Sometimes we screw up…sometimes we screw up royally. At the base of Mt. Sinai, Israel did the latter when they worshiped the golden calf. They earned God’s wrath – thankfully, because of intercession, God’s mercy was made known.

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Saving Us from our Screw-ups

Posted: February 14, 2019 in Exodus, Uncategorized

Exodus 32, “Saving Us from our Screw-ups”

Sometimes we screw up – other times we screw up royally! Let’s be honest: there aren’t too many days when we do everything right, but there are a whole bunch of days that we do everything wrong. That’s just life – it’s our human nature, despite our tendencies to deny it. That isn’t to offer ourselves any excuses; it simply the way that it is. The things we do wrong are our own fault, so we may as well take responsibility for them.

The good news? Jesus died for screw-ups like us! Jesus shed His blood on the cross, giving His life as a substitution for our own lives, and died in our place to take upon Himself the wrath of God. Then He rose from the dead, offering us forgiveness, eternal life, and fellowship with the Living God. Jesus offers true amazing grace to any who would respond to Him in faith & believe. That is good news!

How could we sum it up? Sin earns the wrath of God, but the substitution and mercy of Jesus turns it away.

What we proclaim through the gospel is illustrated in the pages of the Old Testament and in the history of Israel. Camping at the base of Mount Sinai, Israel screwed up royally, and earned for themselves the fullness of the wrath of God. Thankfully, they had someone who interceded on their behalf, offering himself as a substitute (as much as he could) – and God showed His mercy and grace. Their rebellion earned the wrath of God, but grace turned it away. It was good news for the Hebrews, and good news for us!

To get an idea of how badly the Hebrews screwed up, we need to backtrack a bit in the book of Exodus. After freeing the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery, and personally leading them through the Red Sea & wilderness, YHWH God made His covenant with the people at Mount Sinai. They swore they would obey Him fully, worshipping Him along, and sealed that promise through sacrifice and a covenantal meal. Afterwards, God invited Moses further up the mountain to receive detailed instructions about the tabernacle: God’s dwelling place among the Hebrews, where they would come to worship, offer sacrifices for sin, give offerings for worship, and to pray. God even promised to empower people bedside Moses to do the work of building, because all of the Israelites were part of this glorious covenant relationship with God – that covenant being expressed through the sign of the weekly Sabbath rest in God’s promises and provision.

Considering this took several chapters in the book of Exodus to record, consider how much time it took for Moses to witness on the mountain. It took time…too much time, in the eyes of the Hebrews. They became impatient, and their impatience led to doubt, which led to rebellion, idolatry, and sin. They screwed up royally, and were in desperate need of a mediator – someone who would intercede on their behalf for God’s mercy.

We so often do the same thing as the Hebrews: we screw up. We rebel, often even wanting to worship a god of our own understanding rather than the God who saved us and called us to Himself. What do we need at that point? A Mediator – an Intercessor…and we have one in Jesus! Although our rebellion earns for us the wrath of God, the intercession of Jesus turns it away.

We don’t want to rebel in the first place – but when we do, praise God that we have an Intercessor in Jesus!

Exodus 32

  • Sin: denying and rebelling against God (1-6)

1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

  1. What was the problem? From Moses’ perspective, nothing. From the people’s perspective, Moses “delayed” in his return. They didn’t understand what was going on, and instead of relying upon what they knew and personally experienced, they assumed the worst. Literally, the idea of delay is “caused shame in delay.” Not that Moses was shamed, but the people felt shame – as if they were embarrassed for waiting at the foot of the mountain. There they were, in the process of receiving one of the most glorious privileges imaginable (having God personally dwell among them), and they were ashamed at the idea that it took some time.
  2. Ultimately, the problem was that they remembered Moses, but they didn’t remember YHWH. Who was it that brought them out of Egypt? Moses was the prophet used by God, but God was the one who did the work. God brought the plagues – God sent His Angel on Passover – God parted the Red Sea – God gave manna in the wilderness – God brought water from the rock, etc. God did it all. God even demonstrated His glory to the people is such a violent visible & audible way (by descending on Mt. Sinai in smoke, fire, and with earthquakes) that the people begged Moses to talk to God alone on their behalf. Yet for all that, they forgot Him.
    1. How quickly we forget! How quickly we move away from the incredible work of Jesus on our behalf & His glorious intervention in our lives, to look solely at ourselves, our desires, and our temptations. We forget the God who saved us, all because of our selfish impatience.
  3. In this case, impatience led to idolatry, as they specifically asked Aaron to “make us gods that shall go before us.” Although the presence of God had gone before them (the pillar of cloud & fire), the people wanted gods of their own making. They wanted gods they could see & ultimately control, because this so-called “gods” would be fashioned by human hands.
    1. Any god made in the image of man is not God at all! By definition, the true God is beyond us, because He created us. Anytime we start relying upon our imaginations and our preferences to form our image of God, we are creating a false god. The true God has already revealed Himself to us, in the person of Jesus and in the pages of Scripture. It is there we look for His revelation, and nowhere else!

2 And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron.

  1. Incredibly, Aaron agreed, asking the people to give him the gold needed to overlay a wooded statue that would be formed into the idol. Question: what was the origin of the gold? God gave it to them as plunder from the Egyptians the night of their departure. In other words, the very fact that these former slaves had any gold at all was evidence of the work of the true God among them. Yet they use the gifts and blessings given them by God to undermine Him & rebel against Him. The true shame was not Moses’ delay; it was the people’s rush to rebellion.
    1. Be careful not to point too many fingers – it’s easy for us to do the same. How often do we take the blessings of God & use them for our sin? The sin of Israel was not unique; it was just written down. 
  2. What possible reason could Aaron have had to agree to do this?! Some have suggested that Aaron asked for the gold as a delay tactic, which backfired. The text doesn’t say, so we cannot know. What we do know is that Aaron failed to stand strong for the Living God. Of all people, the brother of Moses, the man who served as the mouthpiece to Pharaoh, the one called (but not yet ordained) by God to be high priest of Israel – Aaron should have known better! He should have steadfastly refused, risking the consequences of the people, knowing that they were nothing compared to the fear of the Lord. Yet he didn’t. Aaron failed monumentally, and it almost caused the people to be fully consumed in God’s wrath. Were it not for the pleading prayer of Moses, all 1 million+ people would have been destroyed…with Aaron being almost solely responsible. Aaron’s lack of conviction was extraordinarily dangerous.
    1. For all of that, don’t forget that Aaron still served God and Israel as high priest. God still graciously used Aaron for His own glory, and instead of Aaron bringing great sin upon the people, he later offered sacrifices for the sin of the people. Aaron screwed up in a major way, but God gave Him major grace. 

4 And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

  1. Aaron gave them a “god” they recognized, but what he gave was blasphemous: “a molded calf.” “Calf” might be too young a picture – the word simply refers to a young bull. That sort of imagery would make logical sense, as it was fresh in their minds from Egyptian slavery. Among the pantheon of the Egyptians was Apis, a god in the form of a young bull, often revered in the region of Memphis. Aaron’s logic seemingly went something like this: the people of Israel did not remember the glory of God among them (or didn’t want to remember it), so he gave them an image to which they could relate. This was how their previous culture viewed their gods, so perhaps Israel could see God in the same way. 
  2. The people took it and ran with it, attributing God’s act of salvation to the idol. “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Can you imagine? Consider taking someone to the hospital at a time they were in desperate pain. You load them in your car, speak words of kindness to them, and get them the help they need. And then once the person is out of danger, he picks up a miniature doll and thanks it for getting them to the hospital. It’s absurd – it’s insulting…and that was exactly the way Israel treated the true God.
    1. It’s also the way many people (including many Christians) treat the true God today. Unbelievers routinely praise the creation but never their Creator, speaking of the marvels of science without looking to the God who set science in motion. Other times, Christians credit ourselves for our achievements, without giving glory to God (although He is the one who gives every good gift). It is just as foolish and just as insulting. (Which makes it even more amazing that God still chose to give Jesus for us!)

5 So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.”

  1. Notice that Aaron not only formed the image, but “he built an altar before it.” He may not have personally worshipped the idol, but his actions condoned it and made the false worship possible. Drawing an arbitrary line at worship did not absolve Aaron of his own sin. He made the idolatry of the rest of the nation possible.
  2. Some might object, saying that at least Aaron tried to use the idol to point people to YHWH. Yes, it was a graven image used for worship, but perhaps Aaron could use it temporarily to redirect the people back to true worship. In fact, that seems to be the case, as Aaron proclaimed a feast to YHWH for the next day. Perhaps the golden calf could be thought of a “jump-start” back to true worship (like jumper cables). Problem: It didn’t change the fact that all of it was false. No matter how Aaron tried to justify the action, it didn’t make it anything less than sin and rebellion. As the saying goes, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. Aaron’s desired end did not justify the means. We cannot offer God true worship through idolatrous means. If we start with a wrong image of God, we worship the wrong
    1. Start with the right image! Jesus told us exactly how: through Himself! (John 14:6)
  3. What was the result of all of this? The preamble and the first two of the 10 Commandments were broken. Exodus 20:2–5a, “(2) “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. (3) “You shall have no other gods before Me. (4) “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; (5) you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” Keep in mind this was the foundation of the covenant agreement they had with YHWH God – and they were violating it before even receiving it in their hands!
    1. The point? This was no minor sin! This was a major problem. This wasn’t a case of “You worship God however you want to worship God, and I’ll do the same, no big deal.” This was a case of abandoning and rebelling against the God they had agreed to serve. This was treason.

