February 24, 2015

Scripture and Commentary, February 22-28

February 22

Ex. 23:20-33,  Mk. 6:20-56
Ex. 24,  Gal. 5


Exodus 23:20-33

Many have noticed that God’s Covenant with Israel is similar to one a king might make with a smaller and weaker nation.  The greater king demands tribute, soldiers, and obedience to his laws.  In return he promises to rule wisely, that his laws will promote the safety and well-being of the people, and to grant them the rights and privileges of citizens of his empire.  God is like the Great King.  Israel is like the weaker nation.  God demands tribute in the form of sacrifices and offerings, obedience to His laws, and the faithful love of the people.  Beginning in verse 20 of chapter 23, God delineates what He will do for Israel.

He promises to “send an Angel before thee” (vss. 20-23).  This Angel is nothing less than the presence of God the Son, who is with His people, even in His pre-incarnation state.  He will be an enemy to Israel’s enemies (vss. 22-28).  He will defend Israel from attack, and will drive her enemies out of Canaan.  Verse 31 promises to give all of Canaan to Israel as a land for them to dwell in peace as they love and worship God.

Verses 32 and 33 tell why Israel is to make no covenant or peace with the pagan Canaanites.  They also reveal why God will not allow idolaters and fornicators to dwell in Israel: “They shall not dwell in thy land lest they make thee sin against me: for to serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee.”

Exodus 24

Having received the terms of the Covenant, the people give their  bold and resounding assent (vss. 1-3).  This is an event of tremendous historic importance, for it is Israel’s acceptance of the duties and the graces of belonging to God. Moses records all the words of the Lord in a book (vs.4), and this is also an event of great historical and theological significance.  It  is historically important because it means Moses kept a record of the events of the Exodus and travels of Israel.  Some historians have asserted that the events in Exodus are myths written to unify a diverse coalition of Canaanite tribes, and to justify the military conquest of their neighbors.  But here we see Moses carefully recording what he hears from God. This book naturally includes the words of the Lord in Egypt and during the travels of Israel, for he wrote “all the words of the Lord.”

The event is theologically important. If Moses recorded events, which were known and experienced by the entire nation, then the events are true, and the God who directs them is real.  In other words, this means Moses recorded God’s revelation of His being, will, and commandments. This means the book is more than just literature or history; it is Scripture.

Israel’s verbal ratification of the Covenant is followed by a solemn ceremony of commitment.    Moses commands that an altar be built on a level place near the foot of the hill (Mt. Sinai).  Twelve pillars are built, representing the twelve tribes of Israel.  They are probably very large and very tall, and placed in a line or semi-circle around the altar.  The altar itself is large enough to bear twelve sacrificial animals.  

Now the young men bring the bullocks and oxen to sacrifice to God, one for each of the twelve tribes. The Bible makes a point of saying these sacrifices are peace offerings from the people to God.  A peace offering expresses a recognition of sin and unworthiness of the calling and blessings God is bestowing upon them.  It expresses shame over sin, as well as repentance and turning away from sin.  A peace offering expresses faith in the grace of God.  It recognises that He forgives sin and bestows His blessings because He is gracious, not because they are worthy.
In solemn silence the people watch the young men place the animals on the altar, where Moses ceremonially kills them and lights the fire to burn their bodies.  With burning altar and the pillars behind him, and the Mountain of God in the background, Moses addresses the people by reading Exodus 19:1-23:19, the Book of the Covenant (vs. 7).   Now they respond again, this time in a very reverent and thoughtful tone, “All that the Lord hath said will we do and be obedient” (vs. 7).

The blood of the animals was collected; half of it has been sprinkled on the altar.  ow the other half is sprinkled on the people, saying, “Behold, the blood of the Covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.”

