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

March 24, 2011

Law on Tablets of Stone to Hearts of Flesh

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Exodus 32:1 – 33:6

Calf

God spent forty days and nights giving Moses the law atop Mount Sinai [1]. Yet, when he was “so long in coming down” [2], the notoriously impatient Israelites asked Aaron, “Come, make us godswho will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him” [3]. Thus, even as the Lord had His people at the forefront of His mind and heart, Aaron the High Priest made a golden idol in the image of a calf and the people celebrated, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” [4].

Consequence

As they rejoiced, however, God told Moses to return to His “stiff-necked people” who had “become corrupt” and “quick to turn away” from Him [5]. As Moses descended, he carried “the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands”, which were “the writing of God, engraved on the tablets” [6]. When Moses saw that they were worshipping an idol, he shattered the tablets and declared, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me” [7]. Although most of them went to Moses, he sent the Levites to slaughter the three thousand people who did not [8].

Conclusion

That day – the day that God wrote His law on stone tablets – was commemorated as “Pentecost,” since it took place fifty days after the Exodus and the plague of the firstborn. Thousands of years later, fifty days after the slaughter of Jesus, as the disciples were in Jerusalem celebrating Pentecost, God wrote His law on the hearts of His people – about three thousand of them [9] – through the Holy Spirit, just as He promised: “The days are coming … when I will make a new covenant with the people … It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant … I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” [10].

Prayer

Lord, We confess that we are like the Israelites – impatient with You, tempted to worship things that we make ourselves, and unable to meet the law and its demands. Thus, we thank You for writing your law on our hearts through the Spirit so that we can see You and know You and worship You and love You  Amen.

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[1] See Ex. 19:20, 24:18  |  [2] Ex. 32:1 NIV  |  [3] Ex 32:1 NIV  |  [4] Ex 32:4 NIV  |  [5] Ex. 32:7-9 NIV  |  [6] Ex. 32:16 NIV  |  [7] Ex 32:26 NIV  |  [8] See Ex. 32:27-35  |  [9] See Acts 2  |  [10] Jer. 31:31-34 NIV

March 23, 2011

Do You Observe the Sabbath?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Exodus 30-31

Final Command

The final ordinance that the Lord gave Moses atop Mount Sinai was to observe the Sabbath – an observance so important that its violation was punishable by death: “You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy. Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed” [1].

Good News, Not Bad

God first commanded the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments, telling His people to remember it every seventh day and keep it holy by setting it apart as special. Its origin was in God’s rest in creation [2], when He “blessed the seventh day and made it holy” [3]. On that day, satisfied that His work, He savored the beauty of His creation. Thus, by commanding observation of the Sabbath as a lasting covenant, He was, in effect, saying, “Let my image-bearer stop every seven days and remember with Me that I am the Source of everything – land, animals, breath, emotion and – ultimately – salvation [4].” Thus, the Sabbath was good – not bad – news to experience joy and take delight in God [5]. It reminded God’s people how He has sanctified and chosen them and set them apart and worked to make them distinct among all tother nations.

Prayer

Lord, Through the Sabbath, You remind us of Your great power to create and save. We are reminded of our utter reliance on Your grace for all good things. Forgive us for forsaking our observation of this utterly important command and give us the courage to put our work down and pick our hearts up to enjoy all that You have done on our behalf. Amen.

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[1] Exodus 31:13-17 NIV  |  [2] Genesis 2:2-3  |  [3] Genesis 2:3 NIV  |  [4] See Deuteronomy 5:15  |  [5] 1 John 5:3 – noting that His commands are not burdensome.

March 22, 2011

What Do Clothes Tell Us?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Exodus 28-29

Design

When God designed the priestly garments, He had two things in mind: dignity and honor. As He told Moses, Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron [the High Priest] to give him dignity and honor” [1]. Symbolically, the garments would cover the sinfulness of the people in the presence of the Lord, just as the clothing made by the Lord for Adam and Eve covered their shame in the Garden. Thus, the names of the sons of Israel – that is, the twelve tribes – were on the breastpiece of judgment to remind the High Priest of his position of meditation between God and His people: “Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the LORD” [2]. His representative role was so serious that God required his robe to have bells so that his movements would be heard and, if he died, no unclean person would enter the Lord’s presence to ascertain his death: The sound of the bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the LORD and when he comes out, so that he will not die” [3].

Foreshadow

Yet, the priesthood and its regulations were mere shadows and pointers of what was to come – namely, Jesus as the ultimate High Priest who would provide Himself as the sufficient and final sacrifice for all God’s people – past and present – to atone for their sins: “[Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through him … Such a high priest truly meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day … He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever” [4].

Prayer

Lord, Thank You for designing the priestly garments so that we could understand Your holiness and appreciate the beautiful atoning sacrifice of Jesus that made us holy. Although we confess that we often flippantly come into Your presence, we ask You to help us perceive the meeting of justice and love on the cross. Amen.

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[1] Exodus 28:2-7 NIV  |  [2] 28:21, 29 – Likewise, the stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod were to bear their names: “Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones … Then … fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel” (28:9-12 NIV)  |  [3] Exodus 28:34-35 NIV  |  [4] Hebrews 7:26-28 NIV

March 21, 2011

Prayer: Casual or Formal?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Exodus 25-27

Our Attitude

How are we supposed to approach the Lord in prayer? On the one hand, does the holiness and righteousness of God cut us off from intimacy with Him? On the other hand, does our friendship with Jesus [1] give us license to be flippant, frivolous, thoughtless, casual or disrespectful in His presence?  In a sermon that has greatly enhanced my recent prayer life, Charles Spurgeon said,

There is a vulgar notion that prayer is a very easy thing, a kind of common business that may be done anyhow, without care or effort … [The ancient saints] appear to have thought a great deal more seriously of prayer than many do now-a-days … They reaped great harvests in the field of prayer, and found the mercy seat to be a mine of untold treasures. [They] were wont … to order their cause before God; that is to say, as a petitioner coming into Court does not come there without thought to state his case on the spur of the moment, but enters into the audience chamber with his suit well prepared, having moreover learned how he ought to behave himself in the presence of the great One to whom he is appealing. It is well to approach the seat of the King of kings as much as possible with pre-meditation and preparation, knowing what we are about, where we are standing, and what it is which we desire to obtain. In times of peril and distress we may fly to God just as we are … but in ordinary times we should not come with an unprepared spirit … [2]

God’s Holiness

When God crafted the tabernacle’s plans, He intended to dwell among [His people]” [3]. Then, when Moses detailed the instructions, he intended to convey the weight and worth of God. Thus, as future generations would labor to read them, they would feel hopeless to attain their own righteousness and marvel at God’s mercy in coming to dwell among sinful people – especially as they looked on Jesus, who “went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle” [4] to tear down the barrier between their sinfulness and God’s holiness.

Prayer

Lord, We are humbled in Your holy presence. Thank You for revealing Your holiness through tangible means like the tabernacle and then for embodying Your holiness to redeem our sins in Jesus. Teach us to pray in reverence, even as we call You a friend. Amen.

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[1] See John 15:14-15 (noting Jesus’ statement: “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” NIV)  |  [2] Charles Spurgeon, Effective Prayer. Taken from Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 12, No. 700. (Note: I have found this sermon so helpful in ordering my own prayers over the past few months that I have sent it to many people. One of them, paused in the middle of reading it just to write me an email that read, “Just pausing from reading this right now to thank you. God bless you in every way.” I pray that you may read this and be helped in approaching the Lord with your requests, for the glory of His name to be made holy in your lives.)  |  [3] Exodus 25:8 NIV  |  [4] Hebrews 9:11 NIV

March 18, 2011

The Greatest Blessing that Anyone Can Receive

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Exodus 23-24

Covenant Confirmation

After receiving the Law through Moses, the people embraced God’s covenant with one voice: “Everything the LORD has said we will do” [1]. The next morning, Moses took several outward actions to symbolize and confirm their inward spiritual reality – he made an altar of twelve stones, offered sacrifices, and sprinkled blood on the altar and the people to symbolize the union between God and His people. Then God met with the leaders and they saw God, and they ate and drank” [2].

Cloud and Fire

Finally, God summoned Moses: “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction” [3]. When Moses went atop the mountain, “the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain” [4]. When the cloud covered the mountain, the people were reminded of the cloud that symbolized His presence in the desert and they thought of fire because the other symbol of His presence in the wilderness was a pillar of fire.

Jesus as Presence

Although the presence of the Lord is the greatest blessing that any human can experience, His presence was not fully exposed until the coming of Christ. Thousands of years later, John would write about Jesus and reflect on Moses’ experience on the mountain: “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 … For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God andis in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” [5].

Prayer

Lord, Apart from Christ, Your presence is a consuming fire. Yet, grace and truth came through Him. Although He has made You known, we confess that we take Your presence for granted, often forgetting to spend time with You in prayer, fellowship and Scripture. Work in us to treasure Your presence as our greatest blessing. Amen.

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[1] Exodus 24:3 NIV  |  [2] Exodus 24:11 NIV  |  [3] Exodus 24:12 NIV  |  [4] Exodus 24:15-18 NIV  |  [5] John 1:om14, 16-18

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