The Grace of God

What is God’s grace? Is it many things? One thing? Well we surely know that without it, we would not have a path to Him. You usually hear unmerited favor in conjunction with grace, which can be further boiled down to receiving something that you simply do not deserve.

Let us look at some passages in the New Testament where we can see the Grace of God in action:

  • The grace of God was upon Jesus in his early years, supplying Him with what He would need later to become our Savior.
    • Luke 2:40: “And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”
  • In Acts, there are a number of instances where it mentions how apostles were connected or commended to the Grace of God. References made to the results of God’s grace are also mentioned as something that can be seen and recognized. In Acts 11:19-23, we learn about the spiritual landscape amidst Christian persecution.
    • Acts 11:19-23: “Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.”

The grace of God in that passage is something that can be witnessed, it is the result of preaching and teaching, the aftereffect of people having their hearts exposed to God’s Word and the Holy gospel. When Barnabas saw the results of their preaching, he was glad. Notice also that it says that the Hand of the Lord was with the Hellenists when a great number believed. Here the Grace of God is expressed as God’s making a path so that His Word and its’ influence could grow.

  • Now let us take a look in Acts 13:43: “Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.”

Here in chapter 13, the grace of God is mentioned as a path of service for the Lord. Paul and Barnabas were encouraging the Jews and proselytes to continue believing in Christ and in God’s plan, because it would ultimately bring them salvation (Titus 2:11).

  • In Acts 14:24-26: “And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.”

Finally here in Acts 14 we see that Paul and Barnabas’ ultimate responsibility was really to bring souls to Christ. Because of their having completed this work, the grace of God brought them back to Antioch, where they could continue.

These examples from the book of Acts are important because they show God’s grace in action. As the apostles are spreading Christ’s gospel, God is also heavily involved, working to clear obstruction, give love and encouragement and ensure that the path is free and clear for willing souls to receive Christ. God’s grace is embedded in every step of the salvation process!

  • It was by God’s grace that Paul was able to leave a life of persecuting Christians and make the contributions he was able to make. Despite his hard work, he was ultimately blessed with the title of “apostle.” As a prime example, Paul leaves the credit where it belongs, with God.
    • I Corinthians 15:10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
  • In Hebrews 2:9, we see the Grace of God allowing Jesus to die for us all.
    • Hebrews 2:9: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.”
  • But we must also remember that the grace of God is something that we must reach for. Yes, it is true that God has made a way for us to reach Him, but access to His grace requires action on our part. We must become a Child of His through baptism and we must also maintain our stature as His children through a devout and righteous life. Heed the message in Hebrews 12:12-15.
    • Hebrews 12:12-15: “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;”
  • And our spiritual gifts are also given to us by His grace. Using them is a great blessing and honor. Let us read from I Peter, in chapter 4, verses 7-11.
    • “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

If we are His children, we are living in His grace, right here and now. We should never forsake that grace through bad choices, ill behavior or lack of love for one another. It is sometimes easy to forget this truth. Let us do what we can to remind ourselves continually that we are all living as Christians by God’s grace.

The Power of His Word

The Power of His Word

Tonight I would like to take a few minutes to speak to you about your Bible. God’s communication to mankind in general, and to you specifically. Like no other book on earth, God’s Holy Word at once inspires, comforts, relieves and convicts us. In it is the best plan for a righteous life. It doesn’t promise lack of trouble, nor does it promise material blessings. But it does show us the best way through this life, the way to go home.

Attributes of God’s Word (just a few)

  • Life-Giving: Reading the word, ingesting it and keeping it fresh in our minds renews and makes right our attitude towards the world and towards others. When we do not keep our mind submerged in the Light of the Word, we are exposed to corruption, and it comes from both without and within us.

John 5:24: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”

God’s Word brings life. Romans 8:6: “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” How to best remain in a perpetual state of spiritual mindedness? Expose yourself to the Word of the Lord.

  • Truth: Some men and women will search for truth all their lives. They will utter mantras, devote themselves to service and goodness, rely on the flawed faith of their fathers and of their nation. People will seek youth, meaning in entertainment, meaning in their work, meaning in their family. Comfort in food, in books, in rest. People will seek the supposed high wisdom of other people and will relish in others’ misfortunes. But the only thing that can set any one of us free is the inimitable truth of God’s Word.

