Exodus

Exodus Overview

God establishes the people of Israel as a nation in the book of Exodus.  These are the people through whom He will save the world.  First, He must deliver them from bondage and oppression in Egypt in order to provide political independence.  This exodus or deliverance from Egypt becomes one of the primary images in the New Testament of the deliverance from sin and death that God provides through Jesus, and our struggle with his deliverance (chapters 1-18).  Second, God gives Israel a law, to show them how to live as his redeemed people, to enjoy the abundant life for which He had saved them (19-24).  Finally, God gives Israel the design for the tabernacle or “Tent of Meeting” through which Israel would experience God’s glory, forgiveness and empowering presence (25-31, 35-40), though they were quick to rebel against God’s law when He seemed absent (32-34).  As Israel struggles against God’s deliverance, law, and presence, we see God discipline the people He loves, but He never gives up on his people.  His grace is greater than all our sin.  

Exodus 1-2

We see the compassionate heart of God in the last three verses of our passage (2:23-25).  He hears the cries of his people as they endure the oppression of a fallen regime and world, He is concerned, and He is faithful to remember his covenant promises, which were made in love.  In order to act on his compassion, God begins to prepare a man through whom He will deliver his people.

Moses is God’s man, and nothing the king of Egypt does can thwart God’s deliverance.  This cruel king of Egypt doesn’t want to appear as cruel as he actually is, so he tries to enlist the Hebrew midwives to do his dirty work (1:16).  The faithful midwives revere God and surely risk capital punishment by refusing to obey his order, but God protects and blesses them (1:17-21) while the king’s evil is exposed (1:22).  Moses, like Jesus, was born under the rule of a tyrannical king.  Just as Pharaoh ordered the death of every nearby baby boy, so did Herod the Great after Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:16).  Moses was placed in a basket on a river.  Jesus was placed in a feeding trough.  Both boys find shelter in Egypt (2:5ff.; Matthew 2:13ff.).  Both men were rejected by their own people whom they desired to save, perhaps understandably in Moses’ case (2:14).  But God protects Moses and provides a refuge for him in the household of a polytheistic priest in Midian, who later becomes a believer in the one true God.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Do you ever doubt that God hears your cries and feels your pain?  We should consider that God never forgot his people during their long stay in Israel, even though He seemed to be absent.  God was moving to prepare Moses long before Israel had any idea that He was acting.  Moreover, God was preparing the way for Jesus through Moses and Israel, 1,400 years before his coming.  This is not a full-proof exercise for removing doubt, but take time to reflect on the character and timing of God and how this passage may speak into to your own life and our current time.
     
  • Consider, too, the faith and courage of the Hebrew midwives.  Consider the state of your own commitment to the Lord.  Consider the inability of worldly forces to stop God’s deliverance through Moses and ultimately through Jesus.  From what has Jesus delivered you?  Take time to give thanks.  How is God calling you to be courageous for the sake of his kingdom?  

 

Exodus 3:1-10

Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush is essential to the work that God would do through him.  Just as the apostle Paul must know the blinding glory and gentle grace of Jesus before serving as a messenger of God’s word (Acts 9), so it is with Moses.  The courage they would need to risk their lives for God’s purposes required a deep, personal knowledge of God that is more compelling than what the world has to offer apart from God.

What does Moses learn about God through this encounter?  He learns that God knows us by name, that God graciously condescends to call us by name even when we are not looking for him (3:1-4).  The burning fire, together with the command to remove his sandals, reveals the holiness or “otherness" of God (3:5).  Apart from God’s grace, Moses cannot stand in the presence of his glory or even look at God.  This is the faithful God he learned about as a little boy (2:9-10), who performed wonders through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3:6).  The one true God draws near to hear the cries of his people, “comes down to rescue them,” and will lead them into a land of abundance (3:7-10).  In sum, Moses sees clearly, maybe for the first time, God’s personal knowledge of him, his absolute holiness, and his grace and love to redeem his people into fullness of life.  

Moses and Paul’s encounters with God are obviously not common experiences, even among biblical characters.  God usually works in more subtle ways to overwhelm us with his glory and love.  In fact, Moses and Paul’s encounters are written down for us, that we might encounter God through their experience (Romans 15:4).  There may be times when God “pulls back the veil,” so to speak, and we are overcome by his glory and grace, but we should not demand dramatic encounters with God.  We can, however, create space in our lives for God to more fully reveal his nature and character to us through prayerful study of Scripture and worship with God’s people.  Even Moses and Paul needed to continually create this space in their lives to be sustained in their service to God.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • As you study God’s word, are you regularly making room for God to reveal himself to you?  Are God's love and glory the fuel for your service?  Take time today to prayerfully reflect on the nature and character of God as revealed to Moses.

 

Exodus 3:11-4:17

Who am I?  “I will be with you.”  What if they ask me your name?  “I AM who I AM.” I AM the God who has always been, from whom all things find their source, who is present with you.   What if they do not believe me?  I will enable you to perform miracles.  What if I’m not gifted enough?  I am the One who gave you your mouth.  Can’t you just send someone else?  I will send your brother Aaron with you and “will help both of you to speak.”  

Five times, Moses questions God’s choice of a messenger.  We can all relate to his fears and insecurities.  He is so very human in this moment.  God never denies Moses’ weakness or downplays his doubts.  Each time, God’s answer is not about what Moses can do, but what He will do through Moses.  His presence and power will be more than sufficient in Moses’ weakness.  

And, by the way, what kind of God is willing to field these questions from Moses?  He is holy, majestic, and altogether greater than any created being (3:5-6,14), but He is the kind of God who is willing to bend his ear to his creatures and engage in extended dialogue.  He is patient and supportive in Moses’ questioning and self-doubt, at least until Moses rejects God’s first four answers and requests an exemption from God’s call.  At this point, God is still gracious toward Moses, but He is angry with his son (4:14).  Perfect patience does not equal unlimited patience.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • We have so much to learn from Moses’ dialogue with God.  Do you believe that our God is willing to entertain your questions?  Are you being honest with him about your struggles and doubts, giving him room to speak into your life?
     
