Grasping God's Purpose: "Coming Back to the Heart of Worship"- Exodus 25

Her old organ was dusty, but that didn’t hurt the sound at all. She loved playing those old hymns, and singing to the Lord as she played that old thing brought her a unique joy. The memories of the days when her husband was alive filled the room. How she could recall his arm around her and his poor tune quality as he would chime in on the chorus…no matter, it was a warm and soothing memory of days gone by. Now she sat in the room with just her organ and her Savior. How she hoped it would please Him to hear her broken voice and suspiciously mistuned old organ. She just wanted to worship… Sometimes she would even put on her old church hat, the one her friends all envied long ago. Can you see her? She is celebrating her Savior and loving the feel of His gentle arm around her now. She always feels it when she sits on the organ bench. That may be one of the things that draws her back to that place…

Let me ask you a question: “Just what does it mean to worship?” Many people are asking the question in a new way these days, as we have seen so many changes in church services. In church circles, there has even been division over what some have coined to be “worship wars” in the church. Truly some have made SINGING the same as WORSHIP, but that isn’t right, and we know it. So, what exactly is worship that pleases God? Does it take preparation? How can we know if GOD is happy with our worship service? If you are asking this, our study today will help offer direction and clarity.

Before I go further, let me remind you that we aren’t talking about a church thing here. We were made to worship God. It is our calling, and for the believer it is our future. It is essential to the experience of Heaven. Let the word be plain: “I was not made for myself. I was made to worship God and to bring Him honor and glory.” I know that thought is contrary to how we spend much of our time – but it is nevertheless very true. If that is true, I must know something of the preparation and of the process of worship that pleases God. Enter the passages on God’s sponsored and designed worship construction recorded in Exodus.

When we were last together we looked at the beginning of the narrative of the longest passage in the Bible to describe a building program- and for that matter it was a moveable structure that had no foundation. The Tabernacle (or “Mishkan”) was a tent structure that was to be assembled in each place Israel placed their camp as they traveled through the wilderness for nearly forty years. When we examined the first nine verses of the chapter, we noted that God had specific requirements for those who would worship Him in Spirit and Truth. Jesus later told the Samaritan woman that His Father always sought that kind of worship. In our study, we concluded that God still WANTS to be at home in the believer and He desires to journey through life with us, just as He did in the wilderness so long ago. We also noted an enduring problem. As a Holy God, He cannot condescend to the level of sinful man. He has therefore provided a way for us to walk with Him in holiness while recognizing that we still dwell in a fallen world. We can walk daily with a Perfect God, even while we are yet imperfect people.

For anyone who would walk with God today, we have the promise that God is inviting us to do this. With that promise comes also the stark revelation from His Word that we need to both prepare ourselves properly, as well as perform our worship in a way that meets His standard. We don’t make the rules for worship any more than we can give directions to an airline pilot on our commercial flight as there where we would like to go. We get on board recognizing that HE or SHE is in charge, and we are not. That is part of worship… Recognizing that since it is FOR God, and TO God – He instructs what He desires.

Key Principle: God left us a graphic picture of the pattern of worship in the Tabernacle, with each part showing something about both Him and us – leading us into His arms.

 First, let’s refresh ourselves in the study without regressing to the past messages too far. Exodus 25 opens with a shot of God speaking to Moses on behalf of His people. God said to Moses essentially three things in verses one through nine:

  • First, raise a contribution to build the things I will instruct. (25:2-7). It must be voluntary, from the heart, and it must be comprised of the specific list God provided. God wants worship to be something that we sense the need to offer, and every part of our giving is to be because we WANT to give it. In addition, we don’t give God what He didn’t ask for. I am amazed at how often I find someone that is desperately trying to earn God’s love by giving of themselves in an inordinate way – but not giving what God wants to have.

If you came to God today with a pile of money and a sincere desire to delight Him with it, while you are in an illicit relationship and dishonoring God in your heart, mind and body – your sacrifice will be in vain. It is not vain because you weren’t sincere, but because you gave God gifts that weren’t what He asked you to give. He wants purity in your walk to prepare you for time with Him. That is why Psalm 15 opened with the idea of attending to our blemishes before we approached God. We cannot forgive sin, only He can. Yet, we dare not ask Him to forgive sin we are planning to continue tomorrow. God has a specific set of things He wants as we prepare to worship Him today.

  • Second, let them build the worship center the way I tell them, for the expressed purpose of giving me a visual place to dwell among them. (25:8). The purpose of the construction of a worship place, and designation of a worship time is simple: God wants to dwell among His people. He is not aloof, nor does He desire to be pushed to the margin of our lives. Some of us are doing that – pushing God out of any decision arena, and treating Him like a distant relative that has no right to claim anything in our lives. God desires to dwell with us, cooperate with us, and participate with us. He proved it over and over. He chose a young woman to bear Messiah, rather than simply dropping in as a grown man.
  • Third, construction must be according to exacting plans that God provided, with no change orders coming from the people. (25:9). God knows how the structure of worship is to look. Every element that goes into worship is according to a pattern. In the passage, God is referring to the specifics of the building to be sure, but the same can easily be said of every part of the preparation and process of worship.

With that brief refresher on the PREPARATION for worship, let’s pick up our reading and see what God said about the PROCESS of worship. We see beginning in verse ten four truths about WHAT IS CONTAINED IN TRUE WORSHIP:

1: True worship has the Word of God at its heart.

Exodus 25:10 “ They shall construct an ark of acacia wood two and a half cubits long , and one and a half cubits wide , and one and a half cubits high . 11 You shall overlay it with pure gold , inside and out you shall overlay it, and you shall make a gold molding around it. 12 You shall cast four gold rings for it and fasten them on its four feet , and two rings shall be on one side of it and two rings on the other side of it. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold . 14 You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark , to carry the ark with them. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark ; they shall not be removed from it. 16 You shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you.

The heart of the Tabernacle was not the building, but the transportable container that was built to contain the Words of the Living God. The very center of the worship was to be God’s own Word – not an emotional expression of powerful music, or ecstatic utterance. The heart of the dwelling of God is in His Holy Word, and that was to be at the center of all they built. God mentioned it first, and added three important truths:

  • The box was to be built to specific specs to carry His Word among them. God wanted them to carefully construct, at great personal cost, the place for His Word. Let me pose a question you may want to consider carefully: How do YOU handle the Word in your life? Are you casual with the revealed truth of God? Do you take time to really construct at personal cost, a careful vessel for God’s truth? I don’t mean for you to build a great gold box for your Bible…but I do wonder if we aren’t so immersed in a culture of the written Word that we have forgotten what we have. God’s Word has been ever so carefully preserved and passed to us – and many of us barely see its value – LET ALONE MAKE ITS TRUTHS OUR HIGHEST CAUSE. We are offered places to learn it, but we are too busy doing other things with our time. I wonder aloud if we understand the preciousness of what we hold in our hands.
  • The box was to be built with poles to transport the Word, keeping it with them where they went. The Word of God was not to be a static memory, but travel with them in their lives. Hiding God’s Word is your heart is excellent, as long as you don’t hide it from your life’s decisions and companions. The Word should go WITH you as you work this week. Does it inform all your weekday choices, or it is just a Sunday memory?
  • The box was to keep the specific record of God’s self-revealed testimony of Himself. God leads us in the way God’s character works. He isn’t an erratic God. We can judge the way before us based on the principles of the path He has led us in behind us. The Word isn’t just a record of old laws and dead followers. It is a pattern, and it is given to us as an example. That pattern doesn’t just lead us to DO RIGHT, but it leads us to walk intimately with HIM. HE is the point, not simply “doing life” properly.

True worship, then, has the Word of God carefully handled, and daily impacting our life’s decisions at its core. It recalls what God has done to help us know what He is doing and will do.

2: True worship has God’s mercy in the center (Exodus 25: 17-22).

Exodus 25:17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold , two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide . 18 You shall make two cherubim of gold , make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat . 19 Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end ; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends . 20   The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward , covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another ; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat . 21   You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark , and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. 22   There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat , from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony , I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel .

God wants to meet me, dwell with me, and share life with me. At the same time, my sinful, stubborn pattern of life makes time with me a problem. We must not take lightly that meeting with God is no small thing – and worshipping Him is not either. Angels prepare to stand in His Holy presence, and I should do no less. He is the author or my life and my universe. Time with Him and a life walked together is life on the highest plane. If we look at the details of the passage, God exposed much more than a simple building plan in the narrative. God set in the Tabernacle a plan of where we can and must meet Him:

  • The top of the ark was to be fashioned from a single mass of gold called the MERCY SEAT. This was not a place for anything to SIT, but was rather a place designed for a specific and essential purpose that will become clear. It was to have two cherubim extending from the surface of the solid lid of the ark. It was a covering over the place of the Word, and it was a place where the blood of a sacrificial animal was poured out atop the box. The whole act was symbolic, and prescribed by God to allow men to approach Him, walk with Him, and take Him on their journey of life. I can only meet with God, and have a relationship with Him, because one died on my behalf, shedding the blood that was necessary to cover my sin with God’s mercy.
  • Note the two angels were to FACE each other, with the area below their winged expanse to be the area for the blood. Why was this essential? Remember one primary purpose for the creation of the physical realm we call our universe was to be a demonstration to the angelic world of WHO God is– what His character is like. THEY were to symbolically and literally behold the mercy of their Creator. The picture of His mercy was, in part, for their benefit! Believers need to remember that more are watching them then just people – there is an angelic world that is susceptible to rebellion, and they watch us. We have a responsibility to be an example to them as well. Paul warned women to be respectful “because of the angels”!
  •  If you look closely at the end of the portion above, verse 22 exposes two very significant things about the space between the angels – that God would meet with them there, and that God would speak with them there. The term to MEET was not the normal form of “m’pagesh”, but rather the word “yaad” – as in a summoning place or appointed place to rendezvous. The term for SPEAK is the customary “davar” – to have a word with them. God said the place of the mercy seat was NOT just a place for man to present blood from a sacrifice to abate the wrath of God, but a place where God would communicate with them. Worship is not just about us pouring out our hearts, our sorrows, our disappointments and our pain. It is about listening to God at the point where the blood meets His mercy. It is about confronting our sinfulness, but also about hearing His gentle voice of forgiveness.

True worship, then is something I prepare for because it is of unparalleled value, but can only be accessed through God’s mercy. I must take it seriously, for my sake, my family’s sake, my church’s sake – and even for unseen angels that are watching. It is about careful obedience, but also about discerning ears.

3: True worship takes constant renewed effort (Exodus 25:23-30)

Exodus 25:23 “ You shall make a table of acacia wood , two cubits long and one cubit wide and one and a half cubits high . 24 You shall overlay it with pure gold and make a gold border around it. 25 You shall make for it a rim of a handbreadth around it; and you shall make a gold border for the rim around it. 26 You shall make four gold rings for it and put rings on the four corners which are on its four feet . 27 The rings shall be close to the rim as holders for the poles to carry the table . 28 You shall make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold , so that with them the table may be carried . 29 You shall make its   dishes and its pans and its jars and its bowls with which to pour drink offerings ; you shall make them of pure gold . 30 You shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before Me at all times.

The table of the bread of God’s presence was a third piece of furniture that God ordered to specifications that suited Him. Its height, length and width were all commanded. Matching the other furnishings, the whole table was overlaid with gold. God wanted a table of bread, made by human hands, so that people would recall that HE IS PRESENT WITH THEM.  It is only a basic description that God offered details that help us see His purposes:

  • First, the whole table top was bordered with a hand breath rim, that allowed the bread to be placed inside the inner rim – but not to slide or touch the outer rim. The symbol of God’s presence demanded protection. The rim was a gold border, 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 had a second purpose. The table was not to be empty… Even when they moved the table. The bread had to be “ever present” – and the rim meant 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 walk 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? If the bread was to recall His presence, the clear picture here is that it was to be protected.
  • Second, four rings were mounted on the table because it was to be carried, something that would move when the camp and the Tabernacle moved. God’s people were not to go where He they did not acknowledge His accompaniment – and this bread represented their conscious knowledge of His presence. Though we all live in the presence of God’s face continually, many of us don’t live like we realize it.
  • Third, every bowl, pan or utensil associated with the table and the other furnishings 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. 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 son, we don’t hate God, we forget God.”
  • Finally, 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, the default position of fallen man is independence from God – living in the deception of self-reliance. Walking with God takes work, and it takes practice.

True worship, then, was that which required constant effort, and was always guarded. It was to be treasured, but had to be forcibly recalled in a life that defaults to self-reliance.

4: True worship exposes truth (Exodus 25:31-40)

Exodus 25:31 Then you shall make a lampstand of pure gold . The lampstand and its base and its shaft are to be made of hammered work ; its cups , its bulbs and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. 32   Six branches shall go out from its sides ; three branches of the lampstand from its one side and three branches of the lampstand from its other side . 33   Three cups shall be shaped like almond blossoms in the one branch , a bulb and a flower , and three cups shaped like almond blossoms in the other branch , a bulb and a flower —so for six branches going out from the lampstand ; 34 and in the lampstand four cups shaped like almond blossoms, its bulbs and its flowers . 35   A bulb shall be 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 . 36   Their bulbs and their branches shall be of one piece with it; all of it shall be one piece of hammered work of pure gold . 37 Then you shall make its lamps seven in number; and they shall mount its lamps so as to shed light on the space in front of it. 38 Its snuffers and their trays shall be of pure gold . 39 It shall be made from a talent of pure gold , with all these utensils . 40   See that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain .

The last of the furnishings in this chapter was the lamp stand, or menorah. The description of this carefully fashioned lamp indicated that it was also to be a symbol. The seven branches were hammered and fashioned out of gold:

First, 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.

Second, the branches were to be shaped as the flowering almond branch – something that God repeated several times. 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 blossoms, but take 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.

Third, the point of the lampstands was to bring light into the dark room of the holy place, but it was to bring TRUTH there as well. 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.

True worship, then, is about placing one’s self in the inspection of the truth. It shows our flaws, and exposes our deceptions. It reminds us that God really does know the truth, and that He isn’t faked out by our presence, while we hide what is going on inside.

True worship is HONEST. True worship takes constant renewal. True worship is centered in God’s Word… and true worship is dependent upon God’s mercy expressed in the blood that covered us when Jesus gave of Himself. The rest is just singing. The rest is just a show… and God isn’t interested in the productions we can put on in His name.

Grasping God’s Purpose: “The Reliability Factor” – Exodus 25:1-9 and Psalm 15

The most reliable watch, is the one that seems to keep time well. I read a clip more than ten years ago:

Time technicians at the National Institute of Standards & Technology (Formerly the National Bureau of Standards) set a new level of precision in 1949 by inventing the atomic clock. It counted the oscillations of the nitrogen atom in an ammonia molecule–and was reliable to within one second in three years. More recently, NIST switched to an atomic clock based on the vibrations of cesium atoms. It will need 300,000 years to gain or lose a single second. But NIST scientists are working on a still-better model: a single mercury ion will be trapped in a vacuum by laser beams and cooled to its lowest possible energy level. The atom’s oscillations will then be so stable that the new timepiece should be accurate to within one second in 10 billion years–the total life span of stars similar to our sun. – Business Week, reported in Resource, Mar/April, 1990.

Wow! That seems pretty reliable. What do we mean when we say something is RELIABLE? We mean that it is something we can count on… A reliable car will start morning after morning. A reliable employee will show up and do their job day in and day out…. What we are actually saying is this: reliability means it will perform according to our specifications. It will, simply put, do what we want done, when we want it done, the way we want it done.

Let me ask a penetrating question: Does God think you are a reliable person? Can He trust you to do what He wants you to do, and when He calls you to do it?

One of the places we need reliability is in our building of homes and common structures in society. If you ever had a house built, I am sure you would agree that the most reliable builder is the one who follows the properly approved plans you give them. That is our focus today, because our story is about a time when God gave men plans to build a worship place for Him. God didn’t reveal the pattern of the worship place because He wanted the people of Israel to move close to Him – but so that He could move in and dwell with them. I know because He said so.

Exodus 25:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution. 3 “This is the contribution which you are to raise from them: gold, silver and bronze, 4 blue, purple and scarlet material, fine linen, goat hair, 5 rams’ skins dyed red, porpoise skins, acacia wood, 6 oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 7 onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 8 “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. 9 “According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it. …40 “See that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.

Boil down what we have just heard from God’s Word. He said, “Take a collection. Get this list. Build the way I specify. I want to live within your community.” God specified the exact pattern He desired the Tabernacle builders to use – and as the coming occupant of the structure, He wanted things built in accordance with His choices…nothing more, nothing less.

Key Principle: God has specific requirements that He has stated that invite Him into the midst of His people to dwell with them. If we would be His people today, an unchanging God seeks reliable builders both in our worship and our daily walk – in order that we would allow Him to feel at home with us.

To that end, let me ask you two other penetrating questions: Do you think that God should settle for anything we want to give Him? Doesn’t it make perfect sense that He should be able to determine what He wants and expect us to become that?

The pattern of our text indicated that God knew what He wanted, and what He did not. The history of the people in the story reveals that God didn’t accept any compromise of the plan of the building, nor did he excuse the compromised character of the people who built it. If God said fire was only to come from the brazen altar to be taken to light the incense altar inside the Tabernacle, and two priests got tipsy with wine and brought their own lighter into the incense altar – God opened up the ground and swallowed them up. He knew what He wanted, and He demanded His people pay attention to what He wanted.

I wonder what would happen if we applied the same standard of our personal faithfulness to God and His Word that we expect from other areas of our lives? If your car started once every three tries, would you consider it reliable? If your postman skipped delivery every Monday and Thursday, would you consider him trustworthy? If you didn’t go to work once or twice a week so that you could just take “time for yourself” would you see yourself as a reliable employee? If your refrigerator stopped working for a day or two every now and then, would you say, “Oh well, it work most of the time.”? If your water heater provided an icy cold shower a few mornings a week, would you think it was dependable? If you skipped paying a few of electricity bill payments do you think your provider would mind?

We need to set aside the silly and haphazard way we have approached God, and pay attention to what He has said pleases Him.

Now let’s be clear… We do not do this to earn a relationship with Him – we can only do this AFTER we have one. The people in the story were already God’s people. He already saved them. Yet, as His people, there was much they needed to learn. They wanted Him to dwell with them in comfort and joy – and so do we. We want Him to be at home in us and with us. Before we go a step further in our text, I want to break away from the beginnings of the Tabernacle construction to follow up on the phrase God said in Exodus 25:8: “…that I may dwell among them.” Let’s have a look at the words of David on his personal preparation for spending time with God in Psalm 15. I know of no other text that will help pull out the steps in a more clear presentation. These words are essential to understanding what we will see as the story of the Tabernacle unfolds in the coming lessons.

As we turn to look at Psalm 15 for a few moments, let me ask you an easy question… “Did you ever observe what happens when young people fall in love?” In a desire to impress that young man or woman, they do crazy things. Some find the shower regularly for the very first time since momma was bathing them. Some comb their hair…. Astounding! These changes remind us of some of the laws of human change. One such law is: With the right incentive, we can change.

Long ago, King David knew what it was like to see people change their clothing, and their behavior based on being in the presence of power. If they wanted the king’s attention, there was an expected pattern of behavior. As a king, he confronted the tendency people have to change their behavior radically in order to gain access to his presence. King David took that observation and went in a different direction than most of us would have. He decided that if people changed themselves to be acceptable in his presence, he too must carefully examine his life and decide if he had sufficiently prepared himself to be in the presence of his Holy King – to walk in intimacy with his God. David already concluded that the changes were WORTH THE SACRIFICE, and devised, under the influence of the Spirit, a preparatory inspection checklist he could use to gear himself up for intense and prolonged worship and intimacy with God.

Though it isn’t talked about enough, in my view, we are responsible for our own preparation to worship. A worship team cannot draw you in to worship a God you have walked away from all week. We have to change – and it takes forethought and effort. Be warned: the changes have been revealed. We don’t have to THINK UP what God would want us to do to prepare… He told us here in the poetic frames of David in the Psalm.

