Friday, July 31, 2020

The Exodus. Day 123, Discipline For Idolatry, Part Two

Aaron refused to take any responsibility for the sin and chaos that took place while he was left in charge of the camp. Moses isn't fooled by his insistence that nothing could be done to restrain the people and that he couldn't help it if a golden calf formed out of the melted gold. The Bible clearly tells us that Aaron cast the gold in the shape of a calf and fashioned it with a tool; Moses is no fool and if he had any doubts about how the golden calf came to be, all he has to do is observe the tool marks on it. He holds Aaron accountable as both a leader and a priest, but the people also bear responsibility for their own individual sins.

"Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, 'Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.' And all the Levites rallied to him." (Exodus 32:25-26) The people have made fools of themselves. Everyone in the region will hear about how quickly they turned their backs on the God who brought them out of Egypt with mighty signs and wonders. This is something you and I, as Christians, need to take to heart. The world is watching us to see whether we are the real deal or not. I don't think anyone expects us to be perfect but they do expect to be able to get a glimpse of what Christ is like by observing how Christians live. If unbelievers don't find anything admirable in Christians then they're not likely to find anything admirable about Christ. They'll conclude that we're frauds and hypocrites and they'll conclude that Christ either doesn't exist or that He lacks the power to transform people's character. This is why Moses says that right now, in Exodus 32, his people are a laughingstock to their enemies. They look like a bunch of hypocrites. They quickly and easily abandoned God and are behaving like some of the worst of the heathen tribes in the region.

Moses wants to know who is still on the Lord's side and the tribe of Levi---his own tribe---comes and stands with him. We don't know if this means these men didn't partake in the idolatrous practices along with the others or whether these men were just the first to come to their senses. I think there's little doubt that there were degrees of sin in the camp. Some of the people probably sunk as low as they could go and gave in to every sinful desire of their hearts. Some may have only partaken in the feast of food that was presented to the idol but then did nothing further. Some sang and danced drunkenly but didn't engage in the adultery that the Apostle Paul says took place during the festival. (1 Corinthians 10:8) There very well may have been some members of the camp who distanced themselves from this sinful revelry and remained in their tents. We don't know everything that happened and we don't know who did what, but the Lord knew who the worst offenders were. It appears that these primary offenders are stubbornly unrepentant for everything they've done (and would do it all over again at the first opportunity) and this is why we find them facing a harsh judgment as we move on through our passage.

Now that the Levite men have made clear their allegiance to the Lord and to Moses, Moses gives them their orders. "Then he said to them, 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 'Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.' The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died." (Exodus 32:27-28) To our modern minds these two verses come across as puzzling, shocking, and maybe even offensive. These men strike down three thousand of their relatives, neighbors and friends. In asking why the Lord commands such a thing we need to consider how such a thing was carried out. Why did no one resist? Why did no one step up to defend any of the three thousand? Why did no one flee the camp and run off into the desert or up into the hills for safety? I think the best conclusion we can come up with is that somehow the Lord pointed these particular people out to the Levites, or else the Levites were aware of who the worst sinners in the camp were since the Levites had been present while the idolatrous feast took place. Perhaps they had observed who the ring leaders were of this whole mess. I think everyone in the camp probably knew which of the people had mobbed Aaron and demanded an idol. I think everyone knew which of the people made sacrifices to the idol, and which of the people engaged in a pagan orgy, and which of the people repudiated the one true God and said of the golden calf, "This is my god!" And it could be that, while the Levites move through the crowd, everyone stands back from those who are the worst offenders to allow the Levites to strike them down. They may even have hemmed the three thousand in so the Levites could carry out these orders. 

Everyone in the camp bears some form of guilt, even if it's just the guilt of not speaking out against sin and idolatry, but it would seem that three thousand of them committed such horrible sins and are so unrepentant for those sins that it's best for the entire group if these three thousand are removed from their number. If they are allowed to remain they will continue to be a serious problem and will entice or force others into sin with them. The only thing we can really be sure of in this passage is that the Lord knows what He's doing. He knows the heart of every human being. He knows everything everyone has ever done or ever will do and I think He looked down through the years and saw that these three thousand were only going to grow worse and worse, dragging others down with them. If He'd allowed them to remain they would have taught their children wrong and their children would have grown up serving false gods and might never have turned to the living God. I believe souls were saved later on that might never have been saved if the Lord had allowed these three thousand to remain on the earth.

Moses commends the Levites for their obedience to the Lord in this matter. "Then Moses said, 'You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and He has blessed you this day.'" (Exodus 32:29) I'm reminded of several verses in the Bible where we're told that God is "no respecter of persons", meaning He judges impartially. If two sinners stood before Him who had committed the same acts, He wouldn't accept a bribe from the rich man and give him a free pass while imposing a penalty on the poor man. Likewise, He wouldn't pardon the poor man out of pity but punish the rich man. Difficult as our passage today may be for us to understand, the Levites were doing something the Lord Himself does: judging impartially. The Levites struck down whoever they were commanded to strike down regardless of who the person was or what status the person held in the community or even whether the person was related to them. Sin is sin, no matter who is doing the sinning, and in this case these particular sins were so heinous that God decided it was better for the nation as a whole if these three thousand were taken from their midst. The Levites obey Him and treat everyone in this group of three thousand the same. I am sure it was extremely difficult for them to do this, so Moses assures them that the Lord recognizes how hard it was for them and that the Lord will bless them for their obedience.

The discipline for sin is not finished. God will keep His promise to Moses not to wipe the Israelites out, but there is further judgment to come for the things that took place while Moses was on the mountain receiving instructions from God. Tomorrow we'll find a plague falling on the camp.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Exodus. Day 122, Discipline For Idolatry, Part One

Moses and Joshua returned to the camp to find the people celebrating a pagan-style feast to a golden image of a calf, just as the Lord informed Moses on the mountain. In yesterday's passage Moses threw down and broke the two stone tablets containing the ten commandments when he saw to what a spiritual low the people had sunk in his absence. But because Moses prayed a prayer of intercession for the people, the Lord is not going to wipe them out for their rejection of Him, but discipline is going to be administered. They will not all survive turning away from the living God.

Moses does an interesting thing. "And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it." (Exodus 32:20) He melts down the golden calf, probably forms the gold into many small thin disks, and then grinds them down into powder and sprinkles the powder into water and makes the people drink the mixture. Why does he do this? For one thing, it proves to them that their idol (and whatever god it represents) is powerless to prevent itself from being destroyed. If it can't prevent itself from being destroyed, how can the Israelites keep giving it the credit for having brought them out of Egypt? How can they expect it to protect and guide them in the future? Grinding the idol to powder utterly destroys it both literally and figuratively, for the people are forced in their minds to give up their reliance on it. 

I think another reason Moses makes them drink the ashy water is to cause the Israelites to experience the bitter and disgusting taste of sin. The Bible tells us that sin is pleasurable for a season (Hebrews 11:25), but sin bears many bitter fruits such as guilt and shame and distasteful consequences---sometimes even the consequences of physical death or the eternal separation of the soul from the presence of God. As the wise King Solomon once said, sin may taste as sweet as honey at first but then it turns bitter as gall in the stomach. (Proverbs 5:3-4) I'm paraphrasing him because he was speaking of the sin of adultery in particular but the same can be said of all sin: it's attractive and pleasurable at the beginning and it fools us into thinking it enhances our lives, then suddenly it begins to affect us like a potent poison. 

I'm reminded of what the Lord told the people through the prophet Isaiah during the worst period of idolatry in the nation's history. About the fashioning of useless idols and about the senselessness of bowing before them and expecting them to do anything at all, the Lord said, "Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him." (Isaiah 44:20a) Ashes aren't capable of providing nutrients to the human body and in fact they can be quite detrimental to the health. Likewise, sin offers no sustenance for body or soul but instead takes away from the quality of life, throws up a barrier between man and God, and places the eternal soul in jeopardy.

Now Moses takes his brother to task for allowing idolatry to enter the camp. "He said to Aaron, 'What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?'" (Exodus 32:21) Moses holds Aaron more accountable than the people Aaron was left in charge of. As Moses' right hand man and as a priest, Aaron had a duty to set a godly example. He was in a position of high authority and this placed him in a position of great responsibility. He failed to faithfully fulfill his duties.

Aaron behaves as if the entire situation was out of his hands from the very beginning. He suggests that the people cannot be managed (although nothing like this happened on Moses' watch which proves it was possible to keep this shameful occurrence from happening) and he behaves as if the entire matter was beyond his control from the get-go. He even insinuates that the idol shaped itself and that he was helpless to prevent it. "'Do not be angry, my lord,' Aaron answered. 'You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, 'Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him.' So I told them, 'Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.' Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!'" (Exodus 32:22-24)

I picture Aaron throwing his hands up and saying, "There was nothing I could do! You know these people can't be reasoned with. When they want something it's dangerous to be standing in their way. Besides, I didn't set out to make a calf. When I put the gold in the melting pot it just magically turned into the shape of a calf. Obviously some sort of spiritual force wanted it to come out that way." He's lying because in Exodus 32:4 the Bible told us he cast the idol in the shape of a calf by fashioning it with a tool. But Moses wasn't there when Aaron formed the calf and he thinks he can trick Moses into believing some force or entity of the spiritual realm fashioned the calf. He wants Moses to believe that the gold just automatically formed itself into the shape of a calf and that there was nothing he could do to prevent it. He's insinuating that if Moses questions him and finds fault with him then, by extension, Moses is questioning and finding fault with whatever spiritual entity caused the gold to mold itself into a calf.

Sin is bad enough but denying and hiding sin compounds the issue. We just keep painting ourselves further and further into a sad corner when we refuse to acknowledge our guilt. When confronted with our faults or when troubled by our consciences it's far better to say, "Yes, I agree. I did wrong. I've sinned. Lord, I'm sorry I sinned. Please forgive me and give me strength!" 

King David was a man who resisted listening to his conscience for some time until his friend, the prophet Nathan, came to him on the authority of the Lord and pointed out his errors. To his credit, David immediately said, "I have sinned against the Lord." (2 Samuel 12:13) Just think of how many sleepless nights David could have avoided if he'd repented of his sin far earlier. Just think how much better he'd have felt if he'd bowed before the Lord right away and confessed and repented of his sin. Yes, there still would have been natural consequences of his sin to face, but at least he wouldn't have suffered the days and nights of shame and guilt when he couldn't even lift his eyes to heaven. At least there wouldn't have been that awful feeling of being out of close fellowship with the Lord. But Aaron isn't like David, at least not right now in Exodus 32, and he refuses to accept responsibility for the role he played in this sad episode of Israel's early history. 

In tomorrow's study the people will be given a choice. Are they going to recommit their lives to the Lord and serve Him? Or are they happy to continue living in sin and idolatry? Some will make the right choice. Those who make the wrong choice will face the discipline of the Lord.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Exodus. Day 121, Moses Breaks The Tablets

Moses is on his way back to the Israelite camp because the Lord informed him the people had made a golden calf and have been sacrificing to it. He's carrying the two tablets with the ten commandments written on them by God's own hand.

"Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets." (Exodus 32:15-16) We usually see the tablets depicted with writing only on one side, but no doubt that's so we can see all of the ten commandments at one time. But the Bible tells us that the tablets were inscribed on both sides. We are not told how large the tablets were but it appears they were small enough in size that it took both sides of both tablets to contain the ten commandments. This makes sense when we consider Moses had to trek down the mountain while holding a tablet in each hand. I don't believe the tablets were anywhere near as large as they are portrayed in movies, in television shows, or in artwork. 

You'll recall that Joshua, Moses' intended successor, accompanied him at least part of the way up the  mountain in Exodus 24:13. The Bible didn't say whether Joshua was present for Moses' meeting with God, but I tend to think he remained at a distance. Now Moses rejoins him on his way back down the mountain. "When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, 'There is the sound of war in the camp.'" (Exodus 32:17) 

Joshua is a great military leader, as we learned in Exodus 17. When he hears the loud noise from the camp he thinks the people have been attacked. "Moses replied: 'It is not the sound of victory, it is not the sound of defeat; it is the sound of singing I hear.'" (Exodus 32:18) Moses, who was once the crown prince of Egypt and a general in the Egyptian army, knows well the sounds people make when they've defeated an enemy and he's familiar with the sounds people make when they've been defeated. What he's hearing isn't shouts of victory or cries of despair. It's singing---drunken singing.

The Lord warned Moses what was happening in the camp but now he sees it with his own eyes. Being warned ahead of time wasn't enough to prepare him for such a sight. The low spiritual level to which the people have quickly fallen has to be seen to be believed. "When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain." (Exodus 32:19) 

Some scholars believe Moses sinned in breaking the tablets, stating that he did this because he was overwhelmed with unrighteous anger and that he did not have the authority to break the tablets. Other scholars disagree that Moses sinned and they point out that God issued no rebuke for Moses' behavior. We would expect the Lord to at least have a word of correction for Moses if Moses acted against His wishes. Breaking the tablets may have symbolized the people's breaking of their end of the covenant. We know for a fact they've broken the commandment that says, "You shall have no other gods besides Me," and the commandment that says, "You shall not make an idol," and the commandment that says, "You shall not commit adultery." It's possible they've broken all ten of the commandments while Moses has been gone.

If breaking the tablets represents the people's breaking of their end of the covenant, we must keep in mind that this action doesn't mean God is breaking His end of the covenant. God will provide a second set of tablets. God will give Israel another chance. Throughout the Bible we find God giving Israel---and mankind in general----chance after chance after chance. Aren't we thankful His mercy is so great? This doesn't mean we can ever treat the mercy of God casually; we aren't promised tomorrow. If you don't know the Lord as your Savior you mustn't turn Him away today on the assumption you'll have another opportunity tomorrow. But when we look back on our lives and think about the way we lived before we came to faith, we can easily see how many reasons we gave God to simply write us off and conclude that we were hopeless. We look back on the things we did and said in those days and we couldn't blame God if He'd washed His hands of us. But He didn't! And here we are today, studying the word of God together. Thank You, Lord, for Your mercy toward us!

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Exodus. Day 120, The Golden Calf. Part Five

While Moses has been on the mountain with the Lord the situation in the Israelite camp has deteriorated to the point that the people are bowing to an idol, sacrificing to it, and celebrating an immoral drunken feast that includes sexual sins. In yesterday's passage the Lord informed Moses of this shocking news and stated His righteous desire to judge them for their sin. Today Moses pleads for mercy on their behalf.

"But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. 'Lord,' he said, 'why should Your anger burn against Your people, whom You brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?'" (Exodus 32:11) In yesterday's passage we found the Lord verbally distancing himself from people who are actively rejecting Him at this time. When giving Moses the bad news about their behavior He referred to them as "your people whom you brought out of Egypt". Moses answers by reminding the Lord that they are His people whom He brought out of Egypt. I think Moses is saying something like this, "Oh, Lord, you know how weak these people are! You know what they've been through. You know they've just recently emerged from a land where paintings and statues of false gods line the streets and fill every building. Please don't be angry with them. Please don't destroy them. If not for You they'd still be in Egypt, living the only life they've ever known, albeit a cruel and difficult life. But now they're out here in the wilderness for the purpose of being made into a great nation, and even though they've witnessed Your great power, they still need time for their faith in You to grow."

Not only are many lives at stake, but the honor of the Lord is at stake as well. If He gives up on the people now, what will the Egyptians say? That the Lord was able to take them out of Egypt but not able or willing to keep them alive in the wilderness? Will the Egyptians conclude that the Lord hates the Israelites as much as they do? "Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent He brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth?'" (Exodus 32:12a) The Egyptians already harbor a great deal of prejudice against the Israelites and if the Lord destroys the Israelites the Egyptians can say, "See? We were right all along! These people are a lesser form of human being than we are. They aren't deserving of goodness and mercy. We were right to enslave them and use them as an expendable workforce. God didn't rescue them because He loves them but because He wanted to herd them all out into one place to kill them---to make an example of them for every tribe and nation in the region to see. Even their own God wants nothing to do with them. Our treatment of them was justified. We have been vindicated!" 

Lastly, Moses reminds the Lord of the promise He made on oath. "Turn from Your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on Your people. Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom You swore by Your own self: 'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.'" (Exodus 32:12b-13) The Lord swore to Abraham that He would make a great nation from his descendants. As we learned in yesterday's passage. the Lord could still wipe out the Israelite camp and fulfill His promise to Abraham through Moses' family line. But it would be like starting over from scratch. There are currently about 2,000,000 people in the camp with which to form a nation but Moses has only two sons. It would take several centuries for the descendants of Abraham to reach 2,000,000 again and be able to support and protect themselves in the wilderness, to be strong enough to drive the idolatrous Canaanite tribes from the promised land, and to form a successful and prosperous society there.

After Moses completes his intercessory prayer, the Bible tells us, "Then the Lord relented and did not bring on His people the disaster He had threatened." (Exodus 32:14) Did the Lord really ever intend to destroy the Israelites? Would He have done so if Moses hadn't begged for mercy? Yes and no, at the same time, for as we briefly mentioned yesterday, the Lord is able to take His perfect will for mankind and the faults and failures of mankind and still cause His plans to work out exactly as He intended.

