Five Leadership Lessons From the Mountain

man on mtn

When we think of the Israelites wandering through the desert, we often picture God leading them by cloud and fire (Exodus 13:21). But God also appointed human leaders to govern, judge, and guide his people into the promised land.

God famously called to a man named Moses from a burning bush in Exodus chapter three. He summoned Moses to go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt, where they were enslaved (Exodus 3:10). When Moses protested that he wasn’t skilled in speech, God promised that Aaron, Moses’s brother, would go with him and speak to the people (Exodus 4:10–17).

These brothers led the Israelites away from Pharaoh and out of slavery, through the Red Sea, and eventually to Mount Sinai, as God commanded. Here, Moses climbed up to meet with God and left Aaron in charge of the camp below (Exodus 24:12–14). After just 40 days, Moses returned to a camp in chaos.

Open Idolatry

In Exodus 32, we see a failure of leadership, and the contrast between Aaron and Moses is stark.

While Moses was at the top of Mount Sinai with God, the people at the base camp grew restless. They demanded that Aaron make them “gods who shall go before us” (Exodus 32:1).

Aaron seemed eager to comply. He melted their jewelry into a golden calf. The people were enthralled; they threw Moses to the side and forgot the God who delivered them from Egypt (Exodus 32:1, 4; see also Psalm 106:19–23). They attributed God’s mighty saving acts to the idol.

When the people wanted to worship the calf, Aaron built an altar and proclaimed a feast day (Exodus 32:4–5). Aaron knew better; yet he even used God’s covenant name “YHWH” (v. 5) in his feast day proclamation.

Meanwhile, God told Moses of the rebellion (Exodus 32:7–8). God wanted to destroy the people, but Moses interceded and pleaded for mercy, which God granted (Exodus 32:9–14).

Moses then went down to the camp, and he was super upset. As he charges into camp and confronts the people, the contrasts between the brothers jump off the page.

Five Characteristics of Godly Leaders

Let’s observe the major differences between Aaron and Moses.

1. Godly leaders know God and are concerned for his glory.

When God told Moses about the people’s sin, Moses immediately took to prayer (Exodus 32:11–14). He reminded God that wiping out the nation would violate his purpose in delivering them (v. 11), expose him to slander from the Egyptians (v. 12), and stall his promises to Abraham (v. 13). Killing all the Israelites would contradict God’s purpose to glorify himself through his people.

Meanwhile, despite seeing God’s miraculous work up close, Aaron built an altar for the idol. “They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass” (Psalm 106:20). Had Aaron been jealous for God’s glory, he would have rebuked every attempt at false worship.

2. Godly leaders don’t tolerate sin; they work to eradicate it.

When Moses came into the Israelite camp, his “anger burned hot” (Exodus 32:19). He broke the tablets and destroyed the calf. “He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it” (Exodus 32:20).

Moses knew the evil of the idol. He saw the temptation it offered and eliminated every trace of it.

Aaron, on the other hand, formed the idol and made no attempt to point the people back to God.

3. Godly leaders fear the Lord.

Aaron caved to the people’s request, perhaps fearing they would harm him (see Exodus 32:1–2).

On the other hand, Moses took action against popular opinion. He destroyed the calf in quick order, and then addressed the people’s behavior. He sent the Levites through the camp with their swords drawn. “And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell” (Exodus 32:28).

While Moses feared God and honored him as holy, Aaron feared the people.

4. Godly leaders take responsibility for their flock.

Aaron was quick to make excuses when Moses confronted him. “You know the people, that they are set on evil” (Exodus 32:22). You can hear the contempt in Aaron’s words. He saw the people’s flaws and eagerly blamed them, rather than take responsibility for the sin he advanced.

But Moses worked for the people’s forgiveness. He didn’t minimize their sin, but sought the Lord on their behalf. He took on their burden as his own. “Perhaps I can make atonement for your sin” (Exodus 32:30).

5. Godly leaders are sacrificial.

Moses wasn’t perfect. But the contrasts in this chapter culminate in a breathtaking example of sacrificial leadership.

When Moses spoke to the Lord about the people’s sin, he begged for their forgiveness. But he knew that sin had a cost, and his love for his people produced a shocking request:

So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” (Exodus 32:31–32)

While Aaron condemned the people to save himself, Moses was willing to be condemned to save his people. And in this request, Moses points to the Messiah.

At the cross, Jesus our great High Priest also appeared before God and confessed his people’s “great sin” (Hebrews 3:1-3). Like Moses, Jesus stood as a leader and mediator, knowing that a sacrifice was needed for the people to be saved.

And while God refused Moses’s proposal (Exodus 32:33–34), he planned and accepted Jesus’s offer of himself (Isaiah 53:10).

Learning from These Lessons

Godly leadership is of vital importance, and all of God’s people need to pray for, recognize, and encourage such leadership.

The contrast between Moses and Aaron is particularly arresting for those in or aspiring to leadership positions in the church. We would all benefit from considering these reflection questions that flow out of Exodus 32.

  • Where have you made allowance for sin in your life? Are there idols you need to grind into powder?
  • In what ways have you blamed others? Take note of your temptations toward gossip and resentment.
  • Have you been concerned for your people’s holiness? Have you compromised God’s standards to satisfy your people?
  • How is God calling you to sacrifice for your people? Are there unpopular steps you must take to help your people glorify their Savior?