Let me admit something: Writer upon writer has concluded that Psalm 15 is a response to time with God, so what I am teaching goes against the grain. Yet, in close inspection of the passage, I cannot accept that based on the opening question of David. The question wasn’tHow will I be changed if I am with you.” That is the question many commentators seem to approach the passage with. The question is not about the EFFECTS OF WORSHIP as much as the PREPARATIONS FOR INTIMACY with God. Seems to be asking: “What kind of person is truly prepared to be in Your presence and remain close to You, O Lord?” He then formed a seven step checklist that it looks like he used to get ready for worship.

The text opens in 15:1 “Master, who may dwell (goor) in your tent (ohel)? Who can live (shawkan) on the place of your holy mountain (har kodesh)?”

The question reveals that some choices were already made by David. First, he wanted to come into the presence of God, and dwell there – or prolong the time they shared together. Second, he presumed that NOT EVERYONE was ready simply because they wanted time with God. The mountain of God was HOLY (kodesh) or distinct from any other place. The question reveals that David understood that we cannot be casual with the holy. We must prepare. We must acknowledge its supreme difference from the normal.

Before we dismiss this quickly, we must recall that OUR BODIES are called holy to the Lord. Our relationships among brothers are part of what God calls holy. Our choices in the world are to be holy…. All of these prepare us to enter worship.

I hear far too little about preparation for worship, and far too much about how worship should change us. (Jesus reminded the disciples that the soil is also important to growth – not simply the seed and sower). I do not argue that worship should and will change us – I argue that preparation was also part of the plan of God. We need to take responsibility for preparation – and not spiritualize our laziness and inertia in making right choices to prepare our hearts to meet God.

Keep reading the Psalm. Each verse contains three specific attributes of a “twelve attribute” checklist – I organized them into seven steps by category. There is a case to be made that the twelfth is actually an observation, but we will not dwell on that distinction for the time being. Psalm 15:2 includes the first three specifics that appear to deal primarily with inner attitudes that set the stage for all the others. “הולך תמים ופעל צדק ודבר אמת בלבבו׃

Psalm 15:2 “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart”.


Attentive to sin blemishes (holech tamim): One whose “goings are unblemished” (tawmim- 15:2a). The idea included the attention to avoid sinful practices, as well as the daily maintenance of proper life.

Shalem is a word for completed and perfect in Hebrew, but that is not used here. The other Hebrew word for “perfect” is tawmim, meaning absolutely complete, right (related to tawmid, “continual,” perpetual,” “daily”). Thus tawmim meant morally perfect, not just living up to all the light you have or according to your own conscience (which can be enlightened or not).

When I was a kid, my mother told us what time we needed to be ready for church. We appeared, like a whole team (I come from a large family) at the front sidewalk before we climbed into the panel van to go to church. We were to be clean. We were to have church clothes. We were to be 100% ready. Mud on the clothing, dirt on the hands, grease in the hair – were all wholly unacceptable. Trying to cover dirt was unacceptable. The same is true here.

Rev. Gordan Runyan wrote: “This verse is saying that the worshipper must be sincere. “Sincere” comes from two Greek words that you might’ve heard spoken in the marketplaces. Our Sincere comes from Sine and Cera. Together, they mean “No Wax.” When a potter fired his wares in the oven back then, it was common for the clay to crack. An unscrupulous potter would then take some wax and use it to fill in the cracks, then paint over it all and try to pass it off as a good piece of pottery. But a shrewd buyer of pottery knew that a simple test could show him if the pot was truly good or not. He held it up to the sunlight. Spots filled with wax would be plainly evident then as the light penetrated and shone through. A pot with no wax was thus a “sincere” pot. It had no wax. It really was consistent with its advertising. There is no wax in the true worshipper. He is not like the Pharisee, saying on the outside that he loves God and obeys. Neither is he like the modern Evangelical Christian, who loudly proclaims his heartfelt love for Jesus, but cannot bring himself to keep the commandments. The cup is washed inside and out. He speaks the truth in his heart, and that truth is consistent with how he acts.”


Active in seeking right acts (“and works righteousness” is v’pual tsedek): accomplishes what is right and just (15:2b). Am I actively working with my energies to accomplish positive tasks in the life of people? It is one thing to focus on walking in a way that is unblemished, but a whole different matter to be positively producing right acts with my time, talent and treasure – all received from my God to live this life.

Who have you been deliberately helping this week but yourself? Are you able to draw a line back to specific things that helped another that didn’t also somehow make YOUR LIFE better – so that you know you weren’t really just doing it to help yourself? Have you been a DELIBERATELY POSITIVE PART of someone’s week? Check your energy to be ready for worship. Don’t just be AGAINST EVIL in life, be helping GOOD.


Authentic (“and speaks truth in his heart” is v’debar emet b’lev-vo 15:2b): One who declares in words (debar) truth (ehmeth) in or from his heart (layvawv). I believe, if you really think about it, that it is easy to lie to myself. It is easy to convince myself that my actions and words had sound reasons that were rooted in Biblical values, and cover the tracks of my self motivation.

I must constantly check my heart, with God’s Word and the light of God’s Spirit. I must really face the fact that I can be self deceived. If I regard lies in my heart, God’s Word will be torqued around inside and produce more hardened justifications and self affirming feelings, rather than challenge my inner strong self and cause my knees to buckle to His holy distinctiveness. My hunger for His presence must press me to search deeply into the recesses of my heart before I can dwell in intimacy with Him. Isn’t that why David called upon God to “try his thoughts”…


Psalm 15:3 He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend;

Psalm 15:3 includes three more specifics that seem to relate to SPEECH and the use of the tongue: לא רגל על לשנו לא עשה לרעהו רעה וחרפה לא נשא על קרבו׃

  • Guarded and gracious in speech (“does not slander” is lo rawgal al-lishanu – 15:3a): He who has no hidden words that speak from behind others (rawgal: to go on foot as if to spy from rehgel: foot – 15:3).

Recently I have been challenged anew with the casual way I could easily speak about others. I cannot allow this if I am prepared for a prolonged intimacy with God. I exclude myself from His inner confidences and hold myself outside the chamber if I casually treat the use of my words concerning others. I must guard my mouth. James could not have been clearer (see James 1) about the devastating nature of the “tongues fire” damage.

  • Positive (not provocative- לא עשה לרעהו רעה): Does not devise inequity or trouble for his neighbor (15:3b). Though the grammar does not exclusively include only the tongue, the context demands that I address verbal traps I may have set for people. The issue of not planning trouble for my neighbor is not ONLY about what I could say, but it is certainly in part about the use of words. I cannot become casual with another man’s heart, another man’s reputation – I must treasure others and their care if I am prepared to stand in the presence of the Master. The idea continues profoundly in the next phrase…
  •  Loyal : (וחרפה לא נשא על קרבו) One who will not allow (lo nasa: does not take in) his neighbor to be ashamed (Charpaph is reproach from charpaw: upbraid or blaspheme) or taunted (15:3b). The idea is that this one will not accept upbraiding of his neighbor, but loyally comes to his defense. A true worshipper defends his neighbor’s good name. I will not only cease from casually speaking badly of another, I will refuse to be in the place where such speech occurs. I will stop it, because it will blemish my heart and make me as unusable as a dropped scalpel in an operating room. I must check my tongue for loyalty, and behind disloyal speech I will find a hunger to be affirmed by others that is both unhealthy and unholy. My value comes from my Master – not my friends. The hunger to be seen as important is a manifestation of immaturity and ungodliness. It must be tamed and quieted inside, and then sacrificed on a holy altar before God.


Psalm 15:4 “In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the LORD…”

Speaking of “checking my room” may require a bit of explanation. In 15:4 David includes three more phrases of preparation for God’s presence:

נבזה בעיניו נמאס ואת יראי יהוה יכבד נשבע להרע ולא ימר׃

The first two phrases related to the place in whick I choose to keep myself. There are choices involved in the room I choose to be in as I prepare to walk intimately with the Master. Do I spend my time surrounded by people that understand His Holiness and draw me toward Him, or do I casually encamp with those who have declared themselves to be His enemies, and than walk into His presence? The first phrases are both selective ideals:

  • Selective Rejection (negative): (“in whose eyes a reprobate is despised” is niv’zeh: despises + b’einav:in his eyes + nimas: from mawas: one who deliberately rejects) One who sets aside a rejector of God and His ways – 15:4. I dare not choose to pitch my tent in the camp of the scornful and agnostic men and then walk from that place into the tent of God on the Holy Hill. If I am not uncomfortable with the work of evil men, my heart is not right and ready. If I am not broken by their hardness, and wounded by their careless pride, I am not ready to worship.
  • Selective Affirmation (positive): (v’et-yirah YHWH v’chabbed) but places weight (kawbad) on those who revere the Lord! (15:4b). I am not only to be negatively selective (to move out of a room filled with those who despise my Master, but I am to select a room where others who seek His Holy presence and place weight on intimacy with Him are dwelling. The wrong room pulls me down, the right room moves me forward in righteous hunger, and righteous yearning.

Let me say it clearly: Who you hang out with affects your worship of God. What you laugh at in the world affects your worship. Where you were last night, and the night before has much more to do with what will happen today than you may believe!


Psalm 15:4b “…He swears to his own hurt and does not change.”

  • Unwavering: (nishbah: covenant + l’harah + to his hurt + v’lo yamir) He who keeps his word when he covenants to do something, refusing to exchange it when difficult (15:4b). It is easy for me to want the benefits of a relationship without the work in the relationship. It is easy for me to make promises but walk away from them when my attention is pulled elsewhere. The approach to the Holy One is a consuming vision. I must hunger to be in His presence more than I hunger for other things. What Dietrich Bonhoeffer said was absolutely true: “When I sin, I do not hate God – I simply forget God.” I must not forget. I must not place Him second. I must make the commitment to walk with Him, and show the desire by standing my other commitments. In a day awash in broken promises, contracts, mortgages, marriages – believers must stand apart from the culture of casual commitment.


Psalm 15:5 “He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

In the next two phrases, David revealed an attitude that can be uncovered in looking carefully at the use of money (Psalm 15:5):

כספו לא נתן בנשך ושחד על נקי לא לקח עשה אלה לא ימוט לעולם׃

  • Am I Generous? (כספו לא נתן בנשך ) He who gives his substance (kehsef) without an angle to personally gain from it (neshek: today a “weapon” but from the word “to bite” nawshak – 5:5a). Do I use money to “bite” another? Is this about THEM or about MY GAIN?

All that I have came from God’s good hand. If I want to be in His presence and walk in intimacy with Him, can I treat things as more important than the people of my life? If I am “flexible” and lenient on myself for the sake of business, I allow a blemish in my heart to grow. It will eventually grow to displace my hunger for Him – it will be a hunger to use what He has given me to ease my life at the expense of others. Could it be that some of my wealth was given so that I could care for others with no benefit beyond pleasing my Master?

  • Honest: (“nor does he take a bribe” is v’shochad: a bribe + al- naki: the innocent + lo lakach oseh eleh: nor take does these) He who cannot be bought to say something against innocent ones for personal gain (15:5B). This is logical next step when people are less important than money and gain in my life. The point to these last two is that OTHER PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT than my personal gain, or I am not prepared to walk with God.


Psalm 15:5b “…He who does these things will never be shaken.

Stability: לא ימוט לעולם׃ (lo yimot: won’t totter or collapse + l’olam: forever): “He who does these things will not totter (mote)!”

Not long ago the world was once again deeply torn by the heartbreak of an earthquake that struck Port au Prince, Haiti. After that, the Chilean government began the grim task of digging out people from the piles of rubble that shook their country. We know what earthquakes can do to the cities of the world… There are no words to describe the suffering of people in these places, and our prayers and help is sent continually to aid where we can. Anyone, anywhere can be rocked by the earth shifting. When the earth shifts, buildings fall. We design them for some movement, but nothing is designed for the power of a near 9 point quake.

In the same way, there is virtually nothing that can make a man stable against the shaking and shifting of his culture, the rattling of a failing body, the painful tremors of an unfaithful friend – like the stability of intimacy with his God…so I must deliberately prepare myself for the much needed worship.

God has specific requirements that He has stated that invite Him into the midst of His people to dwell with them. If we would be His people today, an unchanging God seeks reliable builders both in our worship and our daily walk – in order that we would allow Him to feel at home with us.

Grasping God's Purpose: "Unmasking the Impostor" – Exodus 24

The year was 1953. In some ways, the world was bounding in recovery from World War II. In other ways, it seemed a dangerous place. On the international stage, former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev won a power struggle in the former Soviet Union that ensued after the death of Josef Stalin. Later that year, the Soviet Union detonated their first hydrogen bomb. A Korean armistice was signed, and the convicted spies – Julius and Ethel Rosenberg – were executed. But things were also moving forward. President Eisenhower ended the wage and price controls that were the pattern from WWII. Chuck Yeager flew the x-1 rocket, and America was bracing for a “high tech” world. Around the world, it looked like a renewed time of discovery was set in motion. Sir Edmund Hillary reached the summit of Mount Everest, and James Watson and Francis Crick introduced the world to the complex structure of DNA – a new acronym to most Americans. “Roman Holiday”, “From Here to Eternity”, and “The Robe” were on the silver screen, while America sang: “Doggie in the Window”, “I Believe”, and “Stranger in Paradise”. Red Skelton lit up screens in the American living room, as more and more people got TV sets. In some ways, the times were grand – in others, people were left uneasy, as if another war was possible at any moment.

Into that world the short story “Impostor” was first published in Astounding magazine. This was a nervous science fiction short story about a scientist named Spence Olham, who was confronted by a colleague and accused of being an android impostor from another world that was designed to mimic a man and eventually sabotage Earth’s defenses. It is unlikely that earth actually HAD any defenses at the time, but no bother. In any case, the story unfolded as Olham worked to escape and prove his innocence, by finding the crashed spaceship and recovering the android’s body. In customary American style, the situation was resolved by the end of the story – and Olham was exonerated.

Why mention this little story? Because it highlights a truth that was made clear in Scripture more than three thousand years before our world is infected with impostors. No, they are not androids – but they are impostors nonetheless. They are mimicking men and women of faith – people with a real walk with God. They are religious people, and they are all around us in our society. Our text will tell the story.

Key Principle: There is real worship, and there is false. There is a real relationship with the True and Living God – and there are numerous man made religious impostors. With care, one can see the difference!

Sometimes the difference isn’t that obvious. That’s the nature of an impostor. Sometimes, it isn’t even really clear to the person who is pretending that what they are doing isn’t a genuine relationship – it is about strayed religious fervor. It isn’t about their INTENT – it is about the TRUTH of their relationship with God.

Since we have studied a number of lessons of the Civil Code of Law, perhaps it would be helpful to “re-stage the scene” of Exodus 24, for the sake of context…. Israel was in the Sinai wilderness – a month and a half’s journey from Egypt proper. Moses had already faced many leadership challenges. He led the people through the sea and through the drought of their own canteens. He led them through the Amalekite war, interceding with God from a hillside above the battle. He went through a painful but profitable experience of evaluation by Jethro, his father-in-law. Jethro pointed out that Moses placed himself in a position of unrealistic expectation, trying to accomplish more than anyone could expect – a mistake common to driven leaders. The result was an overuse of his abilities, a slow draining of all of the creativity and leadership vision by the wearing grind of daily administration. Jethro told him to delegate administration, and in those words, God used a man that could get Moses’ attention, and get him to change the pattern of his work habits to refresh him and pull him back on track (Ex. 18:24).

Finally, after the departure of Jethro, Moses led the people to the edge of the Mountain of the Law, as God instructed. The time was later memorialized in Shavuot (or “the Feast of weeks”), a holy convocation instructed in Levitical law (Lev. 23:15). This feast was an agricultural celebration, but its true importance is underscored in the Biblical instruction that included it as one of three mandatory offering appearances before the Lord annually (Dt. 16:16). God did not want this time forgotten! This was a day He gathered the children of Israel and God blew a shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) before them that shook their camp (Ex. 19:16)! God has seldom made Himself so obvious in the affairs of men – this day was not common – so God threw a very special party! The party was “fifty days” after their departure – and was captured in the word “Pentecost”, still a holy memorial each year among observant Jews recalling the encounter with God at the mountain, and the giving of the law. The Sabbath days between Passover and Pentecost are counted according to God’s instruction (Lev. 23:15).

God’s Instructions (Exodus 24:1-2)

Exodus 24:1 Then He said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall worship at a distance. 2 “Moses alone, however, shall come near to the LORD, but they shall not come near, nor shall the people come up with him.”

God invited seventy elders and a specific guest list of leaders to the mountain to worship Him (Ex. 24:1). They were not allowed to move up the mountain with Moses, but they were instructed to come together for a corporate time of reverence (the Hebrew verb shakhaw means to bow before, prostrate one’s self, or revere, Ex. 24:1) some distance away from Moses. Moses would not be able to lead the people of Israel without their help – and they needed to be sure that he was truly encountering God, and not some natural phenomenon he knew from his previous experience in the wilderness while they were still in Egypt. For that reason, God set up a dinner party.

God’s Dinner Party (Exodus 24:9-11)

24:9 Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10 and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. 11 Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.

This event was unprecedented in human history. God passed by before the men, and they beheld a brightness that seemed like the sun. The mystery in the event was not simply that they gazed upon the path of God, and stood before a striking brightness. The shocking part of the story was their response! They were called there to worship, and yet the text reveals they “saw God, and did eat and drink.” What a response! God came, and they had dinner together.

Moses heard from Jethro weeks before this encounter that leadership needed to be shared – and he was trying. At the same time, the leaders needed to be reassured of Moses’ unique position before God on their behalf. Leaders ate with each other, drank and communed with together. He saw a team leadership formation in corporate worship. There is a time for personal time with God, but there is equally a time for developing a team team. In addition to underscoring Moses’ role, the elders got an opportunity to commune together and feast and worship. What an important lesson: Leaders need to lock arms with other leaders. We are not called to be “Supermen” that face the forces of darkness alone, depending solely on our “superhuman” ability or even the work of the Spirit within. We need each other, and grow when we can worship corporately, not only individually. We are stronger in communion, not in “Lone Ranger” mode.

Often leaders fall into the trap of believing their own press, subscribing to the affirmation of the positive view of their followers and not remembering their own weaknesses. It is part of the fabric of our makeup. We lead – they follow. We know – they don’t. It is a dangerous tendency to distance ourselves from the accountability that helps refocus and redirect us. We need accountability. Without it, we will make up our own rules:

Two young engineers applied for a single position at a computer company. They both had the same qualifications. In order to determine which individual to hire, the applicants were asked to take a test by the department manager. Upon completion of the test, both men missed only one of the questions. The manager went to the first applicant and said, “Thank you for your interest, but we’ve decided to give the job to the other applicant.” “And why would you be doing that? We both got 9 questions correct,” asked the rejected applicant. “We have based our decision not on the correct answers, but on the question you missed,” said the department manager. “And just how would one incorrect answer be better than the other?” the rejected applicant inquired. “Simple,” said the department manager. “Your fellow applicant put down on question #5, ’I don’t know.’ You put down, ’Neither do I.’” –

The People’s Pledge (Exodus 24:3-8)

When I took you to the top of the mountain for the dinner party, I skipped part of the passage – the meeting of the people at the foot of the mountain before the party above. The people came together before Moses to affirm their desire to have and follow the Law of the Living One…

Exodus 24:3 Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!” 4 Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the LORD. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7 Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.

Moses held a ceremony to get the people on board with both the Law already revealed, and the part God was about to reveal to them through his next trip up the mountain. That law would mark the people for all their generations. It would give them identity and blessing, as well as provide a clear standard and expectation. He gathered the people together, and the people responded with open hearts to God. They would obey God’s law! Why? Because….

  • They saw God in is power – the plagues of Egypt demonstrated that He was more powerful than anything they had encountered among the Egyptian gods.
  • They saw God in His provisions – manna from the wind, meat from the quail that dropped in their path, water from the rocks in the desert.
  • They saw God in His direction – a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day guided them.
  • They saw God in His empowering – the view of Moses’ arms raised as the enemy was routed was still fresh in their minds.
  • They saw God in His rescue – the opening of the Sea when they were trapped by Egyptian soldiers, and the healing of the bitter water at Marah were fresh reminders that God was there to get them through the harsh experience by His power.