6 Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

  1. There was a huge celebration among the people, as they gave to the idol that which belonged to God. The worship that took place with the “burnt offerings and…peace offerings” were the same offerings that were brought to the true God when Israel first affirmed the covenant. (Exo 24:5) This was direct spiritual adultery!
  2. BTW: What did it mean that the people “rose up to play.” Some have theorized that this included some kind of drunken sexual orgy – which is possible, but not necessarily implied by the text. The Hebrew refers to laughing, with the word as the same root as the name of Isaac (צָחַק). Later, the text tells us that the people were “unrestrained” (vs. 25), so possibly the idea was that the people were totally unruly, raucous, and wild. It wasn’t at all how the worship of God was supposed to be done. God is a God of order; not the author of confusion. (1 Cor 14:33)
  • Anger: the wrath of God (7-14)

7 And the LORD said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.

  1. Up on the mountain, God knew what was going on! Although Moses was out of sight of the people, no person is hidden from Almighty God. He immediately knew their action and rebellion.
  2. And He knew the result: corruption. Sin corrupts us, always. It ruins us, souring our relationship with God, and spoiling the purity He desires for us. There’s a reason the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23): sin corrodes, corrupts, and defiles. It isn’t something to toy with; it is something to be avoided at all costs. (And immediately confessed when committed!)
  3. Once God knew, God acted. There would soon be physical discipline, but the worst part was the immediate dis-ownership. Whose people did God say that these were? Moses’ people; not His own. “Your people whom you” At this point, God agreed with the sinful people below. They hadn’t remembered the gracious work of God on their behalf, so God chose not to remember them either. God was ready to give them up & give them over to their sin (a truly dangerous place to be!).

8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’ ” 9 And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people!

  1. God knew their actions. He knew all that they had said & done. Again, nothing was hidden from Him.
  2. God knew their hearts. The corruption had already taken place: they were “a stiff-necked people.” They were stubborn beyond stubbornness – they were virtually immovable from their sin and pride.
    1. Don’t be proud; be humble! Humble people can be shaped by God; proud people must be broken by Him.

10 Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.”

  1. Quite the threat! God was fully ready to “consume” the Hebrews in His wrath. The writer of Hebrews says that God is an all-consuming fire, and that it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands. (Heb 12:29, 10:31) Just like God had the right to judge and destroy the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, etc., God had the right to do it with the Israelites. He had the right, and He had the power to do so. A threat from the Almighty God is not an empty one! This was incredibly serious.
  2. Quite the offer! God basically said that He would make Moses a new Abraham. As terrible as it would have been for the Israelites, imagine the honor it was for Moses to be the new father of God’s chosen people. Yet there was something better God had in mind for Moses: to be not the father, but the intercessor.
  3. Objection: God wanted Moses to intercede?! Yes! Look at what God said: “Let Me alone, that” The threat was real, but it was conditional. God had something in mind for Moses in the midst of all of this, and Moses followed through immediately!
    1. So what? So in the midst of the danger of immediate judgment, there was already the hint of mercy and grace!

11 Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?

  1. Moses pleaded.” He prayed fervently! Like a subject might beg the favor of his king, so did Moses beg the favor of the Sovereign God.
  2. Moses pleaded, by reminding the Lord of three things. Reminder #1: The Hebrews were God’s people; not Moses’. What God had said, Moses turned around. Moses had not saved the people; God had. They were His, and God had called them by His name. God had already acted mercifully towards them, surely He would continue to do so.

12 Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people.

  1. Reminder #2: God’s reputation was at stake. God’s mercy wasn’t deserved by the people, but God could glorify Himself in showing it. The Egyptians had already witnessed the power of God against their own nation, in favor of the Hebrews. What would it say if God destroyed the Hebrews in the desert to a worse extent than what the plagues had done to Egypt? The mercy of God would benefit His witness and reputation.

13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ”

  1. Reminder #3: God had made promises to be kept. Each one of the patriarchs had been promised that their descendants would inherit the promised land. Although technically that promise would continue if God started over again through Moses (since Moses was also a child of Abraham), the intent of it would be drastically changed if God did so.
    1. BTW: Notice how Moses refers to “Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,” rather than “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Granted, they are the same person, but it is a subtle reminder that God promised to show mercy not just upon one man, but upon the nation.
  2. Question: What was the purpose of all the reminders? Is God forgetful to the point that He needs reminding? Not at all. Moses prayed through these reminders because these were all things based in the promises and person of God Himself. Israel was not worthy of God giving grace, but God Himself is. When Moses prayed, he based his prayer on God’s goodness; not his own or Israel’s.
    1. One of the best things we can do in prayer is pray back the promises of God. Pray through God’s word, quoting Scripture back to Him. It’s not that He needs the reminder – it’s that He is glorified through His word. We will never be more sure of praying the will of God than when we pray the word of God.

14 So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.

  1. Verse 14 has caused all kinds of heartache for some. The KJV says that God “repented of the evil,” and the NASB says that “the LORD changed His mind.” How can that be true of God, when the Bible expressly say He doesn’t do these things? Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” [Balaam, re: the blessings God pronounced on Israel.] Is this a contradiction in our Bibles? We need to think it through based on the text and the known character of God. The word “harm” (רָעָה) has a variety of possible translations, all depending on the context: evil, misery, distress, injury (BDB). If the same words were used of us, we might say that we repented from our evil; when they are used of God, the context drastically changes. For Him, He relents from the distress – He turns from the misery that would be brought. Think of it this way: God comforts the afflicted – He pities the people of the harm that might have come. What makes the difference? The goodness and righteousness of the character of God.
  2. God is not fickle, like we are. God has emotion, but He is not subject to its whims. We get caught up in our anger and do foolish things; God does not. We get caught up in pity and act rashly; God does not. He is purposeful and measured in all He does, even as He exemplifies mercy and grace to extreme measures. 
  3. Question: In this situation, did God change His mind? Earlier, He said He would consume the Hebrews, and here He chose not to do it. No – this is the sovereign power of God on display. God was indeed fully prepared to destroy the Hebrews, but He also wanted Moses to intercede for the Hebrews. Moses did, so God acted according to His predetermined plan to show mercy. Think about it: God could have withheld His judgment right from the start, but Moses would not have had a need to pray. God wanted Moses to act as the mediator, and He wanted to show mercy to His people. Both were accomplished, all to God’s glory.
  • Justice: the righteous judgment of God (15-29)

15 And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand. The tablets were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written. 16 Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets.

  1. Chapter 31 ended by describing the tablets given to Moses by God – a reminder is given here. Basically, these were the covenant – they had the foundational covenant rules (the 10 Commandments) written upon them. Everything that the people were violating below, were specified in Moses’ hands written by the finger of God.

17 And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” 18 But he said: “It is not the noise of the shout of victory, Nor the noise of the cry of defeat, But the sound of singing I hear.”

  1. How raucous was the false worship of the people? Loud enough to carry up the mountain as Moses and Joshua descended! The truly tragic part? All of that excitement should have been given to God! If they had but waited for Moses to come down, they could have rejoiced in righteousness. Even without Moses among them, they could have worshipped God with the knowledge that they had, having already seen His glory and heard His voice. They could have given the true God all their passionate worship, but instead, they wasted it on empty idols.

19 So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses’ anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20 Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it.

  1. Considering that God had already told Moses what was happening, was this over-the-top? Did Moses overreact? Not at all. Once seeing it with his own eyes, he understood the righteous wrath of God toward the people. By smashing the precious tablets from God, Moses broke what had already been broken by the Hebrews. They had already broken the covenant – why give them the tablets with the covenant written upon it?
  2. Moses didn’t stop there. He went on to give a powerful, tangible lesson by destroying the idol, grinding it to powder & forcing the Hebrews to drink it. Not only did it defile the idol (passing through their collective digestive systems), but it demonstrated its emptiness. Can the true God be destroyed & burned? Absolutely not! It showed the extent to how Israel traded the truth for a lie. 

21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?”

  1. Good question! What could have possibly caused Aaron to do this? Who forced Aaron to allow such evil? Answer: no one.

22 So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”

  1. Aaron blamed the people – they were the ones “set on evil;” not him. Perhaps Aaron did fear for his life from the hands of a mob, but the earlier text in the chapter doesn’t say. Even so, Aaron did not have to follow through. He could have trusted the Lord to defend him or avenge him.
  2. Aaron quoted the scene accurately, but he totally absolved himself of any responsibility. Yes, he took the gold & yes, he threw it into the fire…but how this calf popped out, he had no idea!
    1. When you sin, own it! Confess it, take responsibility for it, and fall upon the mercies of God through Jesus Christ. Denying it doesn’t do yourself any favors.

25 Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies), 26 then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, “Whoever is on the LORD’s side—come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him.

