Thursday, March 7, 2019

Leviticus Chapters 1-3


Leviticus is written for the people of God, and it is a delightful book to study. If you struggle to understand it, let me refer you to the top three commentaries that I recommend in the link for Best Old Testament Commentaries.  

I think the first three chapters of Leviticus should point Christians to several key facets regarding an appropriate approach to worship:
1. Confession and daily surrender to God (ch. 1).
2. Proper gratitude and appropriate giving (ch. 2).
3. Communion with God and with others (ch. 3).

The burnt offering of chapter 1.

The Hebrew people most frequently offered the burnt offering. It was an all-purpose, free will offering that anyone, regardless of age, gender, culture, socio-economic class, etc., could bring. While the priests assisted in the observation of this offering, it required an active role on the part of individuals at the Tent of Meeting. Also, while people could bring various animals based on their financial means, they were to offer their best because God deserved their best. Once laid upon the altar, fire totally consumed this offering, and it went up to the Lord in smoke.

When offered rightly, the burnt offering was an aroma pleasing to God. Its connotations carry over to the New Testament in several ways.

First, in Ephesians 5:2, Paul makes it clear that Christ "loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God." It bears emphasizing that nothing we sacrifice can make us right with God. We must confess our sin and surrender ourselves to Jesus, who is the fulfillment of the burnt offering and all the Levitical systems (cf. Heb. 10:5-10). Christ's death is sufficient to save anyone regardless of creed, culture, or classification and no matter what sin holds him or her in bondage.

Second, ministers today play a part in helping people with the burnt offering they owe to the God who saves. Christians ought to gather today at the Tent of the Meeting (for church services). Here, pastors equip them with a deeper understanding of the Word through preaching and the administration of ordinances.

Third, Christians should daily offer the burnt offerings they owe to the God who saves. It is why Paul writes in Romans 12:1 to "present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." No one can do that for us; we need to dedicate our lives to the Lord so that we become a sweet smelling aroma to Him.

The cereal offering of chapter 2. 

Various viewpoints exist about the cereal or grain offering, but it is safe to say that God deserved the first fruits from Israel's crops. Everything that a person had was a gift from God and belonged to God; it made sense that in gratitude he or she would return a portion of that substance back to Yahweh.

This offering was to consist of fine unleavened flour, oil, and salt. Within Jewish culture, oil represented a spirit of joy and anointing, whereas salt represented preservation. The inclusion of oil points to gratitude for God's provision as well as commitment to God's work. The inclusion of salt, according to Gordon J. Wenham, "was a reminder that the worshiper was in an eternal covenant relationship with God." Israel should not only abstain from what was unholy, they should seek to preserve that which was holy. 

That explains why the offering should not contain leaven or honey. Likely, the prohibition of leaven symbolized making sure that nothing corrupted the offering, even as honey had become associated with pagan rituals, from which Israel was called to remain set apart.

Leviticus 2:2-3 and 2:9-10 show that part of the cereal offering went up as a sweet aroma to the Lord, whereas the other part of it was given to the priests as part of their provision. 

The cereal offering overlaps in several ways for the New Testament Christian. Most obviously, we should give of our first fruits back to the Lord from a spirit of joy and gratitude. We should not give begrudgingly or dishonestly (cf. 2 Cor. 9:7; Acts 5:1-11), as that would corrupt our offering. 

Furthermore, giving generously helps to preserve the ministries of the church and to advance the cause of Christ. "Once believers offer themselves and their possessions to the Lord, everything in that dedication becomes holy, separated from the world of sin and set apart to God's service" (Allen P. Ross). 

Giving generously also helps to provide for the ministers of the church and to appropriately value their service. "We pay for what we value. It is perhaps a sad reflection that many Christians today fulfill neither the letter nor the spirit of biblical teaching in this area (cf. Luke 10:7; 1 Cor. 9:13-14; 1 Tim. 5:17). Nor, apparently, do they value the services of spiritual leaders as much as they value the service of others whom a secular society has conditioned them to rate more highly" (Derek Tidball).

The peace offering of chapter 3.

A number of theological points bear emphasizing as it concerns the peace offering. Here, I choose to focus on only one key connection for the New Testament believer. 

The individual making the peace offering would lay a hand on the animal's head being slaughtered, and some scholars believe that this would prove deeply personal, for he or she would identify with the victim. The blood shed by the victim would be poured out for the life of the worshipper.

Coming after the burnt offering (atonement), the peace offering was also accompanied by meal and drink offerings (cf. Lev. 7:11). All together, this communicated being at peace with God and with others, and it was also considered a sweet aroma to the Lord. 

Allen P. Ross explains, "But before the offerer, the accompanying family, the assembled people and priests, and the poor and needy could feast from this offering, appropriate steps had to be followed: the burnt offering for atonement, the ritual of the blood, fat, and inner parts of the peace offering, and the public proclamation of the occasion."

By now, perhaps you can see within the structure of this offering a foreshadowing of celebrating the Lord's Supper. We should announce the celebration of the Holy Meal in advance so that worshippers can prepare themselves and "discern the body of Christ" (cf. 1 Cor. 11:28-29). When we partake of the elements of bread (meal) and wine (drink), we declare that we are at peace with God and with others. Also, partaking of the elements should prove deeply personal, as we identify with Christ and His body broken and His blood poured out for us. 


What sacrifice of worship to Christ do you need to focus on most right now - your confession of sin and your surrender to Him in praise, your giving of your first fruits from a spirit of faith and generosity, your coming to peace with other believers and humble communion at the Lord's Table, or something from all three:



from Best Devotional Commentary - "Thirty-five times, at least, we read that the Lord said to MosesThese instructions were not the product of Moses' over-fertile imagination, still less the invention of later scholars; here is a revelation from God. ...
     Behind the summons lies the desire God has for fellowship with His people. He longed to reside at the centre of their community, and to enjoy ongoing companionship with them. Leviticus, rightly understood, is primarily about relationship, rather than regulation. It speaks of how people may be kept near to God" (Tidball).