As Moses prepared himself for His next meeting with God, he rose early in the morning, wrote down the words God had given him in the previous encounter, raised up an altar and standing stones for the tribes, and sprinkled the blood of offerings on the altar. He read over the words he had written before the people, and they affirmed their commitment to God’s holy covenant. He took the elders and leaders up to the mountain. These were acts of obedience, but they were also acts of preparation – for him and for the people. Look more closely at the setting of the public ceremony, because in it the seeds of a religious impostor are sown. Two important thoughts are introduced:

  • First, the allegiance to obedience in Exodus 24:3 seemed to be to a set of rules – with little emphasis on a direct relationship with God. Obviously, Moses intended to have the people feel a relationship to God Himself, but they appeared to be willing to sign on to the RULES without the RELATIONSHIP. God was distant to them – and Moses was the one with the close ties with God. The people were content to DO RIGHT by the Law. Therein lays one of the most common problems that paves the way for an impostor. Real relationship is PERSONAL. You either have a personal relationship with the Living God, or you settle for following the rules that may be based on another’s relationship with God.
  • Second, though Exodus 24:3-8 does include the fact that young men helped in the slaughtering of the young bulls – much of the emphasis of the ceremony was, from the perspective of the Israelites, a passive participation. Moses built the altar and Moses sprinkled the blood. Moses recited the Law. Religious impostor’s thrive among those who have become passive in their walk with God. Without a hot heart, a personal passion to know and walk with God, people lose the acuity to true worship and settle for form.

We have already established the scene and its conditions. We can see clearly the environment set for an impostor take over. The people agreed to form, but lacked a fervent and passionate personal walk with God for themselves. They have seen the EFFECT of God, but not gazed upon the BEAUTY of God. They know His POWER, but haven’t explored His person. Their lives have been about THEIR NEEDS – and to the extent that God has involved Himself in meeting those needs – they have considered God. They pledged allegiance to HIS BENEFITS, much more than to HIS PERSON. Add to that, God called the strong leaders away from the people to meet Him privately. Those with a hot heart toward God were missing from the camp. The shade of great trees of God was missing, and the sun bore down on the camp…

The Test (Exodus 24:12-18; 25:1-2; 31:18)

The test that flushed out the impostor occurred in three stages:

God’s Delay: In the first stage, a delay that God ordered made the people impatient with God’s way of doing things. Moses went up the mountain at the Lord’s instruction, and waited on Him: Exodus 24:12 Now the LORD said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.” …18 Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. Moses was alone with God and awaited God’s instruction – with Joshua some distance away (Ex. 24:13). The delay was God’s idea, as Moses met with God – and God revealed truth on God’s time table. Moses long time away set up the unmasking of the impostors in the camp.

God’s Instruction: In the second stage, God’s instruction to build a sanctuary showed that He understood the needs of the people before they did – their longing to SEE something was very real. God directed Moses to get the people together and take a collection of certain specified goods for the construction of a worship center. Exodus reminds: 25:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution… The nature of our physical beings is that we need to PICTURE God in some way. He was making a way to meet that need, but they couldn’t wait!

God’s Gift: Finally, God gave Moses the tablets – a very special gift written by His own hand. After the forty days communing, Moses was sent back to the people. Exodus 31:18 When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God…Imagine the gift of two tablets made by God’s finger and given specifically to men. Revelation was the prize of obedience and intimacy with God!

The Impostor is Exposed (Exodus 32:1-6)

The long time sitting idle left Israel’s camp uneasy. They wanted to make a representation to worship –but they weren’t patient enough to wait for it. They wanted to get on with the religious stuff – no matter that it was what THEY were choosing, and not what God commanded. The story continued…

Exodus 32:1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” 5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

The people talked Aaron into making a god to lead them. Jewish tradition says that they approached Hur with the idea, but he said no and was killed by them. Aaron was intimidated and went allong with the idea of shaping a god representation. The choice of a god was likely that of the Egyptian deity “Hathor” – normally symbolized by a woman’s body with a calf head in Egyptian records. Other representations were more basic, a calf or a woman with a horn arrangement on her head. The horn “flip” became so common a motif that archaeologists refer to household “gods” (teraphim) that have a flip in their hair as having “Hathor locks”. The influence of Hathor was evidenced in the excavation at Timnah, the copper mining site near Eilat, in southern Israel. Several stone stelae (inscribed standing stones) were found, and at least one had the head of Hathor. The excavation included what appeared to be a Midianite shrine, as Hathor may have spread into their cultic practices as well. Several scholars have noted the relationship between the worship of Hathor and the peoples of the Sinai desert – the Midianites and the Egyptians. It is possible that she was the goddess of both slaves and journeys – and these were slaves on a journey. They probably chose the god image that suited the times., the impostor of religion was offered to replace real worship and real intimacy with God. They just invented an impostor religion – a substitute for real faith and a real walk with God – right there in the desert!

  • Man made religion comes from the need to control. – the delay didn’t suit them. (Just because the people didn’t know what Moses and God were doing, they took control – 32:1).
  • Man made religion comes from people feeling inadequate and deciding to fill a void (32:1b)
  • Man made religion allows a god to be shaped according to their liking (32:1b,4).
  • Man made religion doesn’t exclude that God may be at work, it just doesn’t matter! (32:1b).
  • Man made religion is satisfied with calling for the low sacrifice of the immediately available (32:2a).
  • Man made religion will focus on taking the burdens of this life and making them bearable (32:2b-3).
  • Man made religion will take a self styled god and give him praise for events performed by the Living God (32:4).
  • Man made religion will bind people to a series of imitation holidays and self designed sacrifices – but the power and presence of the Living God is far off –on another mountain! (32:5-6)

There is real worship, and there is a false religious dance. There is a real relationship with the True and Living God – and there are numerous man made religious impostors. With care, one can see the difference!

In 1973, four hostages were taken in a botched bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. At the end of their captivity, six days later, they actively resisted rescue. They refused to testify against their captors, raised money for their legal defense, and one of the female hostages later became engaged to one of her now jailed captors. The Stockholm syndrome comes into play when a captive believes they cannot escape, and is isolated and threatened with death, but is shown token acts of kindness by the captor. Obviously, this twisted state of the psyche got its name from later studies of these events that transpired in Stockholm. But the same syndrome has since been seen in other situations in life. It is seen in battered wives, survivors of the Holocaust (not many of them left), and like situations. It basically boils down to this. The victim feels helpless and has lost hope for relief from a situation; gropes for and clings tenaciously to any little perceived goodness or benefit coming even from the person or situation causing the problem, and eventually begins to sense a false love and dedication to the very person or circumstance they’ve been imprisoned to. (adapted from Clark Tanner, sermon central illustrations).

All over our world, the Prince of the air has duped people into believing that really knowing God is hopeless. He offers treats to people to get their allegiance, and then ruins their eternity by dulling their spiritual senses to see the peril of their situation. They have been duped by a religious impostor. Yet, when the truth is brought to them, what will they do? Many will exhibit the RELIGIOUS STOCKHOLM SYNDROME. It takes LOVE and CARE to get the truth to do its work in them.

Grasping God's Purpose: "God's Civil Service" – Exodus 23

Thomas Jefferson said: “An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will.” To what information was he referring? I suggest that it was not merely a knowledge of the world news of the day… it was a knowledge of right and wrong – a moral knowledge.

 Many powerful interest groups in our world attempt to manipulate public opinion, and they have become proficient at doing so. Our society – the one God gave us to be responsible as a steward of – depends on its citizens forming morally positive judgments, and putting pressure on our governing representatives to act accordingly. If citizens are rendered unable to accomplish this, or simply cease desiring to do so – the nation they live in quickly suffers. The world their children and grandchildren inherit suffers. Such citizens yields children with crippled with misshapen morals and a mal-adjusted world view, as their future leaders, accelerating decline. We must consider that even the most excellent leadership, without discriminating citizens, will not work well. If Washington or Lincoln tried the very same speeches that won the hearts of their countrymen and built their citizens in days gone by, they would be repudiated by the modern thinkers and pundits. Their morality would be attacked by those who think themselves “enlightened” in spite of the fact that those attacking “enlightened individuals” never produced something equal to those earlier men. I don’t make this point because these former leaders were made perfect in understanding, nor did we come to study American leaders as God’s patterns.

My observation is only this: our “world view” produces something. Changing it is in the best interest of immoral people, and they have been on the march to do it. From universities to nightly comedy sitcoms, from Disney to dance halls – a new morality has been engineered – and it continues to show itself. We as believers have been infected with it, and we need to open the Word of God to hit a reset button and return ourselves to a former place that many of our forefathers knew. We do not do it for them, but we acknowledge that their doing it gave us great freedom and a great country. The departure from it has pulled off the ropes of our mooring from the docks of moral thinking, and is in danger of leaving us utterly rudderless – tossed in an immoral ocean.

The Bible is the place to reset our vision… but… what does it say is a responsible citizen? What is required to produce an informed and peaceful society that will honor God and build a positive future? As we finish this study in Civil Code from Exodus and move on with Moses and the people in the desert, we will see a truth emerge from our study. It may surprise you…because God is not dull in mind, nor negative in Spirit. He has a positive message for the way forward – but it begins with re-calibrating our view of right and wrong.

Key Principle: God shaped the foundations of a positive community by making clear that VALUES drive decisions, and those decisions create positive conditions for life together.

Knowing the values of God is not difficult – it involves reading His Words and setting the eternal truths into our world, our lives and our society.

A Positive society is based on a Justice system that seeks TRUTH (23:1-3, 6-8)

There have always been classes of people. In every society there are “haves” and “have nots” – and justice often has been skewed to the “haves”. God’s plan for a justice system in civil society was clear – it must be based on truth – that is, the facts of what happened in an event as shared by parties who have firsthand knowledge of these events. The temptation for people to testify to these events in a way that was not altogether truthful had to be resisted– for truth is the foundation of God’s moral code – as He is the truth.

Exodus 23:1 “You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. 2 “You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice; 3 nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute… 6 “You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute. 7 “Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. 8 “You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.

God offered in this passage four specific cases to be avoided in the justice system, so that the truth would prevail:

  • False Testimony: In every court room, a witness must be speaking the facts of what took place, with no view of manipulating these facts to gain for himself or others (23:1 and 2b, 23:7). His or her testimony must not be swayed by wicked men who use them to gain power while doing evil (23:1). The principle is this: testimony must be received from those who will offer the facts, unfettered to any party in the proceeding. Justice for the weak insures justice for the strong, and vice versa.
  • Vigilante Action: Truth cannot be found in mob justice – for it will not yield truth (23:2a). The principle is this: Justice must be a deliberated process – not a hasty judgment made on flared tempers in crowded squares. Crowd justice is utterly unreliable. Truth can be easily drowned out in the loud voices of evil men. We must not be deceived – truth is neither based on polls nor oratory skill. The stuttering voice of the shaken first hand witness should be more weighty than the lofty words of the populist persuader.

We need to be particularly careful in our time not to believe that protest is always a good thing. Public morality is not best decided by whoever doesn’t have enough to do today that they can gather for hours in protest. It is not a good thing to join in large numbers and hurl insults at people in power – even if they are wrong. We have a right to assemble, and on occasion we are wise to use it. At the same time, it would be good if we could figure out what we truly want before the protest starts, or anarchy tends to takeover. Remember that vigilante justice and public protest policy are not the best ways to move forward – and usually produce terrible results.

  • Deference to Wealth: Justice must be blind to the prosperity. The wealthy must not be able to buy a different justice system standard than the poor can receive – for the truth is at the center of the proceedings – regardless of the status of the victim or the alleged perpetrator (23:3,6). The principle is simple: Any attempt to make just decisions must be fire-walled from economics. Justice and money aren’t good neighbors. It isn’t the money that is bad – but the incessant hunger to compromise in order to gain it that is corrupting.
  • Bribery: This is an abomination to justice (23:8). Money cannot buy truth. What happened is done – and the job of the justice system is to figure out what happened, with minimal hindrance and caveat, and bring stability back to the community with justice to the harmed. The principle is the same as the one above: keep justice secure. Don’t allow money to be a corrupting influence. Guard truth and justice by all necessary means – it is the source of hope to the hurting, and the deterrent to the erring.

In every society, the principles of truth must prevail for the justice system to reflect real justice.

A Positive Society is based on a neighborhood that shows KINDNESS (Exodus 23:4-5)

In addition to TRUTH, civil society must nurture, reward and value KINDNESS. We must train people to serve others that have not earned the right to expect it, simply because it is kind to do so. Two examples are offered:

23: 4 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. 5 “If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him.

  • Roadside Returns: First, God ordered that we must look out for one another’s property. This would help keep the camp orderly, and also stem off disputes of theft born out of mistrust and suspicion. What would happen if the neighbor saw his ox on your property? Would he think you STOLE it? What if you saw your neighbor sneaking on to your property (though he was actually there to retrieve his ox). Would you strike him because you thought you were protecting your property? Kindness can diffuse situations that otherwise would tear harmony from the neighborhood.  The principle is this: Being kind means to show practical care for someone regardless of what your past disputes have been with that individual. Our past does not determine kindness – our commitment to God does.
  • Roadside Assistance: A second example of kindness was offered in the passage. In the event that your neighbor’s loaded donkey had toppled, you must stop and help him – set him aright and help him regain his load to continue his journey. The assumption one can make is that a loaded donkey was left never unattended, so the neighbor that “hates you” in the passage is also in the scene. The principle is this: Don’t let THEIR FEELING about you stop you in being kind to them.

A Positive Society is based on an Economy that shows Restraint (Exodus 23:10-12)

A third value that builds a positive society, atop TRUTH and KINDNESS is that of ECONOMIC RESTRAINT (23:10-12). Even if you have been squarely with me up to this point, my American students will struggle with the next principle. Read the words carefully:

23:10 “You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, 11 but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. 12 “Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves

Note the passage does not make the argument of rest for any religious reason – but on behalf of the worker’s well-being, and the land’s ability to recoup in the natural processes put in place by the Creator. God ordered the land to have rest for the LAND’S SAKE, and the worker to have rest for the WORKER’S SAKE. He ALSO ordered the land to be fallow for the NEEDY’S SAKE. Now look for the principles more carefully:

  • Needy people are to go and collect from the field (in labor) what you have provided for them in your planting and sowing of previous years. They are not to sit at home and have you drop off the bundles of food, but nor are their physical needs to be ignored.
  • Workers and animals will need rest and refreshment, and that need is to be more important than the constant need to get more out of the field and labor. Working non-stop will kill us, and expecting our workers to work without breaks is morally wrong.

Greed cannot be the only thing that drives a capital market. Businessmen must give something back to the community that gave them a stage to become successful. They need to see beyond the balance sheet and into the eyes of people in the community. Some people cannot work a regular job – they have mental or physical limitations that prevent that. What should we do for them? As a society, we cannot and must not give open hand outs. We must understand that more comes from a job than a paycheck – self-respect, accomplishment, vision and a sense of purpose are also wrapped up in work. We were designed to work, as Adam’s tending of the garden was commanded before SIN came. To God, work helps us, and it is not a penalty for being less clever at prying money out of someone else’s pocket. Work is good, and we need to view it as a privilege that God has bestowed for our good.

I want to be clear: the old “Protestant work ethic” was tied to a Biblical idea that God intended people to work hard, be productive, and try to pull their own weight. We are in danger of fostering a generation that believes the more you can get WITHOUT working, the smarter you are. It isn’t true. You will get money in the short term, but destroy your neighborhood in the process. When a work ethic dies in us, it is quickly replaced by a “get rich quick scheme” ethos – and poverty and disappointment nips at the heels of a whole community.

I am concerned that many feel we no longer need to link the value of goods and services to any fixed real value to be morally correct. I am concerned that I may become ill and a tissue may cost me $25 in a hospital, if someone can find a clever way to CODE it on my bill, so I cannot see through the indecency of it. They seem to feel justified if I don’t catch them. It is NOT RIGHT because you devise a system to hide wildly marked up services – it is destructive in the long run, and disheartening in the short run.

Professional people can roll out bills without conscience that charge ten or twenty  times what a normal working man can make in an hour and justify it against their knowledge and education – but not against any particular service. IT professionals now want me to pay an additional amount per year to get “priority service”, as if the $125 per hour doesn’t entitle me to a prompt return on my phone call already.  If I buy a $300 TV set and it doesn’t work, I can quickly take it back. Yet it seems increasingly if I pay thousands for a tax service, a medical or legal consultation – that professional feels no compulsion if their service to me is literally a waste of my time and money. They do not seem to connect how what they are doing is destroying the society their children will live in.

I am not grousing – I am concerned that civil society is giving way to the same people who figured out how to charge 100 different prices for the same flight I took last week – and not feel that the service should in any way be linked to the value. It is immoral to do so, and it will pull the system apart. “A good day’s work for a good day’s pay” cannot and must not be replaced for “See how much you can get out of them, because we think they can afford it.” We need to bring economic policies back into line with Biblical thinking – a reset button needs to be pushed here!

A Positive Society is based on a public life that is unafraid to show allegiance to God and His Word (23:14-19)

This isn’t a complicated part of the chapter, and it isn’t new – so we will just  touch this truth lightly and move on. God told the people to show up three times a year:

23:14“Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. 15 “You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. 16 “Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. 17 “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.  18 “You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread; nor is the fat of My feast to remain overnight until morning. 19 “You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God. “You are not to boil a young goat in the milk of its mother.

Note that God said CELEBRATE (23:14), do it for the amount of time instructed and at the time instructed (don’t cut corners – 23:15), and don’t show up with NOTHING IN YOUR HANDS (23:15b)! Offer without bread that is raised and eat all in that day without leftovers (23:18). Bring me your BEST, but don’t bring me what is NOT READY (23:19).

God’s blessing for the nation was tagged to specific points of obedience as it regarded public ceremony. They could not be timid to be His people, and should not seek His blessing if they would not be public about their allegiance. In my lifetime, we have moved from a Judeo-Christian ethic, to a multi-ethnic, pluralistic society. That is fine with, because it put the world in my backyard – and I think that makes the world more colorful and the tapestry of my neighborhood richer. I am happy when I see people pour into our nation because of what God has given us – I truly am. At the same time, America was founded on Biblical statements and Biblical values – and I simply refuse to allow people to re-write history because it removes God and the Bible from the story. They can shout, but I can keep steady, gentle and positive reminders that will not back down. Some things are worth saying often, and some truths bear repeating in the faces of those who think we will be intimidated. The examples are many – but we will not spend time here in this study.

A Positive Society is based on God’s people walking in obedience to God’s Word (Exodus 23:20-23)

Again we find a truth that is both familiar and simple. God promised to send to the people an angel to lead them into the land and fight before them. The problem with God’s angel is that he could give instruction, but not force the people to obey it – that had to be their choice.

23:20 “Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. 21 “Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him. 22 “But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. 23 “For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will completely destroy them.

Let’s be honest. The problem with believers isn’t that God hasn’t led us. The problem isn’t that He hasn’t offered us direction in His Word, example through His saints of yesteryear, a pattern in our church celebrations, empowering by the working of His Spirit and even comfort in the body of Christ’s service gifts. The problem is, we just don’t want to listen to His instructions and actually DO THEM. Failure to follow even the clearest commands will lead to defeat in this world, and shame when we stand before Him in the next. It is time to listen up if we want our society to see our God. When we follow HIS instruction, we INVITE His blessing.

A Positive Society is based on the resistance of God’s people to conform (Exodus 23:13,24-33)

We have had issues – but much of our history is deep and rich, and will move people toward God!

23:13 “Now concerning everything which I have said to you, be on your guard; and do not mention the name of other gods, nor let them be heard from your mouth… 23:24 “You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their sacred pillars in pieces. 25 “But you shall serve the LORD your God, and He will bless your bread and your water; and I will remove sickness from your midst. … 32 “You shall make no covenant with them or with their gods. …”

God repeatedly warned the people about becoming like the world. What did that include? Did it include the way they DRESSED? Yes, in fact it did. Did it include the way they CUT THEIR HAIR? Well, yes, in fact it did! Did it include their LANGUAGE? Yes, again it did. Did it include their ENTERTAINMENTS? Again, yes it did! This isn’t so complicated.

