Obedience, Presence, and Guidance

Thus Moses did; according to all that the LORD had commanded him, so he did. … Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

Exodus 40:16, 34

Chapter forty of Exodus is a series of Moses-did-exactly-what-God-told-him events. The result of all that obedience comes in verse thirty-four: the glory of the Lord descends on the tabernacle.

While the Christian does not have a tabernacle, the Christian is called the temple of the Holy Spirit. So, I’m going to extract a principle from these verses—this chapter, really—and apply that principle to my own walk with God. The principle is (drum roll, please): Obedience results in God’s presence and guidance.

See, this glory of the LORD that filled the tabernacle served two purposes for Israel. First, it let them know that God was with them. In a world where God’s very existence is questioned regularly, a reminder of His presence is not only helpful, it can be vital. But the only way I’m going to have that presence evidenced in my life is the same way God’s glory descended on the tabernacle: obedience. I must be obedient if I want to see God’s presence evidenced in my life. Second, God’s glory descending on the tabernacle was a guide to Israel during their wanderings. The glory stopped and came down when it was time to stop and the glory went up and moved when it was time to move. If I want God’s guidance when it’s time to move past where I am now, I best be obedient to what I know to do now. People often wonder what the will of God is for them in some future circumstance, but we haven’t stopped to wonder whether or not we’re being obedient to the will of God in the here and now. We wonder where God wants us to live, but are we serving Him and being the light He has commanded us to be where we are right now? We wonder what job God wants us to do, but don’t stop to ask whether or not we’re doing our current job “as unto the Lord.” The list goes on and on and on. We want to know about some future will of God, but don’t trouble ourselves with the here and now will of God.

God’s presence and guidance — I want both of these in my life. In order for both to be present, I must be obedient here and now.

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Make No Covenant

“Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst.”

Exodus 34:12

Only six more chapters and the book of Exodus will be ended. And it is there, towards the end of getting the people transitioned from Egypt to Israel, that God makes this statement about not making any covenant with the people of the land.

Not making covenants; signing contracts; making agreements with the inhabitants of the land would be a good thing. The people living there were under judgment. God told Abraham that the wickedness of the people in the land wasn’t full yet — meaning those people groups had been given 400 years to change their wicked ways. Worse, those folks had 400 years to learn how to be wicked in inventive ways. Making agreements; contracts; covenants with creatively wicked people is a bad idea. He warns against having them as in-laws—since marriages were arranged back then, it makes a bit more sense to warn the parents, who would be arranging the marriage, against creatively wicked in-laws—but goes further and commands the Israelites to tear down the whole religious system they would find in the land. Get rid of their symbols, their idols, their altars — all of it. Don’t go to their parties, because they might invite you to do things that are against God’s Law at those parties.

In the New Testament, believers are told not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. Lots of folks apply that pretty strictly to marriage and, to be fair, marriage is an intimate covenant. But Paul did not limit the statement in that way. His warning was that we should not be “unequally yoked together” with an unbeliever. And being “yoked together” can be for many purposes. We can be “yoked together” in business partnerships or in close friendships; in marriage or in planning events.

Having dated girls who were unbelievers, I can understand what God and Paul are on about. I entered some of those relationships a stronger believer than I exited them and I entered some of those relationships strong and vital in my walk while I exited weak and distant. One relationship stands out in this regard. The woman involved claimed to be a believer (in fairness, she may be, it’s not my place to judge that), but her morality was vastly different than my own. She thought certain forms of physical intimacy were perfectly fine outside of marriage while I began the relationship thinking those things were restricted for marriage. Over the course of time, I allowed myself to be convinced that some of those things I had held to be wrong were not wrong after all. I say I allowed myself because the truth is that I’ve yet to meet the heterosexual male who does not, in some corner of his sinful being, want to be convinced that the thing he called “wrong” is more of a gray area in at least some instances — particularly the enjoyable ones. I’m sure that guy is out there, I just haven’t met him and I’m pretty sure I’m not him. I’ve had friends who brought out the worst in me instead of spurring me on to Godliness. I’ve attended parties of unbelievers and found myself pulled toward the wrong-doing that went on. Sometimes I walked away. Sometimes I stayed.

And that, I think, is what God and Paul are on about. My fellow believers are not perfect, not by a long shot, but they are more likely to spur me on to Godliness than those who do not hold to Godliness. My fellow believers are more likely to walk with me in those times I turn from sinful activities than the unbeliever who wants to do that thing and has no qualms with doing it. This is not to say that I and other believers should withdraw from the world and cloister ourselves away in little holy communities. No one would ever see any Godliness proceeding from that. Rather, this is to say that my most intimate relationships; the people with whom I have the most to do should be fellow believers. And, for my part, I’m going to say “No.” to most party invitations. First, because I am socially awkward and don’t really care for parties. Second, because I know I am 50/50 on being led by the crowd in that situation. So it’s better for me to stay away. Others may have no such weakness. More power to them. Someone has to reach the party culture and it certainly isn’t me.

