Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Exodus. Day 93, The Ark Of The Covenant, Part Two

The Lord has explained to Moses how to construct the container known as the Ark of the Covenant. Once its bottom and sides have been made, the Lord says, "Then put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you. Make an atonement cover of pure gold---two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide." (Exodus 25:16-17)

Between the tablets of the covenant law lies the "capporeth" or "covering" or "concealment". This word, when used in relation to the Ark of the Covenant, is usually rendered as "atonement cover" or "mercy seat". The tablets are to be enclosed within the ark on every side but special things are going to take place in regard to the atonement cover.

The atonement cover is where the blood of the sacrifice on the yearly Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) will be sprinkled by the high priest of Israel. This blood would "cover" or "conceal" the tablets within from the sight of God. The blood was accepted by God as an atoning sacrifice for the people's inability to perfectly keep the commandments written on the tablets. God has perfectly kept His side of the covenant, but every human being has sinned and fallen short. (Romans 3:23) Because we sin and fall short, we need something to cover and atone for our sins. When God looked down from heaven on the Day of Atonement onto the box that held the tablets of the covenant, He saw the blood, not man's failures! Because every human being has sinned against God, and because without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sins (Hebrews 9:22), and because God is willing to accept a substitutionary death in place of the spiritual death of man, when He saw the blood on the mercy seat He considered the broken laws atoned for. He accepted the faith of the people in place of their inability to fully obey His words.

Every year while the Ark of the Covenant was housed within the tabernacle and later within the temple, the high priest had to go into the inner room and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat. The author of Hebrews said that these same sacrifices, made year after year, could never "make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they have not stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." (Hebrews 10:1b-4)

All these annual sacrifices did was delay judgment (sometimes referred to as a "rolling back" of sins) for another year. These sacrifices were not capable of making a person righteous in the eyes of God forever. These sacrifices were symbolic of what was to come, which was the shedding of the blood of God's own Son, the perfect and spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:29) When Christ shed His blood on the cross, it was enough to cover for all time the sins of those who put their trust in Him. When Christ shed His blood on the cross, He didn't carry the blood into an earthly temple and sprinkle it on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. He carried the blood into the very presence of Almighty God, into the inner room of the temple in heaven, and sprinkled it on the mercy seat there. (Hebrews 9:11-15,23-26) The objects the Lord is telling the Israelites to make in the book of Exodus are copies of things that exist in heaven, according to Hebrews 9:23. There is a temple in heaven, and an ark, and a mercy seat. These are made not by human hands but by the hands of God, and if you have trusted in Christ as your Savior, then the blood He sprinkled on the mercy seat of heaven is what God sees when He looks down upon you. He doesn't see your sin and shame. He doesn't see your faults and failures. Something is in between God and the evidence of the laws and commandments you have broken---the blood of Christ! When God looks at you He sees the blood of His dear Son whom you've trusted as your Savior and Redeemer.

Later in our Old Testament study we will look into practices of the Day of Atonement more closely, but first the Bible describes the atonement cover in more detail and gives us some information about another amazing thing that takes place on the mercy seat. "And make two cherubim of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face the cover, looking toward the cover. Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you." (Exodus 25:18-21) The Lord repeats His instruction that the tablets are to reside within the ark. Of course they would have to be placed inside it before the cover could be affixed, even though in verses 18-21 the Lord mentions the placing of the cover before He mentions the tablets being inside. I think perhaps these things are mentioned in this order because the cherubim are to be looking down toward the cover and toward the tablets underneath.

We don't know exactly what a cherubim looks like, but apparently Moses and the Israelites understood what form they should take, or perhaps God described their appearance in detail while Moses was on the mountain with Him. They are usually depicted as angelic beings, having a humanoid shape, on their knees on the lid of the ark with their faces bowed down toward the lid and their wings overshadowing the lid. I'll post an example below for anyone who may never have seen the cherubim depicted in art or on film.
We can't know for certain if this is what the cherubim looked like but this photo gives us something to go by while trying to picture the ark in our minds.

Do you notice the glow on the mercy seat in between the wings of the cherubim? This symbolizes the presence of God. "There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all My commands for the Israelites." (Exodus 25:22) The glory of the Lord is going to visibly appear between the two cherubim. This is what the Jewish rabbis named the "shekinah"---"the glory of the divine presence, conventionally represented as light". This word is derived from the root word "shakan" which means "to reside, to stay, to dwell". Whenever the glory of the Lord appeared on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant, it was a visible display of His presence with the people. It was the proof that He was indeed doing what He told Moses He would do when the sanctuary was made: "I will dwell among them". (Exodus 25:8a)

Now that Christ has come and offered Himself for our sins, we experience the glory of the Lord in a different way, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." (Romans 8:16) We don't have to enter a temple and gaze upon the Ark of the Covenant to experience God's presence with us; He is present with us at all times. He has made His dwelling place in the heart of all those who have put their faith in Christ. This is far better! The practices of the Old Covenant were a foreshadowing of the things to come under the New Testament. The yearly sacrifices were replaced by a perfect and eternal sacrifice. We don't have to visit a specific location to be in the presence of God, for our bodies have become the temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 1:19) His glory is within us---teaching and guiding us, comforting us, filling us with power and strength.

Monday, June 29, 2020

The Exodus. Day 92, The Ark Of The Covenant, Part One

The Lord tells Moses that the Israelites are to construct an object known as the Ark of the Covenant. We will be looking at this object in far more detail as we go through the Old Testament but today the Lord provides Moses with a basic outline of how it is to be made and what it is to look like.

"Have them make an ark of acacia wood---two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high." (Exodus 25:10) An ark is a container for something precious, like Noah's ark for example, which contained Noah and his family and the animals and saved all their lives. The Ark of the Covenant is going to contain something precious too: the tablets upon which the Lord is writing the ten commandments. At various times it will hold other objects but right now, while Moses is on Mount Sinai with the Lord, the Lord reveals His plan for the ark to hold the tablets of the commandments from which all the laws of Israel will evolve.

In yesterday's study the Lord told Moses to ask the people for offerings. One of the requested offerings was acacia wood and now we see why: the ark will be constructed from this type of wood. Acacia is a type of hardwood that's extremely resistant to all sorts of perils. It's very durable and is both water resistant and resistant. It does not tend to mold or rot. It's not favorable to vermin infestation. The Lord obviously considers acacia wood the best choice for the container that will hold the ten commandments. This container will serve other purposes---very holy purposes---besides preserving the tablets and we will get into these other uses in great detail as time goes on.

Its dimensions in feet and inches are arguable since the actual length of the cubit of the Israelites is unknown. Many ancient cultures used a form of measurement known as the cubit but each of these cultures decided on their own how long the cubit was and this means there were variations. The ark is generally believed to have been anywhere from 3 feet 9 inches long by 2 feet 3 inches wide by 2 feet 3 inches high, and 4 feet 5 inches long by 2 feet 6 inches wide by 2 feet 6 inches tall. It was probably similar in size to a household storage chest or trunk. For example, I own a vintage steamer trunk and its length and width are comparable to the ark's length and width. My trunk is what's known as a "barrel trunk", meaning it has a domed top rather than a flat top, so it's taller than it is wide. In comparison, the ark's length and height are identical to each other.

The ark is going to need to be portable, just like the tabernacle that will house it, and to be easy to carry it will have to have some type of handles. "Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed." (Exodus 25:12-15) The priests of Israel are going to be in charge of transporting the ark from place to place. The ark itself will be too holy to be touched by human hands and the poles are to be kept in place so that no one ever has to lay hands on the surface of the ark. Taking the poles out of the rings while the people are camped is going to create the risk of someone inadvertently touching the ark while either removing or reinserting the poles. Also the people are to be ready to break camp and move out anytime the Lord tells them. Keeping the poles inserted in the rings will facilitate a quick move from place to place, plus keeping the poles inserted signifies the readiness of the Israelites to go whenever and wherever the Lord says to go.

I'm inserting a photo below of what the ark may have looked like.
Note that the rings are attached close to the bottom of the ark. If you do a Google search for images of the Ark of the Covenant you'll note that the position of the rings are all over the place in the pictures you'll find, but in our passage today the Lord clearly says they were to be fastened "to its four feet". In some photos you'll see them at the top, right under the decorative rim. In others you'll see them in the middle, or between the middle and the top, or between the middle and the bottom. But the Lord says in Exodus 25:12 that the rings are to be attached to the feet and I believe that's exactly where they were. Having them near the bottom would create the need for the priests to do more of a balancing act while transporting the ark (and it was always to be carried by its poles; it was never to be placed on an animal or in a cart) but the carefulness needed in order to hold the ark steady would have called for the priests to move slowly and ceremonially, as befitting an object that will be the holiest and most treasured possession of ancient Israel. Putting the rings and poles near the middle or top of the ark would have created a situation in which the bottom surface of the ark was closer to the ground and then it might have come in contact with the ground. This was not to be allowed to happen at any time. We might compare the carrying of the ark to the carrying of the flag of the United States of America. In our military ceremonies and processions a great deal of care is taken while carrying the flag. It's to be kept high and is never to be allowed to touch the ground or to be left out in the weather unless it's made of all-weather material. It's to be held with a sense of respect and reverence, for it represents all the men and women who have given their time or their lives defending this nation. While carrying the ark, the priests are to be in an attitude of holy reverence, for the ark represents the presence of the great God who protects and defends and fights for Israel.

Join us tomorrow for part two of our study of this portion of Scripture that discusses this holy object of Israel.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Exodus. Day 91, Offerings For The Tabernacle

The Lord is going to have the Israelites construct a portable structure known as the "tabernacle" or "the tent of meeting". The Israelites are living in tents while they travel through the wilderness and their house of worship needs to be a movable edifice. Moses is on the mountain with the Lord for forty days and forty nights while the Lord inscribes the ten commandments in stone, but providing these tablets is not all the Lord is doing while Moses is meeting with him. The Lord is giving him the instructions and blueprints for the tabernacle and for the objects that will be placed in its interior.

Whenever a congregation comes together and decides to build a church, funds have to be made available before any construction can begin. The Lord hasn't yet revealed to Moses and the Israelites that a tabernacle will be built, but He goes ahead in today's passage and tells Moses to ask the Israelites to make funds available. He could have gone about this in the opposite way: announcing the coming tabernacle and then asking for the funds to build it. But that wouldn't allow Moses to exercise his faith here in Chapter 25. Before He tells Moses what the offerings will be used for, He tells Moses these offerings will be needed. And, interestingly enough, we don't find Moses asking Him why. It's not til the last verse of today's passage that the Lord tells him what these offerings will be used for, but until then we don't see Moses interrupting to ask any questions. Moses simply believes the Lord is asking for these offerings for a good reason. He doesn't say, "But why, Lord? What do you plan to do with them? How much are You going to need? How will these funds be allocated? I'll ask the Israelites to do what You've said, but only if You write up a detailed proposal outlining how every penny is going to be spent. If You'll give me that, then I will have the confidence to stand up before the people and tell them to be generous with their giving."

"The Lord said to Moses, 'Tell the Israelites to bring Me an offering. You are to receive the offering for Me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.'" (Exodus 25:1-2) When we make offerings to our place of worship or to other religious organizations whose work we admire and appreciate, we are actually making offerings to the Lord Himself. This is why in verse 1 He says the people are to "bring Me an offering". I think we'd find that our hearts prompt us to give far more often and far more generously if we'd think of our giving as an offering made directly to the Lord. Churches and other religious organizations are doing the Lord's work. They are the Lord's voice in this world, proclaiming His word to people who desperately need to hear it. They are the hands and feet of the Lord in this world, reaching out to those who are hungry or poor or sick. They are the heart of the Lord, displaying His love for human beings. The Lord Jesus said, when speaking of the compassion and good works that we are to bestow upon our fellow man, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me." (Matthew 25:40)

My church's website has a button you can click to find out how offerings are being used. But I've never clicked the button because I know my church leadership well enough to trust that the funds are being used responsibly. I know the offerings are being used in the ways the Lord would want them used. My church leadership consults the Lord on every decision and they will use the offerings exactly how He directs them to use them. In verses 1 and 2 Moses has no idea why God is asking for offerings but he doesn't question the Lord. He knows the Lord will direct the use of these offerings exactly how they need to be used. There is a plan and a purpose behind the Lord's request and Moses knows that this plan and purpose is good because the Lord is good. That's really all Moses needs to know!

A second thing I want us to take away from verses 1 and 2 is that the Lord is not making these offerings a requirement. They are a freewill offering. Each person is to give as his or her heart prompts them to give. If a person doesn't want to give anything at all, the Lord names no penalty to be imposed upon them, although I believe they'll be missing out on a spiritual blessing if they don't give. They may also miss out on material blessings as well, as time goes on, for the Bible has much to say about cheerful giving. King Solomon, whom the Lord made the wealthiest man in the world and whose wealth was so great he'd still be in the top five of the Forbes 500 today, pointed out the connection between cheerful giving and the receiving of bounty from the Lord. "One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed." (Proverbs 11:24-25) The Apostle Paul, who could arguably be called the wisest man of the New Testament with the exception of the Lord Jesus Christ, compared generous financial giving to the sowing of crops, saying, "Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously." (2 Corinthians 9:6) King David, the father of Solomon and a person whom the Lord said was a man with a heart like His, firmly believed that blessings fall upon those who care about others and who give to the Lord's work: "Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely...They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor, their righteousness endures forever." (Psalm 112:5a,9a) The Lord isn't promising to make us all millionaires and He's not saying our lives will be problem-free all the time, but He does promise to provide for us and to bring good things into our lives.

Before we move on I'd like to add a word of caution: be certain when giving to an organization that it is actually serving and honoring the Lord. I can give to my own church without a care in the world because I know they are consulting the Lord about every decision they make with the money. But anytime you give to a new organization it's smart to do some investigation first and to prayerfully be led by the Lord regarding whether this is where He wants you to make your offering. Beware of any pastor or leader who says things like, "If you'll commit $1,000 a month to my ministry I promise the Lord is going to make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams," or, "The Lord is asking you to give your all. He'll heal your illness if only you'll take your life savings out of the bank and send it to me." Many a person has been scammed out of vast amounts of money by falling for scams like this, so your giving should always be done prayerfully and under the guidance of the Lord. Even when asking the Israelites to give to Him the Lord tells them to do it prayerfully and thoughtfully and to offer only the amount they feel in their hearts they should give. If you attend a church or are benefiting somehow from the work that church does, then certainly you should contribute to it, but when giving to other religious organizations and charities it's best to investigate them and to prayerfully ask the Lord if these places are where your funds can be put to their best use. He knows where the money is actually going. He knows whether it's being used in the right ways or whether someone is sneakily lining their own pockets. He will tell you whether it's safe to send your money to that particular organization or whether you should send it someplace else.

What is the Lord asking the Israelites to consider giving? He says to Moses: "These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece." (Exodus 25:1-7) The purpose for each of these specific items will be made clear as we continue on through Exodus.

Now the Lord finally tells Moses why these items will be needed. "Then have them make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you." (Exodus 25:8-9) This tabernacle is to be constructed so the Lord can "dwell among them". He is going to use it to "meet with the Israelites". (Exodus 29:43) The Lord doesn't need a house because He is present everywhere, but human beings are weak and frail and need to feel like there's a special, sacred space where they can meet with the Lord. They need a visible reminder of His presence in their lives and He is going to provide that in the tabernacle when His "glory" (which we'll get into detail about later on) appears visibly at this meeting house for them to see. The Lord needs nothing from man, but man needs everything from God, and the tabernacle is going to be constructed for their benefit, not for His. In that sense, when they give to the Lord, they're giving to themselves as well. As the saying goes, "You can't outgive God". Generous, cheerful giving to the Lord's always ends up benefiting the giver.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Exodus. Day 90, The Confirmation Of The Covenant, Part Four

Today we'll be completing Chapter 24. We found out yesterday that Moses, Moses' brother Aaron, Aaron's two sons, and seventy elders of Israel went part of the way up Mount Sinai and "saw the God of Israel". We discussed what they might have seen, based on the encounters other men of the Bible had with the Lord.

Today's passage begins with a feast. You'll recall that when Moses read the words of the Lord to the people, and when they accepted the Lord's words, sacrifices and offerings were made. Burnt offerings were made and we know this type of offering is given wholly to the Lord, so Moses and his friends are not consuming anything from the burnt offerings during their feast on the mountain. But fellowship offerings were also made in Exodus 24. Typically the bringer of the fellowship offering is to devote a portion of the offering to the Lord but then he is allowed to cook and consume the meat with his family and friends. Priests were also allowed to partake in fellowship offerings. I think this is what the men are feasting on at Mount Sinai.

"But God did not raise His hand against the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank." (Exodus 24:11) Though these men are experiencing some type of glorious manifestation of the Lord, they are safe in His holy presence. They are experiencing a time of fellowship with each other and a time of fellowship with the Lord. I don't believe the Lord Himself literally ate and drank with them but in a sense He is partaking in the feast with them. They are eating and drinking in His presence just as if they are seated at His table.

My church and many other churches consider participating in meals together as a time of fellowship. Eating and drinking with our fellow church members fosters closer friendships among us. This strengthens the church as a whole when people come together in unity and friendship. When the men share a meal together on the mountain, the bond among them is growing and their bond with the Lord is growing.

When the meal is completed the Lord gives Moses further instructions. "The Lord said to Moses, 'Come up to Me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.'" (Exodus 24:12) Earlier in Exodus the Lord spoke the ten commandments to Moses but now He's going to write them in stone. It's a common expression to refer to anything irrevocable or unchangeable as being "written in stone". I am not sure whether these tablets are the origin of that expression but without a doubt we can say that God's word is irrevocable and unchangeable. What was a sin in the book of Exodus is still a sin in 2020. What was good and righteous in the book of Exodus is still good and righteous in 2020. God has not changed and His commandments and laws haven't changed either.

