SOAP Journal – 31 January 2017 (Leviticus 2:11-13)

No grain offering, which you bring to the LORD, shall be made with leaven, for you shall not offer up in smoke any leaven or any honey as an offering by fire to the LORD. As an offering of first fruits you shall bring them to the LORD, but they shall not ascend for a soothing aroma on the altar. Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt, so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.

Leviticus 2:11-13

The second chapter of Leviticus is the prescription for the grain offering. With every offering that God prescribes, there are two ways that I try to look at them. First is the literal understanding, trying to see what God is telling the Israelites to do on a practical level and to consider what implications that might have. Second is the symbolic understanding, looking to see if the sacrifice will bear scrutiny as a metaphor of something else.

On the first pass, this sacrifice seems straightforward. The worshiper is to bring the grain either as fine flour or as cakes made from fine flour. A portion of the offering would be offered up in fire while the rest became food for the priests. The grain offerings were to involve oil in all forms and involve frankincense when offered as flour. The oil makes sense to me, as the flour will need some kind of binding agent to keep it together as a cake as well as to keep the flour from turning into a flammable cloud near the altar. The frankincense also makes a degree of sense, as the bronze altar area of the tabernacle would smell like a combination slaughterhouse and barbecue pit with all the animals being killed and burned in the fire. A different aroma probably helped.

On the second pass, there are lots of directions that I want to go, but verses 11-13 caught my attention. This offering has three very specific prescriptions: (1) no leaven, (2) no honey, and (3) salt.

Leaven, in The Bible, is often synonymous with sin. Jesus warns His disciples to beware the leaven of the scribes and Pharisees. And believers are warned that a little leaven leavens to whole lump, speaking of intentionally permitting even a tiny bit of sin into our lives. This offering is to have no leaven in it. This offering must be sinless.

Honey is generally a good thing when I run across it in The Bible. It most often seems to be spoken of in connection with luxury, as in the land flowing with milk and honey. The only warning I really see against it is in excess and as a metaphor for flattering or seductive speech. But honey is also the product of another’s work — the bees, specifically. This offering is not to include anyone’s work but the worshiper. You can bring only your own labors to the altar for this offering.

Salt was, in the ancient world, a valuable commodity. So much so that people were sometimes paid in salt. Hence the phrase “worth his salt.” Moreover, salt acts as a preservative and enhances flavor.

All of these combine to form a picture of Christ, The Bread of Life. He is the only sinless offering. He is the only One Who can bring His own works to the altar and be accepted. And He preserves and gives flavor to life.

What this has to do with me is twofold. One, I need to be mindful that the sacrifices are often pictures of Christ and I should be looking for Him in them. Two, I am reminded that He is MY sacrifice. I do not come into the presence of the Father by any good work of my own, but by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice is all well and good to note academically, but it is ineffective to me until I accept His work as my sacrifice.

Father, thank You for Jesus’ sacrifice and for this reminder of it. Please teach me to keep always in mind that Jesus is my sacrifice and the only way I can be accepted by You.

SOAP Journal – 27 January 2017 (Leviticus 1:1-2)

Then the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock.’”

Leviticus 1:1-2

These are the first verses of the book of Leviticus. This book is a rough one for many people to get through as it gets into the details of how the sacrifices were to be offered and by whom and when and so on. This book describes what the priests should and should not do. And this book is often one with which detractors of The Bible like to take issue, as they see its prohibitions as outdated and out of step with the modern world.

The first verse tells me that this exchange happened after the tabernacle was completed. The tent of meeting is a name given to the tabernacle in several places (Exodus 27:21; 28:43; 29:4, 10, 11, 30, 32, 42, 44; 30:16, 18, 20, 26, 36; 31:7; 33:7; 35:21; 38:8, 30, etc.). For God to be able to [call] to Moses … from the tent of meeting, the tent of meeting must be completed and set up. That completion and set up happened at the end of Exodus. This is a distinct book, but its beginning tells me that it follows on the heels of the book preceding it.

God tells Moses to speak to the sons of Israel. Moses was to provide verbal instruction. This is a rather practical approach, as Moses could probably make himself heard to a crowd of thousands, but passing around written leaflets would take ages – especially since writing that many copies would take time. The people were ready and willing to give to the work of building the tabernacle. Now that it is finished, I am reasonably sure that they are just as ready  and willing to bring sacrifices and to commune with God.

This instruction is in regard to When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD. This is not an “if”, but a “when.” There was an expectation that offerings were going to happen. They had provided material for and built an altar, after all.

I am not going to get into the specifics of what was to be brought for the offering this morning. That may consume another morning, but not this one. Right now, my focus is on When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD. Offerings were to be brought at certain times and for certain reasons. When do I bring my offerings to the LORD? When God does something good and I see it, I should bring Him an offering of thanks. When God displays His awesomeness and I am witness to it, I should bring Him an offering of praise. Or any time really, He simply is awesome. The more I think of the circumstances of life, the more I see opportunities to bring God an offering of some type or kind. Even this time in the morning is an offering of a sort. I could take this time and get ready for work sooner, but the time is spent reading God’s Word to hear from Him and to try to know Him better and to see what He would say to me today.

Let me look for opportunities to being an offering to the LORD and then to bring those offerings. Let me praise Him and thank Him and offer to Him my best. He deserves nothing less and infinitely more.

Thank You, Father, for the opportunities You give me to give to You. I am grateful for the chance to offer something, anything to to You and for You to accept it in the spirit in which it is given. Please teach my heart and eyes to search for opportunities to bring You an offering whether of thanks or praise or any other thing that might please You and bless Your heart.

SOAP Journal – 26 January 2017 (Exodus 40:36-38)

Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

Exodus 40:36-38

The pillar of cloud/fire was a fixture in the camp of the Israelites until they reached the Promised Land. This was God’s guidepost for the Israelites. When the pillar lifted up, they struck camp; when it moved, they followed; when it stopped, they stopped and made camp until it lifted up again. Sometimes, the pillar would settle for a day. Sometimes the pillar would settle for weeks or months. All the while, the Israelites just marched along behind it. This pillar was a visual bit of guidance from God to a few million people.

Verse 34 tells me that the glory of the LORD came along with the cloud when it settled on the tabernacle. God was in this cloud/fire. This was not just a tool that God was using, it was a place where God Himself led the people around.

I find this personally meaningful because I am in a place where the pillar has been taken up in my own life. God has allowed circumstances such that my family and I must leave the place we have been for a while. It is now a question of where we will go. The Israelites did not know where the pillar was going, only that it had lifted up from the tabernacle and they needed to get ready to follow until it stopped again. My wife and I are trying to see where God leads. It is difficult. We have no literal pillar settling over the next place in which we should live. This we do have: Christ living in us. The glory only entered the tabernacle when the cloud settled. God promises to reside within believers. There is no pillar because God Himself is in me to guide. So we move and trust that when we find the place He wants us to settle — for however long He wants us to settle there — we will know.

Father, thank You for Your guidance. You have led us to green pastures; greener than we could ever have found ourselves. Thank You that You give us a better, if less visible, guidance by leading us from within. Please make sure that our eyes are open to see what You want us to and our ears open to hear Your voice so we can go where You want us to go and stop where You want us to stop.

SOAP Journal – 25 January 2017 (Exodus 39:32, 43)

Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was completed; and the sons of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did…. And Moses examined all the work and behold, they had done it; just as the LORD had commanded, this they had done. So Moses blessed them.

Exodus 39:32, 43

After several chapters of describing how the people did the work and in what order and how meticulously they adhered to God’s instructions, it culminates in the statement that the sons of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did.

This is particularly interesting to me, because the command and the work follow on the heels of Moses coming down from the mountain with the second set of stone tablets. When he came down with the first set, he found the Israelites worshiping an idol and doing all sorts of sinful things. Unpleasantness followed and Moses had to slog back up the mountain to intercede for the Israelites and get a second set of tablets. When he comes down with the second set of stone tablets, he finds the Israelites ready and willing to donate resources and time and skills to the creation of the tabernacle. It is quite the contrast.

Three things pop as I read this.

One, the sons of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses. Obedience. It was obedience that invited the presence of God into their midst. A few chapters back, it was noted that the pillar of cloud/fire would settle on Moses’ tent which was pitched outside the camp. God’s presence was not in their midst. In the next chapter, the tabernacle is set up and God’s presence comes to rest on it so strongly that Moses cannot go in to minister. The tabernacle is, according to other passages, the center of the camp. The tabernacle is set up and everyone sets up their campsites accordingly. God’s presence rests on the tabernacle which is in the middle of their camp. Their obedience invited God into their midst and God responded by accepting the invitation.

Two, Moses examined all the work. Our work; the things we do as believers are being examined. God examines my work. Paul writes that every believer’s works will be tested by fire and whatever remains is kept. God is a Consuming Fire and it is He Who tests my work in that way. The world also examines my works. People who know I am a believer are looking at my life, trying to see if my actions match the God I profess to serve. I am certain that there are times when my actions do not, just as I am certain that there are times when they do. God is gracious, He knows I will mess up and He is ready to forgive whenever I am ready to repent. People … not so much. My works; the things I do and say are being examined.

Three, Moses blessed them. When Moses saw that their works were obedient to God’s command, he blessed them. Obedience, as noted in the first thing, invites God’s presence. Obedience also prompts blessing. Too often I think of blessing as some specific thing that I want to happen or to receive. Maybe I think of blessing as a new job when I look for one (not looking, a the moment) or think of it as a new place to live (for which I am looking) or some other tangible thing that I can point to and call it a blessing. But God’s blessing is just as often — if not more often — something intangible, like love for others or joy despite sad circumstances or peace in the midst of difficulties. These blessings not only benefit me, but bring glory to God as others — who are examining my works — see these things and begin to wonder whether or not there might be something to the God I claim to follow. Others might see those intangible blessings and realize that God can give those to them as well.

Obedience invites God’s presence and prompts His blessing and my works, obedient or not, are being examined.

Thank You, Father, for this reminder that obedience is inviting to You. I know that I can get muddled and lose sight of this. Thank You also that obedience prompts blessing. It is pleasant to be reminded that there is more than just the satisfaction of having done right to be found in obedience to You. Please continue Your work in my life to make me obedient and right with You and holy, so that others may see the work You have done in me and glorify Your Name.

SOAP Journal – 24 January 2017 (Exodus 36:4-7)

And all the skillful men who were performing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work which he was performing, and they said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the LORD commanded [us] to perform.” So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, “Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.” Thus the people were restrained from bringing [any more]. For the material they had was sufficient and more than enough for all the work, to perform it.

Exodus 36:4-7

A freewill offering was collected and the Israelites were moved to give. And how. Men and women offered up their possessions and labor to bring in the precious metals and weave the cloth and provide the boards and whatnot. The giving of the people was so effusive that this morning’s verses happened.

There was a corps of workers dedicated to putting all the materials into the right shapes and sizes to construct the tabernacle, but this corps cam to Moses with something that was delaying the work: the people had supplied more than enough to get the job done and the people were still bringing more. It is a nice problem to have, but it is still a problem. So Moses tells the people to stop bringing things and making things to build the tabernacle. Once the corps dedicated to building the tabernacle could focus on that task, things moved along nicely.

Back to the problem. The Israelites were bringing too much. This event almost seems foreshadowed in how willing the Israelites were to be parted from their gold back at the incident with the golden calf. In that instance, they wanted a symbol and Aaron told them to fork over their gold so he could make it into something. Now that God Himself has told them what they should be making as a way to commune with Him, they are just as willing to give.

One evangelist is quoted as having said that there are three conversions: the mind, the heart, and the pocketbook. The Israelites’ pocketbooks were well and truly converted.

It bears note that the Israelites were in a place where they really had no need to gold ans silver and so on. They were in a wilderness and their needs were provided by God Himself. They woke up to healthy dessert bread and received water from rocks. Their clothes, I read in later passages, did not wear out. Did they need what they offered? Not really. But it cost them something.

King David will later say that he will not offer the LORD anything that costs him nothing. While the Israelites did not need the resources at that moment, they could have reasonably thought that they would encounter traders at some point and might need something to trade. And, not having mines or mills or farmland or anything else, what they carried was all they had. So these people looked at their finite resources and came to the conclusion that their resources were better given to God for the building of His tabernacle.

Right now, I am wrestling with the idea of resources and giving. God knows the details, but it is a source of some concern for my family and me. We have been faithful to give for some time and have seen God’s faithfulness to provide for us. We have tested Him — as He invited us to — and seen Him throw open the floodgates of Heaven — just as He promised He would.

Father, You know our hearts. You know where we are and how things stand. You know that we want to give; to continue to put You to the test and see the floodgates of Heaven opened; to bring too much for the work. There is always more work. There is always a need. Please guide us; instruct us in what You would have us do. It may be that You want things to be on hold for a time while You do some work or it may be that You want us to stay the course and trust You to work it all to good. I just do not know. Please show me. And thank You for the opportunity to give; to be a part of Your work in any way.

SOAP Journal – 23 January 2017 (Exodus 35:10)

‘Let every skillful man among you come, and make all that the LORD has commanded ….’”

Exodus 35:10

In the verses immediately preceding this (vv 1-9), Moses passed on the LORD’s instruction that the willing of heart should give to the work on building the tabernacle. In the verses immediately following (vv 11-19), Moses goes on to list the things that need to be made.

As an aside, God had already given Moses the names of two of the skillful individuals who would make all the necessary things for the tabernacle, but Moses just puts out a general call for people to step up and help. I do not think that this is accidental or mere linguistic laziness on the part of Moses. I think that the general call and the specific commission are part and parcel of how God works.

Fast forward to the New Testament and Jesus going around preaching and teaching. He calls anyone who wants to come after Him to do so and is followed by massive crowds. He spends a night up on a mountaintop praying, comes down, and goes through the crowd calling twelve individuals to the specific work of being apostles. And the general call to follow still went out. Still does today. And individuals are still called to specific works. The pattern abides unbroken.