from Best Academic Commentary - "Leviticus 1-7 introduces the gifts of sacrifice. Two series of instructions identify the gifts and outline how they are to be brought to God. The first (1:3-6:7) deals with five major offerings, each presented from the perspective of the donor: burnt offerings, cereal offerings, well-being (peace) offerings, purification offerings, and reparation offerings. The first three of these are voluntary offerings; the last two are required. The second series (6:8-7:36) addresses the same offerings, this time from the perspective of the priests. The two sets of instructions are framed by an introduction (1:1-2) and a conclusion (7:37-38) that tie all the offerings to the revelation from God to Moses at the tent of meeting that was erected at Sinai (cf. Exodus 25-31, 35-40). ...
     Given the demonstrable and chronic human need for forgiveness, one might well expect that Israel's instructions for approaching God would necessarily begin with the summons to bring expiatory gifts. In an evocative reversal of expectations, Leviticus begins with an emphasis not on sin and its required atonement but on joy and its spontaneous expression through voluntary gifts. From a priestly perspective, the God who covenants with such a frail and faulty people still hopes and expects that joy, not guilt, will be the primary motivation for the worship Israel will offer" (Balentine).

from Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "The law was thus both regulatory and revelatory. The regulatory aspect of the law - kinds of animals, composition of incense, handling of blood, and all the other ritual acts - were bound up in the culture and experience of ancient Israel. The revelatory aspects of the laws - holiness of God, nature of sin, access to God, forgiveness of sin, removal of impurity, and all the many theological meanings of the acts - taught the abiding truths of the person and work of the Lord as they were unfolding in Scripture. When Christ came and inaugurated the new covenant, the regulatory aspects of the law came to an end: there was no longer a temple, sacrifices, or a functioning priesthood based on the Sinai covenant. But what all these laws revealed about the nature and will of God did not come to an end, for they are binding revelation. ...
     The law remains an authoritative part of holy Scripture. But now it must be read through the fulfillment of Christ. For example, we do not need an animal sacrifice to enter God's presence, but we do need a sacrifice, the sacrifice to which all sacrifices pointed - Christ's sacrifice" (Ross).

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Exodus 24:12-40:38


In this blog entry, I draw extensively from a new addition to my library - Victor Hamilton's Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary, which now holds my runner-up title as best academic resource. What central lessons are we to learn from the tabernacle that God calls Moses and the Hebrew people to build?

1. The cloud encased the mountain (Ex. 24:15b), and the cloud would encase the tent of the meeting (Ex. 40:34a). Likewise, the Lord's glory settled on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 24:16a), and His glory filled the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34b). God's glory was like a consuming fire on the mountaintop (Ex. 24:17), and it was like a consuming fire in the tabernacle by night (Ex. 40:38). The tabernacle would intensify the Sinai experience, as evidenced by the fact that Moses enters the cloud on the mountain (Ex. 24:18) but cannot enter the tabernacle (Ex. 40:35). 
     The tabernacle thus perpetuates and extends the Mount Sinai experience. Hamilton writes, "Israel will have more of God's glory right in the midst of its camp than Israel is able to observe at Sinai's top." Ray VanderLaan adds, "We must be able to carry with us the reminder of that experience, or we lose the fire." 

2. "Because Exodus extends beyond chapter 24 into chapters 25-31 (and the mostly parallel chapters of 35-40), the structure of the book of Exodus suggests that God desires not only His people's obedience but also their fellowship, not only their conformity but also their communion. God is not only holy (19-24); He is also host (25-31)" (Hamilton).
     In other words, Israel is to realize that a holy God comes in the midst of the tabernacle to dwell among them. The fact that one-third of the book of Exodus deals with the construction of the tabernacle should draw our attention to the importance of God's presence among His people as well as their appropriate worship of the Lord. 

3. Finally, biblical scholars identify parallels between the building of the tabernacle and the start of Genesis. 
(a) P. J. Kearney connects the Lord's seven speeches to Moses with the seven days of the creation account. Read aloud Ex. 25:1, 30:11, 30:17, 30:22, 30:23, 31:1, and 31:12-17, with special attention to how the last reading highlights the Sabbath day as instituted in Genesis 2:1-4. 
(b) J. Blenkinsopp further notices similar phraseology between the building of the tabernacle and the creation account. In Genesis 1:31, "God saw everything He had made." In Exodus 39:43, "Moses saw all the work they had done." In Genesis 2:1, "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished." In Exodus 39:42, "Thus all the work of the tabernacle was finished." In Genesis 2:2, God finished the work which He had done." In Exodus 40:33, "So Moses finished the work."
(c) Hamilton adds that it is possible for the disruption that occurs during chapters 32-34 to function in the book of Exodus much like Genesis 3 does in the opening chapters of Genesis. "There is a monumental deviation in Genesis 3 and Exodus 32 from the divine norm, which only divine grace can resolve and heal."
(d) VanderLaan observes that in the creation account God blessed all that He created and then called us to fill it. Only we filled it with sin. At the building of the tabernacle, God directs Israel to make the space and then He would fill it with His glory. The golden calf and Israel's sin of idolatry do not prevent God from ultimately filling the space of the tabernacle.


Allow me now to walk backward through the above observations to make the connection it has upon our lives as Christians.

We have all sinned. We have all disrupted the divine norm, "which only divine grace can resolve and heal."

A more literal translation of John 1:14 reads, "And the Word became flesh and tabernacled (or pitched His tent) among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." Christ, the holy and eternal second person of the Trinity, came to dwell in our midst so as to make a way for us to have restored communion with the Father and to conform to His will. 

Just as Israel's sin would not prevent God from indwelling the tabernacle once they created the space, our sin will not prevent Christ from indwelling our hearts if we create the space for Him (VanderLaan). This means believing Jesus died for our sins and God raised Him from the dead so that we no longer exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25).

After we repent and place our trust in Jesus, what will perpetuate and extend our conversion experience? (We must be able to carry with us the reminder of that experience, or we lose the fire). The answer is that the Holy Spirit comes to pitch His tent in our hearts. The glory on the mountaintop that subsequently rests in the tabernacle and thereafter fills the temple now lives in us. Hallelujah!

I place all this under take time to respond because, if you have not already done so, I beseech you to repent and receive Christ, and thereby experience the indwelling presence of the glory of the Holy Spirit. 

[Read Exodus 33:14 in concert with Matthew 11:28-29].