  • Where are you shrinking back from God’s call on your life due to self-doubt?  How do God’s responses to Moses’ questions speak into your own self-doubt and insecurities?  Take time to reflect on God’s responses to Moses, to praise Him for who He is, and to ask for his power and love to be displayed in the midst of your weakness.  


Exodus 4:18-31

Many people consider this passage to be one of the most perplexing in all of Scripture.  Moses’ wife, Zipporah, performs an emergency circumcision on her son in order to save Moses’ life (or possibly his son’s life)?  God was going to take his life?  Yes, this is what the passage says.  

Most scholars believe that Zipporah’s people, the Midianites, practiced circumcision.  This makes sense considering that they descended from Abraham after he had received the sign of circumcision, the sign of God’s covenant promises (Genesis 25:1-2).  Circumcision signified: 1) in its bloodiness, the judgment of death that comes through sin; 2) in its anatomical location, the promised “seed” who would bear our sins and bring God’s blessing to the nations; and 3) in its lasting mark, separation unto God.  Given that the Midianites were polytheistic, the true meaning of circumcision was likely lost on most of them, but it should not have been lost on Moses.

Just as we see an abundance of miracles marking significant turning points in God’s plan of redemption (e.g. 4:29-31), we also see an acuteness in the judgment of God at these turning points (cf. Joshua 7; Acts 5).   Moses’ call is one of those turning points, but he is about to go into battle without a shield.  Circumcision pointed ahead to the blood of Jesus, which covers our sin.  By neglecting the sign of circumcision in his household, Moses was recklessly charging into battle without cover.  The Egyptians would soon lose their sons precisely because they were not covered by the blood of the Passover lamb, also a sign and symbol of Christ.  How could Moses go and call Israel to find cover under the blood of the sacrificial lamb when he himself was neglecting the sign of faith in the coming Lamb of God?

Zipporah, a Midianite, is an unlikely hero in this story as she leads Moses, the Israelite, to find cover in the blood of the coming Messiah.  We do not know exactly what to make of her words.  Is she angry at Moses for getting her into this religious mess?  Does she have a righteous anger over Moses’ neglect?  We hope for the latter, but either way, she stands in the gap with the blood of circumcision, the blood of Christ.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Moses learns an important lesson in this passage.  Do not charge into battle for God’s kingdom carelessly or pridefully, no matter how certain is God’s call.  We go must go humbly and we must not neglect our own need for Christ, knowing that it is only by the shed blood of Christ that we ourselves are saved.  As you seek to do things for God, are you caring for your own soul?  Are you finding cover in the blood of Christ?
     
  • Moses also learns to not neglect the faith of his family.  As you seek to do things for God, which may be very good things, are you neglecting the faith of your family, whom you are called to care for first?

 

Exodus 5 & 6

Pharaoh dismisses the LORD’s command through Moses out of hand (5:2).  He may feel threatened.  He may really believe that it is an excuse for laziness (5:17-18).  Either way, persecution increases when Moses and Aaron bring up the subject of God, relaying God’s command and their desire to go and worship.  God is encroaching on Pharaoh’s control and productivity, whether or not He is just being used as an excuse.

We do not like persecution or hardship and neither did the Israelites.  Of course, most of us have no idea how hard it was for the Israelites to live as slaves in Egypt.  Nevertheless, the same Israelites who had just “bowed down and worshiped” God for his concern for them (4:29-31) are surprised and angry and discouraged as soon as Pharaoh turns the screw tighter (5:21).  Moses doubts God’s goodness the moment God’s plan is met with resistance (5:22).  What is God’s immediate response?  He calls Moses back to trust in his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He reminds Moses about their conversation, of how He had revealed his personal name to Moses (6:3-4).  He reiterates his concern for them (6:5), his plan to rescue them (6:6), and his desire to be their God (6:7).  The Israelites did not want to hear it (6:9) and Moses’ doubt creeps back in (6:12,30).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Our passage reminds us that we should never expect God and his purposes in the world to be met without strong resistance.  The passage also reminds us of how quick we are to avoid resistance and to backtrack when we do encounter resistance.  Are there places in your life where the desire to avoid resistance and persecution are keeping you from speaking about your faith or serving God in some way?  
     
  • God’s response to Moses and Israel reminds us that God is calling us into a relationship of trust.  He reiterates his promises because He calls us to live by faith and not by sight.  How do God’s promises in this passage, which are only fully realized in Jesus and the new heavens and earth, speak into your fears and desires to avoid resistance?  

 

Exodus 7

The plagues were not the only judgments on Pharaoh and the Egyptians.  Before any plague occurred, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (7:3).  This is troubling to many.  Is God removing Pharaoh’s agency so that He can accomplish some greater purpose?  If not, then what is happening when God hardens Pharaoh’s heart?

We need to remember that all of our hearts are hardened toward God apart from the work of his Spirit, due to the disease of sin and selfishness that is in all of us.  Before Moses appeared on the scene, Pharaoh’s heart was already stubborn and calloused toward God.  The fact that Pharaoh was enslaving and abusing an entire race of people is ample evidence of this pre-existing condition.  God never takes a pure heart and hardens it.  Rather, He judges hard hearts by giving them over to their own darkness.  We see this truth in the New Testament when Paul repeats the phrase, “God gave them over to the sinful desires of their hearts . . . ", three times (Romans 1:24,26,28).  Pharaoh continues to make the decisions that he wants to make and, as the plagues roll in, we will see him wrestling and wavering in his decisions.  By giving Pharaoh over to his own hardness of his heart, God exposes the depths of human sin and stubbornness, making it quite clear that his judgments are just.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How have you seen stubbornness, callousness, or hardness toward God in your own heart?  
     
  • God would be perfectly just in allowing our hearts to go their own way, giving us over to sin and death.  How has He been gracious to you in softening your heart so that you can see him for who He is, see your own sin, and turn to him?  

