Grace has its Rhythms – Exodus 23. 20th September 2015

“The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1.17).

The grace which brings us salvation brings us life. It takes hell-deserving, living dead rebels against God, and makes us alive in Christ, through forgiveness and the gift of His righteousness. The Law of God is the means by which we explore and express that life, and through the Sprit of God we have the desire and the power to do just that. These diverse laws of chapter 23 enable us to reflect on the Mind of God, and to respond to Him.

 

Truth and Justice

God always speaks the truth to us, and therefore we speak the truth to one another. We must be alert to the subtle pressures to changes our words in order to win favour, to gain power, or to save our skins in a difficult situation (vv.1-3). And of course, words must pass into action, as we seek to be a blessing even to those who feel at times like a curse to us (vv.4-5). Whoever it is, poor person, disadvantaged alien, or even, wealthy influential person, we must always speak and act with absolute integrity (vv.6-9). Live like Jesus, is the command from these verses.

 

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Concern for the poor extends to the workplace. God’s people are to be marked by their concern for the most vulnerable. The poor and those employed on the land were the most vulnerable to exploitation. God insists that they are treated with compassion, as these laws teach.

Firstly, there is a working pattern to observe, of of six years’ harvesting and sowing, and one year of leaving the fields unworked. This provides food for the poor, as well as for animals (vv.10-11). This six-and-one pattern must be the shape of the working week (mirroring the Creation Week), to bring rest to those most likely to be overworked. And these laws are not an option: “be careful to do everything I have said to you” (v.13).

 

Worship and Celebration 

Work is not everything. Time must be given to the praise of God as an assembled community, and the celebration of His grace. God stipulates that His people are to remember the three great feasts together (vv.14-17). God is rich in goodness. We His people must take time aside from the rhythms of work and rest, to focus on the God we profess, and to discover again how wonderful He is. Worship is the reorientation of our world to ensure that God is really all in all.

 

Guidance

The God who saves is the God who guides. Verses 20-33 are the first indication of all that’s ahead of God’s people. Yes, they will have a land, and yes, they will have to fight their enemies for it. And yes, also, they have One who will guide them and fight for them. They have a great challenge, of refusing the embrace the gods and values of the nations they face. They have the greatest promises that God’s favour will rest upon them (vv.25-26). Who would want less, through Christ, for this world or for the world to come?

A New Society – Exodus 21-22. RBT Notes, 18th September

“The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.” (Psalm 19.8-9)

There is beauty in the Law of God. The Law shows us God, and the way to walk with Him. Israel is given this Law so that she might be a society filled with the beauty of justice, love, compassion and integrity. These two chapters, full of laws, are really notes to the Ten Commandments, we might say, filling out their application in the complexities of every-day living.

 

Freedom and Service (21.1-11)

After giving Moses the Ten Commandments, God gives detailed law, the first being instructions on servants. For a people who were used to service and who were just weeks on from being slaves, this seems like a great place to begin ordering their new, just society.

These laws ensure that service is not a life-condition, unless the individual wants that (vv.1-7). There are also laws here to protect the rights of women, something so little recognised in the Ancient World (vv.7-11). These laws are an expression of the Sixth Commandment, do not murder, and envision a society where the most vulnerable are protected and treated as equal members of society. Then think of those who work long hours on low wages in shops, factories, the care sector; don’t you want dignity and protection for them? God does. His law speaks on their behalf.

 

Justice for All (vv.12-36)

Life is precious, and sacred. It is God’s gift, to be honoured by all. God gives the death penalty for murder (vv.12, 14), but He also ensures that there are laws to prevent a hasty and wrong application of that sentence (v.13). Then there are the laws which regulate punishments for injury. In an angry world people will fight and injure others, and these laws tell the Israelites the various penalties for different situations (vv.15-27). Justice must be the hallmark of sentences. Neither leniency which will foster a desire to vengeance from those injured, nor excessive punishment on the guilty which goes beyond the scale of the crime, will bring true justice. “Eye for eye” is justice which maintains civil order, and reflects God’s integrity (v.24).