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Exodus 20:3-17


In my second semester of seminary, I took a class that consisted primarily of graduating students. The class was called Pastoral Ethics, and on the first day the professor asked each of the ministers-in-training to write out the 10 Commandments in correct order as well as the two places where they were found in the Pentateuch (see also Deut. 5:6-21).

Upon returning to class for the next session, only two of us had scored 100% on the "pop quiz." (In fairness, I had taken a class on the Pentateuch in my first semester in which another professor required us to memorize Exodus 20:1-17 in its entirety).

I suspect if those about to enter ministry failed to list the 10 Commandments in order that many church goers might struggle to do so. But why should New Testament believers concern themselves with such knowledge?

For one, God's Law points us to our need for Christ. Read Psalm 19:7-14 and Galatians 3:19-25.

Second, Christ stresses the abiding principles from the Decalogue of loving God and loving people (cf. Matt. 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31), and Jesus states that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (cf. Matt. 5:17-19).

Additionally, God's Law prescribes the ethical conduct expected of every Christian. We have been saved from the bondage of sin to live in the freedom of righteousness.

In this blog entry, I want to briefly highlight some of the ways that the Ten Commandments speak specifically to the minister.

Commandment One:  Keep God first.
     Pastors must guard themselves against putting ministry before Christ. This involves drawing a distinction from one's work preparation and one's time alone with God. If we sacrifice cultivating our relationship with the Lord in the name of ministry (or anything, for that matter), we violate the first commandment. David Mathis writes: "When we find our greatest fulfillment and satisfaction, our decisive justification and deepest joy in serving Jesus, rather than in Jesus Himself, we first need to identify it, and then fight."

Commandment Two:  Avoid idolatry.
     Idolatry involves far more than the worship of graven images; it means putting anything in the position of God as an object of worship. John Calvin once said, "Our hearts are idol factories." Christ certainly knew this to be true. Read Luke 10:17-20. That text shows how the disciples who were sent out to do ministry celebrated their given authority (vv. 17-19), whereas Jesus tells them to focus instead on their given acceptance (v. 20). Marc Driscoll suggests various types of ministry idolatry:
1. Attendance idolatry - how many people you can attract.
2. Gift idolatry - how much recognition you get for your abilities.
3. Doctrinal idolatry - how superior you are to others in theological acumen.
4. Fruit idolatry - how many converts you can personally claim.
5. Office idolatry - how high up you climb in denominational or pastoral ranks.

Commandment Three:  Do not misuse God's name.
     The third commandment deals with using God's name properly. Thomas Watson summarizes that this entails not casting any dishonor on the Lord's name while taking care to revere and honor it. Specifically, as this commandment concerns those in pastoral ministry, Watson advises they be wary of:
1. Trying to seem clever in one's interpretation of the biblical text so as to advance one's own name instead of trembling before God's name and His Word.
2. Misusing Scripture to defend any form of sin. 
3. Adulterating the Word and applying it in the wrong sense. "Such are heretics, who put their own gloss upon Scripture, and make it speak that which the Holy Ghost never meant."

Commandment Four:  Rest in God.
     In creation, God modeled work followed by rest. In other words, the Lord set a rhythm to work and placed a limit on it. So, too, pastors need to find a rhythm in their work and set aside time for rest. Nevertheless, when work defines pastors, they likely have fallen prey to resting in approval, acquisition, and/or acclaim. The sin of approval means we seek to prove our worth to others so that they think better of us instead of resting in Christ. The sin of acquisition means we seek to gain more money and a greater title instead of resting in Christ. The sin of acclaim means we seek to advance our name, build large followings, and increase our notoriety instead of resting in Christ. What/Who are we resting in today?

Commandment Five:  Honor your elders.
    The fifth commandment involves respecting and obeying parents (cf. Prov. 23:22; Eph. 6:1-3) as well as honoring those superior in authority or age (cf. Rom. 13:1-7; Heb. 13:7; Lev. 19:32; 1 Tim. 5:1-2; 1 Pet. 5:5). In applying this to the work of pastors, several principles come to mind. First, pastors must lead their home in such a way so as not to exasperate their children (cf. Eph. 6:4). Second, pastors make it hard for others to respect or honor them if they act incompetently or irrationally; they should lead in the mold of the Chief Shepherd (cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-4). Finally, I think it always wise to apply the principles from Micah 6:8:
1. To do justice. Do not pursue your own agenda. Shun bribes and partiality. Notice what is virtuous, so as to approve it and praise it.
2. To love mercy. Use your position to bless others as you are so able (cf. Isa. 58:6-12). Look to serve rather than to be served.
3. To walk humbly. Treat others with respect, even those who show you disdain. In disagreements, maintain polite speech and positive body language. 

Commandment Six:  Honor life.
     The sixth commandment prohibits all murder and savagery with the primary goal of protecting and preserving life. Scripture speaks against hatred in our hearts and unforgiving spirits (cf. Matt. 5:21-24). We must not kill a person's spirit through what we say, and we must not kill a person's spirit through how we act toward him/her. Scripture further requires us to take precautions to prevent accidental injury (cf. Deut. 22:8), to love our neighbors and to protect them as we are able (cf. Luke 10:30-37), and to seek self-preservation (suicide and/or intentional self-harm is wrong). Furthermore, pastors should speak up about matters of life and about matters of love, and they should speak out against injustices and against all hatefulness or malice. 

Commandment Seven:  Honor marriage.
     Adultery is a violation of the marital covenant. (Fornication applies to this, too, as it violates one's union with Jesus). Christ connects the act of adultery to the patterns of one's eyes, and He stresses the severity of it. Scripture teaches that adultery actively exchanges the truth for a lie (cf. Gen. 2:23-25 // Rom. 1:24-25). It warns us against the lies of infidelity, cohabitation, homosexuality, etc. It warns us against the lie of pornography, which can destroy the mind and murder marriages. Many pastors have fallen as a result of violating the seventh commandment, so we must stay on guard. Wisdom requires that we (a) avoid putting ourselves in a compromising situation with a person of the opposite sex, (b) meet consistently with an accountability partner or partners, (c) put appropriate filters on our computers and phones, (d) allow our spouses to have open access to our accounts, and (e) immerse ourselves in consistent prayer before the Father. 

