Sometimes keeping God’s commands allows reciprocal communication between God and His people. That was the case for the sacrifice called the “peace” or “fellowship” offering. Leviticus 3 does not spell this out so clearly, but when God received this offering, the giver could partake of eating the leftovers of the sacrifice. This offering communicated something of God’s posture towards humanity: God desires fellowship with us. He is willing to eat a meal with His people. Certainly, the sacrifice could be seen as a burden to the giver, yet God is the giver of all good things. In this peace sacrifice, Israel professed God’s worth, and God professed His love for Israel. Today, the ordinances we keep, like Baptism and Communion, allow this reciprocal communication. In the Lord’s Supper, we partake of God’s gift to us through Jesus, communicating that we are satisfied by God. Through Baptism God communicates cleansing of sin and our being united to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we declare that God deserves our very life. We are right to beware ritual for ritual’s sake, but at the same time, God calls us to participate in certain actions which necessarily form a larger part of His divine communication. Let us be a people that enjoys all the ways in which we can participate in the divine drama of communicating God’s love in a world filled with disdain.
Leviticus begins by explaining how to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings. The process is easy enough to follow, and I hope to help you understand the purpose of these offerings. Although the passage does not inform us why the burnt offerings or grain offerings are given, it does divulge that these offerings are “an aroma pleasing to the Lord”—God accepted these sacrifices with pleasure. The burnt offering would have cost the giver greatly through losing a healthy animal without defect (1:3, 1:10), and nothing of the animal would survive (1:9, 1:13). Other instances in the Old Testament inform us that one made the burnt offering when petitioning the Lord. Imagine that every time you wanted to ask God for something, you would have to offer a burnt bull, sheep, goat, or bird. That was part of the old sacrificial system.
Chapter 2 reveals sparse details about the purpose of the grain offerings, but the presence of incense (like frankincense) tells us that this, too, strenuously cost the giver. However, this offering was not to be entirely burnt because God provided food for Aaron and the Levitical priests through it (2:2-3). A grain offering would usually accompany one of the other offerings; for instance, our next reading will focus on law offerings and sin offerings. Partly through these offerings, the people of God showed their desire to keep covenant with Him and trust Him to be their provider. Though the sacrificial system has ended because of Jesus, God ultimately finished it because He wants an even more pleasing sacrifice from us than bread and animals (Romans 12:1-2, Psalm 51:17).
This Friday and Saturday will allow you to catch up on readings in Exodus and the Psalms you may have missed over the past few weeks. Devotionals in Leviticus will begin on Sunday the 26th.
Exodus ends with a sober reminder. After the completion of the tabernacle, obeying all that God commands, Moses cannot enter the tent of meeting any longer. Why is this? Because God’s glorious presence in the cloud has settled upon the tabernacle (Exodus 40:38). Even Moses cannot be present where God dwells in all of HIs glory. So how can God’s people remain in the presence of the Lord? Exodus does not resolve this problem; we must wait for clearer answers as to how tabernacle worship enables Israel’s unique access to God. Leviticus will help to clarify, but consider all that God has done for the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Exodus, and yet they remain unable to see God in all of His glory. Today, though God’s glory has been made manifest to us in the person of Christ, still we wait like Moses’ generation to see God’s glory endlessly. Humanity has seen our hope, but we continue to anticipate the day of undiminished dwelling in God’s presence. We await the complete resolution of our story, but we do so while clearly understanding what we need most. Thus, we cry out like the apostle John at the end of the Bible, “Come Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
While the priests are clothing themselves for the ministry of making offerings to the Lord in Exodus, Psalm 53 teaches that there is something within all of us that clothes cannot cover. Though David begins by calling atheism foolish, mainly he reproves all our hearts. Some would suggest that David’s description of human motives is bleak and that he minimizes our goodness, but the apostle Paul agrees with David (Romans 3:10-12). Jewish and Christian teaching—while denying neither our status as image bearers of God, nor the good that this implies—insists upon our fundamental sinful condition. Our hearts long for wicked things, and so we follow our hearts. This leads David to hope that some resolution would come from God’s temple on Zion and that God would restore His people (Psalm 53:6). David asks for salvation. He did not necessarily perceive restoration as complete and final purification, yet God’s salvation offers just that through Jesus (Hebrews 10:10). Let the people of Jacob, Christ’s church, rejoice and be glad (Psalm 53:6).