  1. All this time, even after Moses’ angry destruction of the tablets and interview with Aaron, some of the people were still running wild. Amazing! That’s the extent to how caught up the people were in their debauchery.
  2. That’s when Moses called out a good question: Who is on God’s side? It was obvious who was against the Lord, but were there any Hebrews left who were for Him? Were there any who would deny themselves and follow God?
    1. What about us? We so often want God to be on our side, but how much better it is when we are on His side! Do we choose to deny ourselves and follow Christ? Do we go against the flow of our culture, choosing to publicly give ourselves to God? Those are the ones whom God seeks!

27 And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’ ”

  1. Severe punishment was pronounced in the form of mass execution. The Levites would have to do the hardest thing they were ever called to do: slay their fellow Israelites. Question: Was this too harsh? Not at all – not in terms of a broken covenant between a King and His people. At the end of the day, false worship is treason.
  2. When we make the choice to follow Jesus, it might mean leaving family behind, leaving friends behind. Obviously, we do not administer God’s discipline upon them, but we might have to make a choice between Jesus and others. Jesus is worth the choice.

28 So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day. 29 Then Moses said, “Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD, that He may bestow on you a blessing this day, for every man has opposed his son and his brother.”

  1. How the Levites received the priesthood.
  • Mercy: appealing to the goodness of God (30-35)

30 Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. So now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”

  1. Moses offered to intercede for them again.
  2. This time, the people would know what became of Moses! (vs. 1)

31 Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! 32 Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.”

  1. Moses made a full confession on behalf of the people. Did not sugarcoat their sin at all.
  2. Moses offered himself as a substitute.

33 And the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.

  1. God’s promise to Moses is that Moses would not be punished for the sin of the people. Individuals would suffer for their individual sin.
  2. This is a key difference between Moses and Jesus. After all, Moses can’t serve as an acceptable substitute. Why? He had sins of his own. Only Jesus can be a true substitute for sin.
  3. Question: Can someone be blotted out of the Lord’s book, the Book of Life? Apparently so. Jesus uses the same imagery with the church in Sardis, although in that case, it was the promise not to blot out names from the Book of Life (Rev 3:5).
    1. Keep in mind that this is not the same thing as someone losing his/her salvation in Christ. Our eternal security is only secure when we are in Jesus; that is not necessarily the picture in either Exodus or Revelation. Those who don’t believe in Jesus have no security in Jesus.

34 Now therefore, go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you. Behold, My Angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin.”

  1. God promises mercy. God declared He would not abandon His people. His “Angel” would still lead them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. His covenant would be kept, and His people would remain His people. It wasn’t what they deserved, but it was what God’s character would provide. He is a merciful God!
  2. God promises discipline. There would be a time for “punishment,” and those who earned it would receive it. 
  3. One does not contradict the other! God is merciful, and God is righteous. Often, we have a difficult time reconciling these things, but God does not. We see it perfectly displayed at the cross.

35 So the LORD plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.

  1. Was there an additional plague? It would seem so. It’s possible that the plague referenced here was the execution of 3000 people by the Levites, but it seems more likely that God sent a supernatural plague among those who were the worst offenders in the idolatrous rebellion. This was a personal action by God – perhaps the fulfillment of God’s promise of “punishment” in verse 34.
  2. Even so, God was still merciful. How so? The people of Israel still existed! There was a plague & a punishment, but the people as a whole were not consumed. Moses had interceded on their behalf, and God honored that intercession with His mercy and grace.

Conclusion:

It’s hard to imagine the Hebrews messing up on a larger scale than what they did. At the very moment that God was concluding His visions and instructions to Moses about a dwelling place for God among His own people, because He was their covenant ruler and King – that was when the people below broke the covenant, falling into gross idolatry. Worse yet, they were aided by the one person who ought to have known better: their soon-to-be high priest, Aaron!

It was a capital offense, fully deserving of capital punishment: the unfiltered wrath of God. What was the only thing that stood in the way? A mediator – an intercessor in Moses. He pleaded for the mercy of God, and God graciously gave it – administering His just discipline, but never casting His people away.

We have a far better Mediator: Jesus! Jesus not only pleads to God on our behalf, but He actually satisfies the wrath of God that is owed for our sin. We have screwed up no less than Israel. Our sins are equally rebellious, spitting in the face of the God who saved us, bought us, and brought us into His own family. Even as born-again believers in Jesus, we have engaged in spiritual treason and adultery any time we try to force God into our image or insert our own will above His own. There ought to be no doubt that we deserve His wrath. Praise God we do not receive it! Jesus already did, and He lives today as proof that the price has been paid in full!

So what do we do now? Obviously we still fall into sin & rebellion – even though we mentally know to avoid it at all costs. When we do, follow the example of Moses: confess it honestly & fully, not hiding anything or denying our responsibility (like Aaron) – and then fall upon the mercies of God, fully shown to us in the substitution of Jesus on our behalf. We cannot pay the price for own sin; Jesus already did, all to the glory of God! Now we confess it & be cleansed (1 Jn 1:9), and we rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit to walk in newness of life. We make no excuses; we simply throw ourselves upon the mercies and grace of Jesus.

What do you do when you face challenges? We can deal with them in our pride, or we can humble ourselves and let the Lord guide us. When Paul faced his challenges, he humbled himself for the sake of the gospel and the sovereignty of God.

Changing with the Challenges

Posted: February 10, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 16:1-10, “Changing with the Challenges”

Anything worth doing will have its challenges. For those who want to become medical doctors, they must prepare for 11-15 years’ worth of education, and many sleepless nights. For those wishing to become Navy SEALs, they need to endure not only the normal rigorous military training, but an additional intense 24-week school, including what is known as “Hell Week,” preparing for pain, torture, struggle, and life/death situations. And though other pursuits are less intense, similar statements of endurance and sacrifice could be said of any vocation, sport, etc. If you want to get it done right – if you want to succeed, you will need to put up with the challenges.

The Christian life is no different. Whether one is in full-time ministry or not is irrelevant. Those in the pew face their own share of challenges just as much as those in the pulpit. There are days when everything hits on all cylinders, going great – and then there are days (and seasons!) when it seems that everything is hitting the brakes & we don’t know what to do.

How do we respond to those challenges? Every situation is going to be a bit different, and there is no catch-all solution to every problem – but there are still some things that are the same. Take our attitudes, for instance. For all the differences that exist in our challenges, one thing that is constant is the fact that we are the ones facing them. We have to personally deal with them on some level, and our attitudes make a huge difference in how we experience them. Think about it from another perspective: with all due respect to the dental profession, few people like going to the dentist. How do we respond? We can either kick in our heels, complain, and fear everything – or we can relax and try to make the best of it. Our attitudes make all the difference.

It’s the same way with the challenges we face in our faith. What do we do when we have to deal with difficult people and seemingly impossible situations? What do we do when it seems like our prayers are hitting the ceiling? We can either get mad, frustrated, and try to push our way through – or we can relax and trust Jesus to show us the way. The former might feel more natural, but the latter is far better!

To a large extent, this was what Paul experienced as he got started on his 2nd missionary journey. He had his own challenges to face, and his attitude went a long way to getting him on the other side. Paul had the choice of digging in his heels & pushing his own way – or, he could tame his ego, walk in humility, and see the work of God. 

Remember what got us to this point. Paul, Barnabas, and the other Christians had just experienced a tremendous vindication over the group of false teachers known as the Judaizers. Whereas the Judaizers claimed that Gentiles must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in addition to coming to faith in Christ (making salvation a “Jesus +,” which is not the good news at all!), Paul taught the biblical gospel. Paul and Barnabas held fast to the teaching that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone (Jesus + nothing!). Because the Judaizers had come to Antioch of Syria claiming authority from Jerusalem, the debate was taken back to Jerusalem to get the opinion of the apostles and elders there. Although the issue was carefully examined, the church leadership sided with Paul. Both the testimony of the Scriptures and the testimony of what God had already done among the Gentiles was proof that God had not called them to legalism.

The issue decided, the apostles and elders in Jerusalem wrote a decree detailing the freedom of Gentile Christians. They were not to live as lawless pagans, but neither did they need to become circumcised Jews. With that, there was much rejoicing! Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch to local ministry, all until God began stirring Paul’s heart for the mission field once again. He and Barnabas made plans to leave…all until the point that they came to a sharp disagreement over personnel. Barnabas wanted to give his cousin John Mark another shot at the field; Paul did not. In the end, the two men went their different ways, and Silas of Jerusalem was Paul’s new travelling partner. Together, they went forth on land through Syria and Cilicia.

It’s been often said, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken,” – Paul knew what it meant to be flexible. He could have bucked up in his pride, but he didn’t, and Christianity as a whole can be grateful as a result! Our own stubborn pride can create stumbling blocks for our witnessing, and create barriers between us and God. God will guide us, but we need to humble ourselves enough to listen to Him.

Pride is the enemy of the Great Commission, but humility serves the gospel of Christ. Humble yourself during challenges of faith, and watch Jesus move!

Acts 16:1–10

  • Challenged by the culture (1-5)

1 Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.