Commandment Eight:  Honor the property of others.
     We all have the right to property, and we do not want people to take what is ours. In turn, we should protect the property of others. We should love our neighbors as ourselves, respecting and valuing their personhood and their belongings. For pastors, theft can often materialize through the act of plagiarism. The most clear cut act of plagiarism is when you take another person's words and claim them as your own (if you quote someone, give him or her credit). A grey area exists when you take from another person's ideas. Here, Walter Wiest and Elwyn Smith suggest:
1. Common insights found in commentaries are fair game as long as you are not directly quoting.
2. Widely embraced theological truths are fair game, but you should attribute ideas unique to a particular thinker or scholar.
3. If you are restructuring ideas from another pastor's sermon, mention from whom you received help in shaping your perspective.
4. Feel free to use commonly shared illustrations or information, but give credit for personalized stories.
     Pastors may get busy (pastoral duties are demanding), they may get fearful (how will congregants react if their sermons are not amazing every week), or they may grow tired (the proverbial well seems to have gone dry), but they must guard themselves against intellectual theft.

Commandment Nine:  Honor truth.
     The Westminster Shorter Catechism points out that we are to love the truth, speak the truth, confess the truth, defend the truth, and promote the truth. Therefore, we must avoid exaggeration, half-truths and rumors, criticism, slander, gossip (saying behind a person's back what you would not say to his/her face), and flattery (saying to a person's face what you would never say behind his/her back). In other instances, we must say what needs to be said rather than remain silent on the matter, but we must always do so in a manner to heal and not tear down (cf. Prov. 15:1-4, 18; Prov. 18:21; Eph. 4:29). Dr. Dan Doriani explains that pastors especially need remain mindful of the ninth commandment because (cf. James 1:19; 3:1-12):
1. They talk so much (more words bring more errors).
2. They can become careless with their words.
3. They can harm others with misguided humor.
4. They can become easily angered by inattention or contradiction.
5. They can be puffed up by captive audiences.

Commandment Ten:  Be content with what you have.
     Covetousness, I believe, is closely linked to idolatry. It is an intense desire for something to make us happy other than God (cf. Eph. 3:5; Col. 3:5). Scripture never forbids enjoyments, but it does forbid exalting enjoyments in the place of God. We must continually ask ourselves: (1) Are we grateful for what we have and the opportunities given to us without desiring the possessions and positions of others, and (2) Do we give praise and worship to God as the giver of all good gifts in what we have as well as what we do? Keep in mind that Jesus is the only cure to our covetousness (cf. Rom. 7:7-8; 21-25).


Without question, the 10 Commandments reveal to every single person his or her profound need for Jesus. James tells us that "whoever keeps the whole Law but fails in one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (2:10). Therefore, John Piper encourages us to, "Preach the gospel to ourselves everyday!" 

Even so, if we are in Christ, the Holy Spirit abides in us to convict, to challenge, and to compel us to rein in disorderliness and live unto godliness. 
* Commands 1 & 4 tell us to love God supremely, to worship Him only, and rest in Him rightly.
* Commands 2 & 10 guide us to focus our hearts and desires on the true God and not the gods of this world.
* Commands 3 & 9 remind us to honor God and our neighbors through what we say.
* Commands 5 & 6 stress that we honor God and our neighbors by respecting them, submitting to them appropriately, and valuing their personhood (life).
* Commands 7 & 8 mandate that we uphold truth, respect, and dignity in how we maintain purity of mind and body.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Exodus 20:1-20


When Brooke and I were dating, it would have been unwise for me to pick her up for dinner if I had not bathed first. (For the record, she would say the same thing now that we are married!)

It kind of works that way, doesn't it? We clean ourselves up as part of our efforts to woo a significant other. In the dating stage, we especially try to cover all our warts so as to look and smell all pretty. 

Conversely, Exodus 20:1-2 teaches us that we do not clean ourselves up in order to win God over. We could not do that anyway, for Isaiah 64:6 informs us that our best works are like filthy rags.

Consider Exodus 13:18 and 14:21-22. After God delivered the Israelites from bondage, He led them along a path to the Red Sea and had them pass through the waters. Paul connects that event to baptism in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2.

However, God had not yet handed down His moral law to the Hebrew nation in codified form. He did not say to the enslaved Jewish people, "Clean yourselves up by keeping these particular statutes, and I will deliver you from bondage to Egypt." No, God redeemed them, had them pass through the baptismal waters, brought them to Mount Sinai, and reminded them of His grace toward them (20:2). God then charged them to keep His 10 Commandments (20:3-17) in response to His love and mercy. 

At Mount Sinai, the Lord essentially says: "I have redeemed you to empower you to live as redeemed people." Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that principle (cf. Romans 6:4-6, 18). Jesus redeems us in order for us to live as redeemed persons. We surrender to Christ who sets us free from an old life of death (slaves to sin) to live a new life in Him (slaves to righteousness). 

The baptism of a professing believer is thus a beautiful occasion. The professing believer is not cleaning him/herself up to impress God and become His beloved. Instead, he/she is following the Lord in baptism as a sign and seal that Jesus Christ has already redeemed him/her.

By entering the baptismal waters in response to what Jesus has done and by uniting with the body of Christ, believers thus submit to Christ's Lordship. Much like the character Bruce in the film Bruce Almighty, those who have trusted Christ affirm that they are not 'god' over their lives anymore.

Near the end of the film, Jim Carrey, who plays Bruce Nolan, is walking down the interstate in the rain and cries out to the God of heaven: "Okay, You win! I'm done. Please, I don't wanna do this anymore. I don't wanna be God! I want You to decide what is right for me. I surrender to Your will."

     Point One:  Before giving the 10 Commandments, God announces: "I have saved you" (20:1-2). 
     Point Two:  In giving the 10 Commandments, God pronounces: "Live as saved people" (20:3-17).
     Point Three:  After giving the 10 commandments, the Lord declares through Moses: "Do not fear My presence. I have come to you so that you might have power over sin" (20:18-20).

In this way, Exodus 20:1-20 clearly points us to the Person of Christ. 

1. Remember John 8 and the woman caught in adultery. Jesus initially announces to her, "I do not condemn you; I bring to you salvation" (cf. John 8:10-11a). 

