest more time in understanding God’s identification of the pedagogue, the guardian, the trainer, the tutor: https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1114&context=sor_fac_pubs
It has been said that “fences make good neighbors.”
What does that mean?
It means that knowing and abiding by a clear delineation of property, ownership, and rights helps people relate better. Knowing the boundaries--whether physical, social, relational, or sexual--makes living together easier and more peaceful.
Exodus 22 is an exercise in creating the kinds of fences that make for good neighbors. God knows what those fences are and where they should go.
There are consequences for sneaking through or breaking through the fences and stealing from a neighbor. Those who steal a lamb, or damage another person’s property, or violate a woman’s virginity must pay restitution. Restitution was often twice the amount of that which was stolen, destroyed, or damaged. This works as a deterrent to theft but also acknowledges that theft does more damage than just the loss of what was stolen. Making things right is costly.
The Law gives lots of examples, but one can’t cover every possible scenario. Judges were needed to apply general principles to particular cases. Justice requires wise judges.
Notice that the Law was able to draw some fine distinctions. For example, the homeowner who kills an intruder at night is not guilty of murder; however, if the same thing happens during the day, the homeowner can be held liable for manslaughter. We can speculate as to the reason for this. Thieves rarely steal in broad daylight, so such an event begs the question “What was really going on?” In the daylight, one may not need to use lethal force to scare off an intruder.
At times, the Law could seem harsh. Idolaters and those who practice witchcraft were condemned to death.
On the other hand, the Law emphasized mercy. The foreigner, the widow, the orphan, and the poor were to be treated with dignity, kindness, and generosity. James must have had Exodus 22 in mind when he wrote: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). In one sentence, James brought together social justice and moral purity.
The Law had authority because it was rooted in the Person and character of God. It reflected his truth and grace. Those who obeyed it discovered that they were on the path of wisdom.
It is not hard to discern echoes of Exodus 22 in American law. After all, OT Law and the Roman legal system were the foundation of western jurisprudence. Unfortunately, western cultures have rejected God and the Bible. In some courtrooms, witnesses still must swear to tell the truth with their hands on a Bible. But that is an empty symbol when one has no understanding of the Author of the Book or of its contents.
For all the talk of tolerance and inclusivity, it appears that people are having an increasingly difficult time getting along. The polarization and fragmentation just keep getting worse. This is partly because we’re losing the “fences” that once made for good neighbors, namely fear of the Lord and respect for God’s good commands and laws. That has happened in the broader culture. Let’s not allow it to happen in the church.
The news has been relating stories of passenger’s bad behavior on planes. Fist fights, ugly words, and disrespect abound. Other violent behaviors seem to shock our nation. What violent acts have shocked or dismayed you. Lester Holt stated on the evening news: “Roots of behavioral change are not easily legislated.” God is not surprised by man’s sinful choices. God knew the Israelites would need a code of conduct to direct their behavior just as we need Holy Spirit behavior modification in our lives.
Justice is the practical outworking of the righteousness of God in human history. “The Lord loves righteousness and justice, the earth is full of his unfailing love.” (Psalm 33:5) Our world may be filled with injustice, but the time will come when God will judge the world in righteousness. “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31) How does God’s justice impact you?
As far as the criminal courts are concerned, the goal is to free the innocent and condemn the guilty, but when it comes to our relationship to God, there are no innocent people. (Romans 3:23) But in His grace, because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, God can declare righteous any guilty sinner who believes on Jesus. The code of conduct laid out for the Israelites is no longer our judge. Men are by nature slaves of sin. Charles Spurgeon said, “If you are resolved to be the slave of your passions, then your passions will indeed enslave you.” Have you or others you know become enslaved?
We should not be shocked to hear about the bad behaviors and ways that people are enslaved around us, it is to be expected in a world infected with sin. Jesus has set us free from sin’s bondage. In Exodus 21:5-6, we read of a freed servant, “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.” A painful piercing marked this servant for life. Our Savior also loved us and demonstrated his commitment to us as he was willingly pierced. “But he was pierced for our transgressions…by his wounds we are healed.” (Psalm 53:5) We are God’s servants for life. Is our heart pierced with the permanency of our relationship with Jesus? The freed servant who chose to have his ear pierced was marked for life as belonging to his master. How are you marked as a Christ follower? What defines those who are a part of WLGBC family? How is God calling you to be marked as his follower?
Last week we considered the Ten Commandments as God's "rules for relationships,” notingthat rules are like fences; they are for our protection.
As Anne Graham Lotz wrote, “God is the one who designed life in the first place. He knows how it functions best and has given practical directions for us to achieve the fullest possible extent of joy and happiness. His directions are like the road markings on a highway.
You and I can push the boundaries that God has established, but we do so at our own peril. If we go outside His ‘road markings,’ the likelihood is that we will get hurt, as well as hurt other people. At the very least, we will experience life on a lower level than He intended. The alternative is to take God at His word, stay within His boundaries, and trust Him to know what’s best for us.”
Have they been the rules you live by? Why or Why not?