  1. Remember that when Paul and Barnabas decided to go different directions, they each were still planning to visit the churches they visited/planted during the 1st missionary journey. Barnabas and John Mark went to the island of Cyprus, going the original direction of the journey; Paul and Silas went backwards. Acts 15:41 tells us that Paul and Silas went by land through “Syria and Cilicia,” most likely passing through Paul’s hometown of Tarsus, but from there it was a relatively quick journey to what was originally the furthest-most cities on the previous trip: “Derbe and Lystra.” What’s notable about Lystra is that this was the city where Paul was nearly stoned to death, after the unbelieving Jews stirred up the city when Paul and Barnabas refused to be worshipped as gods (Acts 14:19-20). We’d understand if Paul might have been hesitant to return to the town, but it was apparently a priority for him, as it was one of the first places he went.
    1. Question: Was Paul foolhardy, and looking for trouble? Of course not. Paul simply had no reason to fear. Although we don’t read of a supernatural revelation from the Holy Spirit to Paul about this journey, it was no doubt bathed in prayer, and Paul had no warning from the Spirit not to go to Lystra. (And the Spirit did speak up on other occasions, as we’ll soon see!) God had called Paul on this journey, and the purpose was to visit the churches that were established. There was a church in Lystra, so naturally, it was on Paul’s list.
    2. We need not fear the things God has called us to do. That’s not to say that God will always call us to safe, easy things – even some of Paul’s missionary duties put him directly in harm’s way. Other brothers and sisters in Christ are called by God to witness to people who would persecute, harm, and even kill them. Sometimes, God calls us to truly dangerous Even so, we have no reason to fear. What God calls us to, God equips us for. The Holy Spirit gives strength to those who will be martyred – God gives the peace that passes understanding in our times of need. As Paul himself said (in the context of his suffering), “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Phil 4:13). Jesus’ grace is sufficient, and because it is, we can walk in faith instead of fear. We can step boldly where others fear to tread – not because of anything we can do, but because of everything Christ does for us.
  2. It was a good thing Paul went to Lystra, because that is where he found the young man he would later consider to be his son in the faith: Timothy. Luke provides only a brief introduction to Timothy at this point, writing that he was the son of a believing Jewish mother and a Greek father. (There’s no indication about his father’s faith in Christ.) Elsewhere from Paul’s writings, we know that Timothy’s mother was Eunice, and his grandmother was Lois, and both were strong believers in Christ (2 Tim 1:5). His father is unnamed, and considering nothing is said of him at all, it is probable that he was already dead. Considering that Timothy was already a “disciple” by the time Paul and Silas arrived in Lystra, when did Timothy get saved? It’s unknown, but there are only two possibilities: (1) it was during Paul’s 1st visit, or (2) as a result of the witness of his mother and/or grandmother. Either way, Timothy started out as a strong follower of Jesus, and remained that way the entirety of his life. He would go on to be one of Paul’s most faithful students and friends, become a leader at the church in Ephesus, and (according to legend) later martyred there.
  3. Two things are noted about Timothy at this point: First, he was half-Jewish, on his mother’s side. Second, he had a good reputation among Christians in two cities (Lystra and Iconium). That means that Timothy was already serving the Lord on some level prior to Paul’s arrival, which would make him a natural fit for the mission team. It also meant that there were some real challenges awaiting him, if he did join…

3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.

  1. To Paul, there was no doubt in his mind that Timothy would be extremely valuable in the ministry, but there was also a legitimate problem: he was a potential distraction from the gospel. Though technically Timothy had the freedom to remain uncircumcised, having a Jewish mother culturally meant that he was considered Jewish. While he remained among Gentiles in Gentile-heavy towns, this wasn’t a problem. After all, his father was Greek & everyone knew it, so no one pressed the issue about his Jewishness. But remember how Paul operated: he always went first to the local synagogues and preached the gospel to the Jews. And in these other cities, they might not be so understanding once they learned of Timothy’s parentage (which was a common way to be introduced). It was one thing for Paul to refrain from circumcising Gentiles; it was quite another to do so for Jews. This would have been a terrible hindrance to the ministry. Not only would it have called Timothy’s own testimony into question (potentially being a “bad” Jew although a faithful Christian), but it would have also fueled the rumors that surrounded Paul. Paul would constantly face challenges from the Judaizers, and these things eventually followed him to Jerusalem when a mob erupted at the temple at even the weakest suggestion that Paul had brought Gentiles to the temple (which he hadn’t – Acts 21:27-29). The last thing Paul needed was to hand his accusers any ammunition against him.
  2. So what did Paul do? He personally took care of the problem, and circumcised Timothy himself. Putting aside the painful nature of the act, don’t miss how big of a deal this was. Remember that Paul had just returned from Jerusalem where he won a victory against the Judaizers, with the specific judgment being that Gentiles (of which Timothy was half) did not need to get circumcised. Paul had argued vehemently that circumcision was unnecessary for Gentiles, and in fact, held the line regarding another one of his young students, Titus (Gal 2:3). Was Paul being inconsistent? He was being culturally appropriate to the circumstances. Gentiles wouldn’t care that Timothy was uncircumcised, but Jews would. If they knew Timothy was born of a Jewish mother, then they would consider him a disobedient Jew in violation of their holy covenant with God. Remember that not even Paul abandoned his Jewish culture; he simply saw the fulfillment of it in Jesus as the Messiah. But in the end, the gospel was paramount. This was not a battle to try to fight all over again; this was something Paul & Timothy both could humble themselves before & rectify. As Paul later wrote to the Corinthians: 1 Corinthians 9:19–22, “(19) For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; (20) and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; (21) to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; (22) to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” In this case, it wasn’t about Paul or Timothy being “right;” it was about how best they would be able to share the good news of Jesus.
  3. Question: Did Timothy have the freedom to remain uncircumcised? Did Paul have the freedom to try to argue the point? Yes. Was it worth it, if it set up a stumbling block to the gospel? No. Freedom is wonderful! Flaunting it is not. [Romans 14:1-18] Paul’s point to the Romans is that they had freedom on all kinds of things. Whether the meat they ate was slaughtered according to kosher regulations, or not – whether they met on Saturday for the Sabbath or not – none of those things affected one’s salvation, so each person could be convinced in his/her own mind. But there are two problems that could develop: (1) Christians might become judgmental of one another, and that sort of judgment doesn’t belong to us, but to God. (2) Other Christians might inadvertently cause another brother/sister to stumble in sin, by parading his/her freedom in front of the other. It isn’t worth it. Put it in modern terms: one Christian feels a freedom to drink alcohol, while another doesn’t. One of the worst things the 1st Christian could do would be to start guzzling beer in front of the 2nd Christian who is convinced it’s a sin. A massive stumbling block has just been put in the way. What would make it worse? If the 1st Christian did that same thing in front of a non-believer, who was (despite his/her lack of belief) was still convinced it was sinful. That person now has a major stumbling block from ever hearing the gospel from the Christian. Paul makes the same point to the Corinthians, when writing about eating meat sacrificed to idols: 1 Corinthians 10:31–33, “(31) Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (32) Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, (33) just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” The bottom line: our freedom does not trump the Great Commission. The freedom we experience in the gospel does not outdo the need to share the gospel with others. If our freedom is challenged when we still have a chance to share Jesus, then by all means we humble ourselves, because Jesus needs to be known!
  4. With this first challenge down, now what? Paul still had a mission ahead, so the group pressed on…

4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.

  1. Remember that this was part of Paul’s original plan: they were supposed to go back through the cities and visit the churches to see how everyone was doing. And they didn’t go empty-handed! They were able to take with them the letter that was written “by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem,” safeguarding them from the dangerous doctrine of the Judaizers. And it was necessary they do so. Although Luke doesn’t write of the Judaizers until Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem after the 1st missionary journey, Paul’s letter to the Galatians deals with the issue in-depth, acknowledging their own personal experience with it. Apparently the Judaizers hadn’t just gone to Antioch, but had quickly spread to other churches as well. The Jerusalem letter would have gone a long way to reaffirming the gospel of grace preached by Paul and Barnabas (which is the gospel of the grace of Jesus alone!).
  2. Some criticize Paul for delivering a letter saying no circumcision was necessary, in light of the fact that he just got done circumcising Timothy, but we have to keep in mind there were two different situations going on. These churches were full of Gentiles who were being pressured to become Jews; Timothy was a Jew (or at least seen as one), and Paul did what was necessary to remove any obstacles to Timothy’s witness. There’s no hypocrisy or contradiction; Paul preached and practiced grace alone!

5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.

  1. Whatever it was that Paul and the others in the group did, it worked! The good news of the Jerusalem decree was delivered, and the better news of the gospel of Jesus went forward. Note that the existing churches were not just “strengthened,” but “increased.” Like an athlete in training, the churches grew stronger, more firm in the faith, able to hold fast against unbiblical teaching (such as the Judaizers). More than that, they grew in number. These people who had come to faith were continuing to bring other people to faith, and no doubt Paul, Silas, and Timothy helped in the effort. After all, they hadn’t just come as letter carriers; they were evangelists. Everywhere Paul went, he searched for opportunities to tell people about Jesus, and it wouldn’t have mattered if it was his first time to visit a city, or if he had been there often.
  2. Strong churches aren’t necessarily measured in size (although these churches increased on a daily basis); strong churches share Jesus. The number of people in a building is not an indication on a congregation’s faithfulness to doctrine – after all, even cults can gather large groups together. A better indication of a church’s health & strength is its commitment to the gospel! Is Jesus preached? Is He known and witnessed by the people in the congregation? [Healthy sheep reproduce]
  3. So this was what Paul and Silas had originally set out to do. Was it over? Was it “mission accomplished”? Not quite. They weren’t content simply revisiting the places Paul had previously been; there were other cities where the gospel had not yet gone. Those people needed Jesus, too…and Paul, Silas, and Timothy were the ones to tell them! However, they had a few problems getting started…
  • Challenged by the Spirit (6-10)

6 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.