John 8:28-32: Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” As He spoke these words, many believed in Him. Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

If we abide in His word, we are his disciples and we shall know the truth and we shall be free of the encumbrances of sin.

  • Divisive: It forces us to make a choice. In Luke Chapter 11, Jesus gives us the Lord’s prayer and many effective parables. In verses 14-23, Jesus gives us the principle that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Luke 11:14-23: “And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub,[e] the ruler of the demons.” Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven. But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”

If Jesus is casting out demons by the power of another demon, that would mean that Satan would be destroying his own work. But Jesus remonstrates that He is the One with the power, that He is the one that will conquer Satan. And the closing of this parable, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” Is telling in its meaning; the Word of the Lord divides men. Some will respond, others will turn away. The actions of those who respond: positive: gathering. The actions of those who resist: negative: scattering.

Which one are you?

In conclusion, the Words of Christ and God’s communication to us through the writings of inspired men bring us everything we need in this life to prepare us for the life to come. Using God’s Word as your crutch will make your legs stronger than they ever could have been before. But put down God’s holy word and your legs once more become feeble and weak, leading you to places that you do not desire to go.

Hebrews 4:12-16: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Through God’s Word we know of Jesus, our Savior, our answer. And finally, I’ll leave you with two last verses. If not for the love of righteousness and the desire to live a holy life, then we ought to be encouraged to read our Bibles through these two verses:  2 Corinthians 5:9-10: “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad”

Turning Point

When we look back at our lives before we decided to follow Jesus, each of us had a turning point. There was a point where we realized we had sin between us and the grace of God. Repentance requires us to turn from sin and towards God.

But compare this with Jesus. Jesus had no turning point. He was always going to do the Will of the Father.

Consider Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. His prayers were not that He escape the upcoming ordeal, but that it might be possible for God to change His mind. As far as the scriptures teach, Jesus never did consider going contrary to God’s will for Him. In every instance, His plan was to do the will of the Father. It might not have been what Jesus wanted to do, but Jesus did what God wanted in every case.

Matthew 26:39-44: “He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.”

Jesus was dedicated to God’s will. He was dedicated to remaining close to God during this strenuous time.

Also, when Jesus was tempted by Satan in Matthew 4, reading the verses where Jesus resists the temptations again and again, we get the sense that Satan never really had a chance at succeeding in getting Jesus to use His divinity for anything other than the Will of God. In Matthew 4:

Verse 4: “But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

Verse 7: “Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”

Verse 10: “Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”

What sacrifice He gave! Not just once, but His entire life Jesus was sacrificing Himself for the sake of others, indeed for the sake of each one of us. It brings shame to the penitent heart when we consider how we will allow our own wills to dictate our decisions, rather than considering the will of Almighty God.

Tonight, consider your turning point. Is it in the past, or is it in the future? For most of us, it’s both.

Exodus 21: Judgments

There are three distinct sections of this chapter, and while the information contained is part of the Old Testament Law (the Torah), it is not the same type of all-encompassing-laws that we read of in Exodus 20 and the Ten Commandments. The laws in this chapter around servants, violence and animal control are what are referred to as judgments, case law, or casuistic law. This means that the laws were created by God in response to specific recurring issues and problems that the Israelites were experiencing. The issues caused God to relay a judgment on each specific matter so that when these issues arise in the future, God’s pre-defined laws will prevent conflict and provide resolution. These laws also served to protect His chosen people in times of dispute, conflict, and injury.

Verses 1-11: Servants

This period in human history is very far removed from our own in terms of cultural development, human rights, and what was generally acceptable. At the time, a crisis such as being severely in debt could prompt a person to become a servant (or slave). These eleven verses address what should be the circumstance for when one of God’s people, a Hebrew, should become a servant.

Verses 2-6 say that a Hebrew servant should not willingly serve any longer than the seventh year. Sensible laws around leaving with or without his family at the time of the seventh year are stated. If the servant wished to remain after the seventh year, he can do so, but he must pledge his servitude to his master for the rest of his life and also symbolize this pledge by having his ear nailed to the doorpost of his master.

Laws concerning female servants are detailed in verses 7-11. Substantively, these laws and the others described in verses 2-6 grant Hebrew servants more rights than they would have normally. What these laws on servanthood do is essentially still allow for Hebrews to use servanthood as a means to pay off heavy debt but they also remove much of the terrible risk of insult, injury, loss and death that were likely to occur if these laws were not in place.

