Grasping God’s Purpose: “Underlying Purpose” – Exodus 35

When my daughter Rachel was a young woman, she and I went on a “daddy trip” to Paris. She had been brought up in a multicultural world in the Middle East, and I wanted to show her the birthplace of some of the most profound, and in some cases devastating, ideas men ever expressed. Paris is the city of Voltaire, the city of culture without God – a kind of humanism very different than what preceded it. I wanted Rachel to know what happened to the men who decided to write beneath the story of mankind a very different purpose – a purpose without God or ultimate meaning. I wanted her to see what their ideas produced, and how they worked out over time.

Out of that trip came many wonderful moments – but one has stuck out to me for years. We took the opportunity to “make a memory” out of watching – as father and daughter – a ballet in the Garnier Opera, built in 1861 (the setting for the “Phantom of the Opera”). This particular piece that night was modern, with ballet on an elevate stage, and other dancers below the stage that were also on projection screens behind the main stage that represented the emotions and underlying hidden thoughts of the people in the scene of life above. It had a profound effect on all who watched. I needed to be reminded that even simplest exchanges often have profound underlying emotions and thoughts. The message was made clear in the method – and I will never forget it. Sometimes what we see is not what is truly going on – there is much more beneath the surface.

For those who may not be aware of this truth, the Bible expresses a clear underlying purpose for men and women and their creation. The Bible is neither silent on why we are here, nor where we are going. It stubbornly demands that there is a God that created us, and that He did so with a purpose. The pages of God’s Word insist on single command– and all of us will either comply, or refuse this single entreaty.

Key Principle: God created us with a singular purpose. He created us in order that we would learn to serve Him and find personal fulfillment only in that act of complete surrender.

With that in mind, the Holy Book divides the world into only two groups – those who know God, and those who need to. Those who know Him, have surrendered to His will. Those who have not surrendered to Him, do not really understand Who they are opposing, and believe the consequence of that rejection. Every adult you have ever met, or ever will meet – is a part of one group or the other.

Many of us are used to the idea that God wants to meet with us. In fact, in a generation where our lives are so full of self – I wonder if some don’t just think that God will get them when He is lucky enough to wait until they’re done doing for themselves. I fear that many – among them some long time believers – will come to churches today, but not to face God, and certainly not to surrender to Him

Long before the church ever existed, Moses faced the same problem three thousand five hundred years ago… In fact, little has changed with people in terms of value systems in that time. Technology changes – sin doesn’t. Stubborn is still stubborn. With that in mind, we have been traipsing through the desert with the Israelites in the book of Exodus, following the story of how God took a rabble, added heat, thirst and troublesome threats, shook them up sufficiently, and baked a nation. We saw in Exodus 34 the story of God’s meeting with Moses, and noted that God had preconditions to meeting with Him. If you trace the first half of the chapter (Exodus 34) you see five of them that are identical to the problems we face in meeting God today in church.

  • Some will come believing that sin is not their chief problem – environment is. If they could just change their job, spouse, family or location – all would be perfect. Sadly, without a real belief that our biggest problem is sin sickness, real answers will be hard to grasp (34:1).
  • Some will come on their own terms – trying to convince God that He ought to let them do what they want and bless them anyway (34:2).
  • Some will come to gain business, attract a man or woman, or just placate a parent – and they will find the hour spent will seem largely a waste – because they came for show (34:3).
  • Some will come to get some felt need massaged – like a sore muscle. They won’t come to worship, but to be healed of their felt need. The utilitarian view of God that He is like a psychiatrist of the soul will leave them needy again – rather than drinking from the well that truly satisfies (34:4-5).
  • Some will come to have their own views affirmed – rather than hear God as God, and submit every opinion and every idea for His Holy approval (34:6).

God’s meeting with Moses after he sinned reminds us that God desires to meet us even in our fallen and rebellious state – but His purpose is CHANGE. He is not afraid of you. He doesn’t get the “willys’ around sinners, since the planet is covered with them. Just knowing that about God is a comfort on the face of it, but the text also makes us face warnings. He will not set aside His insistence on revealed conditions, and we cannot negotiate a compromise on truth. It is because of that, so many will stand outside the door of truth and hear the words of the oracles of men – blowing in the foul winds of human philosophy and understanding. These ideas will neither powerfully change them nor permanently lift them to new heights that are more than momentary emotional manipulation.

Transformation comes with meeting the Maker, face to face.

That was what Paul referred to in Ephesians 1. Real and lasting change comes by going into the fire of His power and having Him turn us and shape us. We undergo His mallet on His anvil, and He re-shapes our broken spirit – our fallen minds, and our warped perspectives. He has a way of straightening every bend in “the old and damaged us”.

The end of Exodus 34 offered us a second important set of reminders – we studied last time eight important concerns that God shared about what He wanted to share with people.