If you find these questions convicting, don’t lose heart. The Savior who Moses foreshadowed is sufficient for leaders and followers alike. He always offers forgiveness, cleansing, and strength for those who come to him in faith.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Julentto Photography (2017), public domain

 

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Too Busy to Love My Neighbor

busy

I’m a college professor, so my life is marked by the rhythms of the academic calendar. We gear up in August and January for 14 intense weeks, then we enjoy the slower pace of the winters and summers.

This past fall was especially busy. I had new classes to teach, a department to chair, plus other obligations too boring to recount. In addition, I taught a new class at my church for ten weeks in a row.

I’ve had busy seasons before, but this fall wrung me almost dry.

The Effects of Busyness

Looking back at the semester, I noticed one unpleasant effect of this busyness. At least in me, busyness aggravates self-centeredness.

As my to-do list filled beyond to-doing and my calendar crowded to standing room only, I focused more attention on myself than usual. I was concerned about my tasks, my meetings, and my responsibilities.

My time and attention were squeezed, like a half lemon giving up its juice. I felt mentally out of breath—my commitments seemed to rush at me, each one faster than the last. Though my days were full, the mental consequences of this busyness were more damaging than the shortage of time.

With my vision narrowed, I ignored critical areas of my life. I didn’t go beyond the bare minimum in my most important relationships.

  • My prayer life was almost nonexistent.
  • I scheduled no date nights with my wife.
  • I didn’t spend much time in meaningful conversations with my daughters.
  • I didn’t anticipate how I could bless others in my church, my neighborhood, or my wider circle of friends. I neglected all acts of proactive love.

Have you experienced anything like this? I doubt I’m alone when it comes to the detrimental effects of busyness on my heart.

Toward a Solution

This isn’t a healthy or sustainable state of affairs, so is there a solution to be found?

Answers are probably as different as the people asking the question. I’m still sorting through my thoughts on busyness, but here’s where I am now.

The main thing I’ve learned is this: the areas of our lives are all connected. The decisions I make regarding work affect my personal/home life. Family choices influence pressures on the job. The threads are all linked behind the screen.

Digesting this lesson of connectivity—perhaps obvious to many—is an important first step. But there must be practical changes if I want to avoid another semester like this past one. Here are some steps I’m trying to take moving forward.

First, I need to repent where appropriate. Though my situation may introduce temptations and pressures, it’s never an excuse for sin. If I’ve neglected my family and friends, I need to take this matter to God and to the people I’ve sinned against.1

Second, I need to remember my particular weaknesses, tendencies, and temptations. If extreme busyness tempts me toward selfishness, I must avoid that type of schedule whenever possible.

It’s helpful for me to review my weekly calendar ahead of time. If I know what’s coming up, I can adjust my expectations accordingly.

Finally, both at work and at home, I want to be present and take advantage of the time God has given me. At home, this consists mostly of building relationships and serving my family in practical ways. At work, there are three ways I’m trying to clear out some space on my calendar and in my brain.

  • Say no. Especially at the beginning of my career, I felt pressure to agree to every request. I’ve gotten better at declining invitations, but I haven’t yet mastered the art of delicately ending the small conversations that eat up my day. I need to say “no” or at least “not now” more frequently.
  • Build margin into the calendar. I’m feeling the effects of stress as much as busyness, so I need to make sure I have time to breathe during the day. Even a small step like scheduling at least 10–15 minutes between meetings can pay large dividends.
  • Be less available (at times). I need to be accessible to my students. But this doesn’t mean I need to be available at all times. I’ve found that I’ll never get any long blocks of work time (necessary for grading, research, and class preparation) if I spend all day in my office with the door open. So, I’ve taken to stealing away to the school library or a local coffee shop for a few hours each week in an attempt to engage in deeper work. As a middle ground, I’ll also close my office door at times to work inside. The key is to communicate my availability as transparently as possible.

Personal Reviews

The times between academic semesters are valuable for me to take stock of what has happened and what’s to come. If your yearly rhythms don’t have this natural reflection time, I suggest adding it. Take a personal day, take advantage of a federal holiday, or just block off one day on a weekend.

As you think through your closest relationships and the opportunities you have (or the ones you want) to serve and love your neighbors, make sure your calendar and commitments aren’t working against you.


  1. I have written before that asking your children for forgiveness is one of the most powerful actions you can take as a parent. 

Thanks for reading! If you’re interested, you can follow me on Twitter, subscribe to this blog by email (see the box on the upper right part of the page), or follow my blog’s RSS feed here.


Photo Credit: José Martín Ramírez C (2014), public domain

 

God Gives Us Himself

Several years ago, I missed my oldest daughter’s birthday. A conference for work overlapped with her big day.

My wife made it special for her, and I called to chat. My daughter enjoyed the gifts and food and celebration. But when a loved one is absent, it’s just not the same.

A Rebellious People

In the book of Exodus, after rescuing his people and bringing them near, God is closer than ever before to Israel. He designs the tabernacle so he can dwell with them (Exodus 25:8).

But in a single act of rebellion, the covenant bond of peace between God and his people explodes like a light bulb.

While Moses is on the mountain, the people hunt for something – anything – to worship. They forget their Savior (Psalm 106:21), they disregard Moses, and they beg Aaron to make a god for them (Exodus 32:1). Don’t miss this—in this treacherous act, the Israelites are turning their back on the God who brought them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and to this holy, smoking mountain. The golden calf is not a slip of the tongue or an accidental offense; these people are rejecting God with a stiff arm and stiff necks.