Verses 12-27: Violence

For certain violent acts, the punishment is death:

  • Kidnapping and kidnapping with intent to sell
  • Premeditated murder
  • Cursing father or mother
  • Striking father or mother

For violent acts that do not result in death, God has determined certain punishments and conditions:

  • If a man kills another man without premeditation, he must flee to another city
  • If one is the victim of violence, but recovers, the aggressor can go free, but he must pay the victim for the loss of his time and for his healing
  • If a man beats his male or female servant to death, he shall be punished, but if the servant recovers, there will be no punishment
    • For servants that experience severe wounds as the result of getting beaten by their masters, they will be set free (e.g., loss of eye or tooth)
  • If a pregnant female is hurt during the course of an altercation, that same hurt which the responsible party gave her will be imposed on him and his family / If she is unhurt, the woman’s husband will determine his punishment and a judge will determine how much he is to pay

Verses 28-36: Animal Control

The laws in this section are designed to protect man from both dangerous animals and irresponsible owners of animals. See verse 29 and notice the stress that is placed on a man being personally accountable:

“But if the ox tended to thrust with its horn in times past, and it has been made known to his owner, and he has not kept it confined, so that it has killed a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death.”

A man was to protect his fellow citizens and resolve the problem of a difficult animal before it was able to harm another person. Adversely, if a man did harm to another man’s animal through negligence (an ox falling into a pit to its death), the owner of the pit is responsible for making good the loss. The same principle applies to animals that hurt or kill other animals.

The root of all of these casuistic laws is personal responsibility: responsibility for the debts one creates, responsibility for your property, responsibility to treat others with fairness in all situations. If your intent is evil or your approach is negligent, you will experience consequences. We can see God’s plan for our lives in the principles in this chapter as it relates to dealing with other people. While the examples are specific, the applications are once again broad, just as we saw in the previous chapter for the Ten Commandments. God expects for us to be aware of the hurt we can cause and He expects for us to prevent it. It is the beginning of doing unto your neighbor as you would have them do unto you. If we cannot be accountable for our behavior, our actions, and the results of all of our decisions, who can? God expects us to think ahead about these things and to consider others as we predict the outcome of our decisions.

Although we are accountable for our bad decisions and for the harm they do others, we cannot make up for them in terms of the spiritual deficiency that they leave. Paying 30 shekels of silver for a lost ox makes it up to our neighbor, but the sin of breaking God’s law requires a sacrifice that will be shown to not have an earthly answer as this dispensation under Moses lives on. In fact, the answer will have to come from God Himself by way of a virgin mother.

Jesus’ Father

Tonight let’s explore for a moment what there might be to learn from the truth of Jesus’ lineage. In Matthew chapter 1, verses 1-16 we read of the bloodline that brought Christ to the world. Jesus’ genealogy begins with Abraham, which is fitting, as the covenant promises were first given to Abraham and renewed with Isaac and Jacob. It started with those men and was accomplished in Jesus that all of the nations of the earth would be blessed. There are many other genealogies in the Old Testament, but this one has a characteristic that distinguishes it greatly: it ends with a woman.

Why is it significant that Christ’s genealogy ends with Mary? Usually genealogies deal with and end at men; fathers are traditionally thought of as the authors of progeny. But this time is different. This bloodline mentions Joseph, but then merely refers to him as “the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.” It stops with Mary because Joseph was not Jesus’ father; God was. Verse 20 says “for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus’ physical father does not exist.

Another interesting component to Jesus’ genealogy is the inclusion of some that that we might not expect, considering that Jesus is the Son of God. In verse 3 of Matthew 1, we see  Judah listed.  Judah was decidedly less righteous than his brother Joseph. Why would Jesus’ earthly lineage not follow the most righteous of God’s people? Of course we can infer that Judah was not all bad and Joseph wasn’t perfect, but we know of both Judah’s behavior with Tamar and Joseph’s faith in God in Egypt, so, comparing the characters of these men, why would God choose to have Jesus’ earthly bloodline travel through Judah rather than Joseph? There are other such examples in Jesus’ genealogy; it would make sense to have the Son of God be borne through those with an inscrutable spiritual resume, right?