I have no interest in doing FOR YOU what the Spirit will do IN YOU. At the same time, we cannot be deceived into thinking that God is fine with each emulation the lost world entices into the life of the modern believer. There are things that are wrong – and we need to grow in our sensitivity to what they are, and then choose not to be like them. Jesus said that if your right eye offends you, pluck it out. Let me say it another way: “If your television causes you to sin – it is better to throw it out than to let it trash your mind, and slowly seep into your heart – and ruin your testimony.” We need to grow up and face that we cannot be what the world is- because what they are is LOST and DOOMED apart from Christ. WE are not. We belong to Him – and we should live openly and happily as though we do. You see, God shaped the foundations of a positive community by making clear that VALUES drive decisions, and those decisions create positive conditions for life together.

Grasping God’s Purpose: “Picket Fences” – Exodus 22:16-31

When I was a kid we had a dog named “Tibolt”. He was, it seemed to me, the fastest thing on four paws. I couldn’t catch him to save my life. He darted around the yard like someone with a hot firebrand was chasing him. The only hope I had was trapping him inside the fences of the yard. Fences protect things. They guard things. They help keep in what should be kept private and help keep out what should be kept out. We are facing a FENCE CRISIS in America today.

Ray Prichard wrote recently: “In 1988 evangelical philosopher and theologian Carl Henry made a stunning prediction in his book, Twilight of a Great Civilization (Crossway Books). He said that as America progressively loses its Judeo-Christian heritage, paganism would grow bolder. What we saw in the last half of the 20th-century was a kind of benign humanism, but he predicted that by the start of the 21st-century, we would face a situation not unlike the first-century when the Christian faith confronted raw paganism—humanism with the pretty face ripped off, revealing the angry monster underneath. His words have come true, and are coming truer with every passing day.”

You don’t have to go past daytime television, or read the comments section of any internet news outlet to see it – anger unleashed against all moral restraints. I was reading yesterday and young man’s plea: “Let’s legalize marijuana!” I began to wonder what he was thinking… Do we have far too many sober and clear thinking people in America today? Is anesthesia actually the way to solve problems? Some people think so.

Even if you think that young man is extreme (and I assure you he is not), virtually no one in our modern society would disagree that we have lost the “blush” from the American face. We can flip through the channels and see almost anything, if we are willing to degrade ourselves enough and if we are willing to pay for what we want. In the modern world we live in, 27 million women were reportedly trafficked as sex slaves. Child pornography is a rampant phenomenon that has law enforcement shuddering, while courts grapple with one assault on the “rights” of people to do anything they want after another. We seem to be trying to move a society like a ship with no rudder – allowing our civil society to be tossed about with every dark current. Yet, God planned another way. We CAN have a domestic life that is positive, if we will put up the picket fences and stop allowing the destructive beasts to chew away our civility.

Where do we start? Good question. If judgment starts with the house of God (1 Peter 4), then discernment must start there too. We must KNOW what God wants before we DO what God wants. In civil society, we must stop thinking that God’s Word is well known or obvious- for most the basic concepts of Scripture are foreign.

Key Principle: Careful examination of God’s civil codes reveal a path that can bring peace and harmony back to our community – but we must learn that code, then choose to follow it.

Before some of you “check out” mentally let me address two objections that will no doubt block our communication in this study.

First, many believers truly believe our nation is “too far gone” for a turnaround – but that is NOT SO. Let me challenge you with your own experience. Has God been able to turn you out of a life of self and sin to follow Him? Were you less a sinner than any other? Is there something too difficult for our God? Is He content to let our world spiral downward… the answer is NO – and I know that be WE ARE STILL HERE. There is coming a day when the church will be gone. It may be soon. At the same time, while it is yet DAY, we work with the expectation that the same God that changed US will change OTHERS with His Word.

A second objection is often raised by people in our modern American life – we don’t want all this LAW. We don’t want to be LEGALISTIC. We are under grace and we should be sharing with people the words of grace and not all this legal stuff. There is a point to understanding grace – and we cannot earn the love of God through works. Yet, I would caution once again that the church has reveled in grace for so long we are in danger of becoming a free for all when it comes to right thinking and right living. I don’t live to keep a list – but my relationship with Jesus (just like the one with my wife) has rules.

I arrived at the Virgin America terminal in LAX the other morning to return to Florida from California. When I came in, a very nice TSA man had me remove my shoes, belt, wallet, laptop, and various other parts and pieces onto an x-ray machine beltway as I passed through a doorway leading nowhere. They didn’t want to judge me, nor did they like me – they were just erecting the necessary barriers and only allowing those who passed the screening to enter. I could call them “LEGALISTS”, but what they did was for my safety. When I went to the gate, they checked my boarding pass and the size of my carry on – all for my safety and the convenience of other passengers on board. We understand that for all of us to live together, there must be rules… and they are designed to make things WORK BETTER.

Let me look at God’s specific prescriptions for Civil Society that He directed for His people in our passage. On first reading it looks like a laundry lists of laws, but there are actually only specific areas mentioned that may surprise you:

Exodus 22:16 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. 17 “If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins. 18 “You shall not allow a sorceress to live. 19 “Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death. 20 “He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the LORD alone, shall be utterly destroyed. 21 “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 22 “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. 23 “If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; 24 and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. 25 “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest. 26 “If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, 27 for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious. 28 “You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people. 29 “You shall not delay the offering from your harvest and your vintage. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. 30 “You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me. 31 “You shall be holy men to Me, therefore you shall not eat any flesh torn to pieces in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs.

Let me sharpen this list for you, and sharpen our attention to it. There are seven areas presented, and each of them has a direct relationship for how believers in the church should look at their world. Each of the specifics has behind it an attitude – and though the law is not ours the attitude it guards against still manifests itself in specific ways in our society.

Problem #1: Irresponsible Men

The issue is not just that men need to take responsibility for sexual activity – but also for sexual attitudes. We are out of Junior High now, so stop acting like body parts are still something to poke fun about.  We need men to grow up. In a world where women guard themselves and men act like they are less culpable if she “lets you”, we need to reverse the sense of responsibility. Real men don’t make jokes about base sexual things. Real men face their lust issues and stand for purity. Real men control themselves. When we read about men seducing a virgin – we act like that is NORMAL. It is not normal – it is childish and irresponsible. One step outside the line only encourages another. By verse 19 we are reading the unthinkable – “Cut out Sex with animals” – I can’t even think about this. In a fallen and depraved world where sexual deviance has overtaken our sense of the real purpose and value of sexual expression – we need to recognize that God is disgusted by us pushing all limits.

22:16 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife.  17 “If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins….22:19 “Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death.

The church has become so lax in the area of sexuality that we have allowed God’s wonderful gift of expression of love that was to be shared in a marriage bed, to become a highlight of unmarried humor, and the single greatest topic of sitcoms. We act like sex outside of marriage harms no one – when the Bible clearly says that it DOES HARM. When we warp the uses that God intended for something, we damage our world. Men and women are now facing marriage after a whole range of sensual experiences that were intended for a unique intimacy, and then wondering why so many marriages are failing. This is not the only reason – but it is a reason. God made us, and He knows how we work best. Every time we over rule His Spirit in some area of our lives, we affirm rebellion and raise a fist to His rule and plan.

The rule for seducing a virgin presupposed something we can no longer presuppose – that a man will feel responsible for his behavior in sexual areas. It is not manly to act irresponsibly in this or any other way. The church has to be a place of truth – and the truth is that we have glorified so called “sexual freedom” in our country to the place where men will openly talk about their porn as though it makes them more of a man. Let me be clear: It doesn’t. It shows you lack the control to keep your mind and body in check. You may lift weights and look great on the outside, but if you cannot keep your mind under control, you are not much of a man. One of the most basic parts of a walk with God is that – keeping your heart guarded and your body controlled.

Problem #2: Playing with Spiritual Things

God simply told Israel to cut out witchcraft from His people. In a culture where there are good witches and bad ones – black magic and white – we need to quit entertaining ourselves with evil and get back to walking in truth. I try to speak in principles, but I am continually amazed at how little people really grasp, so I am going to try to be as gracious as I can, while still being pointed.

 22:18 “You shall not allow a sorceress to live.

I will not compromise on the issue of witchcraft. I believe with all my heart that Harry and his friends shouldn’t be on your nightstand. I don’t agree that it is an “every Christian should use their own judgment” type of thing any more than PORNOGRAPHY should be a “to each believer their own judgment”. Come on, is it really so unclear that spells, conjuring, and witchcraft are not GRAY AREAS in the Word? Is there some set of verses that make it ok to bring up our children in that world because it is creative? I am genuinely stunned at the number of Christians that cannot see the clear words of God’s heart – KILL THE WITCH. I don’t mean we should all get pitch forks and storm Dr. Frankenstein’s castle – I mean we have got to wake up to the influence this is having on our children and grandchildren.

What’s the problem, Pastor? Well, that is a fair question:

First, we don’t need our children getting de-sensitized to the occult in the modern world. They should learn that spiritual powers exist- and that we are fighting them every day. They should learn the parts of the armor they should put on each day. They should learn who the enemy is, where and how he works, and what they can to do navigate the world and lead others to Jesus. These children are not like us. They are growing up in a world that has no boundaries for darkness – and we should not make them comfortable with things God sternly and flatly forbade. God always has a reason for what He restricts. If we let them market witchcraft to our kids – our kids will normalize it for life.

Second, in an unusual twist, people who grow up with witchcraft entertainment are fed an intolerance towards those who don’t believe in witchcraft’s good uses. In the Harry Potter series, those who don’t accept or understand the warlock are called a “Muggle.” People who believe it is morally wrong to practice magic are “Muggles”. Just so you know – in the ethic of that world, Muggles are wrong. Do you think I am over-playing this? Take a good look at the numbers associated with the Wiccan movement in England before and after the series.

So that you don’t get the idea that I am speaking to personal preferences and not the Word, let me just reinforce what the Bible actually says. Both sorcery and witchcraft was forbidden in the law of Moses (Ex 22:18; Deut 18:10) and was denounced by the prophets (Nah 3:4). Conjuring spells and enchantments were specified as outlawed (Dt. 18:11, Isa. 19:3). Magic in the Bible referred to works of Egyptians, Babylonians and pagans – but was not mentioned among God’s people.

Now I must be honest. I am not going to ask your children if they read the books or saw the movies – but I beg you to more carefully consider what is happening. I try to understand this removal of the fence in the Christian home, but I truly cannot. I keep hearing about how we don’t want our children to be “left out of what is happening in the world” around them. Why do we feel entertainment is so tremendously important that we cannot rebuild the fence of protection here? I believe it is setting up the next generation of believers to be even less defended – because the fences were removed by free thinking parents – and I do not understand the perceived benefits.

Problem #3: The Making of a God

Even the most amateur Bible student knows instinctively that God didn’t allow idolatry. Yet, it is much harder to get a growing believer to see what influence the idolater next door has on them. We live in a world that chooses to make their God fit into their own desires, but we must kneel before the God who IS.

22:20 “He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the LORD alone, shall be utterly destroyed.

The reason God wanted Israel to be ever so careful about allowing the free exchange of everyone’s view of God is simple: He is the truth and they were telling lies. When we grow up in a world that teaches us constantly on TV and Internet that God is has no theology to speak of, no particular credo, no tenets of faith that would DIVIDE us – we are being educated in a LIE. When we meet the innocuous, harmless god of the public airwaves who is a serviceable god with laws amended to public sentiment – we are being LIED TO. And liars are getting more brazen and more dogmatic.

I am not trying to be belligerent in this. I am simply arguing that people are increasingly swallowing an “all gods lead to heaven” strategy that is pagan to its core and hostile to the Gospel. For this reason, God didn’t want His people getting comfortable with the plurality of pagan gods. Disney grabbed our children young, and has fed them a steady remaking of pagan tales. I am not snooping into your DVD cabinet, I am telling you to get your guard up and watch what is going on. Our children are more able to tell us about foreign gods and pagan rituals than about the basic Judeo-Christian ethics upon which our nation was built. Sit down and talk about what they are learning, and where they are learning it from. My oldest child came home from a Christian school – fifteen years ago in another town – and shared with us cultic practices children were discussing on the playground. They are more influenced than you may think.

Problem #4: A Brutal Generation

There is a brutishness to modernity. Survival of the fittest doesn’t work well in nursing homes. Bullying is what we can expect when we extract the basic moral fibers that hold the nations threads together. We must turn back to tenderness. In a world where power is king and care is weakness – we need to be aware that God is watching and listening to our hard words and hard hearts when it comes to the weak and needy.

22:21 “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 22 “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. 23 “If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; 24 and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. 25 “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest. 26 “If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, 27 for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious.

When you listen to believers, can you hear a sensitivity to people? Are we teaching our youth to recognize and work to deliver those who are hurting? Look at the list of people God mentioned:

  • Don’t wrong a stranger: Because everyone needs to be drawn in and made to feel love.
  • Don’t make it harder on a widow or orphan: Because everyone needs an advocate when life falls apart.
  • Don’t make money off those who are struggling: Because those who are down need a hand, not a boot.

God pointed out that He is gracious – so mercy is NOT only for the weak… but for the strong.

Problem #5: A Respectful Mouth

When did it become ok to say whatever came to our minds? Some of the biggest mouths are attached to the smallest minds. I mention the disrespect issue because Facebook has shown us a side of each other we may never have seen before. We must learn and teach reverence to God and respect for authority. In a society that values freedoms over responsibilities – we need to turn back to honoring God, and those He has placed over us. God said:

22:28 “You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.

Why is this important? Because our future depends on it. If our children do not learn respect now, we will reap the harvest later. We have to know what is REAL and what is IMPORTANT, as opposed to what is transient and fleeting! John Wesley once expressed his commitment to the Word this way:

I am a creature of a day, passing through life, as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over the great gulf; till a few moments hence, I am no more seen! I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing, the way to heaven: how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end he came from heaven. He has written it down in a book! Oh, give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man of one book.”

Let me say it clearly: A man is not more educated if he can cite volumes of pagan philosophy but cannot discern the truth. He may be well read, but he is living blindly and walking toward death.

Problem #6: Selfish Priority

Do you want to see modern selfishness? Just look at how people try to get five bags into a carryon overhead bin, while pretending they only have one. We live in a world that tilts the rules toward us, and blames everyone else. At the same time, even among believers, we haven’t really learned to recognize we don’t own what we have. In a world that believes they deserve all they have gotten, we need to turn back to Heaven and humbly admit that what we have came from the Lord!

22:29 “You shall not delay the offering from your harvest and your vintage. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. 30 “You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me.

The ancient Hebrews had rites to help them remember they got what they got because God gave what He gave. We need help with this, even now. We need to give God the first of our TIME, TALENT and TREASURE – because ALL of it was from Him.

Problem #7: Looking for a free lunch

Road kill isn’t a menu item. In a world that sees no boundaries except the ones that immediately show themselves as dangerous, you need to make lines around principles. Just because you CAN do something, and because it APPEARS to meet a need – does not mean it is the RIGHT thing to do. Everything has a COST, and it is not always readily apparent. The children of Israel may not have known about the bacteria and germ issues, but they had a bigger problem. They needed to take it by God’s Word not to grab something simply because they COULD. From genetic tampering to stem cell research – we need to slow down and really understand that we don’t understand the outcomes of what we do as well as we think.

22:31“You shall be holy men to Me, therefore you shall not eat any flesh torn to pieces in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs.

If we would simply work for what we have, spend less than we make, and save some – we would not be so eager for the quick fix or fast blessing. We need to recognize that there is no free lunch – even in the wilderness.

Oh dear ones, I have not entertained you, nor treated a light topic – but we have looked at truth… and in it we found LOVE. God’s Love.

Ryan Rodeman, a dear and learned young man on staff at a sister church in Akron wrote the words I want to close with just yesterday… “Calling something wrong is now the only thing that’s really wrong. Accountability is judgmental. Discipline is mean….Unconditional acceptance with no mention of the harm that we do to ourselves is the new definition of love. This is not love. This is actually more like hate….The Bible shows us that this kind of love is a big part of how God loves us. God disciplines us. He teaches us. He prunes us. He molds us….All of those things have to do with us changing. God cares about us enough not to let us stay the same.  That is love. …Love sacrifices. Love suffers. It gives itself away. Love bears burdens, speaks truth and faces reality. It’s not that there isn’t genuine affection or warmth to love.  It’s not that acceptance isn’t a part of love.  Those are all very real aspects. Love wants whats best for us according to God’s definition of best. To move away from God’s best is to move toward death…” Amen.

Careful examination of God’s civil codes reveal a path that can bring peace and harmony back to our community – but we must learn that code, then choose to follow it.

Grasping God's Purpose: "Payback Time!" – Exodus 22:1-15

In the end of the 1990’s, Donald Westlake wrote a novel that was turned into a movie called “Payback”. I did not see the movie, but I am told that Mel Gibson was a stunning actor in the film. The story from the novel intrigued me. The novel jacket said: “Porter is shot by his wife and best friend and is left to die. When he survived he plotted revenge. This is his story.” When I read that, I asked myself one question: “Is payback simply revenge?” Is there some sense in which payback can be redeeming for the abuser and a healing balm for the abused? Biblically speaking, the answer is YES.

 Key Principle: Retribution was not supposed to be about REVENGE, it was supposed to be about RECOVERY FOR THE VICTIM and REDEEMING RESPONSIBILITY for the wayward.

Recompense… retribution… these words have come to mean REVENGE in our language – but that was not so when God gave the CIVIL CODE of the Law. At the beginning of the camping trip through the wilderness, God wanted His people to see His heart in the principles of the Law – not just follow Him the way they followed Pharaoh and their appointed taskmasters. He wanted them to recognize right and wrong, and work through problems in a redemptive way.

We have to admit that our civil society has lost the redemptive sense of retribution. Instead of focusing on healing the abused and helping the abuser, we are focused on the anger of revenge in the penal system. We take people who do bad things, and cage them up with people who have done even worse things. We feed them three meals a day (unless you are in one of the states currently under a budget tightening crisis!) and make them produce even LESS than they did “on the outside”. Many prisons will admit that they are barely in control of the population that has organized itself into gangs of thugs – focused on building their own little society inside the prison walls – based on hatreds and prejudices of the outside world – but magnified in intensity.

God gave a proper pattern for restitution in the Law:

Exodus 22:1 “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep. 2 “If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. 3 “But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. 4 “If what he stole is actually found alive in his possession, whether an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double. 5 “If a man lets a field or vineyard be grazed bare and lets his animal loose so that it grazes in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard. 6 “If a fire breaks out and spreads to thorn bushes, so that stacked grain or the standing grain or the field itself is consumed, he who started the fire shall surely make restitution. 7 “If a man gives his neighbor money or goods to keep for him and it is stolen from the man’s house, if the thief is caught, he shall pay double. 8 “If the thief is not caught, then the owner of the house shall appear before the judges, to determine whether he laid his hands on his neighbor’s property. 9 “For every breach of trust, whether it is for ox, for donkey, for sheep, for clothing, or for any lost thing about which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before the judges; he whom the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor. 10 “If a man gives his neighbor a donkey, an ox, a sheep, or any animal to keep for him, and it dies or is hurt or is driven away while no one is looking, 11 an oath before the LORD shall be made by the two of them that he has not laid hands on his neighbor’s property; and its owner shall accept it, and he shall not make restitution. 12 “But if it is actually stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. 13 “If it is all torn to pieces, let him bring it as evidence; he shall not make restitution for what has been torn to pieces. 14 “If a man borrows anything from his neighbor, and it is injured or dies while its owner is not with it, he shall make full restitution. 15 “If its owner is with it, he shall not make restitution; if it is hired, it came for its hire.

If we look at the civil code of the Law, we find that it is ten chapters in total. Exodus contains four chapters of that code (and Numbers another six chapters that we will study in the future). In Exodus, the Core Principles that we saw in Exodus 20 – that we refer to as the “Ten Commandments” that exposed God’s broader view of life together in civil society; and three chapters of specifics on living together responsibly as a society. The responsibilities included understanding what God cared about in issues like the sanctity of life, the sanctity of freedom, and the holiness of His divine authority invested in the family structure – God gave you your parents! It included the high view of contract promises, and the care we should take with people under our care.

As we come to the last part of these civil codes in this book, we can identify what some rabbinic scholars have termed “Codes of Retribution”. By that word, they had no view of REVENGE –but rather of replacement to injured parties the things that were taken from them… and sometimes even more than what was taken. The idea was to restore both the abuser and the abused. Sadly, it has become a foreign concept in much of our modern civil society- though its touch is still found in our laws.

