For Everyone Series Goes OT

Just noticed on Amazon that the For Everyone Series made popular by N.T. Wright’s series on the New Testament is starting on the Old Testament. I have no idea how I missed this as it looks like Genesis came out in 2010. John Goldingay is authoring this series. Here is what they have out so far:

Genesis 1-16

Exodus & Leviticus

Joshua, Judges, Ruth

1 & 2 Samuel

1 & 2 Kings

1 & 2 Chronicles

If these are anything like their New Testament counterparts they will be inexpensive and very helpful. Has anyone read any of these?


The Intersection of Worship and Real Life

I have been reflecting on the connection between worship and real life and I was thinking about two passages in particular. In both of these passages of scripture there is a real event that God works through that results in people singing God’s praises.

The first is in Exodus 15, the Song of the Sea. In Exodus 14 we see God part the Red Sea, the Hebrews walk through, and Pharaoh’s army get crushed by the waters. The result was thanksgiving and song. God delivered them. God worked on their behalf and rescued them. The result was praise specific to that situation. Did they come up with that song on the spot? Did it sound good? Who cares how well it rhymed or if it had a good melody! They were rescued and were expressing their joy to God!

The second is in Luke 1. An angel comes to Mary and tells her she will give birth to the messiah. The result is the Song of Mary. So much joy was flowing through her that it resulted in song.

I am afraid that too often my worship is due to the hour of the week it is and not because of extreme gratitude. I am afraid that too often I sing Thank You Lord because it is in an order of worship and not because it is part of the flow of thankfulness that is coming out of my heart to God because of how God has worked on my behalf. Worship really is connected with real life. Too often we compartmentalize it and make it too small. What is more, our worship services are usually very uplifting and joyful (and I am thankful for that) but it leaves little room for those whose most honest emotion at that time is sorrow or pain. Maybe we need more creativity, more relevance, more spontaneity from time to time so that our worship can express what is truly in our hearts and not be limited to an hour each week!

Sinai, Tabernacle, and Temple

I got an email a few weeks ago that got me looking at Nahum Sarna’s commentary on Exodus (which is a great read if you haven’t had a look at it). I was struck by what he said regarding the similarities between Sinai, the tabernacle and the temple.

He says that the Hebrews first big experience with God at Sinai needed to move beyond the mountain itself toward the Promised land. God recognized their need for continuity in being able to approach him regularly. So God brought Moses up onto Sinai and gave him a pattern to build the tabernacle as a place people could have to commune with God (Ex 25:9). I had never noticed before a few things that he points out that seem to fit very well. Sarna notes that the pattern of the Tabernacle actually mirrored what they experienced at Sinai, varying levels of holiness and approachability/access were present on Mt. Sinai and in the tabernacle.

  • All the people – Foot of the mountain
  • Priests – allowed higher up the mountain than the rest of the people
  • Moses alone – the very top of the mountain

This represented varying degrees of holiness/approachability of God.  It was the same with the tabernacle as you well know. What is also interesting is that in the tabernacle the level of quality of the construction got more refined the further in you went. The outer courts used bronze, the Holy place used a coating of gold and the holy of holies had gold inside and out and was of pure gold. I had always gotten so bogged down in reading through all the details that I had never noticed that before.

However, God made it very clear both at Sinai and in the tabernacle that he was not contained by either. He descended onto Sinai and he ascended and descended onto the tabernacle as well as a cloud. But where God dwelled was not in the tabernacle alone (like on the mercy seat) but among the people (Ex 25:8). Sarna believes the purpose of the tabernacles was as follows, “Precisely because the tabernacle was constructed in the first place to give concrete, visual symbolization to the conception of God’s indwelling in the community of Israel, that is, to communicate the idea of God’s immanence, it is vitally important that his total independence of all materiality, His transcendence, not be compromised.” (p.206). So the tabernacle was constructed for “human needs” (p.206)

Also, the holy of holies was constructed as a perfect cube to signify God’s perfection and unity (p. 207) and the housing of the tablets was also there as a reminder of their covenant with God (again for human needs). I had never noticed that either.

The temple has a lot of the same characteristics. It has a similar structure. It is also characterized by an understanding that it is there to demonstrate God’s immanence but at the same time recognize his transcendence. They understood that the temple does not confine God but that he does live among his people just like with the tabernacle (2 Chron 6:18/1 Kings 8:27).