In the New Testament, Jesus summarized the ten with just two positive commands: Love God and love your neighbors. So, let’s look at them again from a positive perspective, and note, also some further explanation adapted from A.G. Lotz.
A Positive Perspective
Worship Yahweh alone.
Other gods—such as money, fame, sex, pleasure, power—will enslave you.
Worship Yahweh in the way that he requires.
Behind other gods are d e monic forces who will weaken you, deceive you, and suck you into attitudes, words, actions, and thoughts you had no idea you were capable of.
Honor the name of Yahweh in your words and conduct.
Unless you reverence God, you will not have even the beginning of wisdom to live by.
Set apart a special day for rest.
A lifestyle of setting aside one day a week to focus on God will keep your faith anchored.
Honor your parents.
Doing so will lead to a richer, fuller, life.
Respect and protect human life.
Human life has a high value. Yours and others.
Respect and protect marriage and sexuality.
Sexual betrayal destroys a marriage bond and cracks a nation’s foundation.
Respect and protect other people’s property.
Without mutual trust we cannot have safe, healthy relationships.
Respect and protect the truth and the way you treat others.
Integrity is foundational to a successful life and a strong society.
Be content with what God gives to you.
The danger of never being content is being dominated by greed that demands more and more.
When Jesus taught on some of the commandments in his Sermon on the Mount, he wasn’t adding more laws; he was offering the true and proper interpretation of the law as God originally intended it.
Today’s text tells us that “when the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. Moses said, “Do not be afraid,” but notice what follows: “God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” Get that? What can be the greatest deterrent to our inclination to sin? The fear of God!
Since we live in the age of grace,we are secure in God’s love if we have trusted Jesus and acknowledged him as lord of our lives. But sin, does have its consequences—even for the Christian, so we need to be growing in grace and becoming more and more like Jesus.
How are you growing in grace?
jbd & gmd
Luke 10:25–37; Mark 12:28–34
Have you noticed that simple and familiar things can also be mysterious?
Take my spouse for example... No, better not go down that track. 😊
How about this verse: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”
I’ll bet you’ve heard that one before...a lot of times. After all, it is the “greatest command.” It’s Christianity 101. If you miss it, you kind of miss everything.
But what does it mean to love God?
Is it a feeling? Is it a choice? How do I know when I’m doing it?
What is the difference between “heart,” “soul,” and “mind” anyway?
When do I exert energy loving God?
The more questions I ask, the more perplexed I become.
OK, take a deep breath. Step back. Look at the whole sentence. What is the big idea? What’s the main point?
With our entire being—all of who we are—we should love God. With our will, our emotions, our intellect, and our activity, we are to pursue and delight in God.
Jesus put it this way: “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). In another place, John wrote: “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands” (1 John 5.3). In other words, God’s “love language” is obedience.
To love God by obeying His Spirit moment-by-moment through a single day demands my entire concentration. It requires all kinds of choices. It takes self-control and self-discipline. It calls for remembering God’s goodness. It depends on finding joy in Jesus. In other words, it only happens when I’m “all in” with my heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Are you “all in” today? Let’s love God with our whole being—heart, mind, soul, and strength.
It will be worth it.
Moses asked the Israelites an interesting question: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?”
The answer to the question, of course, is: “Nothing.”
God doesn’t ask for anything else, because he’s already asked for EVERYTHING. What more could you ask for than complete and unreserved fear, obedience, love, and service? What’s left after that?
That might seem like a big ask, if it weren’t for the last phrase: “for your own good.”
We’re tempted to think that God asks us to obey His commands for His own good...
...as if God needed our obedience.
...as if God were on a power trip, throwing his weight around.
...as if God were dependent on us.
...as if God got a kick out of giving orders and being obeyed.
No, God gives us his commands for our good. Moses follows up this question by giving some reasons why fearing, obeying, loving, and serving God are for our own good (and just make sense).
1) God is the Creator, and we are part of His creation. He made us, so it follows that He knows what is best for us. (v. 14).
2) God chose us to belong to Him, not because we deserved it but because He loved us. Such a God can be trusted. (v. 15)
3) God isn’t like the other so-called “gods,” whom you can bribe or manipulate to your will. The one, true God is all powerful and will judge impartially. It’s far better to submit to His ways. (vv. 16-17)
4) God is good. He is just and kind. Like Him, His commands are good, just, and kind. His commands reveal who He is. He doesn’t ask us to do anything He hasn’t already done. (vv. 18 – 19)
5) God saved us from bondage and gave us freedom. His commands don’t make us a slave again. They keep us free. They lead to life. (vv. 20-22)
We live in a culture that considers the greatest evil to be any restrictions or limitations on the right of the individual to express what he or she feels. The fancy word for such thinking is antinomian (Greek anti, “against”; nomos, “law”). The antinomian believes that resistance to all social, religious, and moral norms is for our own good.
Except it never turns out that way.
Saying “Yes” to all our desires is easy, but it lands us in slavery. It’s not for our own good.
Saying “Yes” to God’s commands is often the harder choice, but it leads to freedom. It’s for our own good.
May God give us grace by His Spirit to choose His ways for our own good.