Moses begs God not to destroy the entire nation (32:11–13), and though God relents (32:14), there are still consequences. Three thousand people die (32:28). The stone tablets – on which God wrote the ten commandments – lay in pieces. And Moses has to plead for Aaron’s life (Deuteronomy 9:20).

Would God forgive the people? Could he, after the people trashed his reputation and spit on his awesome deeds?

A Gracious Consequence

The drama reaches a climax in Exodus 33. God tells the people to go to the land of Canaan. This is the land promised not only to Abraham (Genesis 12:7) but also to Moses and Israel (Exodus 6:8). God told them that they would enter a lush, bountiful land, and now he sends them off to do just that. But, there’s a caveat.

God won’t go with them (Exodus 33:3). He can’t. The people are “stiff-necked.” Their sin is so odious that God says he would “consume them on the way.”

By his angel he will drive out the inhabitants (33:2). He’ll keep his promise. But God himself cannot go.

A Disastrous Word

To the Israelites, this is a “disastrous word” (33:4). Moses understands how empty the promised land would be without God. He declares, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here” (33:15).

Think about this! The Israelites have never had their own land. But for Moses, having land is worth nothing if God’s not there.

God isn’t withholding all his blessings. The land will still flow with milk and honey (33:3); the tribes will still be defeated (33:2).

But Moses wants God. And if God won’t give himself, none of his lesser blessings will do.

John Piper frames this issue for modern Christians:

The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there? — John Piper (God is the Gospel, p.15)

A Steep Price

In my honest moments, Piper’s question makes me squirm. Far too often I’d be satisfied without Christ himself. I’d take the blessings without the Blessed One.

Thank God my destiny is not determined by my desires! Our future is bright with the promise of God’s presence—in the new heavens and new earth, “the dwelling place of God is with man” (Revelation 21:3).

This presence of God – God with us for eternity – comes at a steep price. In our natural state, God’s presence would consume us.

But Jesus, the perfect son of God, is our shield. In our place, he felt the consuming fire of God’s wrath on the cross. For a brief time, Jesus experienced the absence of God (“Why have you forsaken me?”) so we could enjoy his presence forever. Jesus suffered so “he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

The Eternal Treasure

Moses clearly saw what we catch in glimpses: God’s gifts are wonderful, but they are nothing without God himself.

And we have God himself! Not just in the future, but right now. Because Jesus Christ reconciled us to God, he then gave the Holy Spirit to dwell in each Christian (Acts 2:38).

What does God’s presence mean for us? Exodus offers some answers.

  1. God’s presence means we can rest. We aren’t on a journey to find, achieve, or conquer a land like Israel. But we still go about our lives striving for blessings. We can be still and know that he is God, God with us. Because he has promised never to leave, we can cease our restless striving knowing God will provide (Exodus 33:14). This means we can sleep, we can worship, we can observe the one-day-in-seven pattern that God established for our good.
  2. God’s presence means he loves us. For Moses, God’s presence signified his favor (33:16). Because of Christ’s obedience, we have the perfect approval of our Father. The Spirit in us is the spirit of adoption by which we cry out, “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15). When we feel lonely, lost, or abandoned, we replace the whispers of Satan with the clear truth of Scripture.
  3. God’s presence means he has called us. Moses tells us that God’s presence with the Israelites would make them distinct “from every other people on the face of the earth” (Exodus 33:16). In other words, God sets his people apart by his presence. The Holy Spirit now marks us as holy people, called for a purpose.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9–10)

God goes with us and trains us to talk to our friends and family. He sends us as the recipients of mercy to proclaim his free offer of mercy. In the midst of many blessings, God has given the gift of himself. He is our eternal treasure! And he equips us to declare God’s excellencies to a dark world that needs light.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Disclosure: the link to Amazon.com in this blog post is an affiliate link, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

Photo Credit: Holly Mandarich (2017), public domain

No Images

sunset camera

One of the best parts of my mother-in-law’s house is her refrigerator. And that’s not just because of what’s inside.

She has filled the front of her refrigerator with dozens of photographs. I love picking up these pictures, asking her questions, and listening to her talk about family and friends. There are people and moments captured in those frames I don’t see elsewhere.

We take pictures to remember, to commemorate. A wedding, the first day of school, that amazing meal—we crave documentation because our memories are faulty. Pictures are so easy, and remembering is so hard.

God’s Forgetful People

Despite our efforts to remember cherished people and critical truths, we forget. And forgetfulness has consequences.

The Bible is realistic enough to portray people like us, people who forget. And we have a lot to learn from the impulses of those who don’t remember God and his commands.

In fact, it doesn’t take long after the ten commandments are given for the Israelites to break them in pieces. The second commandment (no images) takes a direct hit in Exodus 32.

Moses is meeting with God on the mountain and the people start to wonder if he’s ever coming down. They enlist Aaron to make “gods who shall go before [them]” (Ex 32:1). They worship a metal calf because “they forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt” (Ps 106:21).

The people wanted something to see. They used God’s covenant name (YHWH) but attributed his works to melted earrings (Ex 32:4). They forgot, so they made an image.

The problem with man-made images of God is that none of them are true. Since no one has seen God and lived, any image of God we generate is false. Thus the reference to jealousy in the second commandment (Ex 20:4–6). Our images lead to false worship.

Faith and Sight

We’re all on a quest to see, a quest to remember. Here is the hurdle: How do we follow what we cannot see? How do we stay true to the invisible God?

This is the essence of faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). We depend on God for the gift of faith when we are blind. Faith seeks what is unseen; faith stretches forward.