That, to me, is their significance. It comes back to God’s holiness, our need to recognize it, and God’s balance of transcendence/immanence. These things were in some ways more for the people than they were for God.

Discipline and Grace – Two Sides of the Same Coin

In Exodus 32 the Hebrews made a crucial mistake. In their impatience for God to act they made an idol to represent the “gods who brought them out of Egypt” and they worshiped it. Needless to say God was none too happy. Instantly He knew exactly what had happened and threatened to destroy them (32:10). In verse 11 it says that Moses sought the Lord’s “Favor” (another word for grace) and God relented from destroying them all (32:14). But that doesn’t mean there weren’t consequences. First, Moses ordered the death of 3000 who remained in rebellion after he called for them to choose sides (vs. 28). Second, God said that His discipline would come later (vs.34-35).

In 33:1-3, God told Moses to go ahead and take the people to the promised land but that he would not go with them. So Moses calls a meeting with God where he asks for God’s mercy/favor and for God to go with them into the Promised Land. In a bold request for confirmation of all God had said Moses said something that took guts, “Now, show me your glory.” I can’t think of any other verse in scripture where a man commanded something of God. God, in a marvelous act of mercy, did as Moses requested (33:18-22). Hang with me here…almost there.

Following that event, we see in Exodus 33 that God gave Moses further confirmation that He would go with them. Here is what God had to say,

“Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” – Exodus 34:5-7

We are finally getting to it. When God reveals information about who He is and what He is up to in the world, two things stand out to me. Remember, all of this is in light of the events of the Hebrews worshiping the golden calf, God’s anger, and now His mercy. God holds two things in tension about himself. God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love…and yet God is also a God who does not withhold discipline.

From our perspective, discipline and love don’t always feel like they go together but they do. From the perspective of a parent we know that we discipline our children because we love them and because we want to see them learn and grow and do better. From the perspective of the parent, discipline is an act of love but it is hard for children to see or understand that. The same is true with our relationship with God, as His children. He disciplines us in love and that is a hard thing to understand. He disciplines us for our best interest, not because he is vindictive or likes to see us squirm. He wants better things for us than to live lives that are less than He designed and intended for us to live.

So discipline and grace really are two sides of the same coin. It just doesn’t always feel that way from our perspective as God’s children. It is important that we trust God in that and grow closer to Him through those times. It is also important to remember that not every bad thing that happens to us is God’s discipline. Some things we bring on ourselves by our own poor choices. Other things are just circumstances that are just part of life. We know God can use those to shape and form us as well if we open ourselves to God through trusting Him to do with our lives whatever He sees fit and know that ultimate it is for our benefit even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

Exodus Came Before Sinai

When I was a kid I remember learning about the ten commandments. When we studied the ten commandments we always started with Exodus 20:3, “You will have no other gods before me.” We never started back a verse where God said, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” That is an important starting point because it couches the rules right in the middle of God’s saving acts of deliverance carried out on their behalf. I don’t know who came up with the phrase that is the title of this post, “Exodus came before Sinai” but it is an accurate and important statement that helps us understand what God does and how what we do is only a response to what He has already done and is doing in the world.

In order to put this statement in perspective, let’s back up a bit. When Moses saw the burning bush in Exodus 3 what God didn’t tell them was that he was to assemble the people, give them the 10 commandments and the whole book of Leviticus, follow it perfectly and then God would deliver them. Nope. Instead, God rescued them first before he put requirements on them. Why? Because that is how relationships work. For example, imagine the first time you met the person you would eventually marry the first thing you said was, “I know you don’t know me but I have certain expectations for how I believe a husband/wife should treat their mate…so starting today I have some expectations for this relationship and the obligations you have to uphold in it.” Do you think that would go over very well? Of course not! Why? Because relationships don’t start with obligations and requirements. Those don’t come until after the relationship is solidly formed and even then they are the natural outflow of two people who are deeply committed to and in love with one another.

Back to Israel. God delivered them. God brought them into the wilderness where he provided food and water and guidance for them. What was he doing before any rules were laid down? He was establishing a relationship with them. And when the rules came, they were willing to choose to follow them because they knew the One who was setting the rules and how He had their best interest at heart in the matter. So Exodus comes before Sinai. That was true of them and it is true for us. Romans 5:8 says, “While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Over and over again Jesus showed this principle through his ministry. One of our men mentioned the woman caught in adultery. He rescued her first and then told her how she was to live. There are so many other examples but the point is the same – God loves us enough to rescue us. He is not interested in us robotically following a list of do’s and don’ts. But He knows that if we will willingly choose to follow Him that the boundaries He sets for our lives will be willingly followed because we know Him, love Him and trust Him.