Did the Lord want to wipe out the camp? Yes, in His utter holiness He shrank back from the sin taking place in the camp. His anger righteously burned against the people for their rejection of His love and their denial of His help and their insistence that it was some other god or gods who had rescued them from Egypt. Was He really ever going to wipe them out? No, because He had chosen a man ahead of time who would intercede for them. The Lord always knew what the people were going to do and the Lord always knew Moses would stand in their place before Him and appeal to His love and mercy. The Lord always knew He would accept Moses' prayer on their behalf.

We can compare this to the plan of salvation the Lord offers us through Christ. Did the human race deserve to be wiped off the face of the earth for our sin and disobedience? Yes. Would the Lord have been within His rights and entirely without fault or blame if He had concluded we were hopeless and had made an end of us? Yes. Did He ever intend to make an end of us? No, because He had chosen a Man ahead of time who would intercede for us. The Lord always knew what we were going to do and the Lord always knew that Christ would stand in our place before Him and appeal to His love and mercy. The Lord always knew He would accept the blood of Christ in place of our own blood and in place of the eternal separation of our souls from the presence of God. 

Moses mediated the first covenant between God and man with his prayers. The Lord Jesus Christ mediated the second covenant between God and man---the better covenant---with His blood. God may have wanted at times to be thoroughly done with man, but at the same time He never intended to be done with us. He always intended to accept intercession on our behalf. In the Old Testament, Moses interceded for the people as best as he humanly could. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ interceded for us perfectly, as the One who was fully man and fully God at the same time. If God was willing to have mercy on the Israelites because a mere man bridged the gap with his prayers, how much more willing is He to have mercy on anyone who puts their trust in Christ who bridged the gap with His own blood?

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Exodus. Day 119, The Golden Calf, Part Four

The people declared the golden calf the god who brought them out of Egypt. Now that Aaron sees they are willing to exchange God for idolatry he tries to mitigate the problem by blending idolatry with the worship of the one true God.

"When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, 'Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.' So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry." (Exodus 32:5-6) Aaron is trying to redeem the situation but nothing good ever comes from blending idolatry with true worship. As the Apostle Paul once asked, "What fellowship can light have with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14) On top of that, Aaron is not successful in taking the people's focus off the calf and putting it back onto the Lord, for the author of Psalm 106 clearly states that they "forgot" the Lord: "At Horeb they made a calf and worshiped an idol cast from metal. They exchanged their glorious God for an image of a bull, which eats grass. They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt, miracles in the land of Ham and awesome deeds by the Red Sea." (Psalm 106:19-22) They forsook the Lord in favor of this idol. They pushed away the holy, living God in favor of bowing down before an object made by the hands of man.

Why did Aaron choose the image of a calf? Or did the people specifically ask for a calf when they demanded he make them an image? Scholars have not been able to come to any definite conclusion. In the land of Egypt two pagan deities had a bovine form: the female goddess Hathor and the male god Apis, so the inspiration for an idol in the shape of a calf could have come from the Israelites' sojourn in Egypt. Or perhaps they picked up the idea from the Canaanites who had a bull god named El in their pantheon of gods. Some scholars suggest that the inspiration came from much further back, from the gods Abraham's ancestors worshiped in Ur of the Chaldees. There is really no clear answer to why a calf was chosen. For all we know, this was simply the easiest shape for Aaron to make. The Israelites owned plenty of cattle and Aaron may have used one of the calves as a model. It's interesting to speculate on the origin of the calf but the main issue at hand is the people's rejection of the Lord who has brought them this far.

When the Bible says the people ate and drank and then "got up to indulge in revelry" we can safely assume that this was a gluttonous drunken feast followed by sexual immorality. They weren't simply singing, dancing, and making music after they completed their feast; they were indulging in sexual sins according to the Apostle Paul who said that 23,000 of them committed adultery on the day of their feast. (1 Corinthians 10:7-8) This adultery may have had a pagan religious connotation, considering that so many other cultures engaged in fertility rites during their festivals. Not only have they bowed down and worshiped a false god, they've made sacrifices and offerings to it and now they're blatantly breaking one of the ten commandments by breaking their holy marriage vows. Although the people haven't yet received the tablets containing the ten commandments, they were already provided an oral list of the ten commandments in Exodus 20. They can't claim ignorance of the Lord's commandments. They know what they're doing is wrong in the Lord's eyes. 

Moses is still on the mountain with the Lord but his time there is about to come to an end when the Lord informs him of the chaos in the camp. "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and have sacrificed to it and have said, 'These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'" (Exodus 32:7-8)

The people have distanced themselves from God and in the Lord's words we see He's distancing Himself from the people. In speaking with Moses He refers to the Israelites as "your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt". In this moment the Lord isn't even claiming them as His own, and although He is the one who rescued them from slavery and brought them out of Egypt, He speaks only of Moses' role. The people want nothing to do with God right now and they are the ones who have created the distance between themselves and their Maker. The Bible instructs us: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." (James 4:8) But it's also possible to push God away. When we deliberately distance ourselves from God we are causing Him to have to distance Himself from us because God is a gentleman; He does not force Himself in where He is not wanted. Here in Exodus 32 the Lord is not welcome in the camp of Israel. The people have denied His name and in this moment He can't bring Himself to claim them as His own, considering how far and how quickly and how shockingly they've fallen out of fellowship with Him.

The Lord would be within His rights to wipe these people from the face of the earth and He makes this clear to Moses. "'I have seen these people,' the Lord said to Moses, 'and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave Me alone so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.'" (Exodus 32:9-10) The Lord could have destroyed everyone in the camp and still kept His covenant promise to Abraham to make a great nation from his descendants. Moses is a descendant of Abraham and the Lord could have fulfilled His promise to Abraham through Moses' family line. The Lord isn't contemplating breaking a promise when He contemplates being done with the people who have broken faith with Him.

It's interesting to note that the Lord implores Moses to "leave Me alone" so He can destroy the people. I think Moses becomes very distraught when informed of the sin of his people and that he dissolves into panic and tears when the Lord makes known His desire to be done with a people who are done with Him. I think Moses is on his knees, hands upraised to God, while imploring Him to turn away His wrath. Here we see the immense value of intercessory prayer. God has the right to destroy the people. God's first instinct in the face of such ugly sin and idolatry is to destroy the people. But His hand is stayed by the intercessory prayer of Moses, as the author of Psalm 106 tells us: "So He said He would destroy them---had not Moses, His chosen one, stood in the breach before Him to keep His wrath from destroying them." (Psalm 106:23)

Did the Lord not know what the people were going to do? Did the Lord really intend to destroy them if Moses had not begged for His mercy upon them? I believe the Lord knew all along what the people were going to do. I believe He had a holy and righteous desire to judge their sin by removing them from this life. But at the same time I believe He always knew He wouldn't wipe all the Israelites from the earth because He always knew Moses would intercede for them and that He would accept Moses' prayers on their behalf. The Lord chose wisely when He chose Moses to be the mediator of the first covenant, for Moses is a man who begged passionately for mercy upon the people due to his love for them. He bridged the enormous gap between man and God with His intercessory prayer. Isn't this what the mediator of the new covenant did? Didn't Christ intercede passionately for mankind because of His love for us? Didn't Christ bridge the gap between man and God? Unlike Moses, who could only bridge the gap with prayer, Christ bridged the gap with His own body on the cross, saying in effect, "Take Me! Don't take their lives, Lord. Don't let them be lost and undone. Let Me make an offering capable of imputing righteousness to them forever. Place all their sins on Me and let Me bear their penalty." If Moses had not bridged the gap between man and God through his fervent pleas for mercy, God may well have wiped the people out, but God purposely chose a man who would plead for the people. In this same way, if Christ had not bridged the gap between man and God through the sacrifice of Himself, God may well have condemned the human race, but before God ever created man He had already formed a plan of salvation in which Christ would offer Himself in man's place. 

This is a great mystery: how God's perfect will for man and how God's permissive will for man work together so that His plans for man are always carried out to perfection. God knew man would sin, God knew He would be compelled by His righteousness to judge man for sin, but He also made it possible for man to escape His wrath through an intercessor. Moses is the Old Testament intercessor who turned God's wrath away from the people. Many others will follow Moses' example, such as prophets and kings and priests, and will come to the Lord on bended knees on behalf of Israel. At last Christ will come and make the intercession which is perfect and eternal. And we are so fortunate to be living in this age of grace---in an age when Christ has already come and carried out God's plan of salvation on our behalf. When He was nailed to the cross and raised up between the earth and heaven, He forever bridged the gap between man and God. No one who puts their faith in Christ will ever be turned away by God the Father. It's as if Christ took the hand of man in one of His hands and the hand of God in His other hand and put the hand of man in the hand of God. If we know Christ as our Savior, we have fellowship with God, and this is a relationship that can't be broken by anyone or anything.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Exodus. Day 118, The Golden Calf, Part Three

In Saturday's study the people mobbed Aaron and demanded that he make them "gods who will go before us" and he instructed them to give him all their gold earrings. This is where we pick up today.

"So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, 'These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'" (Exodus 32:3-4) In the past it was generally assumed that the calf was carved out of wood or cast in some type of base metal and then plated with gold, but in modern times Bible scholars have moved toward the theory that the calf was made of solid gold. It is estimated that approximately 2,000,000 men, women, and children came out of Egypt. Most of the Israelites, of both sexes, had picked up the Egyptian custom of wearing earrings as we saw in verse 2 yesterday. The amount of gold given to Aaron for the making of the calf was enormous. Some scholars have calculated that it could have weighed as much as 83,333 pounds if you estimate each gold earring weighed about 1/4 of an ounce and that each person had an earring in each ear. It's likely they were piercing their children's ears at a young age (as many parents are still doing in our own times), so we can't discount the notion that even the small infants were wearing solid gold earrings. Aaron would certainly have been presented with enough material to make the idol of solid gold.

It's funny how much money or effort we'll put into the wrong things, isn't it? We've all done it. We've spent money on sinful pursuits. We've spent time chasing after things that will bring us grief. We've spent energy trying to make something happen that isn't God's will for us. In our passage today we find the Israelites giving generously to a sinful project that's only going to bring them grief, but we've all made foolish mistakes. We may never have literally bowed down before an idolatrous image but we've been idolatrous in spirit any time we've put our own wants ahead of God's will for our lives. Any time we deliberately choose to disobey God we're in a spirit of idolatry. We're choosing ourselves over God, or we're choosing a sinful relationship over God, or we're choosing an addictive substance over God, or we're choosing to focus on things other than God to the point that we have no time for Him at all. In the book of Isaiah, during a time when idolatry was so rampant that the Lord was about to allow the land to be invaded and conquered by the Babylonians as discipline for sin, the Lord begged the people to see reason and to turn away from putting their money and energy and time into things that were only going to hurt them, saying: "Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to Me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare." (Isaiah 55:2) The Lord is speaking of spiritual food; the people were wasting their money and time and energy on things that could never feed their souls or satisfy them spiritually. He asks, "Why are you doing this? Please listen to Me! Nothing will ever make you feel fulfilled and whole and satisfied apart from a relationship with Me."

When Aaron finished making the calf, he presented it to the people and they declared, "These are our gods who brought us out of Egypt." As we stated yesterday, we aren't certain whether they are saying this calf represents more than one god to them, but they use the Hebrew word "elohim" which is the plural form of "god". Rather than get caught up in on this particular point, we need to take a moment to focus on another point which is that they are giving this image, and whatever deity it stands for, the credit for bringing them out of Egypt! What blasphemy this is! What an utter rejection of the God who lovingly and faithfully and powerfully brought them out of the land of their oppression!

I'm reminded of a celebrity who gave what I considered a very blasphemous and shocking acceptance speech at an awards show some years back. She got on stage and was handed her trophy and then said something like, "Why are so many people getting up here and thanking Jesus Christ for their success? Nobody had less to do with my success than Jesus Christ." I think I gasped out loud, for there's not a single human being on the face of the earth who could even take the next breath unless the Lord gave them the ability to breathe it! If it weren't for the Lord, I wouldn't have the physical strength to be sitting upright on my couch right now, reading the Bible with eyes that can see, with a mind able to read and make sense of the written word, typing this study with the two functioning hands that God gave me. The Lord deserves the credit for the fact that I'm even alive right now. There's nothing I could do unless He allowed me to do it! How dare we not give Him credit that we're still alive and kicking? How dare we not give Him the credit for whatever physical strength, mental intelligence, and gifts and talents we possess? Our Creator gave us everything we have; we didn't create ourselves and we can't take credit for anything we accomplish as if it weren't the Lord who gave us life and any abilities that we have. As the author of Psalm 100 says: "Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His." (Psalm 100:3) Some versions of the Bible render the second part of this verse as: "It is He who made us, and not we ourselves." We didn't create ourselves or give ourselves abilities and talents. God did that and God deserves the praise. 

But here in Exodus 32 we find the people making their own gods and, in a sense, making gods of themselves. Because that's what we do when we reject the authority of God: we make gods of ourselves. We go our own way. We serve ourselves, though it may appear on the surface that we're serving a deity or a political party or following a celebrity role model or an ideology or whatever it may be. Rejection of the Lord's authority over our lives is idolatry, and in our passage today we find the people not only rejecting the Lord's authority but blaspheming His name by declaring someone other than Him brought them out of Egypt.

Though Aaron fashioned the image the people demanded, he is not the one who declares the image the god who brought them out of Egypt. I think in tomorrow's passage he tries to tone down the idolatry of the people or deflect their attention away from the image by proposing a feast be held in honor of the Lord. But he's still committing a sin because he didn't say no to the people's demand for an image and now instead of rejecting the image wholeheartedly after hearing their blasphemy he's going to try to mingle idolatry with true religion by building an altar in front of the image and holding a festival to the Lord in front of the image. As the saying goes, he's going to try to straddle the fence with one foot in the church and one foot in the world. No one can set a godly example like this and Aaron won't be an exception. Join us tomorrow as the festival takes place and turns into such a sinful free-for-all that if not for Moses' intervention they would all have perished. 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Exodus. Day 117, The Golden Calf, Part Two

We know Moses will spend forty days and forty nights total on Mount Sinai with the Lord, but we don't know how long he was absent from the Israelite camp before the people wrongly and hastily concluded he wasn't coming back. It certainly didn't happen during the last day or two of his absence. We know this because before he returns the people will have time to melt down their gold jewelry, have the gold fashioned into an idol, then build an altar, then plan and put together and hold a pagan-style festival. I wouldn't be surprised to learn they gave up on Moses' return at around the halfway point of his time away from them; it's human nature for us to become impatient quickly. I don't know about you, but when unpleasant or unwelcome circumstances come into my life, I'm tired of them on the first day. If nothing has changed twenty or thirty days later I'm very impatient for things to improve. I'm guessing the people needed at least a week to produce the idol and the altar and to plan their sinful festival, but the impatience and doubt and anger they're experiencing probably began to take root far sooner.

In yesterday's passage we were told the people gathered around Aaron and demanded that he make them "gods who will go before us". It is the one true God who has been going before them all along, but they're so demoralized by the absence of Moses that they've given up not only on Moses but on the God who commissioned Moses to lead them out of Egypt. The word "gods" is the Hebrew "elohim" which is plural, but Aaron will only make one idol for them, so it's unclear whether they intended to bow down to multiple idols or whether they are asking for a god other than the God who brought them out of Egypt---a God to replace the One who often is referred to in the Bible by the the plural "Elohim". Scholars are divided about why the one true God is called "Elohim". On the one hand, it could be a reference to the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. On another hand, it could be a reference to God being the "God Most High" or "God of gods", meaning He is the one and only but that His power is unlimited and all encompassing---that this one God can do more than all gods (if they existed) put together.

When the Bible tells us the people gathered around Aaron I think it means they mobbed him and threatened him. In the original language the word rendered "gathered" could be more accurately translated as "confronted" or "came against". I believe Aaron was afraid for his life. He was left in charge of the camp along with his brother-in-law Hur, but two men aren't capable of maintaining order over such a large number of people if the people aren't interested in having order maintained. If the people have so easily given up on Moses' return, and if they've so quickly turned against God, it wouldn't take much for violence to break out if Aaron refuses their request. They are likely to kill him and appoint another priest in his place who will do what they want him to do. If Aaron doesn't acquiesce out of fear, then I have no explanation for why this man of God gives in and fashions a sinful image.

In response to their request, this is what Aaron does: "Aaron answered them, 'Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.' So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool." (Exodus 32:2-4a)

While Moses has been on the mountain the Lord has been providing him with the instructions for the making of the tabernacle and all the items it will contain. Many of these items are to be plated with gold. The people came out of Egypt with far more gold than that which is in their jewelry wardrobe; the Egyptians lavished them with fine gifts before the exodus began, perhaps in an attempt to appease the God who had brought the plagues upon their land. Going by the conversation we've been studying between the Lord and Moses, it's clear that a great deal of gold will be needed for the tabernacle furnishings. In order to obtain this gold for the tabernacle, melting down the jewelry of a crowd that numbers around two million would have been easier and more practical than melting the gold off of plated bowls and platters and pitchers. At least the bowls and platters and pitchers have other uses than just adornment. But here we find the people using their gold jewelry (which serves no purpose other than adornment) for an unholy purpose and this made me think about how many times in life we use our God-given gifts in the wrong ways. Everything He gives us is intended to be used for His glory and in His service to point the unbelieving world to Him for salvation. I'm not saying we can't have hobbies that aren't religious in nature. But while enjoying our hobbies or further developing our talents we can still be about our Father's business. 

