In God’s Presence

Exodus 25-27

Exodus 25 8 NIV

                Places of worship come in all different shapes and sizes.  I have worshipped God in huge cathedrals with impressive pipe organs and altars overlaid with gold and stained glass windows.  I have also worshipped God in open-air tabernacles with sawdust floors.  I have worshipped God in a deer stand, at the beach, on a mountaintop and on a table undergoing radiation.  I have worshipped God in loud and energetic services with guitars, drums, and electronic keyboards and I have worshipped him in places with no sound at all except the flickering flame of a single candle.

                I believe God loves to be worshipped in lots of ways and in lots of places.  Even in the Biblical stories God was worshipped on simple stone altars, in burning bushes, on mountain tops and down in valleys.

                Israel was at a critical time in their formation and it was important for them to have a steady reminder of God’s presence.  God made his presence visible to them as they journeyed with both a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night.  As they continued their journey across the wilderness, God chose to make his visible presence known to them in a portable house of worship.  This place would provide structure in the midst of their community wherever they stopped to make camp.  The tent of meeting or tabernacle would be an ongoing visible sign that God’s glory was in their midst.  And God taught them how to be a holy nation. He used various symbols and rituals of sacrifice and worship as a way to drill home to them his holiness and the consequences of sin.

                How God chose to do this is quite interesting.  He could have simply built a temple Himself in the heavens and dropped it down fully formed on earth.  However, God chose instead to invite His people to become active participants in creating this place of worship.

                First, God began with their willing desire to give.  “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze;  blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair;  ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather acacia wood;  olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breast piece” (Exodus 25:2-7).   This was not a mandatory tithe that was required; this was an offering to be willingly given and received.

                Where did the people get all of these valuable commodities?  If you will recall, as they were leaving Egypt they were given many valuable items by the Egyptian peoples – one might say this was payment to help compensate for years of slavery.  They had these items in their possession already.  Those who were willing could give them to help create the tent of meeting and the prescribed worship items inside of the temple, which included the Ark of the Covenant, the table, the lampstand as well as the material for the tabernacle itself, and the altar, courtyard and the oil to keep the lamps burning.  All of the materials were freely donated.  The people of God used their own skill to build the items from these donated materials – carpenters, weavers, stonemasons, goldsmiths and others each made their own contributions to the creation of this place of worship.  In this way, everyone in the community that wished to participate had buy in to the tabernacle.  It truly was a communal place of worship.

                Once the nation finished their journey through the wilderness and took possession of the Promised Land, they would eventually transition from a portable tent of meeting to a permanent temple under the leadership of King Solomon.  However, this tent of meeting served them well for 40 years in the wilderness and many more during the times of the judges, and king’s Saul and David.

                For Christians, we do not worship God in a tabernacle or physical temple and we do not bring sacrifices of sheep or goats or bulls for an offering to God.  For us, the Church itself is the temple of God.  I am not talking about the building where the Church gathers to worship, I am talking about the actual people who gather to worship, and we are the Church.  Jesus said whenever 2-3 gather in his name that he is there in their midst.  There is no one single right way or place to worship God.  It is wherever God’s people come together.  Christian Worship does not have to follow follow a strict pattern.  Worship is where we gather to read the word of God, pray, worship, encourage each other and exhort one another to good works, break bread and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.  Blood sacrifices are not necessary because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and he entered into the holy of holies once and for all and gave his own body as the final sacrifice for all of our sins.

                One thing remains unchanged from the time of Israel in the wilderness tent of meeting and the Church today.  God still welcomes us to bring our offerings from the heart as a way to say thank you.  We can still bring tangible offerings, and we can still offer our gifts and talents as ways of showing God our deep gratitude for all of his blessings to us.  It is not all that important how we worship or where we worship, but it is very important that we worship and we bring our offerings freely to worship God.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+25-27&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 28-29 on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Transformation

Exodus 22-24

Exodus 22 31 a NIV

                Social transformation is often a long and painful process.  Think about efforts at equality within the United States.  The founders’ vision was for a society where everyone had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The Declaration of Independence expressed this in 1776.  Yet it took nearly a century and a Civil War to bring an end to slavery.  It took nearly 150 years for women to be able to vote and it nearly 200 years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make significant strides toward racial equality.

                How does one take a community that has been enslaved for over 400 years and transform them into a nation that shines a beacon of light to all other nations in the world pointing them to the true God.  How does an entire nation become holy, set apart for God’s service and God’s glory?

                This is the challenge that was before God, Moses and the nation of Israel.  They were leaving behind one type of structure, slavery, to enter into a new way of living.  They needed a new structure to help them know how to live.  They had to be taught how to live in community.  They had to be taught how to work, and how to rest, how to care for their neighbors, and how to punish wrongdoing that threatened to destroy their community.