Alongside the harm people do to each other, this agrarian society needs laws which extend to dangerous animals, and which also safeguard animals as property (vv.28-36). Animal rights are not a modern secular construct, but a God-honouring and God-ordained aspect of the just society.

 

Looking after what isn’t yours (22.1-15)

From care for people, protection of life, and through laws about livestock, we now have laws about property. Theft is very, very serious, whether it is from the field or the home (2. 1-4). Even accidental loss or destruction of property must be dealt with (vv.5-6). God’s Law legislates for the complexities of life, where property is lent, and then lost, stolen or damaged (vv.7-15). No, this is not an exciting section of God’s Word, but it speaks of His concern for the details of society, and charges us to reflect His own fair dealings with one another.

 

Caring, always (vv.23-31)

I count fourteen commands in vv.16-31, as different from each other as civil laws can be. Read them slowly, and think about them. They teach you to be careful in how you relate to others, and compassionate towards all. Above all, they teach you to care about you live, because you live your life before God. Because of Christ the great Law-keeper, we are God’s holy people (compare v.31). By His Spirit we walk in His ways, as we love to do so. And as we do He builds His new society.

 

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Ten Words for One Life – Exodus 20. RBT Notes, 17th September

Ten commandments, one life. God is the Lord. He wants His people to know that, and to respond to His Lordship from the bottom of their hearts, and with all that they are. The Ten Commandments are therefore the declaration of His Lordship, and the call to wholehearted, committed obedience. These commands are stamped with the wisdom of our Great God, as His laws probe all that we are as they draw from us a response from every area of our lives. Let’s remind ourselves of the call that they make:

 

Let God be God (v.3). God is the only True and Living God, and the Redeemer of His people (vv.1-2). Well may He demand to have first place in our lives. And He does. Worship is embracing the reality of who He is, and of who we are, as His creatures, and as His redeemed.

 

Nothing must be substituted for God (vv.4-6). We must fight against our idol-making hearts, which continually want to make things as replacements for God. In our sin we long to run away from the claims of truth for the false claims of our God substitutes. God sees, and He warns that He judges such faithlessness.

 

God is the holiest of all (v.7). Honouring His Name means honouring all that He is as the Lord, the One in the highest place. We set Him apart in how we speak about Him, and in how we speak to Him, and in how we live as His servants and ambassadors.

 

We remember His day (vv.8-11). God has woven one day in seven into His creation for us to keep as we rest, worship and fellowship. Now we remember God’s power to create and to recreate by honouring the Resurrection Day, Sunday. What we do with this day shows how we trust in our Lord and want to enjoy Him with others. Keep the faith, and keep the day.

 

Honour those who matter most (v.12). That’s your parents, and it’s all those in authority. Our age may want to challenge all authority, but the mark of believers is that we’ve discovered the authority of God, so we honour Him as we honour those in authority over us, however imperfectly they may use it, and however difficult it may be for us to honour them. We do it by God’s grace.

 

Murder kills everything (v.13). Murder is murder, whether it’s killing with deeds, words, attitudes, or even avoidance of others. We are to love, serve, respect and protect life and our neighbour. Anything less is, well, murder.

 

Your heart, your promises (v.14). This is clear – God loves marriage, and commands us to guard marriage and its promises. Marriage is the cornerstone of a society reflecting God’s purposes and character. Break it, and you face its Creator, the Lord God.

 

Hand off (v.15). God loves you, and orders your life. He never puts you in situations where you need to steal. Trying to wangle a higher salary for your own selfish ends; trying to rob a person of more help and time than they can give; putting yourself beyond the needs of your family by a new time-consuming hobby? It’s all prohibited by this commandment.

 

Keep your words pure (v.16). Speech is one of God’s highest and crowning gifts. How dare we use it to hurt, belittle and attack others, whilst serving our own agendas? Shame on us. God speaks truth, and we learn to love truth and to speak it, by His help.

 

The World is never enough, so discover that God is (v.17). The world is a greedy, grasping place, just like my heart, and yours, too. Can we live contented with what we have? Is that ever possible? If we have the treasure of Jesus, and the power of the Spirit, we can know that grace is enough. We are the richest people.

 

So these are the Ten Commandments. They are beautiful, liberating, and totally binding on the followers of Jesus. They are straight from God, and that should be overwhelming (compare vv.18-21). Their authority should scare us, their beauty should captivate us, their practical, life-affirming wisdom should amaze us. Obey them, as your discipleship and by the Spirit’s power. Any worship less than this will make a fool of you (vv.22-26). And any worship more than this? Well, there is no such thing.

“This is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5.3).

 

Ten Commandments

 

 

The Grace of Law – Exodus 19. RBT Notes, 16th September

Two months of living in the Desert, and now the Israelites will face their biggest challenge, and their greatest calling: how will they live with God? They are the people God has redeemed, as He says, to be “my treasured possession…a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (v.4). They have seen His works (v.4), but now they will see His Presence, and receive His Word. With that Word they will be able to walk in His ways. And they are eager to do just that (v.8), but they little know just what it will mean.

God will reveal Himself, but it is Moses who will have the fullest revelation, and this will secure his standing as leader of the people (v.9). Before God comes, the people must make themselves ready (vv.10-14). It is clear that they must be ready for their Lord in mind and body.

wildfireThey are prepared, but nothing can prepare any of us for when God truly arrives. The mountain shakes and smokes, and the Israelites are in a holy terror (vv.16-19). God comes in fire, and tells Moses to warn the people against venturing onto the mountain (vv.19-23). They have been redeemed to know this God, but they must first know that God is mighty in His holiness and power. He is not a God in any way like us, yet we are called to walk with Him by grace.

And we are called to walk on His terms, which is by His Law. So Moses and Aaron ascend the mountain alone to meet with God and to receive His Law (vv.23-25). Their rules will never bind a people to God, and bring lasting change. Only the Law of God can bring true hope, order and freedom to any society.

We Christians continually make the mistake of thinking we come to a God who is different form the God of Sinai; which is nonsense! The writer of Hebrews is reflecting on the Sinai revelation in Hebrews 12.18-29. Of course, the giving of the Law and the grace of Christ do make for a start contrast: whereas the people at Sinai were excluded from God’s Presence, we are all invited to draw near with all of God’s people. But our God is still as terrifyingly holy. Our welcome comes at the price of Jesus’ exclusion, the spotless Son of God who at the Cross was made sin for us, and who endured the fiery wrath of God’s justice.  “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb.12.29). Let us never forget the grace which redeems us, and the wonder that we may hear the Voice of God who calls us to to walk in freedom as we walk in His Ways.

 

His Grace, our Endeavours – Exodus 17-18. RBT Notes, 15th September

Moses is living in a refugee camp. More than that, he has to bring some order, unity resources. No easy task in a nervous and vulnerable mass of people, who number probably between two and three million.

Water is the first concern, and their bone of contention with Moses (vv.1-3). They know that death is only a couple of dry days away, in this desert. Moses knows that he will die first, at their hands, if the situation continues (v.4) And so God commands him to strike a rock to bring forth water. His staff has been God’s means before, and so the use of it reminds the people that God hasn’t changed, nor will He change His appointed leader just because life is tough and the people are angry at him because of their hardships. So they have water to drink. They also have a permanent testimony to their grumbling unbelief (v.7). God is with them; are they with Him?

(c) Aberystwyth University, School of Art Gallery and Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

As basic as the need for water is in the wilderness, so is the fact of enemies. This is the first mention of enemies, in the guise of the Amalekites, and the first mention of Joshua, the young commander (vv.8-10). God’s people are victorious – “Joshua overcomes the Amalekite army with the sword” (v.13), but not through their own strength (vv.10-13). Moses’ arms are raised to God in prayer through the length of the battle, and through presumably agonising cramps, which meant that his arms are supported as he prays on for the Lord’s help. This is the perfect picture, then, of all true work and success in the Lord’s name, as prayer to God is matched with courageous fighting against God’s enemies. Both are vital, neither one on its own will win the battle. This is what we need to learn as the church of Jesus Christ. Apart from Him – His strength given through prayer, and His battles fought with courage – we can do nothing (John 15.5). He is the One we believe in and fight for, He is our Banner (v.15).

Leading the people of God, even in their victories, is stressful and exhausting, though. Sometimes even the leaders can’t see that, and it takes the eyes of family members to identify the strains, and to suggest remedies. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, arrives to see how things are (18.5-6). He is as excited as anyone about the work of God (vv.8-12). The next day, after they’ve celebrated over a meal, Jethro sees for himself the excessive burdens Moses carries each day, and we see that this elderly man is actually the Bible’s first management consultant (vv.17-23). And his wisdom works – Moses is won over, changes are made, sanity spared, the work is shared, and God is therefore honoured (vv.24-27). Simple.

These two chapters show us perfectly how God’s grace works. Grace doesn’t work apart from our prayers, efforts, our bravery, our wisdom, and our willingness to change. In fact, it work through all of these things. God loves His people so much that He works in and through them, as they play their part. The result is His Kingdom. Stay with this Book of Exodus, as we are about to see the drama of God giving His Law for this Kingdom of grace.

 

Bread for the Journey – Exodus 16. RBT Notes, 14th September

Camping is fun for a week, but a fortnight of bad weather tries anyone’s patience. The weather, in this instance, is the fierce heat of the Desert. Supplies have dwindled, no one knows where food is coming from, or how long this enforced lifestyle is going on for, and tempers are fraying. Worst of all, these Israelites have been thrust into the hard work of living by faith – and they don’t like it (vv.2-3).

Anyone who thinks that living by faith isn’t hard most likely isn’t doing it. Faith is the call to refuse to live for our own values and with our own resources. Faith is the call to give up our lives in the conviction that God will lead, provide, and have the glory. We follow Him, He is in charge.

It’s because that rule is loving and gracious that God delights to provide for His people. They are promised miracle-food, bread from heaven (vv.4-5). Moses tells the people what God will do, and that they will see “the glory of the Lord” in this, though He assures them that God is not deaf to their grumbling (v.7), and warns them of the danger of their complaining against God (v.8). We can only wonder if worse is to come from them.

Then there is this incredible provision, as not just bread, but firstly meat is given to them, in the form of quail (v.13). This chapter focuses on the bread, the manna. We will pick out four key lessons to take hold of about God’s provision for them, as well as for us:

  1. Everyone has enough (vv.16-18). Moses is at pains to show us that no one is left short. Grace always gives us what we need.
  1. People panic that God doesn’t love them and hasn’t provided for their needs (vv.19-20). The worm of unbelief eats away at us, so we’re tempted to provide for ourselves, even when God has guaranteed His daily provision. We heap up our resources, maybe telling ourselves that we are wise and hard-working, when the truth is that we just can’t trust God. We can.
  1. There is more to life than working and fretting (vv.21-30). God gives us all that we need and more, and tells us to rest. Our one in seven rest is a conscious decision to trust God, and to stop toiling to provide for what He ultimately can give. Jesus is the One in Whom we find the rest from our sins, by grace. We rest and worship each Lord’s Day to keep our hearts fixed on Him, humble, trusting and thankful.
  1. God’s miraculous grace is there to be enjoyed, and remembered (vv.31-33). So amazing is this gift from heaven, that the Israelites are to take some to keep for later generations, as a token of God’s incredible provision for their forefathers. They must never forget this. Now we have Jesus the Bread of Life. And can we ever forget Him. He is all of the Food we need for the journey of faith. Hard and wearisome it may be, but we are feeding on the Bread of Heaven. One day we shall need no more, as we see Him, and eat with Him when all of our journeys are done.

 

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