The issue today is straightforward: Does God express property rights? Is having and defending property a godly thing to do? Is God communal? Does He view the right way to live as “having all things in common” like the Acts 2 group in Jerusalem. Is it right for me to have property, pass property to my children, and take steps to guard my property?

To Reform a Thief

In cases of theft – God had a remedy that was designed to heal the one stolen from, while teaching the one who stole a view of real responsibility that was lacking in their civic understanding. The focus was not simply on CATCHING the thief. It was not only on RECOVERING the goods. It was on RESTORING the damage and REDEEMING through teaching, the thief. Let’s take a look:

First, God told Israel that in the case of theft, where the thief is clearly caught, the thief had to pay multiple times restitution in value for theft. He said: Exodus 22:1 “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.

While it is not always true, it was certainly most often true that thieves weren’t wealthy in the encampment of Israel. They obviously had character issues – but they were likely poor men or women that took their neighbors property. If that was so, the retribution of five oxen for the stolen ox as well as four sheep for the sheep would have been a price that would have been difficult to pay. It is very likely that to do so, the thief had to place themselves in an indenture – a servant-work relationship – where most of their earnings went to repay the debt. They had to repay the retribution – so they had to WORK. They didn’t get corralled into tents with bars in the wilderness, surrounded by armed guards provided by Moses’ security detail. They WENT TO WORK to learn to responsibly pay back what they had taken – and restore to the injured person a sense of security and safety disrupted by the theft. In the society, it helped to put the offender back on track through a work program. There was an end to it – and when payback was complete, there was a way to move on in life.

God values the life of the offender and the offended. He isn’t interested in our sense of outrage at the evil of men as much as He wanted civil society to have a viable remedy to care for the evils of theft. God wanted civil society to focus on redemption, not revenge. He wanted them to focus on JUSTICE. It was retribution, but it was SOMETHING THAT COULD BE REPAID within the six years of indenture limits under the law. Instead, a revenge system chooses to award a person millions for spilling coffee that was too hot on themselves, in this supposedly “enlightened and modern society”. I recognize the fault was found in the courts to be on the company and its machines – I am simply suggesting the retribution had little redemptive quality left in it.

People will steal what is not theirs. It is part of the post mutiny fallen condition of mankind. People covet what is not theirs, justify in their own minds that others don’t have it as hard as they do, and that it wouldn’t be so terribly wrong to take what they have not earned. When they do.. what a society does next may either bring resolution to the victim and help to the perpetrator, or it may just make the problem worse. If we identified God’s social contract rules and followed them – many problems would slowly dissipate.

If we upheld the high standard of parental respect – society wouldn’t have so many people that think they are entitled to something.

When a society enacts policy that in effect breaks down the family – it imperils itself….Break down the family, and you break down accountability. Break down accountability and you break down responsibility. Break down responsibility and you will need better locks on your doors. It isn’t rocket science.

To Kill a Thief

God held civil property as sacred. He instructed the people that “Your things were your things”. As a result, no one should expect to be able to simply “take what they want” from you. Yet, in a crowded camp of people with tents for housing – theft was no doubt going to be a problem. In fact, on nights when the children’s bellies were growling from hunger back in Egypt, more than one slave probably learned how to sneak food from the owner’s pantry. They started the process of justifying themselves under slavery, but learn the lesson that theft was a way to pay the bills… so the wilderness camp of Israel had its share of thieves. Any sensible father would keep watch over the tent. As a result, some problems came up….What if you were defending your home against break in – and in the struggle to do so, the thief was killed. Was defense of my property considered WRONG under the Law?

Civil society must be concerned with defense of personal property. It must also be concerned with truth and justice. Exodus 22:2 said: “If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account.

Defense of property was clearly allowed under the law, even if it included striking the one who was taking your things. A note of caution here – the freedom from guilt of the blood of the perpetrator of the crime by a victim that killed them in the process of the crime was NOT ABSOLUTE. The crime had to have taken place in DARKNESS, when it was unclear what the thief was trying to do – steal or kill the occupants of the tent. This killing was allowed exactly BECAUSE it was dark and the intent of the person breaking in could not be clearly known.

God said in Exodus 22:3 “But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. 4 “If what he stole is actually found alive in his possession, whether an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double.

If you read verse three quickly it is confusing. Slow down. The confusion comes over who is standing in the daylight because the sun has risen. I love the commenter Gill who wrote: “it matters not which it is interpreted, it is true of both, for when it is risen on the one, it is on the other”. That made me laugh, because it is simple and true! But what does it mean:

If someone is breaking into the tent, but the sun has already risen, you should be able to see if they are attempting to steal, or attempting to harm your family. The law stated that after the sunrise, their response should be more reasoned – and we should use less force. In the case that the perpetrator is caught in the act – restitution is smaller. If he was in the process of stealing and killed an animal for its meat or hide – he owed a double repayment. If he was stealing a getaway donkey, he owed restitution. The payment was to be levied and the thief was to repay, even if he had to indenture himself – sell himself for a time to pay back the owner from which he attempted to steal.

God recognized there was less disruption and less anxiety when someone was caught in the act. As a result, the repayment was less. Part of the restitution was to help settle the offended – and get them back to their normal life.

How do the teachings of Jesus fit such defense of property?

Most Christian groups that teach it is wrong to defend one’s property do so on the basis of Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness and kindness. It is true that one could easily read what Jesus said and make the application that we should drop to our knees in prayer if someone is breaking into our homes, or another country is attacking ours – but I don’t believe on closer inspection that His teaching was directed at these ideas.

First, WWJS – or “what did Jesus say”? In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is recorded in the first of His five major addresses called the “Sermon on the Mount” as saying the following:

Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ 39 “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

To be fair to the understanding of Jesus’ intent, we have to admit that dropping into the middle of His sermon isn’t very fair. It is easy to lose what He was saying, so let’s think for a moment about the setting we just landed on. This sermon was early in His earth ministry, and had three major parts: First, the Character Traits of a True Disciple (5); Second, the Practices of a True Disciple (6:1-7:12); and finally the Choices of a True Disciple (7:13-29). Jesus wanted a true disciple to understand that He bought the real estate of their heart, and wanted practices that reflected His ownership in three areas: character, commitments (practices) and choices.

In Matthew five, Jesus offered four character marks of His followers:

  • You cannot be about YOU and ME (5:1-12) at the same time. I am seeking one who is not self dependent (3), not self secure (4), not self reliant (5), not self satisfied (6), not self focused (7), not divided (8), not agenda’d (9), not self defensive (10), not impatient (11-12). In short “other person centered (as in Phil. 2).
  • You cannot be ALONE (5:13). This emphasized the loyalty of the believers together in their “salt”.
  • You cannot remain anonymous (5:14-16). You will not be hidden, and you are not called to be hidden!
  • You needn’t be unsure about the standards of discipleship (5:17-48). The law as given is my standard (5:17) when understood with my intent (5:18-48).

The teaching that we referenced is from that last section. To interpret ANY part of that section, we must set it in the context of what Jesus said. The section began with these words:

Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

In other words, Jesus simply said He was putting the Law back into its original context – not that He was trying to wipe it out. Ultimately, a view of Christianity that teaches that we cannot defend ourselves is rooted in wiping out the clear words of the Law regarding property defense – and that is a problem of Biblical interpretation. It forces a modern Christian into the position of saying that God has changed His mind on the importance of property rights, and the words of the Hebrew Scriptures do not reveal God’s real desire for a civil society.

So what did Jesus mean when He said we should “turn the other cheek”?  If He didn’t teach us to let people walk all over us, what was He telling His followers?

Jesus was referencing a problem that could easily crop up even in believers and followers of His…the very problem we have created in the society that bases its laws on PUNISHMENT and REVENGE rather than a civil system that focuses on REDEMPTION and RESCUE.

  • He said He came to set the Law back into its context.
  • He said that the Law was not irrelevant to making choices.
  • He said that there were evil men that would test the resolve of His followers to be known as men of peace.
  • They would slap.
  • They would mock.
  • They would hurt.
  • He said that His followers were to be characterized by a willingness to love, forgive and share.
  • He said that He expected His new disciple recruits to know this was required.

If they wanted a violence movement that was to take Rome by force, they were in the wrong movement. He is the Prince of Peace – and He wanted nothing to do with a violent insurrection to get people to agree with Him.

  • Yet, He would stand in the Temple and overturn the tables of moneychangers.
  • He would offend leaders in the Temple and stand in their faces with the truth of the hardness of their hearts.
  • He would not wimp out – but He would not use a fist to beat out or a sword to cut out what must be surrendered willingly – the human heart. Men and women must bow inside to the wooing of God’s Spirit. They should not be forced by sword into the Kingdom. It is His kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4)

Our tradition of the Christian church comes from the Brethren and Anabaptist movement. We as a church have our roots in the Progressive Brethren. I seldom mention it, because the debates that were so terribly important since 1520 somehow seem less relevant and more distant to a church that is set in the slow boil of modern immorality and apostasy. Every now and then it is important to inject a word or two about what IS important in our heritage – especially when it is misunderstood… even by our own people in the church.

Though we come from a family of believers that included pacifists – we are not among them. We don’t believe war is going anywhere anytime soon – and we don’t limit your personal choice to serve in the military or not. We are not PACIFISTS, but we are NON-RESISTANT. What does that mean? Well, we have understood it to mean that there IS a time we won’t fight – and those who are a part of us should know about when that is.

In the sixteenth century, the Catholic and Protestant wars raged in parts of Europe. Pope Julius II commissioned the beautiful but costly expansion of St. Peter’s Basilica into its present grand structure. Many wanted to help, but to raise the money in their parishes they began to essentially “sell salvation” in “indulgences” (I am oversimplifying this for time sake). Priests like Martin Luther pulled away from teachings like this, and valiantly championed the notion that the Bible clearly taught salvation was “by grace through faith” – a personal issue not offered exclusively through the church – and never offered at a price.

Tempers rose, and eventually armies rose to defend ideals. No one was completely right – as the introduction of war in the name of Jesus was an oxymoron. Villagers in Europe suffered as Catholic armies in the banner of the Cross swept through making them bow to Jesus and follow the papacy. In other months, that same village was swept through with Protestant armies that carried the banner of the Cross – and forced them to follow Jesus and denounce the Papacy or be executed. The Cross became a symbol of abuse rather than salvation.

The Anabaptist movement formed some communities that resisted the idea of joining a military force under the banner of the Cross. Some carried that a step further and refused all carnal warfare – or fighting in any military setting. Others argued that a fight was not the problem, but the idea of using a sword to represent force under the banner of the Cross was wrong. That continues to be our view. We won’t fight to get people to be Christians – of any sort. We believe the Gospel is about a work God does in the heart – not a work done in the field of battle.

Let me be clear: we will defend our country if called on to do so. We will defend our property, but we will not fight to force people to believe in Jesus, under the banner of the Cross. We just won’t. Though some very godly men and women disagree with us and believe it is wrong to defend property and country– we do not apply the individual character statements used of Jesus’ followers to our country or civil society. If we did, in our view, any criminal that was repentant would need to be summarily released – and we don’t think that is what Jesus was saying. We believe civil government was charged by God to hold the sword – and not in vain. We believe that Jesus wants us to be personally people of peace – but there is a context to that peaceful behavior –and that is our personal demeanor when living our daily lives. I want to offer grace to those who disagree, but I want to stand for a defense of what I believe the Scripture teaches.

Theft by negligence

Back in our text for this study, we can see that God DID want people to respect property. God wasn’t only concerned about deliberate theft – but about restoring property lost due to the negligence of one over their property. Restitution by negligent animal owner – animal eating from another’s field. God spoke through Moses in Exodus 22:5 “If a man lets a field or vineyard be grazed bare and lets his animal loose so that it grazes in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard. Letting your animal steal is stealing. God wanted people to respect the property of others – not use other people’s things to spare their own. In fact, God also spoke concerning recklessness specifically in relation to fire. He said in Exodus 22:6 “If a fire breaks out and spreads to thorn bushes, so that stacked grain or the standing grain or the field itself is consumed, he who started the fire shall surely make restitution. There were special laws of restitution for times when a neighbor loaned his animal to his neighbor and the animal was stolen, as in 22:7,  or the animal died as in 22:10-15. There were even judges impaneled for determining rightful ownership over stolen property in 22:8-9.

In all these cases, God was concerned with one thing: restoration of civil society. Retribution was not supposed to be about REVENGE, it was supposed to be about RECOVERY FOR THE VICTIM  and about REDEEMING RESPONSIBILITY for the wayward. Civil society that sets up a response to evil that includes these two primary principles serves its people well.

Fine, you say. But what does that have to do with me? Let me offer four personal applications:

First, admit that WHEN I AM SEEKING REVENGE I am not seeking God’s objective in my life. Lay it down. Cry out to Him about personal injustice, because seeking revenge will keep you distant from Him and eat you up inside.

Second, RESPECT other people’s property. When you are on the clock – your time belongs to the boss and the company. Do your job. Get off the phone and put the text messaging away. Do your job. Don’t play around with other employees. Don’t take home a few extras from the office. Do your job. Jesus is watching, and He knows the truth. Act like His eyes are like surveillance cameras – not that He doesn’t love you, but that He loves you like a responsible parent watching over their child.

Third, take the responsibility of personal property seriously. Don’t leave your things lying around in a way that tempts others to sin. If they take your things… seek a resolution that both settles the issue with you, and helps them learn the lesson and get past it.

Finally, remember that GOD MADE US – and we are HIS PROPERTY. When we live life for ourselves, we deny His right to us – and that is a tragic mistake!

Grasping God’s Purpose: “Responsible by Design” – Exodus 21, pt. 3

America is in a fight over CIVIL BEHAVIOR. As 2012 opened, we are being challenged on many fronts to decide what is truly civil responsibility and what is individual responsibility. We have chosen in America to publically educate our children, but in spite of the hard work of many believing teachers and administrators – it has become an open season to draw our children into one battle over ever-changing morality after another.

  •  Origins: We have long left behind the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee – for the Bible is now assumed to hold no real accurate information about our origins and evolution is called a theory but given the hallowed position of fact.
  • Sexual Purity: In many school districts, we have essentially left behind teaching sexual abstinence as an absolute cure for the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (in spite of the fact that when practiced it has a 100% effectiveness).
  • Parental Authority: We have left behind the inviolable right of parental respect – citing a child’s right over their own body to receive contraception advice and devices, even to the exclusion of parental notification in most places in our country.
  • Sanctity of Life: We have educated an entire generation through the contradiction of our laws that state a person causing the death of an unborn child outside of a clinic by wounding the mother is murder, but inside a women’s clinic is simple health care.
  • Contracts: We have seen countless cases that upheld education as an absolute right of every child, whether they choose to work at their academics or not. In a number of notable cases in labor disputes, educational institutions have been forbidden to remove tenured teachers in spite of egregious violations and horrible records.

Dr. Stephen Anderson teaches philosophy at A.B. Lucas Secondary School in Ontario, Canada. His students … were about to start one on ethics. To jump start the discussion and to “form a baseline from which they could begin to ask questions about the legitimacy of moral judgments of all kinds,” Anderson shared with them a gruesome photo of Bibi Aisha, a teenage wife of a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan. When Bibi tried to get away from her abusive husband, her family caught her, cut off her nose and ears, and left her to die in the mountains. Only Bibi didn’t die. Somehow she crawled to her grandfather’s house, and was saved in an American hospital. Writing in Education Journal magazine, Anderson relates how he was sure that his students, “seeing the suffering of this poor girl of their own age, [they] would have a clear ethical reaction,” one they could talk about “more difficult cases.” But their response shocked Anderson. “[He] expected strong aversion [to it], … but that’s not what I got. Instead, they became confused . . . afraid to make any moral judgment at all. They were unwilling to criticize,” as he said, “any situation originating in a different culture. They said, ‘Well, we might not like it, but maybe over there it’s okay.’” Anderson calls their confusion and refusal to judge such child mutilation a moment of startling clarity, and indeed it is. He wonders if it stems not from too little education, but from too much multiculturalism and so-called “values education,” which is really just an excuse for moral relativism. Anderson writes, “While we may hope some [students] are capable of bridging the gap between principled morality and this ethically vacuous relativism, it is evident that a good many are not. For them, the overriding message is ‘never judge, never criticize, never take a position.’” Anderson wonders whether in our current educational system, we’re not producing ethical paralytics? Well, if the horrifying example of the students’ reaction in this case is any indication, Anderson already knows the answer. – Chuck Colson, Jan. 11, 2012

We are not picking on public school teachers, nor blaming the school systems for our shildren. This is just a simple observation – the schools that were intended to teach reading, writing and arithmetic have been drawn into a social engineering experiment run amok in many parts of our country – because we have left behind values that were once clearly part of the American fabric derived from the pages of the Bible. It is for this reason we are making this careful study of the Civil Code of Law in Exodus 21. We have seen that God wants civil society to ENCOURAGE VALUES that He set in individual RESPONSIBILITY and SOCIAL CONSCIENCE. He desires people to define maturity by a marked ability to take responsibility for themselves and their community. It is time for the church to be the clear voice of objective truth in a relative culture – because relativism is KILLING our society by WARPING our social conscience to accept wrong as right.

We have to remember that we are all in this together. We are ONE society, even when we don’t agree. How we act in civil society matters.

Babe Ruth had hit 714 home runs during his baseball career and was playing one of his last full major league games. It was the Braves versus the Reds in Cincinnati. But the great Ruth was no longer as agile as he had once been. He fumbled the ball and threw badly, and in one inning alone his errors were responsible for most of the five runs scored by Cincinnati. As the Babe walked off the field after the third out and headed toward the dugout, a crescendo of yelling and booing reached his ears. Just then a boy jumped over the railing onto the playing field. With tears streaming down his face, he threw his arms around the legs of his hero. Ruth didn’t hesitate for one second. He picked up the boy, hugged him, and set him down on his feet, patting his head gently. The noise from the stands came to an abrupt halt. Suddenly there was no more booing. In fact, hush fell over the entire park. In those brief moments, the fans saw two heroes: Ruth, who in spite of his dismal day on the field could still care about a little boy; and the small lad, who cared about the feelings of another human being. Both had melted the hearts of the crowd. Ted W. Engstrom, The Pursuit of Excellence, 1982, Zondervan Corporation, pp. 66-67.

The Civil Code helps to define both COMMUNITY responsibility and personal responsibility. In this section, we will see an important component of personal responsibility…

Key Principle: Responsibility includes not only what I mean to do (intention), but what happens because of what I do (outcome).

Today we will look at the balance of the passage we have been studying in two previous studies – at Exodus 21:18-19, 22-25, 28-36. I am skipping the passages we have taken on in previous studies of this passage to get to the last three areas of responsibility that we have not looked at thus far.

Exodus 21:18 “If men have a quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but remains in bed, 19 if he gets up and walks around outside on his staff, then he who struck him shall go unpunished; he shall only pay for his loss of time, and shall take care of him until he is completely healed…. 22 “If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. 23 “But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise… 28 “If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished. 29 “If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 “If a ransom is demanded of him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is demanded of him. 31 “Whether it gores a son or a daughter, it shall be done to him according to the same rule. 32 “If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall give his or her master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. 33 “If a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it over, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34 the owner of the pit shall make restitution; he shall give money to its owner, and the dead animal shall become his. 35 “If one man’s ox hurts another’s so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide its price equally; and also they shall divide the dead ox. 36 “Or if it is known that the ox was previously in the habit of goring, yet its owner has not confined it, he shall surely pay ox for ox, and the dead animal shall become his.

This sounds like a laundry list of laws – but it is much more. Look closer…We have seen that God desires respect for life, authority and freedom – and he allowed civil authorities the right to execute those who murder, hurt their parents or kidnap another person. We have seen that God has expressed His expectation that His people would respect contractual relationships in the workplace and in the domestic relationships of their lives… Now we go outside the house and workplace… we enter the society as a whole. These three areas of responsibility can apply to ANYWHERE and ANYTIME.

  • What is responsibility as God sees it?
  • How will I know if I am responsible in HIS EYES?
  • What am I specifically responsible to DO in God’s value system?

First, I must take responsibility for personal reactions. Accidental collateral damage of fighting:

For a good word on responsibility for reactions, look at the words in the personal injury section of 21:18-25. There are two distinct areas defined in the passage:

Hurting someone in a conflict with them. Exodus 21:18 “If men have a quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but remains in bed, 19 if he gets up and walks around outside on his staff, then he who struck him shall go unpunished; he shall only pay for his loss of time, and shall take care of him until he is completely healed.

Two men get into a fight. One prevails. Either through fists or with the help of something grabbed during the fight, one man is left standing while the other is knocked off his feet. The law required the “winner” to be responsible for caring for the one he hurt by paying him for the time lost in work, caring directly for him until he is well. If the wound given is severe enough to cause death, he will be forced to flee to a refuge place.

Hurting someone else (collateral damage) in he process of a conflict. Exodus 21:22 “If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. 23 “But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

In the fight between the two men, a pregnant woman was inadvertently hurt. If the woman gave birth right after the struggle – the baby was to be examined to determine if any injury fell to the child. That injury was to be compensated – even up to the life itself.

The two cases both demonstrate clearly one underlying Biblical value:

I alone must be responsible for how I react to things that happen to me. I dare not drop into a “victim mode” without damaging my reputation and ignoring responsibility.

Responsibility is a LEARNED concept. Every stage of a child’s development is marked by their mastery of responsibility:

 In Living with Men, E. James Wilder points out each stage of the maturing process, and pushes us to make sure our little boys are mastering each stage toward manhood. He defines maturity as “fully developed for our age” which can be measured in stages by the way we master both “giving” and “receiving” life. He claims that there are five stages of a male’s life:

  • Infant: where the boy largely receives without giving, but must learn to quiet himself. He must learn to synchronize his mind and learn to rest. He must learn to appropriately communicate needs in the most basic ways to those who can help him. The goal is a child that can laugh, rest and communicate well.
  • Child: where the boy progressively learns to care for himself. He must learn to identify limitation, ask for help and explore what satisfies him each day. He must learn to give and receive freely. Eventually, he must learn to curb appetites, doing things he does not want to do for greater long term benefits. He must learn to connect cause and effect. He must learn where he is on the map of the family, and become self sufficient in care.
  • Adult: where the man learns to care for others at the same time as caring for himself. He must learn to take joy from caring for others and protect the needy ones around him. He must not be intimidated, but should not become arrogant. He wants his personal effects to reflect his personal style and character. His goal is to truly understand his impact on others and gain satisfaction from his part of history.
  • Father: where the man learns to give life without receiving. This is the peak of a man’s strength and productivity – and it must be balanced with learning sensitivity to those around him. He can express his feelings (“I love my child more than life!”) and he can portray God’s attributes to his family. The goal is to learn to guide others and give joyfully – offering strength and life to his family.
  • Elder: where the man offers the care once given to his family to a broader community. He is not simply focused on his own biological offspring, but the greater good of the community. He builds trust through transparency. He offers a history to those around him and finds a recognized guiding place to others. His goal is to help the community grow up and raise a community the way parents raise children.

I mention all this to state clearly that learning responsibility requires reliable guides. We must understand that every adult is, in effect, a parent to the generation that follows them. We are in this CIVIL SOCIETY together. It is why the struggle for values is such a vital one. A boy unprepared with be a man defeated. A man defeated will leave a trail nearly impassable to those who follow him. We see it everywhere in our society… this is a battle worth fighting. It is for the future – and it has been placed on our shoulders by God Himself.

God clearly says that when someone attacked another – The attacked will also be responsible for the response. They should not seek to blame anyone else. The other may have been wrong for attacking, but the attacked must learn to control impulses and reactions and act in a mature fashion. Following this principle, I should recall that when I am defending myself, I must be careful to use only the force necessary to bring the situation under control. I must always be responsible to watch out for collateral damage. I am not only to DRIVE defensively, I am to LIVE circumspectly – recognizing that my behavior affects others in ways beyond my comprehension.

  • Do you really believe that Moses knew taking off his shoes and listening at the burning bush would result in God opening the revelation of how the world was made?
  • Do you think that Abraham recognized that choosing to follow Sarah’s path into her bondwoman’s tent and father a child would lead to an intractable conflict in the Near East three thousand years later?
  • DO you truly think that the Apostle Paul could grasp, with all his Biblical knowledge, that his imprisonment in Rome would open the door to the vital Epistles to the Philippians, Colossians, and Ephesians?

It is hard for us to imagine how events are going to play out in the future – so we must act carefully and thoughtfully. An essential sign of maturity is life “handled with care” based on a circumspect view. Look at the passage again for a second area we must learn responsibility.

I am sure our kids don’t realize how their actions wear us out. I love the story about the mom and dad with a son who was a freshman in college. He blew off his freshman year. He wasn’t very responsible, didn’t make good grades, squandered his money, & finally came back home. His parents told him, “If you go back to school you’ll have to pay your own way.” So he had to work that summer & not go on the family vacation. That was part of his punishment. The family went to Greece that year & the mom sent him a postcard, “Dear Son,” she wrote. “Today we stood on the mountains where ancient Spartan women sacrificed their defective children. Wish you were here.” (Melvin Newland, sermon central illustrations).

Second, I must take responsibility for acknowledged oversight. The more I own, the more I am responsible for. Damage by owned beasts:

Exodus 21:28 “If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished. 29 “If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 “If a ransom is demanded of him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is demanded of him. 31 “Whether it gores a son or a daughter, it shall be done to him according to the same rule. 32 “If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall give his or her master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

Here the law provides for a statement of responsibility over what I have taken in oversight. If a man owns something – he becomes responsible for the maintenance necessary to keep it from harming innocents. If he is found lax in this, he is forced to pay a tremendous price for his irresponsibility. If the property destroys another’s property – the damage must be compensated. If the property causes loss of lie, it cost the owner his life. This had the effect of deterring an owner from laziness in regards to maintaining his property well. The second form of this rule is…

Exodus 21:35 “If one man’s ox hurts another’s so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide its price equally; and also they shall divide the dead ox. 36 “Or if it is known that the ox was previously in the habit of goring, yet its owner has not confined it, he shall surely pay ox for ox, and the dead animal shall become his.

If my property harms another’s property through no real fault of either owner – the two owners will need to share the loss. This acknowledges liability without malice.

Since few of us are oxen owners, what is the practical help for modern living from this archaic rule? First, we are reminded that we are to increase our diligence as we increase our holdings. We must be sure when we BUY something, that we can MAINTAIN what we bought – or it will become potentially harmful to us and others.

Second, the principles here demand that we understand how our behaviors affect others – and ourselves. We must gain control over our own emotional structure, then we must care for how we cast a shadow on other lives. I recall reading in None of These Diseases, where Dr. S.I. McMillen says, “Medical science recognizes that emotions such as fear, sorrow, envy, resentment and hatred are responsible for the majority of our sicknesses. Estimates vary from 60 to 100 percents.” One patient was told by his doctor, “If you don’t cut out your resentments, I may have to cut out your intestinal tract.” (sermon central illustrations). We have to gain mastery over our own feelings, then watch out for those around us…

When you drive a poorly maintained vehicle – you put others on the road in danger. We don’t often think of it that way, but it is true. Many accidents are caused by irresponsible drivers operating unsafe vehicles. This standard leads us into our third area of responsibility….

Third, I must act in a way that accepts responsibility for public safety. Damage by negligence:

Exodus 21:33 “If a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it over, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34 the owner of the pit shall make restitution; he shall give money to its owner, and the dead animal shall become his.

Two important truths are evident from these verses:

  • I am responsible to clean up my own messes and leave the world safer after me.
  • I must see myself as responsible even if I didn’t MEAN to have it happen – because my actions caused part of the problem.

It may be hard for us to grasp, but a view of the future is important for real maturity. Mature people try to look at what MAY happen if we don’t act responsibly – immature people just don’t think ahead. I was moved when I read what Stephen Covey wrote about Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist who survived the death camps of Nazi Germany. Frankl made a startling discovery about why some survived the horrible conditions and some did not. “He looked at several factors – health, vitality, family structure, intelligence, survival skills. Finally he concluded that none of these factors was primarily responsible. The single most significant factor, he realized, was a sense of future vision – the impelling conviction of those who were to survive that they had a mission to perform, some important work left to do. Survivors of POW camps in Vietnam and elsewhere have reported similar experiences: a compelling, future-oriented vision is the primary force that kept many of them alive.” – Stephen Covey, First Things First, p 103

That is significant. The responsible develop the ability to peer into the future. That offers HOPE when they are in trials, and VIGILANCE when they need to clean up after themselves.

Philip Yancey, in Reaching for the Invisible God describes the terrible misunderstanding of responsibility prevalent in our society this way…

When Princess Diana died in an automobile accident, a minister was interviewed and was asked the question “How can God allow such a terrible tragedy?” And I loved his response. He said, “Could it have had something to do with a drunk driver going ninety miles an hour in a narrow tunnel? Just How, exactly, was God involved.”

In our weakness and wavering faith, God often gets blamed for things. And we need to be careful about that. Years ago, boxer, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, killed a Korean opponent with a hard right hand to the head. At the press conference after the Korean’s death, Mancini said, “sometimes I wonder why God does the things he does.”

In a letter to Dr. Dobson, a young woman asked this anguished question, “Four years ago, I was dating a man and became pregnant. I was devastated. I asked God, “Why hav eyou allowed this to happen to me?”

Susan Smith, the south Carolina mother a couple years ago who pushed her two sons into a lake to drown and then blamed a fictional car-jacker for the deed, wrote in her confession: “I dropped to the lowest point when I allowed my children to go down that ramp into the water without me. I took off running and screaming, ‘Oh God! Oh God, no! What have I done? Why did you let this happen?”

Now the question remains, exactly what role did God play in a boxer beating his opponent to death, a teenage couple giving into temptation in the back seat of a car, or a mother drowning her children?”

The thread that bound all these quotes was the misunderstanding in our society of what it means to be RESPONSIBLE. God defined responsibility in His Word. Responsibility includes not only what I mean to do (intention), but what happens because of what I do (outcome). With God’s marvelous freedom – where He has opened the door to me making choices… there comes an awesome set of responsibilities.

Grasping God’s Purpose: “Responsible by Design” (Part Two) – Exodus 21, Pt. 2

America loves the MUSH GOD.

Nicholas Van Hoffman wrote about him: “The Mush God has been known to appear to millionaires on golf courses. He appears to politicians at ribbon-cutting ceremonies and to clergymen speaking the invocation on national TV at either Democratic or Republican conventions. The Mush God has no theology to speak of, being a Cream of Wheat divinity. The Mush God has no particular credo, no tenets of faith, nothing that would make it difficult for believer and nonbeliever alike to lower one’s head when the temporary chairman tells us that Reverend, Rabbi, Father, or Mufti, or So-and-So will lead us in an innocuous, harmless prayer, for this god of public occasions is not a jealous god. You can even invoke him to start a hooker’s convention and he/she or it won’t be offended. God of the Rotary, God of the Optimists, Protector of the Buddy System, The Mush God is Lord of the secular ritual, of the necessary but hypocritical forms and formalities that hush the divisive and derisive. The Mush God is a serviceable god whose laws are chiseled not on tablets but written on sand, open to amendment, qualification and erasure. This is a god that will compromise with you, make allowances and declare all wars holy, all peaces hallowed. SOURCE: Nicholas Van Hoffman as quoted by Adrian Rogers in Ten Secrets for a Successful Family, pp. 29-30.

It may seem harsh to open with the idea that this MUSH GOD Divinity is what our country truly believes – but it is a long standing truth of the ancient world that most major cultures developed their own gods, and we are no different. Be he Molech, Baal, Anat, Yarikh – or she Ashtarote, Hathor or Diana… each culture shaped a god or goddess that made them comfortable… and modern Americans have clearly done the same. Sadly, when we call upon this “god” of our own making, many less discerning people – even some believers in Jesus – think we are addressing the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Bible.

The importance of really living the Christian life is illustrated in the life of the famous author Mark Twain. Church leaders were largely to blame for his becoming hostile to the Bible and the Christian faith. As he grew up, he knew elders and deacons who owned slaves and abused them. He heard men using foul language and saw them practice dishonesty during the week after speaking piously in church on Sunday. He listened to ministers use the Bible to justify slavery. Although he saw genuine love for the Lord Jesus in some people, including his mother and his wife, he was so disturbed by the bad teaching and poor example of church leaders, that he became bitter toward the things of God. (sermon central illustrations).

How do you know we are NOT living for the “mush god”? We know by the standard of truth and the standard of ethical behavior. If one is addressing the God of the Bible, they will address Him in a way consistent with what His Word teaches. If one is truly Christian – they will live by those standards. The Bible is neither silent on the character of God, nor His unchanging standard of truth and right. We can know God according to the Bible, and that would delight Him for us to know, love, obey and follow Him.

Key Principle: God gave the Law in part to help us identify real values that emanate from Him! The Law reflects His character and His cares – what He thinks is important (which is what defines what truly IS important!)

Where is God found, according to the Bible? His “fingerprints” are found in nature, but He is seen clearest in His Word. That is why we are passionate about studying the Bible. When we were studying last time in Exodus 21, we found some truths about what the God of Abraham cares about, and what standard He uses for “what is right.”  Last time we picked out of this text four specifics that God demonstrated were essential in living properly in civil society:

  • We saw that God expects civil society to respect His image stamp and breath in man, and therefore He wants men to understand the “sanctity of life”. He made a rule that civil government had the right to terminate the life of one who took another’s life – both as a deterrent to a would be murderer, and as a statement of His Divine LOVE OF LIFE.
  • We saw that God expects civil society to respect the positions of authority like that of parents, because He placed us in the family we came into. It was His choice and not ours. To reject a respect for their position was to reject HIS POSITION of authority. God made an onerous penalty to protect parents from both physical and verbal attack by children. God held the family unit as absolutely essential to the success of civil society. He allowed civil government to execute someone for their overt disrespect and rebellion against their parents. Though that law is not in operation in our society, there is no question that God wanted us to know HE DESIRES RESPECTFUL PEOPLE.
  • We saw that God expects civil society to respect the freedom of other men and women – and even allowed civil government to terminate one who kidnapped or held captive one against their will. God made a statement against any who would not allow BASIC FREEDOM.
  • Finally, we saw that God expected His people to respect CONTRACTS and be people of their word – especially when it came to their financial or economic life. They were forbidden to OVERBORROW by law, and were always allowed to sell their personal services to one another in exchange for contractual remuneration – but it was never SLAVERY in the way we used the term in the antebellum south of the United States – that was NEVER upheld in the Bible. The term slave meant indentured servant, and was an employment strategy of the ancient economy.

Today, I want to keep looking at the CIVIL CODE of Law and investigate another kid of contract called the BRIDE PRICE contract. When you read the word CONCUBINE, your mind is rightly reminded that you are reading about a different time and place than where you live in the modern period. God didn’t call modern people to lock into this form of reproduction  – but He did regulate carefully an ongoing practice that was active among the ancients… and in that He related timeless truths about what He cared about. Read a few verses that we skipped in the last study from Exodus 21…

21:7 “If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do. 8 “If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her. 9 “If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. 10 “If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. 11 “If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

On the first reading of this text, it sounds like you call up “Dial a girl” and order from a catalogue a wife. In our oversexed modern world, it does not quickly occur to us that the entire system was not based on the lust of men, but on the very opposite impulse – the value and protection of a woman.

William Luck: Modern people, when reading “bride price” passages in the Law, often jump to the conclusion that to pay for the bride amounts to her having been sold, and that this reduces her to the level of a slave….( It is really better to translate the word “bride price” rather than “dowry,” as a dowry was given by the father of the bride to the bride as a present when she left the nuclear family, whereas a bride price was paid by the groom to the father of the bride. …some fathers, like Laban, mismanaged the bride price (Gen. 31:15).

Let me explain the passage this way, verse by verse. Before I do, let me set the scene back into THEIR WORLD and THEIR TIME:

Imagine a tribe long ago that was brutally overthrown by a ruler they had come to trust. Imagine that ruler placing them in bondage and taking from them the opportunity to follow the teachings of their fathers – as they became the forced labor pool of a dictator. Fast forward ten generations, when no one recalls freedoms of their ancestors long before. Imagine that God called a man and his family to revive His witness and turn God’s people out of the land of the dictator. All of them had been slaves – so the only economic reality they knew was indentured service. They didn’t use money, they used barter, and the services of their hands and feet became a trade commodity like paper money or credit cards. They were raised with few luxuries, but came into great wealth just before they broke ranks with their captors. They had jewelry, fine cloth, gold and silver – but no place to spend it and no real idea how to value it. They were used to attaining what they needed by offering services of their hands and feet, for specific periods of time to barter for their needs.

They were from large tribes of a single family, but the numbers had now grown outward to the point that little blood was common to them – they were very distant cousins. In order to meet the demands of a very high infant mortality rate, as well as a life expectancy that was averaged a bit over half of our average length – the family and marriage customs had developed in a way that is not only foreign to us – but entirely unnecessary to us. As a result, they had multiple wives – since they needed five children to raise enough crops in the field to feed six. There was no way out of poverty that did not include bearing many children – most of whom would not live. They had differing contractual relationships designed to have children. They weren’t living in a world where they were choosing a “date” based on beauty, but mating based on probability that mother and child will survive the process of child bearing.

In short, they were not in our sex crazed, convenience oriented, sanitary, long life-spanned world. They lived in a harsh and brutal landscape on a forty year journey, followed by an embattled desperate people who were trying to assert strength among a foreign population in their old homeland.

Applying these kinds of texts takes WORK – but it is well worth the effort –FOR IT SHOWS US HOW OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN THINKS. If we don’t work for it, all we will do is lose ourselves in the curiosity of the differences.

As many of you know I lead travel programs in different countries each year. When I first started taking young people, I asked them: “What have you noticed that is so different about this place?” Invariably they would tell me about toilets. In Turkey, the hole in the floor was usually much more than most young ladies could figure out without explanation. In Israel, the two handled flush – a small flush for liquids and a large flush for solids – was a novelty. In the end, I tried to get them to understand how these simple differences revealed a difference in values. Americans valued sanitary conditions that meant flushing away refuse with as little odor as possible. Turks in villages never used water for something so superfluous (in their view). Haul a bucket to get the water, and your use of it will change over time! Israelis secure water and don’t waste it – because it means life to them. By looking at the different ways a bathroom was made, we could see VALUE STATEMENTS by the people.

With that in mind, let’s dissect the verses and place them in context – on our way to finally applying them to our VALUE SYSTEM.

21:7 “If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.

“Tom needed a new plow to break the ground for the crops of next season. His was simply broken and beyond repair. Tom approached Ed, the local blacksmith and plow maker in the tent down the way. He knew that Ed had three girls from his wife, but she seemed unable to give him sons – and he needed sons to grow his business into a place where both he and his wife would be secure in their old age. Tom pulled Ed aside and offered to present his young daughter Suzie as a second wife, to bear children with Ed. In this way, Ed would supply the plow, and Tom would supply his daughter as payment so that Tom would have crops next season, and Ed could grow his ability to have a secure business when he was too old to care for his family. Suzie was considered a BRIDE OF PRICE or “concubine” – not the same as Ed’s first wife that was chosen by his parents for him.

The law in 21:7 was intended to apply protection for Suzie. This BRIDE OF PRICE contract was made to be a permanent arrangement – unlike the six year temporary climate of the male indentured worker in the verses of Exodus 21 just preceding these. It was still contractual between two families, but this contract did not have the same kind of severance required in the earlier passage.  That way, Suzie’s way was secure in the future as well. Ed had to work many hours to get Suzie, and his desire for her was probably based far more on his need for sons than his desire for a new partner with which to procreate. That may sound strange – but we are probably projecting many ideas into the relationship of men and women that were not a part of the lifestyles of ancient Israelites. It is for this reason – living on the edge of starvation with little security aside from these practices, that the arrangement was normal and un-offensive to both Suzie and Ann – the other wife of Ed. Ann needed to know who would care for her after her girls and Ed were gone – it was a real consideration.

21:8 “If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her.

