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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson


May 2022

Exodus 20:8-11: Imitators of God

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

For centuries upon centuries, the Jewish people observed the Sabbath as a special day in the week, and they still continue to do so. (Notice the theological reason given in verse 11 for honouring the Sabbath).

But the first century Jews who came to believe in Jesus as Messiah, changed their day of worship from a Saturday to a Sunday – because of their conviction that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week. In fact, this is a significant piece of evidence for Christ’s resurrection – that Jews, who were so committed to observing the Sabbath, were prepared to change their day of worship in the way they did.

The sabbath rest is now fulfilled in Jesus. The gospel calls us to ‘rest’ from our own labours (i.e. our own attempts at self-salvation by good works), and rest upon the finished work of Christ (Matthew 11:28-30;Hebrews 4:9,10).

But the principle of the Sabbath holds good still today:

‘Our responsibility to live our lives in imitation of God is the heart of the fourth commandment, for did not the Creator perform his perfect work of creation – the work which he pronounced ‘good’ (Gen.1:31) – by working six days and resting one day? What is then the perfect life pattern for humans in the image of God? Is it not to work for six days and rest for one?… the Creator prescribes his pattern of working and resting for us because we are made in his image and this is our proper functioning procedure. It is ours because it was his. Our calling is to live out  his pattern, to make his example the way we order our lives, to reflect what we are-beings created in the image of God.’ Alec Motyer: ‘The message of Exodus’, p.225.

The observing of Sabbath entailed faith and obedience back then. When having your daily bread was dependant on your daily labours, then ceasing for a day each week must have posed a challenge. Similarly now, as we stop for a day every week, we have to trust that life will go on without us, without our efforts. The world will still turn; God will go on running the universe. Sabbath faces us with our limits, with our smallness. It is humbling. It keeps us in our place. We are not God! We are here for a very short time, and the world will keep spinning in space when we have left it.

Exodus 20:7: God’s precious Name

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

I remain slightly bemused by the widespread use of blasphemy: that people who don’t know God, or Jesus, and maybe don’t want to know Him, regularly take His Name upon their lips. But maybe by doing it in this slightly vitriolic way, they are distancing themselves from Him and pushing Him away (even though some may say they are atheists or agnostic!). Nowadays we have the divine name insulted and trivialised AS a common blasphemous expression is reduced to three letters: ‘OMG’.

One day I went to visit a family member in an EU country. It took effort and cost money to get there, but we really wanted to see him. We hadn’t been in his car for much more than five minutes when he horribly and violently misused the Name of Jesus. What was that about? He knew he had a Christian minister in His car, and his sister who loved Jesus, and a young child. Was it some sort of defence mechanism; or a deep subterranean demonic eruption from within; or…?? You tell me. I don’t really know. But I find it’s not unusual for people to break the third commandment in my company. I hate it, but it happens. It almost feels like evidence For God’s existence – in some odd, convoluted fashion.

The Lord’s Name stands for all that He is; all that He has revealed Himself to be. To misuse His Name is to insult Him personally. Traditionally, we knew this as ‘taking the Lord’s Name in vain.’ Even little children I went to school with knew you shouldn’t do it! It literally means ‘lift up the name…to emptiness.’

‘The most obvious meaning of ‘lifting up the name’ is an abbreviation of ‘lift up upon one’s lips.’ The use of the name ‘God’ or the name of Jesus or the title ‘Christ’ as an expletive would certainly fall within this condemnation and, on a more serious level, so would the giving of one’s loyalty to, or taking one’s oath by, a false god – though this…would be an extension of the primary meaning.’ Alec Motyer: ‘The message of Exodus’, p.224.

Motyer goes on to point out that the sanction attached to this commandment is all the more scary for being left vague: “…for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

‘The implication is that the Lord’s name is intensely precious to him. It is he who notes its misuse and who matches the the punishment to the crime in each and every case’ (p.225).

PRAYER: Lord, where would any of us be apart from your mercy. We are all commandment-breakers. We look to you alone for forgiveness. We have no hope apart from you.

Exodus 20:4-6: Worship ‘in truth’

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

If the first commandment is about the object of our worship, the second concerns its manner. We can worship the true God in a false way.

We may argue that an image will help us in our worship of the true God (a priest I was I in conversation with on one occasion, likened it to carrying a photograph of a loved one in your wallet); but how long will it be before we are worshipping the picture itself and not the Lord.

God wants worship “in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24) In other words, worship led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and fed and guided by revealed truth.