 

 

Exodus 8-10

Pharaoh thinks that he is in a cosmic game of “uncle” (aka “mercy”).  If he can wait it out, and cheat a few times along the way by feigning surrender, perhaps he can outlast Moses’ God.  We are tempted to think that Pharaoh’s extreme stubbornness and foolishness is unrealistic, but we need to remember just how much is at stake for him.  During their four hundred years in Egypt, the people of Israel had multiplied into a vast workforce for Pharaoh (12:37), so their departure would entail a crushing blow to production and a complete restructuring of the economy.

What is happening, through the plagues, is an undoing of the created order.  Pharaoh, who failed to rule well by bringing God’s goodness, truth, and beauty to his land, is no longer subduing and ruling over creation (Genesis 1:30).  Now the created waters and animals are ruling over him!   Light, no longer breaking in on the darkness, is covered up in darkness!  Pharaoh must learn that there is no one like God in all the earth (9:14).  His magicians, who were able to replicate only the first two plagues on a small scale, are much more ready to acknowledge that the plagues are from “the finger of God” (8:19), but God allows Pharaoh to spiral down in obstinacy in order to display his power and glory (9:15-17).  

Whenever we read of God’s judgments, especially those on such a large scale, we need to remember that God is not capricious in judgment.  He judges justly, on his timetable.  In this case, Egypt is judged for centuries of worshipping false gods (12:12), which culminated in the enslavement of entire of race of people who were to be God’s instrument in blessing the nations.  Seven hundred years later, God will use Assyria to judge Israel, at least as harshly, for their false worship and oppressive practices.  Today, God is redeeming a people from Israel and Egypt and Assyria, just as He promised (Isaiah 19:19-25).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • You may not have an enormous labor force at your command to lose, but there is always a cost to repentance.  As you search your heart, where are there areas of stubbornness or hardness of heart due to the cost of giving up short-term treasures, pleasures, or comfort?  (See Hebrews 11:24-28).  How are God’s ways better than our ways?  Take time to confess, to thank God for his grace in Christ, and to pray in specific ways for obedience and joy in God’s ways.   
     
  • How do you respond to God’s judgment?  It is tempting to try to take God’s place and to sit in judgment on his judgment!  What does this passage teach you about God’s holiness, power, and justice?
     
  • How are you called to steward God’s goodness, truth and beauty in your areas of influence/calling this week?  

 

Exodus 11-12

Redemption from sin and death always includes both forgiveness of sin and repentance from sin toward worship of God.  When the angel of death brings God’s judgment on the people, the people of Israel are not spared because of their goodness.  They are spared because their own sin is covered by the blood of a lamb without defect, which is only effective because it points ahead to Jesus, the true Passover Lamb.  They receive this forgiveness through faith, by painting the blood of the lamb on their door frames (12:7; Hebrews 11:28).  They “commune” with the lamb and with God in a meal (12:8).  Repentance is then symbolized through the unleavened bread.  Israel was to get rid of their yeast as they were to get rid of their sin (1 Corinthians 5:6-7).  This, too, was done by faith in the goodness of God’s ways.  The result is worshipful obedience (12:27-28).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Today, are you trusting in the perfect forgiveness we have in Jesus, the Lamb of God?  This passage provides a vivid depiction of the power of his blood, shed for us.
     
  • Are you trusting in the power of Jesus to get rid of sin?  
     
  • Are you regularly communing with God, taking time to worship and enjoy him?  This is why He has saved us!
     

Exodus 13-14

This is Israel’s Braveheart momentwhen William Wallace delivers his freedom speech from horseback, calling a ragtag Scottish army to come out from the under the tyranny of England and to risk their lives for the sake of true freedom.  The Israelites are content to exist in a state of living death in Egypt (14:10-12), but God is calling them to a life of freedom in him!  The difference between Israel and the Scottish soldiers is that the LORD (Yahweh) will fight Israel’s battle (14:13-14), to much greater effect (14:28-31).  Israel is simply called to faith in God’s guiding presence and power, revealed to them in the elements of fire, cloud, wind, and water.  It is an extraordinarily risky faith from a human perspective, but it is a sure thing with God.  

This crossing of the Red Sea is Israel’s baptism (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).  They pass through the waters of death to find true life in God, having been cleansed of the false gods and oppressive practices of Egypt.  The crossing is the starting point of their new life together, a sign that will mark their identity for the ages and that finds its fulfillment in our eternal deliverance in Jesus (e.g. Romans 6:20-23).  

In response, Israel is called to remember God’s deliverance through the Feast of Unleavened bread (13:3-8) and through the offering of their firstborn animals to the Lord and the redemption of their firstborn sons through a monetary offering (13:2,14-15).  The sign and symbol of unleavened bread  signified wholehearted devotion, leaving the yeast of sin behind (13:9 - “the law of the Lord is to be on your lips”), while the sign and symbol of the firstborn offering signified a life wholly offered to God in response to his salvation (13:16).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Are there any areas of your life in which you have grown content with slavery to sin?  In what ways would you have to trust in God’s provision in order to be delivered from these sinful patterns?  Are you trusting in God’s presence and power, perhaps expressed through Christian community, to free you, or are you trusting in your own efforts?
     
  • The miracle of deliverance at the Red Sea is only a taste of the miracle of Jesus’ final deliverance from death in his resurrection.  If you have been united to Jesus by faith, have you received the outward sign of baptism, marking your inclusion among the people of God in Jesus’ deliverance from death?  Take time to reflect on what God has done for you through Jesus’ resurrection.  
     
  • As you reflect on the signs of wholehearted devotion and of a life wholly offered to God that are given in today’s passage, how do you need to pray for the Spirit’s work in your life?

 

 

Exodus 15:1-21

Imagine turning around and looking back on the Red Sea and a lifetime of slavery.  Moments earlier, the clamor and roar of approaching soldiers, horses, and chariots could be heard in the distance, amidst the squeals of unknowing children and familiar voices of loved ones.  The waters recede over your tormentors (14:28).  All is quiet.  It’s over.  

In the peaceful relief, the new reality begins to sink in.  Joyful singing and dancing erupts.  “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD?  Who is like you — majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”  These lyrics (15:11), reveling in the nature of God, stand tall in the middle of a song that looks back on God’s victory of Egypt and slavery (15:1-10) and looks ahead to their new life in God (15:13-18).