If we attend classes to improve on our artistic painting abilities, for example, we'll be in class with other people who have similar interests and those similar interests can provide a basis for forming friendships. Over time, those people will see Christ in us. Our shared hobby puts us on a common ground with them that allows us to demonstrate the love of Christ to them in both word and deed. Another example of using our talents for the Lord would be if we possess a magnificent singing voice. Did God give us that voice so we can sing songs about sitting in honky tonks drinking beer? Or did He give us that voice to sing about Christ? For another example, if we have the gift of beautifully-worded persuasive speaking, did God give us that talent so we can argue with others, have the last word, and always get our way? Or was it so we can put forth a calm, loving, well-thought-out explanation of the gospel message and about man's sinfulness and man's need of a Savior? I'm not saying we can't paint pictures that aren't religious or that we can't ever sing pop songs or show tunes or that we can't use our talents for fun in our daily lives or to do a good job at our workplaces, but I'm saying that the primary reason God gifts us with anything is so we can use our gifts to lead others to salvation. If we begin to look at everything we do as an opportunity to show Christ to others, then we'll find that even while enjoying leisure activities or working with our hobbies there will be opportunities to connect with people in a meaningful way. 

In our current chapter of Exodus we see the people using things the Lord has blessed them with (in this case, jewelry made of a precious metal) for a sinful purpose instead of reserving these fine items for the Lord's use. In Exodus 25 the Lord instructed Moses to take up an offering when he returned to the camp so there would be enough gold to plate the items needed for the tabernacle. But before Moses even returns, we find the people giving up their gold for something that doesn't honor the Lord or point anyone to Him for salvation. On the contrary, forming an idolatrous image with the gold does nothing but point people away from the Lord.

Things are looking bad right now in the camp. They're going to get worse before Moses returns. And God is going to conclude that making a godly nation out of this group is hopeless and He's going to walk away from them, right? No, and I'm so glad He didn't! I'm so glad He didn't walk away from them and I'm glad He didn't walk away from me either. No one could fault Him for it if He had, but He keeps working with Israel and He keeps working with you and me too! 

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Exodus. Day 116, The Golden Calf, Part One

Moses is soon to return to the Israelite camp. He's been on the mountain with the Lord for forty days and forty nights. During that period of time his brother Aaron and brother-in-law Hur have lost control of the situation in the camp. 

You'll recall what a fearsome sight it was when the glory of the Lord descended on Mount Sinai in smoke and fire and lightning and thunder. You'll recall how the people trembled at the voice of God, so much so that they begged Him not to speak to them directly but to relay His instructions by Moses. As we'll see in our study today, sometime during Moses' sojourn on the mountain the people fearfully concluded he either perished in the fiery blaze of glory or else he decided his responsibilities were too much and took off for parts unknown. The notion that they've lost Moses has caused a complete breakdown of peace and order in the camp. With him out of their sight, many of them have fallen into doubt and despair. I can think of a couple of likely reasons why this happened.

First, I think they had their eyes on Moses more than they had them on the Lord. I think they trusted Moses more than they trusted the Lord, which isn't saying much since they regularly found fault with Moses. Their trust in Moses was tenuous at best; he just barely managed to keep things from descending into chaos, so we can see why they weren't willing to accept either Aaron or Hur as a substitute for him. But at least while Moses was present there was a fairly consistent routine. While he was present there was someone they could see and touch who was the Lord's spokesperson. But with Moses out of their sight they began to doubt the faithfulness of the invisible God because up til now they've placed more faith in the one they could see than in the One they can't see. This should be a lesson to us all because we are never to place more trust in a human being than we place in God. Human beings will let us down whether they intend to or not. If my faith relies on how well my pastor represents the Lord, my faith could easily falter if my pastor says or does something that offends me. If I'm following the example of a fellow Christian more than I'm following the example of Jesus Christ, and if that person messes up in a way that distresses me, I may come to the false conclusion that God has let me down when instead it's my fellow human being who has let me down. Don't get me wrong, it's wonderful to have godly friends and godly role models, but our faith must never depend on these people. They're imperfect human beings just like we are and they are going to make mistakes just like we do. When they mess up----and they will mess up sometimes and offend us or hurt our feelings----we can't let that throw a wall up between us and God. We can't let their behavior make us angry at God, which brings me to my second theory for why things in the Israelite camp fell apart so quickly.

I think they are angry at God. Although He brought them out of a land of slavery, it was the only land they'd ever known. Life there may not have been pleasant but at least it was familiar and predictable. Have you ever heard the saying, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't?" What it means is, it's better to keep dealing with the familiar (even if the familiar isn't terrific) than to trade the familiar for the unknown which may not be any better. Confused and afraid, right now the people would rather go back to the devil they know (Egypt) than to keep pressing forward into the unknown without their visible human leader and without a clear picture in their minds of how things are going to work out for them in the promised land. So I think they're angry with God for bringing them out of Egypt into the wilderness by the hand of Moses whom the Lord has urged them to trust but who now appears to have run away or been killed on the mountain. They are having a crisis of faith, just like they had when they didn't immediately find a water source and said, "Why did the Lord bring us out of Egypt to kill us with thirst in the wilderness?" Remember when they had used up their food supplies and weren't sure where their next meal was coming from and they said, "Why did the Lord bring us out of Egypt to kill us with hunger in the wilderness?" And remember when they got to the Red Sea and realized they were being pursued by Pharaoh's army and felt they were trapped between the army and the sea and concluded the Lord had brought them to this location to kill them, saying, "It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!" Every time a difficulty crops up they accuse the Lord of having evil intentions toward them and I think the difficulty of having Moses absent is no different. They believe they're on their own. They think the Lord either allowed Moses to leave them or the Lord allowed Moses to die, but either way they see this as a betrayal. Why would He bring them this far only to take their leader away from them? If He loves them, how could He let such a thing happen? 

They're completely wrong about what's going on, of course. While they're having suspicious thoughts about the God who loves them, God has been telling Moses of the wonderful plans He has for Israel and He's been directing Moses to build a tabernacle where He will come and meet with the people. He's been writing the tablets of the law so the people can form a functioning society and a fair legal system. Everything God has been doing has been for their benefit, but they misinterpret His intentions. They jump to conclusions---wrong conclusions. But don't we all do that? When we hit a rough patch in life, don't we start thinking things are only going to keep getting worse? Don't we fall into doubt and depression? We may not actually believe God has deserted us, but we may think He's not being fair to us, or we may feel like He's letting us down when actually He's working on our behalf. The work He does on our behalf isn't always pleasant for us but it's necessary. Having Moses be absent from the camp isn't pleasant for the Israelites but getting Moses off to himself is the only way the Lord could impart the laws and instructions Israel is going to need in the years to come. If Moses were present in the camp, daily judging disputes and legal cases, daily settling squabbles, and daily giving godly advice, when would he have had time to listen to the Lord? We learned earlier in Exodus that Moses barely had time to eat or sleep, much less spend a long period of quiet quality time on his knees in his tent speaking with the Lord. There's a purpose for Moses' absence and there's a necessity for Moses' absence, but the people interpret it as the Lord having evil intentions toward them. As a result they become angry and, perhaps as a way of "getting back" at God, they slip into idolatry. They don't want to serve the God who took Moses away from them so they make a shocking request of Moses' brother Aaron, the priest of the camp.

"When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, 'Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him.'" (Exodus 32:1) They no longer want to claim Moses as one of their own people but instead distance themselves mentally and emotionally from him by referring to him as "this fellow Moses" as if he is a stranger or an impostor. They're rejecting him in their hearts and by extension they are rejecting the God he serves and speaks for. 

Aaron also speaks for God as a priest of God, but the people appeal to him to fashion idols before which they can bow. And Aaron says no, right? Surely he stands firm in his faith and stands up for the living God and refuses to participate in this sinful venture, doesn't he? I wish that were the case. In tomorrow's study we'll see just how far into sin the entire camp, including Aaron, falls while Moses is gone. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Exodus. Day 115, Reminders About The Sabbath And The Giving Of The Tablets

Moses' time on the mountain with the Lord is coming to a conclusion. He's been with the Lord for forty days and forty nights while the Lord provided the instructions for the making of the tabernacle and all its furnishings. At the end of today's passage He will give Moses the two stone tablets containing the ten commandments, and I don't know whether the Lord worked on these tablets during the entire time He spoke with Moses on the mountain or whether He inscribed them at the very end of Moses' visit.

