An old house sat near a creek that was a subsidiary of the mighty Mississippi River. For many years, since the early part of the 20th century, the plain once prone to floods was spared by a levy system built after the Second World War. The house was built on a raised area of that plain, and had survived numerous storms in the decades that followed the building of the levy system – completely unharmed by nature’s forces. This time was different…
It was the Spring of 1991, and the rains had been particularly heavy, stressing the levy system beyond its normal tolerances. For the owners of one little house, it started as just a trickle of water, seeping through the lower cracks in the foundation walls of the house. The occupants of the house noticed as the swollen stream crept over the embankment out back and the level of the water eventually reached above the sills of the small three-paned venting side windows of the basement, pushing through every crack and filling up the basement with water. As the water pushed in around the wood frames, cartons and plastic bags began floating about in the small pond that was once the basement floor… one foot, two feet. Pilots lights were snuffed out on the gas hot water heater and the furnace. A loud “POP” sounded as the power shut down to the house. The people inside scurried about gathering belongings in an attempt to rescue what they could…. But it was all for nothing. Moving fast, the water pushed up the stairs, as the family retreated into the attic, shoving a few boxes of picture albums and fine silver onto the ledge of the roof. The water began to push up through the floor boards and into all the living space. At the very same time, the water of the stream, now entirely surrounding the home, began to press like a flattened fountains through every crack in the house. In what seemed like moments, the rooms went from dry to filled with water.
“Cracks” and “pops” could be heard as the old house shuddered against the pressure of the flow of water buffeting the north side of the house. Several large limbs, swept along by the flow, crashed into the side of the house. With each, the frame shook. The house moaned and murmured as if gasping for air and struggling to cling to its block foundation. By now, the small family had punched a hole in the roof and moved onto the top peak of the house. Rescue teams were making their way to save families that were unaware of the levy break and this family could only hope they would arrive in time. When the helicopter spotted them atop the house, the pilot knew the house was minutes from collapse… because houses were not made to withstand that kind of pressure. Rooms that were normally filled with sweet, fresh country air would not hold up to the crushing weight of swampy water.
Seeing a room filled with water is unnatural, and in a case like a sudden overflow flood, even scary. Living rooms weren’t designed to become fishing ponds, and since the Fall of man nature hasn’t been a consistent friend to man. It is powerful, because the God that created it is powerful. It can be punishing, as if fighting us from trying to subdue the landscape around us. Unleashed and uncontrolled, it can be devastating. In the face of it, one feels the “smallness” of man – our inherent vulnerability and the limits of our intelligence and power. All that can be seen by rooms filled by a river.
I mention the awesome view of that day because of another scene of a room filled with a powerful and unnatural flow that rightly made men feel small. Tucked in the very end of the Book of Exodus, but still only a small portion of the way through the desert experience with God, there is a story of the day God filled the tent of meeting with His manifest presence – His glory. It was a day of celebration, and a day well prepared for – but it was not a day that men controlled. God showed up at the door, and when God makes an entrance into the room – it is unmistakable. His power created nature. His might flung the stars into place. No room contains Him, and His mighty presence forces man to feel tiny and undone. The hard truth is that God didn’t show Himself in these powerful manifest ways on a whim– these were carefully planned events that had specific settings. If you think we stage the arrival of a President – you haven’t seen anything yet!
Key Principle: There are special times when God’s moves are obvious and powerful – but they are not haphazard – they are prepared and planned.
Before we seek to understand the conditions of God’s manifest presence, can I ask you something? Don’t you WANT God to do that in some place where you are in your life. Don’t you really, honestly, want to see His power so profoundly moving on your life, your family, your church, your community, your country, your Congress, your company – that NO ONE who stands near can attribute the marvelous presence to anything but a GOD THING in your midst?
It happened many times before. If you went back to 1620 and read of the Pilgrim diaries of William Bradford, Edward Winslow, Robert Cushman, John Robinson you would see one of the times when men huddled in prayer and saw God’s hand. The diary called Mourt’s Relation reflects death and hardship, but commitment to Jesus Christ and His message – and the power of God that flowed in the lives of the early arrivers. That story is largely snuffed out of our secular dominated histories of the day – but the primary sources are stubborn, and they reflect statements of the earliest arrivers like this one from William Bradford:
“May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: “Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversity, etc. Let them therefore praise the Lord, because he is good, and his mercies endure forever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry, and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord his loving kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men.”
Bradford argued: “Don’t let future generations of Americans celebrate their founding fathers strength – tell them, tell them that these ordinary souls were famished and nearly defeated – and it was the hand of God, the provision of His power that saved them!
That should lead us to a foundational understanding of one truth: Even if God shows up and saves dramatically people, the story will be adjusted in time to the heroics of men. God will eventually be marginalized in the story, and the men that experienced Him will be elevates.
Moses experienced that. He became a mythical “super Jew” to many – but that is NOT his true story anymore than the tales of “mighty self dependent and faithless Pilgrims”. The stories that pass for history in many a classroom now are the myths – for the TRUTH we must go back to the primary source material. For the Pilgrims it was the diaries of the journey. For Moses it was Exodus and Numbers.
Look at Exodus 40, and you will quickly understand that God made an entrance according to a very specific set of five parameters He declared in advance. God set the terms of His arrival. The five conditions were these:
1: God made the CALENDAR – the TIMING of the events were in His hand.
Exodus 40:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “On the first day of the first month you shall set up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting.
2: God chose the STAGE – the BACKDROP of the events were His choice.
Exodus 40:3 “You shall place the ark of the testimony there, and you shall screen the ark with the veil. 4 “You shall bring in the table and arrange what belongs on it; and you shall bring in the lampstand and mount its lamps. 5 “Moreover, you shall set the gold altar of incense before the ark of the testimony, and set up the veil for the doorway to the tabernacle. 6 “You shall set the altar of burnt offering in front of the doorway of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. 7 “You shall set the laver between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it. 8 “You shall set up the court all around and hang up the veil for the gateway of the court.
3: God picked the CEREMONY – the SPECIFIC OCCASION of the events were specified.
Exodus 40:9 “Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and shall consecrate it and all its furnishings; and it shall be holy. 10 “You shall anoint the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and consecrate the altar, and the altar shall be most holy. 11 “You shall anoint the laver and its stand, and consecrate it.
4: God picked the CONDITION – the PREPARATION of the men in the scene was commanded.
Exodus 40:12 “Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the doorway of the tent of meeting and wash them with water.
5: God picked the COSTUMES – the ENTIRE APPEARANCE of the men in the scene was carefully planned.
Exodus 40:13 “You shall put the holy garments on Aaron and anoint him and consecrate him, that he may minister as a priest to Me. 14 “You shall bring his sons and put tunics on them; 15 and you shall anoint them even as you have anointed their father, that they may minister as priests to Me; and their anointing will qualify them for a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.”
It is absolutely clear from the reading of the first fifteen verses that God staged His arrival by sending ahead full instructions of what He wanted to ready men to experience His manifest presence. That is CRITICAL to see if we WANT to experience that in our own lives. Don’t forget, God was already IN THEIR LIVES, just as He is already in ours. This isn’t about getting God to pay attention to us – this is about a powerful manifestation of God in our lives.
- This is about falling to our knees over the broken homes of our community and asking God to heal the wounded hearts of those who need Him to powerfully do a work.
- This is about crying out to God on behalf of a government that is now forcing those of us who believe that abortion is murder to begin to pay for the procedure.
- This is about pleading with God on behalf of the darkness of Islam that has covered over a third of the earth with a stirring caldron of anger and bitterness – that can flash out of control with an offense at all.
- This is about weeping before God’s throne for a nation hell bent on removing God from every public center until planes crash into buildings, and then in hypocrisy praying on the capitol steps and singing the request: “God bless America.”
This is about God showing up because His people took Him seriously and looked thoughtfully at the place they prepared for His coming.
- Don’t ask God to come into your home and deal with your wayward teen while you are hiding pornography on your hard drive.
- Don’t expect God’s hand to heal your economy when you have decided to borrow and not repay, to promise and not fulfill. Excuses are the seed bed of rejection of God’s principles.
Instead, ask what God WANTS to stage a mighty entrance of manifest presence in your life! Don’t just assume that the problem is on GOD’S SIDE. He may be willing, but you may NOT TRULY be willing to do what is necessary to have Him perform an incredible work.
One caveat: God can decide to do a work at any time. He doesn’t NEED us to do anything for His power to mightily change situations. MANY are the times when God has dramatically worked and NO ONE was asking Him to work that we can discern from the record. I am NOT limiting what God CAN do, I am suggesting that His Word provides a pattern of WHAT HE CARES ABOUT in preparing the room for His work! Let me say it in clear and unmistakable questions:
- Are you ready to so desire and long for God’s work in you and through you so much that you will take out a calendar and seek God for a special time in the days ahead where you will ASK HIM to move on your life? That’s the pattern from Exodus 40:1-2.
- Are you ready to then begin to prepare by staging your life in a way that everything you are saying, everything you are watching, every hunger you are feeding is ALL yielded and appropriate for God’s arrival? That is the pattern of Exodus 40:3-8.
- Are you ready to take your TV, your computer, your cell phone, your couch, your car, your clothing and scour them to be clean for every good purpose? Will you delete from your life the books that are tainted, the movies that cling to a flesh feeding frenzy, the songs that call for your old man to emerge and be heard? That is the pattern of consecration in 40:9-11.
- Are you ready to get clean yourself. Are you willing to place yourself in the position of Divine inspection so that God can challenge every thought, every relationship, every desire – and wash it with His right ways? That is the pattern of the cleansing of 40:12.
- Are you willing to set aside all the clothing and settings of your personal life that once were a part of your old way? Are you willing to check your tongue for words that are true and clean and encouraging? That is the pattern of the costume fitting in Exodus 40:13-15.
These may be the real reasons you have felt God wasn’t moving powerfully in your life. God is willing to powerfully work, His Word is FULL of places where that happened. Could it be that an occasional nod to His Word is insufficient for a powerful move in your life?
Let’s look at three ways Moses RESPONSED to God’s direction:
First, Moses OBEYED at the SPECIFIED TIME – he did what God said WHEN God said it.
Exodus 40:16 Thus Moses did; according to all that the LORD had commanded him, so he did. 17 Now in the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected.
Second, Moses OBEYED in the SETTING – he arranged and assembled everything as God directed.
He used everything God told him to use, and nothing BUT what God told him to use.
He set up the place of meeting: Exodus 40:18 Moses erected the tabernacle and laid its sockets, and set up its boards, and inserted its bars and erected its pillars. 19 He spread the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering of the tent on top of it, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 20 Then he took the testimony and put it into the ark, and attached the poles to the ark, and put the mercy seat on top of the ark. 21 He brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up a veil for the screen, and screened off the ark of the testimony, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.
He arranged each piece as God commanded: Exodus 40:22 Then he put the table in the tent of meeting on the north side of the tabernacle, outside the veil. 23 He set the arrangement of bread in order on it before the LORD, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 24 Then he placed the lampstand in the tent of meeting, opposite the table, on the south side of the tabernacle. 25 He lighted the lamps before the LORD, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 26 Then he placed the gold altar in the tent of meeting in front of the veil; 27 and he burned fragrant incense on it, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 28 Then he set up the veil for the doorway of the tabernacle. 29 He set the altar of burnt offering before the doorway of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and offered on it the burnt offering and the meal offering, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 30 He placed the laver between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it for washing.
Third, Moses OBEYED concerning the CONDITIONS – he washed everything completely in preparation for the arrival of God’s powerful manifest presence.
Exodus 40:31 From it Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet. 32 When they entered the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 33 He erected the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the veil for the gateway of the court. Thus Moses finished the work.
The GLORY fell on the “Tent of Meeting” when the specific details of the OBEDIENT WORK were carefully completed. It is as though God tested Moses’ willingness to surrender BEFORE God showed Moses the benefits of that surrender. The MOST IMPORTANT commitments of our life ACTUALLY WORK that way: If a man promises his wife he’ll be faithful to her 364 days each year, but on one day each year he’ll visit another woman – is that faithfulness? He claims he is mostly faithful, but what is he really? Nearly faithful is unfaithful. Nearly pure is impure. Nearly responsible is irresponsible.
Do not the benefits of faithfulness normally follow the actions of faithfulness? Promises made in a church are not the same as faithfulness lived outside its four walls. That is true of our marriage commitments, but it is also true of our other commitments to God. If we want His powerful presence evident in our lives, we will want to strive for obedience and keep short accounts for the sweet smell of His cleansing of our failures. The only requirement God has for cleansing is man’s willingness to let Him do it. The only requirement God has for His powerful work is man’s preparation by opening his heart and submitting obediently to God’s staging in his life. We have as much of God as we choose to have – and we allow His work through us as much as we are willing to allow Him to take control from us.
We live in strange days, where men and women profess to know Jesus but desire to live as those who do not. They want to read the same books, watch the same movies, laugh at the same jokes, revel in the same parties – but somehow still share an intimacy with God. I am not calling for legalism and its lists – I am strongly urging us to understand that relationships have rules, and intimacy can be destroyed by willful disregard for them. We cannot want God to show up at specific intervals and deliver us from excessive lives and pagan choices as a plan for our lives.
It is the prayer of the young woman as she stares at a pregnancy test begging God to have it be negative, because she is outside of a marriage. Let me ask you this: Is this a good strategy to use in your walk with God? Should you decide to do in your life things He has told you NOT to do, but then beg Him to show up and fix the RESULTS of those choices? I am not saying he won’t – I have seen Him in mercy do it for me, and do it for some of those I minister amidst. I am just saying that is a dangerous and unbiblical way of thinking.
We have seen that God knows what He wants to set the scene for His powerful work. We have seen that Moses DID WELL to get ready in obedience for God’s work. Here now, is the FUN PART.
God SHOWED UP
Exodus 40:34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Notice that God’s presence wasn’t a CLEAR VIEW but a CLOUD – you do not ever get to truly understand WHO God is and WHAT God is like. You see the fuzzy edge- but this side of Heaven you don’t get a clear view. God works in the physical world in ways that are CLEARLY HIM, but outside of the constraints of the hard lines that define any exacting edge of identity. We cannot shape God. We cannot limit God. We cannot define Him into any category – He is beyond human comprehension. We do NOT understand all His ways. His shape is like a cloud to us.
Yet, from the cloud the manifest presence of God is WEIGHTY – one of the meanings of “kavod” or glory. When God moves He leaves an impression. Evidence of His touch is obvious. The maker of every color, every texture, every flavor, every shape – is NOT subtle in His approach. He doesn’t SLIP into the room – He comes in POWER, He comes with ANNOUNCEMENT, He comes in MAJESTY. Even the baby in a manger was surrounded by the announcing Heavenly Host over Bethlehem, as they stood guard over the child Savior.
Men on distant hills had no idea that God was showing up in that tent. Midianites may have been doing laundry that day. Egyptians carried on as though nothing unusual was taking place – because they were far from God’s appearance, and didn’t observe His entry into the Israelite camp. God showed up for those who planned for His coming, and sought His presence.
Should we do less? I love the story of the day God showed His glory, because I want to see it happen again. We hunger for God’s manifest presence in our lives. We hunger to show peace and stability in a deteriorating world. We long to stand firm in truth while lies fall like acid rain about us. We want to smell of the sweetness of the presence of the Holy One and have His goodness noticed amid the stench of a fallen world run amuck. Though God’s presence is within us, and ever available empowering is ours –that is NOT what I am talking about. I am speaking about the rare times – the times when God’s presence cuts through the veil from the spiritual world into the physical world and leaves a mark of His powerful hand. I am talking about when the miracle becomes so obvious that Divine fingerprints are left on everyone and everything in the room.
Moses had several experiences with the glory of God that were like this. He was so thoroughly exasperated with the people’s sin before the golden calf in Exodus 32 that he cried out in despair to see God’s manifest presence in Exodus 33 – and God showed up. Stuck in the cleft of the rock, God showed His hinder parts. We recalled the scene in our study of those verses lessons ago.
We saw it clearly once again: God meets men who want to meet Him. He moves toward those who move toward Him! Moses had a heart to KNOW God, to walk in daily intimacy with God. You cannot read these words any other way: Exodus 33:17 The LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” 19 And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” 21 Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 “Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”
It wasn’t the persuasiveness of Moses’ words, but the sincerity of Moses’ heart that drew God’s response. That is ALWAYS how it is. When God saw a hungry heart to KNOW HIM, to be SEIZED BY HIM, to REFLECT HIM…God didn’t leave Moses hungering – because that just isn’t His way.
Jesus said that He was seeking those “who hungered and thirsted after righteousness” – but that wasn’t the END POINT – it was merely the ENTRANCE EXAM. The Sermon on the Mount wasn’t about completing the course of discipleship – it was about admission to the school that allows one to be trained by the Master! We may BEGIN by seeking right choices and behaviors – but that isn’t our final destination. We aren’t a faith that is all about performance. Many people can live moral lives – and yet they will not end in the Master’s arms. The heartbeat of God is about relationship. We find our real rest, our supreme peace, in truly seeking HIM. It is in HIS ARMS we are finally satisfied. It is in the smile of His approval that we find joy. Christianity is NOT about falling in love with the rules in order to control our lives and those around us. It is not a dictation of rules in order to somehow smother the effects of Eden’s woes. Our walk with God, our real faith is about the gentle submission to our Father’s will, deliberately offered to bring Him joy – because we love Him so. Nothing is as powerful as the tight hug of the Creator when we KNOW we have shed our selfishness in some area of sin and have been gathered in His embrace.
If we hunger for Him – He meets us where we stand. John Piper said it well: ‘The weakness of our hunger for God is not because he is unsavory, but because we “keep ourselves stuffed with other things”’.
I have said it before, but in bears repeating…Brothers and sisters, when we are not hungry, we do not seek Him. When we do not seek Him, we do not hear His mighty by gentle voice say:
- I will come with you this week. You are favored and loved by Me.
- I know your name, your trials, your pains, your uncertainties – and you can lean on Me.
- I recognize the size of your journey and the strains it has placed upon you – and I will sit with you. I will smile at you.
- I feel your awkwardness as you move through the room. Come! There is a place beside Me.
You will never open your heart to God, and have Him leave you standing there wanting. His Word is clear: “Draw near to Me, and I will draw near to you!” (cp. James 4:8).
There is another text where God came in manifest presence to His people, in a very similar way to the one in Exodus 40, and that was at the ending of the placing the ark in the midst of the First Temple, erected by Solomon and his men:
2 Chronicles 5:11 When the priests came forth from the holy place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without regard to divisions), 12 and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and their sons and kinsmen, clothed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps and lyres, standing east of the altar, and with them one hundred and twenty priests blowing trumpets 13 in unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves heard with one voice to praise and to glorify the LORD, and when they lifted up their voice accompanied by trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and when they praised the LORD saying, “He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting,” then the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, 14so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God.
I point this other incident out to remind you that another element is linked with God’s presentation of Himself in glory – and that is praise. Complaining lips don’t draw God into the scene – praising lips do. Whining is the way to get God to show up – celebrating His goodness is. It does not matter the circumstance, the very breath we breathe is God’s current gift to us. We were MADE to exalt Him. We are made to know Him and declare His mighty deeds and loving acts before the cosmos. He will pay attention, He always does.
Now here is the excellent news for those who prepare, obey, and see the powerful manifestation of God’s glory – He doesn’t leave in an instant… He continues to LEAD His people.
God LED THE PEOPLE
Exodus 40:36 Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; 37 but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. 38 For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.
Will God lead you as He did in days of old? That is not a serious question. Isaiah recorded God’s declaration to walk with us:
Isaiah 57:15 “For thus says the high and exalted One, Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit…”
The real question is NOT will God walk with ME, but will I walk with HIM? There are special times when God’s moves are obvious and powerful – but they are not haphazard – they are prepared and planned. Are you willing to do what it takes to have God powerfully manifest Himself in your life?
When I was young, my parents had a house full of kids, and a limited budget. I remember a time, though my concept of how long it was is probably inaccurate, that we didn’t have a television. The old one had broken and we didn’t have the money at that time for a replacement. I recall the short-lived joy we shared when my grandmother gave the money for us to buy a little black and white set to put on a table top in the place of the old set. I thought having a TV was great, but I couldn’t really understand the value of watching football on a TV set that was so very small and without any color. The problem was that in those days, the TV broadcasters loved to show the whole stadium from above, or show a long shot of an action play. When you have under 13” of diagonal viewing space, and that real estate on the screen is a palor of colorless grey- things are going to be difficult to see. Add to that, when it is being viewed by a room full of people so that you cannot get within ten feet of the set – and what you have is a hopelessly bad viewing experience. You can’t tell where the ball is. You can’t tell who has it. If you could, you couldn’t tell what they were doing with it.
The ONLY hope you could possibly have of trying to follow the game was found in paying some attention to the depth of the grey on the uniforms worn by each of the teams, and recalling which side of the field was which team. In those long bygone days I was (and I cannot emphasize the WAS more) – a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Remember, I was but a child – unaccustomed to the nuances of the game, like playing fair, etc. I would look at the beginning of the game to see who was wearing the LIGHTER grey uniform, and who was wearing the DARKER grey uniform – and that is how I would be able to figure out which team had possession of the ball…it was my only hope to follow the game.
If you look closely at the uniforms of NFL teams, you will see they are not only decorative – they are also functional. The pads are strategically placed – not so much to scare the opponent, as to protect various parts of the body of the wearing player. In some cases, pads are reduced, or even missing, according to the work each man had on the team. Every part of the uniform design is for the purpose of making the work more possible and easier to complete. The uniforms are fitted to the player, and designed for maximum movement within their assigned task.
Why do I mention this? Because the same truth applied to God’s ministry team in the Tabernacle long ago. The uniform was carefully described in the Word because God wanted to reveal and explain the FUNCTION of the offices, while allowing creative people to reflect beauty and skill in their workmanship. God’s servants needed to be prepared to FUNCTION in their role, enabled by special provisions of God.
The text of Exodus 39 is divided into two parts, each with their own lessons:
- First, the bulk of the text is dedicated to the record of the making of garments for the priests – all made according to God’s instructed design (39:1-31). God wanted to explain the role of the priests by recording the clothing of the priests.
- Second, the inspection of Moses was performed on each of the Tabernacle furnishings and coverings (39:32-43). God wanted to remind us of three important end points for preparing people to accomplish a ministry for God.
Key Principle: Though assets make things possible – people make things happen. God used parts and pieces to enable worship and praise, but in the end PEOPLE do ministry.
1: The garments were beautiful and meaningful to the men who wore them (39:1a,5)
Exodus 39:1a “Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material, they made finely woven garments… 5 The skillfully woven band which was on it was like its workmanship, of the same material: of gold and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.
It is much harder to appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of the colorful garments of the priests today, then it would have been in the Sinai desert long ago. When you first visit the deserts of Sin, Paran and Zin – you can easily see them as lifeless and dull looking. With time in the region, if you are able to camp out in those desert areas, you will see the magnificence of the colors of the rising and setting sun, and you can appreciate how it impacts the landscape color as well.
When I was young I loved the Galilee, with its beauty and well-watered lushness. With each passing year I appreciated the desert more. Its stark midday sun was only one cast of the images of it could show. There is a very special purple color that you can only see in the mountains near Wadi Ram on the east side of the Aravah. There are slight shades of brown, red and blue in the morning twilight. About the time you think you have seen the beauty of it all, get a snorkel and mask and look beneath the Red Sea at the astounding colors that abound on the coral reefs. The plainness of the mountains contrasts with the kaleidoscope of colors as you raise and lower your head – above the sea and below the sea.
My point is that ten generations of Israel lived in a desert rim of Egypt. The next generation walked the dusty plains of the wilderness of Sin, Paran and eventually Zin. In all that time, the colors were beautiful in the early morning – but they were limited to the desert palate. The tents were not colorful. The clothes were largely plain. The sashes on some garments were about as color-filled as people were willing to expend the effort to make in the intense heat of the long desert days. These uniforms for the priests were both colorful and specially made to reflect the honor of the office and the importance of the task of these men. The work that God called them to was an honor to them. The needs of the people were real, and their tasks were nothing less than spiritually essential.
Can you hear the honor of the priest in the words of Peter directed at believers of the church? Peter said:
1 Peter 2:9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. 11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
God calls believers to be His priests. The passage is rich, and cannot be brushed off. The church is made up of people that were called by God from many peoples and nations. No one saw us as a cohesive group before God made us a family. We were brought in – not because of our outstanding nature or humble holiness – quite the opposite. We were given undeserved mercy of God and placed in His priestly ranks. We should feel HONORED to be called and HONORED to serve. Our service is specifically requested in testimony before a lost world. It is a service of RIGHT BEHAVIOR. It is a service of abstention from the indulgence of the lusts of lost men. It is a service active in DOING GOOD, so that our testimony will secure us from false accusations of an enemy. We are to HONOR GOD by pointing to His character is OUR LIFESTYLE.
None of these acts is to earn our place, they are merely to HONOR our King, who gave us our place!
Here is the job of the priests of our time: Live distinctly. Walk honorably. Give Generously. Treat the setting aside of old habits as a badge of honor and privilege. Priests of the Tabernacle dressed with honor and view the uniform as a reminder that the work was special – we should do no less.
2: The garments were patterned for the work of the men who wore them (39:1b)
Exodus 39:1b: “…for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.
The priests did not use the garments for tending sheep or daily chores – but for the specific work in the service of the King. God commanded that His workers LOOK THE PART to serve Him. One important aspect, from the day the priest was inaugurated into ministry, was the idea that they were to be circumspect about their appearance. They were to wear the uniform for HOLY WORK in a HOLY PLACE where people came to deal with their distance from God.
Can you imagine how important it was for them to keep their garments spotless? Can you imagine how carefully they hung up, stored and moved the garments when not on their body? Can you imagine how meaningful it was to carefully dress in a garment with the label “Designed by GOD” on the inside! The pattern of the garment was distinct – just as God says the look of the believer is to be. We aren’t called to BLEND IN. Jesus said it in the Sermon on the Mount – a follower of His is forced to become a city set on a hill, and a lamp that is lighted. Our work isn’t to comfortably blend but to boldly stick out. Our peculiarity is our secure and growing relationship with God in a world that has their spiritual umbilical cord severed from the Fall in the Garden that left man utterly depraved.
Do people see a distinct pattern in your life? Can they tell by what you spend your money on, that you are NOT at home in this world, and care more for lost men than your own comforts? Can they see a difference in your sense of humor, your caring nature, your life choices? If not, what happened to your garment that it became so much like all others?
3: The garments were functional in the work of the men who wore them (39:2,4,7-10a).
Priests were not men with no jobs, standing around haphazardly waiting for people to sin so they could help them. They were men that functioned in the daily work of the society on a number of different levels. One of their important roles was HELPING PEOPLE FIND GOD’S DIRECTION FOR THEIR LIVES. How do I know? Look at the description of their garments:
Exodus 39:2 He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen…4 They made attaching shoulder pieces for the ephod; it was attached at its two upper ends…7 And he placed them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as memorial stones for the sons of Israel, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 8 He made the breast piece, the work of a skillful workman, like the workmanship of the ephod: of gold and of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen. 9 It was square; they made the breast piece folded double, a span long and a span wide when folded double. 10 And they mounted four rows of stones on it… 14 The stones were corresponding to the names of the sons of Israel; they were twelve, corresponding to their names, engraved with the engravings of a signet, each with its name for the twelve tribes. 15 They made on the breast piece chains like cords, of twisted cordage work in pure gold. 16 They made two gold filigree settings and two gold rings, and put the two rings on the two ends of the breast piece. 17 Then they put the two gold cords in the two rings at the ends of the breast piece. 18 They put the other two ends of the two cords on the two filigree settings, and put them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod at the front of it. 19 They made two gold rings and placed them on the two ends of the breast piece, on its inner edge which was next to the ephod. 20 Furthermore, they made two gold rings and placed them on the bottom of the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, on the front of it, close to the place where it joined, above the woven band of the ephod. 21 They bound the breast piece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a blue cord, so that it would be on the woven band of the ephod, and that the breast piece would not come loose from the ephod, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.
A profoundly beautiful part of the uniform of the High Priest was the breast plate, with an embroidered flap covered with twelve precious stones. The High Priest was, on the appropriate occasions, to wear this in conjunction with the work he was charged to do. The gold, purple and blue weaving onto the linen six stranded cloth base was fastened to the outer garment by should straps and rings. The stones were etched with the names of the tribes and used to tell specific directions from God, as He used them to lead His people.
Be careful when you read the term ephod in the Hebrew Scriptures. The term is used differently in Judges and kings than in Exodus in relationship to the Tabernacle. The term in the historical books refers to an idol or talisman – whereas here it is an item of holy clothing. When Micah the Levite in Judges 18 had one made of gold, it was not like this one – it was a free standing idol of a sorts. The one in the Tabernacle was a kind of “chest bib” with a fixture of the breastplate over it and a pocket beneath that stored the Urim and Thumim – two stones used by God to help direct people.
Vital to the life of the community is the priestly work of offering God’s direction to people. We have no bib and no stones – but we possess as God’s priests the marvelous principles of God’s Holy Word today. Here is the problem: people won’t ask YOU to help them with a marriage if you are unhappily in YOUR MARRIAGE. People won’t see God’s directions through you if they don’t see Him living IN you. They won’t ask YOU how to follow God in issues of work if you are lazy, money if you are borrowing and drowning in debt, faithfulness if you are falsely calling in sick, positive outlook if you are incessantly complaining… you get the idea. A priest has to walk like a priest to be of any value to God in caring for the community.
We have strayed too far in leadership without character. We have thought that we could tolerate loose living in one area while demanding discipline in another. If a President couldn’t stay away from lust and be faithful to his wife, should he be trusted with the nuclear launch codes? Why do we think that someone who will not tell the truth in one area to those closest to him will remain faithful in other areas? We need to rethink the value of character over pedigree when selecting leaders in our country. The same is true in the priestly offices of the modern believer.
4: The garments were valuable to denote the work of the men who wore them (39:3,6).
Exodus 39:3 Then they hammered out gold sheets and cut them into threads to be woven in with the blue and the purple and the scarlet material, and the fine linen, the work of a skillful workman…6 They made the onyx stones, set in gold filigree settings; they were engraved like the engravings of a signet, according to the names of the sons of Israel….10b The first row was a row of ruby, topaz, and emerald; 11 and the second row, a turquoise, a sapphire and a diamond; 12 and the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; 13 and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They were set in gold filigree settings when they were mounted.
Look at the money the people put into the making of priestly garments! Look at the value of those stones and the delicate beauty of the gold filigree. These were precious by any definition! God wanted the men to KNOW they were of essential value to their people. He also wanted the people to value them.
If this were about clergy, you would think I sounded self-serving – but it is NOT. The priests I am referring to today are all over my town – believers called by God to intercede in prayer for their neighbors, their office partners, their co-workers and their friends. They are called to represent God’s Word in their life choices. They are to be loving, caring examples of a God follower and Jesus lover to people who know little of either. Do you recognize the VALUABLE ASSET that God has placed in your plant, office, apartment complex or family by placing YOU there as a believer? You are HIS emissary, His ambassador, His example and His servant. You are not a salesman as much as a healer. Your life is His display case in which He can show how He lavishes on undeserving men and women His mercy and love!
5: The garments were distinctive to the men who wore them (39:22-31)
22 Then he made the robe of the ephod of woven work, all of blue; 23 and the opening of the robe was at the top in the center, as the opening of a coat of mail, with a binding all around its opening, so that it would not be torn. 24 They made pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material and twisted linen on the hem of the robe. 25 They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates all around on the hem of the robe, 26 alternating a bell and a pomegranate all around on the hem of the robe for the service, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 27 They made the tunics of finely woven linen for Aaron and his sons, 28 and the turban of fine linen, and the decorated caps of fine linen, and the linen breeches of fine twisted linen, 29 and the sash of fine twisted linen, and blue and purple and scarlet material, the work of the weaver, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 30 They made the plate of the holy crown of pure gold, and inscribed it like the engravings of a signet, “Holy to the LORD.” 31 They fastened a blue cord to it, to fasten it on the turban above, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.
The garb of the priests included a turban, a torsel, trousers and a tunic. The trousers allowed the men to move up and down the steps in appropriate modesty. The turban held their hair back from the hooks of draining sacrifices. The tunic covered the upper body. The torsel – or sash, held the clothing close to allow for the work of sacrifice without getting the garment stained with blood.
The High Priest had bells and decorative pomegranates sewn to the garment – making a noise that warned people of his approach. The whole community would have cleared a path for High Priest, and nothing untoward would have come into his path or in his line of sight. People WANTED him to maintain a high walk with God. People NEEDED him to keep himself clean and ready for the work of intercession.
People counted on their priests to walk distinctly, and to be careful in their choices. Do we do that? Do we feel the pressure of making decisions knowing that a lost world is watching us? Do we feel we are free to make any decision we want in what we read, or what we entertain ourselves with, or what we wear? Every garment reminded the priest that they were to be careful, and that God had a special work for them in their community. They were BORN into that role…. And so were YOU.
After the garment completion, the final presentation of the Tabernacle was made to Moses – and all was as it was supposed to be.
39:32 Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was completed; and the sons of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did. 33 They brought the tabernacle to Moses, the tent and all its furnishings: its clasps, its boards, its bars, and its pillars and its sockets; 34 and the covering of rams’ skins dyed red, and the covering of porpoise skins, and the screening veil; 35 the ark of the testimony and its poles and the mercy seat; 36 the table, all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 37 the pure gold lampstand, with its arrangement of lamps and all its utensils, and the oil for the light; 38 and the gold altar, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the veil for the doorway of the tent; 39 the bronze altar and its bronze grating, its poles and all its utensils, the laver and its stand; 40 the hangings for the court, its pillars and its sockets, and the screen for the gate of the court, its cords and its pegs and all the equipment for the service of the tabernacle, for the tent of meeting; 41 the woven garments for ministering in the holy place and the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests. 42 So the sons of Israel did all the work according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses. 43 And Moses examined all the work and behold, they had done it; just as the LORD had commanded, this they had done. So Moses blessed them.
God wanted to remind us of three important end points for preparing people to accomplish a ministry for God:
- Accountability: Before the work commenced – leaders needed to be careful to see that God’s commands were followed in assembling of the team. Short cuts in building the team will show up in the ministry functions. Short cuts in laying out the work according to God’s commands will cause problems of function and repair. The text says they brought the work for inspection –and it was all done as God commanded. Ministry leaders don’t flinch at the idea of accountability – they seek to be held to a standard – provided the standard used is the Word of God. If people chose by preferences – there would be a never ending battle that had no real Biblical resolution.
One of the most important parts of shaping ministry is inspecting the work of others, and yet it is clear to me that fewer and fewer men in ministry WANT someone looking over their shoulder. Mentoring is a two way process. People have to both WANT someone to offer them direction, and the one giving the direction has to WANT to be personally engaged in the process.
I fear that we have, all too often, rewarded headstrong stubbornness and called it “strong leadership”. We have placed ministry people in key positions without making sure they were properly accountable to others in their life. It is a dangerous trend. Accountability is not simply someone who you can tell that you failed – but someone who can “tag you out” of ministry for a time if you are going off the rails. Fewer and fewer men seem to appreciate the need for that kind of relationship – but it is both helpful and necessary.
- Inspection: Moses carefully examined all the workmanship and saw it was done well. That was no small statement. The men prepared everything as they were told – but the leader took the responsibility to see to it that instructions were carefully followed. No leader can EXPECT what he does not INSPECT. Proper inspections took the leader TIME and CONCERTED EFFORT – more than a simple quick look.
No general would take men into battle simply by assembling a rabble and lining them up to move forward. To be effective, they must be divided into smaller numbers, and given specific functions. They need to understand the specific objectives they are given. They need to recognize who is in authority over each situation they will engage. Most of all, they need to learn THE BOOK – the rules used by their respective branch of service. The same is true of those God is using to fight against the enemy’s darkness and reach lovingly to rescue lost men and women. They must learn the BOOK – and they must be organized to follow its commands.
The BOOK will give them ways of advancing, armor to wear, ways to resupply the lines and even proper ways to flee in retreat – should that be strategically necessary. Failure to learn the BOOK leaves the force open to heavy damage, and can sap the energy from a sharp advance in wasted effort of tumultuous confusion. If we want people to know the book, we will have to teach them the book – and we will have to test their knowledge of it. We dare not place people in strategic ministry and assume they have built what they were instructed without inspection.
Let me be clear: If you are working in a ministry – expect someone to be checking on what you are doing. That isn’t because you aren’t trusted – it is because that is the Biblical way to build, advance and sustain God’s work. Inspection is part of the ministry, just as it was with Moses.
- Affirmation: Moses blessed the workers for both the product, and their faithfulness. He acknowledged the obedience, care and quality of the work of the men. His words were not fluff – because he spent time really looking at their handicraft. It was essential that everything be sized correctly, made in appropriate numbers, and made from the proper materials. When he saw that they were – he didn’t hesitate to call the work ready by offering a blessing to the workers.
The inauguration of a new work is always a sensitive time. God’s inspection would follow Moses – and God missed nothing! Think about the beginning of the Temple in 1 Kings 8, or the beginnings of the church in Acts 1-5. There is a sweetness about the purity of those days – but there is a stark truth of God’s inspection – ask Ananias and Sapphira about trying to scrape by cutting corners on one of God’s inspections.
I believe that we affirm too little in ministry in our day. Faithfulness is tough in a distracting world like ours. Deliberate verbal blessing is often too little too late. Let me take a minute and say out loud what we should say often as part of the family of God.
To those of you who are working HARD at honoring Jesus in your daily decisions – THANK YOU for serving the Master and honoring Him according to His Word.
For those who are staying married, working out your struggles and facing your difficulties rather than shattering your children and hanging out a testimony that God can save you, but he cannot sufficiently change two people to reconcile their differences… THANK YOU. Thanks for being an example of a believer when you could easily find a way out and a group to affirm your unbiblical choices.
To those of you who believe that signing your name means something and you refuse to simply toss away your credit commitments because of the change of home values – THANK YOU for standing by your word. Plenty will tell you that your yes didn’t need to be a yes, but from those of us who are steadily paying our way back out of upside down mortgages because we believe integrity demands living up to our word in contracts – THANK YOU.
For those who go out of their way to pray for brothers and sisters who serve Jesus at home and on foreign fields, in missionary and chaplain services, in local churches and clinics – THANK YOU for your prayers, your sacrificial gifts and your loving care.
The Tabernacle was beautiful but useless without the priesthood. Though assets make things possible – people make things happen. God used parts and pieces to enable worship and praise, but in the end PEOPLE do ministry.
In 1982 I served for a few months, as an independent reporter in the press corps during a war. I reported from southern Lebanon and northern Israel during a terrible conflict that gripped the Near East for a time. The government of Israel crossed into Lebanon with a huge fighting force, after sustained shelling from Lebanon by the PLO backed by Syrian forces. They decided to aid a group called the Southern Lebanese Christian Militia (the Phalange) by crossing into Lebanon and routing as much of the PLO and the supporting Islamic force as possible. The spark that lit the fuse was the brazen nature of the Abu Nidal Organization’s assassination attempt against Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Shlomo Argov.
In the wake of this conflict, Beirut lay in ruins, and Israel and its allied militia force occupied the southern part of Lebanon. The PLO fled Lebanon to Tripoli by June of 1982. Stains like the massacres committed at places like Sabra and Shatilla haunted Israel, who, it appears, naively armed a beaten down Southern Lebanese population that was filled with revenge against their neighbors. Israel hoped, according to the late Menachem Begin, to sign a treaty of “forty years of peace” – but it was not to be. Like all things in war, when the smoke cleared and the rubble was exposed, the damage was greater than any such gain.
One of the things that became a daily part of the experience of Israelis living in the north in places like Qiryat Shmona, Metulla and along the Naftali Ridge was that of shelter living. Day and night, Israelis lived under the constant barrage of ‘Ketusha rockets’, that fell in the dozens on their schools, town squares, clinics and shops. They became adept at maintaining some level of normalcy underground, building a network of tunnels and shelters in their cities. Not content to let the children hold up like moles, they decorated the shelters both inside and out. Even today the shelters of the north are the most colorful and ornate in the country. They showed that shelters are practical in a war zone – but they can be beautiful!
Why do I mention this little “blast from my personal past” today? I want to talk about a shelter that each of us must learn to take advantage of. You may not realize it – but you need a shelter. This is a time of war. If you are one who has submitted your heart to following Jesus, you were born into a SPIRITUAL WAR. You may not realize it right now, but you are in desperate need of a SHELTER, and God has provided a beautiful one in which you can HIDE when the attack of the enemy closes in. He is trying to advance, but the battle belongs to the Lord. God’s victory is sure. Our posture is to be ready at arms with our armor on, and to be sheltered in Him until He calls for us in the moment of battle. The deliberate sheltering in Him is what believer’s refer to as a “prayer life”.
Key Principle: Prayer is not the fleshly action of closing my eyes and speaking well learned words. It is the deliberate hiding of my vulnerable self in His powerful grasp. It is an exercise of submission.
Before we go further, let’s admit a sad truth about Christians in the modern era: “The fastest way to empty a room is declare a prayer meeting.” The quickest way to add to guilt and make even some of the most active believers cringe is to speak about our individual prayer lives. None of us are satisfied, I suspect, with this aspect of our walk with God! It may be that way because we have been convinced that the battle is not truly going on, or it may be because we haven’t been feeling the darkness coming on us. It may be a problem of immature thinking, or it may be simple forgetfulness. Yet, the Bible makes clear that prayer is not a flesh action – it is much more. Prayer is like a retreat to shelter. It is a hiding place in communion with God Himself.
Today I want to both encourage you and speak about your prayer life – and the two subjects should not be at odds with each other.
Let’s establish the problematic backdrop for those who may not have looked closely… Something is very wrong with the self-powered church of our time. Our planning sessions have overtaken our praying sessions. We have lost our edge in many believing circles, to the reality of the spiritual nature of the battle for the hearts of men, women and children. We have advertised instead of asked of God. We have programmed and planned what should have been prayed over and pleaded for. We have worked in the flesh to contest a battle fought over on spiritual grounds… and many have been wounded, left tired and disillusioned by the fight.
Frankly, it requires much less of the spirit to throw myself into the involvement of the activities of my church, but much more to pull close to the Lord and hide in His will. It is far easier to build a bridge than nurture a relationship, and many of us have taken the easier path – activism over intimacy. As a result, for many believers, their church – the very vehicle that was made to help them grow – became the very place where their energy was sapped away and they worked on – often with an empty spiritual tank. It is time to find our place of intimate refuge in our Heavenly Father, before the empty tank starves all forward progress from our spiritual journey. It is time to reassess our journey and do the hard thing. Eternity will not be spent simply accomplishing for God – but celebrating Who God is, and recognizing His greatness and power. It will be more awe then accomplishment – and, believe it or not, it can be that way NOW.
Pastor Tim Boal, a friend and colleague, spoke recently about the history of prayer and its power at the recent Vision 20/20 conference in California. He read an illustration that will serve as my beginning point today, as we look at the incense altar in the Tabernacle – the place of the “prayer altar” of the Bible.
“Six hundred years ago in about 1400 CE, John Huss started in Moravia, close to the Czech Republic. Huss taught the Bible, but was eventually burned at the stake by the church leadership under Papal authority. Before his martyrdom, Huss predicted that the seed of the Word planted in that community would one day spring up in a powerful revival. Two hundred years passed before the fruit of that work dramatically showed itself. In about 1600, a revival occurred under the ministry of God through John Amos Comenius, who led the Moravian Christians out of their native land, where they were suffering extreme persecutions. He sought for a safe haven for them to live within, and for about the next 100 years they bounced from place to place, looking for a safe home. Just before Comenius died, he referenced the prophecy of John Huss from 200 years before and said:”Within one hundred years the prophecy of Huss will unfold in the Moravian community providing a revival to all the western world.” Comenius died, and so – it appeared – did his dream. The next generation completely forgot about those words. It wasn’t until 1700, when German Count Ludvig Von Zinzendorf was born into a wealthy aristocratic family, and turned his heart to Christ in his native Lutheran Church. At age 27, he took in a single Moravian refugee. In time, he took in 300 more refugees on his estate, and began to lead them. Under Zinzendorf’s leadership, they prayed together, studied together, and worshipped together. As he studied, Zinzendorf came across Comenius’ prophecy about the Moravians made one hundred years before to the very week he found that prophecy, He called the Moravians together in mid – August of 1727 to his house for an all-night prayer meeting – one hundred years to the day after the death of Comenius. The next day is referred to by church historians as the Moravian Pentecost, August 13, 1727. The Spirit moved in a very significant way, and though the Acts 2 work was not wholly repeated, it was clear to everyone God was there, and God was at work. They decided to match the awesome days’ events by beginning another prayer vigil. They designated a place of prayer in the village, broke into groups of three, and each group took one hour of prayer in succession. In the 168 hours that make up a week, every hour, three people were praying. That prayer meeting went for 110 consecutive years – three people each hour, 24 hours a day, 110 years long! What happened to this small group of Moravians? Over the next 15 years, 70 of their number left the group to go to a mission of unreached peoples, learning other languages and sharing the Gospel. They became the first group to begin a modern foreign missions movement that lasts to this day. Moravians would today be the largest denomination, many feel, but they most often gave away any church founded to another fellowship after it was established. John Wesley was converted by the testimony of the Moravians – and the movement of Methodism is traceable back to them.” Tim closed the story by asking a poignant question: “What will extraordinary prayer accomplish?”
We are all stirred by such stories, but that is just the beginning. Prayer offers more than Kingdom advancement. It offers battlefield survival strategy. It offers a blanket of warmth in a cold world…It offers peace amid tumult. Some reading this are perhaps experiencing a POUNDING of their life by the enemy right now. They aren’t trying to fulfill a prophecy or reach a continent – they are trying to get through the month in one piece! What can prayer do to make that possible? How can my prayer life become a source of solace and power instead of a place of fault and guilt? The Scriptures have some words on the subject that are critical to grasping God’s purpose for us. Look at the small altar that God ordered made and covered with gold for the celebration of the time of prayer by the people. It was called the altar of incense:
Exodus 37:25 Then he made the altar of incense of acacia wood: a cubit long and a cubit wide, square, and two cubits high; its horns were of one piece with it. 26 He overlaid it with pure gold, its top and its sides all around, and its horns; and he made a gold molding for it all around. 27 He made two golden rings for it under its molding, on its two sides—on opposite sides—as holders for poles with which to carry it. 28 He made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold. 29 And he made the holy anointing oil and the pure, fragrant incense of spices, the work of a perfumer.
What does this short reading offer to help us?
First, the inclusion of this altar in the holy furnishings reminds us that God desires His people to gather in prayer – it has a Divine purpose. The incense would allow God to participate with them because GOD WANTS TO HEAR OUR VOICES and God wants to enjoy our prayers.
This incense provided a smell for the delight of GOD ALONE. That God loved the smell of the sacrifice is well documented (see Leviticus 3:16, 6:21). But God also waited to SMELL the prayers that were so well embraced by the aroma of the sweet-smelling incense. The time of prayer was marked by the time of the incense burning and the two were mixed together into the “nostrils” of God. This assumption is part of the background of the opening of Luke’s Gospel, in a the story at the time of incense burning:
Luke 1:8 “Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.”
Second, the uniqueness of prayer, its many facets of comfort and its role in driving into God’s arms is recognized by the process of making the incense. This was a special moment before God –a time when God perceived in a special way the needs and presentation of His people. It was a pleasing aroma to Him:
Exodus 30:34 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Take for yourself spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, spices with pure frankincense; there shall be an equal part of each. 35 “With it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. 36 “You shall beat some of it very fine, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I will meet with you; it shall be most holy to you. 37 “The incense which you shall make, you shall not make in the same proportions for yourselves; it shall be holy to you for the LORD. 38 “Whoever shall make any like it, to use as perfume, shall be cut off from his people.”
Simply put, verse 36 sets the whole passage – the place of prayer was the intimate meeting place with God. There was a time, preparation and a pattern – and people met with their God. The whole environment of the Mishkan (meeting place) was marked by a unique fragrance – never used in other times or places in life. Like God’s name – it was sacred and guarded. Look closely at the ingredients. We don’t know if God intended us to see anything in them, but the rabbis of old certainly did – all in relation to PRAYER. I cannot say this was God’s intent on these fragrances – maybe He just delighted in the combination as a Personal preference – but I love the imagery the rabbis reminded us of:
- Stacte – is Nataf in Hebrew, a bitter gum resin that naturally oozes to the surface. Some rabbis noted in sermons long ago that it appeared on the face of the tree forced out of the inner heart of the tree by some stress or pressure, causing it to be abundant on the outside of the tree. Still others noted that God made the tree with so much sap that it always had much to “give away”. What is clear is that it was a resin that oozed out of the tree – as some of our prayers do from our heart because of stress and pressures that we need to pour out willingly to God, or our abundance from which it flows.
- Onycha – is shekh-ay’-leth in Hebrew, (an unused root in association with a lion’s roar). The word likely refers to the operculum (closing flap of gill in fish, but a special gland in some shell fish). This comes from below the surface of the Red Sea and may be representative of prayers from the “depths”… Some prayer comes from the depths of our lives that need to be carefully rooted out of the encased shells of our lives, and shared with the God who loves us. It is the only way deep issues can be healed!
- Galbanum – (Chelbanum from cheleb or fat – drawn out) – is a word used for a number of differing processes – as in being tapped from the commiphora tree like Maple Syrup. A tap is burrowed from the outside into the tree, piercing the exterior and “wounding the tree” to get the bitterness inside out. Some prayer, the rabbis taught, was to empty our souls of the bitterness trapped within us before God, who alone could handle it. (The word is now more commonly associated with the sap extraction from “Ferula gummosa – a low shrub of Persian slopes. Galbanum of this type is used in the making of modern perfume – the ingredient which gives the distinctive smell to the fragrances “Must” by Cartier, and “Chanel No. 19″).
- Frankencense – is tapped from Boswellia trees and is milky white in color. Frankencense is “levonah” in Hebrew, (lavan=white). It is not only white in color, it makes a thick whitened smoke when it burns. Many Old City shops carry it and Catholic Churches use it in the liturgical incense burners to this day. The point is that addition to the incense was that, like the prayers of God’s people, that which made an impact or a change that was evident to all. Prayer changes people and the spiritual atmosphere with a noticeable fragrance and color.
Regardless of whether God wanted us to know something of prayer through the ingredients or not, don’t miss the big picture – GOD LOVES THE PRAYER TIME.
When it is hard to do, remember this – It is loved by your Father. It is a joy to Him.
- We have seen that God desires prayer to be a part of worship and celebration.
- We have seen that God LOVES the time His people meet with Him. Yet, there is more…
Third, the beauty, value and position of the altar reinforced the importance of the actions performed on it. The altar was made of precious gold. It was crowned with beauty, and placed just outside the curtain that blocked the view of the Ark with the Mercy Seat. It was, for all practical purposes – at the access point to the holiest place before God.
Fourth, the mercy involved in the altar is underscored by the horns that were places of refuge for men and women to receive the mercy of God. I am thinking of the story in 1 Kings 2, where Benaiah was sent by Solomon to kill Joab in the Tabernacle. He held fast to the horns of the outer altar, because they were a place of mercy – and another set was found on this altar as well. Horns denoted strength in the time, but they also denoted God’s mercy in the worship setting.
Fifth, the incense altar was made with transport poles and rings on two corners, keeping it flexible and with the people on the move – as our prayer life should be. We are not given ONE WAY to pray, stilted, read and memorized –but a whole array of presentations and examples. I want to take time to observe one of them found in the heart of the Psalter. Listen to this rich expression of love for God and the place of His shelter in prayer:
Psalm 91:1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!” 3 For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. 5 You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day; 6 Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. 7 A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not approach you. 8 You will only look on with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. 9 For you have made the LORD, my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place. 10 No evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your tent. 11 For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. 12 They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread upon the lion and cobra, the young lion and the serpent you will trample down. 14 “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. 15 “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16 “With a long life I will satisfy him and let him see My salvation.”
Truth #1: The writer shares that there is a place where I can find God’s protection, but I must both SEEK it and STAY in it. It is not beside God – it is within the place of His very nature (91:1,9).
Psalm 91:1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. The translation reads: “I can hide in the shadow of the Great One if I stay in His secret place.” God has a place, beyond any enemy’s grasp, where I can find shelter and security. It is with Him. It is in His Holy Presence. Where exactly is this place? Is the place something God created? How can I find it?
Psalm 91:9 can be read two ways – that God has created the refuge place, or that God Himself IS the refuge place – that it is WITHIN HIM. Dr. Martin Luther understood it in the second way. The statement is this: “For you have made the LORD, my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place.” Why read it in such an awkward way (that God Himself is the very shelter in Whom I should dwell)? Because other places in Scripture make that same point. In the Psalm of Moses (Psalm 90), he opens with “Lord, YOU have been my home.” The point is this: I can find refuge in God when I intentionally move to the place of shelter, and my commitment to stay there when tempted to emerge and defend myself.
Truth #2: There is a prayer that helps me recognize my Protector (91:2).
Psalm 91:2 I will say to the LORD, “[You are] My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!” In essence, the text declares: “I will proclaim aloud before God from inside His shadow that I KNOW He is my protector – I trust Him! No information coming from my lips will teach God anything. I am not speaking for His benefit – but for MINE. I must constantly recite the protection of the Lord to appropriate in the Spirit what I cannot see with my eyes. The prayer that I recite helps ME to recall the work that God is doing on my behalf. One of the great helps in prayer is the aspect of reminder that I NEED in my daily walk. If you don’t know what to pray for, celebrate what God’s Word says He is doing right now for you!
He is your Shepherd. He is your Rock. He is your Fortress. He is your Strong Tower. He is you Salvation and Rescue. He is your Source. He is your Destination. He is your Journey. He is all that you truly need, and He provides all you truly have…
Truth #3: There is a provision in His presence! (Psalm 91:3).
Psalm 91:3 For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. God protects those who place their trust in Him. The writer exclaims “I constantly recall His protection while He loots the traps my enemy has set before me, and gives me the proceeds from the looting.” God plunders the enemy snares, cashes in on them and offers me the spoils! God isn’t just One Who delivers – He takes the things meant for EVIL and TURNS them into valuable things that help me! Joseph learned this – King Asa experienced this!
That provision of protection has a tender image behind it. Psalm 91:4 He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. The poetry of the song is rich in image. The writer says: “His (ebrah) beautiful feathers cover me, His wings (kaw-nawf’) shield me”. His faithfulness (or more properly His absolute reliability in terms of truth “emet”) is both my front guard and my rear protector (so-khay-raw’: bulwark or buckler, used only here in the Hebrew terminology of the Bible). Don’t miss that God’s wing is always there to cover us, but only the one who SEEKS refuge beneath its impenetrable shield senses that protection. Life lived apart from prayer is uncertain life – vulnerable and ambiguous. His reliability in protection and His revealed nature in truthful exposure do not change – but we are often distracted, reaching for solace in places other than the ones provided for by our Heavenly Father. Time spent in prayer adds surety to your walk and reinforces God’s protection over you.
If you drop your eyes further down in the song, the Psalmist continues this theme: Psalm 91:10 “No evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your tent. 11 For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. 12 They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread upon the lion and cobra, the young lion and the serpent you will trample down.” Be careful with these verses about protection. Loud voices argue that because of texts like these, God has made an eternal promise that nothing that hurts me will enter my life – but that just isn’t so. This is a truth about a man in a battle that has been given a grand vision of victory – but battles leave many good men and women wounded. If that is the case, what is the value of these verses? What do they promise, if anything, to the believer who is seeking God’s protection.
First, recall this is a song of celebration by a warrior who has been shown protection by God amidst the pain of battle. Look very closely at both the prerequisite and at the promises! To be eligible for this extreme protection, the warrior had to deliberately place himself in the shelter of God Himself. The place of shelter was not simply a place God dwelt in for communion- it was the very place of God’s nature and person (Psalm 91:9, more below).
In other words, the one who wraps their life in the truth of God’s attributes and cloaks themselves with God’s purposes with intent to glorify God – that is the one who will see life from God’s perspective.
Now examine the promises. In the midst of their assignment by God, evil will be unable to wound them, for God will use them to gain the victory. Wounds (nehgah) will not enter their covering, for God will dispatch mighty unseen protectors, angels from His side, to stand beside us. We may retreat from the battle, but our feet will be protected from the damaging stones beneath. The terrifying serpent, the roaring young lion, the slithering cobra – will all be unable to stop our march and mighty trampling. Our timidity will dissipate in God’s grip. Our strength will increase, our promises certain – for we will know that we serve God’s ends and be assured that no power is His match.
When all is said about the Psalmists words, one truth remains: Clutched in the grip of the power of God, cloaked in the beauty of His Divine presence, I can stand with confidence in the face of the foe.
I need not quiver at the whistling of his arrows, nor quake at the pounding of the footsteps of his advancing army. Confidence comes as my walk with God envelopes more of my vision than my earthly view. God is BIGGER than the foe. God is GREATER than his weaponry. God’s TEAM is vastly larger than the mere men and women I can see around me. I must be able to hide in Him to truly get His perspective on the darkness descending. I need to intentionally pull the cloak of His holy goodness over me to find His protection. Spiritual life cannot be nurtured by fleshly pursuit – only time in His covering will sustain when the battle draws near. Prayer isn’t an abstract reality when the shells fall and bullets of battle are all around me – it is the shelter of protection. It is the foundation of confidence. Yet, it is something more… it is the wellspring of peace….
Truth #4: There is a peace that accompanies my closeness. (Psalm 91:5-8)
Psalm 91:5 You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day; 6 Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. 7 A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not approach you. 8 You will only look on with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.
The peace of the one who hides constantly in the Father is noticeable. Restlessness is the stuff of the wanderer, but enduring security is the way of the man or woman that has deliberately pulled the cover of God’s protection over them. The Psalmist iterates sources of fear in couplets first from the night, then from the day:
- The dread of a night’s disaster (91:5a) and the plague of the darkness (91:6a): Pain often intensifies at night. With the decent of darkness, uncertainty rises. Since the language here is one of a man or woman of God under attack – the imagery is even more vivid. It is the anxiousness of the foxhole on the night battle field. It is the soldier dug in on the front, nervous of every movement from the enemy opposite them. In the darkness, the enemy’s movement is far less discernible, and fear plays on the mind and heart. Memories of the fight from days’ past flood the mind. Lost comrades and fallen friends fill up the mind as the cold and quiet night provides the unnerving isolation from others. It is here that reciting God’s protection will become critical to keep peace reigning in the heart.
- The assault of weapons in the day (91:5b) the withering of the noonday sun (91:6b): Not only the dark of night, but the terror of the fight and the scorching of the midday sun give rise to fear. The sound of the weaponry and the sight of the fallen fellow soldier raises any warrior’s anxiety. In the heat of daytime battle a soldier fights thirst and heat as much as enemy and arrow – all seems poised to destroy him. Yet, the constant call to God’s shield of protection can provide cool shade from the sun, and powerful protection from the arrow!
Sit with the soldier in the bunker who calls continually on the Lord – the prayer warrior who covers himself or herself with the beautiful expanse of the wings of the Protector of Heaven. Watch the battle from their eyes.
It is not bloodless – a thousand may fall around them. It is not distant – ten thousand may fall at their own right hand. The destruction, nevertheless, will not overtake you (the term “nawgash” suggests both approach and overtake). The warrior sees the fall of the foe, and recognizes the victory of the Lord.
The idea of 91:8 is not that the warrior does not see the losses of good men and women in the battle – it is one of perspective. The losses are real, but the gains are eternal and powerful. The pains of fallen friends don’t dominate the thinking of the warrior sheltered under God’s protection – the advances of his King are foremost in His mind. The recompense to the wicked foe is more vivid than any cost of the battle. Victory is assured and the glory of his King is certain. No cost is too great for right to triumph. No payment is too demanding for evil to be vanquished. With such a perspective, the hidden warrior watches, not with blindness to the cost – but with assurance that all of our struggle is worth the doing of it.
Truth #5: The proclamation of God is heard from the hiding place. (Psalm 91:14-15)
Psalm 91:14 “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. 15 “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16 “With a long life I will satisfy him and let him see My salvation.”
The Psalmist hears the gentle voice of God. He is proclaiming promises over His beloved ones. He recognizes their submission and love – and He promises deliverance. He acknowledges the believer’s cry out to Him – and He promises to answer that cry. He sees the troubles of His people – and offers them His presence amid the pain and toil. He promises rescue, and He alone can deliver it.
Prayer is not the fleshly action of closing my eyes and speaking well learned words. It is the deliberate hiding of my vulnerable self in His powerful grasp. It is an exercise of submission.
Prayer is the air tank of the diver. It is the life line to the climber. It is the ship’s hull – holding fast in the storm. It is no luxury, no part-time, half-hearted pursuit. It is the difference between understanding the world from God’s perspective, and being disillusioned – even in the presence of His greatness.
I thank God for all my senses, but chief among them, in my opinion, is the sight of my eyes. I love viewing rich colors in carefully constructed images of either photography or graphic art. I recognize the depth that a shadow brings to a picture – but I confess that I don’t like shadows in real life. Shadows play tricks on your mind. Darkness is not warm and inviting. Recently staying in center city Philadelphia, I found myself constantly looking over my shoulder as I walked at night in the streets from the parking garage to my hotel. Soon after I got back in Florida, I found myself up in an attic making repairs for someone, I found myself highly sensitive to every sound up in the dark crawl space, as I was worried that critters might jump out at me and bite me. I should never have watched the movie “Ben” as a youth – it has given me the “willies” about rats attacking me ever since! Needless to say, I didn’t see any man-eating rats, but still I find the darkness and shadows unnerving.
My daughter was taking out trash two nights ago, and she stepped on a snake in the back yard, that took off slithering into the bushes – darkness is unsettling! You know, you can walk down any dark street, right here in our little town, and your senses will tingle if you hear noise coming from behind bushes or rustling in trees above. If only you could see clearly! Shadows can be frightening, and darkness is never desired because it HIDES THINGS. Light is comforting because it EXPOSES THE HIDDEN. It helps us identify the familiar face of a coming friend, and strikes a warning posture in us when the oncoming person is unfamiliar and a possible threat. Our lesson today is about the light exposure involved in God’s worship center, and why God planned to have a lamp in the room. It isn’t a lighting seminar – but a look at what God intended us to LEARN about Him from His instructions through Moses.
Key Principle: God instructed a carefully prepared ornate lampstand in the Holy Place to bring light to the ministry of worship and to expose anything that would harm the sanctity and dignity of the work.
Let’s drop in on the description of the Holy Place, already in progress in Exodus 37:17: “Then he made the lampstand of pure gold. He made the lampstand of hammered work, its base and its shaft; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers were of one piece with it. 18 There were six branches going out of its sides; three branches of the lampstand from the one side of it and three branches of the lampstand from the other side of it; 19 three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in one branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. 20 In the lampstand there were four cups shaped like almond blossoms, its bulbs and its flowers; 21 and a bulb was under the first pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the second pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the third pair of branches coming out of it, for the six branches coming out of the lampstand. 22 Their bulbs and their branches were of one piece with it; the whole of it was a single hammered work of pure gold. 23 He made its seven lamps with its snuffers and its trays of pure gold. 24 He made it and all its utensils from a talent of pure gold.”
As we open our reading of the text of the Word, once again we are back in the Tabernacle, “sweating to the oldies” with Moses. It has been a hot journey through a long, hot summer. The one difference we have with the text is rain – something the children of Israel would have paid to see! Moses was more familiar with the drought afflicting Kansas than any torrential rains raising Lake Jackson. Even with the differences, the study of the trip is deeply rewarding. Why? Because the tabernacle has been a study in prudently constructed symbols – parts and pieces of the only complete worship center ever designed by God for placement on earth. Every part of His choice has been cataloged in the Word, and we have the option of looking quite closely at each piece He instructed, and unfolding the meaning of the piece by looking at the record.
- The precinct of the Tabernacle was closed – because proper worship must be set aside from the everyday walk in life. It affects everything, but it is distinct and planned.
- The position of the Tabernacle was in the center of the camp – because the place of God in our midst is not a peripheral issue.
- The prominent impression of the Tabernacle was that it was a killing place. Just inside the outer court of the Tabernacle was the killing place for the sacrificial animals and beside it the altar of sacrifice – because we don’t get anywhere near approaching God’s holy presence without addressing our sinfulness first.
- The restricted buildings of the Holy Place and Holy of Holies were closed off from the courtyard, a separate and distinct building within the linen fenced court – because priests alone were to interface between God and man. God’s transcendence is not a new concept to us. Even now, we access God in Heavenly places by our Great High Priest’s word.
- Outside the curtain that marked entry to the building of the Holy Place stood a Laver made of the melted mirrors taken from Egypt – a washing place for the priests who handled animals, blood and ash pans. Even a priest needs a daily cleansing experience to be ready to serve God well – and we as priests have that in the confession of our sin to our Savior. Our 1 John 1:9 need for daily confession does not negate the priesthood of the believer today.
- Inside the Holy Place there is a table near the north wall that has twelve loaves of bread – reminding of God’s provision of manna through the wilderness and the priests daily need of Him.
- Near a curtain that divided the Holy Place and Holy of Holies was a small golden altar of incense – because God loved to smell the prayers of men and women in the wafting of the distinct odor given at the hour of prayer.
- Deep within the Tabernacle was a golden ark – a box to carry the Word of God as given to Moses, and some of the implements of the journey – because the people of God are nothing without the promises of God.
Finally, lighting the entire room of the Holy Place was an ornate seven branched candelabra called the Menorah – because light revealed what darkness concealed. God’s desire was a clean, ordered and appropriate sacred area. That is where our text focuses our attention today – on the light source inside the Holy Place. The lampstand offered light to help the priests do their job – because they could SEE what they were doing – blending the spices for the incense altar in the offering of the prayers of the people or placing the bread and frankincense in remembrance on the table – all that had to be done within the fifteen foot by thirty foot otherwise completely dark enclosure.
The area was sacred, so they couldn’t simply throw open the front curtain for extra light. The area was to be dignified, clean and ordered. Much of what the priests did was keep it that way. In an area so small, that sounds easier to pull off then it really was – as anyone who has been tent camping for a long time in the desert can attest. Dust is a daily reality of life in the desert. You can feel it on your skin, and taste it in your sandwich. In fact, living in Jerusalem on the edge of the desert, you give up on dusting the first week – it is ever present. Add to that, there are other problems unique to desert camping that make the whole experience less than sanitary and challenging to keep dignified and sacred space set apart.
When people think of the Bible characters like Moses, they forget the smell of the Israelite camp, the constant problem of scorpions, mice, rats and desert foxes trying to get into the foodstuffs. Roaches are the same the world around – disgusting and pervasive.
The flannel graph version of the Bible leaves us with the impression that the people smelled of perfume, and the lands were idyllic and vermin free. I assure you having lived there that this is a grievous error. Moses contended with critters and bugs, and so did the priests of the Tabernacle – apart from some Divine intervention to keep the place clean, which is wholly unmentioned in the text. In fact, there were only four things that could keep the Holy place free of blemishes: the direct intervention of God, the natural barrier made by the building, the priests in daily and diligent service of God, and the light that made dirt and bugs vulnerable to the priests’ traps. Light has everything to do with keeping the sacred clean and useful to God.
Go back to the description of the six features of the lamp were given in the text:
The Value of lamp in worship – Pure Gold (17).
Gold was precious, and the lampstand was made of precious materials because its purpose was critically important. The light uncovered the hidden, exposed the truth, and made the work of the priests possible. The lamp brought light to the worship in the Holy Place for the priests, since God required none in the Holy of Holies – it was for the men. Think for a moment about how the term “light” is used in the Bible. It was, in the very beginning, used to “separate” things. In the Genesis 1:3 account of God’s creation, the Bible records: “Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”
The term separated is from the Hebrew verb “baw-dal’” a term for dividing or partitioning. The purpose of God’s demarcation of light and darkness was to divide the time. This was prior to the making of the sun, and it was to highlight the difference between good and evil. How do I know? Note that the light was called GOOD. The darkness was simply its opposite. Brightness is associated with God, and darkness with His enemy. It does not mean that all dark places are evil – since there was no light source inside the Holy of Holies because God had no need of it to see everything. It does mean that light was supposed to be a help to US to see what could not otherwise be detected.
Remember, when Jesus said in the Gospel of John “I am the Light of the World” (John 5:12), the context was a lie that was being perpetrated in His midst. He wouldn’t stand for it. He is the light, and that light shines in every hidden corner – and exposes every blemish.
We live in a day when believers in the west often have more Bibles in their homes than people. The problem isn’t that we don’t have a lamp to see the blemishes, vermin and dirt in our lives – we do. The problem may be that we don’t turn on the lamp – don’t open the pages of God’s powerful Word to allow the light to touch the shadowed areas of our heart. The problem may be that we shield the light from making its way into corners reserved for self carefully protected inside us. The problem may be that we get haphazard in the use of the light, using it in a way that doesn’t identify and illuminate our real problem areas.
When I was a boy, my father generally asked my older brother to come and help him work on the car. I didn’t feel slighted. In fact, I really didn’t WANT to go outside in the cold and dark, and hold the light for my dad while he was under the car or inside the hood, working on a broken part. It wasn’t that interesting, and it certainly wasn’t that comfortable. On occasion, the lot fell on me to help out. I found what dad was doing to be very interesting… for about one minute. Then my mind wandered. That wasn’t a problem, but the fact that the light wandered with my mind was a problem. Periodically, dad would simply say the word: “SON!” I would drop back to attention and aim the light back on my dad’s hands at work. Light undirected doesn’t help the work. Ask any lighthouse manager. It must be focused on the real problem areas. So must the Word of God be. We can’t simply quote verses about salvation in the midst of the inner turmoil created by lust’s grab at our hearts. The Word is a SWORD, and with all such weapons we must learn to aim before we use it well.
Though once bathed in Bible, our little portion of the world is increasingly hostile to it. Some of the hostility is open – but much of it is thinly veiled. Take, for instance, the CNN headline that read: “Pregnant teen dies after abortion ban delays her chemo treatment for leukemia”. The story went on to reveal:
“The 16-year-old’s plight attracted worldwide attention after she had to wait for chemotherapy because of an abortion ban in the Dominican Republic. Doctors were hesitant to give her chemotherapy because such treatment could terminate the pregnancy — a violation of the Dominican Constitution, which bans abortion. Some 20 days after she was admitted to the hospital, she finally started receiving treatment. She died Friday, a hospital official said.”
Did you carefully note the position of the moral statements in the writing? Once again a writer trotted out the emotional and exceptional to defeat the norm. Obviously, the entire blame fell on the abortion laws. They must be bad – they let a girl die! Some of what they said was very true. I think it was terrible that a youth lost her life. What a terrible loss. Yet, there were questions no one was asking that would have shed significant light on the situation. Why was a sixteen year old young woman pregnant? Why was that assumed to be a proper condition for her? Did she know thirteen weeks before, when she conceived that she had leukemia? Would the chemotherapy two weeks earlier have guaranteed her more time? Did that very law they were impugning preserve many lives in recent days?
The point is this: when we select one feature of Biblical morality (do not kill) but drop all the other tenets of it (like sexual purity outside of marriage)– we are simply making up right and wrong and depending on emotions to fill in the gaps of logic. Emotions are wholly unreliable for that esteemed purpose. We live in days that need the light turned on. The darkness of society is now darkening the minds of even believers – and it is time to fill in the picture with TRUTH. If we walk only by every other command of God – we will cause terrible troubles and reap horrid consequences. If we want to “freedom” to blow off the Word of God – then we get the awful consequences of doing so. Even the illness itself was caused by sin, generations ago, all the way back to a garden. I do not here attempt to judge the young woman. My comment is about the content of the writer’s report that is reprehensible and morally bankrupt. We are being duped in poorly constructed and thinly veiled arguments. My concern is the number of young believers that are surrendering ground to such nonsense.
The Work to construct the lamp– Hammered and fashioned (17b):
The description of this carefully fashioned lamp indicated that it was also to be a symbol. The light was brought in because of hard work on the part of a gifted leader of God. Bezalel, in conjunction with Moses, the team of workers, and the supply of the congregation – was able to create the stand in obedience to God.
It is critical that God’s people understand the need for the light of truth, but equally important that they recognize the WORK involved in getting to the truth. It takes serious examination to get to the heart of God’s view of things. We must deliberately learn to study God’s Word in a consistent way. The haphazard “this is what I feel about the passage in the Bible” type of study must simply DIE. If our lampstand of truth is God’s Word – we must carefully fashion our work with it so that we can confidently see the foot path God has laid out for us. The Word will expose lies. Careful and consistent study of it will cut apart the motivations and intents of the heart. Just as Hebrews 4:12 reminds:
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
The Shape of the lamp – it was made to resemble an ALMOND tree (17b-19).
The branches were to be shaped as the flowering almond branch – something that God repeated several times in the original design of Exodus 25 and 37. The name of the almond is “shaqed” in Hebrew. It comes from the word “shaqad”, the word for “to watch over, to keep watch or lie awake.” In the Bible, the almond is like our “ground hog”. It is the first to appear in the early Spring – in February usually. It blossomed, but took half a year to produce its fruit – six months of hard labor. Jeremiah 31:37 speaks of the coming New Covenant to the Jewish people, and says that as God “watched over them to break them down” so He will one day “watch over them to build and plant”. The One who watches His people is recalled in the play on words with the Almond. The light not only helped the priests see, it reminded them WHO ELSE WAS WATCHING OVER THEM.
Part of the objective of the Word of God in our lives is to remind us that God is the “shaqad” over us. We are called to meditate on it “day and night” – not only because it will offer us correction and direction – but because it will remind us of God’s protection over us. It is what allows believers to sleep well in the midst of the political, moral and ethical storms that sweep our land. We rest peacefully, for God is keeping watch. His eyes are ever upon His purposes, and I am here to play a role in the story He wants to tell. My part may not be the one I would have selected for me – but it is the part for which I was created. It is the part I will sing about in eternity. Knowing that, I am peaceful about the world. God is in control. That may not help me have an easier time of it – I simply don’t know. Many an Apostle died for the Gospel, but none would complain inside Heaven’s gate. God IS watching over you… and the lamp’s glow is just a reminder.
The Number on the lamp – Seven (18, 20-21).
There were to be three branches on either side of a center branch – making seven in all. From the account of Creation with the completion in seven days, to the 54 times the word seven shows up in the closing book of the Bible – Revelation – the number seven has been synonymous with completion. The number occurs 700 times in the Bible, and often in the sense of completion. The word translated “finished” in Koine Greek (teléo) generally means to bring to a close or to fulfill. Take, for example, Revelation 15:1 which reveals the reason for seven angels with seven plagues: “And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; because in them is filled up (teléo) the wrath of God.” In other words, the lamp brought seven lights, or COMPLETE light to the place of worship. You can’t hide in God’s presence – He knows what you aren’t saying. He sees inside. The last place to try to hide sin is in the presence of a Holy and all seeing God.
Don’t hide. Don’t run. Don’t shrink away. Draw near. Confess to Him what you both already know. Ask Him for intense strength to break the grip of sin and guilt. Ask Him to remove a hook from your heart if you don’t have the strength to do it. You will find that He isn’t lighting up sin in you to bring condemnation – but to bring you comfort in the return to Him. He will not call wrong –“right”. He will not excuse rebellion. Humble before Him and be blessed anew by Him!
The Unity of the lamp – one piece (22).
The lampstand could easily have been assembled in parts. It didn’t need to me one piece, apart from the fact that God specifically commanded that it be made that way. Have you ever wondered WHY? We can’t know for sure, but we DO know that God told Bezalel to follow the pattern given, and that was from the Tabernacle of Heaven.
It was many times harder to make the whole frame as a single piece. Though gold is malleable, it is also heavy and not terribly sturdy. This piece would have been the most difficult to construct of all for that reason alone. I don’t want to go too far afield with the analogy, but stop and think about the unity involved in the TRUTH of God’s Word – the lamp to our feet and light to our path.
One Bible teacher wrote it this way:
“The various Bible writers lived at different times, some separated by hundreds of years. In many cases they were complete strangers to one another. Some were businessmen or traders, others were shepherds, fishermen, soldiers, physicians, preachers, kings—human beings from all walks of life. They served under different governments, and lived within contrasting cultures and systems of philosophy. But here is the wonder of it all: When the 66 books of the Bible with their 1,189 chapters made up of 31,173 verses are brought together, we find perfect harmony in the message they convey. As the great scholar F. F. Bruce noted: “The Bible is not simply an anthology; there is a unity which binds the whole together.”
Suppose a man should knock at your door and, when invited in, place an oddly shaped piece of marble on your living room floor, then leave without a word. Other visitors follow in succession until about 40 individuals have each deposited their numbered marble piece into place. When the last one has gone, you see with surprise that a beautiful statue stands before you. Then you learn that most of the “sculptors” had never met each other, coming, as they did, from South America, China, Russia, Africa, and other parts of the world. What would you have to conclude? That someone had planned the statue and had sent to each man accurate specifications for his particular piece of marble. The Bible as a whole communicates one coherent message—just like a perfect marble statue. One mind planned it all, the mind of God. Scripture’s remarkable unity gives evidence that it is not simply human literature but indeed the Word of God. Human beings wrote down the thoughts and words, but they were “God-breathed,” inspired by God Himself.” (excerpted from “Exploring the Word” website).
The Weight of the lamp – approaching one talent (24).
The ancient Egyptian talent of the Pharaohs weighed sixty pounds, and most of it was used to make the lampstand – with a small amount partitioned for other utensils. The size of the lamp, but estimation of the Jerusalem Institute when we were building the replica in the Judean Desert was about five feet tall with a large base equal to a third of the height. We were looking for a way to hold it together without the weight of one branch drooping to downward. It was difficult for the Kohathites camped south of the Tabernalce to carry from one place to another when the camp moved. It had no handles, and was somewhat fragile because of its build.
If you haven’t caught the imagery yet, the light was the agency of the truth exposed to those who would serve God. It was intended to be both precious and heavy. It was not intended to be easy to carry in life. God’s chief desire is NOT our COMFORT, but our CONSECRATION. We are made to be ready to serve God, and that can only work if we are CAREFUL to keep His Word doing its work in us – cleaning us and checking us.
Can I make the point anew that this is not an EASY task? The presentation of the Bible as a simple “Plan of Salvation” is well below the point of the Book. Most of the Bible is NOT about FINDING GOD – it is about FOLLOWING GOD. Why do I meet so many believers that know the FINDING GOD sections, but are only barely familiar with the FOLLOWING GOD sections? Let me offer this plea:
- In the Law, we learn of what moves the Father’s heart. We learn what He cares about, and what bugs Him in His people. We learn about the patterns of His judicial thinking, and why a relationship with Him is not as simple as “doing the best we can”. He wants our allegiance, our careful obedience to a vast array of areas of life’s choices. He wants to be part of the everyday.
- In the Prophets, we hear the warnings of a God that must bring pain to His people if they refuse to walk with Him. He pays careful attention to all the things His people are doing. When the cousins in the Northern Kingdom fell to the world, the warnings became even sharper and more pronounced. When sin was not abandoned, the fall of the people in the Southern Kingdom gave rise to a new kind of prophecy – the cautions of living out of place with God’s intention, in an exile brought on by stubbornness.
- In the writings we hear of God’s wisdom – His intended standards for how things were supposed to work. The norm is established and the life of praise is rooted in song and anthem. Our ability to lift up worship and praise is enhanced, while our inner pains are eased.
- In the Gospels we read the example of God in human skin – a Perfect answer to man’s sin problem and a Perfect specimen of One that pleases His Father in Heaven.
- In the Book of Acts we see that Risen One acting through His chosen servants, beginning the process of exposing the dark world to the light of the truth.
- In the Epistles we read the instructions based on sample problems, and examine the principles of how to solve the issues the people of God will face as the message is transported around the world to all cultures and peoples.
- In Revelation we read of the end of God’s program. His careful plan is played out to the defeat of His enemies and the Perfection of His Forever Kingdom.
Every part of God’s Word is relevant. The notion that only SOME of it is FOR US, flies directly in the face of 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
Paul wrote that God’s Word is from God’s breath, powerful to change God’s people, and planned out to fully prepare God’s work force. Much of it is detail, and all of it takes careful study. Timothy was urged not to slack off in his study but “to show himself a workman that need not be ashamed.” (2 Tim. 2:15). It was intended to TAKE WORK.
If we think that we can simply slide by on sermons prepared by others, listen to a few jingles from Christian radio, and occasionally crack open our Bible and really develop the ability to filter the truth from the nonsense said in God’s name – we are kidding ourselves. We are enveloping laziness in a cloak of spirituality that is bound to fail. Let me say it plainly: Your understanding of God’s Word is the foundation of your ability to serve and please Him. If you had no ability to read and learn – God would make a way. Since you do – God’s way is in the Book.
- Don’t look for victory without practice.
- Don’t expect power without plugging in to the outlet.
- Don’t put off til tomorrow what might be vital information for today.
God’s Word is POWERFUL, but a sword still sheathed scares no enemy.
1. The Word brought the message of salvation when I was lost: “…from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15).
2. The Word nursed me through the tender years of infancy in Christ: “…like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation…” (1 Peter 2:2).
3. The Word bulks me up to stand as a man of God and give me a home to build on: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)
4. The Word can give me power over the enemy when he assaults me: “…I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
5. The Word comforts me with assurance when life wears out my confidence: “…These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13).
6. The Word can keep me from sin: “…Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11).
7. The Word can keep me from the wrong conclusions: “Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).
The Bible offers commands to obey, promises to believe, sins to avoid, examples to follow and warning to heed. Can the movie I watched last night do that for me? Can the novel I have plunged into do that for me? Can more time with my favorite sport offer that to me?
God instructed a carefully prepared ornate lamp stand in the Holy Place to bring light and to expose anything that would harm the sanctity and dignity of His work among His people.
A recent commercial highlighted one of the most important pieces of furniture in our homes – the kitchen table. I have to admit, their words struck a chord in me. You see, not only is our table the centerpiece of the mealtime discussions of my family, but it is the place, often over an espresso, where many of our most critical family decisions have been made. It has been the center stage for more than one family “discussion” when a problem arose between members of our normally happy home. It has been an altar for prayer, when worries surrounded us and we were unsure of God’s direction. It has been a safe haven when we were experiencing the enemy’s attack on our children. It has been a place of sweet desert, and a place of bitter tears. Our table, perhaps more than any other place, has symbolized the communion of the Smith family. As we read today from the story of the Tabernacle’s construction, it is nice to know that God included in His design, a simple table upon which priests would place bread. God has a table, and He left particular instruction as to its design and setting. That table was meant to lead His people into a better understanding of Who He is. Today we want to focus on what God revealed about Himself by the instructions and references to His table of bread.
Key Principle: God instructed a table be made to keep His ongoing provision in front of His people and remind them of His enduring holy attention to them!
This isn’t a dry study of furnishings, it is a glimpse into their Divine designer and what He wanted known of Himself.
A Brief Look Back
Step back and look at the road behind us for a moment. It has been a long road through the wilderness, and the thin trail traversed by our camels and caravan extends as far as the eye can see. We have tasting the sand and wiping the sweat from our faces as we have been following Moses and the children of Israel out of their former slave tents in Goshen to the Promised Land – all the way through our study in the book of Exodus. The book contains the unfolding of God’s redemption from slavery of the people of Israel. It begins with a sense of abandonment – a ringing in the ears of the cries of bitter bondage. It ends, in complete contrast, with the peaceful settling of the glory of the Lord on the Tabernacle in the last lines of the book. It began in stone and mud brick cities built with the trembling hands of mal nourished slaves. It ends with the woven tent and golden furnishings of a moveable structure of worship – made by the Spirit-empowered hands of craftsmen on a mission. What began in a haze of brown dust, ended in a golden glow of glory. They that sowed in tears reaped in joy.
As we pick up our reading in the middle of Exodus 37:10, the Tabernacle building has already been erected. The gold laden ark (the box that held the promises and Law of God) was set up for use. Our lesson focuses our attention on the next piece of furniture handed down from God’s design studio from above called “the Table of Shewbread” in older English translations. Technically, there is no proper word in English like “shewbread”, but the word was forced into the text by the translators of the King James Bible long ago to identify this unique item. The Hebrew “lechem haPānīm” is literally: “the bread of the Presence” – a name that showed something of its importance and function. Take a moment and look at the account as Moses related it:
Exodus 37:10 “Then he made the table of acacia wood, two cubits long and a cubit wide and one and a half cubits high. 11 He overlaid it with pure gold, and made a gold molding for it all around. 12 He made a rim for it of a handbreadth all around, and made a gold molding for its rim all around. 13 He cast four gold rings for it and put the rings on the four corners that were on its four feet. 14 Close by the rim were the rings, the holders for the poles to carry the table. 15 He made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold, to carry the table. 16 He made the utensils which were on the table, its dishes and its pans and its bowls and its jars, with which to pour out drink offerings, of pure gold.”
The table was beautifully constructed and carefully designed as a symbolic message of God’s presence with and provision for His people. God was ever with them, meeting their needs. People who don’t walk with God, don’t know what that feels like. They don’t even know what they are missing. It reminds me of an old story:
One Sunday morning an old cowboy entered a church just before services were to begin. Although the old man and his clothes were spotlessly clean, he wore jeans, a denim shirt and boots that were very worn and ragged. In his hand he carried a worn out old hat and an equally worn out Bible. The church he entered was in a very upscale and exclusive part of the city. It was the largest and most beautiful church the old cowboy had ever seen. The people of the congregation were all dressed with expensive clothes and accessories. As the cowboy took a seat, the others moved away from him. No one greeted, spoke to, or welcomed him. They were all appalled at his appearance and did not attempt to hide it. The preacher gave a long sermon filled with fire and brimstone and a stern lecture on how much money the church needed to do God’s work. As the old cowboy was leaving the church, the preacher approached him and asked the cowboy to do him a favor. “Before you come back in here again, have a talk with God and ask him what He thinks would be appropriate attire for worship.” The old cowboy assured the preacher he would. The next Sunday, he showed back up for the services wearing the same ragged jeans, shirt, boots, and hat. Once again he was completely shunned and ignored. The preacher approached the man and said, “I thought I asked you to speak to God about what you should wear before you came back to our church.” “I did,” replied the old cowboy. “If you spoke to God, what did he tell you the proper attire should be for worshiping in here?” asked the preacher. “Well, sir, God told me that He didn’t have a clue what I should wear. He says He’s never been here before.” (sermon central illustrations).
Men and women, people were never designed to handle life disconnected from God. Believers, who have tasted intimacy with God and then wander off, find themselves to be some of the most miserable people in the world. God has some important words about WALKING IN HIS PRESENCE from that little golden table, and we want to look at those words in this lesson.
First a word about the table
Scripture says that Bezalel took the acacia wood from the sparse groves of the Sinai Peninsula, and cut them into plates of wood. Distilling the sap into thick glue and perhaps using mortise and tenon joints, he assembled the table. The legs were set into the corners with a top height of about twenty-seven inches. The surface of the table was about eighteen inches wide by about thirty-six inches long (37:10).
After that, Bezalel took the purest smelted gold and heated it to the perfect temperature to allow all of the dross and impurity to float to the liquid surface. He probably poured the molten gold into a framed area on flat rock, using some oils and pastes that would help the gold separate from the rock for pounding, shaping and framing. When still malleable but cooled sufficiently, he placed the thinned sheet of gold over the wood surfaces and worked them with a combination of hammer and heat, to bond them to the surface. Some pins were probably installed into the wood to allow the fixing of the gold plate to set properly and securely. In the end, a delicately decorated border lined the top of the table, near the edge and about one hand breadth in height, to hold the bread in place and keep it from sliding off the slick gold surface (37:11-12).
Near the rim at the top of the table, and affixed to the four vertical legs rings were mounted at the corners, like that of the ark – for this was a table for a journey. Poles were lathed and shaped, covered with gold and slid into position (37:13-15). Then came the fine work needed for the table setting. Utensils were fashioned, including some flat dishes, pans with handles, bowls and jars for liquid. All of them were shaped and buffed to a shiny and slick surface, allowing them to be more easily kept polished and clean (37:16).
That is the simple description of the piece of furniture that God ordered to REPRESENT HIS DAILY PROVISION and HIS ACTIVE PRESENCE among His people. God commanded in Exodus 25:30 “You shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before Me at all times.”
Here is a question: “How do we know that was the message God was trying to give them?” A careful look at Scriptures about the table will unfold the story:
First, the table was made to place baked bread loaves – and those loaves had a very SPECIAL MEANING to Israel.
Bread was the symbol of their daily needs. Bread in Hebrew culture was an idiom for the basic needs to sustain life. When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”, He was teaching them to ask for all their basic needs – not just cooked dough. In addition, in the harsh and barren desert, God miraculously supplied bread for the people when they had no way to grow and harvest crops. Exodus 16:35 reminds: “The sons of Israel ate the manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate the manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.” What we are looking at was a table to remind Israel that God was present because their needs were met in the daily manna ingredients of the bread.
Tabernacle “manna bread” was a symbol of God’s miraculous daily provision and people’s daily attention to His commands. Do you recall the passage where God instructed the making of the table? In the heart of the book of Exodus, back in chapter 16, there were a series of tests presented by God to the people. The instructions to build the table came from that passage. The test, you may recall from earlier studies, was what we simply referred to as “The Consistency Test (Exodus 16:4 and 16:27). When we read the passage some time back, we reminded ourselves that God offered Israel a “use only as directed” test. The text shares: Exodus 16:4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. The clear point of the Consistency Test is obedience – not once, but ongoing and continual obedience.
Tabernacle bread was a symbol of God’s participation with the priestly meal. Look a bit deeper into the Bible and the picture of the bread as a symbol is even richer. Leviticus 24:5 “Then you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it; two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake. 6 “You shall set them in two rows, six to a row, on the pure gold table before the LORD. 7 “You shall put pure frankincense on each row that it may be a memorial portion for the bread, even an offering by fire to the LORD. 8 “Every Sabbath day he shall set it in order before the LORD continually; it is an everlasting covenant for the sons of Israel. 9 “It shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the LORD’S offerings by fire, his portion forever.”
The frankincense was most likely cast upon the altar-fire as “an offering made by fire unto the Lord,” when the bread was removed from the table on the Sabbath-day, and represented the offering of fire – without burning up the bread itself. (cp. Leviticus 24:8; 1 Samuel 21:6). The frankincense represented the part the Lord enjoyed, as He could inhale the white smoke into His nostrils (poetically speaking), while the priests were able to eat the bread. God participated in the consumption, and they all delighted together!
What is clear is this: the bread was a symbol of need, and collection of that manna ingredient was a symbol both of daily obedience and God’s participation with His people.
The bread from the table had to be replaced every Sabbath, with the collected manna from that week’s provision. What a picture! Every week, the continual GRIND of following God’s plan was required. Serving another’s plans goes against our nature, but it is the PROPER position of a servant of God. Those who master this are remembered as great men and women by God. God doesn’t simply want us to have moments of contact and growth followed by long walks alone. Our life with Him must, as we mature, become more steady and continuous – a walk hand in Hand. With that in mind, let me ask you something: “Are you steady in your walk with God?” Are you finding that you seek Him daily and hourly or more like Sunday and perhaps when you are in trouble? Maturity can be measured by consistency – and it is worth taking a moment to measure ourselves.
In another less personal way, we should step back and address a problem that we face on a greater scale than ourselves as well. We live in times where God’s placing of such tests like the provision that needed to be collected would be considered by some both unfair and even cruel. Our world has somehow communicated the notion that wealth should be WON not EARNED, and that work is a PENALTY not a BLESSING. We are in danger of raising a generation to believe that a JOB is for the stupid while gain without work is the WAGE of the CLEVER. God’s economy for people in a dangerous and tough situation was a WORK PROGRAM. He required them to get up DAILY, collect manna DAILY, and learn the pattern that would pay off greatly when they entered the land and needed to work a farm for crops to feed their family. Can you imagine what would have happened if God simply delivered the manna in pots to their door each day? What if he delivered the manna in a pot once a month and called it a FOOD PROGRAM. I am not arguing that our country should not help those who struggle – no decent human being could watch others go hungry without caring. I am arguing that such programs come with inherent dangers that we need to be aware of. If we increase the payments for those unwed mothers who have more children, we keep those children alive and perhaps healthy. At the same time, the perverse effect is that we reward people for making unhealthy and ungodly choices. God’s sensible solution was to offer people the opportunity to help themselves – and that pattern has some merit even now.
What about the people that couldn’t help themselves? Surely the blind or lame couldn’t collect manna. That must be true. I have traveled that desert, and it simply would have been unsafe. How did they get cared for? The answer is as simple and un-dramatic as this: the people around them collected what they needed. Neighbors helped each other. God allowed people to gather extra to help others – just not to hoard for themselves. Why didn’t they simply establish a council to care for such things? Because the further away from the need the decisions are made, the less efficient and accurate the meeting of that need. When local people meet local needs, people who are milking the system get found out quickly. We have steadily moved from that premise for more than fifty years, and LBJ’s “Great Society” has become an institutionalized form of limitation – holding people DOWN instead of bringing them up. They have neither seen a model of work, nor have a MINDSET to work or now even the OPPORTUNITY to work. Our national HELP has literally crippled a generation. We need to spread manna in the daily field and let people have a way back to work. Our future as a country depends on it.
Are you feeling victimized? Don’t be! Let me say it plainly: in the church, we must teach that WORK IS GOOD. Our youth need to be taught to work hard, and to take God’s provision seriously. We are not ENTITLED to excess – we have greater responsibility with God’s greater provision. “To whom much is given, much is therefore required.” One of the ways we should recognize God’s hand is PROVISION.
A desire to do something is not the same as a CALL to do something. If you want it, but God is not providing, perhaps God does not WANT YOU TO HAVE IT. Perhaps He is not leading you to go where you cannot afford to go. We need to stop assuming that God wants us to have whatever we want to have, and work hard. We need be thankful for the provision He has made. In the first Epistle of Paul that we have in the record of the New Testament, Paul argued for believers to show their faith by their WORK ETHIC. It is time for us to assert this anew: Real followers of Jesus aren’t trying to get something for nothing – they work to honor their Savior. They follow His provision. They celebrate His goodness and sleep well at night from a hard day’s labors. The bread of the table has had much to say.
Second, the table was surrounded with a protecting crown – a rim that held the bread from sliding off of the table.
The symbol of God’s presence demanded protection, because God’s presence is a privilege and an honor that must be both cherished and guarded. The rim was a gold fence, creating a space between those moving around in the room as they passed the edge of the table, and the bread that was carefully prepared and placed inside the inner rim. The rim also had a second purpose. The table was never to be empty… Even when they moved the table. The bread had to be “ever present” – and the rim showed that it needed to be ever protected.
Without stretching the point, it may be worth asking a question right about now….Are you carefully protecting your time with God? Do you value His presence enough, and live in the conscious presence of God so as to be carefully protecting your walk with Him?
Many believers act like it is God’s privilege to have OUR attendance. They act as though God should be sitting in Heaven waiting on them, whenever they get around to worshipping, praising or praying. We need to check our hearts to be sure that we know the difference between a genie and our God. The Lord God does not sit within a bottle waiting for the warm hand to rub and summon Him. He is not at our beck and call – we are to be at HIS.
Third, rings were mounted on the table because it was to be carried, joining the people where ever the camp went.
God’s people were not to go where God did not direct, and where God did not join. If God wasn’t comfortable there, they shouldn’t have been there. How about that as a rule for our lives? Believers were meant to follow His lead and constantly acknowledge, through the bread on the table, His accompaniment. Though we all live in the presence of God’s face continually, many of us don’t live like we realize it. We act as though God didn’t hear the gossip we spread yesterday, or the lie we told last night. We forget His presence – but they were called to continually mark it out.
Fourth, every bowl, pan or utensil associated with the table was to be fashioned of pure gold.
Walking in the conscious presence of God was, and is, to be the highest value of our lives. Gold was not only beautiful, it was precious. God’s utensils were made of gold. How we treat God is reflected in every attitude of our lives, every relationship with other people, and even our reflective relationship within our own hearts. Our values are shaped by our desire to please a very present God, and walk through life with Him. Our biggest failure is not to do or say something that displeases Him – it is to live life without caring about His presence. As Dietrich Bonheoffer brilliantly said: “When we sin, we don’t hate God, we forget God.”
Fifth, the command was made that the table was never to be empty- but full at all times.
It was to be kept supplied even during a journey, because it represented the people’s knowledge of the unfailing presence of the Holy One with them. Bread took work to make, and so it takes work to constantly recall God is very present with man. it is easy to forget God. It is easy to live life with God on the periphery of important decisions. He is always there, but many of us only think about Him at times of pain, trouble or distress. After the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden, the default position of fallen man is independence from God – living in the deception of self-reliance. Walking with God takes effort, and it takes practice.
Hebrews 9 underscored the idea that the place for the table was a holy place: Hebrews 9:2 For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place. Any place where I thankfully acknowledge God’s provision and celebrate God’s goodness is a holy place.
True communion with God is worship. True worship requires constant and deliberate effort. True worship is holy and as such was always guarded. It was to be treasured, but had to be forcibly recalled in a life that defaults to self-reliance. It isn’t simply an emotional response – it is a deliberate call to truth, whether I feel warm and fuzzy toward God or not. God IS great, when I feel it, and when I don’t. True worship demands that I face the facts. One of the things it cannot truly be – it must never be – is BORING. Boring worship is an oxymoron – a self-contradicting phrase. I remember a Pastor sharing this little story:
A little boy asked his mother if she could remember the highest number she ever counted to. The mother didn’t know so she asked him about his highest number. He answered, “5,372.” The mother was puzzled and asked him why he stopped at that particular one. The boy responded, “Well…church was over.” (A-Z sermon illustrations).
Our world is filled with contradictory statements and oxymorons: Jumbo shrimp, Freezer burn, White chocolate, Plastic silverware, Airline food, Sanitary landfill, Truthful tabloids, Professional wrestling – and we have learned to accept them all. There is one that is entirely unacceptable: boring worship. Worship is about emptying myself of self-reliance and self-dependence and wholly leaning on God. Worship is about thanking God for His gentle presence in spite of my unworthiness. It is about crying out to Him in recognition of His constant goodness.
Around the table of God we can see His provision and celebrate His presence. We can sing of His redemption and look forward to our Promised Land. We are on the journey, but we are NOT ALONE.
Can I ask you another question? How fresh is the bread of God’s presence in you? Martin Luther has said, “Christ is now as fresh unto me as if He had shed His blood but this very hour.” Is that true of YOU? Is time with Him sweet and fresh or stale and frozen? If you are cold toward God, let me call you to a new and fresh loaf of bread. Let me share with you a word of excitement…
Stand before God and worship Him in great amazement. We live in a marvelous hour! Stop hanging your head because you feel darkness closing in. Let the night fall. It has all been done before – and Jesus’ reign in the Heavenly places still remains secure. We have the great privilege to exalt His Name as we extend His Kingdom. No one will stop His love from reaching through us into the darkest places – if we will but allow His power to work through us. We can express His Greatness as we sing praises through the day. We can wait with anticipation as we expect His Coming. Lift up your eyes to the Exalted One. Hear the song of the Heavens as His Presence fills this place!
Psalm 96 says: 1 “Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. 2 Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. 3 Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. 4 For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised…6 Splendor and majesty are before Him, Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary…9 Worship the LORD in holy attire; Tremble before Him, all the earth. 10 Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved…12 Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy 13 Before the LORD, for He is coming, For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness.”
God designed a little gold table to remind His people of His ongoing provision in front of His people and His enduring holy attention to them! Aren’t you glad He did!
Symbols are all around us – and the most effective ones are those that connect a singular message to a whole society. We can’t walk down any city street without seeing a range of symbols, all that have meanings that have come to be clear in our society. Think about taking a walk. You know where you are supposed to cross the street by paint markings in straight lines for the crossing. You know where the cars on the road are supposed to stop by the octagonal sign that contains one four letter word: “STOP!” No sign? No matter, the red light will do that same thing. If you saw the sign or the light in another country, you would still know what to do –because the symbol’s shape or color that speak clearly – STOP MOVING. You glance up, and discover there is a man was jogging toward you. You may know something of his tastes by reading the symbol from his shirt. You may know if he is married by a ring on the proper finger. His sneakers may bear a symbol upon them that identify their maker and tell you how serious a runner he may be. Keep walking. As you near the next intersection, a small box mounted at the corner may has the symbol of the postal service, and as your mind recognizes it, you are able to identify the purpose of the metal box affixed beside the walk. You hear a rumble and look up. A bus rolls by, and by the color you will very likely be able to tell if it is a public city bus, a private bus, or a school bus. Just as you are thinking about the children going off to school, your phone rings, and the preset tone may becomes an audio symbol, identifying the caller by a chosen tone you programmed to their identity marker. It is your pushy aunt Edna, so you turn the phone to IGNORE. My point is that our lives are filled with symbols, and they are all to offer us a “short hand” script to keep messages flowing without quickly and without strain or confusion. The beauty of a symbol is that it brings clarity in simplicity and brevity – a large message in a small package – and that is exactly what we will be talking about today.
You see, God was the first marketer to brand things. He knew that man would need help identifying things, and wanted us to grasp big messages about Him by offering small symbols. One of them is the subject of this study – a wooden box covered with gold that symbolized truths about God.
Key Principle: God gave His people a small symbol that helped them understand great truths about HIM!
The symbol in our passage is a GOLD COVERED BOX. It wasn’t very large, but it was quite unusual in its build:
Exodus 37:1 Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. 2 He overlaid it with pure gold, both inside and out, and made a gold molding around it. 3 He cast four gold rings for it and fastened them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. 4 Then he made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold. 5 And he inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. 6 He made the atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. 7 Then he made two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. 8 He made one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; at the two ends he made them of one piece with the cover. 9 The cherubim had their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim faced each other, looking toward the cover.
Working with symbols in Scripture is always tricky. We can be ever so tempted to “read into” a simple story, and turn an observation into an instruction – totally apart from God’s true purposes. With that in mind, one of the things we have to do to insure we aren’t making up insights and fabricating principles is to analyze the text carefully. God didn’t say to YOU something He didn’t say. Scripture was not given BY private interpretation nor FOR private interpretation – It says what It says. Application is personal –how I live out the truth. Interpretation MUST BE objective – what did God actually say.
Take a look at these simple nine verses:
- God recorded that Bezalel, according to God’s earlier instruction, built a box out of acacia wood in a specified size of roughly 27” high, 27” wide and 45” long (37:1). This protected tree of the desert is one of the few that can grow in the harsh desert climate. It has natural “barbed wire” in the long and piercing thorns that are used today by the Bedouin as sewing needles.
- Bezalel coated the wood box with gold, and then made a delicate molding around the box for decorative purposes (37:2). Using the donated gold brought out from Egypt, he made the box similar to the many pieces of gold overlay furnishings found in the Cairo Museum that once belonged to Pharaohs.
- He melted and cast rings to attach to the four corners on the bracing of the legs of the box where poles could be inserted to carry the box (37:3). The box was specifically designed for transport – and the carrying handles were removable, but integrated into the design.
- The poles were lathed and then coated with gold as well, in a size that could slip into the rings and bear the whole box (37:4).
- They slipped the poles into place for a test as a wise precaution, and they fit perfectly in the summary we have in the text (37:5).
- A large cover for the whole box was fashioned from gold, and made to fit snugly on top – for this box was not going to remain stationary (37:6).
- Made separate from the top, but then affixed to it, were two cherubim – angelic beings that guard God’s throne and holiness – based on the way they are perceived when seen by men (37:7).
- Bezalel fashioned the angels, then placed them facing each other on the two ends of the box – as if the attention of the angels was to whatever the center of the top had on it. The funny thing was that Bezalel left the area between the angels unadorned (37:8-9). Both angels looked at a spot that was essentially flat and thoroughly uninteresting in design, for one symbolic use of the box would later reveal the importance of that little spot.
There it is – a simple wood box adorned with expensive plating and some decorative winged angels.
Why would God take the time to describe the making of it to us? What possible difference could it make in our lives? I would like to suggest that God was telling His story in the symbols, the way we tell of the love of our lives by a simple band of God. God had a story to tell to Israel and the nations around them, and He chose to use a box the way Nike chose to use a “swoosh” symbol. It is a small and simply marker of a more elegant communication.
The Ark of God had two essential uses in the Bible – to transport and store the Word of God with some other important memorabilia, as well as localize in a symbolic way the covering of the nation’s sins through blood atonement.
The box was about the things most important to God – His Word and His promise to His people to judicially care for their sins. God revealed six truths through the decorated golden box:
Truth #1: God chose to use normal things to bring about His plan.
Essentially the box was nothing more than decorated and overlaid WOOD. The value was not in the intrinsic nature of the wood, but in the use God intended for it.
Maybe you have been led to believe that God performs only through the extraordinary. Read the Christian magazines and it may seem that way. Watch the Christian film and you will see stars with better skin than you have and less fat than I carry. God doesn’t only use the extraordinary… it just isn’t true!
Go back to the early days of the church, and you will see God working uphill in the lives of painfully ordinary and easily misrepresented people.
- Start in Acts 1, and peer into the window as the disciples tried to pick a successor to the suicidal former treasurer named Judas. They cast lots and picked Matthais – a guy who was never heard from again in the Holy Book! No doubt the best way to get people of good character to lead is shooting craps!
- Then there was the great move of the Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2 – reputed in the crowd to be a move of “spirits” as the men were accused of drunkenness.
- By Acts 3 and 4, there as a bright spot as God used Peter and John to bring healing to a lame man, but within hours the movement was being led by jailbirds – as the leaders were scooped up and detained.
- In other words, by four chapters into the Book of Acts the movement of the church appeared to be formed by the likes of gamblers, drunks and ex-cons, and we haven’t even gotten to chapter five… oh this is rich! Bring in the BODY BAGS! People were literally DYING to get out of their early meetings.
- In Acts 6 the early beleivers were already squabbling over racism and uneven benefits – the smell of nepotism was strong in the air.
- By Acts 7, the response to a rousing historical sermon by Stephen brought a pummeling of stones until he was dead – surely not the response any preacher would be hoping for.
- By Acts 8, persecution began falling like rain in the houses of early believers, and the movement was being spread by civil servant eunuchs from far away. It didn’t look promising at all.
- In Acts 9 another reputed ex-killer joined the group, but most were afraid to even acknowledge him. Add to that the people who exemplified Jesus, like Tabitha, were not exempt from falling dead of disease. Resurrecting people was not going to keep the place going very long.
- In Acts 10, a Roman centurion joined the band – but he could have just as easily been an infiltrator. Then came the pig eating pagans, and all Heaven broke loose.
My point it: even when told in a sarcastic voice, that God’s story wasn’t passed “in the early days” by people that floated above the earth. God’s early church was filled with all kinds of ordinary and flawed people – just like it is today. God used a WOOD BOX, and God can use your life. Don’t get distracted by the gold covering, underneath every one of us is stuff made on earth… clay pots that belong to the King!
Truth #2: God shared Himself with the world through the cooperation of a servant dedicated to the work.
The labor for the box was that of a man. The man was made by God. The tree was made by God. The story God wanted to tell was God’s story… but at the end of the day the whole of ministry to the people was offered in collaboration with a man. God works through people – that is His instrument of choice.
When God wanted to bring a message to Canaanites about the One True God, he called Abram. When He wanted to rescue His people from Pharaoh, he called Moses. When He wanted to route Jabin, King of Hazor, he called Deborah to get Barak. When He wanted to kill Goliath, He summoned David. When He wanted to bring a Savior, he called on Mary…. God is in the business of bringing Himself and His power to the world through collaboration with men and women. He loves to share life in relationship with us! While He enables us to do the extraordinary, we must remember that it is only our surrender to Him that is required – He does all the rest.
In making the box – Bezalel shared God’s huge vision with his little splintered hands. He cut, glued, planed and affixed with skills given by God through mentors and through Spirit empowering. The preparation of Bezalel’s life was no doubt used for this – but the secret was in his obedience to God as the Lord enabled him to do more than he could have ever thought of before. God delights in using people, walking with people, sharing vision with people, and celebrating victory with people.
Truth #3: God showed what He prized in the making of the box.
The overlay of gold without was impressive to others who beheld it, but the overlay of the interior was only to express the value God placed on His Word – the tablets and scrolls it was designed to house. The added weight would slow down the movement of the box without extreme effort – but the prized contents were shrouded in rich gold because God wanted people to understand how important His Word is to Him and to them.
A student of the Word of God need not dive deeply to find God’s affection for the Scriptures. If we love Him, we will learn to love what He loves – and God delights in His Word. GOD IS A POET AT HEART and a bit of a romantic one at that. Beyond the pure benefits of deeply drawing from it (cited in Psalm 1), there is celebration in their power and effect in Psalm 19, and sobering reminders of their deep need in Psalm 119.
Wise is the man or woman that seeks God’s will through God’s Word. Dreams will leave you with doubt. Advice may be filtered from lips that reflect a selfish heart and be uncertain in their directives. The mind, even the one occupied with God’s Spirit can be easily swayed. It is God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures, to whom men have turned to know the heart of God for generations.
- George Washington said: “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible”.
- John Quincy Adams said: “So great is my veneration for the Bible that the earlier my children begin to read it the more confident will be my hope that they will prove useful citizens of their country and respectable members of society…” —
- Andrew Jackson argued: “That book, sir, is the rock on which our republic rests”
- Abraham Lincoln acknowledged: “I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong” — “It is the duty of nations as well as men to recognize the truth announced in Holy Scripture and proven by all of history that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.”
- President Ulysses S. Grant warned: “Hold fast to the Bible as the sheet anchor of your liberties. Write its precepts in your hearts, and practice them in your lives. To the influence of this book are we indebted for all the progress made in true civilization, and to this we must look as our guide in the future. Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people”
Regardless of how embarrassed our modern university professors may be, our Founding Fathers knew the Bible was more than great literature. They knew it transformed lives, and guaranteed their freedom.
It was the underpinning of their Constitution. It is therefore no surprise that as we move the Bible’s presence and influence from the center stage of our republic, we find ourselves bound in ever increasing legal cement and moral gridlock. None of our fathers practiced the truths of the Bible wholly – there were still the scars of slavery and injustice that festered like sores. Yet even in this hypocrisy, it was the voices like that of William Wilberforce in England that forcefully stood opposed to the ungodly discrimination of color based on the Bible itself. The Bible led men to both correction and redemption. The Bible didn’t allow men to be summarily bought and sold – despite what you have heard from the ill-informed script writers of modern television. The Bible was – and I would argue still IS – the answer – not the problem.
Try to silence the sheer power of its pages. It has all been done before. While you do, you must remember soberly, Mister and Madame Justices of our courts, “It is appointed unto man once to die, then the judgment.” The FINAL gavel sits on the desk of the ULTIMATE JUDGE. God treasures His Word, and it is incredibly dangerous for any people to stick their finger in the eye of the Holy One AND BELIEVE THAT HE WILL NOT NOTICE.
Truth #4: God desired to express both purpose and elegance in the box.
He didn’t want a clunky slapped together contraption roped to a cart by Jed Clampett (an old television character of the “Beverly Hillbillys”). He wanted something carefully, delicately, intricately formed and fashioned – worthy of the majesty of a King. The wood box held the FUNCTION, but the gold overlay offered a REGAL quality that befits a great Master of the people. Note the work had a CROWN placed on its edges.
We must be creative and elegant when expressing to our world Who our Father is. We must press harder and harder to do what we do in worship well. We do not offer a concert, but nor should it be a slapped together barn dance. We must seek to have the delicacy and elegance shine through as we exalt Him and proclaim His work. He is a God of rich texture and beauty. He is a God filled with regal majesty! Our celebration of Him must be more than a dry rehearsal of overused words. There must be a ring of His PERSON in His praise!
Listen to some simple words by Matt Redman on his intimate walk with God:
“I’m standing on this mountaintop looking just how far we’ve come – knowing that for every step You were with us. I’m kneeling on this battle ground seeing just how much You’ve done – knowing every victory is Your power in us. Scars and struggles on the way but with joy our hears can say…Yes, our hearts can say: Never once did we ever walk alone! Never once did you leave us on our own! You are faithful, God, You are faithful! Never once did we ever walk alone! Never once did you leave us on our own! You are faithful, God, You are faithful! Carried by Your constant grace! Held within Your perfect peace! Never once, no, we never walk alone! You are faithful, God, You are faithful!”
Can you hear it? Simple but elegant words celebrate the faithfulness of God. I sang them this week standing beside a career missionary, and we both knew how very true they were! Such truths can come from the deep words of Isaac Watts, or the simple frames of Matt Redman. It is not in the lighting and the sound that they connect with our hearts – it is in their TRUTH. Thank God that He adorned truth with beauty, and that it connects with us in elegant ways.
Truth #5: God reminded the spiritual leaders that He desired to go WITH them on the journey.
He was not simply the “God of the Mountain” – but also the “God of the Journey” as well. He did not want to speak to them profoundly and then be left parked in the occasional camp meetings of their lives. God intended to make the whole journey with them, and marked His presence – once only detected in pillars of fire and clouds – by the box. Israel so identified the box with God’s presence, that much later they took it to war, thinking of it as a “good luck charm” or talisman instead of truly grasping its meaning. At least they remembered the connection the box had to a God who is present with us!
Truth #6: God preaches through the angels a prime purpose for the box – to get Heaven to observe His atonement and mercy.
Men don’t often look beyond themselves in the purposes of God. We don’t often ask, “How will this affect the angelic world?” We see what God does for MEN and what God speaks to MEN. Here is that rare place in Scripture, where God shows through a simple symbol something MORE. God is using symbols for a larger theatre than men can see. He ordered two angels to be positioned to stare down at a place on the top of the Ark that was essentially barren. Later God explained the use of that flat and barren place – it was the place where the blood of atonement would be poured our as the judicial payment for the sins of God’s people. That blood would atone, or cause God to look away from their sin for a time. It was temporary, but it was effective in its use.
Believers today enjoy a BETTER covenant of God. We don’t keep killing animals to turn away God’s wrath. We have a sacrifice – but it was made ONCE FOR ALL. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tried to explain this very truth to those who were used to offering at the Temple long ago:
Hebrews 10:1 For the Law (referring in context to Atonement Laws), since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins…
The writer argued that the atonement law foreshadowed a permanent cleansing from sin brought by Jesus (as the passage goes on to explain). He said the offerings of atonement law could not take away sin, but were constantly needed – without repetition the new sins would not be covered by the old offerings. Then he said something you may have missed. One of the purposes of the atonement law’s continual sacrifice was to remind you of your sin. You were to FEEL GUILT. That guilt was to motivate you to a better future walk, as well as remind you of your need of another sin offering. If you keep reading in the passage, you will see a startling truth about God’s desire for you:
Hebrews 10:11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, 13 waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified…
You read that God accepted the sacrifice of Jesus as a “one size fits all” offering to remove sin’s stain. Most of you who have studied even a small amount of Scripture know that. Don’t stop reading… there is something ahead:
Hebrews 10:18 Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. 19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
Do you see it? God doesn’t want you to walk in GUILT, but in CONFIDENCE. Your salvation is not based on your consistent walk – but upon the POWER and PERMANENCE of the sacrifice of Jesus.
I am not suggesting that God would desire you to live less than a surrendered life. I am not licensing your spiritual laziness not authorizing your deliberate willfulness against God – you know me better than that. What I am saying is this: Stop clinging to GUILT. Let it GO. If you are wrong, ask God to fill you with power as you draw near to Him and stand beside Him. We are foolish to run from God in guilt. He offers cleansing – not to those who are clean – but to those who are filthy. Hiding from God because of guilt will keep you from the very thing you most want – intimacy with Him.
God back to that cool of the day in the Garden with Adam and Eve. God was calling out: “Adam, where are you?” Do you think that God was calling him because God didn’t KNOW where Adam was? Can you actually conceive of the Creator of the Universe lost without a GPS? He knew where Adam was, and He knew what Adam had done. Adam knew too. In fact, the only One that could cure Adam’s problem was the One calling out to him – but Adam hid. Adam was embarrassed. Adam was hurt. Adam was GUILTY.
Genesis 3:9 Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
You know this story. Man blamed his wife. His wife blamed the serpent. As God unfolded judgment He told the serpent – your body will be cursed and you will be dreaded. He told him something, that on the surface looks like man’s problem with snakes – we step on them, and they bite our heels… but that isn’t the whole story. Women got pain in their reproductive systems that was not part of their design. They got frustration in their spiritual position in the family and community, and man got cursed ground and harder toil. He got weeds, thorns and opposition from the soil beneath his feet. He also got the promise of DEATH and the GRAVE.
God clothed the man and woman, but to do it He took the life of another. An animal died so a skin could be their covering. Earth’s dissension into death and decay began. The angels of Heaven not only observed, but they were MOVED by the experience. Satan had seen the Garden before Adam did. He knew its beauty, and he knew its freedoms:
In a poetic story of Ezekiel 28, God revealed the story of Lucifer’s sinful beauty– and His subsequent casting from the service of God
Ezekiel 28:12 “…’‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 “You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: The ruby, the topaz and the diamond; the beryl, the onyx and the jasper; The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, Was in you. On the day that you were created they were prepared. 14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers, and I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire. 15 “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you. 16 “By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane From the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. 17 “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, that they may see you…19 “All who know you among the peoples Are appalled at you; you have become terrified And you will cease to be forever.”’”
Now remember that God dwells beyond time. When He speaks, time has no meaning. He is not bound to it. Yesterday, today, tomorrow are inconsequential to One who made time the way He made trees. It is part of our nature – but not part of His. He can speak in any tense, or all of them in one sentence. He is GOD, and there is none like Him.
He said Lucifer, about whom the poem appears to be written, was perfect, beautiful and precious in God’s original design. Prior to his fall from God’s grace, he had been in the garden. Many scholars, I among them, believe God was speaking of a Garden in Heaven from which the Garden of Eden on earth was mimicked. The same holds true for the “Mountain of God” which may have an original in Heaven, with its copy on earth. Why is this significant? Clearly the Tabernacle that we are studying was a copy of the one in Heaven. It was apparently in that earlier garden that Lucifer beheld the beauty of God and His creation before His fall.
The point is this: Angels are observers, and were created to be servants of God. When they make up their own script for their own selfish reasons, they fail their purpose – just as a man or woman does. The end of selfishness is death and ruin. The end of rebellion is destruction and eternal desperation. Satan will one day be beheld by people of all nations and exposed for the fraud he is. Men will shake their heads when they see how fruitless a life lived to serve self and sin truly is. But wait, there is also a message for the angelic world. God has something to say to them – both fallen and faithful.
The message of God through the building of the Ark was this: “My Word, held inside this box, is the guarantee of My relentless grace and My obsessive mercy for mankind. I am not who you think I am. I am rich in forgiveness and soaked in love.
To men and women, duped by Satan’s false projections of God in His holiness, the Lord God says: “I will not cease loving you. I will not turn My face away from you – even when you will neglect Me and forget Me. I will chase after you even when you hate yourself for what you have become. I atoned before at the Temple and I cleanse now at the Cross – with a blood covering upon sin. The washing that overpowers sin’s stain is the very mystery I want all Heaven to gaze upon at the mercy seat – just as the eyes of the two cherubim see who endlessly stare upon that place. Look hard at its barrenness – a flat and useless place I have used to redeem man. It is empty of itself, but when the cleansing blood is poured upon it I will make it a place of rich mercy. I am the Savior. I am not the angry and vengeful God the deceiver says I am. I am the Lord, Great and Mighty, lover of lost ones and searcher of souls. All Heaven gaze – for this will proclaim My story!”
The box was a symbol to men of God’s Word carried with them, and God’s mercy offered to them. It was a symbol to the angels of God’s nature and Person as One who is drenched in love and offers forgiveness for heinous sin. God gave His people a small symbol that helped them understand large truths about HIM!
The term “masterpiece” refers to a creation that has been given much critical praise, perhaps the greatest work of a person’s career. Originally, the term was derived from the singular piece of work produced by an apprentice or journeyman aspiring to become a master craftsman in the old European guild system. Suitability for entry into a guild was judged, in part, by examination of the qualities of the masterpiece. Regardless of the craft – from jewel setting to confectionery production – the masterpiece played a key role in your life’s placement.
Have you ever worked really hard on a project, only to see it finished and relish that moment when others are enjoying the work you completed? Whether it is a sumptuous dinner, or a beautifully written poem – there are moments in life when we can enjoy sweet completion. The longer I live, the more I begin to realize that some have, sadly, never enjoyed that feeling….they never seem to complete things. Even churches and ministries need opportunities to stop and recognize they have completed some tasks and are now about to stretch into new ones. Never ending work makes us perpetually tired and dull of mind. We need a pattern to organize work, and a standard to judge its adherence to the pattern. How do we organize the God given tasks to complete work for God? He gave us a pattern.
Key Principle: God’s work must be done God’s way.
We may agree with the idea in principle, but certainly need more information on how God says work should be done. The narrative of the building of the Tabernacle was an opportunity for God to record exactly HOW He wanted the work completed.
The notion of a plan in God’s work is offensive to some – but it is clear in the Scriptures that God’s work had never been haphazard. God’s people must be careful to observe God’s method of doing things. In the context of the first century public services of the church – with its requisite prophesying and “speaking in tongues”, Paul reminds: “But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.” (1 Cor. 14:40). The order is determined by God and revealed in Scripture. Fortunately, God left us a full communication of His will in His Word. Over these past studies, as we have been in the process of peering into the past – observing God’s work among the ancient Israelites in the Sinai desert – we have seen a pattern emerge. In Exodus 36 that pattern sharpens into focus with seven principles that can be observed if we carefully look at the text’s detail. Each principle unfolds more of God’s method of getting things done “decently and in order”.
The Seven Principles
Principle 1: Leaders must be appointed and recognized as such.
In the text, the directors of the work were both publicly named and openly recognized.
Exodus 36:1 “Now Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skillful person in whom the LORD has put skill and understanding to know how to perform all the work in the construction of the sanctuary, shall perform in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded.”
We live in a time when people seem publicly schizophrenic – they offer some leaders a cultic worship at a “rock star” level of support, and at the same time seem to despise the notion of proactive leadership. We don’t send clear signals about what we want in leaders at all. We want higher benefits, but lower taxes. We want a stronger defense, but more take home pay. We want better education, but cheaper schools. We want better highways but lesser tolls. This is the “have your cake and eat it too” generation! That makes leading harder – because the goals often don’t match reality!
More than at any time in our history, the complexity of modern life requires that we raise, train and deploy better leaders. The old truth still applies: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Great leaders are essential for great tasks. At the same time, we have to admit, that many today measure leaders wholly on a pragmatic assessment. “Did it work?” they say. Yet, productivity is not the only measure of leadership – because good choices aren’t always as immediately effective as bad ones. Some things need to measured by a different yardstick. Let me illustrate:
In an old Peanuts cartoon, Lucy demanded that her brother Linus change TV channels and then threatened him with her fist if he didn’t. “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” asked Linus. “These five fingers,” said Lucy. “Individually they are nothing, but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.” “What channel do you want?” sighed Linus. Turning away, he looked at his fingers and said, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?” Because it works doesn’t mean it is good, or that it will leave the troops inspired.
The Lord sets the limits and the pattern of the work, but leaders are essential to getting people on board to fulfill each step of the process. Note four truths about the leaders that verse 1 exposed:
- First, they were called by NAME.
- Second, they were said to have been CALLED and STIRRED by the Lord.
- Third, they were ENABLED by the Lord as He gave them the practical wisdom to perform the duties.
- Fourth, God placed firm FENCES – parameters around their responsibilities..
We need to take these apart a bit. How do these comments help us? The implication is that God’s pattern begins with enabled leaders that showed their qualifications by the work they produced, but they were limited to the work that God called them to accomplish. This needs more emphasis in a time when people believe in “the cult of personality” style ministry. Not everyone will do the same task the same way. When leadership changes in an organization, we need to be open to a new way of doing things – as long as the things being done are Biblically correct. One primary reason a leader changes things from what was done before may be because we are gifted differently. Change is not always a vote on the past methodology. The important measure is this: “Is the work being done within the parameters God specified in His Word? If so, the differences in the WAY of doing things are not significant. What is NOT acceptable is not meeting God’s full parameters because of personality issues. We are free to serve God as ourselves, but we are not free to allow our personality to stand in the way of serving God.
We need to be constantly on the lookout for the ones that have the potential to lead. They are often the feisty and difficult Sunday School kids – but they have something of a call on their life. If we will offer them loving support, and carefully nurture the stubbornness into character building and positive modeling – we may reap the later benefits of growing a leader. Even so, they cannot and should not be leading until they have been readied, appointed and recognized – because that is where it all begins.
Principle 2: Good leaders choose people with demonstrable skills in the area of the task.
As we saw in the first verse, the second verse continues and emphasizes again the reality that the team was made of those who demonstrated skill and understanding in that area of the work.
Exodus 36:2 Then Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful person in whom the LORD had put skill…”
One of the biggest mistakes in ministry is putting the wrong people in leadership. Work for God is not haphazard, so workers need to be carefully chosen. We dare not put leadership in the hands of the untested. Paul warned Timothy not to feel pressured to put people in leadership positions hastily:
1 Timothy 5:21 “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. 22Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.”
Leadership roles must be placed in the hands of those who evidence skill and understanding of both the areas they are working, and the people they are called to work alongside. More damage has been done by the wrong leaders than by the organizational paralysis of no leaders. I am amazed at how people will try to solve a problem by putting someone in place – even if they have little or no confidence in the ability of that leader. That is madness. Without leaders you may not move forward very much. With poor leaders, whatever direction you are heading swiftly – it is probably the wrong one. Paul cautioned Timothy to:
2 Timothy 2:2 “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Note the kind of people the leader was to replicate himself within. He was to find faithful people, and he was to find enabled people. The people Tim needed to pull in and train included those who were able to pass on truth, and showed the faithfulness to do it. This may sound incredibly dumb, but there are many who want to title of leadership, but will not inconvenience themselves to get the work that goes with the title completed. Leaders should be faithful and skilled – or not appointed.
Principle 3: The best workers are the called ones.
The work was planned and communicated by God – and God stirred them and enlisted them. He called people to the tasks – and that made their work of eternal value and cosmic importance:
Exodus 36:2 Then Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful person in whom the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him, to come to the work to perform it.
We need to recognize the call of God in people. Forgive the biographical story, but I have lived this problem. Years ago I wanted to go to Israel and build a work there. I believed with all my heart that I was called to do it. I saw God provide – again and again – for my training, my education and my bank account. I couldn’t believe how well God brought it all together – it seemed to me a miracle! I went to our fellowship of churches and asked to be commissioned. I didn’t want money, but I did want prayer support, and to continue to be included among the family embrace of the fellowship. They declined. They told me, after hundreds of hours of paperwork and interviews, etc. that they had no mechanism for such a ministry. If they didn’t pay us, how could they make us accountable? If they didn’t make us accountable to them, how could they protect their name in ministry? I was stunned. I had been ordained in that fellowship. They suggested that maybe I should reconsider. I went to the Near East because God provided and God called my wife and I – and we knew it. The failure of other godly men to recognize God’s call on my life has marked me. I try now to be much more careful when dealing with others concerning their call. I bear no ill will toward those men, but I have seen it far too many times – a failure to see hear when God is knocking. Men and women, we lack visionary leadership on all levels. We have more technocrats and managers than leaders – and we need to be developing a future set of leaders – it is at the center of my heart.
In addition to developing leaders – we need to be reminded that God is also calling workers to serve on every level of ministry. God knows WHO He wants involved in every aspect of the work – and we should be seeking God as to our role, and awaiting His nudging onto the field!
The primary requirement to serve God is an open heart to do what is needed. Too many volunteer if the work can be tailored to their desires and needs, and they don’t do what they don’t want to do. Let me illustrate what we need more of in the kingdom:
In an earlier century, there lay a large boulder in the middle of the a mountain roadway. Traveler after traveler passed the boulder, veering off to the side of the road to get around it. “What an inconvenience!” drivers would say as their horse carts squeezed past. Riders felt the carts come so close to the mountain, sometimes they scraping as they passed.. All the while, travelers were shaking their heads and muttering, “Can you believe that? Someone should get that big thing out of the way!” After many months, a man happened along and spied the obstacle. He dismounted his horse and tied a rope at a nearby tree, pulling a large branch down. He took the branch and pried the boulder enough to get it rolling and rolled it off to the side of the road, and eventually over the edge of the nearby ledge. When he turned to see the rut left in the road from the boulder’s placement, he noticed there had been placed underneath the rock a small bag with a note. He picked up the note and read it. It said: “Thank you for being a true servant of the kingdom. Many have passed this way and complained because of the state of the road. Some have even stated what ought to be done. However, you have taken the responsibility upon yourself to serve the kingdom instead. You are the type of citizen we need more of in this kingdom. Please accept this bag of gold that traveler after traveler has passed by simply because they wanted some to serve them as you have. Many thanks, Your King”
Is it strange to suggest that we need to revisit what a servant truly is as we look to serve our King? I have noticed that when people are CALLED by God and STIRRED by God – they will go longer, work harder, serve better and complain less – because the best workers are the CALLED ones.
Principle 4: The workers were supported by all of the people.
This is a very important principle of getting the work completed – we need to learn to AFFIRM people in their business. In our text, the workers were affirmed by the people, and even supplied by them to do the work!
Exodus 36:3 They received from Moses all the contributions which the sons of Israel had brought to perform the work in the construction of the sanctuary. And they still continued bringing to him freewill offerings every morning.
Everyone is called to cheer and supply – even if they don’t have the skills to DO the work! Have you been cheering? Has the usher been told how you appreciate his or her smiling face? Are the people who work sound, care for coffee, deal with the power point, lead us in praise, watch our children, teach our teens, visit our sick… and the list goes on and on…. Are they getting CHEERED by YOU? Are you pulling your weight in prayer and support both behind the scenes and in affirmation? It is more important than you know. The Proverb writer reminds: Proverbs 25:11 “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.”
I believe that we have the power to encourage – and we have the power to discourage those who work for the Lord around us. Sometimes they don’t do it the way we would – but they are doing it. I cannot help but mention a little story:
Author Mark Mittelberg tells about a man he simply called “Jim” – who wanted to do things God’s way. Jim had a passion for God, a love for people, and a burden to share the message of God’s forgiveness with people who had not heard. The big question for Jim was, “How can I get un-churched people where I live – those who are so different from me – to see how much God loves them?” Well, he decided to take some risks and really try. So, he went all out! First, he shaved his head right down to the skin- all except for one little patch of hair which he grew out long. He started wearing it in a pigtail and even dyed it a different color, trying to fit in with the customs of the crowd he was trying to reach. Jim changed the way he dressed, what he ate, and even the way he talked so he could communicate God’s love to this group of people. He read the books and literature they read and did everything he could do to establish common ground with them. In fact, he even moved into the same neighborhood and tried making friends with them. Unfortunately, Jim faced outright rejection from the very people he cared so much about; not only from them, but also from his own church family. Instead of getting behind him and encouraging him, they actually started saying bad things about him. Only a few close friends stuck with him and supported his efforts. -Jim wanted to do things God’s way. Just as Jesus came into this world and became one of us in order to show us God’s love, so Jim tried to do. He faced loneliness, weariness, and discouragement, but he remained faithful to do what God had called him to do. If you’ve ever read about James Hudson Taylor, who ministered in China over a century ago, then you know what kind of criticism and opposition Jim faced. Yet, as a result of Hudson Taylor’s ministry (China Inland Mission), thousands of beautiful Chinese people came to know Jesus. (sermon central illustrations). Wouldn’t you feel a bit silly in Heaven if you got there after being his life-long critic?
Principle 5: Even in the midst of God’s stirring, people needed to be channeled and directed in their desire to help.
Even when people are right with God and obedient, they will still need direction – because they cannot see the whole of the work!
Exodus 36:4 And all the skillful men who were performing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work which he was performing, 5 and they said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the LORD commanded us to perform.”
How exciting to see God’s people bringing supplies! Yet, there was a point at which what they wanted to give was MORE than what God called for them to give. I am willing to wager you have never had a sermon on that – the STOP GIVING message! Here is the truth: People can join in obedience, but they can also join in a “bandwagon frenzy” – and that isn’t what God wanted. Not everyone was called to give everything they had – because other needs would arise later. They were to give until the need was met – then they were to stop, hold and wait.
I have seen it happen more than once. A church board got so enthusiastic about a new building project – they over committed funding and killed the work. Leaders need to channel the well intended energy of a work, and keep a watch on the horizon of God’s direction. People will give to projects, but fail to give to the electric bill. It isn’t because they don’t want to help – it is because they don’t see the whole field in front of them.
Principle 6: When needs were met, they stayed inside the vision and cut off the flow of needs.
It is a well known fact of bureaucracy that it grows to eat whatever budget is available. When God put parameters on the work, they stayed within that frame – even when they could have enlarged it based on supply.
Exodus 36:6 So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, “Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.” Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more. 7 For the material they had was sufficient and more than enough for all the work, to perform it.
Here is an essential word to ministry people as we work – stay inside the plan. More supply doesn’t automatically mean expanding the project. The parameters are established in the plan God gave to them. When ministries keep growing and growing, they fail to build in the “staying power” for the lean days. … and there will be lean days!
Churches can attempt to meet every need of every one – and many will applaud them for doing so. Yet, the church has a primary call. Very few will caution the church NOT to take on some societal problems – even when it pulls vital energy from making disciples. There are countless programs run in the ministry that will not truly help us complete God’s call in our lives to make disciples and teach them all things Jesus commanded us.
Here is another startling thing to say – coming from a Pastor. Ministries need to limit their expenditures, even when money is flowing in. It is NOT because they are to become a BANK – they are NOT! It is because supply doesn’t drive the vision – God’s Word does. How many times I have sat and watched God supply great amounts of money to local churches – and they have BLOWN the money on things that are secondary to their call – continuing to neglect the essentials of their call. We must be very careful!
Principle 7: The work was attributed to the leadership –even though it was a shared project.
Look at the way HE was credited, then read the modifier in verse 35 and 37 – these were team projects!
Exodus 36:8 All the skillful men among those who were performing the work made the tabernacle with ten curtains; of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material, with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman, Bezalel made them. 9 The length of each curtain was twenty-eight cubits and the width of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains had the same measurements.
Exodus 36:10 He joined five curtains to one another and the other five curtains he joined to one another. 11 He made loops of blue on the edge of the outermost curtain in the first set; he did likewise on the edge of the curtain that was outermost in the second set. 12 He made fifty loops in the one curtain and he made fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that was in the second set; the loops were opposite each other. 13 He made fifty clasps of gold and joined the curtains to one another with the clasps, so the tabernacle was a unit. 14 Then he made curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle; he made eleven curtains in all. 15 The length of each curtain was thirty cubits and four cubits the width of each curtain; the eleven curtains had the same measurements. 16 He joined five curtains by themselves and the other six curtains by themselves. 17 Moreover, he made fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that was outermost in the first set, and he made fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that was outermost in the second set. 18 He made fifty clasps of bronze to join the tent together so that it would be a unit. 19 He made a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering of porpoise skins above. 20 Then he made the boards for the tabernacle of acacia wood, standing upright. 21 Ten cubits was the length of each board and one and a half cubits the width of each board. 22 There were two tenons for each board, fitted to one another; thus he did for all the boards of the tabernacle. 23 He made the boards for the tabernacle: twenty boards for the south side; 24 and he made forty sockets of silver under the twenty boards; two sockets under one board for its two tenons and two sockets under another board for its two tenons. 25 Then for the second side of the tabernacle, on the north side, he made twenty boards, 26 and their forty sockets of silver; two sockets under one board and two sockets under another board. 27 For the rear of the tabernacle, to the west, he made six boards. 28 He made two boards for the corners of the tabernacle at the rear. 29 They were double beneath, and together they were complete to its top to the first ring; thus he did with both of them for the two corners. 30 There were eight boards with their sockets of silver, sixteen sockets, two under every board. 31 Then he made bars of acacia wood, five for the boards of one side of the tabernacle, 32 and five bars for the boards of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the boards of the tabernacle for the rear side to the west. 33 He made the middle bar to pass through in the center of the boards from end to end. 34 He overlaid the boards with gold and made their rings of gold as holders for the bars, and overlaid the bars with gold. 35 Moreover, he made the veil of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen; he made it with cherubim, (the work of a skillful workman). 36 He made four pillars of acacia for it, and overlaid them with gold, with their hooks of gold; and he cast four sockets of silver for them. 37 He made a screen for the doorway of the tent, of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen, (the work of a weaver); 38 and he made its five pillars with their hooks, and he overlaid their tops and their bands with gold; but their five sockets were of bronze.
Team leaders get credited and faulted for the work of the whole team. They have the responsibility for the overall product. If the team fails, the leader fails. In the physical work sphere, this simply means that our sloppy work reflects on our boss.
In the spiritual world of the ministry of God’s Word in the church:
- Failure of a children’s church worker to show children that God’s Word really is the decision source of life can produce children that don’t believe that God is truly interested in relating to them – and the lost education system is happy to fill in the gap left concerning the meaning of life.
- Failure of a church usher to take the time to carefully make a visitor welcome can make a fractured and unhappy lost person pull away from the only place they can truly find inner healing.
- Failure of a worship leader to try to disappear before the people that they might see Jesus and worship on Him – will leave people unsatisfied in worship and merely caught up in cults of personality.
- Failure of a Bible teacher to carefully study and parse the Word of God – rather than focus simply on relevance and the latest topical fad subject – will keep people leaving with the sense that God hasn’t really communicated to their need.
In every case the end is the same – Jesus doesn’t get His work properly represented. The believer needs to see His ministry not as bringing people to his church, or to his cause – but reflecting his of her Savior! We don’t want our leader to look bad – so we work on every level of ministry to the fullest. That keeps me studying. That keeps me sharpening methods of communicating the Word. Jesus is the leader, and I want Him to be shown in the world as He deserves to be shown. I do not always do it well, but it is the cry of my heart – to reflect His care and His truth properly. This is the deep meaning of Romans 12:2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The idea of PROVING the will of God may be better understood “purposing to move through life in a way that will bring a smile to the face of the Savior”!
We need to clearly understand that God’s work must be completed God’s way. We cannot do what we do by our own rules.
- The work is deeply hindered when people work to promote themselves – and not the work God called them into.
- The work is deeply hindered when people work out of compulsion – because “no one else will do it”.
- The work is deeply hindered when leaders won’t stick to the plan God revealed – and want to build well beyond that to satisfy themselves.
- The work is deeply hindered when people do not want to take direction from their leaders – because they feel they know better what should be done.
- The work is deeply hindered when leaders are not well respected by their team – because suspicion will kill forward progress.
God’s work must be done God’s way.
World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. Over 60 million people were killed, which was over 2.5% of the world population. Among those were 418,000 Americans who died to overcome the rise of tyranny. In Europe, the Act of Military Surrender that brought World War Two in Europe to an end was signed on May 7th 1945. The Act of Military Surrender was signed by Alfred Jodl, on behalf of Nazi Germany.
1. We the undersigned, acting by authority of the German High Command, hereby surrender unconditionally to the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and simultaneously to the Soviet High Command all forces on land, sea, and in the air who are at this date under German control.
2. The German High Command will at once issue orders to all German military, naval and air authorities and to all forces under German control to cease active operations at 2301 hours Central European time on 8 May and to remain in the positions occupied at that time. No ship, vessel, or aircraft is to be scuttled, or any damage done to their hull, machinery or equipment.
3. The German High Command will at once issue to the appropriate commanders, and ensure the carrying out of any further orders issued by the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and by the Soviet High Command.
4. This act of military surrender is without prejudice to, and will be superseded by any general instrument of surrender imposed by, or on behalf of the United Nations and applicable to Germany and the German armed forces as a whole.
5. In the event of the German High Command or any of the forces under their control failing to act in accordance with this Act of Surrender, the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and the Soviet High Command will take such punitive or other action as they deem appropriate.
Signed at Rheims at 0241 France on the 7th day of May, 1945. On behalf of the German High Command. Alfred Jodl in the presence of On behalf of the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force. Walter Bedell Smith On behalf of the Soviet High Command. Ivan Sousloparov Major General, French Army (Witness) François Sevez
What is critical to notice about that document was that there was a specific way to face the surrender process. As we open a much older document, this one recorded by Moses and revealed by the God that created all things, we see the same truth…
Key Principle: There is a very specific pattern to surrender, and God helps us move from our old life to our new with some necessary instruction.
Not everything is resisted because we are stubborn. I am repeatedly amazed at how many times I run into believers who have followed God for many years, but really DON’T KNOW what God expects from them on a daily basis. It is true that some are resistant (we all are inside) but many just don’t really know.
I want to explore HOW God wanted these three measures of our surrender – TIME, TALENT and TREASURE dealt with in our daily lives. There is a pattern for surrender, and it can be found in the second part of Exodus 35:
First, real surrender is YOUR PERSONAL GIFT to God.
No one can compel you to truly obey God in your heart. It is an internal matter. The decision to obey was each man and woman’s decision. The people did it when they got HOME – just like you will (or won’t). Exodus 35:20 Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel departed from Moses’ presence.
There is behind this rule a principle about surrender that is vital to recall: No one is responsible for your walk with God but you. We at your church can help you, but you must choose to walk with God. Even HE doesn’t just grab your life and thrust Himself into it. He invites, encourages, calls and comforts. Remember, your life is like a coin – you can spend it any way you choose – but we can only spend it once.
What is the first part of the pattern of surrender? It is the recognition that I will not be measured by my mom’s faith or my dad’s faith – but only by my personal choice. The striking reality of our eternal destiny is this – we chose it. Millions will take the wide road that leads to destruction. They will choose the path of comfort and conformity. They will walk, lock step, with leaders of an ever-darkening moral decay. They will lie and they will believe lies. Then, for some inexplicable reason, they will stand before God as though they wanted God, and followed God during this life.
I don’t want to be too wordy on this matter, so let me be clear: You can choose to follow God and He will walk with you through life. You can choose to follow your own will and refuse God’s place in your life. If you take the second choice, you will end up without God – because you told Him you had everything covered and did not want Him to guide you to His home. Surrender is a personal act, and no one can do it for you.
- If you choose to surrender to God’s leading, you will hunger for God’s Word.
- If you choose to surrender to God’s power, you will walk in His strength and not your own.
- If you choose to surrender to God’s purposes, you will conform your choices to His will as He expressed them in His Word.
- If you choose to surrender to God’s plan, you will pray fervently and seek His leading day by day.
Don’t surrender only when you think you can see the benefits. God is ALWAYS at work, even when you don’t see it. I told you this true and short story before, but it is one that always helps me to put God’s hand behind the scenes in perspective.
Ruby Hamilton, a businesswoman in her fifties, was stunned at the loss of her husband of 32 years in a car accident. Her anger and disappointment went deeper than a more typical expression of grief though. She had become a follower of Christ in her late twenties, but her husband didn’t share her newfound interest in spiritual things. Nonetheless, she had set about praying for him feverishly and unceasingly that he would come to know the Lord. And one day when she was praying, she felt a wave of peace wash over her, and that still small voice assuring her that her husband would be okay. She eagerly awaited the day when her husband surrender his life to Jesus. And now this. What do you do when faith doesn’t make sense? When God doesn’t seem to be answering or opening doors or being found? Ruby Hamilton stopped living for God. Roger Simmons was hitchhiking his way home. He would never forget the date – May 7th. His heavy suitcase was making him tired and he was anxious to take off that army uniform once and for all. Flashing the thumb to the oncoming car, he lost hope when he saw it was a black, sleek new Cadillac. To his surprise the car stopped. The passenger door swung open. He ran toward the car, tossed his suitcase in the back and thanked the handsome, well-dressed man as he slid into the front seat. “Going home for keeps?” “Sure am.” “Well, you’re in luck if you’re going to Chicago.” “Not quite that far – do you live in Chicago?” “I have a business there, the driver said. My name is Hamilton.” They chatted for a while, and then Roger, a Christian, felt a compulsion to share his faith with this fiftyish, apparently successful business man. But he kept putting it off, till he realized that he was now just 30 minutes from his home. It was now or never. “Mr. Hamilton, I would like to talk to you about something very important.” Then he simply told Mr. Hamilton about the plan of salvation and ultimately asked him if he would like to receive Jesus as his savior and Lord. The Cadillac pulled over to the side of the road. Roger expected that he was about to get thrown out of the car. Instead, the businessman bowed his head and received Christ, then thanked Roger “This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.” Five years went by. Roger married, had a couple of kids and a business of his own. Packing his suitcase for a trip to Chicago he found a small white business card that had been given to him by Hamilton five years previous. In Chicago, he looked up Hamilton enterprises. The receptionist told him that it was impossible to see Mr. Hamilton, but he could see Mrs. Hamilton. A little confused, he was ushered into a beautiful office where he found himself facing a keen-eyed woman in her fifties. She extended her hand “You knew my husband?” Roger told her about how Hamilton had picked him up while he was hitchhiking home after the war. “Can you tell me what day that was?” “Sure it was May 7th, five years ago, the day I was discharged from the army.” “Anything special about that day,” she asked. He hesitated, not knowing if he should mention how he shared the message of Jesus with her husband. “Mrs. Hamilton, I explained the gospel to your husband that day. He pulled over to the side of the road and wept against the steering wheel. He gave his life to Christ that day.” Explosive sobs shook her body. Finally getting a grip on herself, she sobbed, “I had prayed for my husband’s salvation for years. I believed God would save him.” “Where is your husband, Ruby?” “He’s dead. He was in a car crash after he let you out of the car. He never got home. You see, I thought God had not kept his promise. I stopped living for God five years ago because I thought God had not kept his word!” (Bret Toman, Sermon: Power to Live the Golden Rule, 1/3/2011)
Surrender is personal, but you should be able to see it in your life, and measure if you have, in fact, personally surrendered to Him. There is a “big surrender” in your life, when your conscious will openly declares God as Master. Following that, there is “daily surrender”, where we daily recall His Mastery and apply it to specific areas of daily life.
Second, real surrender begins in you when God stirs and moves within.
Yet, that only happens in those who let Him – and don’t ignore His voice or drown out the sound it makes. He will not push us until we ask, but will aid us when we do! God moved in each who opened to Him – and people made the choice to respond. Exodus 35:21 Everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came and brought the LORD’S contribution for the work of the tent of meeting and for all its service and for the holy garments.
Here is a profound principle behind this rule: Real obedience can only be measured from the inside. God moves inside our hearts. You and I cannot see people’s motives or intent – nor should we speak like we can. We must be careful not to judge things we cannot know. God may be moving in someone right next to you right now, but they look bored. They have built up defenses over the years to listen, but not look as though they are listening – so as to not make people watch whether they do what they commit to do. The opposite is also true. Some people may look riveted to the message right now, and be thinking about the roast in the oven, or why that lady in front of them doesn’t change salons.
I cannot always see surrender on the outside, but it isn’t so difficult to see un-surrendered lives on the outside. Obedience is the mark of the surrendered man or woman. Hunger for God’s Word and obedience to God’s Word. Surrender sounds like submission. Surrender sounds like thankfulness. Surrender sounds like praise.
Surrender is responsive to God’s stirring, because God works in each of us in very unique ways. We should expect the pattern to follow the Word of God – but the specifics to follow the stirring of God. He has a way of getting to you – and getting His point across.
Third, real surrender begins with a deliberate identity loss.
“I gotta be ME!” and “I did it MY way!” are anthems of the un-surrendered. Ego and self centeredness are the opposite of surrender in life – and they are at the heart of identity. God wants us to see our real IDENTITY to be found in how HE sees us – not how we perceive others see us. The toughest part of surrender is facing a new identity that emerges from the relationship with God. Our old self gives way to a new one – and that is easy for others to see! When People surrender the markers of their old identity, they show their serious change has taken place. Exodus 35:22 Then all whose hearts moved them, both men and women, came and brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and bracelets, all articles of gold; so did every man who presented an offering of gold to the LORD. 23 Every man, who had in his possession blue and purple and scarlet material and fine linen and goats’ hair and rams’ skins dyed red and porpoise skins, brought them.
The principle behind this rule of the pattern – the identity loss rule – is this: My true identity is not how others see me – but how God sees me. I will never properly relate to things while I am not properly related to their Creator. Further, I will never properly relate to things while I believe they define who I am. My stuff doesn’t make me who I am. My abilities don’t make me who I am. My God makes me who I am…
Technically speaking, David Ring was born dead. Quick acting medical personnel were able to get him breathing, but oxygen deprivation left him with cerebral palsy. He suffered from a speech impediment, hands that don’t cooperate, and a limp. As if that wasn’t enough adversity for one person, both his parents died by the time he was fourteen years old, and his hemophiliac brothers subsequently dies of AIDS. David’s remaining family members feared that David would never have a normal life, because they assumed he would never marry, have children, drive a car, earn a living or take care of himself. As a young teenager, David came surrender his life to God and came to see his disability as a gift. Once he began to see his circumstances as being chosen for him by God, he began moving forward. Today he is married, had four beautiful children, drives a car, and speaks to more than 250 audiences a year. At his speaking engagements he sells T-shirts bearing the slogan “Don’t Whine…SHINE!” David ring has taken responsibility for his life—the bad, the difficult and the wonderful. And he continues to celebrate the difference he is able to make in the lives of others. When people wrestle with difficult life experiences, the why question often gets in the way. One of David Rings Axioms is “Don’t ask God why. Ask What. What do you want me to do with this?” SOURCE: Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop, Seven Keys to Spiritual Renewal (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989), pp. 85-86.
Can you hear it in David’s voice? That is the sound of a surrendered life. He isn’t asking what everyone else sees – He is asking what God wants and what God sees.
Fourth, real surrender comes when we GIVE, not plan to give.
People discovered the privilege of giving – that God had enabled them for a purpose! Exodus 35:24 Everyone who could make a contribution of silver and bronze brought the LORD’S contribution; and every man who had in his possession acacia wood for any work of the service brought it….29 The Israelites, all the men and women, whose heart moved them to bring material for all the work, which the LORD had commanded through Moses to be done, brought a freewill offering to the LORD.
Smart believers get it: God gave us what He did so that He can use us as He chooses. Tell me, why do you think that when believers got more riches, they became more stingy? When the nation was poor, and Christians were really struggling –they were marked by a profound generosity for each other and for God’s work. No one can deny it – there has never been a time when more wealth was in the hands of those who name Jesus as their Savior – and yet works are struggling all over. What has happened? Many have forgotten the SHEER JOY of giving sacrificially. We give out of the spare – and want to be blessed in abundance. God isn’t cheap, and we must measure whether we are truly extravagant in our generosity as He is – or not.
Here is the principle behind that rule of surrender: Stubborn resistance comes from belief in the lie that I own what I possess. Once I understand that I don’t have ANYTHING but what God provides me daily – health, breath, emotional stability, material wealth, spiritual strength – my life becomes properly focused on serving God’s ends.
Beloved, a great many of us suffer from the addiction to the things of this world. We don’t want Heaven as much as we once did, because we are so busy developing every comfort in this life. We have been exhausted into swallowing the lie that our “stuff” truly matters. In fact, we are a people, standing on the edge of a brand new day of renewal:
Imagine a city under siege. The enemy that surrounds the city will not let anyone or anything leave. Supplies are running low, and the citizens are fearful. But in the dark of the night, a spy sneaks through the enemy lines. He has rushed to the city to tell the people that in another place the main enemy force has been defeated; the leaders have already surrendered. The people do not need to be afraid. It is only a matter of time until the besieging troops receive the news and lay down their weapons. Richard J. Mouw, Uncommon Decency, pp. 149-150.
That was Calvary! Jesus has come. The power of death is broken – and the power of the material world has been forever subjected to the immaterial one. My place in Heaven is under the careful construction of the skilled hands of my Savior. Each piece is being lovingly assembled with His gentle precision. He left to prepare a place for me, and nothing I can build can compare to it! I don’t own anything… I use it. It is all His. When I really live that truth – I will be free to discover the JOY of giving as He intended.
Fifth, real surrender brings a new fulfillment.
People are energized by obedience and engage life with a new joy when we work in the area of our gifts and talents – and dedicate that work to God’s higher purpose. Exodus 35:25 All the skilled women spun with their hands, and brought what they had spun, in blue and purple and scarlet material and in fine linen. 26 All the women whose heart stirred with a skill spun the goats’ hair.
The best worship isn’t singing or praying – it is working. True worship is when I exhaust myself before the Lord using His loaned abilities to the fullest extent that I am capable of using them…
William Temple made this clear long ago: For worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose — and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self centered nature which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin. (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Integrity Crisis, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, p. 119.)
The underlying principle for this rule is this truth: God delights to use those who prepare their skills and discipline their life to consciously serve Him. When you ask young people today: “What is your plan for your work life?” The natural answer is one about education and preparation to make a good salary, or gain a good position. Even Christians rather unabashedly share that better salary or personal happiness are their chief reasons for their life choices. Is is wrong for me to desire to hear the answer that God stoops downward to hear? Oh that once, someone would truly say “I am getting this education because I have been called by God to follow Him. This will put me in a position to be used of God in this field – and there is much ministry to be done there.”
Divorcing work and worship is a mistake. Every aspect of life that can be deliberately planned and prepared can be an act of worship – because worship is not just about what I am doing, but HOW I do it and WHY I do it.
When a mother prayerfully and carefully prepares meals for her children that are nutritious, balanced, and made in a cost effective way – she performs an act of conscious worship – if it is done deliberately to fulfill her God-given role with a careful knowledge of God’s inspection. When she cleans a house, conscious of Jesus’ presence in that home, and with the desire to delight Him with her diligence – that act becomes an act of worship. It isn’t simply the JOB – but the attentiveness to God’s presence and delight in how we do it. Any planned task can be done for God – or forgetting Him. Compartmentalization KILLS our faith. It distances God from our daily life. Try this week to recognize God is near – and He cares about the little things. Sense His presence in your choices and plans. Walk each step as though they matter to Him. Such care will keep your feet on the right path, and your perspective spiritually tuned.
Sixth, real surrender is different for different people.
God made it clear that He entrusted some with more than others – but they were to surrender what they had to the work. Exodus 35:27 The rulers brought the onyx stones and the stones for setting for the ephod and for the breast piece; 28 and the spice and the oil for the light and for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense.
Not everyone had the more expensive stones in their possession. We are all created equal in value, but very unequal in ability and opportunity. God called on leaders – on rulers – to get the more precious gems needed for the ephod. That breast plate was to be used to discern God’s intent and direction. God used them to carry His oil, and His spices. They were the privileged – not because they HAD MORE for themselves – but because they HAD MORE to be “at the ready” of God’s call.
The underlying principle for this rule is simply this: God plants things in my life to allow me the opportunity to CHOOSE to USE them for His glory. That is why the Christian life must be increasingly a prayer oriented life. Maybe I can connect these two ideas in this statement:
“Prayer is surrender-surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boat hook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.” E. Stanley Jones, in Liberating Ministry From The Success Syndrome, K Hughes, Tyndale, 1988, p. 73
When God gives me things, He hides them away in my house to be used when He calls for them. As I walk prayerfully, I will be sensitive to His call for His things, entrusted to me. Even more, I will be ready to easily give them over to Him when He asks – because I kept myself aware they were never really MINE.
Finally, real surrender has to be administrated.
God’s work had leaders and organization – it wasn’t a free for all and it wasn’t a guessing game. The supervising leaders were announced, recognized and followed. Exodus 35:30 Then Moses said to the sons of Israel, “See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 31 “And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship; 32 to make designs for working in gold and in silver and in bronze, 33 and in the cutting of stones for settings and in the carving of wood, so as to perform in every inventive work. 34 “He also has put in his heart to teach, both he and Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. 35 “He has filled them with skill to perform every work of an engraver and of a designer and of an embroiderer, in blue and in purple and in scarlet material, and in fine linen, and of a weaver, as performers of every work and makers of designs.
This rule has an underlying principle: God is a God of order. He coordinates and plans. He is not haphazard. He is a designer and a planner. Too many believers have come to equate “Spirit led” with NO PLAN. That isn’t God’s way. He is able to lead in the plan – and sometimes He moves away from the plan, just to keep us trusting HIM and NOT THE PLAN.
There is a very specific pattern to surrender, and God helps us move from our old life to our new with some necessary instruction.
Glenn Newton pointed out an important truth in a message he wrote. In it he asked: “Does anyone know what that piece in the middle of the washer is called?” The part in the middle that moves back and forth and shakes the clothes back and forth? What is that called? I’m going to call it an Agitator…. What is the purpose of the AGITATOR? As far as I can tell, it sole purpose is to cause havoc for the dirty clothes… it’s there to shake and separate the clothes from all the dirt and grime that may be in or on the clothes, right? As soon as we are saved, the Holy Spirit moves into our hearts, but He doesn’t have our heart to himself… there’s still a lot of things in there… the main one being our own selfish desires…even though we have been saved from our past sins, there still remains some things of the world that we are still fond of… these things of the world have a way of attaching themselves to us like dirt on clothes… they can stain us, they seemingly won’t come out…” How does He get them to “shake off”? He agitates. Some may be feeling it RIGHT NOW.