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • We were created for joy in God.  We were created to revel in the awesomeness of who He is.  Who is like God — majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?
     
  • Israel looks back and looks ahead as they worship.  Remembering God’s deliverance and looking ahead to our future with God are continual themes in Scripture.  They shape our present outlook and activity.  It’s when we forget the story in which we find ourselves that we wander from God.  How has God delivered you?  How is He delivering you this week?  What are you looking forward to, today?  How is your hope for the future shaping what you are living for today?
     

 

Exodus 15:22-17:7

The Israelites are living in the “already, not yet” stage of salvation, a term coined by George Eldon Ladd.  They have “already" been delivered out of Egypt, and their deliverance is certain after God’s decisive victory at the Red Sea, but they are "not yet" in the promised land of Canaan.  Their salvation has not been completed, or consummated.  Christians, today, can relate in many ways.  Our deliverance is certain due to Jesus’ decisive victory over sin and death, but we are not yet in the promised land of the new heavens and earth.  We are still in the wilderness, even though we are blessed to live on this side of the resurrection, with the knowledge of Christ’s greater victory and outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  (Of course, faithful Israelites now wait with us, in heaven, for the new heavens and earth.)  

Like us, the Israelites struggle with living in the “already, not yet” in the forms of doubt, disappoint, frustration, and grumbling.  God is amazingly gracious with Israel.  He does not respond in anger to their grumbling, but simply provides for them.  He makes the water sweet.  He prepares a table for them in the desert of manna and quail.  He draws water from a dry rock.  There are times when God gives them a foretaste of abundance (15:27), but generally gives them exactly what they need in the wilderness — daily bread — to satisfy their hunger and thirst.  If they take more and try to save for two days, it turns to maggots . . . except on the day before the Sabbath rest, they are able to pick up food for two days without spoilage.  Even in the wilderness, God gave them rest!  They may not have the pots of the meat that they ate in Egypt (16:3), but crumbs from the Lord’s table are better than a steaks under the feet of their oppressors.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How does the “already, not yet” understanding help you to understand your own experience?  
     
  • How are you struggling “in the wilderness”?  Are you taking your doubt, disappoint, and frustration to God?  
     
  • Just as God meets with Israel in the wilderness and reveals his presence and goodness to them in midst of their doubt and difficult situation, He meets with us when we are in the wilderness.  Do you believe that God can meet you in the wilderness?  How do you need him to reveal his presence and goodness to you?

 

 

Exodus 17:8-16

Exodus, as much as any book in the Bible, reveals the body-soul, physical-spiritual union of creation.  God makes himself known in fire, wind, cloud, water, manna, quail, and physical judgments on Egypt after they had physically oppressed of Israel.  Salvation is physical and spiritual in Exodus and in the New Testament.  Through Jesus' resurrection, we are raised spiritually and we will be raised in body.

We should not be surprised, then, by Moses’ action in today’s passage.  He expresses dependence on God for victory over Israel's attackers in both body and soul (cf. Psalm 63:4; 1 Timothy 2:8).  His posture is not necessarily prescriptive for all prayers, but it certainly reveals the importance of the body* and signifies our utter need to rely on God.  Joshua, appearing for the first time in this passage, does fight, but victory is with the Lord.  Let us never forget!

*In C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, the experienced demon writes to his nephew:  “At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls” (Letter 4).

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Might a change in posture for some of your prayers help you to pray and rely on God?
     
  •  What are you trusting in for expansion of God’s kingdom in your own heart and in the places and people around you?  Take time to lift your hands in prayer.  You may want to briefly come back to this passage daily or regularly for a time until you see dependence on God become more established in your life.  

 

Exodus 18

Jethro, perhaps the first convert to faith in Yahweh (18:10-12), honors Moses’ unique leadership role (18:22- “bring every difficult case to you”), but pushes Israel toward decentralized leadership.  It is difficult to overstate the importance of this transition for the future of God’s people (see Acts 14:23, 15:6; 1 Corinthians 12:7; II Timothy 2:2).  God uses Jethro to open Moses’ eyes to the giftedness of the body of believers!  He wisely advises Moses to choose men marked by three qualities:  fear of God, trustworthiness, and hatred of dishonest gain.  Moses is to multiply his leadership by teaching them God’s law, modeling the way to live, and showing them how to carry out their duties in upholding justice.  Not only will Israel be built up by this transition, Moses will be spared from pastoral burnout (18:18)!

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • If you are in a role of spiritual leadership, are your eyes open to the giftedness and faithfulness of others, are you looking for ways to multiply your leadership, and are you equipping gifted people to lead through teaching, modeling, and coaching?  There may be aspects of your leadership role for which God calls you to maintain responsibility, but are there aspects that you are unnecessarily holding onto?  If so, is there a heart issue behind it?
     
  • Reflect on the three qualities of leaders that Jethro describes to Moses.  How do you need God’s mercy, grace, and power?  
     
  • If you are not in a role of spiritual leadership, are your eyes open to how you can serve?  Ask God to show you the unique ways in which He has gifted you, recognizing that we often discover our gifts and weaknesses by stepping out and serving.   

 

 

Exodus 19

What does it mean to be a “kingdom of priests” (19:6)?  There is no universally agreed upon definition of a priest, but Scripture helps us to see several functions of priests.  1) Priests receive the blessing of God and offer it back to God in worship.   We see this when priests bring the firstfruits of the harvest back to God as an offering.  Of course, this offering acknowledges the reality that all things belong to God and that all of life ought to be lived in worship.  2) Priests intercede between God and humanity.  We see this when priests offer sacrifices for sin in the tabernacle and temple.  3) Priests have direct access to God (19:9-11).  

Israel has a unique priestly role among the nations.  1) “Although the whole earth is [God’s]” (19:5), Israel would be a nation that actually acknowledged God’s universal kingship by offering their lives and blessing back to God.  2) They were an intercessory nation.  Not only would Israel offer sacrifices for their own sins, they were also called to mediate God’s blessing and truth to the nations (e.g. Genesis 12:3).  3) Finally, God revealed his presence and glory directly to Israel at many times and in various ways.