But the reality of this lineage is that it shows us God’s great capacity for mercy upon His people. The Abrahamic covenant came true in spite of the behavior of the descendants, not because of it. And Jesus descending from a lineage of chosen sinners is genuinely fitting considering the role he plays in the forgiveness of the sin of all mankind. In Jesus’ life, His divine birth is the first instance that compels us to believe He is the Christ; sacrificing His own life is the last. Because of these two great proofs, and all of the miracles, good news and revolutionary moral teaching that happened in between, we know our Savior and we believe. But there are many that do not. Doubters look at Christ, they look at the cross and they see a twisted fairy tale, the winningest version of “opiate for the masses” the world has yet known. We have an explanation for this in Romans 1:18-25:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

The application for this passage is wide, but I want us to think about how Satan would have us believe anything other than Christ’s divinity, no matter how ridiculous. He would have us believe that Christ was a mere man; that Jesus was a crazy zealot or a charismatic leader. This lie has persisted since the beginning of Jesus’ teachings and will likely persist until He returns. The idea that “A lie travels around the world before the truth can put its shoes on” endures because it is accurate. In the time of Christ, the popularity of His persecution compared with the small number of his followers proves it. Saul, the persecuting Pharisee, believed the lie that Christ was just a man and acted on it. Today, studies of truth and fabrication on social media prove that lies spread far faster than the truth. Only when Saul was blinded by the truth did he start working for the right thing. And only when one of us sees the truth in Christ do we also turn our lives around to begin living for the right thing. It is a change of identity.

Had it been possible for Jesus’ paternity to be tested, there would not have been a match to be found on the earth. Jesus was not half man and half God, but all man AND all God. The inexplicability of His birth adds to the miracle of His life and asks us to believe in what the world calls impossible foolishness. As believing Christians, we recognize the divinity of Jesus Christ. It is the fact upon which our faith rests. And if we believe in Christ as we rest in His embrace this morning at the table, we also must believe in the absolute authority and power that God has over all existence. If God could do such a thing, and we testify this morning that He did, God is bigger than the meager intellectual suppositions of the world. He is bigger than any institution, power, government, personality or intimidating force. He is bigger than the Churches of Christ, for He encompasses them. He is bigger than all we know. The sooner we bow to Him, the sooner He will work in both our temporal and eternal lives… Why are we here this morning? Surely not to fill a quota in our conscience, but to recognize the unbelievable … yet wholly believable blessing given to us by our Creator: Forgiveness through His perfect Son.

Exodus 20: Ten Commandments and the Law of the Altar

The time has come for the Lord to give His people instructions on how to live. The Ten Commandments and the other instructions that follow are a model for a successful society. Fairness, living in peace with your family and neighbors, and yielding to a higher power are themes that dominate mankind’s successful social experiments. God is teaching His people how He wants them to treat strangers, each other, and most importantly, Him.

The Ten Commandments, to a degree, are familiar to everyone. The guidance within them seems intrinsic now, since many of them have become bellwethers whose existence indicate the proliferation of a successful social structure. But at the time, this was all new information to the children of Israel. Most of the themes in the Ten Commandments would not have been a surprise. As we read through them, let’s pick out some of the overriding themes and guidance:

  • God is to be the number one deity and authority figure in their lives and His name is sacred
    • Man is to worship God, not the things that God created
    • Those who love God and keep His commandments will receive mercy
    • Those who hate Him will receive consequences across generations
  • Man was created in God’s image – thus will his work mimic God’s work and he will maintain the seventh day of the week as a day of rest and dedication to the Lord
  • Respect for life and property
    • Protecting the authoritative structure and love in a family is vital
    • Theft and covetousness are not tolerated
  • Honesty
    • Honest with yourself to appreciate what God has given you and not to desire what others have
    • Honesty in speech and deed

These rules, while simple, are far-reaching with many implications. The commandments are intentionally broad, which increases their application in both public and personal life. They are meant to keep the people respectful and fearful of God, but also respectful and kind towards one another. The boundaries of important relationships are drawn and specified, and again we can take a moment to marvel at these simple phrases that have deep and broad implications. For example, think of the infinite number of ways we are called upon to honor our father and mother. This is true from near infancy until the time of their death and even beyond as we honor our parents’ memories. Honoring father and mother is something that a two-year-old can learn and perform, yet must also be achieved by the unruly teenager. And when the honor is achieved, the ramifications are great in terms of example, mental health (for both parents and children), and happiness. Of course we must mention that positive intent must be at play, but that is not the point. The point is that God, in His truly infinite wisdom, is not just telling His people how to live in few words, He is telling them how to thrive. Each commandment has degrees of these far-reaching implications. Not a word was wasted. Of course, as we continue into the chapters ahead, there will be many words (some argue that they are of lesser value) commanding details of life and worship whose intents are more ambiguous than those of the Ten Commandments. But, with these ten simple guidelines, God has given the people a baseline of human interaction that is simple, easy to remember, and amazingly effective.