2. Then Jesus pronounces, "Go and sin no more" (cf. John 8:11b). Live as someone who has been delivered.

While we should study the Decalogue in much greater depth, the main lesson for us is a heart matter (cf. Matt. 5-7). You cannot keep God's Law on your own, as hard as you may try. If dolling yourself up in order to gain God's affection is your mindset, you will eventually find His holiness much too terrifying. But that is not God's intent for you. 

3. Receive forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Come to Him as you are, and He will wash you clean so that you have nothing to fear in the way of God's wrath (cf. Tit. 3:3-7) and the Law will no longer remain burdensome to you (cf. Matt. 11:28-30).


How/when/why are you tempted to try to appease God with your own works rather than to rest in what Christ has done for you and walk in the power of His love and righteousness:



from Best Devotional Commentary - "It was the God of salvation who imposed His law on His people; the grace that saves preceded the law that demands. The people were given the law not in order that they might become the redeemed, rather it was because they had already been redeemed that they were given the law. The law of God is the way of life He sets before those whom He has saved, and they engage in that way of life as a response of love and gratitude to God their Redeemer. Grace and law belong together, for grace leads to law; saving love leads to and excites grateful love expressed in obedience.
     The law of the Lord was addressed to those brought out of bondage, and its aim was not to bring them into a new bondage, but rather to establish them in their new freedom. As those who had come out (lit.) 'the house of slaves' (20:2), they needed to be instructed in the behavior and lifestyle of the free. Such is the law of the Lord - it is the true 'law of liberty' (James 1:25)" (Motyer).

from Best Academic Commentary - "The prologue, the part of the covenant that explains how the parties came to be related, is indicated in the second clause of 20:2 ('who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery'). By reason of having rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, Yahweh had a claim on His chosen people. Such a claim is sometimes called a heed relationships, from the Hebrew/Semitic concept of hesed, or 'loyalty required in response to loyalty shown.' Ancient Israelites/Semites believed, with much reason, that if person A had voluntarily rescued or aided person B, then person B had a true and lasting moral obligation to person A. One could not simply ignore significant good done on one's behalf by another; the doing of that good created an inescapable relationship of loyalty to one's benefactor - a sort of permanent gratitude writ large. What Yahweh had done for Israel was truly outstanding, not the least because of its uniqueness. What other god had ever rescued an entire people from bondage, leading them out of a superpower's oppression through miraculous means? If any ancient people believed that there existed even a remote parallel to the Israelite exodus, it is unknown from the extant literature" (Stuart).
     Briefly here, let me add if we are talking about something truly outstanding because of its uniqueness ... if we are talking about rescuing an entire people from bondage through miraculous means ... let us look no farther than Christ crucified and resurrected for His people! How could such a deliverance not compel us to "an inescapable relationship of loyalty" to Jesus?
from Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "Do the Ten Commandments have any abiding relevance for Christians and the culture in which we live? Once we understand the relationship between our Lord and His law, this question is easy to answer: Yes, God's law is still binding today! As ABC's Ted Koppel said in his now famous commencement address at Duke University, 'What Moses brought down from Mount Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions ... they are commandments. Are, not were'" (Ryken).

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Exodus 17:8-13


Biblical typology is when people, places, or events provide a prophetic picture of that which is ultimately fulfilled through the person of Christ. Moses was clearly a type of Christ. 

1) Moses leads Israel from its physical bondage, through the waters, and gives them God's law. 
2) Jesus leads His Church out of its spiritual bondage, through baptismal waters, and empowers us to keep God's law.

Still, we must be careful not to over-read Old Testament texts as typological. Most commentators thus caution us against seeing Christ in Exodus 17:8-13. Many notable theologians argue that the scene reflects the importance of prayer, others contend that it is a sign of ministerial leadership, and some believe that it serves as a reminder of how deliverance comes solely from the Lord. 

I confess to falling among a minority who find the work of Christ foreshadowed in the text. 

Moses goes up a hill and when his arms are up - wooden staff in hand - the Israelites gain victory over its foes (the Amalekites). Anyone who tries to hold their hands up for any length of time realize how heavy their arms begin to feel. For that reason, Moses took Aaron and Hur with him, so as to ensure his arms would remain lifted with the staff. 

Jesus went up a hill with the cross-beam. Although the Exodus text says Moses held his arms up whereas Jesus' arms were outstretched, the result is the same. Because Jesus held out His arms at Calvary, the church gains victory over its foes (Satan and sin). Only Christ did not have loved-ones to keep His arms lifted but the nails that were driven through His wrists.

Whether or not you agree with the extent of typology that I embrace from Exodus 17:8-13, Moses certainly embodies here another leadership principle that Jesus Christ personifies.  

No matter how you might choose to interpret the raised staff of Exodus 17:8-13, the people could not gain victory apart from Moses lifting his arms on their behalf.

No matter how you might choose to interpret the events of Calvary, no one can gain victory from sin and death apart from Christ lifted up on his or her behalf.

In light of this, let us learn what I believe is the most important leadership precept there is. The best leaders stand for their people when their people cannot stand on their own. 

Perhaps that is a leadership principle that Paul had in mind when he penned Galatians 6:2. 

Regardless, if you and I truly desire to become a Christian leader, we must consider the model of Moses in Exodus 17:8-13. Better yet, we must follow the example of Jesus Christ as presented to us in John 15:13 and 1 Peter 2:24-25.
     I must stand with and for those whom I lead, especially when they do not feel as though they can stand on their own - be it during times of suffering or illness or loss or spiritual warfare, etc. 