Through Jesus, Israel fulfills her calling as a kingdom of priests and the church, which Paul called “the Israel of God,” becomes a kingdom of priests.  1) Jesus is the only One who has fully and perfectly offered his life up to God.  2) All of the Old Testament sacrifices are only effective in that they point to and are fulfilled in Christ’s sacrifice for sin.  3) Jesus is the full revelation of God’s love and glory.  Through him, we offer up our lives as living sacrifices, we intercede for others by praying for the work of Jesus in them and by communicating the good news about him, and we always have direct access to God, for the barrier of sin has been abolished.  We are a “royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • If you are a Christian, Jesus is your great high priest.  What does this mean for you today?
  • As those “in Christ,” who share in his life, we take on the role of priests.  What does it look like for you, this week, to live out your priestly calling?  What does it look like to offer God’s blessings back to him?  To offer your regular work to him?  For whom is He calling you to intercede through prayer, service, and communication?  

 

Exodus 20:1-11

It ought to give us pause when we consider that the first four commands are all about the worship of God.  Yes, the Sabbath is a day of rest for us, but it “is a Sabbath to the LORD your God” (20:10).  In fact, the first three commands are also good for us, if we want to put it that way, because our hearts can only be filled by worshipping God in spirit and in truth.  But the first four commandments insist that we take our eyes off of ourselves and lift them to God.  Life may only be found when we submit ourselves to the supremacy of God in all things.

The first two commands (20:3 and 20:4-6) are closely related.  The first command forbids us from giving the affections of our hearts to false gods or anything else before God, while the second command forbids us from worshipping the true God falsely through the use of idols.  Idols are not capable of conveying God’s transcendent glory, nor are they capable of conveying his personal nature.  They cannot speak or feel.  They reduce God into manageable forms that serve human imaginations rather than God’s purposes.  In our modern society, which is largely immune from the creation of physical idols, we must guard our hearts against views of God that reduce him in service of political, moral, or social agendas.  God, of course, speaks truth into political, moral and social issues, but it is all too easy to either limit our view of God to a narrow agenda, even if the agenda is a godly one, or to distort our understanding of God to conform to moral standards or social ideas of our own invention.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • The first sin was an attempt to take the place of God.  All of us are prone to putting ourselves, and “gods” that serve our purposes, before God.  So there are not two classes of Christians:  God-centered Christians and the rest of us.  That said, take some time to examine the God-centeredness of your life recently.  Use it as a time of confession, a time to rest in Christ’s righteousness and forgiveness, and a time to repent in his resurrection power and Spirit.  Are you finding your life in the worship of God?  Where in your life is God’s glory and authority not considered or not first in your mind and heart?  
  • How are you tempted to reduce or narrow your understanding of the character and nature of God?

 

Exodus 20:12-26

Jesus summarizes the law of God in Luke 10:27 with the words:  “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' [quoting Deuteronomy 6:5]; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ [quoting Leviticus 19:18].”  Paul sums up the law with the latter command alone:  “'Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:14).  How can Paul do this?  He can sum up the law in this one command because true love for God is displayed in our love for the race of beings made in his image and likeness.  Only when we are worshipping God and filled up with his love are we able to obey the heart of the last six commands as Jesus taught them (Matthew 5:21ff.).  Paul, accordingly, is quick to point out our absolute need for Jesus and his Spirit in the verses following his summary of the law (Galatians 5:16,22-25).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Are you recognizing God’s presence and delight in loving your neighbor?  Are you seeing love of neighbor as worship?  
     
  • Take time to reflect on the last six commands and, time permitting, Jesus’ brief teaching on them in Matthew 5:21ff.  How do you need the Spirit of Christ to fill and empower you to love others? 

 

 

Exodus 21

Do not tamper with and do not dehumanize the image of God.  This is the resounding message of Exodus 21.  We may be distracted from this message by important questions about slavery, but let us not lose sight of it.  God shows great care for servants (21:26-27), men, women (21:8-11), unborn children (21:22-25), and parents (21:15), and He calls us to go to great lengths to protect humanity from harm and dehumanization.  

This is not the place for extensive comments about the existence of slavery among God’s people, but a few may be made.  First, kidnapping and forced servitude, the primary brand of slavery known to Americans, was punishable by death (21:16).  Foreigners were not to be mistreated (next chapter, 22:21).  Second, slavery was no more ideal in God’s economy than poverty, yet it did exist.  The poor were able to sell their services to pay a debt (22:25 - not usury!) or to provide for themselves, similar to the way that Jacob sold himself to Laban for seven years to pay the price for his bride.  Third, slavery was not to be permanent.  After six years, the servant was to be sent away with generous gifts (Deuteronomy 15:12-14).  In the case of the release of female servants, their marital status and rights were also to be taken into consideration in order to protect their future prospects (21:8-11).  Finally, while it’s difficult to understand 21:21 in a society in which corporeal punishment has become foreign (not the case in ancient agrarian societies), masters were not to be harsh with their servants and lasting injury (a missing tooth, for instance) resulted in release with no further debt payment required.  Ideally, masters would treat their servants in such a way that their servants actually loved them (21:5-6)!  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Where do you see injustice and dehumanization around you?  How has Jesus entered into our injustice and dehumanization?  How would God have you follow Jesus into injustice and dehumanization in order to bring justice and to re-humanize?

 

Exodus 22:1-15

Terence E. Fretheim, in his Exodus commentary, helps us to understand the purpose of all of the case laws following the Ten Commandments:  “The issue for Israel is not how it can become a holy people but how it can be in daily life the holy people it has already become by God’s action on their behalf” (247).  The case laws in today’s passage demonstrate God’s concern the ordinary matters of life (i.e. “daily life”) and his regard for material possessions.   He demands integrity and love of neighbor in all things, for nothing is outside of his watch and care.  Still, property takes a backseat to the life of man, even to the life of a thief (22:3).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Today, are you seeking to become holy, or are you seeking to be in daily life the holy one you have already become through union with Jesus?
     
  • Are there matters of “daily life,” ordinary life, which you have relegated to the realm of insignificance, but which are in fact significant in God’s sight?