The people are just as terrified now as they were in chapter 19 when God came down on the mountain. The nearness of His presence was a weight that they could not bear. Something about the terror of His proximity compelled them to flee and they were afraid that if God spoke to them, they would die. The text is not specific, but we can feel their terror at the Lord. His nearness must have brought a feeling, a terror, that is ineffable: ““You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” Exodus 20:19

Moses calmly explains that God is impressing them with His power, instilling fear in them intentionally so that they are aware of his unmatched mighty power that compels obedience and worship. The people, for now seemingly convinced to avoid sinning against God, remain afar off from His presence.

This chapter ends with the first explicit command to sacrifice to God on an altar. You may remember references in earlier chapters of Moses wanting to go out to build an altar to the Lord while they were in Egypt, but this is the first direct command from God where He specifies that the people sacrifice to Him on an altar. Altars of earth and stone are specified. God has already made the rocks, so there is no need for the people to use their tools to “improve” on what the Lord has already made. Burnt offerings and peace offerings are mentioned, as is the fact that the altar should be at ground level to maintain the humility and purity of the environment. The worship of Canaanite gods involved sexually perverse rituals; nothing of this sort is permitted in the holy worship of the one and true almighty God.

This initial round of instruction is a preamble to many more chapters to come specifying other laws of living, construction of the tabernacle, feasts, and the like. But for now, with these Ten Commandments, we have our inkling for God’s Old Law for mankind in the Old Testament. At the time, though, these laws were anything but old.

Exodus 19: A Special Treasure

This is an amazing chapter. God has led His people away from a slave state and into the wilderness where He continues to care for them. It has been three months since God delivered them from Egypt. They have now traveled to the wilderness of Sinai and camped near the mountain there.

Moses goes to God and God is now ready to make a covenant with the people. This covenant will be different from the Abrahamic covenant, which is larger in scope. The Mosaic covenant’s specific terms are revealed in chapters 20 through 24 of Exodus. Included in this covenant are the Ten Commandments, laws about property, violence, and animals, the sabbath, feasts, and other guidance on living a peaceful and orderly lifestyle. This preamble in chapter 19 lays out the necessary and intense fear of the Lord that is part of the covenant. The Israelites have had firsthand experience with the power of the Lord and their fear of His power is a good part of the relationship. Not unlike a parent/child relationship, there is tender love but also fear at the other’s power to punish. The people are told to draw near to the Lord, but not too near, lest they perish by gazing at Him.

The Lord tells Moses to tell the people, “…if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for the earth is Mine.” The people said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”

The people are to be consecrated, or made holy for a specific purpose, to God, for three days before the Lord comes down upon Mt. Sinai. Being sanctified for God meant that the people would wash their clothes and abstain from sex. The people were not to touch the mountain; if they did, they would die. This commandment, or condition, of God’s coming to the people on Mt. Sinai is representative of His absolute holiness and power.

If the people were to be made holy simply so that they could be near the mountain, their purest holiness still would not allow them to even touch the large mountain, the top of which the Lord would come down on. If they did touch it, they were to be put to death, and that too, without any other Israelite touching them. Such was the strength of God’s presence and power.

On the third day, there was thunder, lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain. The loud trumpet frightened the people and the fear of the Lord was within them. Moses brought the people to the foot of the mountain. The entire mountain quaked and was enveloped in smoke as the Lord descended upon it in fire. The fire was exceedingly hot.

Verses 20-25 relate an exchange between Moses and the Lord where it is again stressed how important it is for the people to be consecrated before being close to the Lord, particularly priests.

This chapter is intense and dramatic, but does not include the theistic revelations that the following chapters will. If anything, it helps us to understand the extreme weight of God’s presence and power. There are of course other instances in the Bible where the strength of God is evident, but the proximity of so many people to the greatest source of power in the universe is eye-opening. Envision yourself as one of the Israelites in the crowd, looking up at the mountain, shrouded in smoke with thunder and lightning bombarding your senses as the sound of a trumpet mysteriously announces the presence of the one and only Almighty God.