As the tabernacle is being completed according to God’s command, let’s turn our attention to another of David’s psalms. The majority of this psalm concerns someone David plainly dislikes. The heading informs us that it was written “When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul and told him: ‘David has gone to the house of Ahimelek.’” David writes this song looking forward to how “God will bring you down to everlasting ruin” and to a time where “the righteous will see and fear; they will laugh at you”.
It is easy to wonder if this psalm really exemplifies how we should think and feel about someone. I propose that this psalm is less an example of what we should think and feel and more an example of what to do when we feel this way. David holds nothing back from God, even his anger towards this person. The Bible is not a story of perfect people, nor do their words reflect perfect hearts, yet these psalms are Holy Spirit inspired. How can that be? The Spirit shows us, by example, the sort of prayers we are to take to God: those filled with our genuine thoughts and feelings. Even if God intends to chasten our hearts, God is pleased to do this when we approach God like David.
Since the rest of Exodus focuses on Israel obeying God and building the tabernacle as commanded in Exodus 24-31, I will focus on Psalm 51 today. However, in Exodus 36:5-7, note that Israel eagerly responds to God’s lovingkindness and brings more offerings than necessary, reflecting a revival in Israel.
Israel’s great King David wrote today’s psalm after committing great sin. Since we will read that story later, it is enough to say that you will be appalled if you don’t already know his crimes. In this psalm, David begins by asking for renewal of heart and mind, accompanied by pardon for sin. Clearly, he knows that the only prayer for forgiveness that he has—his sole hope of escaping severe punishment for these sins—rests on God’s unfailing love and His great compassion. In the same way, in our past readings, when Moses asked God to spare Israel from destruction, his hope relied on God’s character and goodness alone (Exodus 32:11-13). We must remember that our hopes in prayer are completely founded on the goodness and power of God. Moses and David, two of Israel’s greatest leaders, encountered God and knew His Holiness and uprightness. They learned that only God’s eternal love could stay His hand from justice. May we be a people that know as our only hope the unfailing love of God and learn to appeal to God’s great compassion often in prayer.
After Moses goes up on Mt. Sinai with freshly cut tablets to receive God’s law again, he returns literally glowing in the face because, we are told, he had spoken with the Lord (Exodus 34:29-30). We may pause and ask how Moses earlier is said to have spoken with God face to face (Exodus 33:11) even though we are also told that no one may look at God’s face and live.
This language simply expresses intimacy. This is not meant to convey that Moses saw God’s real, glorious, and holy face any more than you would describe strange events by saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” We understand how language works, and Exodus is not trying to tell us that Moses uniquely got to see the “real face of God”. The point is that God is willing to deal intimately with His chosen servant, Moses, to communicate His covenant and purposes to Israel. This is great news for Israel after the golden calf incident, for it demonstrates God’s willingness to pardon even the breaking of the His prohibition against making idols. God is indeed a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:7).
In past readings, we have seen God’s lovingkindness towards His people; He pardons Abraham’s cowardice, does not hold Jacob’s deceptions against him, and uses Moses despite his lack of faith. In today’s reading God intends to inflict upon Israel the punishment due for their infidelity (Exodus 32:9-10). Note how Moses petitions God to spare Israel, consistently citing God’s name and character. Moses suggests that the Egyptians will have grounds for questioning the benevolence of God if He destroys Israel (32:11-12). Moses also calls for God to remember His covenant with Abraham (32:13). Moses understands that his only appeal to God is God’s character. Without God’s goodness, Moses doesn’t have a prayer.
Moses goes on to state just what this means for Israel in plain terms: How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (33:16, emphasis mine) In this seemingly rhetorical question, Moses makes a point that the church needs to hear today and every day. If God is not with us, for us, working in us, literally nothing makes the church special. Our goodness does not set us apart. Our insight and knowledge and even our beliefs ultimately are not our biggest difference. God’s presence with us in Christ through God’s Spirit alone makes us unique in all the world. This alone allows us to make God known to the world, as Israel was allowed to do back then.
Three parts of our reading interest me today:
First, the half-shekel ransom for lives when taking a census includes an interesting stipulation: a command that the rich and poor pay the same amount (Exodus 30:1-14). For other offerings, by contrast, God expects the wealthier to make larger sacrifices or contributions. However, this offering reminds everyone that when Israel counts men in preparation for battle or in planning some massive project, it will be God’s strength that will achieve their aims and not their numbers (from the census) or their wealth.
Second, many have remarked that the first time God’s Holy Spirit fills a person, He chooses an artist (Exodus 31:1-3). More interestingly, God’s Spirit works in Bezalel to create a place where God will dwell with His people. This same Spirit operated in the creation, where God would dwell with His image-bearers (Genesis 1:2). This Spirit also gave birth to Jesus, who would be God with us (Luke 1:35). Further, this Spirit makes us a dwelling place for God through faith (Romans 8:5-11). The Spirit of God seems always to accompany God’s work of abiding with us. God entrusts this work of fellowship to the Spirit alone.
Third, observing Sabbath prohibitions on pain of death might seem extreme. However, consider as exhausted people how nice it would be if someone would so strongly insist that we take a day off! God is teaching Israel and the world that He alone made the universe in six days and gives life to all things. A day off is meant to remind Israel that their work’s success still relies upon the God who created and upholds the universe. God’s followers should still take this gracious rest day to pause from their vocations and enjoy God’s goodness in our world.
Remember that Moses and Aaron are descendants of Levi, a son of Jacob. These two chapters in Exodus establish the Levites’ role as the priestly family for Israel moving forward. The priests are to offer sacrifices on behalf of Israel for the covering of sins and for participation in fellowship with God. Yet the priests themselves, set apart though they are, still must make preparation to stand before God with appropriate clothing (Exodus 28) and appropriate sacrifices (Exodus 29). It is easy to gloss quickly over these particulars as old information in order to turn our focus to Jesus, the great high priest who Himself is satisfactory to stand before God without sacrifices (Hebrews 4:14) and who now makes the church into a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:4). Certainly, we should be thankful to Jesus that we no longer remain under the old priesthood; but as you read, consider the careful attention put into the tabernacle system and the way the priests’ garments are an extension of that same system. Consider how finely detailed the garments needed to be lest any high priest die (Exodus 28:43). God’s Holiness—His complete uniqueness—would consistently bear upon the priests and Israel in their worship of God. When we fail to see the great disparity between God and ourselves that these elements convey, we miss an opportunity to further admire Jesus’ total work on our behalf. Read the details and marvel that Jesus now gives you access, like Aaron enjoyed, to God’s throne room.
When reading about the building of the tabernacle and ark, it is easy to get carried away with seeking symbolic meanings. Indeed, we can gain insight into the significance of the objects and their shapes by consulting other scriptural passages and searching through history. Very often, however, we just don’t know the meaning God has attached to particular objects. When God is silent, speculation can often lead us awry. It is better to appreciate the detailed workmanship and consider how these objects would have been used for worshiping God, something future readings will explain.
This tabernacle has an important connection to a few other building projects in scripture. First, the tabernacle is meant to hearken back to creation, as mentioned yesterday, it also looks forward to the construction of the great Jewish temple (2 Chronicles 3-5), which would be a stationary version of the tabernacle. Second, this tabernacle prepares us for the ultimate heavenly city that awaits us all (Revelation 21:9-27). The wandering tabernacle joins many buildings in scripture that reflect God’s ongoing desire to dwell with His people, but there is a superior tabernacle in the person of Jesus which ensures God’s presence with us forever (John 1:14-16). Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we are made fit habitations for God’s dwelling (1 Corinthians 3:16). When we look at its detail and importance, how can we be but amazed that God would ultimately see fit to dwell in us like He did this great tabernacle, which he calls Moses and the children of Israel to build? Let us worship the Holy One!
I am neither builder nor artist. Like many of you, I would rather read stories than architectural detail and descriptions of decor. Unlike us, the first Old Testament readers would have been clued into the importance of the details of the tabernacle, which form the main focus of Exodus in its final chapters. The tabernacle is the place where God would dwell with Israel, and thus where heaven meets earth. Consequently, Moses and early Israel would have hallowed the command to make the tabernacle “like the pattern I will show you” (Exodus 25:8, Exodus 25:40). This pattern bears heavenly significance. Consider the ark, with the cherubim facing where God would sit. Later scripture reveals that this is what God’s true throne is like (Isaiah 6:1-6). Angels surround God, praising Him non-stop. This tabernacle is indeed a tangible teacher of God’s Holy character as well as a reflection of His dwelling place.
For this reason, over the next few weeks, I encourage you as a reader to try and draw the tabernacle as you read the instructions. This will enable you to better appreciate its details and the way they communicate truths about creation and God’s heavenly abode. Originally God worked to build our universe to dwell with us (Genesis 1 & 2). Now God is calling His chosen people to take the stuff of the earth (Exodus 25:1-7) to make a new place where He will dwell with them, enabling them to make God known throughout the earth. Remember that as you draw! You could also google “tabernacle picture” and find a similar result if you wish to bypass the rewarding work of picturing this yourself.