 

 

Exodus 22:16-31

God’s law deals with the real issues of a sinful world.  We are struck by the careful attention to detail in some of his commands, but disoriented by the continual change in subject matter.  What is the unifying theme of these commands?  It seems to be this:  Do not take advantage of others or distort the order of God's creation.  Do not distort the spiritual order by seeking God’s power (22:18), worshipping false gods (22:20), cursing God (22:28), or pretending that He is not the owner of all things (22:29-30).  Do not distort the relational order by cursing authority figures (22:28), having sex with an animal (22:19), or having sex outside of marriage (22:16-17).  Accordingly, do not take advantage of the vulnerable, whether it be a young woman (22:16-17), a widow, an orphan (22:22:24) or the poor (22:25-27).  God himself will hear their cries and take vengeance on those who do so.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • The commands in this chapter show that God is jealous for his own glory.  Why is God jealous for his own glory?  What happens to our own souls when we are enthralled with other things besides God’s glory?
     
  • Where do you see the tenderness of God’s heart in these commands?  Does this have any impact on your understanding of how God sees you?  Take time to ask God to “infect” your heart with his tenderness, especially toward the vulnerable.

 

Exodus 23:1-8

Honesty and Integrity.  Today’s passage is an exposition of the ninth commandment:  You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor (20:16).  The exposition presents several high pressure situations in which it would be tempting to distort the truth, whether it’s siding with the majority, bending truth out of sympathy for the poor, accepting a bribe, or favoring the advantaged over the poor.  The exposition calls for the same concern for honesty and justice when no one is looking, even when it means helping one's enemy (23:4-5).  What does love require?  For starters, honesty.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • We see Jesus’ fulfillment of these commands in his willingness to speak truth, regardless of his audience’s societal status and regardless of what it would cost him.   How has Jesus’ honesty covered your falsehood?
     
  • What are your high pressure situations?  When are you most tempted to bend the truth?  With whom are you most tempted to side?  Are there any current situations in which you are tempted shade truth?  What will love for all require in these situations?

 

Exodus 23:9-19

Just as the first eight verses of Exodus 23 are an exposition of the ninth commandment, today’s passage is an exposition of the fourth command regarding Sabbath rest (20:9-11).  We begin with the command in 23:9 regarding care for “aliens," which is based on Israel’s exodus from Egypt, and this is not a mistake!  When God brought Israel out of Egypt, He was bringing them to a place of rest from slavery.  In fact, when the law is restated in Deuteronomy, the exodus is provided as a new basis for the Sabbath command (Deuteronomy 5:15).  Israel is to extend that same rest to the aliens in their midst (23:9).  It is still the same Sabbath rest as before (Exodus 20:11; Genesis 2:2-3), but now the Sabbath takes on additional, redemptive meaning.  

Israel’s celebration of the Sabbath, in the wilderness, looked back upon their deliverance from Egypt and forward to the promised land of Canaan.  Canaan was never able to fully deliver, so Israel continued to look forward to a greater, enduring rest even after they entered the promised land (Hebrews 4:7-10).  When the New Testament church celebrates the Sabbath, we rest in the assurance of our deliverance through Christ and look forward to the fullness of rest in the new heavens and earth. Just as with Israel, there are both creational and redemptive aspects of our rest.  As humans, we need the rhythm of work and rest built into creation.  As Christians, we rejoice in our rest from bondage to sin, and we signify our hope in the fullness of rest that lies ahead.  

God, in his love for Israel, also provided them with annual festivals of rest and worship (23:14-19), as well as sabbatical years, which provided “rest” for both rich and poor (23:10-11).

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Are you recognizing and celebrating both the creational and redemptive aspects of Sabbath rest?  If it is difficult for you to celebrate the Sabbath, why is that?  The Sabbath has a way of exposing where our true hope lies.  Ask God to search your heart, and take time to praise God for his care for us in providing rest, and for the rest from bondage that we have in Christ.
     
  • Unfortunately, we do not yet live under a theocracy, so full-fledged sabbaticals are only a possibility for some.  That said, are there any activities in your life from which you need to and may able to take some form of a sabbatical?  

 

Exodus 23:20-24:18

After the giving the law, God turns Israel’s attention to the coming conquest of Canaan, the land in which Israel is to live in God’s ways and be his holy people.  This is the first mention in the Bible of the utter destruction of the inhabitants and false gods of Canaan (23:23-24,31-33).  The horrific sin of this land is nearing its full measure (Genesis 15:16,18-21).  The destruction of the Canaanites would be a microcosm of God’s final judgment, when He rids the earth of evil and establishes his people in the new heavens and earth.  Of course, Israel’s future rebellion (23:21) and destruction at the hand of Assyria and Babylon, and salvation of a remnant, would also be a microcosm of final judgment.  

In the midst of God’s promises and commands in regard to life in the promised land, there is a beautiful moment of communion with God.  Moses, Aaron and sons, the seventy elders of Israel, and the people must come to the LORD under the blood of God's covenant of grace (24:5,6-8).  Moses, Aaron and sons, and the seventy elders see the glory of God, but their lives are spared through the sacrificial blood that finds its fulfillment in the shed blood of Christ.  They eat and drink in God’s presence (24:9-11).

Question for Reflection and Prayer

  • How does God’s judgment on the peoples of Canaan and his warning to Israel speak to you of God’s holiness?   
     
  • Are you approaching the Lord this week in your own merit or under the mercy of Jesus’ blood, shed for you?
     
  • How does God’s meal with Moses, Aaron and sons, and the seventy elders speak into  your life about the fellowship for which God made us?

 

Exodus 25-27

“I will dwell among them” (25:8).  This is the purpose of the tabernacle.  God made us to be with him.  Just as He dwelled in the garden with Adam and Eve, the tabernacle is a new garden.  God’s light shines through the lampstand, complete with budding flowers.  God’s immeasurable worth is displayed in the abundant quantities of gold, which we also find in the garden (Genesis 2:11).  God’s order and perfection are displayed in the precise, symmetrical dimensions.  The cherubim bow before the holiness of God (25:20).  The only way past the cherubim, who also guarded the garden (Genesis 3:24), and back into the presence of God is through the atonement cover or mercy seat, where the sacrificial blood would be sprinkled on behalf of the people.  This tabernacle was a call to wholehearted worship, a call to back into the relationship for which we were made.  The Lord initiates the relationship, and we are called to respond from the heart (25:2).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Do you know, today, that God desires to make his home with you?  
     
  • We are are not able to do a comprehensive study of the various elements of the tabernacle, but consider what the different elements of the tabernacle tell us about God.  Consider that Jesus is a perfect tabernacle, a perfect sacrifice, and a perfect representation of the nature of God.  

 

Exodus 28-30

So much is required to give Israel’s priests "dignity and honor” (28:2).  Every garment from head (28:36-38) to toe (28:34) is intricately described.  So much is required to purify the priests, the tabernacle, and the furnishings, before the priests can even begin to think about making sacrifices for the people, whose names are written on breastplates over the priest's heart.  A covering of blood is required from head to toe (29:20), and the blood is sprinkled throughout the tabernacle and on the priestly garments.  The sacrifices are exacting, and frequent.  Every specification points to the beauty, holiness, and majesty of God.  

In the new covenant, God gives us one Word:  Jesus.  Every exacting requirement is fulfilled in him.  He is clothed with dignity and honor.  He needs no purification rituals.  By one sacrifice, He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:14).  Our names are written on his hands, that we would dwell with him (29:45-46).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How does this passage help you see the beauty, holiness, majesty, and love of Jesus?

 

 

Exodus 31

Most of us tend to think about God filling his people with his Spirit in order to provide boldness to proclaim the gospel, patience to endure suffering, wisdom to make decisions, power to turn away from temptation, or other godly qualities that bear the image of God.  These are certainly fruits of the Spirit.  In this chapter, however, God fills Bezalel and Oholiab with his Spirit to enable them to design and make objects for the temple of God.  It is the first gift of the Spirit recorded in Scripture.  This tells us that God is pleased not only with godly character, but also with the work of our hands, when that work is accompanied by a willing, worshipful spirit.  We should not be surprised by this, considering that we are made in the image of a God who also delights in the glorious work of his own hands.  

One might argue that we should not equate the work of our hands to Bezalel and Oholiab's unique work of building the tabernacle of God.  We can agree that they were called to a special task and that there remains a place for devoted, sacred space in our world.  However, we should also remember that the tabernacle was a microcosm of what the whole earth is to become — a place of worship, filled with the glory of God.  After Jesus came and “tabernacled” among us (John 1:14), and broke through the temple curtain (Matthew 27:51), the tabernacle/temple in Jerusalem ceased to be the locus of true worship (John 4:21-24).  Therefore, just as Adam and Eve were called to extend the order and beauty of the garden throughout the untamed earth, so we continue in the same calling, through the mercy and power of Christ, to extend the (gardenesque) tabernacle/temple worship throughout the earth.  We do this when our artistic, musical, academic, athletic, commercial, and other works are offered up to the glory of God.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How has God gifted you?  Do you see the "works of your hands" as one of the primary forms of worship in your life?  How are you extending, or can you extend, the goodness, kindness, beauty and order of God into the world through the works of your hands?  In what ways are you tempted to worship the works of your hands?  Is prayer a regular part of the work of your hands?  Jesus came to redeem us from slavery to our idols and to redirect all of our work to the glory of God.  Go to him.

 

Exodus 32:1-24

Now is a good time to note some of the broader structures of our recent readings in Exodus.  We have already seen some of the creational, or re-creational, imagery in the tabernacle design, but there are other hints at re-creation that are not as readily apparent.  Terence Fretheim points out that there are seven divine speeches that make up the tabernacle design (Exodus 25-31), corresponding to the seven days of creation.  The seventh divine speech, regarding Sabbath observance (31:12-17), clearly corresponds to God’s Sabbath on the seventh day of creation.  In the sixth divine speech (31:1-11), corresponding to God’s creation of humanity on the sixth day, God sets apart Bezalel and Oholiab to "rule over" the tabernacle construction.  Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the chaotic waters, bringing form and fullness to formlessness and emptiness (Genesis 1:2), so the Spirit of God fills Bezalel and Oholiab to “re-create a world in the midst of of chaos wherein God may dwell once again in a world suitable for the divine presence” (Exodus, 269-270).   

In Exodus 32, the people of Israel show that they are no better than Adam and Eve.  Fretheim points out that it is “Genesis 3 all over again” (279).  He lists seven contrasts between the tabernacle and the golden calf:  God’s initiative vs. the people’s initiative, a willing offering requested (25:2) vs. Aaron’s command for gold, painstaking preparations vs. no planning, lengthy building process vs. quick construction, safeguarding of divine holiness vs. immediate accessibility, invisible God vs. visible god, personal and active God vs. impersonal object (267).  We may add an eighth contrast:  the good fruit of worship/Sabbath rest vs. the spoiled fruit of revelry (32:6).  This list sheds so much light on the various aspects and motivations of our own idolatry.  We also see reflections of Aaron’s blameshifting (32:22-24) in our own lives, just as his blameshifting was a reflection of Adam’s.  

We will look more closely at Moses’ response tomorrow (32:11-21, 25-35).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Take time to review Fretheim’s contrasts between true worship of God at the tabernacle and idol worship.  Ask God to search your heart and show you the idols, self-governing motivations, and fruits of idolatry in your life.  For example, “How am I trying to take shortcuts (“no planning” and “immediate accessibility”) to satisfaction rather than finding true satisfaction In God, which requires spiritual discipline and time?”  Or, “Where do I see myself making demands of people when I should be seeking their hearts?  What idol is causing me to do this?"
     
  • Where do you see blameshifting in your relationships, work, internal “conversations," etc.?  Is this a clue to idols in your life?  Go to Jesus for forgiveness and the transforming, re-creating power of his Spirit.  

 

Exodus 32 (or complete the chapter -- yesterday was 32:1-24)

If anyone does not believe that prayer actually makes a difference, let him read Exodus 32:11-14.  Moses speaks to God and God relents from "the disaster he had threatened.”  Fretheim helps us understand what is happening:  “It is not a matter of Moses’ winning the argument but of a relationship that God takes seriously” (Exodus, 286).  