Magnificent!

Exodus 18: Mankind Needs Authority

This chapter takes place in the afterglow of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. God had desired that all of the surrounding nations would hear of His greatness through their deliverance, and because He is God Almighty, they did hear. Jethro, priest of Midian and Moses’ father-in-law, comes to Moses and brings along Moses’ wife Zipporah, whom we last heard about in Exodus 4. Moses’ and Zipporah’s two sons Gershom and Eliezer also come. Moses and Zipporah must not have had a very amenable marriage after the events of the circumcision in Exodus 4:24-26. Her long absence in the Bible from Exodus 4 until Exodus 18 suggests that she lived with her father during the intervening years.

But Jethro, as the priest of Midian and living far away, has heard of the deeds that have been done to free God’s people. This proves that news of their freedom and the methods by which they were freed had spread far and wide. Hearing this, Jethro brought Moses’ family back to him. As the son-in-law, Moses is still subservient to Jethro after a fashion, and we see evidence of that in their greeting and in their communication. When Moses relates the recent events to Jethro, he gives the Lord all of the credit and takes none for his own. In fact, Jethro is now convinced of the Almighty God’s singularity and power in Exodus 18:11: “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.” As a priest of Midian, Jethro was more than likely a polytheistic priest, but after these events, news of which had spread all over the land, he is convinced that God is truly God over all.

The second half of this chapter shows us how desperately man needs a ruler. We need authority and governance and this passage underlines how difficult and taxing that can be to manage. As the nation’s figurehead, spiritual guru, leader, and relator of divine messages, Moses had a responsibility to judge the people and to make sure that they acted in line with the principles of God. As yet without the ten commandments and a structure by which to govern, Moses was left to oversee by default. Matters large and small were brought before him daily so that he could rule and decide what should happen for the questioning parties. As Jethro watches these hearings and judgments occur, he notices the toll it is taking on Moses and can see how, in the future, it will burn Moses out.

Jethro, in his mature wisdom, suggests that Moses teach the people about God and that he appoints men capable of judging over different-sized factions of the population. The two-pronged approach of teaching and appointing capable judges will greatly lessen the burden. With the absence of anything to refer to or a decree of some sort, the people needed guidance. Teaching the people the statutes, the laws, and how to live will help them to know for themselves what is wrong and what is right. The newly appointed judges (judging over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens) will help the people in matters that they are not able to handle for themselves – disputes, points needing clarity, and the like. There is a sort of implied hierarchy in this informal structure as well, where one supposes that the men more proficient at making judgments will oversee the higher number of people. These men will fear God, seek the truth, and hate covetousness. What a desirable triad of qualities we should all have!

But this need to disperse information and share the burden of oversight among capable men is a sort of precursor to the model of organization we see in the new testament church with deacons and elders. God recognizes that there are those among us that are prepared to guide, oversee and help, while there are others in His kingdom that need the benefits of these blessings. I Corinthians 12:4: “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function.”

Jethro’s advice boils down to what the business or manufacturing world thinks of as process improvement. Simplify and improve to use less energy to accomplish greater output.

The best and biggest lesson for us in this chapter is that at best, we need help to govern ourselves. This is true at the community level, the church level and the personal level. Even the most faithful Christian among us falters and needs guidance, or at least a shoulder to lean on. It is often quoted, but Jeremiah 10:23-24 categorically encapsulates our need for God’s Word to govern our lives: “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps. O Lord, correct me, but with justice; Not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing.”

Each of us needs loving yet difficult correction from God. Without Him, we are rudderless ships in a sea, seeking a port in the storm, rarely finding peace. And if we should find peace without God, it is shallow, fleeting, and brittle. Only the true, lasting peace that God offers through His infinite mercy can prepare us for the deep troubles of life.  

Exodus 17: The Need for Faith in Life and Battle

The chapter begins with the Israelites not believing that God will provide water. One might be able to understand them worrying about finding water, but when they were in need before, God provided. Also, God recently provided them with meat and continues to provide mana, so it is difficult to believe that they could be as dense as to question Moses, “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” Do they really still think that Moses brought them out of Egypt, even after the parting of the sea?