One step further with this. I am going to state, possibly wrongly, that the principle being given in this passage is that the believer give no quarter to the world within us. In simpler English: I, as a believer, cannot allow my flesh; my old man to make agreements with me. The old man would have me distant from God. The new man would have me wrapped in God so completely that my character became synonymous with God’s character. I cannot bargain with my old man. I cannot allow him leeway. I cannot be permissive with myself. If something is wrong for me then it is wrong for me. Others may be well-meaning in trying to give me liberty in that, but Christ set me free to live for Him, not to give license to my old man. An excellent example is alcohol. Many believers, myself included, are free to have a drink every now and again. Other believers are not thus freed because their old nature would bring them into bondage to that alcohol faster that blinking. If I’m spending time with a brother who needs to not have a drink (as it would be a concession to his old nature) then I need to be mindful of that and have the soft drink instead.

So… two principles from this passage.

  1. My most intimate relationships should be with fellow believers. I can have relationships with unbelievers, but these should not be as intimate.
  2. I cannot bargain with my old nature. He will double-cross and stab me in the back faster than I can think. And, while my fellow believers may mean well in trying to give me liberties they enjoy, my old nature is not the same as theirs. I need to understand their intent and to try not to do the same to others.

Answer for Ourselves

The LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book. But go now, lead the people where I told you. Behold, My angel shall go before you; nevertheless in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin.”

Exodus 32:33-34

This verse comes at the end of what I’m going to call “The Golden Calf Incident.” It’s a familiar story, one of the portions of Exodus that consistently makes it into the movie versions of Moses’ life. Moses goes up the mountain to talk with God and comes down to find that the people have made an idol while he was away. The next part seldom makes the theatrical release, as Moses grinds up the golden calf, scatters the gold dust into water, and makes the people drink it. Pretty graphic way of showing someone that their so-called god can’t do anything to help them. Maybe directors and Hollywood types leave that out because they can’t stand to see their god, Money, treated that way. Regardless….

This weekend, starting Friday, possibly Thursday, I’ve been aggravated with sin: my own and that of others. I’ve been particularly annoyed by our half-measures — especially my own. I’ve read some things on Facebook and around the web; heard some things on the news that have made me want to burst forth in long tirades about the wrongness and wrongheadedness of the things I’ve been hearing and reading. And I’ve been torn over whether or not I should do just that. These verses, oddly enough, are comforting.

Reading these verses reminds me that I am responsible for the actions of only one person: me. I will be held accountable for how I treat my wife and how I treat my friends; how I love my daughter and how I raise her; when and if I speak up as God wanted me to. But those are all things within my little sphere of influence. All the things I’ve been reading and hearing are outside my sphere of influence; beyond my ability to affect any meaningful change. Those persons who are doing the things that trouble me will have to give account for their own actions when they stand before God. If the actions are indeed sin then they will be revealed as such. If the actions were not sinful then I will be glad I held my peace.

I may, if God so leads, write about some of the things bothering me, but not until such time as I have allowed God to bring His peace into me so that the writing is not a vitriol-fueled rant, but a calm, considered effort at bringing a brother or sister back into fellowship. That is what I would want them to do for me. Should I do less for them?

In the mean time, God knows what is right and what is wrong and whether or not I should write or speak and I will trust that He will handle those I’ve heard about as well as the one who has heard (me … and LOTS of others). In the end, we all answer for ourselves.

Perpetual Incense before the LORD

“When Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. Perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.”

Exodus 30:8

Funny thing about the altar of incense is that it gets overlooked. I mean, it’s this comparatively small altar that sits quietly, unobtrusively in the midst of all the splendor that is the tabernacle and later the temple. God commands that it have “perpetual incense” burning on it and, in a very practical sense, this is a great idea. The tabernacle and temple were places where sacrifices were offered regularly. This meant the tabernacle and temple could easily have come to smell like a slaughterhouse. But the incense was the be kept burning at all times. Keep the air scented with pleasant smells. Practical.

But the tabernacle is a shadow of Heavenly things, as the writer of Hebrews says, so there’s more to this altar than merely acting as an air freshener.

Fast forward to Revelation and an angel is pouring out incense on an altar before the throne of God. Cool, so the altar in the tabernacle was a shadow of the altar in God’s throne room. Mystery solved. One more thing, though: the incense that the angel pours out is the prayers of the saints. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church encourages them (and us) to pray without ceasing.

I did a quick check on the ingredients for the incense in the tabernacle (spices, stacte, onycha, galbanum, frankincense) to see if there was any insight into what or how I should be praying. My conclusion: those don’t really help. There is something interesting in God saying that they should be in equal proportions, but that could be a matter of how the recipe works rather than some mandate about how much of each part of prayer I should be including.

Almost more important—definitely more noteworthy for this passage—is the fact that I am told to pray without ceasing; to pray at all times and for any reason; and that the altar of incense was to be kept burning at all times. Aaron is to offer incense—to refresh the incense burning on the altar, one might say—twice daily: morning and evening. So it is that I should be continually in an attitude of prayer — ready at a moment’s notice to speak with my Heavenly Father about whatever is happening: good, bad, or just interesting. I should also be starting and ending my day in God’s presence. And that, right there, is the application of this. The altar of incense was to be kept going at all times. My prayer should be likewise kept up.

Listen. Do. Go.

You shall slaughter the ram, and take some of its blood and put [it] on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear and on the lobes of his sons’ right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet, and sprinkle the blood around on the altar.

Exodus 29:20

So, the whole “Purify what you hear, what you do, and where you go.” bit has already been done with this verse and others like it. Something else struck me as a possibility for this verse this morning.

The lobe of the ear didn’t really change, in my mind, except to go from “purify” what I hear to “listen with Jesus’ ears”. And there is a subtle difference. If I purify what I hear, then I will start excising all things that might stumble me from materials that I listen to. I will toss out some albums, throw away certain movies, get rid of certain audiobooks, and even consider ending certain friendships. I might also include books of the non-audio variety. All of these play into the concept of what I hear. It is very active and very obvious. And there is nothing inherently wrong with this interpretation. In fact, I think the text will bear this interpretation as well as the other. To “listen with Jesus’ ears” is just as active, but is far less obvious. If I’m doing this, then the news loses some of its depression factor (because the news is really depressing) and includes allusion to prophecies and promises made by God. The news also drives me to prayer when I listen with Jesus’ ears. There are items about which I can do nothing other than pray. And it takes learning to listen with Jesus’ ears—sanctified ears, if you will—to not just the news but to everything. The hurtful statement made by someone I love? Sanctified ears; Jesus’ ears hear the words but keep going to find the hurt behind them and compel the rest of me to find a way to heal that hurt if I can.

“Purify” my actions (blood on the thumb) transformed. It’s not that my actions don’t need a good cleaning up (because they do), but that Jesus’ statement that He is the vine and I am a branch and without Him I can do nothing came to mind. It’s not just that my actions need to be purified and sanctified, but also that my actions need to be empowered by Christ. The thumb, for those who’ve never done this exercise, makes a fair bit of what we do possible. Remove the thumb and our abilities become impaired — some actions become nearly impossible. So, too, we should have our thumbs—the enabling of our actions—sanctified; under the control of God.

The idea of purifying where I go; of not going places I ought not likewise transformed from a negative (Don’t go those places) to “Go where God sends you.” or, to borrow from the song Mytho X, “to walk with Jesus’ feet.” Jesus went to a great many places that the religious of His time would not have gone. This does not imply that I should be going to all the places that the religious folks of today will not go, because steering clear of some of those places is totally legitimate (and some places make no sense for me to be in). On the other hand, if God tells me to go someplace, then I know He is going there with me and I need not concern myself with the propriety (or lack thereof) of a Christian going there. If Christ goes there, then who am I not to follow?

That’s what this morning’s verse has boiled down to for me: Listen with Jesus’ ears. Work with hands empowered by Jesus. Walk with Jesus’ feet.

Carry the Names

“You shall put the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, stones of memorial for the sons of Israel, and Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for a memorial.

Aaron shall carry the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment over his heart when he enters the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually.”

Exodus 28:12, 29

The priestly garments are a topic that lots of folks have commented on. This morning, I was struck by a parallel between what the high priest did in symbol and what my High Priest does in practice.

The two stones mentioned in verse twelve are onyx. Onyx is a beautiful stone and is black. Black, as a color in clothing and art and such, is often a representation of wrong-doing and sin The high priest wore these black stones on his shoulders and the names of the twelve tribes were etched into the stones. My High Priest—one Jesus, by name—took my sin and shame and cross on His shoulders. When Jesus was crucified, parts of the process was Him being scourged. This means that His back and shoulders were shredded.