Today's Exodus reading is hard to follow, but the whole of that short passage is important. Let me do my best to help the reader understand. It is easiest to interpret the action if you pair the events of verses 1-2 with those in verses 9-11, while treating 3-8 as necessary preparation for verses 9-11. God tells Moses to bring companions with him further up Mount Sinai, but Moses alone is to approach God (vss. 1-2). When Moses and company approach God, God surprisingly allows them to see Him; contrast this with later writing in Exodus which states that no one can see God and live (Exodus 33:20). How we are to understand this? First, verse 11 makes clear that this occasion is exceptional, and this exception occurs because God is confirming His covenant and laws with His people. Second, the imagery focusing on pavement under God's feet (24:10) suggests that these men are only seeing God's feet and not His fullness, just like Moses would later see only God's back (Exodus 33:21-23).
In 24:9-11, God kindly confirms His covenant without a complete unveiling of His holiness, demonstrating His desire for full relationship. The necessary preparations for this relationship transpire in 24:3-8. This section mentions two kinds of sacrifice: burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Burnt offerings are made to cover over sins, and fellowship offerings are made to cleanse people for fellowship purposes. These dual offerings and many to come in future readings prepare us for one ultimate offering that gives us both atonement and fellowship with God.
Exodus 21-23 contains further provisions about how God’s people are to live. It’s very easy to breeze through this passage, skimming over the laws to get back to the promised land narrative. However, doing so means missing out on deeper knowledge about the Lord.
As we dwell on this passage, a few themes emerge. The first is God’s commitment to justice. When the Israelites wrong one another, God demands that the one who was wronged be restored in full, and in some cases even increased. Second, God’s compassion is present. He defends the poor, the widow, and the orphan—the most vulnerable in society. He deeply cares about the sojourner, the foreigner, and the slave among them, who would not be of God’s people, but could still find refuge among them.
Finally, see the holiness of God. God asks that the fullness of the Israelites’ harvest and the firstborn of their sons and livestock all be consecrated to Him. He also establishes the Sabbath and strict punishments against those who profane His name with idolatry. Having to surrender both goods and time would have been very difficult for them, as it is for us. Yet God continually shows his wonders of love to the Israelites, through the escape from Egypt and later on, and does the same for all His children.
Today, take some time to meditate on these verses; ask God to attune your heart to His justice, compassion, and holiness present within.
In Exodus 19, God uses three different titles for Israel: “My own possession,” “a kingdom of priests,” and “a holy nation,” provided that they obey. A relationship specific to the covenant, Israel was God's possession—a special treasure. As a kingdom of priests, the nation is to be an intermediary between foreign peoples and God, and as a holy nation, to be separate from evil unto a holy God. To His people, God gives the Ten Commandments, found on the walls of Sunday school rooms for the very youngest to memorize. These ten are only the start of several laws laid out in the following chapters (teachings on sorceresses and when to free servants don’t merit equal time in children’s lessons), but let’s look now at what happens in between—Israel’s response to God’s presence.
For a people accustomed to “god” being merely a statue on a shelf, encountering the real deal is terrifying. Their nation witnessed plagues, crossed a seabed on dry ground, drank water pouring from a rock, and even had their food fall from the sky every morning, but as Jehovah makes Himself undeniable through thunder and trumpet blasts and a shroud of dark smoke, instead of singing renewed praise to their Rescuer, His people fear for their lives.
Moses explains that God has appeared in order replace their physical fear with a reverential fear meant to keep them from sinning. The gospel of Jesus strikes a similar chord. Jesus was called Emmanuel — “God with us” —who died on our behalf and rose again, sparing us the fear of death. These gracious acts fill His people with awe, and reverence for Him ought to keep us from sinning. Pray for wisdom to identify and humility to eliminate some sin in your life, believer, and take heart that this same awesome God pledges His love those who love Him and keep His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).
A banner in ancient times was a standard carried at the front of a military grouping. It was the rallying point, and it showed the line of march. It wasn't necessarily a flag; it could have been a pole with a bright ornament on top that shone in the sun. When in battle, soldiers would look over in the midst of the confusion and see the king's banner held high, and they would fight with courage and confidence.
In Exodus 17:8-16, Israel is attacked by Amalek, and at Moses' command, Joshua leads men into the battle. Moses stations himself on top of the hill with the “staff of God” in his hand. Hur and Aaron are with him. When Moses holds his hand high, Israel prevails but when he holds his hand down, Amalek prevails. Hur and Aaron put a stone under Moses to prop him up, and they each hold his hands up on either side of him until sunset. Joshua wins the battle and Moses knows it was the LORD who gave the victory. Thus Moses gives God the name Jehovah-nissi. To whom do we run when we are weary in the battle of faith? God is our strength when we look to Him.