"Then Moses set out with Joshua at his side, and Moses went up on the mountain of God." (Exodus 24:13) If I'm not mistaken, we've only seen Joshua mentioned once so far, when he led a battle against the Amorites who came against the Israelites to attack them. Joshua will be Moses' successor and it appears Moses is already grooming him for that position. He is already starting to become Moses' right hand man. He is the man Moses chooses to go further up the mountain and deeper into the presence of God with him.

"He said to the elders, 'Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.'" (Exodus 24:14) Moses puts Aaron and a man called Hur in charge of watching over the people and judging matters among the people while Moses goes up to receive the tablets, which is a process that will take forty days and forty nights. Many scholars believe Hur is married to Moses' and Aaron's sister Miriam. Hur appears to be involved in passages where only close family members are mentioned, such as when the Bible mentions Moses and Aaron and Miriam together in the same chapter. Hur and Aaron together helped Moses keep his hands raised to heaven during the entire battle with the Amorites and this has led a lot of scholars to think Hur, along with Aaron, were the two men most closely related to Moses out of the entire assembly. Whoever Hur is, Moses trusts him with a great deal of responsibility, just as he trusts Aaron. Moses' great confidence in these men is sorely misplaced, as we'll see when we get to Chapter 32. Aaron and Hur will not be able to maintain order in the camp. They will fall prey to fear of the people and will give in to the people's request to fashion an idol to take the place of Moses whom the assembly believes is dead on the mountain. Aaron and Hur will not only allow the fashioning of a golden calf but they will actually assist in its manufacture!

"When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud." (Exodus 24:15-16) Moses waits a week before the Lord speaks. Some scholars think Moses went up on the first day of the week and that the Lord doesn't speak until the Sabbath. But the Bible doesn't specify what day of the week it was and it provides no explanation for why the Lord was silent for six days. However, I think we can learn something from verses 15-16 that's useful for our prayer life. I think we can use these verses to remind ourselves not to be impatient. Of course we'd like the Lord to answer our prayers as soon as we start praying. We'd like to devote five or ten minutes to Him in prayer in the morning, before we go on with our busy day, and have Him show up immediately and tell us whatever we need or want to know. But the Lord doesn't operate on our timetable. He's not our errand boy whom we call into our presence when we want to speak to Him and whom we can conveniently ignore at other times. He is King and Lord! Would we go into the presence of a king and glance at our watch and demand that he get on with whatever he has to say? Would we take charge of the meeting with a king, or would we humbly and respectfully wait for the king to conduct the meeting at his own pace and in his own way? I'm as guilty as anybody of sometimes allotting a portion of time in which I want to speak to or hear from the Lord before getting on with the dozen or so other things on my list for the day. But this is a disrespectful attitude. At all times we need to keep in mind that when we commune with the Lord we are in the presence of someone so holy, so powerful, and so high above us that we can't even begin to fathom how great He is. Moses waits til the seventh day to hear anything from God and I think he waits respectfully.

"To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went up on the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights." (Exodus 24:17-18) The Lord doesn't leave the people in the dark while He speaks with Moses. The whole time Moses is gone, the people can see the presence of the Lord on the mountain. This blazing fire is visible day and night. But the people have placed their trust more in Moses than in the Lord, and as forty days and nights start going by they'll begin to think Moses was consumed in the fire. They'll begin to believe he isn't coming back and then the camp will fall into chaos. The people who confidently proclaimed earlier in Chapter 24, "Everything the Lord has said we will do," will soon be bowing before an idol.

This is what happens when a person places more trust in another human being than they place in the Lord. This is what happens when a person trusts in his own strength to keep the Lord's instructions rather than leaning on the Lord's strength to obey His words. For example, sometimes people place more trust in their pastor than in the Lord. Then when their pastor retires or passes away or leaves for another ministry opportunity, the people who depended too heavily on him stop going to church altogether. Another example would be reading the laws and commandments of the Bible and pledging to obey them without forming a personal relationship with the Lord. We cannot live holy lives in our own strength! Even when leaning on the Lord, in our weak human flesh we still make mistakes, so why would we ever assume that in our own strength we can avoid making any mistakes? The people are going to fail miserably while Moses is gone, but haven't we all failed miserably from time to time? Hopefully we learned from our failures. Moses and the people are going to make mistakes but in many cases they are going to learn from their mistakes. And we can learn from their mistakes as well. When we arrive at Chapter 32 we can regard it as a cautionary tale so we don't fall into the same trap the people in the camp fell into. We are to look to the Lord above all other people and above all other things. We are to trust in His strength to live honorable lives, not trust in our own strength. If we can manage to do these two things we will avoid a lot of the pitfalls of this life on earth.

Friday, June 26, 2020

The Exodus. Day 89, The Confirmation Of The Covenant, Part Three

Today we'll continue on in Chapter 24 with the account of the confirmation of the Lord's covenant with the people. So far Moses has conducted a ceremony in which he read the words of the Lord from a scroll and the people agreed to abide by them. Sacrifices and offerings were made. Now Moses, Aaron and Aaron's two sons, and seventy elders of Israel go further up the mountain to be closer to the presence of God. We are going to use today's study time to discuss what Moses and the men with him may have seen.

"Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel." (Exodus 24:9-10a) I believe they saw some sort of manifestation of God's glory, but certainly not the fullness of His glory and majesty. Whatever they saw, I don't feel they could possibly have seen Him exactly as He is, because later in Exodus Moses will ask to see God in all His splendor and the Lord will answer, "I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My name, the Lord, in your presence...But you cannot see My face, for no one may see Me and live...When My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove My hand and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen." (Exodus 33:19a,20,22-23) For Moses' own protection he won't be allowed to see God exactly as He is. God's holiness would consume Moses in his frail human condition.

So what do these men see? We'll take a brief look at what other men saw when they were presented with a manifestation of God. Isaiah, when describing the encounter in the temple in which the Lord called him to be a prophet, said, "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.' At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke." (Isaiah 6:1-4) After this announcement by the seraphim the Lord speaks to Isaiah and commissions him to be a prophet. But Isaiah doesn't describe the Lord in detail. In fact, he describes the seraphim better than he describes the Lord. I think this is because his vision of the Lord was hazy or obscured by the smoke or that the brightness of His appearance kept Isaiah from being able to make out His features. The only thing Isaiah can say about Him is He appears to be seated on a high throne and that His long robe (a symbol of power and authority) was stretched from one end of the temple to the other. You've probably all seen a wedding, either in person or on TV, in which a bride wears a train that trails all the way down the church aisle behind her. I think this may be what Isaiah means when He says the Lord's robe filled the temple.

The prophet Ezekiel also saw the Lord. Prior to His appearance Ezekiel says it was like the heavens opened. Then he saw an enormous windstorm coming, accompanied by thunder and lightning. Then four living creatures appeared, and by their description I believe they are the same four seraphim Isaiah saw. A vault (or floor) manifested above them and above this vault Ezekiel saw the Lord seated on a throne the color of lapis lazuli, which is a deep blue. Ezekiel says the One seated on the throne was shaped like a man, but that He glowed like fire and was surrounded by a brilliant light. Ezekiel concludes his description of the Lord by saying, "This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of One speaking." (Ezekiel 1:28b) The glory of the Lord shone so brightly that all Ezekiel could say of Him is that He has the form of a human being. I think all Ezekiel saw was the outline of the One on the throne. I think that's all he could see and be able to endure it in his mortal flesh.

When the Apostle John was given a vision of the enthroned Lord, all he could describe was the color and brightness surrounding the throne. He said, "The One who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne." (Revelation 4:3) John does not seem to actually see the Lord's form at all, just a glorious and colorful manifestation of light and goodness. Other than that, all John can say about the throne in heaven is that he saw "someone sitting on it". (Revelation 4:2) By this I think we can safely assume that John uses the word "someone" because the Lord has the shape or outline of a man; otherwise I think he would have referred to the One he saw as a "creature", as he describes the four living creatures around the throne in Revelation 4. (By their description, these are almost certainly the same four creatures Ezekiel and Isaiah saw.) To add to the theory that the Lord is shaped like man, in Revelation 5 John says He holds a scroll in His right hand. Throughout the book of Revelation we find the One seated on the throne speaking with a voice that is understandable by man. Beyond this, though, John is unable to describe the Lord for us in detail. I think the Lord revealed to John as much as John was able to handle, but anything more than that would have overwhelmed his earthly body.

I think Moses and the men with him likely saw something similar to what Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John saw. They may have seen the outline of a man's shape, seated on a throne, surrounded by glorious light. Just as in Ezekiel's vision, the color blue features prominently, for Moses tells us, "Under His feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky." (Exodus 24:10b)

The Bible began by telling us that we are made in the image of God. (Genesis 1:26-27) From what we've studied in our time together today, there's a good chance this means the Lord has always possessed a humanoid shape, long before He ever "became flesh and made His dwelling among us." (John 1:14) But His righteousness and holiness and glory and power are so great that no man---while still residing in a mortal human body---can see Him in His fullness and survive. This may be why they can only see the light of His goodness but not any specific features of His face. The Apostle John speaks of the light of the Lord in this manner: "In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:4-5) Ezekiel was filled with so much joy by the appearance of the Lord's light that he said, "Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around Him." (Ezekiel 1:28) Doesn't it lift our hearts to see the sun peeking through the clouds after a dark and heavy rain, forming a lovely rainbow in the vapors in the air? In this same way the heart of Ezekiel was lifted when he saw what little he could see of the Lord. Imagine the joy that's going to fill our hearts when we are able to see Him face to face someday! No wonder the Apostle Paul, when thinking ahead to that day, said that the troubles of this life are going to seem like nothing when the glory of the Lord (and our glorious future) will be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)

No matter how we envision God in our minds, He's so much more! No matter how we've pictured His appearance, and no matter how wonderful we think heaven will be, our expectations are going to be exceeded to such an extent that the Bible says no eye has seen and no ear has heard and no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love Him. (1 Corinthians 2:9) Amen! Thank You, Lord!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Exodus. Day 88, The Confirmation Of The Covenant, Part Two

Moses relayed the Lord's instructions to the Israelites and they agreed to abide by them. At that point the Bible said in yesterday's study, "Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said." Next Moses conducts a ceremony to seal the covenant between the Lord and the people.

"He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel." (Exodus 24:4b) One of my commentaries states that this display represents all the parties to the covenant, with the altar symbolizing the Lord and the pillars symbolizing the twelve tribes. I think that's a beautiful and accurate way to describe this scene.

"Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord." (Exodus 24:5) Both the old covenant and the new covenants were confirmed with blood. Sacrifices were made acknowledging man's sinfulness and God's holiness---acknowledging man's need for redemption. The first covenant was confirmed with animal blood, with animals standing in for human beings. The second covenant was confirmed by Christ's blood, with Jesus standing in for human beings. But this solemn occasion is commemorated by sacrifices. Burnt offerings (atonement sacrifices) are made in which the offerings are wholly given up to the Lord. Fellowship offerings are also made, and these involve offering the blood to the Lord and then being allowed to hold a feast in which the meat is eaten by the assembled people.

"Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, 'We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.'" (Exodus 24:6-7) They had already verbally accepted the covenant, and afterwards Moses wrote down the words of the Lord in a scroll. Now he reads the Lord's words back to them from the scroll at this ceremony where they solemnly agree to abide by everything written in it.

"Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, 'This is the blood of the covenant the Lord has made with you in accordance with these words.'" (Exodus 24:8) The Apostle Paul, believed to be the author of the book of Hebrews, speaks of the confirmation of the old covenant. "When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all of the people. He said, 'This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.'...In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." (Hebrews 9:19-20,22)

The penalty for sin is death. Violating the law of a holy God is such a grievous crime that death is required as payment. But the Lord allowed "stand ins" because He didn't want to wipe man from the face of the earth, so in the Old Testament we find animals being substituted for human beings. In the Old Testament we find Moses acting as the mediator between man and God. But in the New Testament, on the night before the crucifixion, we find the Lord Jesus using the wine in the cup as a symbol for the blood He's about to shed for mankind. We find the Lord Jesus declaring Himself the mediator of the new covenant, saying, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:28) Do you see the similarity between what Christ says in Matthew's gospel and what Moses says in Exodus 24:8? Moses sprinkled the blood of animals (the Old Testament stand ins) to confirm the old covenant. But Christ shed His own blood to confirm the new and everlasting covenant. As the Apostle Paul says, "For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance---now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant." (Hebrews 9:15) Man could not keep his end of the bargain under the first covenant. Therefore, sacrifices had to be made year after year after year to atone for sin. But Christ came to make a new covenant with man, and now sacrifices aren't necessary, for His sacrifice was good once and for all. "The covenant of which He is mediator is superior to the old one." (Hebrews 8:6a)

We are living in the age of grace. We aren't reminded every day by the scroll Moses read that we are sinners who fail to perfectly keep the laws written within it. We don't have to bring sacrifices and offerings to the Lord year after year in acknowledgment of our guilt. When we read our Bibles, we are reminded instead that Christ perfectly kept the law and that Christ shed His perfect blood for us to make up for our inability to keep the words of the old covenant. He made the only sacrifice that ever needs to be made from now on. We are living under the new covenant, the one of which Christ is mediator, and this covenant is "established on better promises". (Hebrews 8:6b)

The new covenant is one in which Christ has done all the work. To accept it we don't have to say as the Israelites did in our passage today: "Everything the Lord has said we will do." We can't do everything the Lord has said, and neither could the Israelites. When presented with the new covenant our response is only to be, "I accept." Naturally as we learn about Christ and grow in our relationship with Him our conduct will conform more and more to what He would have it to be, but the new covenant is established on "better promises" because it depends on Christ's performance, not ours. He did all the work to be able to offer us eternal salvation. He does all the work to keep us saved. He does all the work of conforming us into His image and teaching us to, as the saying goes, "do what Jesus would do".

I am thankful to be living under the new covenant and not the old covenant, aren't you? I can open my Bible and read about what Christ did for me. I can read about everything He's doing for me right now and everything He's going to do for me in the future. Instead of feeling beaten down by reading the laws I'm incapable of perfectly keeping, I can rejoice in knowing the One who perfectly kept them all. Instead of tossing and turning at night worrying about the fate of my eternal soul, I can go peacefully to sleep knowing Christ has redeemed me with the blood of the new covenant. My sleep can be sweet knowing that no matter what comes at me in this life, my eternity with Christ is secure. Nothing can take this glorious future away from me!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Exodus. Day 87, The Confirmation Of The Covenant, Part One

The Lord has been providing the commandments and the various laws of the covenant He is about to confirm with the people. Now we begin a chapter in which Moses mediates the covenant, also known as the "first covenant" or "old testament", between the Lord and the people.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance, but Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.'" (Exodus 24:1-2) The majority of the Israelites are still at the foot of the mountain. Moses and Aaron, Aaron's two sons, and seventy elders are to come part of the way up the mountain, but only Moses is to approach the Lord's presence closely.

The Lord has been giving His instructions and requirements through the past several chapters and now the Lord formally provides the terms for a legal and binding covenant between Himself and the people. Moses passes the terms along to the people and the people accept them. "When Moses went and told the people all the Lord's words and laws, they responded with one voice, 'Everything the Lord has said we will do.' Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said." (Exodus 24:3-4a) When the people accept the covenant, Moses draws up the contract, so to speak.

The people accept the Lord's terms without question. They don't hesitate or ask for time to think about agreeing to keep such an enormous binding contract. I think this is because they have just recently been brought out of Egypt by His mighty hand. He has displayed His power and His ability to provide by making a way through the Red Sea, by making water come from a solid rock, and by providing manna from heaven to sustain them in the wilderness. On top of all that, they are still standing at the foot of the mountain that shook at the presence of the Lord while thunder pealed and lightning struck the mountain peak repeatedly and a trumpet blew from heaven. In their awestruck condition they can think of nothing else to do but agree to do everything the Lord is asking. Having witnessed so many signs and wonders from this God, they know no other god who can do such things, and in this moment they firmly believe in their ability to do everything such a God asks of them. They believe they will always feel this same amount of reverence and wonderment to sustain them and enable them to obey the Lord's instructions. But it won't be long before they come off this spiritual high and fashion an idol before which they will bow. Spiritual highs don't last forever and that's why we have to form a personal relationship with the Lord. The people will make the mistake of putting their focus more on their visible leader (Moses) than on forming a personal relationship with Almighty God and when Moses is out of their sight for several days they will panic and lose heart.

It's very important to know the difference between a true conversion experience and an emotional experience, and at this point in time I think the Israelites are having an emotional experience instead of a true conversion/salvation experience. I could give you an example to illustrate the difference from my own personal testimony, and I think I will relate my own personal testimony during this study but not until we reach the chapter where the Israelites break the commandment regarding the fashioning of an idol. I think it will illustrate the point better if we wait until then to look at the difference between a strong emotional response I had in a church at the age of sixteen and a true conversion experience I had at home at the age of twenty-two.

But for now the Israelites are very confident in their ability to keep their end of the bargain. They think they have the strength within themselves to refrain from breaking any of these commandments and laws. But none of us can keep all the Lord's commandments and laws, and when the Lord continues to break down His commandments and laws for them to the smallest and most thorough degrees, a bigger picture of the enormity of what He's asking will begin to form in the people's minds. They will have to learn to trust the Lord to make up for their shortcomings. They will have to acknowledge that only He can impute righteousness to human beings. They will come to the same conclusion as men like King David (of the Old Testament) and the Apostle Paul (of the New Testament, and say, "There is no one who is righteous. No one does good, not even one." (Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 53:1-3, Romans 3:10-12) And if no one is righteous, and if no one can perfectly do good, what hope does anyone have? Our hope is in the Lord in whom we place our faith. He alone can make up for what we lack.

If we try to obtain righteousness by our own efforts we are always going to come up short. I've broken every one of the ten commandments. In some cases I've broken them literally. In other cases I've kept the letter of the commandment while breaking the heart of it. Not a single one of us can keep the ten commandments, much less all the other laws the Lord is going to provide in the Old Testament. But salvation has always been by faith: the belief that if we make God the Lord of our lives and put our trust in Him, He will impute to us the righteousness that we lack. This is how righteousness was imputed in the Old Testament times (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3), and that's how it's imputed in the New Testament times (the church age). I can't perfectly obey the Lord but my faith is in Christ, the One who did perfectly obey God and who shed His blood to pay for every transgression I ever have or ever will commit. We don't live every day on the spiritual high we experienced on the day we accepted Christ as Savior. We don't get through every moment of our lives basking in the glow of the emotions we felt at church last Sunday. We live by forming and maintaining and growing in our relationship with the One in whom we've placed our trust. And we live in the confidence of knowing that He forgives us when we mess up and that His sacrifice atones for our mistakes. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Exodus. Day 86, Promises For Israel, Part Two

We will be concluding Chapter 23 today and are in a section of Scripture dealing with some of the promises the Lord made to Israel and with some of the things Israel must do to receive these blessings.

"Worship the Lord your God, and His blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span." (Exodus 23:25-26) If the people will place God first in their hearts, and if they make Him their only God, He will bless every aspect of their lives. He repeats this promise in more detail in Deuteronomy 28:1-6, saying, "If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all His commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock---the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out."

In order to move the Israelites into the promised land, the Lord has to drive the current inhabitants out, so He says to the people, "I will send My terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way." (Exodus 23:27-28) Whether the use of the word "hornets" is literal or symbolic we do not know. I consulted several commentaries and didn't glean much from them except one reference to Joshua 24 in which the Lord said to Israel, "Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you---also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant." (Joshua 24:11-13) The Israelites did literally fight many battles but the Lord is saying that without His help they would not have been victorious. It wasn't their own might that gained them the land; it was the Lord's might. If He had not fought on their side they would have been unable to overpower the fierce tribes of the land. So whether or not any tribes of the promised land were put on the move and thrown into confusion by actual swarms of hornets we cannot say, but either way the Lord is reminding the Israelites that without Him they could not have taken over the land.

The tribes in the promised land are idolatrous pagans. They have been given hundreds of years to repent of turning away from the Lord and they have not. Their religious rites involve all sorts of sin and uncleanness. Some of these people even worship the false god Molech, to whom at times they would sacrifice children. The Lord, in His wisdom and righteousness has decided these people's time in the promised land is up. He's had enough of their wickedness and He's going to uproot them and plant the Israelites in their place. The Lord has the right to judge wickedness, to pass judgment on sin, to take the promised land from those He deems unworthy of its blessings, and to bestow the blessings of the land upon whomever He pleases. If He felt it was the right thing to do to drive the heathens from the promised land and put Israel in their place, then it was the right thing to do.

But the Lord won't uproot the pagan tribes all at once or else the fields and vineyards and groves will become overgrown quickly and the wild animals will take over the villages and cities. Then He could not say, as He will in the book of Joshua, "I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant." The Israelites need to conquer the land a little at a time so that the unconquered portions will continue to be cultivated by the current inhabitants until the Lord puts more and more territory into Israelite hands. "But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land." (Exodus 23:29-30) The Lord has promised them a land flowing with milk and honey and that's exactly what He's going to give them, but giving all of it to them too fast would end up being a curse rather than a blessing. It would be too much for them. They are not yet large enough in number to inhabit the entire promised land and keep it cultivated. But while He's driving out the current occupants of the promised land little by little, He'll be fulfilling verse 26 of our study today in which He promises that none of their people and none of their animals will miscarry or be barren. He will be increasing their numbers daily---their human numbers and their animal numbers---so they can fill the entire land when the time comes.

"I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people that live in the land, and you will drive them out before you." (Exodus 23:31) In Deuteronomy 23:7 He describes the driving out like this: "The Lord will grant that the enemies that rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven." This is because, as He promised in verse 27 of today's passage, He will "send My terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter". The image of having an army coming, as one group, toward Israel from one direction but fleeing from Israel in seven directions is an image of terror and confusion. It means the enemy army broke ranks and fled in a panic. It means the enemy soldiers can't think clearly enough to even stay together but instead each of them is filled with so much dread that he says, "It's every man for himself!"

But the promises of today's passage depend on Israel remaining faithful to the Lord and to His commandments and laws. The promises depend on the people not falling into idolatry. The Lord warns them they must drive the tribes from the promised land completely. They are not to live side by side with them. They are not to intermarry with them. They are not to socialize with them or make them their friends or business partners. If they do these things they will be drawn into their sinful lifestyles and idolatrous religions. "Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against Me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you." (Exodus 23:32,33) When reiterating the many promises and requirements of today's chapter, the Lord will say in Deuteronomy 23:13-14, "The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them."

If we give first place in our hearts to anyone or anything but the Lord, we are going to miss out on some of the blessings that could have been ours as the children of God. Like any good father, the Lord wants to bless us abundantly. He wants us to possess and enjoy everything that's available to the sons and daughters of the living God, but to bless sin and disobedience would be to encourage wrong behavior. And like any good and responsible father, He can't encourage wrong behavior. He's not promising us we'll never have difficulties in life if we'll do a better job of obeying Him, but it's a fact that we reap what we sow. (Galatians 6:7) If we sow sin and irresponsible living into the soil of our lives, we're going to reap the unpleasant natural consequences of our actions and we'll reap God's correction if we don't repent and get back on the right path. Living in disobedience to the Lord is never going to produce blessings. Sin may be enjoyable for a season (Hebrews 11:25) and sin may even be financially profitable for a time in this fallen world, but living on the wrong side of God will never produce anything good in the long run.

As long as we live on this earth we are going to encounter hardships from time to time. But I'd far rather deal with hardships while living smack dab in the middle of God's will than to deal with the hardships of this world along with hardships of my own making. The Lord is presenting Israel with a choice in today's passage. They can remain faithful to Him and deal with the hardships of life with Him on their side. Or they can stray from Him and deal with the hardships of this life, and the hardships of their own making, alone.

Monday, June 22, 2020

The Exodus. Day 85, Promises For Israel, Part One

The Lord makes promises to Israel about His protection and provision in the promised land.

"See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and do what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since My name is in him." (Exodus 23:20-21) The majority of mainstream Christian scholars appear to hold to the theory that this "angel" is also the one known as "the angel of God" in the Old Testament---the pre-incarnate Christ. I don't see any problem with that theory and if I'd never even heard of it I don't think I could help interpreting this angel as being the person of God the Son. Another good candidate for this "angel" would be God the Holy Spirit, for the Father tells them to "pay attention to him and do what he says". The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to convict us in our hearts of sin and to lead us to repentance and to guide us at every turn in our lives. But God the Son being this "angel" is the theory I most agree with, for the Lord says "My name is in him." Who else ever called themselves by the name of God or equated themselves with God except the Lord Jesus Christ? The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthian church, seems to be identifying this angel with Christ when he states that Christ was with the Israelites in the wilderness. (1 Corinthians 10:3-4)

For further proof that this angel is the pre-incarnate Christ we take a look at the dire warning given in verse 21 about rebelling against Him. This is no mere man. The Lord wouldn't warn the people about rebelling to the point of being lost and facing judgment if this were the instructions of a mere man. This angel is not Moses or Moses' successor, Joshua. This is also not the object the Israelites will later fashion known as the Ark of the Covenant which they took ahead of them into battle. This is a person, a person so holy that rebellion against His perfect commandments and laws comes with a warning that implies an eternal separation from His presence if a person rejects Him utterly. This lines up with what the Lord Jesus said about Himself, such as: "No man comes to the Father except through Me," (John 14:6) and, "Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father," (John 14:9) and, "The one who looks at Me is seeing the One who sent Me." (John 12:45)

To reject Christ is to reject the Father who sent Him. The Father is issuing a warning in verse 21 that rejecting the voice of the "angel"---His Son---puts a person in danger of eternally being separated from the presence of the Lord. If we reject the only One who can grant us absolution for our sins, no further recourse is available to us, therefore the Lord can say there is no forgiveness for their rebellion. In the Old Testament the Lord Jesus had not yet made His sacrifice for sins but the people looked forward in faith to the Promised One, and like King David they knew that only the Lord could impute righteousness upon them, for in Old Testament times David said in one of his many prayers to the Lord, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." (Psalm 51:1-2) The people of the exodus knew they had to depend on the Lord to make them righteous; they could not do it on their own. They knew salvation was by faith and not by works.

In our passage today the Lord makes many promises to them. The promise of salvation by faith is implied in verses 20 and 21. The majority of the remainder of our passage today involves earthly promises that can be theirs if they remain faithful and obedient to the One who leads them.