The people, however, continue “running wild” (32:25) and Moses calls all of the repentant ones to gather around him (32:26).  “The great majority of the people . . . remain unmoved; their silent indifference to the call is deafening.  In other words, this is an intensification of the apostasy evident in the golden calf episode . . .” (289).   The LORD instructs the faithful Levites, who do respond to Moses’ call, to slaughter a representative number of the population.  Fretheim is again helpful:  “It is noteworthy that the subsequent slaughter could have been avoided at this point if everyone had answered positively ... Modern sensitivities may get in the way of our interpretation of this method, but it is continuous with other texts (see Deut. 13!; cf. I Kings 18:40; II Kings 10:17).  For this juncture in Israel’s life, when its entire future is at stake, radical sin is believed to call for radical measures ...” (289).  

When the dust settles, Moses seeks to intercede for the people once again, in exemplary fashion, but this time unsuccessfully (32:30-35).  We go to Fretheim one more time today:  “The divine response is not easy to fathom.  The key is to understand this section as less than a final divine decision (as 32:10 was earlier).  God refuses to accept Moses’ offer (see 23:21) — though no judgment is made regarding the principle of one atoning for the many . . .” (290).  Passages like this awaken us to the conditional aspects of God’s covenant with his people.  There are two parties to the covenant, and God rightfully demands wholehearted obedience.  It is only through believers’ union with Christ, who perfectly fulfills our side of the covenant, that the covenant takes on a one-sided or unconditional sense.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Do you believe that God takes your prayers seriously?  We probably take our prayers as seriously as we believe that God takes them.  Remember that within this one chapter, Moses saw different responses to his requests, though the Lord definitely heard and responded to them all.  Where do you need to intercede for others and seek the Lord’s mercy and grace?  
     
  • How do the two very different responses to Moses’ call to repentance speak to you?
     
  • How do God’s righteous anger and righteous demands make his acceptance of Christ’s atoning work all the more sweet to you?  

 

Exodus 33

Moses’ “face to face” conversation with God continues.  The fate of the people, particularly the nature of their relationship to God, hangs in the balance (33:3).  They seem to finally realize the precariousness of their current situation (33:4).  The ornamental jewelry given to them by the Egyptians, a sign of their redeemed status (which they had partially forfeited in the golden calf incident), is removed (33:4-6).  This is not a good sign.  Yet Moses persists.

God assures Moses that his Presence will be with him (33:14), but Moses wants to be sure that his Presence will be with all of the people (33:15-16).  God reassures him on the basis of his intimate relationship with Moses (33:17).  Moses is never more a shadow of Christ than in these words of God spoken over him (cf. Matthew 3:17).  Perhaps for further assurance of God’s Presence with Israel, Moses asks to see God’s glory (33:18).  But God gives him more than a glimpse of his glory.  God proclaims his “goodness” to Moses (33:19, 34:6-7), revealing not only his glory but also his character (Exodus, Terence Freheim).

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Today, do you sense your desperate need for God’s Presence in all of your endeavors?  

 

Exodus 34

God not only reveals his character more fully in this chapter (34:6-7), He shows the depths of his compassion, grace, faithfulness, and forgiveness by reaffirming his covenant promises to a rebellious people in several ways.  He has Moses chisel out two new stone tablets, a tangible sign of covenant reaffirmation (34:1, 27-28); He reaffirms his promises and instructions in regard to the new land (34:10-16); and He summarizes the laws for how they shall live in the land (34:17-26).  Finally, He revealed the light of his guidance and glory in the face of Moses.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Exodus 34:6-7 is one of the most important passages in all of Scripture for understanding the character of God (cf. Joel 2:13; Psalm 86:15,103:80-13,145:8; Nehemiah 9:17; Numbers 14:17-19; Jonah 4:2; etc.).  It would be a great passage to commit to memory.  Take time to consider who God is, to praise and thank him. 
     

Exodus 35-39

Déjà vu?  Haven’t we already read all of these detailed descriptions of the tabernacle and priestly garments?  The first time (Exodus 25-30) was a description of what was to be built whereas today’s passage is the description of the building process, but is all of the repetition really necessary?  The summary verses in our reading today (39:42-43) reveal that the building process is written down in detail in order to show the importance of obedience to God’s command.  Israel had already compromised their worship once, and they would be tempted to syncretize their worship in the new land, but today's passage displays Israel’s renewed commitment to obedience as well as God’s faithfulness to his people in spite of their recent rebellion.  What emerges from these pages is a beautiful picture of wholehearted obedience, as the people generously give their time, talents (e.g. 35:25), and treasures (esp. 36:5) to make a dwelling place for God.  It is a word to future generations of the church that God is the only Director of worship, that there are many parts but one body, that wholehearted obedience brings life, and that God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness . . .” (34:6).    

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Israel seemed to be especially awake to mercy and faithfulness of God, as their hearts overflowed with a desire to worship and obey.  In the same way, wholehearted, joyful obedience only comes when we are remembering and living in the grace and mercy of Christ.  Does obedience out of overflow in Exodus 36:5 describe your life right now?  

 

Exodus 40

Jesus is the firstfruits of the new creation (I Corinthians 15:23), just as the tabernacle was a new creation at the beginning of a new year (40:2,17).  Jesus is the fulfillment of the “Testimony” or law of God (40:3).  Jesus is the bread of the Presence (40:4,23).  Jesus is the light of the world (40:4,24-25).  Jesus is the sacrificial offering for our sin, who makes us holy (40:6,29).  Through his sacrificial death, Jesus breaks through the curtain separating God and man (40:5, Matthew 27:51).  He is the anointed One -- the chosen One set apart by God to redeem God’s people, our great high priest, and the sender of the Holy Spirit who anoints God’s people for blessing, protection, and service in the kingdom (40:9ff.; II Corinthians 1:21-22).  He is the tabernacle of God, who goes before us, dwells in us, and reveals the glory of God to us.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • In Christ, we have all things.  What stands out to you, today, as you consider all that we have in Christ?