Consider Moses again. He destroys the golden calf and pleads with God to go with his people into the promised land. God agrees, and Moses is overjoyed; he cries, “Show me Your glory!” The image is gone, but after a grueling test of faith, Moses wants to see. Please sustain me, just for a moment, with the sight of your glory!

The Image of God

God’s people throughout time share this challenge: “Take care, lest you forget the Lord” (Dt 8:11).

Without pictures or images, how can we remember? How can we avoid the septic spirals of sin that have ravaged forgetful saints through the ages?

God, in his mercy, has provided what we need. Hear this glorious truth about Jesus:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Col 1:15)

Humans are made in the image of God, which is no small thing. But Jesus is the perfect image of God. If you want to know what God is like, if you need help remembering, look at Jesus!

When we remember Jesus, what he taught and what he accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection, we’ll remember our proper place before God. We’ll remember that we were “separated from Christ” and without hope, but that now we are “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:11–13).

We turn again and again to the Bible, where the truth about Jesus is captured with authority. We turn to a healthy, local church, where we remind each other what is true. We turn to the Spirit, who points us to the Father through the Son.

We also turn to the future, because one day we will have no more temptation toward image-making. One day, we will see.

Sight will replace faith and forgetfulness will be forgotten. We will see more brightly and clearly and truthfully than ever before.

And in fact, we will hardly believe our eyes. We will see what we have always longed for. We will see God himself, for he will dwell with his people.


Photo Credit: Karen Arnold (2017), public domain

 

The Fear of Man Will Crush You

Earlier this year, my right thumb started hurting. I can’t remember any fall or trauma that caused the problem, but I winced every time I had to grip or press with my thumb.

Shaking hands became especially painful. One evening I was hosting an honor society induction at my college. I was proud of these students, and I wanted all of the parents, grandparents, and friends in attendance to feel comfortable and welcome.

As you might guess, I shook a lot of hands that night, and I paid for it. That evening probably set my healing back several days.

What’s going on here? Why did I do something I knew was so bad for me?

I wanted to look healthy and normal, hating the thought of appearing weak or needing to explain my injury. I knew people expected a handshake, and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone or make them feel awkward.

You might notice the pride and the love of reputation present in my motivations that evening. But mixed in with those rascals is another noxious sin the Bible calls the fear of man. It is often set in contrast to the fear of the Lord.

Let me tell you—it’s deadly.

A Dangerous Trap

The Bible pulls no punches when speaking about the fear of man.

In Galatians 2:11–14, Peter changes his dining practices according to his audience. He eats with Gentiles before “certain men came from James,” but when they arrived, he stops, “fearing the circumcision party.” Paul calls this hypocrisy and rightly opposed Peter to his face, because his “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.”

There were specific, first-century, social and religious dynamics at play here. But the fundamental problem is universal: We often modify our behavior based on the opinion of others.

The Bible describes the fear of man in terms of a trap. “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Prov 29:25). When we fear man, we are walking into a dangerous place, because we’re no longer trusting in the Lord.

The Desire for Approval

At its core, the fear of man is about our desire for approval. Jon Bloom wrote a helpful article at Desiring God which calls this a natural desire. Bloom writes that God designed us to seek approval, and this proves to be a huge motivating factor for us. The source from whom we seek approval reveals our deepest love.

We can trace our fears to the people who have the most authority over us. This is the person(s) whose approval we most want. Jesus puts a fine point on this.

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:4–7)

We are to fear God supremely, because he has ultimate authority over our bodies and souls. No man controls our eternal destiny.

Approved by God

Did you read that Luke 12 passage carefully? Jesus told his disciples both to fear God and then not to be afraid. How can these commands both be true?

God is the Creator and Sovereign, so we should fear him! But this God is merciful and loving, so in trusting his care we don’t need to be afraid. He knows us, loves us, and will give us exactly what we need.

Instead of seeking approval from other people, the gospel of Jesus reminds us that we are approved by God. In our own actions and desires we deserve nothing but disapproval. But Jesus—the beloved Son of the Father, the One approved and accepted before time began—feared God in our place. Jesus lived to do his Father’s will (John 4:34).

Our fear of man was put on Jesus and he was rejected by man and God for us. By faith, Jesus’ perfect fear of the Lord is credited to us, and God approves! Our heavenly Father accepts and loves us, all the way down to our toes.

Do you see how freeing and motivating this truth is? The fears that imprisoned our minds and hearts are now set free in the wind. We don’t have to impress or win over any other person, because the God of the universe is in our corner!

There’s a healthy, God-glorifying way we can say, “I don’t care what anyone thinks.”

Embrace the Fear of the Lord

It’s all too easy to forget our identities as children of God. So we develop practices that help us actively resist the fear of man and embrace the fear of the Lord.

  1. Remind yourself about God. Take time on a regular basis to remember who God is, what he controls, and why he is for you. Meditate on passages like Luke 12 that reveal God’s power, authority, and care. Consider reading other books about the attributes of God.
  2. Interrogate your fears. When you notice the fear of man, pinpoint the fear. Tease out the human consequences of trusting God in that situation. Often our fear of man is not only sinful but exaggerated and unfounded.
  3. Embrace God’s promises. These words from Moses to the nation of Israel are so precious: “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6) The reason the people don’t need to fear is because God will be with them. See also Hebrews 13:5–6.
  4. Don’t fight alone. We need allies in this battle. We don’t often notice our fear of man. So, we need to share honest conversations with friends who can help us see our fears. (Of course, we also need to be that friend to others!)

After two weeks of loving reminders from my small group, I bought a brace for my hand that immobilized my thumb. It drew neon attention to my injury, but it also kept me from further damaging my hand. In this small way, admitting my weakness and trusting the Lord with my healing has reminded me of this great biblical truth: “Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!” (Psalm 34:9)

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Steven Duong (2010), Creative Commons

The Golden Calf Reveals the Goal of the Exodus

golden calf

While the Passover and the Red Sea crossing are the main events of Exodus, the goal of the exodus is even more profound. The tabernacle shows us that God’s goal in the exodus to dwell with his people.

This week I have more evidence.

Not the First Sin

The golden calf incident is found in Exodus 32. But this was not the first Israelite sin Moses recorded.

  • Before crossing the Red Sea, God’s people questioned his faithfulness (Ex 14:10–14). The Egyptians were closing in, and the Israelites were afraid. They thought death was near and wished Moses hadn’t bothered with their plight at all. Moses told the people not to fear, to stand firm, and to wait for the Lord to fight for them.
  • Shortly after Moses’s song of praise, the people complained about a lack of drinkable water (Ex 15:22–24). Moses cried to God, and the Lord provided a log to throw into the water which turned the water sweet.
  • The Israelites grumbled with hunger (Ex 16:1–8). They wished to die as slaves in Egypt with full bellies than as free men in the desert without food. In response, God provided quail and manna.
  • After explicit instructions regarding the collection of the manna, some went out to gather on the seventh day (Ex 16:27–30). The Lord emphasized the purpose of the Sabbath (v.29), but, instead of punishing the law breakers, he provided rest for the people (v.30).
  • The people complained again about lacking water (Ex 17:1–7). Moses knew the people were testing the Lord. He feared they would stone him, and he cried out to God. The Lord provided water for the people from the rock.

God’s Response to Sin

Taking all of these accounts of sin together, we don’t see any strong response from God. Both Moses and God call out sin when it happens, but there are no deaths, sicknesses, or visible consequences from these sins.

The golden calf is a different matter. In reaction to this sin (Ex 32:1–6), God planned to wipe out the people and start over with Moses (Ex 32:7–10). Moses broke the tablets of the law (Ex 32:19), destroyed the idol and made the people consume it (Ex 32:20), and commanded the Levites to kill about a thousand of the Israelites (Ex 32:28). God also sent a plague on the people (Ex 32:35) and planned not to go with them into the promised land (Ex 33:3).

This sin deserves and receives a swift and stiff response from God. How does this tell us about God’s purpose in the exodus?

Other Accounts

The narrative in Exodus 32 is not the only biblical commentary on the golden calf.

  • Psalm 106:19–23 — The psalmist writes that the people exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox. They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things, wondrous works, and awesome deeds for them.
  • Nehemiah 9:16–22 — The people committed “great blasphemies” by looking to a golden calf as God. Nehemiah emphasizes God’s mercy in staying with the people, providing them with the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night (his presence!).
  • Deuteronomy 9:6–21 — We are reminded that the mountain was burning with fire (v.15) and we are told that God was ready to destroy Aaron for his role in the incident. Moses had to plead with God specifically for Aaron’s life (v.20).

As God was instructing Moses how to build the tabernacle, the place where God would dwell with his people, at that very same time the people abandoned Moses and forgot about God. They attributed the saving work of YHWH to a metal cow.

God reacted so fiercely to this sin because his people were acting like they didn’t know him at all. The golden calf—this is who brought you out of the land of Egypt? This is who brought the plagues on Pharoah? Who made a dry path through the Red Sea? Who closed up the waters and drowned the pursuing enemies? Who provided victory over the Amalekites? Who provided quail and manna? Who provided water from the rock? Who thundered from the mountain and caused it to smoke?

God’s reaction was proportional. He brought them out of Egypt so that he might dwell with them. They rejected him—forgetting him and trading in his glory. So God was prepared to reject them too.

Application

God’s people deserved his wrath. They forgot him, and he could have forgotten them. But that’s not how YHWH works.

As a result of Moses’s intercession, God stayed his hand. He didn’t start over with Moses. He didn’t turn his back.

On this side of the cross, we understand God’s faithfulness and presence more deeply. Because God poured out wrath on Jesus, we are spared. Because Jesus was forsaken by all—even his Father—we are not abandoned. For the children of God, this promise is sure: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:5).

The implications are profound. God goes with us—he remains with us—even when we sin. A morning of sin does not mean an afternoon without God. He loves, he persists, he remains faithful despite our unfaithfulness.

We all need this truth, especially when facing persistent sins. So, Christian, digest this good news. And encourage a brother or sister in Christ with the reminder of God’s faithful presence. It is not some happy side effect of his saving love; his abiding presence is the very goal of his salvation.


Photo Credit: Gary Stevens (2008), Creative Commons

 

The Tabernacle Reveals the Goal of the Exodus

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What’s the main point of Exodus?

Before we dive in, consider this outline. It’s taken from this commentary by Peter Enns.

  1. Departure from Egypt (chs 1–15)
    1. Prelude (chs 1–6)
    2. Plagues (chs 7–12)
    3. Departure (chs 13–15)
  2. Mt. Sinai: Law (chs 16–24)
    1. Journey to Sinai (chs 16–18)
    2. Ten Commandments (chs 19–20)
    3. The Book of the Covenant (chs 21–24)
  3. Mt. Sinai: Tabernacle (chs 25–40)
    1. Instructions for the Tabernacle (chs 25–31)
    2. Rebellion and Forgiveness (chs 32–34)
    3. Building the Tabernacle (chs 35–40)

The Reason for God’s Deliverance

We need to make one distinction before discussing the main point of this book. The Passover and the Red Sea deliverance were the central events of the book. Many passages in the Bible reference these episodes.