Prayerfully identify ways that you can help stand with and for others amid battlefield seasons of their lives:



from runner-up to Best Devotional Commentary - "Throughout Exodus God was showing little flashes of things to come. There would be a prophet, like Moses, and a warrior who will fight for you, like Joshua, all together in one person: Jesus Christ" (Merida).

from runner-up to Best Academic Commentary - "He took Aaron and Hur with him, not as adjutants to convey his orders to Joshua and the army engaged, but to support him in his own part in connection with the conflict. This was to hold up his hand with the staff of God in it. To understand the meaning of this sign, it must be borne in mind that, although v. 11 merely speaks of the raising and dropping of the hand (in the singular), yet, according to v. 12, both hands were supported by Aaron and Hur, who stood one on either side, so that Moses did not hold up his hands alternately, but grasped the staff with both his hands, and held it up with the two. ...
     The lifting up of the staff of God was, no doubt, a banner to the Israelites of victory over their foes, but not in this sense, that Moses directed the battle as commander-in-chief, for he had transferred the command to Joshua; nor yet in this sense, that he imparted divine powers to the warriors by means of the staff, and so secured victory. To effect this, he would not have lifted it up, but have stretched it out, either over the combatants, or at all events towards them, as in the case of all the other miracles that were performed with the staff. The lifting up of the staff secured to the warriors the strength needed to obtain the victory, from the fact that by means of the staff Moses brought down this strength from above, i.e., from the Almighty God in heaven; not indeed by a merely spiritless and unthinking elevation of the staff, but by the power of his prayer ..." (Keil & Delitzsch).

from runner-up to Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "This story also helps to underscore the lesson the people should have learned from the previous events, that grumbling about Moses and his leadership is not only lacking in trust, it is dangerous. Israel's real enemies should not be from within, for there are plenty on the outside to worry about. The defeat of the Egyptian army at the sea did not end outside hostility toward Israel. Egypt only tried to prevent their departure. Now the Amalekites are poised to prevent their arrival at Sinai and Canaan. If they succeed, the Exodus may just as well have never happened" (Enns).

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Exodus 32:7-14


The last several blog entries have focused on leadership principles that we can learn from the example of Moses. He was by no means a perfect leader, but he reflected a number of principles that we can learn from the Perfect Leader - Jesus Christ.

Exodus 32:7-14 sheds light on two distinct traits of an effective leader. Those characteristics are:
1) Good leaders put the well-being of their people before their own interests.
2) Good leaders pray for their people.

I try not to enter into political discourse too much in my pastoral role except where I think it necessary to uphold the glory of God. I avoid commenting on legislation involving gun control or climate change measures, etc. Nevertheless, I am quick to cry out against political agendas that do not protect the lives of the unborn. Forgive me here, though, as I put forward a personal statement about the landscape of politics in America.

From my vantage point, politicians in the United States could learn a few things about the traits of a good leader as unearthed in Exodus 32:7-14. Notice what God says to Moses in verse 10. Because of the Israelite's faithlessness, the Lord suggests to Moses the prospect of destroying the Hebrew people and starting an entirely new nation through Moses.

In other words, in this moment, Moses could have thought only about himself and the power available to him through his position. Yet, Moses does not abandon his people (Ex. 32:11-13). Instead, he identifies with them (think of his relation to God's covenant) and intercedes for them (think of his calling upon God's promises). 

I fear that a vast number of politicians - in this country as well as in other nations - neither identify with their people nor intercede for them. It's much like what you see in a government shutdown. Many workers throughout the United States are furloughed without pay (some must still go to work unpaid because of the nature of their vocation), but the elected government officials who are collectively responsible for the shutdown still receive their full salary. Does that sound like putting the well-being of constituents before their self-interests?

When we pray for others, however, we empty ourselves before the Lord for their sake rather than our own. In intercessory prayer we stop thinking about our position and our concerns and we start thinking about the position of others and their concerns. It's why good leaders will always be individuals who pray for those whom they lead.  

Still, if God is sovereign and nothing happens outside of God's will, some people might ask why pray at all? 

It seems Exodus 32:14 provides a powerful response to that question. Our prayers play a part in the way that God chooses to bring about His purposes. To state it differently, the Lord of the universe often uses human agency to accomplish His will (cf. Rom. 10:13-15). Can I explain the mystery of how all this works together? No, I cannot. But I affirm that God commands us to pray, that God hears our prayers, and that God uses our prayers. 


Of course, Christ Jesus exhibits these two principles of leadership better than anyone. 

Read Philippians 2:5-8, a text that clearly shows the way Jesus put the well being of His "constituents" before His own interests. He identified with us (cf. Rom. 8:3). Keep in mind that Jesus did not think less of Himself, for He claims His full deity in John 10:30, He just thinks of Himself less. Jesus did not focus on His status or His position; rather, Christ concerned Himself with our status and our position. 

Read John 17, a chapter of scripture that clearly shows why, what, and how Jesus prayed for us. He intercedes for us still (cf. Rom. 8:34). Christ focuses on the well-being of His people instead of Himself by praying for them, even when the excruciating demands of the cross lay before Him. At Calvary, Jesus did not just sacrifice His status for His people, Christ shared His status ("glory") with us.

Identifying with their people and interceding for their people: That's what good leaders do.  


As a leader (in your home or your church or your work place or your community or your nation), list a few practical strategies you can implement in order to begin focusing on the well-being of others before your own position or concerns:



from Best Devotional Commentary - "We are aware that the Lord knows the end from the beginning and that He has not only planned both the beginning and the end but also plotted the course in between. Now, while it is true that He does not change, there is at the heart of His changelessness a 'mystery,' a 'revealed secret,' that the sovereign, unchangeable God accomplishes His purposes through the prayers of His people. For example, the birth of the forerunner of the Messiah was predicted by Malachi four hundred years before it took place and set for a date predetermined in the divine calendar (Mal. 3:1; 4:5-6). Yet when the time came, Gabriel said to Zechariah concerning the birth of John the Baptist, 'Your prayer has been heard' (Luke 1:13). In this way, the fixed purpose was fulfilled because an old and childless couple prayed for a baby Prayer is one of the 'laws of God' by which He runs the world" (Motyer).

from Best Academic Commentary - "In Hebrew the idiom 'I have seen this people' means 'I am fully aware of what this people is like' or 'I know all about this nation.' It does not suggest that God would have to pay special attention to a group in order to know what they were doing. In other words, it does not suggest Him to be less than omniscient as if He hadn't been seeing them at all times. ...
     In saying 'Now leave Me alone' God made a rhetorical demand. He was challenging Moses rather than commanding Him. Moses had no power to stop God from doing anything, so there would have been no need whatever for God to ask permission of Moses to do something through the statement 'leave Me alone.' Rather, it was a rhetorical way of saying to Moses: 'Here is what I will do unless you intervene.' For God to announce to a prophet (Moses being the paradigm for all future prophets) His intention to do something as a way of inviting intercession has many parallels, the most famous perhaps being those of Amos 7:1-6, where God showed Amos things He was planning to do by way of judgment upon Israel and then, in response to Amos' intercession, relented. In that context He was clearly inviting Amos to intercede so that He (God) might relent. ..." (Stuart).

from Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "What God said to Moses was an invitation to intercede, but it was more than an invitation - it was also an examination. God was testing Moses, because in addition to saying that He would destroy everyone back at the camp, God promised to make Moses into a great nation. The prophet would become the new patriarch, a second Abraham, the father of many nations. From then on, the people of God would be known as the 'Mosesties' or 'the children of Moses.'
     It was a tempting offer, and thus a real test of the prophet's character. After all, the Israelites deserved to be punished anyway. And who better to become the father of a new nation than Moses, the man who met with God on the mountain? So this was the test: To save Israel, Moses had to turn down the opportunity to make a name for himself. Would he pray for his people, or would he pursue his own ambitions?
     Moses passed the test. The Bible doesn't say how tempted he was, or even if he was tempted at all. In fact, it seems like he ignored God's offer altogether. Without a moment's hesitation, Moses began pleading for God to save His people. When faced with a dictator's dream, writes Everett Fox, the cloning of an entire nation from himself - he opts for staunchly defending the very people who have already caused him grief through their rebelling, and who will continually do so in the ensuing wanderings. Given the choice between serving himself and saving others, he put others first. This is the mark of a true man of God: He chooses God's greater glory over his own personal good" (Ryken).

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Exodus 18:13-27


I have noticed that when men who serve as President of the United States typically leave the Oval Office, they do so with much more grey hair than when they began service. The weight of leadership is demanding and taxing. 

Faced with making important decision after important decision for a nation, for a state, for a city, or for a congregation, can wear down an individual if he or she is not careful. Moses' father-in-law Jethro immediately observes such a danger when he met Moses in the wilderness near the mountain of God (Ex. 18:5; 17-18). 

The word of Jethro is wise and simple: Moses should delegate some of the responsibilities to other godly, trustworthy individuals (Ex. 18:21-23). That counsel remains important for leaders today.

On an exegetical note, a congregant asked me a difficult question. Why would Moses accept advice from a new convert to Yahweh (Ex. 18:10-12), especially considering the direct communication that Moses had with the Lord thus far? 

The question is not one easily answered, if an answer is even truly possible. Peter Enns points out, "From one perspective, Jethro is returning a favor. In 2:16-20, Moses comes to Jethro's aid by driving away shepherds from the well. Now, Jethro comes to Moses' aid. It is worth noting again that both incidents are accompanied by a meal and both acts of kindness result in making 'shepherding' more effective - for the former the shepherding of a flock, for the latter the shepherding of God's people."

I think Enns may get close to the answer (even though he admits to not knowing why God did not just directly reveal to Moses the need for a division of labor). The biblical text is known for inclusios - for bringing closure to relationships and/or events through thematic and literary developments (Ex. 18:27). In fact, God reveals Himself most frequently to people through human relationships and human events. Although Moses is atypical in this regard because God most frequently shows Himself to him through direct, intimate contact, it does not mean that the Lord would never speak to Moses via other people and/or via circumstances. 

No doubt, too, Moses respects Jethro and the place Jethro holds in his life. Remember that he had asked his father-in-law's permission to return to Egypt in Exodus 4:18. Respect for the counsel of elders in family seems to run through Israel's history (think, for instance, of Naomi and Ruth or Mordecai and Esther, etc.). Plus, although Jethro is definitely a new convert, Moses would have had 40 years before this point to observe the practical wisdom of Jethro. 

Perhaps it is also important to recognize that Moses is in tune to the Lord's counsel whether it comes from a human agent like Jethro or from the direct voice of God. No doubt, Moses was a humble servant. We see such humility in listening so intently to the voice of an elder priest - his father-in-law, no less! (Ex. 18:24)

The difficult exegetical matter aside, the central lesson for us is to recognize that good leaders delegate wisely (Ex. 18:25-26). 

Several benefits emerge from a proper delegation of responsibilities:
1. The leader does not wear him or herself out.
2. The leader enables others to develop and advance their giftedness.
3. The leader ensures that the mission with which he or she has been tasked carries on after he or she is gone.

Such a leadership principle that emerges in Exodus 18 through Jethro's advice to Moses also appears in the New Testament with Christ and then the apostles. 

As to Christ, I suppose we cannot actually say that Jesus did not wear Himself out. In a sense, it was demanding and taxing for Christ just to train His disciples so that He could delegate matters to them (cf. Matt. 8:25-27; 17:15-17). Beyond that, no one could help to carry out His mission of the cross: it was a task of leadership only He could perform, and it cost Him everything.

Yet, Jesus did invest in developing leaders and advancing their giftedness so that they would carry on the message and mission of the Gospel after His resurrection and ascension. And those leaders would further demonstrate the wisdom of delegation.

We see such delegation in Acts 6, when the apostles appointed godly men to help serve the needs of people. We see such delegation in Paul's training of young men like Timothy and Titus, who he instructs to delegate matters to others as well (cf. Titus 1:5).

Good leaders indeed delegate, and such delegation requires traits of trust and humility. Some leaders fear handing over responsibilities because either they do not trust others to handle matters appropriately or they fear how people might perceive them if they are not doing all the heavy lifting. Plus, what if a protege is better at something than the mentor?

In the church, I am convinced that the best senior pastors do not fear shared responsibilities. Conversely, they delegate tasks and work to ensure that individuals are given opportunities to develop their God-given leadership abilities and grow in their spiritual gifts. Such a mindset not only helps to prevent burn-out, but it can even guard a lead pastor from hubris and a spirit of unhealthy control. 


What are some areas in your leadership role that you need to begin to delegate to others for your well-being and for their development:


Friday, February 1, 2019

Exodus 14:10-12, 15:22-24, 16:1-3, 17:1-4


I have a surgery scheduled for Monday (Feb. 4, 2019) to remove some nasal polyps and correct a deviated septum. The doctor explained the process to me, and he went over the risks. Honestly, the risks scare me. 

As a pastor, I have walked alongside individuals going through cancer treatments. I have met to pray with individuals about to go into surgery for a litany of other reasons. In every medical situation - whatever it might be - I read Scripture to and over the individual (sometimes with an entire familial unit) and encourage him/her that "God's got this." 