  • God didn’t want people to make up what He was like – so He forbade them from SHAPING HIM (34:17).
  • God didn’t want people to forget how they were changed – so He made them recall their rescue of salvation regularly (34:18).
  • God didn’t want people to believe the things He loaned them were THEIRS – so He gave them a regular offering to remind them that every increase was HIS (34:19-20).
  • God didn’t want people to believe they were the secret to their own provision – so He commanded a time when they stopped working (34:21).
  • God didn’t want people to think their ingenuity gave them their crops – so He commanded an offering of the first of the yield (34:22).
  • God didn’t want the people to believe they could trust in horses and chariots for protection – so He told them to obey and worship as their major form of protection (34:23-24).
  • God didn’t want people to slop their way through their worship and give Him second best – so He commanded precision (34:25).
  • God didn’t want to be tacked on to the END of the week but to be first in priority – so He gave them specific commands relating to PRIORITY (34:26).

Each of these ideas is Gods idea, and as such each is terribly important. At the same time, we can get lost in the details of the passage and miss the simplicity of the one big idea…

We must remember this one truth: God knows what He wants. He knows what He thinks. He is embracing in love but unbending in truth. He is merciful in expression but un-yielding toward error. We cannot bargain falsehood into some kind of compromise with the Holy One. We can submit and listen, or we can believe a lie – and that will lead us to a dead end.

Exodus 34 left us with this: God accepts us when we come on His terms and listen to what He says. As Creator of All – He has no need to bargain and no desire to water down the truth. So why isn’t it perfectly clear what God wants today?

Some people haven’t been taught to submit to God – because giving God’s truth is the teacher’s choice. The sad truth is that Exodus 35 opens with a choice. As we make our way to the next words as God has preserved them, we move from the conversation between God and Moses, to the announcements of God’s Word to the children of Israel. Note that Moses job wasn’t to help them feel good – so much as it was to carefully and clearly relate what God instructed to them. Listen in to the beginning of the announcement:  Exodus 35:1 Then Moses assembled all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and said to them, “These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do…”

Note when you read verse 1, that Moses had only three choices:

  • First, he could obey and deliver the message that God intended just as it was revealed in God’s Word.
  • Second, he could ignore God’s instruction and say nothing.
  • Third, he could make up or mix up God’s Word with the thoughts of other bright men of his day, or philosophies he learned growing up in a pagan world’s education system.

Here is the truth: every preacher of every church and every teacher of every Bible study around the world has the same three choices.

The message is not to become so sophisticated in human understanding that we meet the true needs of men and women. We are to be ambassadors and faithful reflectors of God’s truth as He carefully preserved it in His written Word. To the extent that we fail to do this – the world is held away from the truth of God’s Holy Word. When we try to be funny at the expense of the text – we rob people of the manna that will sustain and strengthen them. When we teach the Bible from the latest fad book instead of simply and carefully exposing and connecting the Scriptures to life – we offer “pablum” to a crowd starving for meat. Moses wisely chose to offer God’s instruction and then some explanation.

Look at the next few verses, and it will become painfully obvious that there are three arenas God challenges in people – and they were then the same three arenas we must make a choice about today:

Arena 1: God started with TIME.

Exodus 35:2 “For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a Sabbath of complete rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. 3 “You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.”

Sabbath was a command to the Jewish people for all their generations. It was, and is, a marker of obedience and uniqueness. I am not suggesting that you and I are commanded to keep it – but I am suggesting that the arena of time is still the one God longs for in our lives. For many of us, we treat our Heavenly Father the way a child of divorce is treated – we pass Him into the weekends of our lives. We don’t talk to Him, seek Him, worship Him or listen to Him – except on the designated weekend slots we have scheduled.

Arena 2: God next addressed TREASURE.

Exodus 35:4 Moses spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded, saying, 5 ‘Take from among you a contribution to the LORD; whoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it as the LORD’S contribution: gold, silver, and bronze, 6 and blue, purple and scarlet material, fine linen, goats’ hair, 7 and rams’ skins dyed red, and porpoise skins, and acacia wood, 8 and oil for lighting, and spices for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense, 9 and onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breast piece.

The obvious context of this chapter is the need for items to build the worship center called the Tabernacle, or the “Mishkan”.  In order to have the needed building materials, everyone was called upon to sacrifice. As a generation of slaves, all of them were recently endowed with wealth as the Egyptians showered them with goods on their way out the door to the wilderness. I personally believe it was buyer’s remorse that sent Pharaoh into the desert to get at least their “stuff” back when the water swallowed up those in hot pursuit. Isn’t it ironic that they were showered with GOOD THINGS by God, and then found those very GOOD THINGS hard to part with? God beckons His people to give their STUFF to Him when He tells them to do so. We shouldn’t have to BEG to care for real needs. God’s work done God’s way will not lack God’s supply – if God’s people are obedient to Him.

Arena 3: God finished with TALENT.