Before the Lord hands the tablets over He issues another reminder about observing the Sabbath. "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Say to the Israelites, 'You must observe My Sabbaths. This will be a sign between Me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.'" (Exodus 31:12-13)

Something important we need to note is that it's not the observance of the Sabbath that makes the people holy. It's not the keeping of any law or commandment that makes them holy. It's the Lord who makes them holy. No one but the Lord can consecrate the heart, which King David admitted in a prayer of repentance: "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." (Psalm 51:10) Church attendance is good for us as long as we remember that just warming a spot on the pew isn't saving our souls. The Apostle James pointed this out when he warned his readers, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (James 1:22) If we attend church we're going to hear the word of God but unless we allow it to have its way with our hearts we aren't going to benefit from it. Not everyone in the church is of the church. There are other reasons why a person might attend church other than having faith in the Lord. If they continue to attend and hear the word of God preached over and over but don't yield their hearts to it, their hearts are still impure because church attendance doesn't make them right with God----allowing God to transform them from the inside out (from the heart) is what makes them right with God. In this same way, the Israelites are to observe the Sabbath not because observing the Sabbath saves them but because observing the Sabbath honors the God who saves them.

"Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death." (Exodus 31:14-15) The observance of the Sabbath is so important for the people's sake that violating it leads to very harsh penalties such as death or excommunication. The Lord doesn't specify here what He considers a "desecration" of the Sabbath, but my background study indicates that many mainstream scholars believe this desecration means carrying out any type of idolatrous rituals. If that's the case then it would seem that the death penalty could be carried out upon anyone caught doing any of the following things on the Sabbath: praying to a pagan god, bringing an offering to a pagan god, observing any of the religious rites of the heathen tribes of Canaan or of Egypt where they so recently sojourned, or engaging in any type of occult practice including astrology, fortunetelling, or acting as a medium in an attempt to contact the spirit world.

Imposing the death penalty may sound like an extreme measure to us, but I think we have to keep in mind that idolatry leads to a far worse penalty than physical death. Idolatry leads to the death of the soul (not literal death but spiritual death: eternal excommunication from the presence of God) and that it may have been necessary to impose the death of the body upon anyone polluting the Israelite community with false doctrines. If false doctrines were allowed to creep in, more and more people would have gone astray and would have spent their lives alienated from God and would have had to spend eternity separated from Him. If one person in the community had to die to prevent many more from being lost and undone, then that is a penalty that is judged proper and fair by a holy God who wants no one to perish but wants everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) If a wicked, subversive doctrine can only be eradicated from the community by ridding the community of the idolatrous person perpetrating this deception, then that is what God says they must do. Thankfully we are not called to carry out such a penalty under the new covenant, but during the years when Israel was moving into and taking over the promised land from the idolatrous tribes there, they had to be constantly on guard against falling into idolatry themselves. They would never have become a nation at all if idolatry had been allowed to take root and grow, so the Lord gives them permission to uproot it wherever they find it.

The penalty for things that are considered "work" was also death in the early years of Israel's formation as a nation. Later in the Bible we'll get into what was considered "work" on the Sabbath. Certain tasks were necessary even on the Sabbath. People and animals still had to drink water and eat food on the Sabbath. The basic needs of people and animals still had to be taken care of and various small tasks had to be carried out in order to supply these needs. Mercy was intended to supersede the law, so a person wasn't to let his fellow man or his farm animals to go thirsty or hungry on the Sabbath. But by the time Jesus was born, the religious leaders had added to the list of prohibited activities until a person could barely do anything on the Sabbath---not even helping a person in desperate need. They had broken down and taken apart every single aspect of the law until they were worshiping the law more than they worshiped the God who gave it. They would go out of their way to observe all the stipulations they'd added to God's law, even if that meant denying mercy. This is why in the New Testament we regularly find them criticizing Jesus for healing people on the Sabbath and this is why we find Him calling them hypocrites. The religious leaders, of all people, should have been loving their fellow man and showing mercy to their fellow man. But instead they had lost the heart of the law and were concerned only with the letter of the law. They had let go of their personal relationship with God in favor of legalism. They had lost their compassion for their fellow man in favor of continually finding fault with their fellow man. 

"The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between Me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed." (Exodus 31:16-17) The Lord doesn't grow weary, according to the Scriptures, so He didn't need to "rest" in the way humans need to rest. He took the Sabbath day off because His creation work was complete. God was not finished working on behalf of human beings but His work of creating the universe and everything and everyone in it was finished. He took the Sabbath off to bask in the beauty of what He had created and to focus His sights lovingly on mankind. So as an example to us He rested on the Sabbath, for He knew if we didn't set aside a day of the week to focus on Him and to study His word and to grow in our relationship with Him, we might never set aside time to do these things. Our lives are very busy. We could find something to occupy us every minute of every day. It would be easy for us to drift away from spending any time with the Lord at all, so He set an example for us to follow so we would consider one day of the week holy. 

Think of this: the God who created us and who loves us and who focuses all His attention and energy on us only asks for one day of the week where we give our attention back to Him! He deserves so much more than that from us, yet He doesn't demand it. What a precious display of humility this is on His part! I see God the Son in this attitude, don't you? The Lord Jesus Christ said that anyone who had seen Him had seen the Father (John 14:9) and right here we get a glimpse of what He meant. Everything the Lord Jesus said and did was a display of the character of God the Father, and here we see that it wasn't only God the Son who had a humble attitude. God the Father, Almighty God, the Most High God, the Everlasting God, the Maker of all things, humbly asks us for just one day of the week to set aside all the things of the daily grind and focus our minds on Him. How can we not do this simple thing? It takes a great deal of arrogance to be unwilling to set aside some time out of our week to focus on the living God. It takes a great deal of arrogance to call upon Him only when we need help and to ignore Him the rest of the time.

"When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, He gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God." (Exodus 31:18) Moses is about to head back down the mountain with the tablets but all is not well in the camp. Things have taken a very bad turn while he's been gone and we'll take a look at what has happened and we'll discuss some reasons why it happened.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Exodus, Day 114, The Incense And Chosen Workers With Special Skills

The Lord provides the recipe for the special incense to be used in the tabernacle and then He commissions certain Israelites who are especially gifted to create all the things we have been studying.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Take fragrant spices---gum resin, onycha and galbanum---and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred.'" (Exodus 30:34-35) The gum resin mentioned here is believed to be from the tree which produces myrrh. It is used as a fixative to make fragrances last longer. Onycha is derived from grinding up mollusk shells and was (and still is) a typical ingredient in some incenses. Its purpose is to enhance the smell of the other ingredients. Galbanum is a milky white gum resin that exudes from the yellow flowers of a tall stalked plant indigenous to Africa. It has a fresh green scent of its own and it works as a fixative for the smell of the frankincense. The substance called "pure frankincense" is probably not the frankincense we're familiar with today, which is derived from fir trees, but was a substance derived from a special genus of the Boswellia tree found in Arabia and Somaliland.

The blending of these ingredients creates a substance solid enough to be ground up. "Grind some of it to powder and place it in front of the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the Lord. Whoever makes incense like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from their people." (Exodus 30:36-38) This incense is not for common use, just as the anointing oil we studied yesterday is not for common use. Anyone who makes these recipes for anything other than what the Lord prescribed is to be excommunicated from the assembly. 

Aaron was to burn some of this incense on the altar of incense every morning and every evening. It likely symbolized the prayers of God's people, as we discussed several days ago, and I think it also represents coming to God in the right attitude. The prayers of God's people should be as pleasing to His ears as the smell of this unique incense is to His nose. They are to come to Him in reverence and thankfulness, seeking His guidance in an attitude of submission that recognizes Him as sovereign over their lives, and relying upon His help to obey this command: "Be holy because I am holy." (Leviticus 11:44-45, Leviticus 19:2, Leviticus 20:7, 1 Peter 1:6)

We've talked before about all the gifts and talents that are needed to complete the tabernacle project. They're going to need to make fine linen and embroidered tapestries. They will need the skills of carpenters and metalworkers. They will have to call upon perfumiers to blend the anointing oil and the incense. A great deal of work and attention to detail will be involved in carrying out this project, but the Israelites have no need to call upon anyone outside of their community for help. The Lord has given each of them the talents necessary to fulfill His plans for their lives, and His plan for some of their lives is that they use their skills to produce the materials and furnishings of the tabernacle. "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills---to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts." (Exodus 31:1-5) It appears that this Bezalel is the chief artistic designer over the entire project and will be the person who oversees the creative work to be done. If Hur is the brother-in-law of Moses and Aaron, as some scholars believe, then Bezalel is their great-nephew. 

The Lord doesn't expect Bezalel to oversee the work all by himself. He appoints a man named Oholiab to be Bezalel's assistant. "Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him." (Exodus 31:6a) The job is too big for one person. The responsibility and the stress of making sure he gets it right could be overwhelming for Bezalel without someone to come alongside him to assist and support him.

The Lord granted special gifts and talents to these two men because it was His plan for their lives that they be in charge of the design and the production of all the components of the sanctuary. He also granted special gifts and talents to many other Israelites because of His intention to commission them to use their artisan skills to work on the tabernacle project. "Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent---the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand---and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you." (Exodus 31:6b-11)

Not every citizen of Israel worked on the tabernacle project. It's believed they numbered around 2,000,000 at the time of the exodus and not all of them were called to be carpenters and metalworkers and tapestry makers and perfumiers. That doesn't mean that the skills they did possess were less important, just that the Lord grants gifts and talents to each person according to His plans for their life. We can't all be carpenters. Who would be farmers and grow our food? We can't all be metal workers. Who would raise flocks and herds? We can't all be perfumiers. Who would produce all the other products that make life more pleasant and convenient? There's no use in envying the gifts of others. Whatever gifts you have were given to you by the God who knew you long before you were ever born and who has a plan for your life and who knows what skills will be needed to fulfill that plan. The Apostle Paul warned against comparing ourselves to others (Galatians 6:4) and he encouraged each person to be happy with the gifts God has given them and to work continually on improving the gifts God gave them.

There are talents I wish I had but the Lord didn't choose those particular talents for me because they are not necessary for the path He has chosen for my life. That doesn't mean I should feel bad about myself or compare myself to others. On the contrary, I should be thankful for the abilities God gave me. He thoughtfully and carefully chose them for me. To consider my own skills as "less than" those of others is to harbor an ungrateful spirit. I think this attitude could also be regarded as rebellious because it's like saying, "I'd rather follow my plans than the Lord's plans." 

Whatever skills and abilities you have, be grateful for them. Work at continually improving upon them. Use them for God's glory. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Exodus. Day 113, The Bronze Basin And The Anointing Oil

As we move on through Chapter 30 we're looking at some additional objects housed at the sanctuary. Today we'll talk about the bronze basin where the priests are to wash their hands and feet and we'll study the recipe and the purpose of the anointing oil.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it.'" (Exodus 30:17-19) Before these men minister in the presence of the Lord they are to wash their hands and feet for His service. They've walked the dusty desert floor to reach the tabernacle, which may symbolize walking through this world and the dirt of the world clinging to their feet. The dust and the deeds of this world are clinging to their hands. By washing they are acknowledging that they serve a holy God and must not go about their duties with the filth of the world upon them but must perform their duties with clean hearts and clean hands.

Some scholars believe the basin held water in two receptacles---one at waist level to wash the hands and one at foot level to wash the feet---so the priests didn't have to climb into it to wash their feet or so they wouldn't have to lift one foot up into the basin at a time, as this would have looked very undignified. An artist's concept of what this type of basin may have looked like is inserted below.
Not only do these men have to wash when they arrive at the tabernacle, but they will have to wash again before presenting certain types of offerings to the Lord. "Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come." (Exodus 30:20-21) The Bible doesn't say why these men would fall dead if they didn't undergo the ceremonial washing each time but I think it likely has to do with them needing to maintain a reverent attitude toward the Lord and toward the enormous responsibility of the office they hold. Just as we wouldn't walk into the Lord's house to help conduct a service while wearing the raggedy, sweaty and dirty clothes we just mowed the lawn in, we shouldn't walk and talk and do deeds in His name with dirty minds and dirty hearts. If we don't daily stay in communion with the Lord and allow Him to clean up whatever needs cleaning up in our lives, we are going to have trouble being very effective servants for Him. If we're trying to witness about Christ to others but they see glaring examples of unholy living in our lives, they're hardly going to want to listen to us.

Now the Lord provides the recipe for the anointing oil. "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant calamus, 500 shekels of cassia---all according to the sanctuary shekel---and a hin of olive oil. Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil. Then use it to anoint the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law, the table and all its articles, the lampstand and its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the basin with its stand. You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy.'" (Exodus 30:22-29) The shekel, or at least the type accepted at the sanctuary, was believed to have weighed about 1/5 of an ounce.

"Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve Me as priests. Say to the Israelites, 'This is to be My sacred anointing oil for the generations to come. Do not pour it on anyone else's body and do not make any other oil using the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred. Whoever makes perfume like it and puts it on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from their people." (Exodus 30:30-33) Other types of anointings are carried out in the Bible. For example, anointing oil was used on the head of a newly selected king---often long before his actual coronation, on the day when he is made the heir-apparent to the throne. For example, the prophet Samuel anointed David as the future king of Israel approximately fifteen years before David assumed the throne. Anointing oil is also used in the Bible when praying over the sick. In fact, my own church and many others still follow the practice of anointing the sick as outlined in James 5:14. From time to time a church member who is very ill or who is facing a major surgery will request to be anointed by the pastor. The pastor will take his small bottle of olive oil and anoint the forehead of the sick person, then the pastor and elders of the church will gather around the person in a circle, each with a hand on the person's shoulder or upper back, and they will pray to the Lord for healing. Usually a number of other church members form a larger circle around the inner circle to add their prayers. But the recipe given here in Exodus 30 is to be used for the priests alone. They are consecrated and set aside to perform special duties for the Lord and their anointing oil is to be different than the types used for other occasions. If someone cooks up and uses this recipe for a purpose other than anointing the priests, the Lord says that person is to be "cut off", meaning excommunicated from the assembly.

In the Bible we find oil symbolizing the Holy Spirit. By being anointed with oil the priests are vowing to be led by the Holy Spirit. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit, or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is likened to being anointed with oil because being anointed with oil signified blessing and approval. We cannot effectively minister to others or be a godly example to others if we are not being led by the Holy Spirit. Have you ever heard the terms "anointed preaching" or "anointed teaching" used when someone delivers a message that feeds our souls or fills us with gratitude or reveals to us a message from the Lord? What we're saying is, "The Holy Spirit was in that message! It spoke to me." What we're saying is, "The Holy Spirit revived my spirit and renewed my energy." Or, "The Holy Spirit revealed to me something I needed to repent of." Or, "The Lord answered my question about which path to take." When these priests undergo the anointing with this special oil, they are promising to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit. They are saying they will go about their duties at the tabernacle in the right spirit. They are making up their minds to minister to the people of Israel in the right spirit. Later, when the Scriptures begin to be written down, they are to study God's word in a listening, expectant attitude so the Holy Spirit.

We can follow these men's example by reverently and humbly inviting the Holy Spirit to speak to us anytime we pray or study God's word. That's how King David studied the word of God, for we find him praying this prayer: "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law." (Psalm 119:18)

Monday, July 20, 2020

The Exodus. Day 112, The Atonement Money

Today's passage involves the subject of atonement. We pick up where we left off yesterday---discussing the altar of incense---and we move on into what is called the atonement money.

Regarding the altar of incense the Lord says, "Once a year Aaron shall make atonement on its horns. This annual atonement must be made with the blood of the atoning sin offering for generations to come. It is most holy to the Lord." (Exodus 30:10) This annual Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is the one day a year the high priest would go behind the curtain and anoint the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant with blood from the sacrifice for sin. Once he had done that, he was to emerge and anoint the altar of incense with some of the same blood. We find more details about this in Leviticus 16, "Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull's blood and some of the goat's blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites." (Leviticus 16:18-19)

Why does the altar of incense need to be cleansed? I think perhaps for the same reason we speculated the altar for sacrifice needed to be cleansed: it was made by human hands and it was used by human hands. The incense placed upon this altar was mixed by human hands. I tried to find commentaries and opinions regarding the need for cleansing and didn't come up with anything, so I can't say for certain what the reason was, but since the Bible says it must be consecrated "from the uncleanness of the Israelites" we can safely conclude that it somehow became tainted by its proximity to human beings. And if, as we discussed yesterday, the incense burned on this altar symbolizes prayer, we must consider the fact that human beings sometimes pray in the wrong attitude and with selfish motives. The Apostle James once stated that the reason we don't always receive affirmative answers to our prayers is because we "ask with wrong motives". (James 4:3) Prayers prayed in the wrong spirit may have polluted the altar of incense, causing it to need reconsecrating once a year.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay to the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them." (Exodus 30:11-12) When we arrive at the book of Numbers we will find two incidences of this type of census taking place. There is also an account of a census in 2 Samuel 24 that occurs when King David sinfully takes a census of the people. David does it not for the purpose of each person giving half a shekel to the tabernacle for the Lord's use but to number how many able-bodied men were available to fight in Israel's army. As a result of David's sin, three days of plague fell on the nation.

David sinned in at least two ways in 2 Samuel 24. First, the reason for taking a census was not to estimate how many men were available for the army. David displayed a lack of faith in the protection of the Lord when he felt compelled to count and take comfort in the number of men able to take up a sword and fight for the nation. Second, when a census was being taken it was to number the people belonging to the Lord, for no king or priest or prophet or anyone else "owned" the citizens of Israel. David counted these men as though they were his and he did it in a spirit that discounted the value of their souls and reduced them (in his mind) to nothing but soldiers who were expendable if necessary. But these were not David's people; they were the Lord's people. The purpose of the census is to count the Lord's people, and each person counted will be required to pay half a shekel to the tabernacle to "redeem" his life; in other words, to acknowledge that he belongs completely to the Lord and that he owes the Lord his all but that he has failed to perfectly devote himself to the Lord. The Apostle Peter alluded to the atonement money of the census when he compared paying this ransom (a thing which would occur over and over) to the eternal once-and-for-all ransom Christ paid for us: "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:18-19) The atonement money paid following a census foreshadowed the atonement Christ would make on the cross; therefore the practice of taking the census and paying the atonement money was to be done reverently and exactly in the manner the Lord prescribed. David failed to obey the Lord and as a result the plague the Lord warned about in Exodus 30:12 fell on the nation.

As each person is counted for the census, he pays his ransom. "Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give half a shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. All who cross over, those twenty years old or more, are to give an offering to the Lord. The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives." (Exodus 30:13-15) Each person pays the same amount because each person is equally valuable in the Lord's eyes. The rich aren't worth more to Him than the poor, so throwing more money into the offering plate isn't going to make the rich "more saved" or "more worthy" than their poor neighbor who can only bring half a shekel. Redemption costs the same for each human soul, whether rich or poor, so each person is to bring the same offering to the tabernacle. In this same way, the redemption of our souls through Christ was obtained by the same price: His blood. The same blood that saves you also saves me. The same blood that saves somebody listed on the Forbes 500 saves somebody who is barely scraping by from week to week. We have all sinned. We all need redemption. Redemption is offered to us all by the same method.

"Receive the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the tent of meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord, making atonement for your lives." (Exodus 30:16) This money goes to the Lord's house, which is a place we should regularly bring our offerings.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Exodus. Day 111, The Altar Of Incense

We are moving on into Chapter 30 and today we will be studying the altar upon which Aaron, the high priest, will offer incense morning and evening.

"Make an altar of acacia wood for burning incense. It is to be square, a cubit long and a cubit wide, and two cubits high---its horns of one piece with it. Overlay the top and all the sides and the horns with pure gold, and make a gold mounting around it." (Exodus 30:1-3) The description of the altar of incense is very similar to that of the altar for burning sacrifices. These two altars, plus the Ark of the Covenant and the table for the bread, will go well together and will be carried in the same manner. "Make two gold rings for the altar below the molding---two on each of the opposite sides---to hold the poles to carry it. Make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold." (Exodus 30:4-5) Below I'm inserting an artist's drawing of what the altar of incense may have looked like.
When we select furnishings for our houses we usually select items that go together. I feel like we have something in common with the Lord because here in Exodus we find Him doing the same thing in His house that we do in our own houses: He's having furnishings made that blend together harmoniously.

The Lord not only directs the making of the tabernacle items but He also directs their placement within the tabernacle. "Put the altar in front of the curtain that shield the ark of the covenant law---before the atonement cover that is over the tablets of the covenant law---where I will meet with you." (Exodus 30:6) The altar of incense is very close to the Most Holy Place. It's the final piece of furniture before reaching the curtain that separates the Most Holy Place from the remainder of the tabernacle.

Aaron (and each high priest who succeeds him) is to offer incense on this altar twice a day. "Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come." (Exodus 30:7-8)

The smell of this incense masked any unpleasant smells in the tabernacle or its enclosure that might have arisen from the offerings that were brought. In addition many scholars think the incense symbolized prayer, citing examples from the books of Psalms and Revelation. David said to the Lord, "May my prayer be set before You like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice." (Psalm 141:2) David was not a priest and it would not have been lawful for him to go into the tabernacle and burn incense on the altar or burn the evening or morning sacrifice. But he could symbolically make these offerings to the Lord by going to Him in prayer and by praising and thanking Him with upraised hands. The words of the Apostle John also give us a clue that the Lord regards our prayers as sweet smelling incense. When John was given the visions of Revelation by the Lord Jesus Christ, he saw golden bowls of incense and he was told that this incense was "the prayers of God's people". (Revelation 5:8)

If the incense on the altar in the tabernacle truly does represent prayer, then we can easily see why this altar is the closest object to the curtain behind which resides the atonement cover (also known as the mercy seat). The inner room that contained the mercy seat was considered the closest thing to heaven on earth because the glory of the Lord is going to descend upon it. Though the Lord is everywhere, during the years while the tabernacles stands He is going to be "more present" in the inner room than He is anywhere else on earth. The incense is offered on an altar right outside the curtain to the inner room because the smoke of the incense (like the prayers) is going to enter in behind the curtain into the very presence of God. In this same way, our own prayers enter into the Most Holy Place of heaven where God sits enthroned eternally. Just as no one could ever enter the Most Holy Place on earth except the high priest once a year with a blood offering, no one but the Lord Jesus Christ could enter the Most Holy Place in heaven once and for all with His own blood offering. But because the high priest could enter in, he symbolically took all the people he represented in with him. The prayers the people prayed and the prayers the high priest prayed on their behalf entered in behind the curtain. And when Christ entered the Most Holy Place in heaven, He symbolically took with Him everyone He represents---everyone who will ever place their trust in Him. Christ is now seated at the right hand of God where He continually intercedes for us. (Isaiah 53:9, Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25)

Soon in our study of Exodus the Lord will provide the recipe for the specific type of incense that is to be burned on this altar. Other types of incense and other types of offerings will not be acceptable upon this altar.  "Do not offer on this altar any other incense or any burnt offering or any grain offering, and do not pour a drink offering on it." (Exodus 30:9) In Leviticus 10 two of Aaron's sons are going to pay with their lives for making the poor decision to bring to the Lord an unacceptable offering of incense and fire. There is no excuse for them doing such a thing. These two priests---who are sons of the high priest---know the correct recipe by heart. They know that the Lord has the right to choose what is acceptable and what is not, yet they will openly defy Him. Their judgment is so harsh, I think, because of the office they hold. Their influence over the people is so great and the example they set is so important that if the Lord allowed them to approach Him by any other means than that which He has carefully described, the people would have begun to treat their relationship with the Lord too casually to have any real relationship with Him at all. It's true that the Lord is our friend, but it's also true that He is holy, and we cannot honestly say we are in a friendship with God unless we respect Him. We respect the feelings and the boundaries of our human friends, don't we? If we don't, they aren't going to want to be our friends for very long. Nobody is going to want to be our friend if we only care about ourselves and are just using them for our own benefit. Have you ever heard the expression, "With friends like that you don't need enemies"? A person with a bad friend is no better off than if he had an enemy. In the same way, we aren't establishing a friendship with God if we don't respect His feelings and boundaries. We might as well call ourselves His enemies because God---like us---doesn't need friends who don't actually care about Him.

We can compare the bringing of this strange and unlawful incense to the modern idea that there are "many paths to God" and that man is to choose his own path and find his own way. There is absolutely nothing in the Holy Bible to back up such a notion. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament we find God clearly laying out the path to Him. If there were "many paths to God" then why was there such a strict, highly detailed religious system in the Old Testament? If there were "many paths to God" then why did Christ sacrifice Himself in the New Testament? What a waste all this would have been if there were many paths to God! But since God is God, and since His word is law, and since He will have the last word on everything, He is the only One who has the right to choose how we are to approach Him. He is the only One who can choose what type of offering is acceptable to Him. He has chosen His Son! It's only by God the Son, who shed His blood for us, that we can approach God's mercy seat. It's only the blood of Christ applied to our hearts that makes us acceptable in the sight of a holy God. It's only our faith in Christ that makes our prayers smell like sweet incense to God and it's only our faith in Christ that makes an offering out of the empty hands we lift heavenwards in praise. Nothing else will do, which is why the Lord Jesus Christ clearly pointed out the one and only path to God: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6)

Amen! He couldn't have made it any simpler. We're not left to our own devices to try to figure out the way of salvation. We're not stumbling about blindly in the dark hoping to find a doorway that lets us through to the presence of God. We've been told the one way to God, and that one way is offered to every human being on the face of the earth. No one is excluded or disqualified from coming to God through Christ. No matter who you are, where you've been, or what you've done, you're invited to become a child of God through the one way into His presence and heart.