The breastplate included one stone for each tribe of Israel with the name of that tribe etched into it. Verse twenty-nine says that the stones would rest on the heart of the high priest. All believers are continually “on Jesus’ heart.” He constantly thinks about us. One verse says that He lives to make intercession for us. When He prays before going to the cross (John 17), He prays for His disciples at the time and looks forward through the halls of time toward all of us who believe now and prays for us as well. Add to this the fact that the Roman soldiers, to confirm Jesus’ death, pierced His side—near the heart.

Why this focus on where Jesus was wounded? Isaiah 49:15-16 says (quoting God), “Can a woman forget her nursing child / And have no compassion on the son of her womb? / Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. / Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; / Your walls are continually before Me.” Jesus’ scars are, to my mind, an inscription. They are His breastplate and shoulder pieces. He bears the names of those who are His on His shoulders and near His heart; on the palms of His hands and the soles of His feet (the word used for “palms” in Isaiah can also mean soles of the feet). And those scars will be in Heaven for all eternity, “a memorial before the LORD continually.” Jesus, my Great High Priest, is the substance of what Aaron and those who followed in his office were foreshadowing.

How about some application?

First, my sins were on Jesus’ shoulders as He carried the cross. I should look to lighten the load as much as I can. The onyx will not be any less black for the effort, but the cross might be one sin lighter for my obedience.

Second, I am always on Jesus’ heart. Is He always on mine? He bears my name in front of the Father for the rest of eternity. I should bear His Name and the marks of His presence in my life.

Third and finally, the other priests were clothed in garments similar to those of the high priest “for beauty and glory.” My Great High Priest is beautiful and glorious beyond comparison. My life; my actions; my words should be beautiful and glorious and an echo of the beauty and glory of my High Priest.

 

Father, I am not perfected in any of the things You have shown me today. Ultimately, they all boil down to me being clothed with Your beauty and glory and I confess to not being so with any regularity. Please forgive me for not taking up the garments of the office You’ve appointed to all of Yours or for wearing them so as to display Your beauty and glory. Please, also, enable me to be clothed appropriately and to minister as You direct me. Thank You for thinking of me as often as You do.

You Shall Make a Veil

“You shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen; it shall be made with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman.”

Exodus 26:31

Exodus has this really detailed description of the tabernacle and what the components are that make it up and how, precisely, they are to be made. These, both individually and as a collective whole, paint a picture of God and His relationship with mankind and the terms of salvation and … and … and …. With so many awesome pictures, I could spend a morning on each and every one, but that doesn’t seem to be the way things are going.

As I read, this morning, I found myself caught by this article of the tabernacle. The veil. This is the veil that would be torn from top to bottom during Jesus’ crucifixion. This veil divided the place where the Israelites would come to worship and the place where God’s presence would be: the Most Holy Place. This was a symbol shown to the Israelites every time they came to worship. This was a reminder to them of a truth that we are quick to forget. Sin separates us from God.

See, the veil was made of blue and purple, colors symbolic of holiness and royalty. God is a Holy King and cannot be approached by anyone or anything that is not likewise holy. The veil also had scarlet in it. God would say through Isaiah that our sins are like scarlet. So, God’s holiness and our sin combine to create a barrier between us and God. The cherubim in the veil are a class of angel. Four cherubim surround God’s presence when He appears to Ezekiel and seraphim surround His throne in Heaven. The message being communicated, I think, is that there must be an intermediary between us and God. Angel is from the Greek angelos, which means messenger. So, we need messengers — and one Messenger in particular. The Bible says that there is one God and one Mediator between God and man: the Man, Jesus Christ.

So it is that this veil, beautiful though it may have been, was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died. His death removed the separation between us because sin was no longer an issue. Jesus’ blood washes away our sin. God’s righteousness was no longer a separating factor, as Paul wrote to the Corinthian church that God made Him Who knew no sin (Jesus) to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

The veil is gone and there is now, for our comfort or terror, nothing standing between us and God except Jesus Christ. For the one who has placed their trust in Christ, it is comfort. Not only can we directly access the Father through the Door of the Son, but we have the Holy Spirit translating our feeble words into Heavenly phrases that communicate exactly what we mean to say but lack the words. For the one who does not trust in God, the veil’s removal is terror, for there is now nothing to hide them from God or God from them. In Revelation, there are folks crying out to the mountains and rocks to hide them from God. For those, the veil was a comfort; a security blanket of sorts. It hid them (so they thought) from God’s eyes and allowed them to pretend that God wasn’t there. There are still folks living as if the veil remains — including Christians. We — I need to live each and every day in the light of God’s presence. The veil has been removed and God and I have direct access to one another at all times through the Door: Jesus Christ.

 

Father, please teach me to live in the knowledge that there is no veil; no separation between You and me. Thank You for restoring the intimacy that had been lost since Eden.