Slowly learning to know God
If you have been reading through the book of Exodus, you may have found it much easier to read the first half of the book rather than the second half. The first half is a dramatic story with page-turning action. It’s the story of God’s miraculous deliverance of his people from 400 years of slavery. But then the book seems to slow down and wade into many (and often repeated) conversations about things that seem very far from our current reality; laws about oxen, skin diseases, and building plans for a massive worship tent.
But the context of Exodus makes all the difference in our understanding.
Why all the instructions? Why the repetition of those instructions? Why all the detail?
This was God making himself known, for the first time, to a nation of people who had been generationalslaves in Egypt; at least 6 layers of descendents (they had been slaves, their parents had been slaves, their parents parents, and their parents…you get the idea).
All they had known were the gods of Egypt – 2000 of them – that’s a lot of deities to keep happy. The gods of Egypt were impetuous, temperamental, cruel (Pharaoh certainly was), at times requiring shrine prostitution as part of their worship.
Furthermore, for 400 years they were not given any choices, had no personal freedom and were not required to think – simply work, day-in-day out. It was a cruel, mindless existence.
Suddenly now they had only one God and a whole bunch of freedom.
But no idea who this God was and no idea how to use their freedom to make good decisions.
So you and I need to see much of the law and instruction and detail of Exodus as helping people who were coming out of a 4-century haze, make sense of their world, get to know their God, and learn how to treat each other with respect and love.
These final chapters of Exodus need to be read with that backdrop.
Additionally, we are also reading exodus forward, as it were, seeing what clues and threads would eventually lead us all to know God in an entirely new and personal way – through Jesus, God in the flesh. Exodus isn’t a code book, but it does hint, whisper and subtly point to Jesus, in many different ways. So even though we cannot relate to their specific context, Exodus can lead us to see and love and follow Jesus in new ways.
Day 1 – Ex 32
This is a strange story, on so many levels. But the prevailing question is “Why on earth did they make a cow out of gold, and think (or pretend) that IT, not God, was the one who lead them out of Egypt?” Short answer – old habits die hard. They had been immersed in a culture that worship animals and gods of stone/metal for so long, it was hard for them to trust and worship and stay close to a God they couldn’t see. They were young and immature as a people/nation. God was gracious and patient with them. We too have old habits that die hard. What are some of the things you find yourself trusting in – for safety, security, significance or satisfaction? Pray a simple prayer asking God to teach you to rely less on things that are good-but-not-God, and to place your trust and confidence in Him.
This is one of the most beautiful accounts in all of scripture. Why? Two reasons. First ch. 33 shows us a simple, mortal, ordinary person being able to meet face-to-face with God. Being able to bargain with God, pray bold prayers (like asking to see God’s face)! Moses was given special access into God’s presence, and his face glowed because of it. But the scriptures tell us that we also, “reflect the Lord’s glory” (2 Cor 3:18…look it up!!); we ALL have access into God’s presence, and we get to see the face of God in Jesus. Moses’ experience was a sign of things to come. The second reason is that God re-writes the law (that Moses smashed ), as an act of grace. His people couldn’t last two days without staying faithful to him (see golden cow worship in Ex 32), but God’s faithfulness lasts forever. He cannot help but love and be faithful to his people – that’s what a covenant promise looks like. Thank God for his faithful love for you, no matter how many times you fall or fail or lose your confidence in Him.
This feels like a repeat of some of the prior chapters. But even as you painstakingly go through all of the details of worship, you can thank God that this was only temporary. The biographies of Jesus tell us (Matt 27:51) that at the moment Jesus died, the temple curtain that separated the holiest presence of God from anyone but one priest, once a year, was torn in two from top to bottom. In other words, the access to the presence of the God of the universe was now given to all people, because of Jesus. Thank God that even during this Holy Week, you can come boldly into his presence, asking for forgiveness, grace, favour, provision, healing, mercy and hope, because of what Jesus has done for us.
For this day, I want you to read carefully the verses in chapter 39 that focus on the priests clothes. I love the picture of the priest wearing on his body, carrying on his shoulders, the people of God (the 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel). Since we know now that Jesus is our High priest, we know that He also carries us on his shoulders in God’s presence. This is a picture of him carrying us, bringing our concerns and cares before Almighty God in prayer, reminding us that He is always with us, and we are always with him; that we are never away from Him, that we never “slip his mind”. Take time to imagine Jesus carrying you, and all your cares and concerns, into the presence of God. What does it feel like to be carried; to have the things that are weighing you down, be picked up by Him? Name those things, like stones that he carries on his shoulders. Thank him for taking the weight of each one, off of you.
The end of Exodus 40, of the book as a whole, is a beautiful summary of what this whole books has been about. The beautiful, overwhelming, powerful presence of God meeting tangibly with His people. The whole reason to build the tent was so that God would be present. It wasn’t about the tent. It was so the sights (purple, blue, gold, bronze) and the smells (incense) and the space itself would help them to worship God. God is met with in time and space, and he engages all our senses. So he appears to them as fire at night (when they are in the dark) and cloud by day (so they can follow). And He was always with them. As we walk through life, and at times when it feels like a desert, when we’re not sure how the problems of our lives are going to be resolved, Exodus reminds us that God is faithful; he provides food and water in hard and desert places. He is a light in the darkness, he is our leader on the journey. Take time to sing one of your favourite songs of praise to God. Click one of these songs if you need direction: