Archive for March, 2011

March 31, 2011

Someone Needed an Editor …

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Numbers 7

“Omit Needless Words.”

I prize brevity in writing – each 843 Acres post is 400 words or less and each daily reading in the Subway Series is 750 words or less [1]. My literary motto is Strunk & White’s seventeenth composition style – “Omit needless words” [2] – and Handelsman’s cartoon in The New Yorker makes me smile (see below).

The Value of Repetition

With the exception of Psalm 119, Numbers 7 is the longest chapter in the Bible and, in my opinion, it may be the most verbose and boring. It is a detailed record of the gifts given at the tabernacle’s dedication. Since each of the twelve tribal leaders gave exactly the same set of gifts, the author could have been succinct by writing, “Each leader gave the following gifts …” Yet, he did not. Instead, he listed each leader and their gifts, leaving us to read the same list of gifts twelve times.

Although these details bore most of us, the Hebrews would have been enthralled. First, they would have been hearing, not reading, the lists because their history was oral, not written. Second, as tribal citizens, they would have been intently listening for the gifts given by their particular tribe, careful to hear that they gave as much as the others. Finally, they would have been longing for this moment, when God fulfilled His promise to meet with Moses and give him all His commands for the His people [3]. Thus, when these gifts were given, the tabernacle was complete and Moses was able to enter the Holy Place: When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the LORD spoke to him” [4]. Now, finally, the people could do what they were called and created to do – to worship and know and enjoy God.

Prayer

Lord, No matter how long or wordy we may think parts of the Bible may be, we confess that every word is God-breathed and useful for teaching. Give us hearts that long for Your presence in our midst so that we wait intently and expectantly for Your purposes to be fulfilled. Amen.

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[1] 750 words or less is the same word limit as an op-ed for The New York Times.  |  [2] William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. 1918.  |  [3] Exodus 25:22  |  [4] Numbers 7:89 NIV 2010

March 30, 2011

The Constraint of Instructions

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Exodus 39:1 – 40:33

To Follow or Question Instructions

I hate feeling constrained by instructions. When my mom tells me how to load the dishwasher efficiently, for example, I want to find other ways that are just as (if not more) efficient. For me, instructions threaten my creativity and, as a curious person, I want to mold instructions to my personal tastes. Yet, when I test the flexibility of instructions, I assume (at least) two things: (1) that the instruction-making authority may be questioned and (2) that the instructed-upon thing is not critical. Thus, my questioning works with loading dishwashers, but it does not work with following God about how to worship Him.

The Authority of the Instruction Maker

After God told Moses how to build the tabernacle, Moses built it precisely as God instructed him. As Matthew Henry wrote: “Moses not only did all that the Lord directed him to do, but in the order that God appointed; for God will be sought in due order. To each particular there is added an express reference to the divine appointment … so it is here repeated: As the Lord commanded Moses, seven times [1] in less than fourteen verses. Moses himself, as great a man as he was, would not pretend to vary from the institution … They that command others must remember that their Master also is in heaven, and they must do as they are commanded” [2].

The Importance of the Instructed Task

Not only did Moses follow the tabernacle instructions because the authority of God was ultimate, he also followed them because the tabernacle was of utmost importance. It was intended to bring the presence of God among the people of God, enabling them to worship Him, which is the most awesome task in which a human can participate: “Worship is the meeting of the natural with the supernatural; of the creation with its Creator; of people with God. It is the most important task that people can undertake. It is the visible sign of faithfulness to God” [3].

Prayer

Lord, We confess that we are often tempted to abandon instructions because we are more concerned about our self-expression than we are about Your authority and worship. Forgive us and make us into people who are passionate about enjoying You. Show us how to be creative and curious in the context of Your great love and faithfulness, even when we may feel constrained by Your loving law. Amen.

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[1] Exodus 40:16, 19, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32, 33 NIV  |  [2] Matthew Henry, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Volume 1. London: 1706, p. 261.  |  [3] Ashby, quoted by Ligon Duncan.

March 29, 2011

Cathedrals and Tents

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Exodus 37-38

Cathedrals and Tents

When I was in law school, I got to classes by walking up Amsterdam Avenue from my home on West 94th Street to school on West 116th Street. Each morning, I passed the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine and saw visitors admiring its Gothic design. Yet, I knew that God’s presence did not require ornate or beautiful walls. In fact, His first dwelling was in a portable tent [1], a tabernacle.

Furnishings and Instruments

The writer of Hebrews summarized the blueprint of the tabernacle: “Now the first covenant had … an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover” [2].

God used these furnishings and instruments as part of a sacrificial system to remind His people of His holy presence and their need for mediation in order to enjoy His presence. Thus, over and over again, as they drew near to Him, they remembered that they could have no communion with Him apart from an atoning sacrifice.

Deaths and Sacrifices

Yet, the tabernacle was temporary and God sought to establish and secure His presence more permanently. Therefore, He sent Jesus as high priest of a greater covenant to offer Himself as a final atoning sacrifice for His people. Unlike the previous high priests, however, Jesus “entered heaven itself” so that He could “appear for us in God’s presence” [3].

Prayer

Lord, Although You are God and could have chosen to remain apart from us, You wanted to dwell among us. Yet, we confess that we often look for Your presence among austere and fancy churches rather than among the love and holiness of the cross. Teach us to stand in awe of Jesus, who “was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many” and who “will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” [4]. Amen.

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[1] Even though it was a tent, it was an expensive one! According to most commentators, the freewill offerings of the Israelites (who were formerly slaves) was roughly a ton of gold, four tons of silver and three tons of bronze.  |  [2] Hebrews 9:1-5 NIV  |  [3] Hebrews 9:24 NIV  |  [4] Hebrews 9:28 NIV

March 28, 2011

God Calls and Equips

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Exodus 35-36

Appointing

In Exodus 26-30, God gave Moses detailed instructions for worship and about how to make the tabernacle, its furnishings and the priestly garments. Then, the Lord told him that He had appointed able men to make all that He was commanding: “See, I have chosen Bezalel … and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab … to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you” [1].

Providing

Then, God commanded anyone of a generous heart to contribute to the needs of constructing all these things: “From what you have, take an offering for the LORD. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the LORD an offering” [2]. The people were so moved that they had to be restrained from continuing to give: “Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: ‘No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’ And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work” [3].

Equipping

When God calls us to do something, He provides all the necessary direction, ability and resources to accomplish it. Although we may feel inadequate (as Moses protested the Lord’s calling on his life to be a spokesman with arguing that he stammered), God chooses and then provides. None of us are adequate, yet He chooses to love and use us for His purposes.

Praying

Lord, Make us willing and generous people. Cause us to hear You about what Your plans are for Your church and then respond with faithful and willing hearts that are abundantly generous. You have given us so much – salvation as the best of Your gifts – and, although we are not called to repay you (for we never could), we are called to live in joy and confidence as a response to Your great salvation. Let us treasure all that You do so that we may be a part of Your great salvation history. Amen.

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[1] Ex. 31:2-6 NIV 2010  |  [2] Ex. 35:6 NIV 2010  |  [3] Ex. 36:6-7 NIV 2010

March 25, 2011

The Weight of the Glory of the Lord

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Exodus 33:7 – 34:35

The Weight of the Lord

Nietzsche proclaimed that God was dead and predicted that, with the decline of Christianity, “it will seem for a time as though all things had become weightless” [1]. Before Nietzsche, however, the Hebrews recognized the weightiness of the Lord when they chose the word “glory” [2] to refer to His ultimate reality [3]. Thus, when Moses asked, “Now show me your glory” [4], he wanted to see the weight of the reality of the Lord. Although God decided to grant his request, He warned Moses, saying, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name … But … you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live … When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by” [5].

The Riddle of the Old Testament

When God passed by Moses, He proclaimed His name: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished … ” [6]. According to Mark Dever and Graeme Goldsworthy, this is the great riddle of the Old Testament: “Now how can that be? How can God ‘forgive wickedness, rebellion and sin’ and yet ‘not leave the guilty unpunished’?” [7]

The Answer in the New Testament

Yet, it would be thousands of years later that the Lord would reveal the answer to the riddle. When God accepted Jesus’ offering of His life as an atoning sacrifice for His people, He simultaneously punished the guilty and forgave sin. Thus, in Jesus, the fullness of the weight of the glory of God was revealed: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” [8].

Prayer

Lord, Thank You for revealing Your glory in Jesus and answering the great riddle that we could never solve. We confess, however, that we oftentimes treat Your glory lightly. Therefore, we pray that Your name would be made holy in our lives and that “the earth [would] be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” [9]. Amen.

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[1] Cited by T.J. Lears, No Place Of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920 (New York: Pantheon, 1981).  |  [2] In the Old Testament, the word “glory” is used to translate the Hebrew word kabod, which means “weight” or “heaviness.”  |  [3] See Romans 11:36, Colossians 1:16  |  [4] Ex. 33:18 NIV  |  [5] Ex. 33:19-23 NIV  |  [6] Ex. 34:6-7 NIV  |  [7] Mark Dever and Graeme Goldsworthy. The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made. Crossway, 2006.  |  [8] John 1:14 NIV  |  [9] Habakkuk 2:14 NIV

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