  1. Although it seems almost surreal, the missionary group faced active interference by the Holy Spirit. They tried to go west into Asia (the region; not the continent – the entire area in which Paul was at the time is modern-day Turkey), but the Holy Spirit forbade them from preaching in Asia. Likewise, they tried to go north into Bithynia, and the Spirit didn’t let them go there, either. How did the missionaries know the Holy Spirit was preventing them in these things? Luke doesn’t say, but apparently there was no doubt about it. God the Spirit either put up direct blocks to their travel, or put a heaviness upon them in prayer, or perhaps even gave them direct revelation (though undescribed by Luke). However God did it, He made His will known. There were certain places He did not want Paul going at the time.
  2. Question: Would Paul always be forbidding from preaching the gospel in Asia? Ephesus was in Asia, and not only did Paul briefly touch there on this particular journey while heading back to Antioch (Acts 18:19), but he returned there on his 3rd missionary journey, spending between 2-3 years there (Acts 19:1-10). God the Spirit did want Paul to preach in Asia…just not yet. Paul’s desire to preach the word in Asia (and Bithynia) was good, because anywhere we go is filled with people who need to know Jesus. It’s just that God had a particular plan in mind for Paul, and the Holy Spirit was directing him to what it was. The challenge for Paul was not getting in the way.
    1. Have you ever gotten in the way of what the Spirit wants to do? Maybe like Paul, you wanted to do something good, but it seemed that God wasn’t opening the door, so you forced your way through. (Some men have done this entering the ministry! They really wanted to be pastors, but they hadn’t received a pastoral calling from God. In the end, they were miserable & they quickly burned out.) In other cases, perhaps you weren’t necessarily in blatant sin, but were perhaps so consumed with what you wanted, you were blind to what God was doing through someone else. Either way, it has the same basic effect as sin: we’re putting our will in the place of God’s will.
    2. Never forget that God is God, and we’re not! If God the Holy Spirit wants to forbid us from doing something (even something that seems good to us), He has every right to do so. He is the sovereign King – He is the all-knowing Lord. He knows the end from the beginning, and He knows how He can best use us for His glory. If He wants to prevent us from going in one direction, it means He has another direction in mind for us to go. In other words, God still has a plan for us. When God puts up a blockade for us, it doesn’t mean He doesn’t want us (as if He didn’t pick us for the soccer or kickball team in school); it means He wants to use us differently. Why not let the God who formed you and created you determine for you how best He wants to use you? His plans are always going to be better than ours, guaranteed!
  3. BTW – In verse 7, some manuscripts say “the Spirit,” while other older texts say “the Spirit of Jesus.” Is there a difference? God the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Jesus. After all, Jesus is God. Calling the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of Jesus” simply affirms the unity of the Trinity.

8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

  1. Earlier, Paul experienced active interference by the Spirit. This time, he received active instruction from the Spirit! God gave him a dream of an unnamed “man of Macedonia” who “pleaded” with him to come preach the gospel. What an answer to prayer! Paul had been looking for a place to preach, earnestly desiring to share Jesus with people, and now he had crystal-clear direction. It was time to head over to Macedonia.
  2. Question: Does God still speak to us through dreams and visions? There’s nothing in the Scripture that would indicate otherwise. It is seen in the Old Testament: Joseph famously had two dreams that caused his brothers to get jealous and sell him into slavery (Gen 37). Likewise Daniel had a night vision explaining Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan 2), and a dream of his own about future empires (Dan 7). It is seen in the New Testament: Peter had his rooftop vision in Joppa showing him how God cleansed what was once unclean (Acts 10), and Paul had this event here. It is even spoken of in prophecy as a sign of the church age & the end times (Peter quoting Joel in Acts 2). There are enough Biblical examples to know that God can and sometimes does speak through dreams and visions. The key is not falling under the false assumption that every dream or vision is of God. Sometimes a dream is just a dream – sometimes we’ve got an overactive imagination, or we’ve eaten a weird food before bedtime, or we’re hallucinating during an illness. How can we know the difference between a dream/vision given by God & a vision brought on by bad eggs? Test it. As John wrote: “test the spirits, whether they are from God,” (1 Jn 4:1). Paul wrote something similar of prophecy: to let it be tested/judged (1 Cor 14:29). Whatever it is you experience in a dream or vision, hold it up to the clearly revealed word of God in the Scripture, and see how it matches up. In Paul’s case, he was actively seeking God for answers on where to preach the gospel, and it came as no surprise when God answered him.
  3. Note when God the Spirit gave Paul this vision: when Paul was actively engaged in ministry. It’s not like Paul was twiddling his thumbs binging on Netflix while half-heartedly praying that God might use him and direct him. On the contrary, Paul was in the field & active! There are times that we remain still and wait upon the Lord, but waiting upon His direction doesn’t mean that we’re hermits. We don’t lock ourselves away in a tower and do nothing. If you don’t know what the Lord wants you to do in the future, get busy doing what you know the Lord wants you to do now. Maybe you’re praying about a short-term mission trip (or even perhaps a long-term change to the mission field!) – while you wait for direction from the Holy Spirit, there is a mission field right outside our doors. Go share the gospel with your neighbor before you share Jesus overseas. Maybe you’re praying about a possible career change – in the meantime, be the best worker you can be right where you are. Be mindful of what God has given you now, instead of daydreaming about where He might take you in the future. The point? Look around and see what God has currently entrusted to you. Take care of those things first, knowing that the Holy Spirit will guide you along the way.

10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

  1. There was immediate obedience, and no wonder why. After being challenged by the Spirit so many times in his previous directions, surely Paul and the others were overjoyed to know God’s clear will for them. They were told where to go, and they didn’t have to be told twice! (Immediate obedience is always the best obedience!)
  2. FYI: note the move to the 1st person plural pronoun “” The author Luke includes himself. Apparently, Luke lived in Troas, and this was when he met Paul. Luke doesn’t write of the meeting, but just like Paul and Timothy hit it off, so did he and Luke. Luke was now part of the growing missionary group, and a much needed one as well, considering his occupation as a medical doctor. (BTW – Anyone can be used in the Great Commission! God needs preachers, but He wants more than preachers. God wants doctors, plumbers, teachers, accountants, laborers…you name it, God can use it!)

Conclusion:

Do you face challenges in your faith? Paul did. Although Paul saw a valuable future preacher in Timothy, he also saw a terrible stumbling block in Timothy’s lack of circumcision. Later, Paul was expressly forbidden from preaching the gospel in areas he wanted to go. Were either of these things wrong? No. Remaining free from circumcision would have been a grand expression of Timothy’s liberty, and was arguably the right thing to do. Likewise, sharing the gospel with anyone anywhere is the right thing to do. Both of these things were challenged…and they were challenged for the right reasons.

  1. Paul and Timothy needed their sole focus to be the gospel; not arguments and distractions.
  2. Paul needed to share the gospel where the Holy Spirit could use him best.

It’s not that what Paul wanted was wrong; it’s just that the Spirit wanted something better!

So what did Paul do? How did he handle it? Through humility.

  1. Paul did not push his “right” not to circumcise Timothy; both he and Timothy humbled themselves for the sake of the gospel.
  2. Paul did not force his will where the Holy Spirit prohibited him. Instead, he remained proactive until God gave him clear direction.

Either one of those things could have been sacrificed to Paul’s ego; Paul put it aside. He humbled himself before Jesus as Lord, and let Jesus be the One to guide him. And Jesus did! Again, pride is the enemy of the Great Commission, but humility is used to spread the gospel.

How often have we let our pride get in the way of the things God is doing? We’ve dug in our heels trying to force our will, rather than seeking God’s will. It’s not that the Holy Spirit won’t guide into the things He desires for us; oftentimes, we don’t know His will because we’re not truly listening. We want what we want, and it doesn’t always match up to what He wants.

Humble yourself! When you’re challenged, don’t buck up; get low to Jesus. Maybe your prayers aren’t being answered because of unconfessed sin in your life…humble yourself and repent. Maybe they aren’t being answered because God is trying to direct you…humble yourself and listen. Maybe you’ve got some difficult conversations to have with some difficult people. Don’t rehearse the argument and get riled up; go into it with humility, seeking what is best for the glory of God and the gospel. Let Jesus be Lord, and do what it takes for Him to be known.

What a privilege it is to be invited to worship & serve the Living God! What does it look like? It looks a lot like the instructions God gave to Moses regarding the consecration of the priests, the redemption of the people, and the empowerment of the artisans to build the tabernacle.