We must keep the Israelites’ attitude in mind in the context of their learning how to be a godly people. Even though they have recently witnessed the amazing miracles in Egypt, they are still mysteriously clueless to the idea that the Lord will continue to protect them, having brought them this far. In this chapter, we can boil down their mistakes to the following three points:

  1. Learning from their mistakes (faith in a water source)
  2. Lack of faith in their path (comparing Egyptian slavery with wilderness life)
  3. Recognizing the true source of authority (Moses vs. God)

Moses uses the question, “Why do you tempt the Lord?” when rebuking the Israelites because they are in essence tempting God to exact judgment on them when they do not properly recognize Him. God will provide water. God is the power behind Moses. If the Israelites recognize this, then they will give God His due as all-powerful and they will not be as the pagan nations whose gods are fabrications.

Next in this chapter is the fight against Amalek. The exact source of their conflict with Israel is unclear, but it is most likely simply that they wish to conquer and defeat this seemingly weak nomadic nation. You may remember that the Amalekites are descendants of Esau (Genesis 36:1, 12).

The Israelites prevail in the fight against the Amalekites because of God’s power in them. Moses holding his hands up was a visual indicator of the power of God residing in them during the battle. During the battle, as long as Moses held up his hand with the rod, Israel would win the battle. Moses, not a young man anymore, needed help for the duration of the battle to maintain his hand in the air. This chapter marks the first mention of Joshua, the young man that would be Moses’ successor. He is being trained and led by Moses to eventually lead the people of God.

To solidify the defeat, Moses is told by God to record it as a memorial that Amalek will be removed from memory. Just as Abraham and Isaac did, Moses built an altar to the Lord to celebrate his loyalty, dedication and faith.

This brief chapter once again reminds us that the Israelites are spiritual infants. Their faith is basically nonexistent even while God’s grace and mercy take center stage to save them from internal and external threats.

Exodus 16: Complaints and Blessings

The children of Israel are coming off of a big celebration after their fleeing Egypt. But almost instantly, they begin to complain against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. Their lamentations consist of their living conditions as nomads in the wilderness and the lack of food. They wish they were back in Egypt where they ate meat until they were full. The people accuse Moses and Aaron of bringing them to the wilderness only to kill them with hunger.

Frankly, it is easy to see both sides of the situation. With the benefit of hindsight, we can empathize with the Israelites. While they were in slavery in Egypt, they enjoyed a standard of living that seems comfortable. Food abounded, and it also appears that they could live together in good shelters as families. Now they are continuously mobile and food is scarce. God, who did so much to bring them out of Egypt, now seems to have abandoned them. They did not have a heritage of faith that we have and their relationship with God was worlds different than ours. It must have been easy for them to complain in this situation.

But in reality, we know that their complaints showed their lack of faith in the Lord. If God had done so much to save them, would He not then create a way for them to live safely with their newly given freedom? Recall how God led them out of Egypt on a path that did not confront other nations, so as not to intimidate the children of Israel back to their captors. As children of faith, these early followers of God have a lot to learn.

Moses and Aaron make the common-sense argument that when they complain, they are doing so against the Lord. But they still go to God with these concerns and God still allows for their lives. He makes provisions for bread and meat for them. With some specific instructions on how much and when to gather the manna, God makes His authority and the surrounding conditions of these blessings clear. Despite this, the Israelites still could not simply have faith in God and follow the instructions. In this chapter the Israelites displayed the following traits:

  • Lack of gratitude
  • Misunderstanding of the full import of God’s blessing
  • Misunderstanding of the full import of God’s plan

But God’s love is so great and His mercy is boundless. He continues blessing the Israelites, providing mercy and sustenance to them despite their unappreciative attitude.

In this chapter, the Lord makes a reference to His commandments and His laws. In just a short time, God will formally deliver His laws to the Israelites from Mt. Sinai. Other interesting facts about this chapter:

  • The omer of manna kept for  remembrance and will ultimately be kept in the ark of the covenant
  • The children of Israel ate manna for forty years while in the wilderness

What can we learn from this chapter? Certainly the character of the Israelites is interesting. It is easy to condemn the Israelites for their impetuous complaining but when has any one of us been completely innocent of complaint, particularly when there is no real need to complain? If we survey the Israelites as human beings, we see similarities of ourselves in them. But we have to try to see beyond our condition and reach for God even when conditions are bad. This is much easier to preach than to practice, but going to God in the bad times and in the good will always help us when we need Him most.

And, the more we live in prayer and study His Word, we find that we need Him at all times.