A Covenant sealed in blood carries the implication that blood will be required of those who break it.  This Covenant carries hints of the Saviour , who will shed His blood in the place of those who break the Covenant.  All have broken the Covenant of God, but Christ seals a New Covenant for us by His blood.
Moses is called to the top of the Mountain again.  Here, covered by a thick cloud, God instructs Moses for forty days and nights.

February 23

Ex. 32:1-14,  Mk.7:1-23
Ex. 32:15-35,  Gal. 6

Commentary, Exodus 32

Our Lectionary passes over chapters 25-31, but reading them is highly recommended and profitable.  They primarily give directions for the worship of God, and construction of the Tabernacle in which Israel will worship Him.  We note in these chapters that the worship of God is too great a task to be conducted according to the whims and tastes of people.  God Himself directs how His people shall come before Him, and how and what they shall do in His Tent.

Immediately following their pledge of acceptance of the Covenant, and even as God is in the very act of giving the directions about His worship, the people of Israel abandon God and demand that Aaron “make us gods, which shall go before us” (vs.1).

Verse 4 shows why idolatry is such a heinous sin.  God has poured out His grace on Israel.  He brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand.  He brought them through the sea.  He provided food and water in the wilderness.  He gave them victory over an enemy army. But they make idols, and tell themselves the idols have done these things for them.  They do this only forty days after vowing to God that they will be His people and worship Him alone, forever.  Verse 6 refers to a prolonged, drunken orgy, like those of the Canaanite pagans (see.vs. 25).  They have completely abandoned God.  They have fully turned to paganism.

The party ends when Moses appears, but many of the Hebrews’ desire to remain in idolatry.  We can imagine much murmuring against Moses for stopping their revelry.  God sends the Levites into the camp to slay the impenitent.  He must be true to His own Law, and He must show that the wages of sin is death.

The prayer of Moses in verse 32 shows his great patience and love for Israel.  He would rather be blotted out of God’s book, meaning the Covenant, than see Israel destroyed.

  February 24, Feast of Saint Matthias the Apostle

Acts 1:15-26,  Mk. 7:24-37 
Matthew 11:25-30,  Ephesians 1

Matthias was called to the Apostolate to replace the infamous Judas.  The other Apostles elected him by lot.  We would not call a man to the ministry by that method today.  We would evaluate his knowledge of Scripture and ability to communicate it to others, and his holiness of life, but these things were apparently well known to the Apostles, since Matthias had been with Christ for most of His earthly ministry.  According to early Church historians, Matthias traveled to the area of modern day Georgia, where he established and shepherded churches until his martyrdom around A.D. 80.

Unlike some of the other Apostles,  we have no sermons or letters from Matthias.  His legacy is his life of faithful service, even unto death.  His life reminds us first that we, too are called to serve Christ faithfully, as Matthias served.  It also reminds us that only true and faithful men are to serve in the ministry of Christ’s Church. 

“O Almighty God, who into the place of the traitor Judas didst choose thy faith servant Matthias to be of the number of the Apostles; Grant that thy Church, being alway preserved from false Apostles, may be ordered and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”  
1928 Book of Common Prayer

February 25

Ex. 33,  Mk. 8:1-36
Ex. 34:1-26,  Eph. 2


Exodus 33 

In their idolatry, the people have nullified the Covenant and left God.   Therefore, God is under no obligation to them.  This is a very important fact, for it explains both the wrath and the grace of God in His actions toward Israel.  He owes them nothing; no protection, no provision in the wilderness, and no Angel to go before them into Canaan.  He is perfectly justified if He leaves them to die in the desert.  He is perfectly justified if He abandons their souls to hell.  They themselves agreed to this when they said that if they break the Covenant their blood is on their own hands.  In other words, if God punishes them, it is their fault and their due.

In chapter 33, God has threatened to let them go.  If He does this He removes all the blessings and graces He has given them thus far.  The fact that He allows many to live, and that He continues with them is due to His grace.  This chapter is about His continuing grace.

The same is true of Christians.  We have been called into salvation by grace, yet we rebel and repudiate our faith every day.  If God averts His wrath, and if He continues to bless and keep us in His salvation, it is due to His grace alone.