Yes, I proclaim that to others. Yet, I am frightened for me. Perhaps there's a degree of normalcy to that, especially in light of the age of my children. Nevertheless, it also reflects my lack of faith that "God's got this:" that I can indeed trust His plan for my life.

Let me shift gears now for a moment. I serve as an Associate Pastor in a great church, and I am surrounded by many opportunities to make a difference. But I would be lying if I did not admit to certain frustrations. (I think just about everyone experiences some frustrations in his/her vocational setting). 

If I am not careful I can easily lose track of the blessings and focus more on the frustrations and difficulties. In light of grievances that I might perceive as incredibly justifiable, I find myself grumbling. My grumbling can erupt internally, basically aimed at God, or my grumbling can spill out externally, basically aimed for someone else to hear. 

I wish I could limit my grumblings to my occupation. Alas, I cannot: I find various matters about which to grumble. 

Before you altogether disqualify me from ministerial service, what if I suggested that it's the truthful acknowledgement of my periodic lack of faith and grumbling spirit that helps me lead others effectively during their seasons of faithlessness and murmuring? It seems to me that this is, in fact, a lesson of leadership we learn from Moses. 

In Exodus chapters 14-17 (see also Numbers 14 and 16), time and time again the people grumble against Moses. Often, their grumblings emerge from a lack of faith in God - in both what He has already done and in what He has promised. 

For the most part, Moses is incredibly patient with the disgruntled spirit and complaints over those whom God has given him charge (we witness a measure of his frustration with them in 17:4). I contend that Moses maintains such patience with others because he could identify their temperament in himself.

Return to Exodus 5:22-23. That text reveals Moses' lack of faith and his grumbling spirit. Douglas Stuart rightly observes, "By concluding this prayer with You have not rescued Your people at all, Moses showed what he had actually been thinking: that God's promised deliverance would occur relatively quickly and would not involve setbacks or disappointments. From a literary point of view, Moses was telling this story on himself. That is, writing for the wilderness generation and beyond, Moses included a detail that shows how he himself was unreasonably impatient for God's deliverance."

In other words, Moses wrote down how he had lacked faith in God's plan for his life and how he had grumbled about a grievance that he perceived entirely justifiable - God's failure to act as he expected, when he expected. Therein, I believe, is a crucial lesson in leadership:
     How as leaders are we to best deal with lack of faith and/or persistent grumblings of people? By first identifying those same traits in ourselves. 

To advance this discussion further, we must keep in mind that Moses was a work in progress at the start of the exodus. As he became more intimate with God, his measure of faith grew leaps and bounds and his grumbling spirit disipated significantly. 

So, too, if I am to be an effective leader I must become more intimate with Christ. Only as my intimacy with the Lord grows will my faith flourish and my murmurings diminish. Take a moment to read 1 Corinthians 13:11-12 and Colossians 1:9-14, 2:6-7. 

Even so, let us never forget how we too have walked through seasons of doubt and how we too have grumbled about inconsequential matters in the eyes of the Lord. Such a remembrance will help us to more graciously handle people walking through similar seasons and/or who grumble about various and sundry things - especially when, like in the case of Moses, we are the object of their complaints. 


How can reflecting on times when you have lacked faith and times when you have grumbled at God or at others help you to more graciously handle people who might make things difficult for you:



from Best Devotional Commentary - "The next three narratives - Marah (15:22-26), the provision of manna (16:1-35), and Rephidim (17:1-7) - are linked by the idea of 'testing' or 'proving' (15:24; 16:4; 17:2, 7). The people 'tested' the Lord, and He tested the people, which according to the Bible are two sides of the same thing. At the place named both Massah and Meribah, Psalm 81:7 says, 'I tested you at the waters of Meribah,' whereas Psalm 95:9 says, 'Your fathers tested and tried Me.' Testing God involves putting Him on probation, withholding trust pending evidence. For the Israelites it meant doubting whether He who had proved sufficient in the past was still sufficient, now that things had taken a different turn (17:2-3). There is also an element of challenge to God, demanding that He prove His worth all over again: if, against all probabilities, He gets us out of this mess, then we will consider believing, but in the meantime we will suspend both faith and obedience. For these reasons testing - or in the older translations tempting - God is deeply sinful" (Motyer).

from Best Academic Commentary - (Ex. 15:22-24) "Their question, 'What are we to drink?' was not in itself outrageous or even unfair. Their sin manifested itself rather in their attitude, which is suggested in the statement at the beginning of v. 24, 'So the people grumbled against Moses.' Moses was, of course, God's human representative among them and a likely target for blame. What is noteworthy, however, is that the people were following the pillar of cloud and therefore knew perfectly well that it was Yahweh who had led them to this location. But since Moses was the Lord's spokesman, they expected the answer to their complaint to come from him. The people did not have what they had expected and failed to trust God to provide it. Since the Garden of Eden that has been a formula of disobedience" (Stuart).

from Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - (Ex. 15:22-24) "There are several ways to characterize Israel's sin. The people were forgetful. ... Sure, God had delivered them from Pharaoh, but that was days ago. What had He done for them lately? The Israelites were also selfish. Their primary concern was what God could do for them. They were ungrateful and immature. But their deepest spiritual problem was a lack of faith. The Israelites simply did not believe that God would take care of them. They did not trust in the faithfulness of God.
     This is a strong warning to anyone who has a complaining spirit. Remember, what happened to Israel is an example for God's new Israel, the church. Here the lesson is obvious: '[Do not] grumble, as some did' (1 Corinthians 10:10). It is not a sin for us to bring God our problems. He invites us to talk things over with Him through prayer. What is a sin, however, is to have a complaining spirit that poisons our communion with Christ and thus robs us of the joy of serving God.
     Sadly, grumbling is all too common. We live in a culture based on instant gratification. We do more than try to get what we want - we demand it. So we are always thinking about what we don't have and foolishly thinking that if only we had it, then we would be satisfied. But to do that is to locate the problem on the outside rather than on the inside. The real problem is our own dissatisfaction, the grumbling of a complaining heart.
     Many Christians complain about the little things. We don't like the way a ministry is being handled, or we disagree with something in the worship service, or we have a problem with one of our spiritual leaders. So we grumble" (Ryken).