Exodus 29-31, “God’s Dwelling Place, part 3”

Consider for a moment the difference between a privilege and a right. A right is something we are owed, i.e. something that is “rightfully” ours. It is something that is supposed to be given to us, for no other reason than we are who we are. US citizens have the right to free speech, to the free exercise of religion, to bear arms, to vote, and more. These actions are not given to us when we travel to other nations, nor are they automatically extended to foreigners who are temporarily travelling to our nation. They are rights recognized as belonging to citizens of the United States of America, whenever we are on American soil. When those rights are denied, even by our government, we can sue and oftentimes win.

Privileges, on the other hand, are different. Privileges are mercies extended to us because of the goodness of another. Again, if we were to travel to another country, we might be granted the privilege of living there for a while, but we wouldn’t have the right to stay as long as we wanted – that would be up to the local government to decide. How many times have we told our children and teenagers something similar? Movies, entertainment, and times with friends – all of it may be good, but those things are privileges; not rights. Any (and all) of those things can be taken away by the parent. When the child gets to experience those things, it’s only due to the mercy extended by the mom or dad.

Now put it in terms of our relationship with God. People sometimes get the idea that because all men and women are made in the image of God, we all have the right to worship God however we want to worship Him. Not so! Perhaps from the point of view of humans, we have the right to do as we want, but from the point of view of God, worship is not a right; it’s a privilege. Worship is certainly commanded of us, and God is owed the worship of every human being on the planet, but the ability and invitation to worship is a privilege extended by the mercy of God. We cannot worship Him nor serve Him without Him granting us permission to do so, nor without Him empowering us to do so. Any attempt to serve or worship God apart from His merciful invitation is an exercise in futility, due to the vastness of our sins against Him.

Yet this is the good news of Jesus! When we come to faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord, crucified for our sins & risen from the dead, then we have that invitation & privilege! This was what Peter was getting at in his 1st epistle: 1 Peter 2:9–10, “(9) But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (10) who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” As Gentiles, pagans, and general sinners, we earlier had no access to God. But through Jesus, we not only have access, we have the privilege of being priests! We are granted the privilege of praising Him and proclaiming His name, His mercies, and His gospel to all the world.

Question: Is this something brand-new to the New Testament? Did this privilege arise out of nowhere? Not at all. This is exactly what was on display at the earliest beginnings of the formal nation of Israel when Moses was instructed by God about the tabernacle. God’s people (the ones He had purchased through the blood of the Passover, and through the parting of the Red Sea – the ones whom were the fulfillment of promises He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) – God’s people were given the privilege of worshipping God as the holy nation of God. God declared that He would dwell among them – something which would seem impossible. After all, how can the Infinite Almighty God dwell among man? Yet He did so, at the tabernacle (and did more fully in the person of Jesus!). There, God would meet with His people and they would worship Him. They would have to come in His way, on His terms, but they were granted the privilege of worshipping and serving Him.

What did it all look like? 

  • Ark & Mercy seat: The ark was the box/chest designated for holding the physical copy of the 10 Commandments. It was topped by the mercy seat (seat of atonement), symbolizing the throne of God, receiving the blood of sacrifice.
  • Table of showbread/bread of presence: The bread always sat in the presence of God, showing God’s fellowship with His people, and prefiguring Jesus as the Bread of Life.
  • Lampstand: The only light in the darkness (being covered by so many layers on top of the tent). Jesus is the only light of the world.
  • Multi-covered tent: Practical, beautiful, and symbolic. Gold overlaid everything, but it was easily disassembled & reassembled wherever the nation went in the wilderness. It was covered by four layers: one for beauty, one for sacrifice, and two for insulation and weatherproofing.
  • Veil: This separated the holy place from the Holy of holies, the only thing preventing the priests from death in the holy presence of God…something torn away in Christ.
  • Screen: The entry to the tent – this was the place people knew to look, as only the priests could enter on their behalf.
  • Bronze altar: The first item described outside the main tent, this had a heavenly design shown to Moses, and was intended for the burnt offerings.
  • Tabernacle courtyard: Practically, it was meant to set apart the tent of God from every other tent in Israel. Symbolically, it showed the pure righteousness of God (white linen) through which all sacrifice and praise would be brought.
  • Ephod: The 1st garment described of the high priest, it was made of the same threads as the tabernacle veil & screens, demonstrating the heavenly work of the priest.
  • Breastplate: Comprised of 12 unique precious stones, it was worn on the front to always bear the 12 tribes of Israel before God.
  • Robe: Also reminiscent of the veil, but with pomegranate bells for sound as the priest served within the tabernacle during his duties.
  • Crown & turban: Practically, it covered the priest’s head, but theologically, it always proclaimed the holiness of God. Everything about the priest spoke of God’s holiness & reminded others that they were made holy by the grace of God.

All of that is a lot, but the description of the tabernacle is not yet done. A few more items remain that demonstrate the privilege of what it is to worship and serve the Living God. And it is a privilege we can never afford to forget!

Life and other distractions cause us to take worship for granted, but Jesus empowers us to serve & to worship! What does it look like for us to be a royal priesthood & a holy nation, enjoying this marvelour privilege? It looks like the life and dedication of the priests and nation of Israel, as God envisioned and described to Moses. Serve the Lord…exactly as He desires and empowers you to do!

Exodus 29

  • God’s consecration of the priests (29:1-46). The initial ritual (1-37)

1 “And this is what you shall do to them to hallow them for ministering to Me as priests: Take one young bull and two rams without blemish, 2 and unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil (you shall make them of wheat flour). 3 You shall put them in one basket and bring them in the basket, with the bull and the two rams. 4 “And Aaron and his sons you shall bring to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and you shall wash them with water. 5 Then you shall take the garments, put the tunic on Aaron, and the robe of the ephod, the ephod, and the breastplate, and gird him with the intricately woven band of the ephod. 6 You shall put the turban on his head, and put the holy crown on the turban. 7 And you shall take the anointing oil, pour it on his head, and anoint him. 8 Then you shall bring his sons and put tunics on them. 9 And you shall gird them with sashes, Aaron and his sons, and put the hats on them. The priesthood shall be theirs for a perpetual statute. So you shall consecrate Aaron and his sons.

  1. Priest could only be “hallowed” through sacrifice/offering. The idea is to make them holy, to sanctify or consecrate them to the ministry. How would it take place? Through the shedding of blood – something that would be graphically described in a moment. (How are we made holy? Only through the shed blood of Christ.)
  2. The priesthood was restricted. It wasn’t open to anyone; just Aaron and his sons. The priesthood was perpetually theirs, throughout their generations. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for priest is “cohen,” (כֹּהֵן). Theoretically, anyone with a last name of “Cohen” has some apparent ancestry to the priestly line. Of course, the idea is that someone from a different family couldn’t grow up and join the priesthood; it was restricted only for one family and one family alone, as designated by God.
    1. How do we become a royal priesthood & holy nation? By being born into it through faith in Jesus!
  3. They were to be washed & dressed in the priestly garments earlier described. The washing was a symbolic cleansing, and the dressing looked to the role that Aaron would assume as high priest. He no longer represented himself; he represented the God-given office. (Just as we are ambassadors of Christ, no longer proclaiming ourselves but Christ the Lord.)
  4. He was also anointed with oil, which looks forward to the later instruction about the anointing oil itself. The anointing itself was no small thing. Typically, we anoint with a dab; the Hebrews anointed by pouring. Psalm 133:2 speaks of the oil running off of Aaron’s beard, so much was poured upon him.
    1. Quite often in the Scriptures, oil (as with water) is a picture of the Holy Spirit. How much of the Spirit do we need? More than a dab! We need His overflowing presence & power – we need rivers & torrents of living water. John 7:37–38, “(37) On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. (38) He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”” How much of the Spirit do we need? As much as God Almighty is willing to give!
  5. All of this was preface. At this point, God is assuming that the tabernacle is going to be built properly (and it was), but once it was built with all of the furnishings and priestly garments, how was the priesthood to begin? God had a specific ritual of consecration in mind…

10 “You shall also have the bull brought before the tabernacle of meeting, and Aaron and his sons shall put their hands on the head of the bull. 11 Then you shall kill the bull before the LORD, by the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 12 You shall take some of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and pour all the blood beside the base of the altar. 13 And you shall take all the fat that covers the entrails, the fatty lobe attached to the liver, and the two kidneys and the fat that is on them, and burn them on the altar. 14 But the flesh of the bull, with its skin and its offal, you shall burn with fire outside the camp. It is a sin offering.

  1. First was the sacrifice of a bull as a sin offering. The specific definition of the various offerings are not given until the book of Leviticus, but God tells Moses what these things are, that he might recognize them later.
  2. Why was a sin offering prior to ordination? Because even the priest had sin! The sins of Aaron had to be first addressed before he could offer sacrifices on behalf of others.
    1. Not so with Jesus our High Priest! He had no sin; He became sin on our account. He was the sin offering provided for us. (2 Cor 5:21)
  3. Most of the blood poured upon the ground around the altar, with the fat burned on the altar, and the other parts of the carcass burned away from the altar. Why the difference? Again, it is a sin offering. This was symbolic of the wrath of God in punishment; it could not be offered in praise.
    1. Before anyone praises, their sins must first be atoned. God does not hear the praise of pagans in the same way He hears it from His children. This is why we have to come through Jesus!