Exodus 34:1-26

God returns to Israel in mercy.  The people have completely rejected Him and nullified the Covenant He made with them.  They are completely unworthy of Him.  This is an important point.  Many wonder how God could be so cruel to them for their tiny lapse of faith.  We ought to wonder why He is so gracious to them when they have completely rejected Him.  If we think back to Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Esau, and the sons of Jacob, we are reminded that none of them were worthy of God’s blessings, and that His calling and blessing them is due to His grace alone.  Likewise, His continuing blessing of Israel is due to His grace alone.  He could leave them to die in the wilderness, and abandon their souls to hell.  Instead He comes to them in continuing grace, and gives them blessings they have forfeited by their own choice.   The theme of Exodus 34 is God’s continuing grace.  He restates the Covenant, showing that it means no compromise with the Canaanites when they enter the Promised Land.  He recalls them to keep the Passover, which God makes foundational to their identity and calling as His people.

The Passover reminds them what God has done for them.  This reminder calls them to greater love and service to God, and strengthens them for the life and journey of faith.  In this sense, it is very similar to the Lord’s Supper.  In it God reminds us of His great work of salvation by the cross of Christ.  In it He calls us to greater love and service to God, and strengthens us for the life and journey of faith.  It would have been a grievous and serious sin for an Israelite to absent himself from the Passover.  It is likewise a grievous and serious sin for a Christian to be absent from the Communion Table.

February 26

Ex. 34:27-35,  Mk. 8:27
Ex. 40, Eph. 3


Exodus 34:27-35

Moses has been filled with incredible power.  He has also carried incredible burdens.  In spite of his days with God “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Ex. 33:11), Moses is weary and needs to be nourished in his soul.  There may also be a  lapse of faith in his request to see the glory of God.  Like the Jews in the days of Christ’s flesh, he may want a sign from God before he will believe God is going to have mercy on Israel.  God could point back to the burning bush, the plagues, parting the sea, and His miraculous provision during the journey from Egypt.  He could tell Moses those were signs enough, go in faith and obey His commandments.  But God grants Moses’ request, and the radiance from his face afterward assures him and Israel that God is still with them.

Exodus 40
Chapters 35-39 record more work on the Tabernacle.  It is noteworthy that the Hebrews now dedicate themselves to worshiping God, and to building a symbolic dwelling for God.  Yes, they know God dwells in eternity, not in anything made by man.  But God has them build the Tabernacle, and later the Temple as the great symbol of His abiding presence.  God dwells with Israel.

Chapter 40 closes Exodus with the Pillar, which is the Angel of the Lord, and which has led Israel from the day she left Egypt, moving over and descending into the completed Tabernacle.  “The glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (vs. 34).  So powerful is His presence that even Moses is not able to enter the tent, “because the cloud abode thereon and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (vs. 35).

February 27

Leviticus 19:1-18,  Mk 9:1-29
Lev. 19:19-37, Eph. 4


Leviticus 19

Leviticus has one main subject, holiness; especially in the worship and sanctuary of God, but also in personal relationships.  It is a clear teaching of Scripture that keeping the laws of the sanctuary without also keeping the laws of social interaction is meaningless.  It is also true; that keeping the laws of social interaction while ignoring the house of God is meaningless.  Leviticus can be summarised thus: chapters 1-7 are about the sacrifices.  8-10 are about the priests.  Chapters 11-22 are about moral and ceremonial clean and unclean.  Holy days and seasons are given in chapters 23-25, and an exhortation to keep the law is given in chapter 26.

We begin our reading with chapter 19, in the section dealing with clean and unclean.  Verse 2 immediately and clearly summarises cleanness; “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.”  In truth, these words express the intent of all the Law, and even the entire Bible.  To call God holy is to assert that He is entirely different from us.  We are creatures; He is Creator.  We are sinful; He is moral perfection.  Our knowledge is very limited; His is infinite.  We are weak; He is omnipotent.  Most of all, we are absolutely dependent on Him; He is absolute independence.

To say we must be holy also says we are to be different from others in the world.  Their desire is to be free of God, or, at best, to accept Him only on their own terms. Our desire is to be completely devoted Him and fully obey His will.  We allow no other gods into our hearts.  We serve no idols (vs. 4). We intend to bring every thought and action into conformity with His will.  This is the essence of the Law.

Holiness is expressed in two dimensions.  First is the Heavenly dimension, or, our duty to, and relationship with God.  In this chapter God shows how this is expressed in worship through the sacrifices (5-9).  The summation of all the laws of the Sanctuary is given in verse 30; “Ye shall keep my sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.”

Just as being holy includes certain thoughts and actions, it also excludes others.  Verses 26-29 are pagan and, or, occult practices.  Their votives drank blood and attempted to use magic spells and incantations. To “observe times” is to practice astrology and attempt to determine lucky or unlucky times and seasons by means of horoscopes and occultism.  Cuttings, in verse 28 can be ritualistic or decorative scars, self-inflicted cuts to express grief, or attempts to appease pagan idols through self-mutilation and pain (1 Kings 18:26-28).  Modern piercings fall under this also.  Markings are tattoos and scars made as body ornaments.  The Canaanite religions included temple prostitution, and families, thinking they were doing themselves and their daughters good, often sold daughters to the pagan temples to become prostitutes. Such things are forbidden to God’s people.

Even adopting the fashions and styles of pagans is forbidden.  This indicates a complete and intentional refusal to identify with the culture, religion, and values of unbelievers.  That is the essence of verse 27.

The second, or, earthly dimension of the Law is about our relationships with the land, and with one another.  God seems to be very concerned about the way we treat His earth.  In other places He tells Israel that even the land is to have a sabbath, a rest.  In verses 23-25 Canaan is profaned because of the sins of the Canaanites, and must be cleansed by not eating the fruit of its trees.  For three years the fruit is left un-gathered.  In the fourth year it is offered to the Lord, and in the fifth year the people may eat of it.  Certain parts of the grain and vine crops are to be left unharvested.  They belong to God for the use of the poor.  Other verses in the chapter deal with justice in the courts, and a general good will toward all people.  Verse 34 means to love the stranger as you love yourself.  The verse seems to encapsulate all the law and the prophets, the entire message of God in our interpersonal dealings.

February 28

Lev. 24,  Mk. 9:30-
Lev. 25, Eph. 5


Leviticus 24

The daily offerings of bread of fine flour, and pure oil for lamps in the Sanctuary signify Israel’s daily consecration to the Covenant of God.  As Moses is writing about these things, he is interrupted to judge an offense.  We are not told if the fight or the blasphemy happened first.  We are told that the blasphemy was open and public, and apparently vehemently angry.  We are told that the penalty is death.  Thus sin is punished, Israel sees again the seriousness of sin, and the evil is put out of God’s people.

Leviticus 25  

The Lord gives sabbaths and rests to His land and animals as well as to His people.  The seventh year is a sabbath year for the land, during which it may no be tilled, or harvested.  The people are to plan for this, and store food and provisions accordingly.

Beside the obvious meaning of rest for the land is also the meaning of rest for the people.  It is a sabbath, a time to rest from the pursuit of wealth, and to devote to seeking and worshiping God.  It is a time for self-examination and repentance.  It is a time for family and recreation.  It also carries the meaning of trust in God for the sustenance of life (see verses 20 and 21).  The year of jubilee has similar significance, with broader scope.

The real meaning behind the sabbath year and the jubilee is that the land belongs to God.  Israel dwells in it because of the grace of God, but He owns it.  Furthermore, He is the true blessing of Israel.  The land is given so they may have a place to dwell in as they love and serve God.  But God, not the land, is the real substance of the Covenant.