In Exodus chapter 18, Jethro, father-in-law to Moses, converts to Yahweh based on hearsay. At first through the grapevine (Exodus 18:1) and then from Moses (Ex.18:8-12), Jethro hears how Yahweh delivered His people from the Egyptians. May we be encouraged to share testimonies with relatives we long to see saved. Next, observe the humility of Moses when he receives Jethro's counsel on sharing leadership responsibility, something every leader learns...eventually.
Today’s passage focuses on God’s provision. Moses has led the Israelites out of Egypt into the wilderness, and now they must rely completely on what God provides. After they have traveled in the desert for some time, food sources run low and the people begin to question God and Moses’ leadership. The nation of Israel has been freed from slavery, but now they entertain the idea that it would have been better to stay in bondage than to die of hunger and thirst. The people have lost faith in God. Moses brings this to the Lord, who answers with a promise for food. God causes a flock of birds to pass through their camp to supply meat, and every morning, God made a flakey, bread-like substance appear from dried dew. Through all of this, God told the people of Israel to follow Him, to trust in His providing for His people.
The Israelite people had experienced the mighty power of God through His leading them out of Egypt. However, they quickly forgot that He is in control and could sustain them. Many times we do not trust God with our future because we forget about what He has already done for us in the past. As a reminder for yourself, take some time to reflect and write down how you have seen God work in your life in the past. How have you seen God work in the lives of people around you? Write this down also. Are you struggling to trust that God knows what He is doing? Learn from this story in Exodus and from these other life experiences that though you may not be able to see it yet, God is able to provide.
In Exodus 15:1-21, Israel respond to their triumph over the Egyptians and crossing the Red Sea. This is a song of victory and praise together. Israel had heard of God, but they had not yet witnessed who Yahweh truly is. Restoring Israel from Egypt through signs and wonders, God has established who He is to Israel—King over Pharaoh and his gods and King over nature. Israel can't help but burst into praise.
In the song, Moses highlights two important principles that let us know for sure that we can trust God. First, God is a warrior who fights our battles: “The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is His name.” (Exodus 15:3). He fights the Egyptians and their false gods, and He overthrows Israel's enemies. He also controls the forces of nature, making Israel cross the Red Sea on dry ground. Second, Yahweh is the God of our salvation: “The Lord is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him, my fatherʼs God, and I will exalt Him.” (Exodus 15:2). Once and for all, Israel attest that there is no God but the God of their fathers. “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11). Having seen all these things, Israel know for sure that God has saved them from the nation they had faced. They trust God to bring them to the Promised Land. Likewise, David sings of his trust in the Redeemer God in Psalm 39, “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. Save me from all my transgressions; do not make me the scorn of fools” (vv. 7-8).
We have all the more reason to trust God with our daily battles. We are to praise and exalt Yahweh for his great salvation through Christ. He defeated sins and death for you. When you face your Red Sea, know Yahweh can be trusted.
The Word of God continues to take us on this incredible journey recorded in the book of Exodus! The twin themes of redemption and deliverance from bondage are central to the theology and history of the Old Testament. God will honor His covenantal promises to the Patriarchs as He molds Israel into a holy nation. The Passover experience has exclusively bound these people together. They have received instructions for annual commemoration of The Lord’s Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread and Consecration of the Firstborn. They are being prepared for what life before a Holy God requires: worship, faith, obedience and holiness. Their classroom will be the wilderness. In response to God’s final devastating blow to Egypt, the death of their firstborn, Pharaoh relinquishes and tells Moses and Aaron, “Go! Worship the Lord as you have requested.” They are leaving 430 years of captivity with their heads high and their hearts pounding. They believe God’s promises as they march out into the wilderness. It will not be easy, but God is faithful!
God’s presence will guide and protect them in the pillars of cloud and fire. He will fight for them against the Egyptian army in a spectacular display of power; they have experienced so much already! He will be their God and they will be His people” (Ex 6:7). He has redeemed them with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. They will praise God, but at times they will forget what He has done, falling into idolatry and faithlessness. Our attitudes can turn our lives into a spiritual wilderness. We, too, will praise and thank God, but trials test us, and we lose sight of who God is and what He has done for us. We are the redeemed of God! He would have us as His holy people due to the sacrifice of His only son for the forgiveness of our sin. Jesus is our Passover lamb, redeemer and deliverer. It’s the story of the divine and human beings: compelling and beautiful, challenging and eternally worthy.