15 “You shall also take one ram, and Aaron and his sons shall put their hands on the head of the ram; 16 and you shall kill the ram, and you shall take its blood and sprinkle it all around on the altar. 17 Then you shall cut the ram in pieces, wash its entrails and its legs, and put them with its pieces and with its head. 18 And you shall burn the whole ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the LORD; it is a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the LORD.

  1. Sacrifice of the 1st ram: burnt offering, with everything consumed.
  2. This is what our praise of God ought to be: fully giving ourselves over to God through Jesus!

19 “You shall also take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall put their hands on the head of the ram. 20 Then you shall kill the ram, and take some of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tip of the right ear of his sons, on the thumb of their right hand and on the big toe of their right foot, and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar. 21 And you shall take some of the blood that is on the altar, and some of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and on his garments, on his sons and on the garments of his sons with him; and he and his garments shall be hallowed, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him.

  1. Sacrifice of the 2nd ram: consecration. With the initial sacrifices dealing with sin and dedicated worship addressed, finally a sacrifice could be made for consecration/ordination.
    1. First we have to have our sins addressed by Jesus, then it is possible to worship through Jesus, and finally we are able to serve Jesus. The good news for us is that all of this is possible through one sacrifice; not many!
  2. As for the ancient Hebrews, it was terribly graphic and gruesome. There was blood on Aaron – blood on the ground – blood on the clothing. Modern Christianity is often sanitized, but we need to remember that our salvation comes at a bloody, gory price: the blood of the Son of God. The Hebrews saw it, and the priest was literally involved with it; we can only remember (which we do through Communion).
  3. Between the blood and the oil, this was what hallowed the men and their garments – this was what consecrated them to God. Until that act, they were just men dressed in fancy clothes; afterward, they were priests set apart unto God.
    1. Symbolic of the Son and the Spirit! Without them, we are nothing; with them we have everything!

22 “Also you shall take the fat of the ram, the fat tail, the fat that covers the entrails, the fatty lobe attached to the liver, the two kidneys and the fat on them, the right thigh (for it is a ram of consecration), 23 one loaf of bread, one cake made with oil, and one wafer from the basket of the unleavened bread that is before the LORD; 24 and you shall put all these in the hands of Aaron and in the hands of his sons, and you shall wave them as a wave offering before the LORD. 25 You shall receive them back from their hands and burn them on the altar as a burnt offering, as a sweet aroma before the LORD. It is an offering made by fire to the LORD.

  1. Aaron and his sons had to physically hold the fat, the organs, and other things normally burned upon the altar. Anything that was representative of their ministry was placed in their hands and waved before the Lord, before burned in sacrificial fire.
  2. They had to get their hands bloody & dirty…

26 “Then you shall take the breast of the ram of Aaron’s consecration and wave it as a wave offering before the LORD; and it shall be your portion. 27 And from the ram of the consecration you shall consecrate the breast of the wave offering which is waved, and the thigh of the heave offering which is raised, of that which is for Aaron and of that which is for his sons. 28 It shall be from the children of Israel for Aaron and his sons by a statute forever. For it is a heave offering; it shall be a heave offering from the children of Israel from the sacrifices of their peace offerings, that is, their heave offering to the LORD.

  1. Wave offering (forward & back). Heave offering (up & down). Everything in all directions given unto God.
  2. This is what it is to be dedicated to the Lord! Consider the Great Commandment: Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” What does it look like in picture form? It looks a lot like the wave & heave offerings of the priests!

29 “And the holy garments of Aaron shall be his sons’ after him, to be anointed in them and to be consecrated in them. 30 That son who becomes priest in his place shall put them on for seven days, when he enters the tabernacle of meeting to minister in the holy place.

  1. Priestly garments passed through the generations. Although repairs would surely need to be made from time to time, the vestments of the priest were not kept & retired when the priest retired or died; it was passed on to future generations. The priesthood did not belong to a single man; it was an office that pointed to someone greater: Christ!

31 “And you shall take the ram of the consecration and boil its flesh in the holy place. 32 Then Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram, and the bread that is in the basket, by the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 33 They shall eat those things with which the atonement was made, to consecrate and to sanctify them; but an outsider shall not eat them, because they are holy. 34 And if any of the flesh of the consecration offerings, or of the bread, remains until the morning, then you shall burn the remainder with fire. It shall not be eaten, because it is holy.

  1. Offering was to be eaten. Although the burnt offering was consumed by fire, given totally unto the Lord, many of the other offerings were meant to be eaten – including the offering of consecration. It symbolized the fellowship that the priests had with God, and the blessings they were given by God.
  2. And it was to be eaten by the priests only. No other Hebrew could eat what the priests were commanded to eat. That’s not to say they were cut off from fellowship – there would be other sacrifices of which they would partake in a holy meal with God (i.e. the peace offering), but when it came to certain sacrifices (particularly this one), only the priests would eat.
  3. Much of this is reflected in communion. It is a memorial meal that we share with Jesus, being in fellowship with God – and it is a meal of which only born-again Christians may partake, being that we are God’s children and God’s chosen priesthood.

35 “Thus you shall do to Aaron and his sons, according to all that I have commanded you. Seven days you shall consecrate them. 36 And you shall offer a bull every day as a sin offering for atonement. You shall cleanse the altar when you make atonement for it, and you shall anoint it to sanctify it. 37 Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and sanctify it. And the altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar must be holy.

  1. The whole ceremony took 7 days. The initial offerings were only done once, but the other sacrifices took place the rest of the week. The length of time served to underscore the importance and solemnity of what happened.
  2. Don’t miss the latter part of verse 37: once the altar was fully sanctified (made “most holy” ~ קֹ֣דֶשׁ קָֽדָשִׁ֔ים), whatever touched it must also be holy (יִקְדָּֽשׁ). Holiness was absolutely required (as Uzzah later learned regarding the ark!). (Thus, we come through Jesus because only Jesus makes us holy!)
  • The daily sacrifices (38-46)

38 “Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs of the first year, day by day continually. 39 One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight. 40 With the one lamb shall be one-tenth of an ephah of flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of pressed oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine as a drink offering. 41 And the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; and you shall offer with it the grain offering and the drink offering, as in the morning, for a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the LORD. 42 This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet you to speak with you.

  1. Every day, blood was shed and reminders were made that God was their Provider. With these reminders, God would personally meet with His people…

43 And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by My glory. 44 So I will consecrate the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. I will also consecrate both Aaron and his sons to minister to Me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

  1. Note how it was the tabernacle was actually sanctified and consecrated: by the presence of the glory of God. God did the work of setting these things apart & dedicating them to Himself. The sacrifices were merely symbols that pointed to the supernatural work of God.
  2. Why did God go through all this? That His people would know Him! God wants us to know Him.
    1. Don’t lose sight of the broader context of this passage. God was revealing Himself to His people even while the Hebrews were at the base of Mount Sinai soon to make a false idol of Him.
  3. God wants us to know Him and to dwell with Him! And He even reveals Himself to us through Jesus knowing how badly we’re going to screw up along the way. This is grace!

Exodus 30

  • Tabernacle furnishings, continued: the golden altar (30:1-10) 

1 “You shall make an altar to burn incense on; you shall make it of acacia wood. 2 A cubit shall be its length and a cubit its width—it shall be square—and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. 3 And you shall overlay its top, its sides all around, and its horns with pure gold; and you shall make for it a molding of gold all around. 4 Two gold rings you shall make for it, under the molding on both its sides. You shall place them on its two sides, and they will be holders for the poles with which to bear it. 5 You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 6 And you shall put it before the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with you.

  1. Discussion has already been provided regarding one altar: the bronze altar for burnt offerings located within the tabernacle courtyard. A second altar was located inside the tabernacle structure itself: a golden altar used for burning incense unto God. Like the bronze altar, it was also to be square in its dimensions, though smaller in overall size and proportion: 1½ x 1½ x 3 feet. As with the other pieces of furniture within the tabernacle structure, the incense altar was to be fashioned from acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold. It was to have four horns (one on each corner), and rings on its side in order that it might be transported via poles of acacia wood overlaid with gold.

7 “Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it. 8 And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. 9 You shall not offer strange incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering; nor shall you pour a drink offering on it. 10 And Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonement; once a year he shall make atonement upon it throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.”

  1. A “sweet incense” was to be burned on it every morning and every twilight, ensuring a perpetual burning of incense. An explicit prohibition was also given (something unique among all the furnishings of the tabernacle) that no other offering could ever be burnt or poured out on the altar, but only the incense that the Lord Himself instructed. The reason for the prohibition is not specifically revealed at this time, but it can be assumed that it is associated with the following command to “make atonement” for the altar once per year, because it was “most holy to the LORD.”
  2. What’s the difference between the golden altar & the bronze altar? The bronze altar was outside & used for sacrifice; the golden altar was inside and used for praise.
    1. Question: Why wasn’t the golden altar described earlier, when God first gave the description of all of the other interior pieces of tabernacle furniture? Why was it given after the description of the bronze altar? Scripture does not say, so we cannot be absolute, but perhaps it comes down to the order in which things could be offered. The items dealing with blood atonement needed to be given first, before items dealing with prayer. Prayer is only possible after sacrifice and forgiveness.
  3. Imagine how it all worked out: there was the light from the lampstand/menorah, the sound of the bells on the robe of the priest, the taste of the showbread, the touch of the blood of sacrifice, and the smell of the rising incense. All the senses were involved in the priestly ministry.
  • God’s ransom of the people (30:11-16)

11 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 12 “When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them. 13 This is what everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (a shekel is twenty gerahs). The half-shekel shall be an offering to the LORD. 14 Everyone included among those who are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the LORD. 15 The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when you give an offering to the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves. 16 And you shall take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves.”

