The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

JANUARY 21

Reading 21

THE PRIESTHOOD Exodus 28–30

“I will consecrate . . . Aaron and his sons to serve Me as priests” (Ex. 29:44). Only the priests in Israel were qualified to make the sacrifices required from those who approached God. The New Testament teaching that every believer is a priest (1 Peter 2:9) makes these chapters dealing with Israel’s priesthood especially significant.

Definition of Key Terms

Priesthood.

Only men from Aaron’s family were permitted to serve as priests. Their function was to present sacrifices to God, to seek God’s guidance for the nation or individuals, to instruct the people in God’s Law, to serve as judges in certain cases, and to serve as guardians of the covenant and of Israel’s sanctuary and sacred treasures. The priests thus were mediators between God and the nation Israel. They represented the people to God by offering sacrifices and incense, by leading worship, and by praying for divine guidance. They also represented God to the people, for the priests instructed Israel in God’s Law, were channels through which God communicated His will, and served as living reminders that God forgives sinning people. Today each Christian is a priest with direct access to God. Each of us can represent others to the Lord in prayer. Each of us can be a channel through whom God’s love and grace reach lost men and women. The high priest. The Old Testament high priest had one duty that set him apart from other members of the priesthood. He and he alone entered the holy of holies on the annual Day of Atonement, carrying sacrificial blood which God promised would cover all the sins of His people (cf. Lev. 16). The New Testament presents Jesus as the true High Priest, who entered heaven itself with His own blood. As our High Priest, Jesus made the one sacrifice of Himself which won all who believe an eternal salvation (Heb. 10:10–14).

Overview

Special garments were prepared for the high priest (28:1–43). Aaron and his sons were to be ordained in an impressive ceremony that lasted seven days (29:1–46). Sacred duties were described, and formulas for sacred oils and incense were recorded (30:1–38).

Understanding the Text

“Make garments for Aaron” Ex. 28:1–43. As high priest, Aaron was provided with distinctive clothing to “give him dignity and honor.” Each item Aaron wore also had symbolic significance. The ephod Ex. 28:6–14. This vestlike outer jacket featured two stones, mounted one on each shoulder. The name of each Israelite tribe was engraved on one of these stones. Whenever Aaron entered the tabernacle, he represented all the people of God. Today Jesus, our High Priest, represents the church before God’s throne. The New Testament says “we have One who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). The breastpiece Ex. 28:15–30. This pouch was attached to the ephod with chains of gold. Twelve precious stones were mounted on it, each with the name of a single tribe. The text says that “whenever Aaron enters the holy place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart.” The symbolism is powerful. Here each tribe, rather than being engraved with others on a stone shoulder tab, is symbolized individually by an expensive gem. Each is worn over the heart. Jesus does more than represent us in heaven. He carries each individual in His heart. Each of us is known and loved. Each of us is precious to our Saviour. The Urim and Thummim Ex. 28:30. The breastpiece was a pouch called the “breastpiece of decision.” It contained two items called Urim and Thummim, which were used by the high priest to discern the will of God. No one knows just how they were used. Perhaps one represented no and the other yes, and they were drawn blindly by the high priest when inquiries were addressed to God. We do know, however, that God used them to communicate His will to Israel. Today our High Priest has sent us His Holy Spirit. We do not know exactly how the Spirit guides or communicates His will to us. But we do know that, when we honestly seek God’s guidance, the Holy Spirit leads us into His will. Robe, tunic, and turban Ex. 28:21–42. The clothing worn by the high priest was made of the finest material and beautifully worked. We not only need to bring God our best. When we serve God faithfully, He gives us His best. “Incense . . . every morning” Ex. 30:1–10. Revelation treats incense as a symbol of the prayers of God’s saints (Rev. 8:3–4). Aaron “must” burn fragrant incense on a golden altar within the tabernacle “every morning.” The image reminds us that daily prayer is a “must” for Christians, not only for our own spiritual benefit but because it is a vital ingredient in worship of God. “Atonement money” Ex. 30:11–16. A half-shekel tax to be collected from each Hebrew male was used for upkeep of the tabernacle. The tax is described as an atonement, or ransom. In the Old Testament all atonement is associated with sacrifice. This is true here as well, for the “service of the tent of tabernacle” implies payment for the sacrificial animals that were required for daily, Sabbath, and special festival offerings. Note that each Israelite paid the same small amount. Rich and poor had the same access to God through sacrifices offered by the priests. “A bronze basin . . . for washing” Ex. 30:17–21. Water in the Old Testament speaks of purification. Priests were never to approach the tabernacle without first washing in the bronze basin. “Take the following” Ex. 30:22–38. The fragrant oils and spices used on worship were compounded according to special formulas. In Old Testament Law, a clear distinction was maintained between the secular and sacred, and sacred things were never to be used for any secular purpose. Anything one sets apart to God is to be fully dedicated to Him.

DEVOTIONAL

Over His Heart (Ex. 29:15–30)

James Dobson suggests in his book Hide or Seek that we must decisively reject the values of a society which dismisses the plain girl and the less intelligent man as having no worth or value. In a society that places so much emphasis on looks, intelligence, athletic achievement, and wealth, the majority grows up with a sense of personal inferiority and even of worthlessness. A low self-image, Dobson says, is the painful product of a society that devalues the individual. But this is society’s view—not God’s. The difference is reflected in God’s design of the high priest’s breastpiece. God specified a different precious stone to represent each tribe in Israel. Each stone bore the name of one person, the forefather who represents the tribe. Each stone was attached with gold filigree to a pouch worn over the heart of the high priest. Each name was carried there, over his heart, into the very presence of the Lord. God views each of us as an individual. Each of us is different, yet each is a precious gem to the Lord. And each of us is close to the heart of Jesus, God’s High Priest. Most of us will be unable to leave our children wealth or riches. But each of us does have an important gift we can give. We can give each of our children a sense of his worth, value, and specialness that reflects God’s values, not the values of our society. First, however, each of us needs to accept the gift God offers us in the symbolism of the jewels worn over the high priest’s heart. The gift of realizing that we are special. Whatever our parents or our society may have implied, we have infinite worth and value to God. We are jewels. And He carries our names close to His heart.

Personal Application

Let any rings or jewels you wear remind you of the high priest’s breastpiece, and of how precious you are in God’s sight.

Quotable

“If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilization, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or civilization, compared with his, is only a moment.”—C.S. Lewis

The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

JANUARY 20

Reading 20

FREEDOM AS A SYMBOL Exodus 24–27

“Then have them build a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8).Someone has observed that it took God 6 days to create the world—and 40 days to give Moses the blueprint for the tabernacle. Much has been written on the symbolic meaning of the tabernacle’s design and materials. But the central theme is this: the portable worship center served as a visible reminder that God dwells among His people.

Overview

The Israelites committed themselves to keeping God’s Law (24:1–8). Moses was instructed to build a portable house of worship, the tabernacle, which would serve as a symbol of God’s presence with Israel (vv. 9–18). The instructions covered materials (25:1–9), furnishings (vv. 10–40), the design of the tent (26:1–37), its courtyard and its altar (27:1–21).

Understanding the Text

“Everything the Lord has said we will do” Ex. 24:1–8. God did not simply impose His Law on Israel. Moses carefully explained what God expected of people who would live in personal relationship with Him (Ex. 20–23; 24:3). Israel’s ratification of the Law marks a change in relationship with God. The people committed themselves to keep God’s commands, and were then fully responsible for their acts. The event also tells us something about God. He carefully, graciously, and thoroughly explained what relationship with Him involved before asking for commitment. “Moses alone is to approach the Lord” Ex. 24:1–18. The chapter conveys a powerful sense of the special relationship Moses had with the Lord. Moses alone approached the Lord. Moses told the people God’s words and laws. Moses wrote down everything the Lord said. Moses supervised the sacrifices to be made to the Lord. Moses called the people of God to full commitment. Moses not only came to the Lord on the mountain, but “stayed there” in God’s presence. It’s amazing to realize that today you and I share privileges then accorded only to Moses. Through Jesus, God invites us to approach Him freely (Heb. 4:16). We too can share the Word of God with others (cf. Acts 8:4). Rather than writing down the Word of God, our hearts are tablets on which God Himself writes (2 Cor. 3:3). We join with others in offering God spiritual sacrifices (Rom. 12:2). We have been commissioned as God’s ambassadors, to reconcile others to our Lord (2 Cor. 5:18–20). In Jesus, God has not only invited us to come to Him, but to abide with and in Him always (John 15:4, 7). Moses was a great man. But you and I have even greater privileges. “Make a sanctuary for Me” Ex. 25:1–27:21. The Old Testament emphasizes the importance of the tabernacle, a portable tent, in Israel’s worship. Exodus takes seven chapters (25–31) to list tabernacle specifications, and then devotes six more to its construction (35–40). The New Testament touches on some of the symbolism, saying that the tabernacle design and use was intended to reflect heavenly realities (cf. Heb. 9–10). Books have been written on the symbolic meaning of the tabernacle furnishings, and of the materials used. Gold is said to represent God’s glory; silver, redemption; and bronze, judgment; while the color blue represents heaven; purple, royalty; and scarlet, sacrifice. However, because the Old Testament does not interpret the symbols, we can’t be sure what the materials really signify. Several significant realities reflected in the tabernacle are: (1) The tabernacle was a visible reminder that God is with His people. (2) The tabernacle had only one door, for there is only one way to approach God (John 14:6). (3) The altar just inside the door of the courtyard showed that a sinner could only approach God by sacrifice. (4) The curtain between the holy front room of the tabernacle and the “holy of holies” inner room was a reminder that human beings did not then have free access to God. When Jesus died, the curtain in the Jerusalem temple was torn from top to bottom, a sign of the free access to God we now enjoy (cf. Heb. 10:8–10). “Each man whose heart prompts him to give” Ex. 25:2. Relationship with God in Old Testament times was far from formal and legalistic. Then as now, true obedience and real worship was a matter of the heart. How significant that all the materials used to construct the tabernacle were provided by people moved by love for God to give spontaneously. God still wants our gifts and service to be expressions of love that are given freely, not acts motivated by fear or a sense of obligation (see 2 Chron. 29:5; 1 Cor. 9:17; 2 Cor. 9:7; 1 Peter 5:2). “Make the tabernacle” Ex. 26:1–37. Moses was told to make the tabernacle and its furnishings “exactly like the pattern I will show you” (25:9). Chapter 26 shows us how detailed God’s instructions were. We may be bored reading passages filled with such “trivia.” Yet they remind us that God is the God of details. What a comfort this is, for it reassures us that God is concerned with every aspect of our lives. “Build an altar” Ex. 27:1–8. A bronze altar was placed just inside the one door that opened into the courtyard around the tabernacle proper. This altar was intended for one purpose—as a site for sacrifice. The flow of Exodus helps us see why the altar was so important. God had freed Israel from slavery. He brought them to Sinai and gave His people a Law to live by. While Law did provide clear standards, it also made those who broke it guilty. And guilt drives a wedge between God and people! Immediately God acted to provide a way for sinners to approach and worship Him. He had Moses construct a tabernacle that symbolized His presence. And there, at its entrance, the Lord had Moses place an altar for sacrifices. Israel would sin, but blood would cover the offerer’s sin and permit him to approach God. The reality symbolized by the altar is Christ’s death on Calvary. Because of Christ’s blood, our sin is gone, and we come to God freely, knowing that forgiveness is ours. God never intended sin to forever isolate human beings from Him.

DEVOTIONAL

Intelligent Commitment (Ex. 24:1–8)

Looking back, Carol realized what had happened. Deep inside she had seemed to hear a voice telling her not to marry Stan. But she had wanted him so much. Ten years later, after a devastating divorce that left her with two preschoolers, Carol was struggling with her pain but growing as a Christian. Then, when it was too late, she realized that the inner voice she heard had been the Holy Spirit, warning her. “But you know,” she says, “back then I didn’t even realize there was a Holy Spirit.” Today Carol teaches a class of divorced women in her local Methodist church. And she’s amazed at how little most of them know about the Bible or life in Christ. I can’t help thinking of Carol and the many other true believers like her when I read these verses. God took such care to have Moses explain exactly what commitment to the Lord would involve. Moses “told the people all the Lord’s words and laws” (v. 3). He then wrote down everything the Lord had said (v. 4). The next morning he got up and “took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people” (v. 7). God invited commitment. But He wanted to make sure that the Israelites understood just what life with Him would involve. It’s true, of course, that people can put their trust in Christ without a deep understanding of the Gospel or of the Bible. But unless we go on to hear all God’s words, to read them over, and the next day to listen again, we will fall far short of that intelligent commitment God desires. Intelligent commitment, featuring a growing understanding of God’s will, would have protected Carol and will guard you and me.

Personal Application

Intelligent commitment means to know and to do the Word of God.

Quotable

“Therefore with mind entire, faith firm, courage undaunted, love thorough, let us be ready for whatever God wills; faithfully keeping His commandments, having innocence in simplicity, peaceableness in love, modesty in lowliness, diligence in ministering, mercifulness in helping the poor, firmness in standing for truth, and sternness in keeping of discipline.”—Bede the Venerable

The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

JANUARY 19

Reading 19

GOD REVEALS HIS LAW Exodus 20–23

“Worship the Lord your God, and His blessing will be upon you” (Ex. 23:25).The rabbis identify 613 laws in Moses’ writings. The 10 basic commandments are stated in Exodus 20. The principles expressed in the Ten Commandments are valid for all persons of all times, for they reflect the moral nature of God.

Definition of Key Terms

Ten Commandments. Protestants, Catholics, and Jews agree there are Ten Commandments. But they do not agree on which 10! Protestants take 20:3 as the first commandment. Catholics group verses 3–6 as the first commandment, and divide verse 17 into 2. Jews understand verse 2 as the first, and also group verses 3–6. Four characteristics. Four characteristics of the Ten Commandments should be noted. (1) Each is stated as an absolute. Other ancient law codes generally listed acts and their consequences—if you do this, then this will happen. We are to follow God’s commandments because they are right, not through fear of punishment. (2) Eight of the 10 are stated as negatives, but each implies a positive. Do not steal clearly calls us to respect others’ property rights. (3) Each is addressed to “you” in the second person singular. God spoke not to all Israel, but to each individual member of the believing community. We cannot guarantee others will obey God’s commands. But we each can be responsible for ourself. (4) Each commandment is relational. The first four show us how to live harmoniously with God. The last six show us how to live harmoniously with other people. We cannot violate God’s commandments without harming our relationship with Him and with others.

Overview

God gave Moses 10 basic commandments revealing how to express love for God (20:1–11) and for other persons (vv. 12–21). Specific laws dealing with altars (vv. 22–26), servants (21:2–11), personal injury (vv. 12–36), and property (22:1–15) followed. Moses also identified heinous sins (vv. 16–31), commanded compassion (23:1–9), rest for land, man, and beast (vv. 10–13), and established three religious festivals (vv. 14–19). God promised to make His people prosper if they worshiped Him only and obeyed His laws (vv. 20–33).

Understanding the Text

“He shall go free” Ex. 21:2–11. Old Testament laws protected individual slaves far more than other law codes of the era, and called for a Hebrew slave to serve no more than six years. Only by a person’s own free choice could he be bound to a master for life. This Old Testament law teaches us that each individual is to be respected, whatever his or her social position. Even the weakest were not to be oppressed, but rather were to be protected. “Held responsible” Ex. 21:12–36. The commandment said, “You shall not murder.” Here the text cites a number of specific examples showing that “You shall not murder” implies, “You shall respect the life and well-being of others.” Persons who intentionally harm others, or even cause others harm by their carelessness, are to be held responsible. Even leaving a pit one digs uncovered, should a person or animal fall into it, creates responsibility (vv. 33–34). More than one doctor who has stopped to help a person injured in an auto accident has later been sued for malpractice. Today many states protect such a person with “Good Samaritan” laws. Yet it’s easy to see why so many today feel, “I don’t want to get involved.” That saying does reflect the spirit of our times. But it does not reflect the Spirit of our God. “Eye for eye” Ex. 23:24. People who cause another serious injury are to be held responsible. But the famous lex talona-the law demanding an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth—is seriously misunderstood. In the biblical world feuds were an ever-present possibility. The principle of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, limits the penalty a person can impose! An injured party, or his angry and bitter family, might well try to extract a life for an eye, or a limb for a tooth! God’s Law fixes responsibility, but at the same time does not permit escalation of a dispute. “Restitution” Ex. 22:1–15. In Scripture, theft or other crimes of property are crimes against the victim. In our legal system, they are crimes against the state. Thus in our legal system the criminal is punished by the state and sent to jail. In the Old Testament legal system social harmony must be restored between the criminal and his victim, and so the criminal pays restitution. These laws remind us that when we’ve hurt or harmed others, it’s not enough to say “I’m sorry.” We have no right to ask forgiveness until the injury has been undone and restitution made. Forgiveness is free. But it is not cheap. Unyielding and compassionate Ex. 22:16–31. The laws in this passage seem almost contradictory. Several bluntly demand the death penalty-for sorcery, beastiality, and idolatry. Others call for the utmost compassion to be shown the widow and the orphan. The needy are to be loaned money at no interest. Anyone who takes a garment as a pledge of repayment must return it at night, so the borrower can use it as a blanket. Are the “harsh” laws of the Old Testament contradictory to the God of “compassion” revealed in other laws and in Jesus? Not at all. Some sins so corrupt a society and lead to so much suffering that it is necessary to take a firm and unyielding position. What’s important is to maintain our sense of balance. Unyieldingness without compassion is wrong, but so is a compassion that fails to require responsibility. Some years ago no one questioned the concept of a medical quarantine. People with a contagious disease were restricted to their homes or to sanatoriums. This “violation of the sick person’s rights” was accepted by all as necessary protection for the society. Yet today people with AIDS, a disease which is always fatal, are treated so carefully that no politician or public health official dares even mention the possibility of quarantine. While Old Testament Law guards the rights of individuals, it never does so at the expense of the community. And it holds individuals responsible for their sins. Liberty and justice for all Ex. 23:1–9. This guarantee in the U.S. Constitution is firmly established in Old Testament Law. Note a few of the principles stated here. “When you give testimony, don’t pervert justice by siding with the crowd.” “Do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.” “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.” “Have nothing to do with a false charge.” Only by treating everyone the same, by being absolutely fair to rich and poor alike, to the famous and unknown, can we reflect the justice as well as the mercy of our God. “The seventh day” Ex. 23:10–13. The only Ten Commandment not repeated in the New Testament as a principle for Christians to live by is the command to keep the seventh day holy. Still, there is much to learn from Old Testament Sabbath laws. One of the lessons is found in these verses. The Sabbath was established for man’s benefit, not for God’s, so that believers “may be refreshed.” We don’t do God a favor by setting aside a day for worship and rest. We do ourselves a favor. “Worship the Lord your God” Ex. 23:20–33. How does the emphasis on worship fit into these chapters on Law? Very simply. Worship is not simply going to church and singing hymns. Worship is putting our faith into practice by loving God and following His commandments. When God gave Moses these laws to share with Israel, He identified them with worship and with success. When we put God first and honor Him with obedience, God gives us a full life.

DEVOTIONAL

God Spoke All These Words(Ex. 20:1–21)

The Ten Commandments are more than laws that Israel was responsible to follow. They express basic principles that human beings of all times are to live by. We can translate each one into a positive guideline by noting that each calls us to show respect for God and for others in simple yet vital ways. Here are the 10 as principles to live by.

1. You shall have no other gods before Me (20:3).Respect God as your one and only Lord.
2. You shall not make an idol (20:4–6).Respect God’s nature and do not trivialize Him.
3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord (20:7).Show respect for God as real and present always.
4. Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy (20:8–11).Show respect for God by setting aside time to worship Him.
5. Honor your father and mother (20:12).Show respect to your parents.
6. You shall not murder (20:13).Show respect for the sanctity of human life.
7. You shall not commit adultery (20:14).Show respect for marriage and members of the opposite sex.
8. You shall not steal (20:15).Show respect for the property of others.
9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor (20:17).Show respect for the truth and for the reputation of others.
10. You shall not covet (20:17).Show ultimate respect for holiness by guarding your motives as well as your actions.

No clearer or more significant guidelines for living have ever been incorporated in any code of law. If we live by them, we will surely please God, and our entire life will become an act of acceptable worship.

Personal Application

Respect for God and others is revealed primarily in the choices we make daily.

Quotable

“Who speaks for God? He does quite nicely for Himself. Through His holy and infallible Word—and the quiet obedience of His servants.”—Chuck Colson

The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

JANUARY 18

Reading 18

GOD’S INTENTIONS Exodus 15:22–19:25

“Although the whole earth is Mine, you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5–6).The Israelites’ discontent and quarreling on the journey toward Sinai demonstrates how far this people was from the holy nation God intended them to become.

Overview

Israel grumbled (15:22–27) and, though God provided meat and manna (16:1–36), the people tested God (17:1–7). Yet God gave a military victory (vv. 8–16), and Moses shared responsibility for settling disputes (18:1–27). They arrived at Sinai, where God displayed His holiness and announced His intention to make this unresponsive people a holy nation (19:1–25).

Understanding the Text

“The people grumbled against Moses” Ex. 15:22–25. The euphoria of the Egyptian defeat quickly disappeared when, three days into the desert, only bitter, alkaline water was found. Moses prayed to God, who showed him how to make the water sweet. The incident established a pattern that was repeated on the journey to Sinai. (1) Something causes dissatisfaction. (2) The people mutter against Moses and God. (3) God responds graciously and provides what the people need or want. (4) Rather than being thankful, the people become more dissatisfied and more rebellious (see also 16:1–12; 17:1–7). Some time ago “permissive” child-rearing was popular. The theory was, let the child do what he wants, and his natural beauty will unfold as the petals of a flower. The only problem was that permissive child-rearing produced selfish, unproductive, and dissatisfied adults, just as the permissiveness that God displayed during the three-month journey to Sinai allowed the Israelites to become more dissatisfied and more rebellious. Grace without responsibility, like love without discipline, doesn’t promote holiness. The behavior of the Israelites on the journey to Sinai shows us why God found it necessary to introduce the Law. The Law, with its clear standards, served to make the Israelites responsible for their actions, and provided God with a basis on which He could discipline when His people did wrong. Today God does deal with us in grace. But He is too wise and too loving to give us everything we want or think we need. God continues to discipline Christians, not to punish but to guide us. Hebrews 12:10 says He “disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” “If you pay attention” Ex. 15:26–27. The principle of reward for obedience introduced here is valid in every age. But the specific promise—that obedience would preserve from disease—was made to Israel rather than you and me. Paul’s experience (2 Cor 12:1–10) shows us that Christians are not guaranteed healing and that God can use physical illness to accomplish spiritual purposes in our lives. “Manna and quail” Ex. 16:1–36. Some suggest that manna was really the excretion of a desert plant, the tamarisk tree, which drops to the ground and hardens into a sweet substance. Manna, however, was the product of a miracle. Enough was produced to feed millions; it was available everywhere the people went for some 40 years; it appeared only six days a week. And, unlike the product of the tamarisk, manna bred worms when kept overnight, melted, was white in color, and could be made into cakes. In Scripture, manna serves as a symbol of God’s provision. The Lord knows our basic needs and He acts to meet them. “Each one gathered as much as he needed” Ex. 16:18. It is significant that manna did not appear in the pot, but on the ground, where people had to gather it. God provides, but He expects us to work for what we get. It’s significant that manna appeared daily. Jesus taught His disciples to petition God for their “daily” bread. God meets our needs day by day, so that we will continue to depend on Him. If God put $10 million in our bank accounts, we would have “lifelong” bread, and would have no need to look to the Lord daily. Jesus wants His disciples to remain dependent on God, so we will seek Him daily and nurture our relationship with the Lord daily. “Put the Lord to the test” Ex. 17:1–7. God’s presence was visible to Israel in the cloudy-fiery pillar that led them, and in the manna that appeared daily. Yet when the people camped where there was no water, they accused Moses of trying to kill them and were “almost ready to stone” him. God provided water. But Moses gave the name Massah (“testing”) to that place because the people questioned whether God was with them or not. When troubles come, it’s natural to wonder where God is. But we must guard against the unbelief displayed by Israel at Massah. How? By making it a practice to rehearse all the good things God has done and is doing for us. Rather than focus on the problem, we need to focus our attention on the Lord. “Now I know” Ex. 18:1–12. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came to Sinai to meet Moses. When Moses told him what the Lord had done in Egypt, and how the Lord had saved Israel on their journey to Sinai, Jethro praised God and said, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods.” Sitting with friends or relatives and simply telling what God has done in our lives is still the best way to share the Lord with others. “If . . . God so commands” Ex. 18:13–27. Jethro advised Moses to distribute responsibility for settling any disputes that arose. But Jethro was careful to recognize God’s lordship when giving his advice. He expected Moses to check with the Lord to confirm the wisdom of what he said. We need to have this attitude when giving or receiving advice. However wise we feel our advice may be, it’s important to urge others to bring that advice to God before acting on it. And when we are given advice, no matter how good, we need to seek confirmation from God before we act. “You cannot handle it alone” Ex. 18:17–27. This chapter is often cited as evidence for “organization” in the church. It’s better to see it as a word to workaholics. One of the most popular speakers on Christian radio in the ’80s is a workaholic, bringing home not briefcases but boxes of work to do on weekends and holidays. He urges listeners to give priority to their families, but his ministry has crowded his own family out of his life. Like Moses, he needs to be reminded that there are “capable men” who “fear God” and are “trustworthy” nearby. Delegating responsibility today as in Old Testament times is not only wise, it is right. “In front of the mountain” Ex. 19:1–25. God’s display of power at Mount Sinai is later described as a “consuming fire on top of the mountain” (24:17). It was intended to inspire awe and fear, and to communicate something of the holiness of Israel’s God. Only Moses would go up into the thunder and constantly flashing lightning that shrouded the mountaintop. Hebrews 12:18 describes the mountain as “burning with fire . . . [a vision of] darkness, gloom, and storm.” It was so terrifying that even Moses said, “I am trembling with fear” (v. 21). While Christians come directly to God through a loving Christ, something important about the nature of God was communicated at Sinai. Hebrews reminds us that we are to “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (vv. 28–29).

DEVOTIONAL

My Treasured Possession (Ex. 19:3–6)

It’s all too easy in reading these chapters to focus on the obvious flaws in Israel’s character. The people were ungrateful. They were rebellious. They were mean-spirited and hostile. They were selfish and petty. Perhaps a good way to sum it up is that they were the kind of folks who, if you had them as neighbors, would make you want to put your house up for sale. Yesterday. Yet God delivered this people from Egypt and “brought you to Myself” (v. 4). God even says that He chose this people, “out of all nations,” to be His treasured possession. The Hebrew word here is significant. Segullah means “valued property,” “personal possession,” or “private treasure.” God looked over the whole earth, and selected Israel to “be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (v. 6). These few verses remind us of wonderful things about our God. Like the diamond miner who picks up a rough and dull stone and shouts with delight, God delights in unlovely people. He knows what precious gems, through His shaping and polishing, sinners can become. It’s hard for you and me to have this delight in unlovely people. We tend to see only the rough spots, the dull and lifeless form. When we find ourselves placed next to people who are like members of the Exodus generation, we want to get up and move. What we need to do is ask God to share His perspective with us. We need to see in the least lovely, someone who can be God’s own treasured possession. Someone whom God can transform and make beautiful. Someone who can join God’s kingdom of priests and become a holy citizen of the holy nation He intends to create.

Personal Application

The first step in developing God’s perspective is to pray daily for unlovely others.

Quotable

Since I dislike you, how can I then fulfill the law of love? Your speech, your ways, your very image in my eye, These all revolt me . . . (and it is little help that I am sure you care no whit the more for me!) Thus battle head and heart, the one rever berant with pique, The other incandescent in the light of love. But both, I think, must surely be of God, and so an acrid lesson says That head must love whom heart insists it cannot like. God help me try!-Samuel J. Miller

The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

JANUARY 17

Reading 17

GOD’S VICTORY

Exodus 12:1–15:21 “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today” Ex. 14:13.

The great celebration of Passover calls every Jewish family together to participate in an annual reminder of the deliverance God brought their forefathers in Egypt. The story told in these chapters portrays God’s final victory over the gods of Egypt, Israel’s passage through the Red Sea, and Israel’s song of praise.

Definition of Key Terms

Passover.

Passover is (1) a historic event, and (2) an annual Jewish festival commemorating the event. On the first Passover, a lamb, which had been taken into the home for three days, was killed and its blood was sprinkled outside on the doorposts. The meat was roasted and the lamb was eaten by the family the night God took the lives of Egypt’s firstborn. The highlight of the annual festival is a commemorative meal shared by members of a Jewish household. Eating this meal was to be “a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants” (Ex. 12:24). The purpose of the meal is to enable all generations to participate in what God did for their forefathers. In a real way, that first Passover won freedom from slavery not just for one generation of Jews, but for all generations to follow. Deuteronomy 16:2, 5–7 establishes Passover as a national as well as a family celebration, to be marked by an entire week of sacrifice and public rejoicing. The meal that Jesus shared with His disciples the evening before His crucifixion was Passover (cf. Matt. 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 13:1). The writers of the epistles see the Passover lamb as a symbol of Jesus, who was “sacrificed for us” and whose blood frees us from bondage to sin and death (cf. John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7).

Overview

Lambs’ blood on the Israelites’ doorframes protected them the night God took the life of every firstborn in Egypt (12:1–30). The next morning God’s people left the land of their captivity (vv. 31–51). Israel’s firstborn were set aside for God in honor of the Exodus deliverance (13:1–16). Israel passed safely through the Red Sea (v. 17–14:31), and Miriam led the women in singing a song of praise to God for His commitment to His people (15:1–21). Yet within three days the Israelites questioned God’s commitment to them (vv. 22–27).

Understanding the Text

For the generations to come you shall celebrate it” Ex. 12:1–30. Passover is the first of several annual religious festivals ordained by God. Passover is Israel’s celebration of freedom: a yearly reminder of the God who exercised His power to tear a slave people from the grip of oppressive masters. It’s not enough to think now and then of what God has done for us. We need to set aside regular times to remember. Celebrating God’s work in and for us is as important now as celebrating Passover was for the Jewish people. “Unleavened bread” Ex. 12:17. This is bread which has not had an opportunity to rise. No leaven or other fermenting agent is permitted in unleavened bread. Modern Jews use the cracker-like matzos during the week-long Passover festival. The bread, like the Passover meal, serves as a reminder, for the Israelites left Egypt in such a hurry that there was no time to let bread rise. “Hurry and leave” Ex. 12:31–51. When Pharaoh realized that all Egypt’s firstborn had been struck dead, he urged the Hebrews to leave. The general population was so eager to have them depart that they “loaned” Israel whatever gold or silver or clothing they asked for. There would be nothing to spend such wealth on in the desert. But later the people of Israel donated much of this wealth to be used in making the tabernacle, Israel’s portable house of worship. “Consecrate to Me every firstborn male” Ex. 13:1. The celebration of freedom is closely linked with a fresh sense of Israel’s obligation. Because God spared Israel’s firstborn, all future firstborn would belong to Him! You and I are given a freedom won at the cost of Christ’s blood. It is appropriate that, since He gave Himself for us, we should give ourselves to Him. When we remember what God has done for us, we are motivated to ask what we can do for God. It is important never to invert this order. We try to please God in order to obligate Him to us. Instead we are already obligated to Him for our salvation! Good can express love for the God who has saved us, but can never serve as a bribe to win God’s favor. “A pillar of fire” Ex. 14:1–31. God supernaturally guided Israel through the appearance of a cloudy-fiery pillar that either moved ahead of them or stood waiting over the camp. The Israelites had a clear, visible, and unmistakable indication of what God wanted them to do. Despite such a clear indication, the Israelites were terrified when the pillar led them into what appeared to be a trap on the edge of a large body of water. (No one is sure what that body of water was, as the Hebrew reads yom suph, generally understood as “reed sea.”) Desperate circumstances led Moses to reassure Israel. He called on them to stand firm and watch to see what the Lord would do. We may find ourselves in desperate circumstances at times. When we do, we too need to stand firm, and expect God to act. Moses’ faith was not displaced. The waters which parted to let Israel through rolled over the Egyptian army, killing every soldier. Circumstances need not create fear, or even make us waver. Certainly no circumstances should cause panic as long as we have sought and tried to follow God’s leading. He remains able to make us a path through the sea. “Who among the gods is like You, O Lord?” Ex. 15:11 The deliverance stimulated Moses to write a song. The song, which reviewed what God had done, was intended as a teaching tool and instrument of praise. Music can serve us in much the same way. The tune of a familiar hymn, or its words recalled during a difficult day, remind us of God’s presence and His power.

DEVOTIONAL

Celebrate with Song(Ex. 15:1–16)

Our nine-year-old, Sarah, is already picking up the tunes and words of popular music. We have to be careful about the artists she listens to and the words she hears. Somehow thoughts set to music find their way easily into the heart and mind. That’s one reason why we’re so pleased Sarah is in the children’s choir at church. She sings the music she’s learning there around our house, and the words of Christian songs too are finding a home in her heart. The song that Moses wrote, recorded here in this passage, picks up three aspects of the kind of music we should choose to hear. Moses’ song celebrates what God has done. We see this theme in verses 1–10. Like a warrior, majestic in his power, God acted to hurl Pharaoh’s chariots and army into the sea. Moses’ song celebrates who God is. We see this in verse 11. God is majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders. Moses’ song celebrates what God will do for His believing people. This God who has worked so powerfully in the past will “lead the people You have redeemed.” He will continue to use His power until “You bring them in and plant them on the mountain of Your inheritance.” You and I can decide to fill our homes and our thoughts with tunes that celebrate what God has done, who He is, and what He will surely do for us. This is one of the most important things we can do for our children as well as for our own spiritual growth and peace of mind.

Personal Application

Check out the Christian music available in your local Christian bookstore.

Quotable

“If anyone would tell you the shortest, surest way to all happiness and all perfection, he must tell you to make a rule to yourself to thank and praise God for everything that happens to you. It is certain that whatever seeming calamity happens to you, if you thank and praise God for it, you turn it into a blessing. If you could work miracles, therefore, you could not do more for yourself than by this thankful spirit. It heals and turns all that it touches into happiness.”—William Law

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