It is still the case that every skillful [person] is welcomed to God’s work and it is the case that every person who is called to follow God has a skill to offer. Fun fact, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that is listed is the gift of giving (Romans 12:8). For some, their generous heart was the skill that needed to be employed. Not everyone has that skill.

The work of God in this passage is to make all that the LORD has commanded. In Exodus, God commanded the Israelites to build His tabernacle; to make a symbolic representation of God’s throne room. And He gave them the skills and the desire to do so. The believer is called to build relationships — a marriage, a church fellowship — as symbolic representations of God’s relationship with people. I, as a husband and father and several other roles, am called to nurture those relationships and maintain them in such a way as to cause those relationships to be examples of God’s relationship with His bride (the church) and His children (believers) and so on. It is weighty work that the LORD has commanded. He will also give me the skills and desire to do what He has commanded.

And that is the application for me: God will give me the skills and desire to make all that the LORD has commanded. Every relationship that He has established, He will also enable me to nurture in a way as to make it a representation of His relationship with us.

Father, thank You that You not only call all who want to come, but give us specific commission and the skills needed to fulfill that commission. Thank You for establishing relationships in my life. I am thankful for them. Please work in my heart to give me a strong desire to nurture those relationships in the way that You nurture Your relationship with me. Please make me skillful to nurture them so as to make them representations of Your relationship with me and Your church and so on.

SOAP Journal – 20 January 2017 (Exodus 35:4-9)

Moses spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded, saying, ‘Take from among you a contribution to the LORD; whoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it as the LORDS contribution: gold, silver, and bronze, and blue, purple and scarlet material, fine linen, goats’ [hair], and rams’ skins dyed red, and porpoise skins, and acacia wood, and oil for lighting, and spices for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastpiece.’”

Exodus 35:4-9

Moses got the second set of stone tablets and came back down the mountain. This time, there was no unpleasant surprise waiting for him when he got there. Instead, he learned that spending time with God caused his face to shine in such a way as unnerved the Israelites. So Moses went around wearing a veil. The New Testament elaborates on this and says that the veil was worn because the glory; the shining of Moses’ face faded until he spent time in God’s presence again. Somewhat like the glow-in-the-dark bobbles that absorb light and glow based on how much time they spent in the light and how brilliant the light was.

It is in this context that a veiled Moses comes to the Israelites and lets them know that the tabernacle is to be built on a donation basis. I love the juxtaposition of things in these verses. For example, the LORD has commanded … a contribution to the LORD [from] whoever is of a willing heart. God commands that the willing give. The willing would give with or without the command, but God gives them a command to obey the generous inclination of their hearts.

The list of things that the willing are commanded to give is the list of things necessary to construct the tabernacle and the altars and the priestly garments and whatnot. There is nothing on the list which is not a necessity.

A couple of thoughts present themselves here.

One, God only commands those of a willing heart to give. Too often, I have heard of fellowships guilting believers into giving to some project or another. In Exodus, it will turn out that those of a willing heart are so numerous and so generous in their giving that there is more than enough to build the tabernacle. So much, in fact, that Moses has to ask the people to stop giving. If God wants something to get done, then He is more than capable of arranging the resources to make it happen.

Two, the giving is a contribution to the LORD. This is important. When I give to ministries, it is not to people that I am entrusting those resources, but God. People will handle those resources and manage them and I should be responsible in the organizations and individuals to whom I give, but my giving is a contribution to the LORD. It is not as though He needs the resources. God says elsewhere in The Bible that He would not ask me for resources if He had need of them. He does not need me or my resources, but He wants to allow me to work with Him in the ways that my heart comes up with. My daughter loves to “help me” by pushing the cart when we go shopping. She is an inch over three foot and often drifts the cart into things — mostly because she cannot see where she is going as the cart fills up and she tries to look around the side. Sometimes, I am exasperated and just want to get the shopping done and ask her to “help” in some other way. More often, I let her bumble the cart all over the store, not for any need on part my part, but because I want to let her generous heart express itself. She loves me and wants to be a part of what I am doing. So, too, do I with God. And I, in a much diminished fashion, allow my daughter to help me in what I am doing as God allows me to help Him in what He does.

The LORD has commanded [that] whoever is of a willing heart should give to the LORD. If I am unwilling, let me keep the thing. God does not need it and it is the giving; the outpouring of love from my heart to His in which He delights, not the gift. God loves a cheerful giver, as Paul writes later. Let me give to God as my heart is willing. No more. No less.

Father, thank You. I cannot really think of anything else to say. Thank You for allowing me to participate in Your work, even though I probably make it far less efficient. Thank You for allowing my gifts — meager though they always are — to be offered to You and accepted by You. Thank You.