But why did God deliver his people?

Part of the answer is that God is compassionate! God saw his people suffering, heard their cry, and saved them with his strong arm (Ex 2:23–25; Ex 6:6). But God himself gives another reason.

God delivered his people because he wanted to be with them. Let’s take a look at the evidence.

  • God tells the Israelites, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Ex 6:7). The larger context (Ex 6:1–7) connects God’s saving work in Egypt to his covenant with Abraham. The exodus is a result of God’s covenant love for his people.
  • When Moses sings after coming through the Red Sea, he praises God for guiding the people “by your strength to your holy abode” (Ex 15:13). He also says God will “bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established” (Ex 15:17). Moses knows God has a dwelling with Israel in mind.
  • From Mount Sinai, God tells the people: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:4–6). God didn’t just bring the people out of Egypt, he brought them to himself to be his treasured possession out of all the earth.
  • Finally, consider the tabernacle. When God first gives Moses instructions about taking contributions for and building the tabernacle, he states the purpose of this massive undertaking: “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Ex 25:8). At great expense of materials, labor, and time, God wants a place where he can dwell with his people.

Here’s my attempt at the main point of Exodus: God delivered his people, at great cost, that he might dwell with them.

Here’s another way to say this: the tabernacle shows us the goal of God’s saving work. This explains why so much of the book of Exodus (16 chapters!) is about the tabernacle. While the destination is the promised land, the goal is fellowship with God.

So Much Repetition

Before studying Exodus over the past year with my church, I hadn’t realized how central the tabernacle is to the book. Think about it—all the way back at the burning bush (Ex 3:21–22), God promised that the Egyptians would give their gold to Israel. And this same gold was used to build the tabernacle!

It’s significant enough to notice that, from the outline above, more chapters in Exodus are devoted to the tabernacle than anything else. But the repetition involved trumpets this emphasis through a megaphone.

The instructions for the tabernacle given in chapters 25–31 are repeated almost verbatim in chapters 35–40. A side-by-side comparison reveals very few differences. It would have been so easy for Moses to write, “And the people built the tabernacle according to all of the instructions that the Lord commanded.” Why do we have so much repetition?

Moses wanted to emphasize the people’s obedience. Especially in light of the golden calf incident (more on that next week), it was important to say that the Israelites made the tabernacle exactly the way God commanded it, in every last detail.

But, as happens so frequently in the Bible, this repetition points to importance. Moses is taking us through all the embroidery and curtains and utensils and furniture again so we’ll see just how important the tabernacle is. This is the place where God will dwell! Even before the people have a place of their own, they have a God of their own who loves them and will be with them.

God’s Everlasting Presence

Perhaps the implications for us are easy to see. If God delivered his people, at great cost, that he might dwell with them in the exodus, how much more has he done this for us!

The cost of our redemption was the life and agony of the very Son of God, Jesus. Our destination is heaven—the new heavens and the new earth where we will dwell with God (Rev 21:3) forever. The goal of our redemption is restored fellowship with God. Christ died “that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18).

But this fellowship with God begins at regeneration, not glorification! We enjoy God’s presence right now, as God the Holy Spirit dwells with us. If your mind reels at the thought of so great a truth, join the club. It’s staggering.


Disclosure: the link to Amazon.com in this blog post is an affiliate link, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

Photo Credit: Tim Marshall (2017), public domain

The Glory of Repetitive Tasks

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“Do you think we’ll wash dishes in heaven?”

My feet ached from standing, and I winced as I dipped my already-dry hands into the dishwater. The plastic containers had gathered by the sink, and as I worked my way through the pile, I looked for hope as I asked my wife this question.

“Probably, but I don’t think we’ll mind it,” she said.

Accurate, gentle, and with just a hint of rebuke. You can tell I married up, as they say.

The Weight of Repetition

We all feel the weight of repetition. We need to wash our clothes, cook our food, cut the grass, and brush our teeth. We finish a job…and put it right at the top of our list again! (With feedings and changings, mothers of young children feel this weight acutely.)

Some repetition happens because of the curse, and some is made more difficult by the curse. But there’s no denying that our sin affects the way we respond to and carry out our duties.

If we chafe at repetition, think of the Levites and priests in the Old Testament. Think of the sacrifices they carried out on an annual, monthly, or daily basis. Some of these offerings were matters of bread and oil, but many more involved the blood, fat, skin, and organs of animals.

These sacrifices were messy, smelly, expensive, labor intensive, and numerous. I imagine that as soon as one sacrifice was complete, the Levites were anticipating the next. This cycle, needed only because of sin, spun round and round and round. How would it be resolved? Would it be resolved?

The End of Repetition

The sacrificial system pointed to a need for something permanent, one sacrifice to end the cycle. One decisive offering to bring about a cosmic change.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

Through his Son, God accomplished what the law could not. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was once-for-all. The author of Hebrews meditates on this glorious fact:

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1–4)

The sacrifices would have ceased if the law could make God’s people perfect. Instead, the sacrifices reminded the people of sin.

But look at what Christ has accomplished:

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11–14)

Jesus is the only priest who could sit down, because his was the only sacrifice that needed no sequel. His offering perfected God’s people, who now are being sanctified.

Imagine an Old Testament Levite longing for a one-time sacrifice! Think of the relief, the lifted burden! As a comparison, suppose you had only one load of laundry to do, or that the next time mowing the grass would be your last. Imagine changing only one diaper!

The Repetition that Remains

While the sacrifice for sins is complete, Jesus’ work for us continues.

Instead of an ongoing offering for sin, Jesus intercedes (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25) and advocates (1 John 2:1) for us before his Father. This perpetual work of our High Priest is exactly what we need!

Because we are weak and needy, we need Jesus’ prayers. We don’t know how to pray as we should, so we need the Holy Spirit to intercede with “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

Because we continue to sin, we need Jesus’ advocacy. He is our righteous defense attorney, pleading his blood as the reason for peace with the Father.

Repetition for God’s People

Our spiritual disciplines and good works are shaped by Jesus’ work. While the repetition in the Old Testament flowed toward Jesus’ sacrifice, our repetition flows from it.

We now have the joyful calling and freedom to worship weekly, celebrate communion, confess our sins, pray, hear and read God’s Word, and do good to our neighbors. These tasks are repeated because we are not yet home. We are frail and need strength; we are ignorant and need instruction; we are scared and need encouragement. We—and so many around us—need the Spirit to work within us.

See Glory in Repetition

God has created this world and written his Word so that much of what we see and experience remind us of eternal truths.

  • The rainbow is a sign of God’s promise to Noah.
  • Trumpets and clouds remind us of Jesus’ second coming.
  • A bird with a worm in its mouth points to God’s provision for his children.

Let’s see repetitive tasks in the same way.

  • When you cringe at the thought of another load of laundry, think of Christ’s singular work to wash you clean.
  • When it’s time to clean the gutters or shop for food yet again, remember his one-time, effectual sacrifice.
  • When you need to change the light bulb, re-paint the walls, or replace the tires, consider the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work of sanctification within you.

Let your thoughts bounce from your frustrations to these magnificent, eternal truths. Embrace the contrast between your ongoing work and the completed work of Jesus. Build your longing for heaven, where the curse will be no more and all repetition, even washing dishes, will be free from the stain of sin.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke (2013), public domain

Pray According to God’s Character

mountain

Prayer is often born of need. We hunger, we are lost, we are confused, and we cry out to God. He has the power and authority we lack.

As we grow in Christ, we get to know God better. And as we read the Bible, we see mature saints praying in mature ways.

Moses Pleads With God

As the nation of Israel was making and worshipping a golden calf, Moses was on Mount Sinai. God was furious, and he let Moses in on his thinking.

And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” (Exodus 32:9–10)

Israel’s idolatry was so offensive that God was ready to start over. Ponder that for a moment; it is staggering.

But Moses wasn’t ready for God to destroy his people. In Exodus 32:11–13 Moses pleads with God to relent. This is a powerful prayer, and it’s instructive to examine Moses’s logic.

As Moses prays, he draws on God’s words, actions, and revealed character. Moses knows God and speaks with him as a friend (Ex 33:11).

Petition 1

O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? (Exodus 32:11)

Moses reminds God he has rescued his people from Egypt. The key argument, however, is just beneath the surface. What’s the reason God has brought them out of Egypt? Yes, he saw their suffering and felt compassion—he wanted to deliver them from a bad situation. But there’s more.

God redeemed his people because he wanted to be with them! By his rescue God was taking Israel to be his people and pledging himself to be their God (Ex 6:7). Moses sang about God’s loving redemption bringing the people to his house (Ex 15:13,17). God himself said how he bore Israel “on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex 19:4). Most notably, we see God’s purpose for the tabernacle.

And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. (Exodus 25:8)

God can’t dwell with his people if he exterminates them.

Petition 2

Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. (Exodus 32:12)

Now Moses is concerned with God’s reputation. He doesn’t want the Egyptians to have any ammunition for accusing God of “evil intent.”

Don’t brush this aside, because God is quite concerned with his reputation! He wanted the exodus to confirm his identity (YHWH) to the Egyptians (Ex 7:5; 14:4). His actions will bring him glory and proclaim his name in all the earth (Ex 9:16). God is particularly concerned that Pharoah and his army recognize his glory (Ex 14:17–18).

For any lesser being, a devotion to one’s own glory would be idolatry. But for God, there is no one greater! To avoid idolatry, God must promote his own name above all others. Moses knows this, so he appeals to God’s holy desire to glorify himself. His glory is at stake if he kills the Israelites.

Petition 3

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’ (Exodus 32:13)

Moses knows that God is a promise keeper. And Moses knows that this promise to the patriarchs must be fulfilled.

We’ve read this promise earlier in Exodus (Ex 2:24). Moses tells us that God “remembered his covenant” with the fathers, and this moved him to act when Israel cried out from their slavery.

God has also told Moses to remind Israel of this promise. Moses tells the people that God will take them out of Egypt to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex 6:8).

To Moses, the idea of God starting over is outlandish. Despite the horrific sin the people have committed, God has promised. And because God cannot break his promise, he must relent.

God Responds

And he does relent. We read this immediately after Moses’s prayer.

And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. (Exodus 32:14)

Moses served as the mediator, crying out to God for mercy on his people. Moses appealed to God’s character and his promises, and God responded. What a loving God!

In Moses, we have both a picture of Jesus and a model for ourselves. God’s righteous wrath “burned hot” against Jesus instead of us. We should have been wiped out, but Jesus stepped in.

