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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Month

May 2022

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.

Exodus 19:10-13: An easy-going people…

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death. 13 They are to be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on them. No person or animal shall be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they approach the mountain.”

Someone has written about God’s ‘dangerous holiness.’ We could equally speak of His ‘frightening holiness.’ The point to note here is that we can’t come to this holy God any old way; we can’t approach Him how we choose. We must come to Him on His own terms or not at all.We now know (in the light of the full revelation of Scripture) that we must approach God in and through the mercy and grace of Jesus. There is no other way than the Cross. Otherwise we will be incinerated by the blazing holiness of God. It is in the New Testament that we read that our “God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). This is still true in the gospel era. So although we may come to God boldly through Jesus, this does not mean coming carelessly, thoughtlessly, lightly. Sin (and sinners) cannot survive the holiness of God, apart from the intervening blood of Christ.

Someone observed, ‘An easy-going people believe in an easy-going God.’

‘They needed the warning that the holiness of God is such that no human self-preparation can ever satisfy its demands. Humans can no more fit themselves to stand in the Lord’s holy presence than Adam and Eve, in their day, could find the road back to the garden and evade the angel with the sword of flame.’ Alec Motyer: ‘The Message of Exodus’, p.207.

Graham Kendrick got it so right:

‘Only by grace can we enter, only by grace can we stand;

Not by our human endeavour, but by the blood of the Lamb…

Lord if you marked our transgressions who would stand,

Thanks to your grace we are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.’

Exodus 19:11: The third day

and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.

This reference to the third day is full resonance. There are repeated references to the third day in the Bible. As God came down on Mount Sinai to give the law to His people, so it was that on the third day (after three days and nights in the grave) Jesus rose again to usher in the age of the Spirit, in which the law would be written on people’s hearts.

Thank God for that great third day and all it’s significance.

‘We are an Easter people and ‘Hallelujah’ is our song.’

Exodus 19:10: Clean clothes

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes

Before moving on in Exodus 19, I want to highlight a couple of further things in the text at which we looked recently. First of all, this bit about the clothes wash!

Someone pointed out that clothes speak of intent. For example, if you see a woman in a bridal dress you know she intends to marry; if you see someone in a football kit you know they intend to play in a match. This theme of washing clothes is one we can follow through in the Bible, and we find it in the New Testament as well as the old. It reflects an intention to live as holy a life as possible.

The holy life does take intentionality.

John Stott writes about Ephesians 4, and Paul’s teaching about a new set of clothes:

“Then we must actively cultivate a Christian life. For holiness is not a condition into which we drift. We are not passive spectators of a sanctification God works in us. On the contrary, we have purposefully to ‘put away’ from us all conduct that is incompatible with our new life in Christ, and to ‘put on’ a lifestyle compatible with it.” (Italics mine).

PRAYER: Lord God, if holiness is to be pursued, help me to go after it with all my might, even as I lean on your strength.

Exodus 19:10-15: Pursue holiness

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death. 13 They are to be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on them. No person or animal shall be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they approach the mountain.”

14 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.”

If we leave aside the details which were specific to that historical moment and to these unique people, we nevertheless find at our passage’s beating heart an abiding principle: that call to holiness without which “no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14; see also James 4:6-9 for an important New Testament parallel to Exodus 19:10-15).

We cannot escape the Biblical emphasis that holiness matters. But it is possible for us to fall into at least two extreme responses to this call for Holiness:

  1. Super-spirituality: To delude ourselves into believing we have arrived at some sort of ‘sinless perfection’, or that we can. (I read a rather tragic story recently of someone who was regarded as a spiritual giant in the rather extreme church circles in which she moved. She was in so many ways a sincere woman, and she believed she had arrived at this rarified ‘sinless’ state. But her sons were traumatised by her parenting – deeply scarred. They experienced her as, in many ways, an abusive woman). This is not to deny, by the way, that in the Christian life you do tend to get what you go in for, and that there are people who are shining examples of closeness to God. That being the case, it makes the next extreme all the more sad;
  2. To throw in the towel altogether out of a sense of weakness and failure. Hebrews 12:14 begins in this way: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy…” God wants our holiness, and on our side holiness is to be pursued, drawing on all the grace God continually gives.

‘Exodus reflects the way biblical thinking works. The Word of God is designed to be life-changing…’ Alec Motyer, ‘The message of Exodus’, p.203.

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