If Ed finished the work on the plow and took Suzie home to the tent where Ed and Ann lived with the three girls – Suzie entered the tent to bear children with as his second wife. This was all lawful and completely moral in this time. To shade it as less than moral is wrong – God hadn’t told them NOT to at this point. Now Ed and Suzie try to have a child together, attempting multiple times. Meanwhile, Suzie is young, contentious, stubborn and makes Ed’s household life terrible. Ann cannot take it. Ann’s girls are being infected with her stubborn willfulness. Ed decided that Suzie was not a suitable woman to raise his son – if they ever had one – and he and Ann want out of the agreement. The law provided that he could not simply FIRE HER and  “cut her loose” to send her home. He couldn’t get the plow back, because the deal was legally consummated on both sides. Ed was entitled to get something back for all his labor used to secure Suzie, but there were rules. First, he was to present her to be bought back by Tom – her original nuclear family. Under no circumstances could Ed make any deal to exchange goods or services for her to any other group of people – Ed was to protect Suzie for Tom’s family – it was part of the original agreement. If Ed wasn’t discerning enough to choose the right woman, he was bound to take a substantial loss because of his poor ability to choose – and the shame brought to Suzie was stated as Ed’s unfairness to her – his fault was choosing poorly. Tom was not shamed for Suzie’s character – for Tom had little interaction with his daughter on a daily basis as she grew up.

21:9 “If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters.

If Ed made the plow to get a wife for Joe, his son – Ed had no right to treat her as property, but is to treat her as a daughter – in spite of the fact that he may have worked long and hard to secure her for Joe. She was to be Joe’s wife, and her body was to be respected as such. Ed made the payment as a dad, and he was to act as a father to Suzie at all times.

21:10 “If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights.

If Ed and Ann have decided not to keep Suzie in the home, Ed may send a message to Tom to offer her back to him for a part of the BRIDE PRICE. In the meantime, the clock is still ticking for Ed and Ann to get a son. If Ed is able to make another plow for Jose in exchange for his daughter to be a BRIDE OF PRICE wife, he must care for Tom’s daughter Suzie while Tom prepares to take her home. Since Suzie has already been in a home and rejected – her best option now is to go back to her father’s house with children that will increase her dad’s net worth and work force. As a result, the law provided that Ed could not deny her food, clothing and even sex – that she may bring home a child to her father Tom’s house – that will increase his family’s asset value. Ed must care for her until Tom redeems her without exception or excuse.

Ed’s decision have more than one wife was allowed under the Law, but would be incredibly expensive to do. As a result, he may be tempted to tighten up rations and restrict the family budget to take on another second wife, but he was not allowed to do so.

21: 11 “If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

If Ed refused to care completely for Suzie during the time her family was attempting to redeem her,  Suzie would have the right, under the law, to leave Ed and return to Tom at his family home with no need to pay anything back to Ed on the plow.

Our culture has but one system for attaining a wife – and it is primarily based on the relationship between the MAN AND THE WOMAN that choose to be married. The ancients, and many other cultures today are based primarily between the MAN’S PARENTS AND THE WOMAN’S PARENTS – arranged marriages. There is often an economic relationship in these cultures between marriage and status or finance. Ironically, the concubine wife or BRIDE OF PRICE was the wife chosen in ancient society MOST LIKE our way of choosing – the man chose for himself. The NORM of marriage was a young woman chosen by PARENTS of the groom.

Our values and ways of doing things are relatively recent. For instance, a man that didn’t take his new wife on a honeymoon today would be considered incredibly CHEAP, denying her a basic GIVEN in our society. Yet, this practice is largely POST VICTORIAN.

Does Exodus 21 INFORM THE VALUES OF modern families? The answer is a resounding YES!

First, God was keenly interested in development of wholesome families. He was aware of the needs of the people to procreate, but He set strict boundaries around COMMITTING ADULTERY. Fidelity matters to God – fidelity of heart, fidelity of hands and feet, fidelity of eyes…That means, sexual purity was always a part of God’s thinking – even in the polygamist system. Those who were married were specified and contractual – it was not a “one night stand” license.

Second, Women were to be protected by civil society because God said so! God was not willing to leave it up to human ingenuity to devise a rights system – but made the offspring of every type of wife full sons and daughters, and the protection of every woman’s needs a priority. The charge that the Bible values were to subjugate women as slaves is not valid, and does not reflect God’s heart at all. God made women. God loves women. God made laws to protect women – that needs to be clear.

Third, Before a man could “have” a woman as his wife, he had to show he was willing to earn the right to be a husband. What a concept! She was not to allow him the entitlement of her procreation unless and until he took all the steps to earn her covenant relationship. Like Jacob worked for Rachel for seven years, he was not simply “buying” a wife as much as he was compensating Laban for his loss when she would leave Laban’s home – underscoring her value to the home.. At the same time, Laban had ample opportunity to see to it that Jacob was truly responsible and hard working before entrusting his daughter to Jacob. In that story, Laban cheated Jacob and substituted Leah – causing Jacob to work another raft of years for Rachel. When the second wife was added to the family, Jacob still had full responsibility to care for Leah, if he wanted to please God. The Law was not yet given – but the Law revealed God’s value system – men should not be able to take from women without the protections of a family and having to work for the right.

Fourth, God placed protective boundaries around women before men in power in their society. He said neither a daughter nor a daughter in law were allowed to be treated as a wife. This law made sexual contact illegal and emotional contact within specific boundaries. Women workers in the home were to be treated like a daughter (Exod. 21:9). Deuteronomy later (21:15) limited disinheritance of an unloved woman. They could not be attacked by the man through disinheriting her children, etc.

Fifth, God was deeply concerned with the reputation of a wife, and told men they should have that value as well. In later codes of law, Numbers 5 and Deuteronomy 23 relate great fines against a man who tarnished his wife’s reputation. A smear against her reputation brought a one hundred month fine and the prohibition of divorce in the future. The divorce option of the Bible had little to do with the casual way we handle such things in our society.

In Numbers 5, there was a law for how a man could bring his wife before God if he thought she was unfaithful in relation to the marriage bed. I only want to mention one aspect of this complicated passage to help illustrate God’s concern with her reputation. He could accuse, but the law said: “if she is guilty…the man shall be free from guilt.” The guilt referred to was simple – if he was wrong he tarnished her reputation – and God was concerned that men protect the reputation of their wives.

Sixth, women had unmitigated rights under the law – apart from any “good old boy” network.  Exodus 21 revealed four in 21:10,26-27. These included three things “he may not reduce”  – food, clothing and sex. These also implied a fourth RIGHT- his presence. He could not offer these three in an absentee position. Much later, in 1 Corinthians 7:3, Paul admonished husbands to show their wives “due benevolence,” which, in the context, certainly means to “grant sexual intercourse.” Other protections afforded her included the freedom she had to LEAVE if he harmed her physically in a way that was demonstrable: “And if a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth. She was not obligated to be beaten out of some unusual twisting of the Bible that a man could beat her to the floor. She was protected by God – that was always His way.

Let’s make it abundantly clear to every believer today:

  • Our God is not the Mush God on the issue of sexual purity. If you want to sleep around, don’t call yourself a Christian – you are a Mushian – for you serve a made up Mush god.
  • Our God is not the Mush God on the issue of female protections. If you want a license to slap her around – don’t call yourself a Christian – you are Mushian– for you serve a made up Mush god.
  • Our God is not the Mush God on the issue of choosing a man well, ladies. If you feel so poor about your own self image that you only believe you can “keep him” by giving him what is not his to have – don’t call yourself a Christian– you are a Mushian – for you serve a made up Mush god.
  • Our God is not the Mush God on the issue of abusing power over people who you should be protecting in your home. If you want to play with people’s bodies because you have the power to keep their mouth shut – don’t call yourself a Christian – you are a Mushian – for you serve a made up Mush god.

Christians need to wake up to the reality of the way they treat people. We need this MUCH MORE than some new class on evangelism or some new night to go on door to door visitation. Our testimony is in DEEDS that match CLEAR WORDS:

Pastor Steven Chapman wrote: I heard recently of a business owner who, as a seeker, had employed scores of Christians in his company. He watched them like a hawk. “You know, I was naturally drawn to God by observing Christian workers who were conscientious and kind and thorough and aggressive on the job,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what really impressed me. One day a guy who I knew to be a fresh convert asked if he could see me after work. I agreed to meet with him, but later in the day I started to worry that this young religious zealot might be coming to try to convert me, too.” “I was surprised when he came in my office with his head hanging low and said to me, ’Sir, I’ll only take a few minutes, but I’m here to ask your forgiveness. Over the years I’ve worked for you I’ve done what a lot of other employees do, like borrowing a few company products here and there. And I’ve taken some extra supplies; I’ve abused telephone privileges; and I’ve cheated the time clock now and then. “’But I became a Christian a few months ago and it’s real – not the smoke and mirror stuff. In gratitude for what Christ has done for me and in obedience to Him, I want to make amends to you and the company for the wrongs I’ve done. So could we figure out a way to do that? If you have to fire me for what I’ve done, I’ll understand. I deserve it. Or, if you want to dock my pay, dock it whatever figure you think is appropriate. If you want to give me some extra work to do on my own time, that would be okay, too, I just want to make things right with God and between us.’” Well they worked things out. And the business owner said that this conversation made a deeper spiritual impact on him than anything else ever had. It was the single most impressive demonstration of true Christianity he had ever witnessed. What was it that made this new believer so contagious? Was it a clever new gospel presentation? Was it a well-rehearsed testimony? Obviously not. It was merely a genuine and humble admission of wrongdoing along with a willingness to make it right. It was consistent Christianity.

God gave the Law in part to help us identify real values that emanate from Him! The Bible isn’t outdated and irrelevant, because sin is nothing new. It isn’t so hard to understand, but it is impossible to follow if we don’t truly have a relationship with Him!

Grasping God’s Purpose: “Responsible by Design” – Exodus 21 (Part One)

In the next few studies, we will be examining the CIVIL CODE of Scripture. It is easy to shy away from these passages. Some dismiss them, because they were given long ago to our “older brother” Israel – believers from before our “Age of Grace”. Still others, seem to poke in and out of the texts of the Torah to justify some modern political ideal – abortion, capital punishment, etc. Yet when pressed they quickly retreat when the Torah says something that offends their sensibilities – like the issue of regulation of slavery. The point of studying the Civil Code, as with all the Law of God, is to recall the areas He cares about, and the principles by which He judges something right or wrong. We are not “under these laws” to keep them, but they are given to us as EXAMPLES as Paul reminds:  (1 Corinthians 10:11) “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”

The Law, when given, had several purposes – most prominent among them was the gathering into a nation a tribe after ten generations of slavery in Egypt. They knew how to take orders, but lacked the insights to be able to form a nation – so God did it for them.

What do we do with the law? We take timeless principles from it. In fact, what we will be looking at in the Civil Code of Exodus and Numbers are not simply individual codes of conduct, though there certainly are some there. What we will search out are the underlying principles of SOCIETAL STANDARDS – what God said made a civil authority and civil society.

Before we begin, let me admit something… we live in a mess. Right (by Biblical definition) has become wrong (by popular sentiment). We are being fed a whole new set of moral rules to replace our Biblical based societal code. Killing babies is not bad if done for good reasons like a woman’s personal convenience, but killing whales is always bad. Sex before marriage is normal, but smoking indoors is intrinsically immoral. I believe that soon, you will not recognize the foundational moral code of the Bible in the rules. It is for that reason I refuse to skip this section of the Word, but will camp here as long as it takes to reset the boundaries on what God called a civil society. I will challenge assumptions of our modern “freedoms” when the Word outlines a better path. It will be uncomfortable at times, but I will do my best not to allow the attack on truth we have been subject to make these messages negative- for that will not help. Let’s get started…

The Little Prince is a novella first published in 1943, and has become the most read and most translated book from an original French language story. It has been translated into more than 250 languages, and more than 200 million copies have been sold worldwide, ranking it among the best-selling books ever published. It is a creative story. A narrator wove a tale from his childhood, when he attempted to draw a boa constrictor that was eating an elephant – but adults around him didn’t see it. He drew a second picture to clarify the first, but they were even more disturbed by that one. Frustrated, the boy decided to pilot a plane and leave – but he eventually crashed in the Sahara desert. In the aftermath of the crash, the boy met the little prince, who seemed to understand his drawings without any explanation and requested the boy to draw a sheep. Not knowing how to draw a sheep, the boy drew a box, claiming it held a sheep inside. The little prince was gleeful at the result. The little prince’s home was an asteroid called B-612, about the size of a house, with three volcanoes, a rose, and a few other objects. The Prince spent his days caring for his little planet, pulling out baobab trees that were constantly trying to take root there. Before the various episodes of the novella unfold, there is a simple line with a profound meaning:

It’s a question of discipline,” the little prince told me later on.  “When you’ve finished washing and dressing each morning, you must tend your planet.”  ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, 1943, translated from French by Richard Howard

Discipline… tend… Responsibility… these are terms every decent parent on the planet wants to build into their children. We see responsibility as a benchmark of maturity. In a world awash with victims, we want our children to stand up and take full responsibility for their actions – and move forward in their lives.

Some of you are tugging hard because you feel responsible. The good news to those who HUNGER to be responsible is this: You got it from YOUR CREATOR. God intended His children to be people who took responsibility for their actions. They were not to do so to EARN His love, but to demonstrate the character of His true child. God wanted family likeness. He set guardrails up to show us what He considered important areas to discipline ourselves to tame. That was the basis for the Torah – the Law of God given to the Jewish people at Sinai and during their desert journey.

In a recent study, we examined what we called “The Core Value System” set forth in what is popularly known as the “Ten Commandments”. These set the tone for the whole of the Civil Code of Law – found in ten chapters of Exodus and Numbers. As we begin that code of civility – let’s recall the basic standards. Remember, as we have seen in our past studies, to love and serve God effectively, we need to know what God values, too. For the sake of jogging the memory, let’s recall that the commands fall into three sets:

Vertical Commands

The first 4 commandments we studied dealt with our relationship with God, because we are to love God first. . . These are the VERTICAL commands.

  • Standard 1: No other gods before Me. Exclusivity: God said: “I have the absolute right to your undivided loyalty.” (20:2,3).
  • Standard 2: Do not make an idol or likeness to worship. Identity: Do not try to shape Me in to your understanding or box Me in to your molds (4-6).
  • Standard 3: Do not use my name in vain. Value: Regard My name as high and respect even reference to My Person as important! (7).
  • Standard 4: Keep the Sabbath holy. Perspective: My boundaries are the ones that matter – since everything was created by Me for My purpose. (8-11).

Horizontal Commands

The first 3 commandments we studied dealt with our relationship with one another, because our love for God should prompt us to observe boundaries of respect.

  • Standard 5: Honor your father and mother. Position: I placed you in the position of life under the authorities of your life. To reject them is to reject My rule. Respect the POSITIONS even when the PEOPLE don’t earn the respect!
  • Standard 6: Do not kill. Sanctity of Life: My image in man, and my “spirit breath” makes a man significant. It may not be breached without specific direction from Me. Do not plan and deliberately kill another human being (13). Life is sacred, and is diminished in importance by murder.
  • Standard 7: Do not commit adultery. Intimacy: Violation of the sacred circle of your sexual intimacy may not be breached. Remain loyal to your marriage covenant (14). Promises and vows are important and must not be easily passed off. The sexual gift was especially purposed and has specific parameters.


The final three are called “contentment laws” and deal with my inner self – because they are caused by attitudes of discontent:

  • Standard 8: Do not steal. Contentment in possessions: Don’t use your HANDS to gain advantages I didn’t give you. I give you the time, talent and treasure I want you to have. (15).
  • Standard 9: Do not bear false witness. Contentment in words: Don’t use your TONGUE to gain advantage. (16).
  • Standard 10: Do not covet. Contentment in heart: settle yourself thankfully on what I allow you to earn and have. (17).

With these basic standards in mind, God then rolled out to Moses the standard of judgment that was to be given to a whole society – and particularly to the leaders who sat as judges over the people, in the earshot of all the people. What does it mean to be a RESPONSIBLE SOCIETY?

Key Principle: God’s intention was to build a society based on personal responsibility and communal protection, where individual freedoms were protected by societal boundaries.

21:1 “Now these are the ordinances (mishpatim) which you are to set before them:

In this study, let’s look at TWO of the basic responsibilities as ask “What does God expect from a Civil Society?”

Death Penalty Cases: Taking responsibility for life relationships in our JUDICIAL SYSTEM (21:12-17).    

Any society must have limits on behavior. In the most extreme cases, communities are forced to permanently remove bad influences in order to protect the rest. That seems logical, but these laws are based on something much deeper – they are God’s Word to men. In this passage of Civil Code of Law, God offered three specific death penalty statutes:

  1. Premeditated murder

21:12 “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. 13 “But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which he may flee. 14 “If, however, a man acts presumptuously toward his neighbor, so as to kill him craftily, you are to take him even from My altar, that he may die.

The issue of premeditation is the basis of the death penalty in this case of murder. If the person PLOTTED a killing, there was no respite. In the case of clear “crimes of passion”, where no premeditation was involved – the Civil Code allowed a place of refuge and did not force death as the penalty. If premeditation was later discovered, his refuge was removed. This penalty was to specify punishment in violation to standard six, or the “sanctity of human life”.

  1. Strike or curse parent

21:15 “He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. …17 “He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.

In light of standard five – honoring parents – this penalty protected them from both physical and verbal attack. God held the family unit as absolutely essential to the success of civil society.

  1. Kidnap someone

21:16 “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.

Both standards eight and nine – theft and false witness – are in view here. In order for one to capture another they steal the other’s freedom, and then ostensibly lie about the connection to sell them to neighboring tribes.

Step back a second and look at what we just said. Society should protect life, protect the honor of the family and insure swift penalty to those who would take away basic freedoms of others. People who live in violation to these principles should be warned: God has spoken concerning your perversion of civility.

God took special exception to any that would kill another, capture another against their will, or curse the parents that God gave them.

  • Respect for human life.

  • Respect for positions placed by God.

  • Respect for another’s freedom were at the core of civility.

A responsible follower of Jesus respects people. They are characterized by respect in their speech, attitude and behavior. They do more than hold up placards at pro-life rallies – they speak respectfully of their President, Congressman or Senator (agree or not). They honor those God has placed in positions of authority in their life, and serve HIM by serving them faithfully. At the same time, the government must also be responsible:

  • When we give more rights to the State than to the parent – we destroy civil society.
  • When parents can pay the bill at school but get no information on the class work of the student – we chip away at the high regard for the parental position.
  • When a child cannot get an aspirin without permission of a parent, but can have the school nurse give a condom with no requirement to address the parent – we undermine civil society.
  • When legislation has the net effect of making it easy to get out of the commitment of a marriage – we erode the civil society.

We cannot convince people to care for one another in a society when we cannot help them hold the family together. There is little civility when families are destroyed, for one is linked to the other. We must be warned.

The Capital Punishment vs. Christian Pacifist argument

Before we move on, let me address something that many of you may have been exposed to in teaching from various places today. As we seek to understand the standards of God in relation to the Israelites and then apply principles and timeless truths – I am not arguing for the modern political positions and posturing that often accompanies these verses. At the same time, I am concerned about SLOPPY HERMENEUTICS – using the Bible in inappropriate ways. I often hear people say things in public settings in support of the idea that the Bible was not singular in regard to Capital punishment, or that the New Testament reversed the Torah and spoke against capital punishment. Let’s take a moment while we are here to lay these “off the mark” ideas aside:

  • First, some argue that the Bible truly supports a “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13) standard. Though that is true, it is not applicable to judicial execution – as is clear in the passage we read together, and many relating to war.
  • Second, some argue that Jesus stood up against the execution of the adulterous woman in the Temple court, as recorded in John 8:3-11. As we explained when we studied that passage – Jesus did not stand against the execution, but against the illegal one sided penalty. The woman was not to be executed if the man also committed the offense and was let go.
  • Third, some have been trained to see the standard of Matthew  5:38-39 as a national standard as well as an individual standard. The statement against the personal revenge interpretation of the “Law of the balances” in the “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth”  passage is also a correction of carrying judicial standards meant to lessen inequity in government and turn them into personal opportunities for revenge. Jesus was speaking out about the very misuse of Scripture that allows people to make Him into an absolute pacifist with that statement. Jesus was saying this” You have taken a standard of judicial government that restrains it and turned it into a standard of revenge –and that is just wrong. His argument bore little on the idea of capital punishment, if at all. Individual followers of Jesus are obliged to learn to forgive – even in cases where others committed criminal acts against them – but that text does not oblige the state to “forgive” apart from their justice system. Nor does the passage anticipate a nation forgiving another national army’s violation of its soil or citizens. If states were held to this idea, parking tickets would violate the idea if the person sought forgiveness.

We live in times when many other issues also must be considered in our court systems. The penalties levied by the state must find a way back to basic justice, for they are often unfairly enacted against the poor and minorities. That is true, and should be rectified for justice to be real – but the death penalty standard was clearly offered by God to His people as a basic civil code, and never rescinded in the later Scripture. Its unfair use aside, the principle remains.

We have time for only ONE MORE basic standard for Civil Society. One of the places civility breaks down quickly when unregulated is that of the Work Place.

I want to take a few minutes to address another area our society is suffering badly from – the definition of both EMPLOYER and WORKER PROTECTION. This blade cuts both ways, since neither companies nor employees seem to find much loyalty to each other. Did God offer any principles for our WORK LIFE that we should be careful to consider?

Bond Servant Laws: Taking responsibility for contract  relationships in our WORK LIFE (21:2-11).

Move back to the beginning of the passage, back to the verse we skipped earlier. Exodus 21:2 “If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment. 3 “If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 “If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone. 5 “But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ 6 then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.

The second set of responsibility laws regard contract relationships – but the words carry with them several misshapen ideas that have been affected by later history. Using the loaded term SLAVE brings images of southern antebellum plantation life – with all its abuses. Before we look at the economic system of the ancients, we must lay to rest that this is NOT a picture of what the Bible is talking about.

  • First, antebellum slavery in the United States was based on kidnapped Africans. The Biblical contract of indentured servitude forbade one kidnapped into service (Exodus 21:16).
  • Second, the southern slaves were permanent, whereas a man who indentured himself stayed for a specified work period (Exodus 21:2).

The case of an indentured servant in the Biblical Civil Code was more like a modern worker on an Alaskan pipeline or Gulf oil platform – where one is taken from home and lives in full support of the business owner for a specified period. (To be clear, I am not arguing the conditions were good, just that the business model is similar).The point of the section is to place parameters both of responsibility  and behavior for those they had taken under their employ and financial watch care.

Let me say this plainly: The Bible never supported the kind of slavery that characterized the pre-war south of the United States. That grossly violated various standards of the Word, and at the same time belittled all men – by allowing some to declare others “property” in the sense of less than personhood. The Bible used the term “property” – but for a whole different purpose, as we shall see.

Hebrew Male indentured worker laws:  

The stated conditions for the male indentured servant were:

  • Length of Term: The limitation of six years of service (to the day of the seventh year’s beginning) was the total length of service, unless additional remuneration was provided. Civil Society was not to allow people to borrow more than they could pay back in the six years of work. Limits are a societal value, because when people are left FREE to borrow unrealistic amounts of money – others will have to bail out the mess.
  • Severance Conditions: If he was obtained single, he leaves single. If he came with his wife – she is to leave with him. If he was given a concubine – the wife and any offspring belong to the household of the home owner. The worker needs to go into every part of the deal with full disclosure and eyes wide open. Before you go into a venture – get GOOD ADVICE, and listen to the advisers.
  • Retention Conditions: If the servant decides to stay on, it must be a free will decision publicly declared – consummated by presentation to the Lord and a marker – an earring.

Later in this same another issue arose that God regulated – the need to regulate the discipline of workers.

  • Parameters of discipline: 21:20 “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. 21 “If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property… 21:26 “If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. 27 “And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.

On first reading, this throws most people back to the very images of slavery we tried to purge earlier. A good student of the Word must acknowledge that his or her life experience and historical knowledge can taint the text as it was intended to be understood. Take a breath, and look again. The purpose of the law was to limit and warn business owners in caring for their indentured servants. Look carefully:

  • First, If a business owner struck his indentured servant, killing him, he was subject to the punishment that belonged to a “crime of passion” in Exodus 2:12-14. He was not executed, for it was presumably not in premeditation to kill the worker – but likely fled to a refuge place, disrupting his entire life. In other words, think before you strike the servant – it could ruin your life  – and theirs.
  • Second, if the indentured man survived the striking and caused no injury that was permanent, the business owner was not charged with a crime. He LOST the value of the worker during his illness, and may have damaged his worker’s ability to fulfill the rest of his service well – and that was a loss in the contractual relationship sufficient to penalize the owner. For some that may sound harsh, but think of it this way – when we began as a society to take a public stand against child abuse in the US, it did not take too long before some children turned that into a license to do wrong and hold their parents hostage. In the end, owners needed to guard against anything that would hurt productivity – so it was counterproductive to wound their workers.
  • Third, if an injury that was permanent in nature occurred, the contract may have been eligible for complete release – in cases where an eye or tooth was damaged – and any other obvious part. The worker could not simply CLAIM injury –there had to be a way to discern that it was true. Both the worker and the employer needed protection from unfair treatment by the other.

God’s intention was to build a society based on personal responsibility and communal protection, where individual freedoms were protected by societal boundaries. The very least a believer can do in our time and our country is know what God had in mind – so that we aren’t swept into ungodly thinking regarding our society.

Grasping God’s Purpose: “Taking the Wrong Turn” – Ex. 20:18-21 and 32

“It happened before I even knew what was happening!” She said. I set my GPS to take my friend to the Port of Canaveral, and we left Sebring with no problem. We had a great trip, and I followed the GPS directions religiously. To come home, I set the GPS for HOME, and off I went. I forgot a simple detail – I have two homes – one up north and the other in Sebring. Without thinking, I was halfway to Jacksonville heading for the Virginia home when I realized I was going the wrong way! I had taken a wrong turn!” Did you ever do that in your car? Did you ever take a wrong turn and drive confidently, because you THOUGHT you were going in the right direction, but you were going AWAY from your intended destination?  Did you ever do that in LIFE?… That is, take a wrong turn, but do it with the confidence of someone who KNEW WHICH WAY to go!? Many of us would have to admit that we have on more than one occasion. How does it happen? How can I recognize it when I have done it? What can I do about the wrong turn? These are the questions that are at the heart of the story we want to explore today. It is a snapshot from the desert – a time when God’s people took a terrible wrong turn, and people were wounded, and some died.

Key Principle: We take a wrong turn whenever we forget God’s PERSON and God’s PURPOSE in our lives.

When we walk away from God, it is not usually to rebel, it is because we have been lulled into forgetfulness. We have forgotten Who He is, and we have forgotten WHOSE we are. I have long held close to me this quote from Dietrich Bonhoffer In his little book “Temptation”:

In our members there is a slumbering inclination towards desire which is both sudden and fierce. With irresistible power desires seize mastery over the flesh. All at once a secret smoldering fire is kindled. The flesh burns and is in flames. It makes no difference if it is sexual desire, ambition, vanity, love of fame, power, or money. Joy of God is extinguished in us, and we seek all our joy in the creature. At this moment God is quite unreal to us. He looses all reality and only desire for the creature is real. Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God. I don’t hate God when I lust, I simply forget Him. I forget He is holy, I forget He is jealous for His name. I forget that my reputation is not at stake, it is HIS that is at stake.

The lust thus aroused envelopes the mind and the will in deepest darkness. Clear discrimination and decision are taken from us. At that moment we are altogether indecisive and indiscriminate. A woman can lust for a man not even knowing his name. A man can lust for a woman not even knowing what her face looks like or anything about her character. He can be aroused without even speaking to her.”

Anyone who has known me for a while has heard this quote before. I use it in my own life often. It jogs my memory and crystallizes moments in my walk with God. It forces me to think about what I really want in the big picture of life. It forces me to think back in my life to times when my walk was vibrant and other times when I allowed my heart to slip away from its grasp on reality and slide into forgetfulness – times when I allowed temptation to pull on my heart and allow me to rationalize rebellion and sin.

I first picked up on this exercise years ago, while studying the passage we will look at today. I noticed how different the crowd of Israelites were at the mountain, from the same group a mere month later – a “before” and “after” if you will. I then learned to use that comparison in my own life. Let’s take a look and see if it is helpful to you too:

Before: When the people saw God at work, they stood in fear before Him (20:18-21).

Israel stood before the mountain of God. He set them free with ten plagues on Egypt. He led them through the parted sea. He fed them quail and turned on a hose inside a rock to fill their canteens in the desert. He directed them with His own presence – seen in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He drew Moses up the mountain… while the people stood below. They knew the presence of God. They saw the power of God. They felt the very breath of God surging from the Holy Mountain. Look at the scene:

Exodus 20:18 All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” 21 So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.

The people PERCEIVED sight and sound, and at that time they TREMBLED (Hebrew: “nua”: quivered) and STOOD BACK (Heb: rachoq: at a distance). Moses’ reaction to the people’s obvious consternation was “DO NOT FEAR!” Then Moses gave the KEY to defeating temptation. Moses said “God did this to CAUSE THE FEAR OF HIM TO REMAIN IN YOU.” God knew if they recalled His power and His presence –they would not stray. What a treasure is found here!

  • When I remember WHO God is – I stand in awe of Him.
  • When I recall what He has done to rescue me – I walk in obedience to Him.
  • When I recognize He is personally watching me – I act to delight His heart!

After: Time passed (40 days) and the process of forgetfulness played out (32:1-35).

Let a month pass by… then five weeks…then move toward six. Turn down the sound and light show of Horeb. In fact, even if it continued, the familiarity of the whole thing would make what was profound the first day start to seem… normal. The people stopped listening and stopped shaking. Now they were just BORED and disturbed that God was taking so long to get them to the Promised Land.

Moses may have been experiencing God, but they were FORGETTING GOD. They stood right there in the Church of the Holy Mountain – but they had seen the service too many times before to feel like it really meant much. In fact, if you really think about their past ninety days they saw many of the most powerful miracles that would ever be shown to a generation – but they quickly got over amazement and fell into temptation’s grip. Watch them in Exodus 32.

Exodus 32:1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” 5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

What happened to the people between TREMBLING and SINNING? The ground between those two places is important to survey – because we will face it this week! The first few verses give us the seven mistakes the people made on their way to rebellion. Look at the opening verse again:

Exodus 32:1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

1)     The People made a choice based on Wrong Conclusions: The people followed what they saw (32:1a). They trusted their EYES and we must know this truth — You can’t always believe your eyes! This reminds me of  Eve, who was tempted to commit the first sin we find God’s description of the event. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.” (Gen. 3:6 NKJV).

One of the popular advertisements on television is the bowflex conditioning machine. They always appeal to you through your eyes. I am thinking of two of their commercials. In one they show a muscular man who has bulging muscles. In another they show this great looking “fifty year old grand-mother” who looks like a swim-suit model. Who, in their right mind, would not want to look like those two people?

We need to be reminded that our eyes will lead us astray. Our eyes will rob us of truth, because they cannot see the REAL WORLD which is eternal, only the TEMPORAL WORLD which is EPHEMORAL. A.W. Tozer in I Talk Back to the Devil said “you can take two small ten-cent pieces, just two dimes, and shut out the view of a panoramic landscape. Go to the mountains and just hold two coins closely in front of your eyes–the mountains are still there, but you cannot see them at all because there is a dime shutting off the vision in each eye.” (Contributed to Sermon Central by: Troy Borst).

Remember that much exists in this world that your eye cannot see.Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can see what is really important with your physical eyes. Beautiful bodies may embody dark and dangerous hearts. Even in this world – it is only with a tool the eye can see a single cell. It is only with a machine the eye can see the inner working parts of the body. It is only with the aid of the Lord, the eye can see the spiritual forces at work. Our eyes are fine, but they can’t see most things that are going on! Don’t trust them!!! The people didn’t see Moses, so they were ready to write Him off! Remember: DELAY DOESN’T MEAN DENIAL! (Abraham learned the hard way!)

2)     The People made a choice with the Wrong Focus: The people were focused on a man and had forgotten God (32:1b). WHEN WE STOP SERVING GOD, IT WILL NOT BE TOO LONG BEFORE WE CHOOSE TO SERVE SOMEONE OR SOMETHING OTHER THAN GOD.

Duped into believing (if temporarily) that the power lay in the person of Moses, they forgot the thunder at the mountain. They forgot the wind that blew the sea, but remembered the staff and the guy holding it! Ironically, the opening chapters of Exodus reveal a timid man that does not believe in himself!

3)     The People made a choice with the Wrong Moral Standard: The people judged “right” by the insecure crowd, not the revealed covenant of God (32:1b). Next, we read the phrase “we don’t know”. That phrase reflects an insecurity in the voices of the people. IT IS IMPORTANT TO DETERMINE WHERE THE CROWD IS GOING BEFORE WE DETERMINE WHETHER WE WANT TO FOLLOW THE CROWD!

I read about a three year old girl who was frightened by a burst of thunder. She called out to her mother “mommy, I’m scared”. Her sleepy mother responded by saying, “Go back to your bed. God will be there with you.” The little girl stopped at the doorway, turned and said, “Mommy, why don’t I sleep here with Daddy, and you go in there with God.”

Insecurity often drives people to make foolish decisions. The athlete that is unsure about his strength or ability may turn to steroids. An insecure teenager may turn to permissive sex or drugs to pacify their friends. An unbelieving adult may withhold his giving because he does not think he can afford to give. A lady who is insecure may dress in improper clothing to get men’s attention.

4)     The people chose to follow the Wrong Leader: The people chose a leader that would tell them what they wanted to hear (32:1b).

A lot of people will tell you what you want to hear. There was a young man in his early 30’s who was single and was beginning to get worried about it so he went to a local church and met an attractive young lady. He went up to her and struck up a conversation with her. They chatted about everything under the sun for a while until he got up the nerve to ask her what kind of men she liked. She replied, “I have always been attracted to native Americans for their survival instincts and Jewish men for their moxie and practicality. But I have really enjoy cowboys for their rugged individualism.” Then she said, “By the way what is your name?” Thinking quick he replied, “Well my given name is Geronimo Bernstein but my friends call me Tex.” Everyone wants to make a good impression on other people.

A church in Pensacola advertised a 30 minute worship service. They promised to get you in and out fast. They promised convenience. We need to be reminded that faithfully following Jesus Christ is not always easy, convenient or comfortable. Yesterday I was reading in Revelation about the thousands of people who have been and will be martyred for their faith. If you think faith is supposed to be convenient, comfortable and something you can control then God owes martyrs an apology for all the suffering they experienced.

5)     The decided to follow the Wrong God: The people looked to fashion a god of their own making and will (32:1b). Every choice you make is important. I did a bit of reading on “making good choices” this week and discovered these jewels:

A wife found a list on her husband’s desk one fall. It was entitled: THINGS TO DO BEFORE WINTER SETS IN…

  1. Install Franklin fireplace & Chop firewood.
  2. Check weather-stripping & clean furnace.
  3. Clean and repair snow blower & Replace broken storm window.
  4. Get out of Wisconsin.

If that didn’t get you to smile (especially those reading in Wisconsin).. try this: Getting guys to choose the right benefits in the military is a tricky job, but one guy figured out a way to motivate men to choose well. You see, this sergeant served his tour of duty and was reassigned to a stateside induction center. It was his job to advise the new recruits about government benefits, especially GI insurance. Soon he had a nearly 100% insurance sales record. His officers were amazed. To find out how he did it, an officer stood in the back of the room one day and listened to the sales pitch. The sergeant explained the basics of GI insurance to the new recruits, and then said, If you HAVE GI insurance, and go into battle and are killed, the government has to pay $35,000 to your beneficiaries. If you DON’T have GI insurance and go into battle and are killed, the government has to pay only a maximum of $3,000. Now, he concluded, which bunch do you think they’re going to send into battle first?

Choices are important. Yet using choices to shape truth is never a good thing. God is who God is. Trying to reshape Him or His Word is a mistake many people make.

This thing of building a faith based on comfort, convenience and control is reflected in our convictions and beliefs. J. P. Moreland, in Apologetic Reasoning and the Christian Mind: “One afternoon I was sharing the gospel in a student’s dorm room at the University of Vermont. The student began to espouse ethical relativism: ‘Whatever is true for you is true for you and whatever is true for me is true for me. . . . But no one should force his or her views on other people since everything is relative.’” Moreland says, “I knew that if I allowed him to get away with ethical relativism, there could be for him no such thing as real, objective sin measured against the objective moral command of God, and thus no need of a Savior. I thanked the student for his time and began to leave his room. On the way out, I picked up his small stereo and started out the door with it. ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ he shouted. . . . ‘I am leaving your room with your stereo.’ ‘You can’t do that,’ he gushed.” But Moreland said, “I happen to think it is permissible to steal stereos if it will help a person’s religious devotions, and I myself could use a stereo to listen to Christian music in my morning devotions. Now I would never try to force you to accept my moral beliefs in this regard because, as you said, everything is relative and we shouldn’t force our ideas on others. But surely you aren’t going to force on me your belief that it is wrong to steal your stereo, are you?” Moreland looked at him and continued: “You know what I think? I think that you espouse relativism in areas of your life where it’s convenient , say in sexual morality, or in areas about which you do not care, but when it comes to someone stealing your stereo or criticizing your own moral hobbyhorses, I suspect that you become a moral absolutist pretty quickly, don’t you?” The story has a happy ending, for Moreland says, “Believe it or not, the student honestly saw the inconsistency of his behavior and, a few weeks later, I was able to lead him to Jesus Christ.

Some people want a faith that only requires one hour a week. Some people want a faith that does not require them to give any of their money. Some people want a faith that does not require them to change their behavior.  Some people want a faith that does not require them to do anything but come and sit on Sunday.

Notice the use of the plural personal pronoun “us“. Notice what the people said “make us gods who will go before us”; “this fellow Moses who brought us”; “These are your gods”. (NIV) These people wanted a comfortable, convenient god they could control because they were self focused. Many people want a faith that caters to them.

6)     They had Wrong Stewardship: The people made their god from things they stole from God’s goodness! (32:2a). They took God’s blessings, and surrendered them to a pile for religion.

7)     They offered the Wrong Example: The people got all their families involved in the defilement (32:2b).

What happened when they FORGOT GOD? What were the consequences?

Their choices led to a series of the wrong outcomes (look at verses 6). “Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” (NKJV) Notice the outcome as recorded in our text.

  1. The first wrong outcome was empty worship. Aaron “built an altar in front of the calf” (vs. 5 NKJV). Their worship was cold, dead and lifeless. They put the time in, they built the buildings, paved the lots, had the covered dish dinners, but it was all empty. It didn’t work in real life. Listen, God created you and I to have a meaningful relationship with Him. He wants to be in the center of your life, not on the edge. He wants you to find your fulfillment in Him. Idol worship is an empty ritual.

That may be true of much of our worship. Gordon Dahl said, “Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, work at their play, and play at their worship.”

2. The second wrong outcome was an inappropriate lifestyle (vs. 6). True worship of God should be a life changing experience. In our text we are told the people could hardly wait until their worship was over so that they could start the party. This was a common theme in the Bible:

a. Amos faced it. “When will the new moon be over, so that we may sell grain, And the Sabbath, that we may trade our wheat? Making the ephah small and the shekel large, falsifying the balances by deceit, that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals even sell the bad wheat?’’ Amos 8:5-6 NKJV

b. Jeremiah faced it. “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, `We are delivered to do all these abominations’? Jer. 7:9-10 NKJV

3.     A third outcome was surrendering to a lie (32:8). “This is your god!” They cried. But it wasn’t true. They cried louder and louder and sang to each other, but the song (32:18b) was empty! They knew in their hearts it wasn’t true.

Exodus 32:7 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 “They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’”

4. A final outcome was they stood in the path of the judgment of God (32:9,10). Had it not been for a mediator, Moses (32:12-14), the people would have been crushed.

32:9 The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. 10 “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” 11 Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 “Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. 13 “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’”

People who had experienced the most profound outward display of God defected from walking with Him for one reason – they forgot God. They forgot WHO God is and WHOSE they were. For it they paid the price that anyone will pay if they don’t take God seriously. He is not vengeful, and He is not angry – but He is Holy and Just. Would it be right for us to ignore His Word, replace His person in our hearts with another, and still act as though we were OK?

If we forget Who God is, and what He wants to be in our lives, we lose our way completely!