Exodus 19:15-25, 20, 21:1-21
God’s presence is experienced by the Israelites in our reading of Exodus today. God comes down from heaven in a way that could be heard (thunder), seen (cloud), smelled (smoke) and felt (the ground shook). Certainly the people would have been both in awe and somewhat afraid. As I read this passage in Exodus 19 I thought about Moses and the esteem the people must have held him in after this event. After watching Moses go up to the top of Mt. Sinai, alone, to speak with God the people must have thought Moses to be quite special. I don’t know exactly what they thought of him before this event but I would guess that they had a lot more respect for him after it. I thought that it was probably like a little kid watching his father meet with some important person, maybe the President. A kid could not help thinking that his dad is someone special after witnessing a meeting such as that.
I think the people must have realized they were special also. Who wouldn’t feel special after having the experience of being in God’s presence? God had already told them that He intended to make a convenant (contract) with them and was going to “meet” them in person. They must have been very excited as they anticipated what it would be like to meet with God. I’m sure they discussed it amongst themselves. During the three days of prior to meeting God they were to prepare themselves both outwardly (by washing their clothes) and inwardly (abstaining from distractions such as sex). This was clearly a big occasion.
In Exodus 20 God gives Moses the famous Ten Commandments. The first four commandments deal with our relationship to God. The next six deal with our relationships with each other. In fact, back in Matthew 22 we saw Jesus summarize the Ten Commandments into just two
In the first commandment God declares that we are not to have any other gods “before” Him. Nothing else in our life should come before God. Not money or fame or sex or power or anything. These things are called “idols” and will get in the way of an unbeliever knowing God. They will also distract a believer away from an existing relationship with God. None of us are immune to having idols and at times we all put something “before” God. The important thing is to realize it quickly and correct it by placing God in His rightful place in our life.
Notice that God is a “jealous” God. God isn’t jealous OF other gods/idols. God is jealous FOR His people. He doesn’t want us to be lead astray by false promises that these gods tempt us with. Its easy to think that we can find meaning and fulfillment in our career, or in drugs, alchohol, or sex. But we can’t and God knows this better than we do. He wants to protect us from this false thinking that we easily succumb to.
As you read through the Ten Commandments look at them not so much as “orders” from a dictatorial God but rather as “wise instruction” from a loving God who know the frailties of the human race. Each of these commandments addresses a clear weakness that exists in all of us. God is giving us these instructions not because He is a kill-joy. No, He gives us these instructions because He is a fill-joy: He knows that these things will actually take away our joy if we give in to them.
I think the commandments are pretty self-explanatory so I won’t go into each one. But just a couple of interesting notes…
- The Catholic church does sanction the use of images in its worship so they removed the second commandment (Catholics have their own Bible in which they have altered the original manuscripts to fit their views). But to keep the list at “10” they split the tenth commandment into two.
- The Ten Commandments weren’t just for Old Testament Israel. Each one is repeated in the New Testament so they are still valid for us today.
- The fourth commandment declares a day of rest for everyone, even servants/slaves in a household. This would have been a radical concept back then. This goes to show that just because we think the world should operate one way doesn’t mean that God does. Too often in our society we think the Bible is “out of touch” with modern times. But, frankly, the problem is that we are out of touch with who we really are.
Jesus really points out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees today. He condemns them for leading people away from heaven and even tells them that they are not going to heaven either (verse 13). This must have really offended them especially since Jesus is saying these things in front of a crowd. These are the religious leaders of Israel and Jesus is basically telling them and everyone else that they don’t know what they are talking about.
The Pharisees also spent too much effort on non-essential matters but neglected the important things like “justice, mercy, and faith” (verse 23). In the process of trying to exterminate the most minute violation of their own rules, they were ignorant of the fact that they were breaking the biggest of all God’s laws (verse 24). It was more important for the Pharisees to look good on the outside – not just their dress but also their behavior – but they were dirty on the inside. Their outward behavior was all for show as it was not influenced by a love for God.
While Jesus’ words are strong we see in verse 37 that He spoke to them harshly not because He hated them but because He loved them. If someone really loves another person they will tell that person when they are doing something to hurt themselves. But often the recipient of the advice takes it the wrong way and believes that such a conversation is confrontational. This is clearly what happens sometimes when a Christian tries to share the message of salvation with a non-believer. The non-believer can sometimes feel offended. But really the Christian is speaking out of love and concern. I’ve been on both sides of such a conversation. There were many times while I was an atheist that someone tried to talk to me about my “sin problem” and I thought that they were criticizing me or even looking down on me. But now as someone who is on the opposite side of these conversations I can tell you that the only thing motivating me is love and concern for the other person’s eternity.
God will tear down those who care nothing for all that He has done (verse 5). Gods gives “His people” strength (verse 8). God is under no obligation to give anything to anyone who doesn’t recognize Him. And He doesn’t. Non believers can certainly have success in this world, but that success does not come from God.
Wisdom will protect us from flattery (verses 4-5). Flattery sounds great to our ears but, by definition, is hollow and only given for the benefit of the flatterer. It is easy for the recipient to be taken in by such pleasant compliments. But flattery is a trick. It is deception and wisdom is the antidote.
God’s instructions should be written on our hearts. This means they need to be a part of us… they need to come naturally to us. How does that happen when our natural tendency is to do our own thing? We need to saturate ourselves in God’s word. We need to study (not just read) the Bible and practice all the things that God tell us daily or even hourly until they become who we are.Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.