‘The first commandment, though it does not mention love, is concerned with our loving loyalty to the Lord; the second commandment, with its reference to his jealousy, raises the topic of his love to us, for ‘jealousy’ is part of the essence of true love, and the Lord so loves us that he cannot bear it when our desires and loyalties go elsewhere…Sinai brought no vision to the eyes, only a voice to the ears. Everything in worship must be ordered according to the word of God – a truth Jesus reiterated in Matthew 15:6b-9.’ Alec Motyer: ‘The message of Exodus’, pp.223, 224.

‘…true religion ought to be conformed to God’s will as to a universal rule.’ John Calvin.

THOUGHT: ‘Lord, keep me true to truth as truth is true to you.’

Exodus 20:1-3: Theo-logic

And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

The order in the Ten Commandments is, ‘God first and foremost.’ It isn’t that there aren’t any commandments governing social relationships, but those concerning duty to God come first. If life is to work out at a horizontal level, we must first sort out the vertical relationship with God.

There is a kind of theological logic at work here. Why would you have any ‘’other gods before” the Lord God who redeemed you, who liberated and delivered you, and brought you “out of the land of slavery”?

But they did; and we still do.

Tom Hale observes: ‘Most Christians have no difficulty following this first commandment just as it is stated. But there is a deeper meaning within this commandment: namely, that we are to put nothing before God. We agree that we should put “no other gods” before God, but we forget that we can make our own “gods” and put them first. What are these “gods” we make? We make money and possessions a “god”; we make lust and sensuality a “god”; we make ourselves a “god.” Whatever it is that we love, value and honour more than the one true God, we make into a “god.” This is the deepest meaning of the first commandment, and this is why it’s so difficult to obey it (Deuteronomy 6:4-5…Mark 12:30). ‘Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.241.

I would just add a further comment on all the commandments. It is sometimes argued that they are negative in tone and mode: ‘Thou shalt not.’ But as Alec Motyer points out, a positive command means we are restricted to doing the one thing commanded. But a negative command means we may do many other things other than the one thing that is off-limits. This takes us right back to the garden:

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:15-17.

Exodus 20:1,2 (Part 2): ‘For best results…’

And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

‘For best results follow the Maker’s Instructions.’

I saw these words on a poster years ago. Of course, it’s true. How many times have I wanted to assemble some flat-packed product without taking too much notice of the instructions? That route doesn’t lead anywhere good.

As we noted yesterday, the Lord had brought His people out of slavery. We must not think of His instructions as another form of bondage. Consider these verses:

“…the perfect law of freedom…” James 1:25;

“I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts” Psalm 119:45.

The greatest freedom is to be set free to obey God’s law, and also the freedom we enjoy in the doing of it. We go ‘with the grain of the universe’ when we live as God intended. We get the best results when we follow the Maker’s instructions. We find ourselves in a spacious (rather than a cramped and confined) place when we go His way.

One scholar has pointed out that the word ‘law’, as a translation of ‘Torah’, may be misleading. The idea behind it is rather the instruction of a loving parent who wants the best for His children.

As we prepare to look at these ten words, here are some helpful comments from Tom Hale regarding their continuing relevance:

‘The Ten Commandments are part of God’s ‘moral law.” Those laws dealing with our moral behaviour – such as the Ten Commandments – are binding on Christians today. Those laws dealing with ceremonial behaviour – the manner of worship, the sacrificial system, purification rituals, and dietary restrictions – are not binding on Christians today. These ceremonial laws have been rendered unnecessary because Jesus Christ has provided a new and better way to approach God and find acceptance from Him (Hebrews 9:15; 10:19-22)…

…All of the Ten Commandments are mentioned in the New Testament, as well as many other Old Testament moral laws that Christians are expected to obey today. The moral laws are “binding” on Christians in the sense that they define behaviour that is acceptable to God. They are God’s laws, after all; He commands us to obey them and there will be consequences if we don’t. But our reason for obeying them is not simply to avoid punishment, and it is certainly not to try and “earn” salvation; rather, we obey in order to show God that we love Him and are grateful to Him for what He has done for us.’ ‘Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.241.

I would want to add also, though, that we obey because we can; because under the New Covenant the law is now written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. As a former thief put it, before his conversion what struck him was” “You shall not steal” (Ex.20:15). But afterwards what he was aware of was: You shall not steal.”

In Christ, the command had also become a promise. It is “the perfect law of freedom.”

Exodus 20:1,2: Liberated slaves

And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

In the culture of 1960’s England – the era in which I grew up – I think many people were familiar with what we call ‘the ten commandments’, even if only in a vague way. I believe this was true of a number of the children I rubbed shoulders with at school. I also think there was a widely held opinion that this was Christianity: i.e keeping the Ten Commandments (otherwise known as doing good).

But it’s important to notice the order in Exodus 20. The people are first saved ‘by grace, through faith’ and then called to the obedience of faith. They are not told to obey so that they may be liberated. No, it is the freed slaves who are given these instructions.

‘…the grace that saves preceded the law that demands. The people were given the law not in order that they might become the redeemed, rather it was because they were already redeemed that they were given the law. The law of God is the way of life he sets before those whom he has saved, and they engage in that way of life as a response of love and gratitude to God their Redeemer. Grace and law belong together, for grace leads to law; saving love leads to and excites grateful love expressed in obedience.’ Alec Motyer: ‘The message of Exodus’, p.213.

Considering this, I was reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Cor.6:19,20:

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

Exodus 19:19-25: May we never lose the wonder

The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.”

23 Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.’”

24 The Lord replied, “Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or he will break out against them.”

25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.

No-one could know God if he did not first take the initiative. (We see this reflected in verse 1: the Lord made the first move – Moses responded). We may wonder, ‘Why would God choose some and not others?’ But when we realise how much He hates sin, we then see it’s a miracle that He chooses any at all.

No-one can “force their way through” to God from the human side. There must be no attempts at ‘breaking and entering.’ It can’t be done. We cannot reach God by our own efforts. Again, we must come to Him His way and on His terms.

As we come to the conclusion of our rather long look at this chapter, I feel I can do no better than to again quote Alec Motyer:

‘The example of the people and priests warns us against the sort of presumptions that still come so easily: an unthinking assumption of divine grace, forgetful of its wonder, a casual rushing into the divine presence, neglectful of the need of Jesus our mediator (1 Tim.2:5) and of the precious blood of Christ by which alone we are sprinkled clean (Heb.10:19-22), and an unwarranted laxity in our address to God.’ ‘The message of Exodus’, p.208.

Exodus 19:16-19: Amazing grace

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

“Our God is an awesome God.”

Let’s remember He is God Almighty and not ‘God All-matey!’

Can you imagine being there? I confess I’m not terribly good at this, but can you try to put yourself in the scene? It must have been frightening. The people trembled and even the mountain trembled.

Let it all sink in.

Then realise the wonder of statements such as these:

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need(Hebrews 4:14-16);

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1,2);

“You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.”21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel(Hebrews 12:18-24).

We have not come to the ‘mountain of fear’ but to the ‘mountain of joy’, and it is Jesus, and His mediating work, who makes all the difference.

Nevertheless, the next verse in Hebrews 12 warns the readers not to “refuse him who speaks.” He is the same awesome God.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28,28)

Exodus 19:14,15: Totally devoted

After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. 15 Then he said to the people, “Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.”

We note again the reference to “the third day” (15; see also 16).

As we have observed before, it is the task of the preacher to meet with God and pass on His Word to His people – whether they like it or not; whether they understand it or not.

Preaching that comes from God will repeatedly expose idols and seek to dethrone them.

‘When did you last hear a good sermon about sex?’ That was George Verwer’s opening question when he preached at Bridge Street church in Leeds a number of years back. He made the point that the Bible has rather a lot to say on the subject.

It does, of course, but we don’t always want to hear it.

Sex is one of the great idols of our time. There seems to be a commonly held opinion that, for human flourishing, you must be able to have sex whenever you want, with whomever you want, at any time you want. People don’t want to hear calls for abstinence for any reason

Yet Moses’ message was from God.

However, we need to understand it in context. Moses was not suggesting that there is something unclean about our God-given sexuality. Alec Motyer explains this well:

“Marriage is God’s idea and not of human origin. It was instituted before the fall into sin and is not in any way a concession for sinfulness or as accommodation of sinful desires. It arose, in fact, from the divine perception that ‘it is not good for man to be alone’ (Gen.2:18). Marriage, therefore, is a prescription for holiness, for the perfecting of human life, with the married couple as ‘heirs together of the grace of life’ (1 Pet.3:7; AV,RV, cf.ESV). The prohibition of sexual relations did not arise, therefore, from any idea of the sinfulness of sex, but from the awareness that in a true and happy marriage, intercourse involves a total absorption of each with the other and is the deepest emotional delight and commitment known on earth. The restriction was put in place at this important moment in time because the Lord wished to have his people’s hearts wholly for himself. As Calvin says, ‘they were to be reminded that all earthly cares were, as much as possible, to be renounced…that they might give their entire attention to hearing of the law.’ “ ‘The message of Exodus’, pp.204,205.

The apostle Paul, you may remember, says something similar in 1 Corinthians 7:5.

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