  1. Preview of the census to be taken in the book of Numbers.
  2. The actual ransom amount wasn’t much (a little under 3 bucks), but it was necessary. All people needed to pay, and all people needed to pay the same amount.
    1. We’re all saved (and need to be saved) by the same sacrifice: the life of Jesus.
  • Tabernacle furnishings, concluded: the bronze laver, oil, and incense (30:17-38). Laver (17-21)

17 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 18 “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. And you shall put water in it, 19 for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it. 20 When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to the LORD, they shall wash with water, lest they die. 21 So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die. And it shall be a statute forever to them—to him and his descendants throughout their generations.”

  1. The final piece of tabernacle furniture is described: a washing station, often known as the bronze laver. Interestingly, no precise measurements or design is given for the laver; only the instruction of where the laver was to be placed: “between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar.” The priests were instructed to use the laver for washing any time they entered the tabernacle, or engaged in any work near the bronze altar, under penalty of death. As to the reason for the laver, it was practical & also symbolic. There was real cleansing that took place (something necessary considering the amount of blood that was shed), but also symbolic of ongoing cleansing given by God.
  2. The bottom line: All the priests needed to always be clean. How can ministry be offered in light of unrepentant sin?
  • Anointing oil (22-33).

22 Moreover the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 23 “Also take for yourself quality spices—five hundred shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much sweet-smelling cinnamon (two hundred and fifty shekels), two hundred and fifty shekels of sweet-smelling cane, 24 five hundred shekels of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. 25 And you shall make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer. It shall be a holy anointing oil.

  1. The final two items included in the initial instructions of the tabernacle are not furniture or garments, but items to be used in conjunction with the various furnishings. First, the anointing oil is described to Moses, who is told to make it “according to the art of the perfumer.” The various spices to be used were myrrh, cinnamon, sweet-smelling cane, and cassia, all mixed in olive oil. And a lot of it was used! Then again, it was used to scent a lot of oil. 1 hin is approx. = to 1 gallon.
  2. All of the various pieces of tabernacle furniture was to be anointed with this oil, as well as Aaron and the rest of the priests, all in consecration unto God. 

26 With it you shall anoint the tabernacle of meeting and the ark of the Testimony; 27 the table and all its utensils, the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense; 28 the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base. 29 You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them must be holy. 30 And you shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister to Me as priests.

  1. All the articles of the tabernacle were to be anointed, as well as the priests themselves. In fact, there was to be no priestly ministry take place until everything/everyone was anointed. (“…that they may minister to Me as priests.”) This was the final step necessary in order for the men to be able to be priests unto God.
  2. How so? It was the oil that signified the items & priests as being holy to God. Again, this was a picture of the Holy Spirit. Unless the Spirit undergirds the work of ministry, what’s the point? If we serve God in our own strength, we’ll fail. At best, whatever we do will be temporary. Yet when we follow God the Holy Spirit, working in His power under the instruction of His word, then what God does through us will last!

31 “And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations. 32 It shall not be poured on man’s flesh; nor shall you make any other like it, according to its composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you. 33 Whoever compounds any like it, or whoever puts any of it on an outsider, shall be cut off from his people.’ ”

  1. Oil to be unique; not commonplace nor taken for granted, all under penalty of excommunication. This makes sense, when we think of the oil as being a picture of the Holy Spirit! He is unlike any other – He is certainly never common – and without Him being granted to us by Jesus, we are all cut off from God.
  • Incense (34-38).

34 And the LORD said to Moses: “Take sweet spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, and pure frankincense with these sweet spices; there shall be equal amounts of each. 35 You shall make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. 36 And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put some of it before the Testimony in the tabernacle of meeting where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. 37 But as for the incense which you shall make, you shall not make any for yourselves, according to its composition. It shall be to you holy for the LORD. 38 Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people.”

  1. As to the makeup of the incense, it was to be composed of stacte (translated by the NIV as “gum resin”), “onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense,” ground, mixed with salt, all “according to the art of the perfumer.” As to the identity of the first three spices, most of these are unknown to modern scholars. A similar injunction was given regarding the tabernacle incense as that of the anointing oil, saying that any duplication of the incense for any other use would result in national excommunication.
  2. Prayer is holy! It’s not to be trite nor mindless. It is a privilege to pray!

Exodus 31

  • God empowers the artisans (31:1-11).

1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3 And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, 4 to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, 5 in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship. 6 “And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you: 7 the tabernacle of meeting, the ark of the Testimony and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furniture of the tabernacle—8 the table and its utensils, the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, the altar of incense, 9 the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base—10 the garments of ministry, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and sweet incense for the holy place. According to all that I have commanded you they shall do.”

  1. More than the priests were called by name! Lest we think that God desired only a certain privilege few to serve Him, God knew all of His people, and He had a role for all of them to play. (God knows more than just pastors & missionaries; He knows you!)
  2. Just like the priests were anointed by the Spirit for ministry, the artisans were empowered by the Holy Spirit for their own service. God gave them the wisdom and the skill for the work to be done. What God called them to do, God equipped them for. (It’s no different with us!)
  3. Moses led the work, but he wasn’t responsible for doing all the work. More people were needed, and God provided them. (This is how the body of Christ is supposed to work!)

At this, the basic instructions for the tabernacle are completed, and God transitions to instructions for the Sabbath. Why? Is this random? Not at all. This hearkens back to Chapter 24, when the covenant between God and the nation of Israel was affirmed. The people agreed to be in covenant with God, God fellowshipped with the elders of Israel on the mountain, celebrating that covenant. Then God met with Moses, instructing him how the people could worship Him according to that covenant. Now God gives the individual sign of that covenant – something which could be seen in the life of every Hebrew, male and female alike (as opposed to circumcision). 

  • God seals the nation (31:12-18).

12 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 13 “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. 14 You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. 16 Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’ ”

  1. The Sabbath was necessary for life. To work on the Sabbath (Saturday) was to be guilty of a capital crime. Look again at verse 15: “Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.” To modern ears, this can sound inappropriately harsh! What was the big deal? The Sabbath was a sign of the covenant that God made with His people. It was a witness to the nations that the Israelites trusted in the provision of YHWH for them…
  2. Not only that, the Sabbath was to be a “perpetual covenant” among “the children of Israel.” Notice how specific that is to the particular nation. There is no indication that the later church was supposed to be a replacement for Israel, and thus obligated to keep the physical 7th day Sabbath until the end of time. If that were the case, it would have been commanded somewhere in the New Testament – particularly in the Jerusalem decree of Acts 15. Yet the New Testament is virtually silent regarding the Sabbath for Gentile Christians. Why? Because it was given to the nation of Israel as a sign of their covenant with God; not ours.
  3. If the Sabbath was the outward sign and seal of God’s work upon the nation of Israel to the rest of the world around them (as well as to themselves), what is the relative equivalent among the church? It is Christ Jesus, and the seal He provides to us through the Holy Spirit! Israel’s rest in God’s promises set them apart from the Gentile nations surrounding them; our rest in Jesus’ sacrifice sets us apart from every other religion. Without keeping the Sabbath, the Hebrews were cut off from God; without faith in Christ, we are cut off from God. For the church, the Sabbath has nothing to do with worshipping God on a certain day of the week; it has everything to do with our salvation in Christ!

18 And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.

  1. Moses’ time on the mountain concludes with a marvelous gift: the 10 Commandments “written with the finger of God.
  2. The covenant was affirmed, demonstrated in the tabernacle, signified in the Sabbath, and now handed to Moses in written form. Finally, the children of Israel had everything they needed to get started in their relationship with God. Sadly, they were already forgetting everything down at the base of the mountain! (As is seen in Chapter 32…)

Conclusion:

God has made it possible for His people to serve Him!

  • The priests were consecrated
  • The people were ransomed
  • The artisans were empowered
  • The nation was sealed

This was a nation set apart to serve and to worship the Living God! God had called them His own, gave them a way to worship Him, and equipped them to do it. All that was left was the follow-through.

Think of what Jesus has already done for us to make our worship and service possible. His one sacrifice was sufficient to provide atonement for all our sins, to pave the way for our worship, and to set us apart for God’s service. His gift of the Holy Spirit empowers and anoints us for all that God calls us to do. Jesus has already paid our ransom, and the Spirit is available to renew and fill us every single day, in addition to sealing us for all eternity. God has done it all: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

All that is left is the follow-through. Serve the Lord! Be set apart to Him, fully consecrated to God through the sacrifice of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Arguments are bound to happen, even between Christians. How do we deal with them? Trust God to guide you through them!