                In today’s reading we see how God begins to organize and structure the transforming community of Israel.  He teaches them how they are to live and become a holy nation and a royal priesthood.  This transformation would not come quickly or easily.

                They had to be taught how to show respect for personal property: “Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” (22:1)  Those who steal must give restitution.

                They had to be taught to respect the family structure and to place their sexuality within proper boundaries: “If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.” (22:16-17)

                They had to be taught that there were severe consequences for failing to follow appropriate sexual boundaries: “Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal is to be put to death.” (22:19).

                They had to be taught to have empathy and to show kindness to strangers and people who were different: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (22:21).

                They had to be taught to have compassion for people in the community who had suffered major losses: “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. (22:22).

                They had to be taught to show respect both to God and to their earthly leaders: “ Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.” (22:28)

                They had to be taught how to live as a just community by not giving false testimony, and by neither showing favoritism toward the poor nor withholding justice from the poor (23:1-6).

                They had to be taught to care for their bodies and minds by getting appropriate rest. (23:12).

                It was also important that everyone be taught these and other guidelines for how to live in community as God’s people and that they verbally acknowledge that they understand and intend to follow “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” (24:3)

                Israel’s transformation from slavery to covenant people of God living a set apart life as the community of God’s people was a slow and challenging process.  It was painfully difficult, but necessary.  In the end, people failed more often than they succeeded to carrying out their assignments.  And yet, somehow, despite tremendous opposition from aggressive and hate filled neighbors, the Nation of Israel survived.

                As Christians, we can learn much from studying how God worked with His people Israel to bring about their transformation.  It is important to note that they were God’s people first, and then they were given this particular set of laws.  In the same way, as Christians, we become God’s people first, through faith in Jesus Christ, and then we commit to following Jesus and obeying Jesus’ commands.  We do not become God’s people by following laws, but by following Jesus Christ.  However, when we follow Jesus Christ, we do not descend into lawlessness.  Structure is still required.  So Jesus spends three years teaching his disciples how to live as the people of God who are called to be holy, set apart to be a light to all nations.  We complete the mission that the nation of Israel began, and we do so following the yoke or community guidelines as laid down by Jesus Christ.  The foundational teaching of Jesus is to Love God and Love our Neighbors.  That is a good place for each of us to start each day.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+22-24&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Exodus 25-27 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Set Apart

Exodus 19-21

Exodus 19 5 6a NIV

Today’s reading is probably one of the most familiar passages in the whole Bible for it includes the Ten Commandments.  It is important to understand the context of these commandments.  God entered into a covenantal relationship with Abraham and Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob and Jacob’s sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel.  God promised to bless and provide for his people and in exchange His people promised to be faithful and obedient to God and worship God alone.

After 400 years of slavery, Israel has grown from 12 sons and their immediate family to millions of people.  These people, God’s covenant people, will be settling in a land where they will need to live in community.  They are no longer slaves.  They are now responsible to live in that community in peace and productivity.   They need help to know how to live together.  God provides His people with the structure of how to live together as God’s people.  The Ten Commandments and subsequently nearly 600 additional laws were all designed to help them be healthy and blessed representatives of God to the rest of the world.

God loves all people.  We must never falsely believe that God only loves certain people.  God considers all human beings His children and loves them all.  God wants to be in a right relationship with all of his children; however, many are disobedient and have no willingness to be in a relationship with God and many deny that God even exists.

So God needed to start with one group of people and prepare them to be a special, chosen people who would bring the knowledge of God to others.  Exodus 19:5-6 says, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

Israel was to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  A priest is one who helps connect people and God.  God would go on to designate priests in Israel to help the people connect with God, but His expectation for Israel was that the whole nation serve as priests to help other nations connect with God.  Because the who nation was being set apart by God to be priests for the world, they needed to live holy or set apart lives.  There were behavioral expectations that they were to follow.  They had to  be exclusively loyal to God, they could not murder, steal, lie, cheat, they were to be respectful and honoring of parents and not misuse God’s name.

Now we are completing what God began in Israel.  Through Christ we have entered into a covenant with God.  We are now the covenant people, we are called to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  That is the Church’s role.  And God expects us to live lives of holiness as we are set apart to serve God.  As you read through the many laws in the Old Testament, recognize that some applied very narrowly to the Nation of Israel and do not necessarily apply to us.  Dietary laws and sanitary laws were important in Israel at the time they were given but are no longer applicable.  However, some of the laws which pertain to morality have been reaffirmed by Jesus Christ for the Church.  In other words, as Christians we are free to eat pork and worship on Sundays, but we are not free to practice polygamy or murder.

God is truly a God of grace and mercy, but God is also a God who hates sin and punishes sin.  In this way we are still to live in fear of the Lord: Exodus 20:20 “the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+19-21&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 22-24 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan