SOAP Journal – 29 December 2016 (Exodus 25:31)

Then you shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand, its base, and its shaft are to be made of hammered work; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers shall be [of one piece] with it.

Exodus 25:31

The description of the lampstand and the lamps and all their accoutrements puzzles me a bit. Maybe it is just lack of familiarity with the things involved, like almond blossoms, but I have trouble getting a good mental image of the thing. And where does this fit in the throne room of God? I think that the answer to that is that it does not.

The beginning of John’s vision on Patmos — the first three chapters of Revelation — involve John seeing Jesus walking in the midst of seven lampstands — possibly lampstands that look like the one described here in Exodus 25 — and dictating letters to seven churches and their “angels.” Since the word translated “angel” can also mean messenger and since Jesus was dictating letters to John for human reading, it stands to reason that Jesus was addressing people, not His angelic servants in Heaven. The lampstands in John’s vision represented people. So, I conclude that this lampstand also represents a person or people.

There are certain aspects of the lampstand that lend themselves to the interpretation of the lampstand representing a person or persons. The fact that there are six branches when the number six is often representative of humanity in The Bible is one such. The whole almond blossom symbolism when Aaron’s rod gave almond blossoms (Numbers 17). If, then, I roll with that almond blossom symbol, then it stands to reason that the lampstand represents the high priest. The lampstand is made entirely of gold, which means it is pure and glorious, so the lampstand is not symbolic of just any high priest. And the lampstand holds up seven lamps. Seven is often representative of completeness or perfection in The Bible, so the light given by this lampstand is perfect and complete. Combine all of these things and I am left with the lampstand being a symbol of Christ.

And it would be great, from a purely theoretical perspective, to leave things there. But that knowledge is useless if I cannot apply it to my walk with God today. Which takes me back to Revelation. Jesus is not, in that vision, the Himself the lampstand, but is walking in their midst. These lampstands are men who are shining the light of God. Jesus said, in Matthew 5, that believers are the light of the world. We are the lampstands now. And this makes perfect sense. Romans 8:29 tells me that I am being conformed to the image of Christ, which means that I am being made into a lampstand that gives God’s light to the world.

There are a couple of things that I need to notice about this. One, a lampstand does not make itself. The lampstand is made by someone. It is God’s place to shape me and make me what He desires me to be. It is my job to submit to that shaping and allow His work to move forward. Two, the lampstand is made of hammered work. This tells me that the process of becoming a vessel fit to shine God’s light may be painful and unpleasant at times. Three, the lampstand has no light of its own. The lamps and oil are put into the lampstand by someone else. I cannot shine God’s light unless I am first filled with the Holy Spirit (oil) and have the lamps (Truth) placed in me.

Father, thank You for a new understanding of the lampstand. I do not think I ever really stopped to consider it before today. Thank You for what it teaches me about shining Your light through my life. Please continue to work on making me fit to shine and prompt me when I need to get our of Your way so that You can work.

SOAP Journal – 28 December 2016 (Exodus 25:30)

You shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before Me continually.

Exodus 25:30

Among the articles in the tabernacle is a table meant for doing nothing more that displaying a bit of bread. The table is approximately 1.5 ft. (w) × 3 ft. (l) × 3 ft. (h) and made of the same wood as the ark and likewise covered in gold. The dimensions are interesting to me because the height is such as to require no effort at all to place the bread on the table. The top of the table is nearly at the height one would carry the bread in the first place.

For  little more color on this particular article, Numbers 4:7 instructs that the bread not be removed from the table when the camp gets up and goes. The table is covered with the bread still on it and carried along as it is. Leviticus 24:5-9 gives instruction on how the bread is to be prepared.

Normally, bread brings me back to Christ — the Bread of Life — but there are twelve (12) bread cakes on the table and only one Christ. Since the tabernacle is a picture of God’s throne room in Heaven, it then stands to reason that I should be able to find something that  parallels this table in John’s vision in Revelation. And I think I do. In Revelation 4:4, John sees 24 thrones surrounding the throne of God in Heaven and elders sitting on those thrones. While I realize that 24 is twice as many thrones as there are cakes on the table, I also know that John’s vision is after the new covenant of grace had been established by Christ at the cross. Moreover, more than a few teachings I have heard on that passage in Revelation indicate that the thrones are split between elders of the old covenant and elders of the new.

What has any of this to do with me and how I live my life today? At a glance, it would appear that it does not hold any particular application. I mean, there are only 24 thrones which means only 12 spots open for people who spend all of their time in the immediate presence of God; sitting face-to-face with Him. Which is interesting, because the word translated Presence in this morning’s verse literally means Face. These 12 or 24 always see God’s face. Always.

But I am drawn back to the idea of the height of the table. It is no effort or labor of man that puts that bread there. Sure, it had to be turned from grain to flour to bread, then carried to the table and set there, but those are all things that would have happened just going on about one’s day-to-day activities at that point in history. There was no special effort or cumbersome labor involved. To enter the presence of God; to see His face is not by some herculean effort on my part, but something that should be a part of my day-to-day activities. It should be as normal as preparing a meal and setting it on the table. No real work there. In fact, I enjoy cooking when I have the time to do it. So, too, entering into the presence of God should be a joy to me.

Not all of this is in the table of the show bread. Much of it is my own take on things and cannot be considered doctrine in any shape or form. That said, the psalmist tells me to enter into God’s gates with thanksgiving in my heart and to enter His courts with praise. I am meant to revel in coming into the presence of my God. If something is so pleasant, why would I not want it to be a daily occurrence; as normal as preparing and eating a meal?

One other thing about bread: it is common food. Bread was a staple food when this was written. So God was not commanding that they bring Him anything that they would not eat themselves. He told them to make and bring the staple of their diet; the thing that sustained them and to set it before Him. Am I bringing God the things and people that sustain me? Do I pray for my employer? Do I pray for my wife? Do I pray for my friends? Do I pray to God and consider what He would have me do when using my finances? Do I set before God what sustains me?

Last thing: the bread was for the high priest and the other priests to eat. Jesus is my High Priest and therefore all of my sustenance is His. As I considered the passage about the show bread, I thought of the times that Jesus had a few loaves of bread — probably very similar to these cakes — and fed thousands with them. When one’s sustenance was placed into the hands of God, it became enough to sustain many. If I place what sustains me in God’s hands, He will not withhold what I need, but will fill me until I can be filled no more — that is what happened with loaves and fishes. Do I trust Him enough to give Him my little and see what He will make of it?

Father, thank You for this symbol; this picture of what is in Your presence, before Your throne. Please help me to understand the things You want me to from this picture; to take away the lessons You have for me and to live them out today and every day.

SOAP Journal – 27 December 2016 (Exodus 25:16)

You shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you.

Exodus 25:16

The section that describes the ark of the covenant — 25:10-22 — gets pretty detailed. The length and width are given, as well as the material of the ark and its overlay. There is a good bit of symbolism in many of the attributes of the ark — as is true for most of the tabernacle and things. These symbols are often interpreted rightly to be a picture of Christ, but I would like to look at how some of the symbols might apply to me as one who is supposed to be conformed to the likeness of Christ.

First, the ark is made of wood. This is not a permanent material. Wood is temporary; rots away over time. More, the particular wood prescribed is thought to be a variety that (a) is thorny and gnarled on the outside, (b) tends to blacken as it ages, and (c) is common to the region. Those things — rough on the outside, blackening with age, and common — describe human beings quite well. We tend to be a bit rough on the outside and we do blacken with sin as we age and we are fairly common. But God does not leave things here.

Second, the ark is overlaid with gold. Gold, even today, carries with it the idea of permanence and glory. So this perishable puts on imperishable, as Paul writes much later on. The wood that otherwise passes away is covered over with gold, wrapping the passing in permanence. This is a picture of salvation, particularly the part of salvation called sanctification. In that phase of salvation (there are three phases mentioned by Paul — justification, sanctification, and glorification), I am being changed into the likeness of Christ; the wood is overlaid with gold; my perishable puts on God’s imperishable.

Third and finally for this morning, the testimony is in the ark. The testimony is almost synonymous with The Law. Over and over again, The Bible speaks of believers having God’s Law/testimony within us (Psalm 37:31, 40:8; Isaiah 51:7; Jeremiah 31:33; Romans 2:15). The idea of having God’s Law within me is not that I have a set of rules just etched on my brain cells, but that the presence of God’s precepts in me is evidenced by how I live my life. The choices I make and the way that I think should bear witness to my contents being God’s Law. But the testimony that God tells Moses to place in the ark is not limited to The Law. Aaron’s rod and a jar full of manna are also placed in there, reminders of God’s miraculous saving power and God’s provision respectively. I should not just be filled up with God’s Law which might lead to legalism, but I should also be filled with an awareness of His ability to save whiners and complainers and such like me as well as an awareness that He provides for our needs, beginning with salvation and progressing from there.

The practical implications of this are obvious. I am that acacia wood: prickly and rough to the touch and blackening with sin as I age unless God intervenes. But God covers me with gold — His holiness and glory and righteousness — so that I can be in His presence. He then fills me with His Law and an awareness of His mighty saving power and His provision for all my needs (even and especially when there seems no way to supply those needs). Let me live out the Law within me and keep always before my mind’s eye the awareness of His power and provision.

Father, thank You for saving me and for providing my needs and showing Yourself mighty on my behalf. Please work in me to live out Your Law within me and to be mindful of Your power and provision always present and ready to act with what is best for me in mind.

SOAP Journal – 21 December 2016 (Exodus 25:9)

According to all that I am going to show you, [as] the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct [it].

Exodus 25:9

When this verse comes along, Moses has come down from the mountain once and the people have entered into covenant with God. Now, Moses is back up on the mountain and God tells him to take up an offering of various materials for the tabernacle. I will later read that the people were so willing to give to this project that Moses had to tell the people that there was more than enough. Lots of pastors today would be thrilled with that problem. God has not even begun to describe the tabernacle before He makes clear to Moses that it needs to be built just so.

God seems awfully particular about the things He has the Israelites put together as parts of their worship accoutrements. And there is a reason for that. If I read the description of the tabernacle and sketch it out in my mind — or on paper, both work — then compare it to the scene of Heaven — particularly God’s throne room — that John sees in Revelation, then I find that the two are so similar as to beggar belief. And that is the core of why God commands that the tabernacle and its accoutrements be made according to all that I am going to show you … just so you shall construct it. God is, through the tabernacle and various other parts of the Israelites’ worship, giving a picture of what Heaven itself is like. Mess up the picture and you have a messed up idea of Heaven. Get the picture right and Heaven becomes a place that we can begin to understand.

The non-Jewish believer also has pictures that God has called out to illustrate aspects of our relationship with Him. Possibly God’s favorite pictures in the New Testament are those of the relationship between husband and wife and the relationship between father and child. If those relationships become dysfunctional, then we have marred the image of the relationship between God and His people. And damaging that image comes at a price. Our ability to witness; to tell others about God’s love for them is diminished. Our own ability to understand how God loves us is diminished.

Let me tend the pictures God has entrusted to me — my relationship with my wife and my relationship with each of my children. Let me be mindful that how those relationships are impacts how effective my witness is, how well I understand God’s love for me, and how well my wife and children understand God’s love for them. It is a weighty burden, but well worth bearing.

Father, thank You for the pictures You have provided to illustrate the things that are too big for me to understand without help. Please teach me to tend the pictures You have entrusted to me and to be found diligent in so doing.

SOAP Journal – 20 December 2016 (Exodus 23:33)

“[The Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites] shall not live in your land, because they will make you sin against Me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”

Exodus 23:33

The groups God names are those who were already living in the Promised Land. God said in an earlier part of the chapter that He would drive these people groups out and plant the Israelites in that land. The Amorites are the self-same group about whom God said that their iniquity was not yet complete (Genesis 15:16). These were not holy or good people. These were folks that God looked down the corridors of future history and saw no repentance, no turning from their wrongs.

There are people who are just unrepentant. These are individuals who should be avoided; people with whom the believer should have nothing to do. It is not that believers are better than them — the Israelites were no better, in many ways, than the people groups they displaced — but that unrepentant people will drag down those who are penitent. God does not say that these people cannot live in the land next door, but that they shall not live in your land. The idea expressed here is restated in the New Testament in the form of do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. We cannot help but live next door to people who do not believe as we do and there is no problem with that. The problem comes when they live in [our] land, i.e. are our most intimate friends or our spouses.

Let me not live with unbelievers in such a way that I serve their gods, but instead live a life in obedience to my God.

Father, please cause me to walk with You and keep me mindful that unequal relationships drag down.

SOAP Journal – 19 December 2016 (Exodus 23:10-11)

“You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard [and] your olive grove.”

Exodus 23:10-11

God has finished giving the Ten Commandments and is in the process of giving The Law, which feels like several chapters of God going back over the various Commandments and giving color and scope to them. In these verses — the some verses following — God gives color and scope to the command to keep the Sabbath.

The Sabbath; the Rest was not just a once a week thing, it was a once every seventh year kind of thing. The teachers I have heard over the years have been quick to point out that harvesting for six years and doing no harvesting in the seventh year was a call to trust God to provide and to work diligently, particularly in that sixth year. And I am quite sure that is a part of what God had in mind. But He also gives some scope in verse eleven (11). He says that the reason for the rest is (a) so the land can rest (let it rest), (b) as a form of workfare (so that the needy of your people may eat), and (c) as provision for wild animals (the beast of the field may eat).

Letting the land lie fallow would later be borne out by history as a viable method for increasing the productivity of land. Give the land some time off and it produces more in the years it is sown and harvested. There were studies done a decade ago or more in which machines were shut down about once a week and the studies found that the machines lasted longer, had fewer breakdowns, and were just generally better machines. I find myself wondering what the Israelite farming family were doing during that year in which they did not work the fields. Did they improve their homes? Did they pursue the arts or better themselves with all that time? I see a lot of burnout in the modern workplace and wonder if some portion of that is due to us working the same job day-in and day-out for years and years without a respite. Just curiosity.

The Old Testament did not really have a welfare system as we know it today. There was, however,  a workfare system. The Israelites were commanded to leave the corners of their fields unharvested and not to pick up the bits that dropped from the carts and bundles during harvest. The corners and the dropped things were to be left for the poor to gather up. The book of Ruth shows this system in action. The Bible‘s model for providing for a person or a family is simple: Work. No work? No food. Before I go nuts on this, Israelites also received a parcel of land as inheritance and then split it up among the family as the years went by, so a place to live was handled. But food and clothing had to be handled by the individual or family. Every seventh year, there should have been a few fields that were left completely unharvested by the owners so that the poor could have a go. It would be a chance for the poor to put in that bit of extra effort to try to get ahead of things, maybe even make some headway toward getting out of poverty.

Finally, the wild animals. Some thoughts presented themselves here. First, God provides even for the wild animals. The idea being that God wanted the Israelites to have a constant reminder that the wild animals were taken care of by God, how much more would He take care of the Israelites, His Chosen People. Second, we have problems in the modern world with wild animals coming into cities looking for food. If there were areas outside the cities — which is where these fallow fields would have been — where the wild animals could find food, we might have fewer problems with wildlife entering cities. Third, the wildlife eating the food in the fields might have provided a bit of fertilization of those fields.

This brings me around to the question of application. I am not a farmer and I have no land to let lie fallow, so that strict interpretation is out of the question. On the other hand, I am a working person and I do recall that Jesus later says that man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man. So this whole resting thing — including the hardcore taking a year off part — is meant to benefit people. The application I take from this is that I need to keep work and rest in their proper place. There should be more work than rest — a 6:1 ratio, or thereabouts — but the rest must be included. Let me work when it is time to work and rest when it is time to rest.

Father, thank You for this reminder that You take care to provide for everyone, including even the wild animals. If You care enough to provide for even them, how much more will You provide for Your children. Thank You for so great a love and for so clear an example of Your provision. Please teach me to keep work and rest in their proper relationship and to include both in my life as You would have them.

SOAP Journal – 16 December 2016 (Exodus 22:28)

“You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.”

Exodus 22:28

Let me put down right this moment that I am not pleased with the current state of  politics in America. I do not approve of the people’s choice as elected by the electoral college nor would I have approved of the other candidate. I think we set ourselves a choice between terrible and horrible and we are left to sleep in the bed we made.

That written, God’s standard is higher than man’s and, while man allows cursing a ruler, God prohibits cursing a ruler. In the case of the Israelites, it was the situation that God was making the appointments to governmental positions. Moses, later Joshua, the judges after him, all the way down to King David — all appointed by God Himself. To curse those leaders would be to curse God’s choice; to say, in effect, that God does not know what He is doing.

I have been working on obedience to this for a long while. God has never once told me that I cannot come to Him and ask Him just what is going on with these rulers. He also never says that He will answer that question from me — If He did, would I fully understand the answer? — but there is always the chance that He will. And asking Him what is happening is a far cry from coming to the internet or going into my echo chamber and yelling about how the whole situation is messed up and wrong and what-have-you. God cannot reason with me if I do not speak with Him and that, I think, is one of the potentially myriad reasons God forbids cursing the rulers. I cannot be reasoned with while I am busy cursing someone. More, cursing the people ruling me is cursing myself by proxy. They are, after are, ruling the place in which I live.

I should do something else. God does not outline it in this verse, but elsewhere in The Bible I am told that I should be praying for my rulers and seeking good for the place in which I live. I may not like them (God never says I have to like them). I may think them reprehensible people (God does not command that I change my opinion of a person’s character). But I should be praying for them and for the place over which they rule. I live in California and disagree with the vast majority of things that the governor of this state does. When I think of him (which is not often) I try to remember to pray for him; to pray that he comes to salvation if he has not and to pray that he governs in accordance with God’s will for this place. And I try to do the same with all of the government folks and to vote in accordance with my values and beliefs when the opportunity arises. My griping and complaining does not change anything — never has and never will — but prayer always changes something, even if the only thing that changes is my outlook. If I achieve nothing else through prayer than to reestablish my focus on God’s absolute control of everything that is happening, then I have invested that time well.

Father, thank You for the encouragement to stay the course in working with You to stop complaining about the rulers and to start praying for them. I know that You want me to use the rights and privileges I have in this nation to speak Truth and that part of that Truth is that You are in control. We have elected our leaders, You selected them and planned for this moment from before the foundation of this world. You are not surprised. You are not caught off guard. You are not going back to the drawing board to revise Your plans. This is part of the plan that moves things to where You want them. Thank You for that reminder and for the encouragement to stay the course and for the exhortation to do better.