Remember yesterday when we said that some of God's promises depend on Him alone? He will fulfill those types of promises regardless of what man does or does not do. He will fulfill them because He is holy and righteous and loving and merciful. The sending of the Redeemer is an example of one of the promises that no one could prevent from coming true. Other promises, such as the various blessings of life, depend on them remaining faithful to the Lord and doing what He says to do. To provide some examples for our own lives, if the Lord tells us a particular path to take and we do not take it, the blessings He intended to strew along that particular path will not be ours. In the same way, if the Lord tells us not to do something and we do it anyway, we will bring trouble upon ourselves. Sin will bear some kind of awful fruit eventually, whether the consequences come on the day we deliberately disobey God or whether they come to fruition later. But we can see how it's possible to either gain greater blessings or lose blessings based on the way we live our lives.

We will be looking at half of the remainder of Chapter 23 today and the other half tomorrow. The Lord promises to do great things for the people if they will obey the voice of the One that He sends ahead of them. "If you listen carefully to what He says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you." (Exodus 23:22) Some of the promises of the Bible are for Israel specifically and others are promises that any faithful believer can claim. I feel verse 22 can apply to any of us who love the Lord, for the Lord certainly looks out for His children. I think we can confidently say He is an enemy to the enemy of His children and that He will oppose anyone who opposes us. I think we can pray a prayer David prayed---and I have prayed this prayer during a time or two in my life when facing intense opposition and betrayal: "Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me." (Psalm 35:1) If a person or persons is doing you wrong, or if someone has made himself your enemy, I believe if you are a child of God you can pray a prayer like this with confidence that the Lord will hear it and fight on your side.

This next verse is specific to Israel alone. "My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out." (Exodus 23:23) The Lord did not promise these territories to anyone but Israel. He didn't make this promise to Gentiles; in fact, it's Gentiles He's driving out of the promised land. He didn't make this promise to the church. No one but Israel can lay claim to verse 23.

While the Lord is enabling the Israelites to drive out and take control of the promised land, they are not to intermingle with the pagan Gentiles there. They are not to adopt any of their religious practices. They are instead to destroy the pagan religious sites so that their eyes can't even rest upon these objects and so their hearts will not turn astray from the Lord. "Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces." (Exodus 23:24) The idols and the altars and the temples of these false deities are to be wiped from the land. They must not be allowed to remain to pique anyone's curiosity or to tempt anyone into the occult or into a false religion.

A song that's sometimes sung in my church goes, "Oh, Lord, we cast down our idols." The Lord is instructing the Israelites to cast down the idols of the tribes of Canaan when they move into the promised land. Idols that are not cast down have a tendency to "rise up", if you will, because their importance in a person's eyes can begin to grow. If the Israelites don't remove these objects from the land then the importance of these objects might grow in their eyes.

An idol doesn't have to be an image before which we bow or to which we bring offerings. An idol can be anyone or anything we value more than we value our relationship with the Lord. It can be work. It can be money or possessions. It can be an addiction---and addiction can take far more forms than just drugs or alcohol. An addiction can be anything that comes in between a person and the Lord or between a person and his loved ones. If it's preventing you from enjoying wholesome relationships and isolating you from a normal amount of contact with others and if it's keeping you from spending time with the Lord, it's an addiction and it needs to be dealt with. Gaming is something that comes to mind; a lot of people these days are addicted to gaming to the point of spending hardly any time at all with their spouse and children. An idol can be a relationship, such as when a person chooses to begin or maintain an unhealthy or illicit relationship instead of following the good path the Lord sets before them. There are all sorts of ways we might give someone or something the top spot in our lives. But the top spot is where God is supposed to be, and it's so important for us to remember this that He made it the first commandment.

Join us tomorrow as we take a further look into blessings that can be Israel's (and ours too, in some cases) if they remain faithful to the Lord and if they will obey His voice.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Exodus. Day 84, The Three Required Annual Festivals

Our Bible passage today tells us about the three annual festivals all the Israelite men were commanded to observe each year.

We begin at verse 13 which spans the gap between yesterday's passage regarding the Sabbath and today's portion of Scripture regarding the holy festivals. "Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips." (Exodus 23:13) There is no God but the Lord, but the Israelites were headed for the promised land which was inhabited by pagan tribes who constantly had the names of false gods on their lips and who made sacrifices to non-existent deities and who engaged in various sinful festivals that included all sorts of debauchery. The names of pagan gods were never to be on an Israelite's lips---not on the Sabbath, not on a festival day, and not on any other day. These false deities were never to be accorded the privilege of having their names said out loud, for to say their names out loud was to grant them a solid realness they didn't actually possess, and to grant them any form of realness was the first step down the slippery slope of idolatry.

"Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to Me." (Exodus 23:14) There are other festivals people were welcome to observe to the Lord but these three are required. Later in the Bible it will be required for Jewish males celebrate these festivals at Jerusalem if at all possible. This is why, for instance, we find such a huge crowd in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified; the males (in a lot of cases accompanied by their whole families) had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to observe Passover. This is why Jesus' enemies, in their plot to seize Him and orchestrate His death, did not intend to lay hands on Him at Passover since they "were afraid of the crowd because the people held that He was a prophet". (Matthew 21:46, Mark 12:12) It was the Lord's plan to be arrested and to give His life as an offering at Passover, so they ended up arresting Him at that time in spite of their intention not to, but the crowd present at Jerusalem at that time was due to the passage we're studying today. Passover, otherwise known as the Festival of Unleavened Bread, is going to be one of the three required annual feasts.

"Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt. No one is to appear before Me empty handed." (Exodus 23:15) Earlier in Exodus we already studied the way the observance of Passover was to be carried out, so we won't go over all the details again here.

An offering must be brought when the men of Israel appear before the Lord, so He says, "No one is to appear before Me empty handed."

"Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your fields." (Exodus 23:16a) This holiday is also called Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks. It celebrates the spring harvest, also known as the early harvest or the firstfruits harvest. It was celebrated fifty days after Passover to commemorate the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. A period of fifty days passed between the first observance of Passover in Egypt til the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai and were given the law by the Lord through Moses. In a sense we could say the gathering of the people at Mount Sinai was a firsfruits or early harvest of all the good things the Lord had in store for them in the future. In the same way, we find a firsfruits or early harvest taking place on Pentecost in the book of Acts, when the Holy Spirit falls upon and begins to indwell the believers of Christ. It was on that first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ that the Apostle Peter preached his first sermon and three thousand people came to faith in the Lord Jesus and were baptized. Jerusalem was filled with a great crowd on that day due to Pentecost being a holiday upon which every Jewish male (and every male from other cultures who had converted to Judaism) was required to be at Jerusalem if at all possible. Though not every person who heard the gospel that day or who witnessed the signs and wonders of that day came to faith in Christ, they were all granted the grace and mercy of being able to hear the gospel message. And those who believed on the name of Christ on the day of Pentecost were the "firstfruits" or the "early harvest" of all those who have come to Christ during the centuries since.

"Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather your crops from the field." (Exodus 23:16b) This is what we would consider the fall harvest. It was also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Shelters. It commemorates the Israelites' forty years in the wilderness during which time they dwelt in tents. This festival was to be observed for seven days, with the first day being a holy day in which no work could be performed. On the eighth day another holy day was performed and a burnt offering was to be made to the Lord.

I feel I am at a disadvantage, being a Gentile, when explaining these three major Jewish festivals. If you have the time you might want to do your own internet searches regarding these festivals, regarding how the Lord Jesus observed them in the gospel accounts, and how aspects of these festivals have been incorporated into Christian religious observances. There is far more material than we could ever include in our study today but this material is well worth your time if you'd like to do your own research.

Our passage concludes with instructions for how offerings are and are not to be made. "Three times a year the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord. Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to Me along with anything containing yeast. The fat of My festival offerings must not be kept until morning. Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God. Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk." (Exodus 23:17-19)

Yeast (leaven) was considered a symbol of sin. We will find the words "yeast" or "leaven" used interchangeably at times for the word "sin" in the Bible. Also this instruction regarding leaven is closely related to the observance of Passover. On the night of the first Passover the bread had to be made without yeast because there was not enough time before the exodus from Egypt for the bread to rise. Since yeast is symbolic of sin we can see why the Lord would not want any items containing yeast to be included with sacrifices.

Why is the fat of a sacrifice not to be kept? For one thing, the fat was considered the most holy and desirable part because it burned up first and the smoke rose upwards toward heaven. For another thing, a burnt offering was an offering for atonement. Every portion of the sacrifice had to be given up to the Lord, unlike with other types of offerings in which certain portions were given to the Lord and the bringer of the offering and his family were allowed to keep other parts for themselves for consumption. Atonement was considered a whole and complete work, so none of the offering could be kept back. It represents a work that lacks nothing, on the Lord's part. To use the Lord Jesus Christ as an example, He held nothing back when accomplishing the work of atonement on the cross. He gave His life, which is the most He could give. He gave "his all", to use a modern expression. The giving of a whole sacrifice also symbolizes a surrender of the bringer's self to the Lord, a relinquishing of sin, and an acceptance that only the Lord can grant absolution and impute righteousness. Righteousness cannot be obtained by man's own works but by the Lord's work alone. The complete giving up of a sacrifice of atonement acknowledges this, so the Lord tells the people not to hold anything back---not to allow anything to be "kept until morning". This should be a reminder to us that "today is the day of salvation". (Isaiah 49:8, 2 Corinthians 6:2) Today is the day to make things right with God. The Bible warns us never to harden our hearts (Hebrews 3:15) when we know something needs to be repented of, for we are not promised tomorrow. In this same way no one was to keep back a portion of the atonement sacrifice. The seeking of forgiveness and the confession of one's sins and the giving of one's heart to the Lord is to be done fully and completely, holding nothing back from Him.