Jesus is still our mediator (Heb 7:25, Rom 8:34). Based on God’s character, his promises, and what Jesus has accomplished, Jesus prays for God’s ongoing favor toward his people.

We pray as well. As we pray for ourselves, our friends, our enemies, and those on the other side of the planet, Moses’s prayer provides instruction.

Let’s get to know God better through his word. Let’s rejoice in his purposes and his character. And let’s pray to him based on who we know him to be.


Photo Credit: Ron Manke (2015), public domain

15 Marks of a Disciple of Jesus

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Christianity is not a club.

Jesus does not want cheerleaders or groupies. Following Christ is not about T-shirts, slogans, or hashtags. Jesus calls us to be children of his Father. He calls us to be his disciples.

Because Jesus has a unique role in God’s plan of salvation, he is more than an example. The best mirror we find in the Gospel accounts is not Jesus but his disciples.

15 Marks of a Disciple of Jesus

Here are fifteen things we learn about being a disciple of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke.

  1. A disciple is called (Luke 5:1–11). Jesus didn’t need a recruiter. He called and his disciples “left everything and followed him.” Likewise, God calls us as disciples, not because we are worthy but because of his grace (2 Timothy 1:9).
  2. A disciple is taught (Luke 6:20–49). Jesus spent a lot of time teaching his disciples about reality. Who did the Messiah come for? Who is worthy of salvation? What is the kingdom of God? We are just as ignorant and resistant to the truth; we need instruction.
  3. A disciple is a follower (Luke 7:11). Inherent in the definition of a disciple is one who does not choose his own direction, causes, or values. Disciples follow Jesus.
  4. A disciple is aware of the kingdom of God (Luke 8:9–10). Jesus reveals truth to his disciples that is obscured to others. Because God’s kingdom is not worldly or political, we must be taught the values and requirements of the king.
  5. A disciple is a servant (Luke 9:14–17). Jesus’ disciples got their hands dirty, distributing multiplied food to the hungry people. Sometimes walking with Jesus means picking up bread crusts and fish bones.
  6. A disciple is sent to proclaim the kingdom of God (Luke 9:1–6; 10:1–12). Jesus sent out his twelve apostles and then seventy-two others as laborers in a plentiful harvest (Luke 10:2). As those sent with a message to proclaim, his disciples were in danger as lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3) because they were announcing a different king. The heavenly kingdom they announced valued peace (Luke 10:5) and healing (Luke 10:9), not riches and power. Challenging existing authority structures is often unpopular.
  7. A disciple confesses Jesus as Christ (Luke 9:18–20). Peter famously confessed Jesus as “the Christ of God.” This is the most important question we face as well: Who do you say Jesus is? We must answer this daily, reorienting our priorities, our passions, and our purpose around the Messiah.
  8. A disciple is a witness (Luke 10:23–24). The apostles walked with Jesus. Many longed to see what they saw. This is part of God’s “gracious will” (Luke 10:21). We also witness the love and power of Jesus through his Word and his work in the world. The arena is much bigger now, but his disciples still sit court-side.
  9. A disciple denies himself and takes up his cross (Luke 9:23–27). A disciple’s life was not glamorous or lucrative. It was full of hardship and danger. Make no mistake—if your highest values are comfort, peace, and safety, you will lose your life. But if you lose your life for Jesus’ sake, you will save it.
  10. A disciple is committed (Luke 9:57–62). Jesus teaches that following him is not easy; it requires everything. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
  11. A disciple is a cross-bearer and a cost-counter (Luke 14:26–33). Following Jesus is serious and costly. It may cost family and friends; it may cost time and comfort; it may even cost your life. Jesus says, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
  12. A disciple is rebuked by Jesus (Luke 18:15–17). When we submit to Jesus as Lord, we acknowledge his perfection, his wisdom, and his authority to correct us—and we need a lot of correction! The disciples were rebuked by Jesus, and if we do not know the same, we’re probably not encountering the Lord. This ongoing process happens as we read his Word and interact with his people. God’s rebuke is evidence of his love for his children.
  13. A disciple praises God (Luke 19:33–40). When disciples see Jesus clearly, the “King who comes in the name of the Lord,” they rejoice and praise the Father who sent his Son. Following Jesus is not primarily about doing, but about worshipping.
  14. A disciple spends time with his Master (Luke 22:11; 22:39; 22:45). In the hours before his arrest, Jesus yearned for time with his disciples. They ate with him, talked with him, and sang with him. As God changes our hearts and gives us new desires, chief among them will be love for him. We seek out and spend time with those we love.
  15. A disciple is redeemed, comforted, and dispatched to the world (Luke 24:36–53). Jesus seeks out his disciples after his resurrection though they were absent at his crucifixion and burial. He speaks peace and comfort to them. He died for their sins and rose from the grave so they also could have new life. As he sent his disciples into the world with the promise of the Spirit (v.49), so he also sends us.

Disciple, Will You Take Up Your Cross?

There is no place for pride among those who follow Jesus (Luke 22:24–27). We are called, taught, directed, equipped, and corrected by our Master. We cannot meet our greatest need—reconciliation with God—and we often bristle at this reality.

But Jesus is a loving Savior. When we confess our pride, he graciously restores us. Our sin-debt has already been paid, so he doesn’t hold it against us. He is also the Risen King, who replaces our pride with humility, through the work of His spirit within us.

Jesus continues to call us today. Will you take up your cross as a disciple and follow the One who was taken up on the cross for you?

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Kathy Büscher (2013), public domain