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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

October 18, 2017

Exodus  20:18-26

  1. I wanted to share some really good notes from the Christian Resource Institute on this passage. I have mixed their commentary with my own in this lesson. Exodus 20:18-21 records the people's response to GOD’s/Yahweh’s self-giving. Yahweh had brought the people of Israel to Himself on Mount Sinai. This had been Yahweh’s purpose from the very beginning. Yahweh's desire was for Israel to experience the presence of God in an ever-fuller way and to make them His people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They needed to experience God so they could represent God. Thus, the Commandments must not be seen as an independent set of rules distinct from the “person” of Yahweh. Rather, they are central to Yahweh's move towards a more intimate and transforming relationship with Israel. But the people responded to Yahweh's move towards intimacy by keeping at a distance. They saw the mountain on fire and backed up with fear. They told Moses that he could speak to them and they would listen, but did not want to let Yahweh speak to them out of fear. They would die; not so much a physical death as a spiritual death of their wills. After all, when Moses appeared before the burning bush something about him surely died, his life and will were transformed, put to death and resurrected, at that burning bush. We fear God not knowing that God wants to transform us, purge the old and create the new. The burning mountain would mean their death to self. They could not see through the flames that it also meant their resurrection. Thus, they backed up from Yahweh's self-giving. Yahweh could give Himself to Moses (he had already submitted) and they would listen to Moses, but they didn't want Yahweh to come any closer. They didn't want to die. Their fear of God was an opportunity missed to die to their old selves and be transformed.

  2. Israel had praised God for what God had done for them, but now they were putting their hands up and saying, “Don't come any closer.” This is one of those places where we are too much like Israel. We rejoice over what God has done for us, ranging from the forgiveness He has granted us in Christ to the many other blessings we have received, but we put our hands up and back away when we see that God wants an intimate, transforming, “cross” relationship with us. We want to enjoy the benefits of God, but not be transformed by the Presence of God/his consuming fire (Romans 12:1-2). And yet such transformation is the whole aim of the benefits. God is single-minded in His desire to make us a holy people. From His self-giving at Sinai to His self-giving at Calvary, this is His goal. And here is Israel, and us with them, remaining at a distance, attempting to enjoy the blessings without being touched by the fire.

    Israel was under the illusion that they could remain at a distance without becoming more distant. Yahweh had come to give more. Israel did not want more, but only to keep what they had. They opted to remain at a distance thinking that the relationship could be maintained as is. They sought to continue to enjoy Yahweh as their Liberator but not as their Sanctifier. But relationships do not work that way, especially when one party will only be satisfied with intimate surrender. To remain at a distance is to create greater distance. Remaining at a distance eventually means the end of the relationship.

  3. Verses 22-26. How did Yahweh respond to Israel's “rejection” of intimacy? How do you respond when someone remains at a distance while you give yourself? That's the difference between us and God. We would stop giving. Not Yahweh. Yahweh continued to pursue the relationship. Yahweh, through Moses, would continue to seek the people, continue to speak to the people, and continue to make the effort towards intimacy. Yahweh had not given up on the transformation of Israel, even though they sought to remain at a distance. Given Israel's penchant for distance, Yahweh's first directive to Moses was to remind Israel of the first two commandments: no other gods and no idols of silver or gold. Yahweh knew that when there is distance there is also temptation to make gods with which to fill the distance. Notice the “making” language. When we don’t like the Non-Made God, the One Who Is that encounters us with the fiery call of transformation, we are tempted to make for ourselves a god that we can handle, one that we like more, one that is not so demanding or ambitious as far as our transformation goes. When we remain at a distance, refusing to surrender to God's desire for transforming intimacy, we actually place our will against and above God's will. Having done so, it is a very small step to making gods. Having resisted God our Maker, we quickly become a god maker, and start making gods to take God's place. In actuality, we have usurped God's place and try to be God. It is dangerous to remain at a distance, for when there is distance there is room for all kinds of things to creep in, especially of the silver and gold variety. We like silver and gold, because on the surface they do not demand anything from us. They just make our lives nicer. Yahweh attempts to guard Israel from the dangers of distance.

  4. Yahweh not only sought to guard against the dangers of distance, but also to overcome the distance via some prescriptions for worship. Worship was to be a bridge that brought Israel near to Yahweh. Two types of sacrifices are prescribed: whole burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. A whole burnt offering is exactly what it sounds like - the whole sacrifice is consumed by fire. If offering a goat, the goat is killed and its whole body is burned upon the altar. The whole offering goes up in smoke to God, who resides in heaven. How else are you going to get something up to heaven where God is? By burning it, the fire consumes it and “transfers” it via the smoke up to heaven, where it becomes a pleasing aroma to God.

    What is significant about the whole burnt offering is that nothing is pulled from the fire for consumption or used by persons. It is utterly relinquished to God. Even more, the worshipper is not just giving a goat to God, but in laying hands upon the goat the worshipper is identifying himself and his family with the goat and thus utterly relinquishing himself to God. Nothing is to be pulled out of the fire. Everything goes up to God. Of course one could just go through the motions, much as we do in worship, but the intent behind the action is utter relinquishment to God.

    The fellowship offering is basically a barbecue. In contrast to the burnt offering, the meat is roasted over the fire of the altar and then removed when it is “medium rare” for the consumption and enjoyment of the one offering the sacrifice and his party. Only the inedible parts are left upon the altar to be completely consumed by fire. This is a celebration offering which promotes fellowship both with God and among the people. The nourishment of the community is rooted in the worship of Yahweh. Thus, worship involves relinquishment to God and fellowship with God and God's people. These two sacrifices are in essence the sacraments of the commands. The God-oriented commandments, the first four, reside in the burnt offering, while the social commandments, five through ten, are in the fellowship offering. The practice of authentic worship by means of these sacrifices would bring Israel into Yahweh's transforming Presence. Yahweh promises to come and bless wherever “I cause My Name to be honored.”

    Yahweh is concerned that this worship be pure. He prohibits the use of “dressed” stones for an altar - "you will defile it if you use a tool on it” - and He also prohibits steps up to the altar – “lest your nakedness be exposed on it.” Interesting. Yahweh wants “naked stones” and “clothed worshippers.” That's quite the opposite of our society. We much prefer dressed stones and naked, or at least scantily clad or revealingly dressed worshippers.

    Worship is supposed to be a celebration of what the Lord has done. When we fill it with dressed stones that have been painstakingly worked by a hammer and chisel, there is a terrible temptation to celebrate what we have done, even when we are looking in the right direction. Such worship is not worship at all, but merely the celebration of humanity. Humanity is worth celebrating, but let us never confuse such celebration with true worship. Dressed stones cry out, “Look what I/we have done!” Revealing dress cries, “Look what I've got!” Both call attention to oneself and are a hindrance to worship, time set aside to give attention to God. Both are typical of the mindset of our society, which glorifies the power of self-attraction. When these become part and parcel to our worship, and often they are without us even realizing it, we have perverted true worship, turning it into a celebration of what we've got and what we've done. It becomes a time for putting ourselves on display rather than relinquishing ourselves to God by dying to our old fleshy, carnal ways and being renewed into the image of God.

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