The law against cooking an offered animal in its mother's milk most likely has to do with a pagan fertility rite which was carried out by some of the other cultures in the region. They believed the milk would then have magical powers. The milk was sprinkled on the people and on the fields and vineyards in an attempt to make everyone and everything more fertile. Some scholars disagree and say this law was given for compassionate reasons so that the mother of the goat would not witness the slaughter and sacrifice of her offspring or so that an offspring that was still young enough to be nursing would not be taken from its mother. It's not really possible for us to know for certain since so many religious and historical records of other ancient cultures have been lost, but this verse is the origin of a kosher law where meat and dairy are not to be eaten at the same time. In order to keep a kosher kitchen you would also not be allowed to use the same plates or utensils for dairy foods that are used for foods containing meat. Having never had to observe these customs, I don't know enough about them to discuss them intelligently, but if you're interested you might want to do your own research about everything involved with keeping kosher.

Tomorrow's passage will contain some of the great and precious promises the Lord makes to Israel, but the receiving of these promises depends---in part---on the keeping of the instructions the people have been given in today's passage. In the Scriptures we find the Lord making a number of beautiful promises both to Israel and to the church. Some of these promises do not depend on man's performance; they are bestowed simply because God is loving and merciful. Other promises depend on man's faithfulness. We can't expect to receive them unless we fulfill our end of the bargain. There's some old hymn lyrics that talk about "standing on the promises of God" and it's important for us to keep in mind that some of the Bible's promises are "if/then" promises. These are promises where God says, "If you do this, then I will do that". Join us tomorrow as the Lord lays down further requirements for the people to follow so they can fully experience all the promises and blessings the Lord longs to pour out on them.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The Exodus. Day 83, Sabbath Laws

Today we will look at laws regarding the Sabbath.

Even the land is allowed a Sabbath rest, not only on the weekly Sabbath day when no one is to be performing labor, but for an entire year every seventh year. "For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest your crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused." (Exodus 23:10-11a) Leaving land unplowed is also known as letting it "lie fallow". There is a very practical reason for this since it allows the ground to regenerate and replenish nutrients that are drawn out of the soil during the seasons when crops are growing from it. Some farmers with extensive acreage still practice this method or a variation of it which involves crop rotation so that the same nutrients aren't being sucked out of the ground each year by planting the same crops in the same field year after year. A farmer might plant corn in a field this year but soybeans in it next year, for example. But the Israelites were to do no planting during the Sabbath year.

In addition to the practical reason for letting a field lie fallow, there is a compassionate reason for it as well. "Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and with your olive grove." (Exodus 23:11b) The fields and vineyards and olive groves are not to be pruned or harvested during the Sabbath year, as is more fully explained in Leviticus 25:1-7, where the Lord says they are not to prune their vineyards or harvest the grapes or go out and gather up everything that comes up on its own in the fields. People were free to wander the fields and collect food as needed from these "volunteer plants" but no one was to harvest the fields and gather the food into barns and they weren't to harvest that year's grape crop or that year's olive crop. Whoever was needy could gather what they needed for eating and so could the livestock and the wild animals.

There was a spiritual reason for letting the field lie fallow. Remember when we studied about the Lord sending manna from heaven six days a week but not sending any manna on the Sabbath? The people were to gather enough on the sixth day to last them through the seventh day. If they gathered more than they needed on any of the other days, the excess would rot overnight. The Lord orchestrated the giving and the gathering of manna in a way that would help the people learn to trust Him. If they gathered a double portion on a Monday, for example, this displayed a lack of faith that the Lord would send fresh manna on Tuesday. So the Lord caused the excess to rot overnight and be unusable on Tuesday. He would then send fresh manna on Tuesday. The people were to learn to expect Him to faithfully provide fresh manna on the days they were to gather manna and to keep the excess gathered on the sixth day from rotting. The Sabbath year is intended to provide the same type of training for the people: they are to learn to trust God to provide---to "give us this day our daily bread". The Lord knew the people would be concerned about what they'd eat during the Sabbath year, and He said, "You may ask, 'What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?' I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in." (Leviticus 25:20-22) He supplied such an abundant crop in the sixth year that it would see them through. They would store up the excess food from the sixth year. They could eat volunteer crops that came up during the time between the planting of the sixth year and the harvest of the ninth year. All these food sources combined together would be plenty until the next harvest.

We can learn a lot, financially speaking, about storing up in years of plenty. There are years in our lives when our salaries may be better than in other years. The average person changes jobs ten to fifteen times during their working years, according to statistics I found online. Some of these job changes are voluntarily and some are the result of layoffs or firings. I just sat here and counted nine jobs I've had since graduating high school in 1988. I've never been fired but I've been laid off once, and I was transferred once to another location due to company restructuring, and I've left a few jobs for other jobs that offered more pay or a more enjoyable work environment, and twice I've quit jobs where the atmosphere was so negative and unpleasant that I dreaded getting up in the morning and going. So during our working years we will have years of plenty and years where things are not so good. It's wise for us to store up the excess during the years of plenty. We never know when a downturn in the economy or a restructuring of the company or a closure of the company might take place. If we store up the excess for the future, I believe we're following Biblical principles, and we won't be hit as hard if we get laid off work for a while.

For about five years my husband had the most enjoyable job and the best salary he's ever had. Then in 2018 the company was sold out to a bigger corporation and the corporation closed the location here in Tennessee, laying off all the workers, including my husband. It took him seven months to find another job and he isn't making anywhere near what he made at the previous job. He's not even making as much as he made at several other jobs prior to the job he loved so much. We should have stored up more than we did during the years of plenty but instead we lived as if things would continue that way forever. That was a mistake and we've learned our lesson but, believe me, it was a hard lesson! The only thing good I can say about hard lessons is that those are the kind of lessons you don't forget. We are being a frugal as we can right now and, if things get better, we plan to do a much better job of storing up the excess. But cutting costs now is training us for that day and I think the Lord will bless our efforts to be better stewards of what He's already given us.

The Lord now reminds the people that they are not to work on the Sabbath. They aren't to make their children, their hired help, their slaves, or their animals work on the Sabbath either. "Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed." (Exodus 23:12) The Lord cares about the health and wellbeing of humans and animals both. He knew if He did not make the rule that no person and no animal is to work on the Sabbath, some people would force their servants and animals to work while they themselves rested. It would be tempting for a rich landowner, for example, to feel bothered by his estate losing a day of work each week. I can picture him giving in to the temptation to force his workers and his animals to keep going seven days a week even if he himself observes the Sabbath. In the Lord's eyes, the man would be breaking the Sabbath. He'd be technically keeping the letter of the law (for himself), but he'd be breaking the law by losing the heart of the law and giving others no choice but to break the Sabbath.

I live in the Bible Belt where a lot of small, family owned restaurants and stores are closed on Sundays. It's common for the business owners to not want to stand in the way of their employees attending church if they want to attend church. A very popular family owned restaurant down the block from my work just announced that they will no longer be open on Sundays because they don't want to prevent their employees from going to church. A very nice little family restaurant in my neighborhood started being closed on Sundays a few years ago. The owners are members at my church and they said they began to feel guilty about expecting their employees to work on Sunday. Any restaurant that isn't open for the after-church crowd on Sundays is losing a lot of revenue, but if the business owner is a Christian who is observing the Sabbath by going to church, they will often begin to feel troubled about having their business open and expecting employees to work on the Sabbath. I applaud any business owner who decides to be closed on the Sabbath and to trust God to provide everything they need on the six days of the week they are open. I believe the Lord will make up the difference and I've even heard business owners praising Him for making their business income grow after they stopped being open on Sundays. Do all their employees attend church on Sundays? No, but the employees can never use work as an excuse for not going. Their employers can never be blamed for preventing them from attending. The employers have done what they can to make it possible for their employees to attend church and that's where their responsibility ends in the matter and where each employee's personal responsibility kicks in.

The Lord created the Sabbath for our benefit, not for His. He set aside a day in which people and animals can regenerate physically and spiritually. While resting from work the person's mind is to be focused on the Lord. It's hard to focus on the Lord if you're working a fast assembly line seven days a week. It's hard to devote time to prayer if you're on the phone all day seven days a week at a call center. It's hard to read the Bible when you work five or six days a week at a job and spend all of the seventh day catching up on work in the house and in the yard, so the Lord says to rest on the Sabbath. The Lord, like those employers who close on Sundays for the spiritual benefit of their employees, does not want work to stand in the way of worship. It's possible to keep ourselves so busy that we never take time to obey the Lord's command to "be still and know that I am God". (Psalm 46:10) If we never allow ourselves to become still in the presence of God, and if we don't spend any time in prayer or studying the Holy Bible, we are going to become worn down mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. God doesn't want that for us. We shouldn't want that for ourselves either.

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Exodus. Day 82, Laws Of Justice And Mercy, Part Two

In today's study we will conclude the first portion of Exodus 23 which is called "Laws Of Justice And Mercy".

"And do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit." (Exodus 23:3) It's just as wrong to show favoritism to the poor as it is to show favoritism to the rich. It's natural for us to feel an urge to help the "underdog" but if we're in a position to judge a matter or if we're serving on a jury, we have to study the evidence impartially. Just because a person is poor doesn't mean he didn't break the law. We aren't to give him a pass on his wrongdoing due to feeling sorry for his poverty. It would be sinful of us to declare him not guilty of driving drunk and causing an accident, for example, or to judge him not guilty of assault, for another example, just because he's poor. If the evidence shows he is guilty of what he's accused of, we must judge according to the evidence.

Do you know why so many plaintiffs or defendants request jury trials rather than just having their cases heard and decided by a judge? Because jury members tend to be more easily swayed by their emotions than judges. A plaintiff who is suing a corporation, for instance, knows he has a better chance of winning his case if he requests a jury trial because a jury is more likely than a judge to view him as the underdog and to view the corporation as the big bad wolf, whether or not that is actually the case. A judge is more likely to rule by evidence alone because that's what he's been trained to do. Up til now we've only talked about the ability of the rich to pervert justice by bribing officials, but it's just as much a perversion of justice if we ignore the evidence of a person's guilt simply because he is poor and we feel sorry for him.

"If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it." (Exodus 23:4) I love Bible verses that show the Lord's concern for animals! It's not the donkey's fault that its owner and its owner's neighbor are enemies. If the neighbor sees the donkey loose and wandering astray, he is to take the donkey home.

The Lord reminded me of Exodus 23:4 when the following incident occurred some years ago. My husband and I have a next door neighbor who is a first cousin to my husband but who will not speak to us. We have to drive by his house whenever we come or go from our neighborhood but he'll turn his back to us if he's outside. We are honestly not sure why he is this way but his late father stopped speaking to our side of the family when my mother-in-law sold her house and moved out of state following my father-in-law's death. He felt she was being disloyal to his brother's memory by selling the house and never spoke to her again. Whether or not this is why his son won't speak to us I'm not sure, but one day his little dachshund got loose. He would sometimes tie the dog outside for an hour or two in the shade while he was at home and I figured it broke its tie-out so I picked up the little dog and went down to his house and knocked on his door. I felt a sense of dread in having to do this but for the dog's sake I had no choice about dealing with a man who I know doesn't like me. He came to the door and I explained what had happened. He grabbed his dog from me without a word and slammed the door in my face. But that's okay. I wasn't going to let the dog get hit by a car just because its owner doesn't like me. That's what the Lord is talking about here in verse 4; He's saying, "Don't let something happen to a loose donkey just because you and its owner don't get along. Have compassion on the donkey. Besides that, you're doing unto others as you'd have done unto you when you return the donkey safely. If someone saw your donkey wandering loose, wouldn't you want them to return it to you?"

This next verse takes "doing unto others" a step further. "If you see a donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it." (Exodus 23:5) Perhaps the donkey's owner has misjudged how much it can carry or perhaps his donkey suddenly takes ill and can no longer stand. If a person is passing by to whom the donkey's owner has been unkind, that person is not to keep going. He's to help the man get his donkey unloaded so the donkey can be helped to its feet. A modern example of this would be if we were driving down the road and saw the person who dislikes us broken down beside the road with a dead battery or with a flat tire. We aren't to point and say, "Haha, look at you! Serves you right!" and keep going. If we truly want to do what Jesus would do, we'll stop and boost the person's battery off or help him change his tire. That person might change his attitude toward us when we show a Christlike attitude toward him. That person might even come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior because we did something Jesus would do.

Did my neighbor become my friend when I helped his dog and returned it safely to him? No, not so far anyway. Will he ever change his attitude? Will he ever repent and turn to the Lord because a woman who knows the Lord showed kindness to him and to his little dog? I couldn't say, but at least I can say I didn't stand in his way of coming to the Lord by not showing kindness to him and to his dog. I'm not telling you this story to make myself sound like a person who always does the right thing. That wouldn't be true. To be honest, my primary concern was for the dog because I'm such a dog lover myself. I'd hate to think someone would see my dog loose and not catch it and bring it home to me. But if anyone deserves any credit here, it's the Lord who said to me in the person of the Holy Spirit, "What if it was your dog that was loose? What if your neighbor saw it was loose but did nothing to help it and it got lost or stolen or killed by a car? Imagine how that would break your heart! How can you let something like that happen to your neighbor and his dog? I said in the Bible  to return the donkey of your enemy if the donkey is loose, and that applies to any other animal belonging to your enemy. Take the dog home. If your neighbor slams his door in your face, so what? At least you've done what was right. If he isn't polite or grateful, that's not your problem or concern."

I'm reminded of something one of my favorite television and radio preachers, Dr. Charles Stanley, often says: "Obey the Lord and leave all the consequences to Him." We are to do what's right. Our fellow man may or may not appreciate it but that's not our problem or concern. The Lord sees whether or not we do the right thing and He is the only One who matters. My mom lived by a similar motto as Dr. Charles Stanley so I'll tell a little story here of her doing what was right. When I was a kid my parents and I were staying at a motel at the beach and my mother and I were going up the three flights of outdoor steps to our motel room when we came across a wallet lying on one of the steps. My mom picked it up and opened it and gasped at the sight of several hundred dollars, which was a whole lot of money in the 1970s. We certainly didn't have that much money with us on our trip. She said, "We've got to take this to the office right now and find out what room he's in so we can get his billfold and money back to him!" My mom gave the desk clerk the man's name from his driver's license and the clerk gave her his room number. We knocked on his door and he opened the door a couple of inches with the chain still latched and suspiciously asked her what she wanted. She held the wallet out and told him about finding it on the steps. He reached his hand through the opening, grabbed the wallet from her, and slammed the door without even so much as a "thank you". Mom just shrugged, informed me the man had bad manners and instructed me that I was to politely and sincerely thank a person who ever returned a lost item to me, and then she and I went on our way back to our room. The man who lost his wallet didn't thank my mom but do you think the Lord didn't reward my mom's integrity? Oh yes, I think He did, many times over. He didn't make her a wealthy woman but He never let her go without anything she needed. In addition to that, I wouldn't be surprised if He didn't have some sort of extra eternal reward waiting for her, in appreciation for her integrity, when she got to heaven in 1996.

Now we'll move on to the next section of today's passage. Earlier in today's study the Lord cautioned us against taking the side of a poor person who is guilty. Now He warns us against feeling prejudiced toward the poor and ruling against them even though they're in the right. "Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent." (Exodus 23:6-8) The wealthy can afford to bribe a witness or a judge or a jury member. An unscrupulous person who is wealthy has an advantage over the poor due to his ability to buy testimonies or verdicts. The Lord will not turn a blind eye to such things. He is a Judge who sees all and He will not allow unfair legal practices to go unpunished. A person may manage not to be caught by his fellow man when he commits this type of sin, but if he is not punished for his crimes on this earth we can be sure he will face the holy and perfect and impartial Judge someday and he will not escape whatever verdict the Lord hands down on him.

"Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt." (Exodus 23:9) The Lord already gave this instruction in Exodus 22:21 but it's such an important instruction that He feels it bears repeating. He says to Israel, "Don't do what was done to you. If you feel any inclination whatsoever to treat someone differently because they are a foreigner (of a different color, background, or religion), then you are behaving no better than the Egyptians who discriminated against you. Remember how unfairly you were treated in Egypt? Remember how your rights were infringed upon? Remember how you were hated because you looked different and had different customs and a different religion? Didn't you feel it was wrong of the Egyptians to hate you just because you were different? Of course you did, and you cried out to Me for justice! Then wouldn't it be just as wrong for you to feel prejudice toward someone else because they are different somehow from you? Of course it would be! So don't do it. Don't do it or they will cry out to Me for justice and I will hear them."

The Lord is saying the same thing to us that He's saying to the Israelites in verse 9: Don't harbor prejudice. You and I may never have been in slavery. You and I may never have experienced discrimination (although as a woman I can think of a number of times when I feel I was treated differently or denied opportunities because I'm a female). But we can clearly see by all moral standards that prejudice is wrong. It is not logical to believe someone deserves less respect or is worthy of fewer rights because their skin color is different or because they are from a different country or because they are of a different sex than we are. Even if we are incapable of reasoning this out for ourselves by human standards, the Lord plainly says prejudice is wrong. His words are right here in black and white on the pages of the Holy Bible. The Lord created us all equal. He loves us all the same. Christ died for every person's sins. Salvation is offered to every person without partiality and without prejudice. How dare we not love our neighbor---every neighbor---as ourselves, seeing that the Lord loves our neighbor the same as He loves us?