Exodus 35:10 ‘Let every skillful man among you come, and make all that the LORD has commanded: 11 the tabernacle, its tent and its covering, its hooks and its boards, its bars, its pillars, and its sockets; 12 the ark and its poles, the mercy seat, and the curtain of the screen; 13 the table and its poles, and all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 14 the lampstand also for the light and its utensils and its lamps and the oil for the light; 15 and the altar of incense and its poles, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the screen for the doorway at the entrance of the tabernacle; 16 the altar of burnt offering with its bronze grating, its poles, and all its utensils, the basin and its stand; 17 the hangings of the court, its pillars and its sockets, and the screen for the gate of the court; 18 the pegs of the tabernacle and the pegs of the court and their cords; 19 the woven garments for ministering in the holy place, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests.’”

If you listen carefully, you can hear the skills and talents God enlisted. He needed builders, wood workers, curtain makers, metal workers, movers, oil makers, clothing fitters and sewing specialists, bakers and oven makers, peg cutters… and on and on. There were, and there ARE many ways to serve God. He didn’t call metal workers to make bread – and He didn’t call baker’s to design fabrics. He brought all the workers needed…but He did not force them to comply with His command – that was their choice.

Surrender is always about the big three arenas – time, talent and treasure.

Because of time, I want to explore HOW God wanted these three dealt with in an upcoming lesson – but I don’t want to leave us at a cliff. There is a pattern for surrender, and it can be found in the remaining part of the chapter. Just glance quickly at the elegance of it as we pass by (we’ll be back to small the roses later):

Real surrender is YOUR PERSONAL GIFT. No one can compel you to truly obey God in your heart. It is an internal matter. The decision to obey was each man and woman’s decision. The people did it when they got HOME – just like you will (or won’t). Exodus 35:20 Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel departed from Moses’ presence.

Real surrender begins in you when God stirs and moves within. Yet, that only happens in those who let Him – and don’t ignore His voice or drown out the sound it makes. He will not push us until we ask, but will aid us when we do! God moved in each who opened to Him – and people made the choice to respond. Exodus 35:21 Everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came and brought the LORD’S contribution for the work of the tent of meeting and for all its service and for the holy garments.

Real surrender begins with an identity loss.  The toughest part of surrender is facing a new identity that emerges from the relationship with God. Our old self gives way to a new one – and that is easy for others to see! When People surrender the markers of their old identity, they show their serious change has taken place. Exodus 35:22 Then all whose hearts moved them, both men and women, came and brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and bracelets, all articles of gold; so did every man who presented an offering of gold to the LORD. 23 Every man, who had in his possession blue and purple and scarlet material and fine linen and goats’ hair and rams’ skins dyed red and porpoise skins, brought them.

Real surrender comes when we GIVE, not plan to give. People discovered the privilege of giving – that God had enabled them for a purpose! Exodus 35:24 Everyone who could make a contribution of silver and bronze brought the LORD’S contribution; and every man who had in his possession acacia wood for any work of the service brought it….29 The Israelites, all the men and women, whose heart moved them to bring material for all the work, which the LORD had commanded through Moses to be done, brought a freewill offering to the LORD.

Real surrender brings a new fulfillment. People are energized by obedience and engage life with a new joy when we work in the area of our gifts and talents – and dedicate that work to God’s higher purpose. Exodus 35:25 All the skilled women spun with their hands, and brought what they had spun, in blue and purple and scarlet material and in fine linen. 26 All the women whose heart stirred with a skill spun the goats’ hair.

Real surrender is different for different people. God made it clear that He entrusted some with more than others – but they were to surrender what they had to the work. Exodus 35:27 The rulers brought the onyx stones and the stones for setting for the ephod and for the breast piece; 28 and the spice and the oil for the light and for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense.

Finally, real surrender has to be administrated. God’s work had leaders and organization – it wasn’t a free for all and it wasn’t a guessing game. The supervising leaders were announced, recognized and followed. Exodus 35:30 Then Moses said to the sons of Israel, “See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 31 “And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship; 32 to make designs for working in gold and in silver and in bronze, 33 and in the cutting of stones for settings and in the carving of wood, so as to perform in every inventive work. 34 “He also has put in his heart to teach, both he and Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. 35 “He has filled them with skill to perform every work of an engraver and of a designer and of an embroiderer, in blue and in purple and in scarlet material, and in fine linen, and of a weaver, as performers of every work and makers of designs.

Jesus told us that the Kingdom was like a pearl – it was of incredible value. One who truly understood would GIVE ANYTHING to possess it, serve in it, and cherish it. One historian reminds us that when a Roman emperor wanted to show how rich he was, he would dissolve pearls in vinegar and then drink them in his wine, in much the same way that a flamboyant man may might light his cigar using a hundred-dollar bill. I suspect that is what some may be doing with their real fulfillment – their real calling… letting it dissolve in the vinegar of the world rather than setting it as a sparkling gem for God’s enjoyment. God created us with a singular purpose. He created us in order that we would learn to serve Him and find personal fulfillment only in that act of complete surrender.