Sabbath and Trust

People typically think of the Sabbath as a command not to work. It really went deeper than that. The point was, if they weren’t working and things were provided for they realized that God was still at work in their lives. That requires trust. No matter how talented or amazing we think we are there is nothing in this life we can claim as our own personal 100% accomplishment. The reality is, all things really do depend on God whether we realize it or not. The question is, will we reflect that in our life, actions and attitudes or not? God gave the Israelites two reasons for the Sabbath in Exodus 20:2. The first was that God was the one who brought them out of Egypt. They had to rely on God in the past. Will they rely on God in the future? The second was that even God rested after 6 days of creating the universe.

Do you trust God enough to take a break from all the hustle and bustle of life and just rest at peace in His presence? Trust is a big word. Trust is learned by experience, that is why God brought up His past saving actions in Exodus 20 in order to motivate them to trust God with more things in the future. Trust is learned by repeated, successful, events and is typically formed over a lengthy period of time. But trust can be broken in an instant. God has never given us a reason to break trust with us and yet we have given Him plenty.

As we ready ourselves for spending more time with God, making Him more of a priority in our lives it is important that we realize God can be trusted. We also have to realize that God really is at work in the world and that no matter how hard we pull ourselves by our own bootstraps in the end it all really does depend on Him. If you trust God, spend time with Him and rest in His presence. If you rarely or never find rest in God and time alone with Him then maybe you should reevaluate how much you really trust God so you can find places in your life to let God in more and more.

How to Make Bible Study Practical – Perspective Issues 1

It is important, whether young or old, that we continue to tool and equip ourselves to study the Bible. So what I have to offer here on studying the Bible may be old news to some of you but hopefully there will be something for everyone. One of the driving forces in my Bible study has been the ongoing responsibility of producing curriculum for our small groups. When you are constantly writing material to be used in small groups there is a tremendous burden for it to be biblically sound and applicable. This is studying the Bible for the benefit of someone else and comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility (James 3:1). The reason I start by bringing that up is that I believe there are a few things that has taught me about studying the Bible that would be beneficial to share with anyone out there who is still reading this blog. You can’t study the Bible to help someone else grow without it profoundly (and firstly) helping you grow.

When we study the Bible we aren’t studying for information‘s sake although that is the first level we take in God’s Word. When you read the Bible you aren’t reading it to make bullet point lists to fit nicely on the page. You should be reading the Bible for the sake of transformation. The two (information and transformation) have to go hand in hand. You should never have one without the other. We aren’t studying a self-help book here. We are studying the Word of God. What we have between the covers of this book is what God thought would be important enough to reveal to us and have written down so that we could have faith in Him and live changed lives. So before we talk how to’s it is important to talk perspective.

Now for a little more on information leading to transformation…what we believe absolutely impacts how we live. Let’s say you don’t believe in God. You don’t believe in eternal life. When you die, you are dead. Forever. Would that drastically change the way you are currently living your life? Would it change your morality and ethics? If you change the guiding principles of someone’s life you will ultimately change their behavior. That is because what we believe impacts what we do. Information leads to transformation.

All those guys with letters after their names would say it like this – the indicative drives, or leads to, the imperative. Indicatives are just statements. God is love. Jesus is Lord. We are saved by grace. Those are indicatives. Imperatives are commands and in scripture they typically follow after indicatives. The reason for that is God usually gives us the reason why he wants us to live a particular way. Let me give two often cited examples of this.

Example #1 – The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20)
If you learned or memorized the ten commandments as a child you learned that they started at Exodus 20:3. But if you back up a verse, before God tells them anything about how to live or what commands (imperatives) to follow, he gives them this indicative as the basis for their obedience, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery…You shall have no other gods before me” (command #1). God understands the natural progression of how we think about things and what leads to us living them out. That only makes sense because He made us to be like that. I am glad he didn’t just give us a bunch of lists of truths or rules and expect us to get it. Instead he has delicately interlaced the two together in His Word and ultimately lived it out through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Example #2 – Ephesians
I first heard this from Dr. Oster at Harding Graduate School. The book of Ephesians is split very purposefully into two halves: Chapters 1-3 & 4-6. The first half is full of indicatives, truths about God, Christ, and our relationship with them. There is only 1 imperative/command in the first half of Ephesians and that one is a command to “remember” what God has done for us. So even the lone command is a command pointing us back to the indicatives. There are something like 41 imperatives in the last three chapters of Ephesians. What’s the point? Before Paul gives them all the commands they first have to understand something about God.

Let me bring this back to Bible study. When we study the Bible the end game is our hope that studying this book will result in a changed, more Christ-like life. That means we are studying for application/transformation. God wants scripture to change our lives. We should want that too. In order to have the basis for understanding and living out those transformative principles we must first have the information/indicative that gives us the background for why these things are important so that our actions and attitudes can be informed by the truth.

Let me end this post with one practical “how to” lesson on what all this means for how we study the Bible. I have said this on the blog before but here it goes again. If we want to apply scripture to our lives we have to know what it says. If we are going to know what it says we have to read or hear what it says. That means that before any of these things even matter we have to act. We have to make the move. We must pick up our Bibles, ask God to guide us and transform us, and study.

The Sacred and the Secular

In the Old Testament there was a view that things fell into one of two categories. Either it was sacred or it was secular, holy or profane. Those categories did not mean things were either good or evil but that they were either set apart for special purposes or that they were ordinary or common. This distinction has to do with how something is used or what its purpose is. For instance, the articles used for temple or tabernacle worship were holy. That means they were only to be used for sacred purposes as defined by God. They wouldn’t go into the temple and throw a big BBQ bash using the tongs, altar, etc…all seemingly great for a nice dinner gathering. But using it like that would be taking something holy and sacred and using it for common or ordinary purposes. It would be using those items and that location in a way inconsistent with what God prescribed in scripture.

In the Old Testament the holy or sacred could be broken down into three categories: people, things, and places.

People – In Leviticus 20:26 we see the Hebrews were to be set apart as a holy nation. This meant God’s people aren’t supposed to act like the other nations because they are holy, set apart, and on earth for a different purpose. We see that in the New Testament in verses like 1 Peter 2:9 – God’s people are still a holy nation. Though now that nation contains both Jews and Gentiles

Things – In Exodus 29:37 the altar is called holy. Lev 5:15-16 tells what offerings to make if someone violates God’s holy things. The point is, you don’t use the objects of worship in the tabernacle or temple however you want and for whatever purposes you want. In the New Testament there is not as much a connection with holy things as it was in the Old Testament.

Places – There were several holy places mentioned in the Old Testament, each of these represented at one time or another the presence of God on earth. Bethel (which means House of God) was considered holy by Jacob in Genesis 28 where he had a dream of angels ascending and descending from heaven – Jacob’s ladder. Sinai was holy (Exodus 19:23). Sinai was also called Horeb and this is where Moses first encountered the Lord and was told it was Holy ground (Exo 3:1-5). The tabernacle and temple were holy. Exodus 26:33-24 mentions the Holy Place and Most Holy Place. You don’t walk into the Holy Place when you want and do whatever you want. It is a holy place to be used for holy purposes.

In the New Testament we see a shift from places to people. Jesus said he was the replacement of the temple in John 2:19-22 when he cleared the temple and said he would destroy it and rebuild it in three days. Jesus also compared himself to Bethel, the house of God in John 1:51 when he said his disciples would see angels ascending and descending on him. Jesus was God in the flesh, the presence of God on earth. After Jesus went back to the Father, we are considered God’s holy place present in the earth (1 Cor 3:16). In that verse we are called a temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. In 1 Cor 6:18-20 we see what it means to be holy today. Because we are God’s holy temple we don’t do things to our bodies that are out of character of a holy place, specifically sexual immorality in this verse. Just like they weren’t to use the temple or tabernacle for common or profane uses, we aren’t to use our bodies for things that are not in line with God’s purposes for our lives.

Because we are God’s temple we are to be used for holy purposes. Just like how they couldn’t go in the tabernacle or temple and treat it however they wanted and disrespect God’s wishes, we are not to use ourselves, as God’s temple, in a way that would desecrate that temple. If forsaking the temple regulations was punishable by death (Exo 28:35, 43; 30:21) how much more serious are we to treat our own bodies that were made holy, not by washing with water, but by washing by the blood of Jesus Christ?

“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy;
without holiness no one will see the Lord.” – Hebrews 12:14