The blessing and the fire – Exodus 19-20

The Blessing and the Fire – Exodus 19 and 20

It’s a fair comment to say that the Bible can be divided into two halves – Genesis 1-3 (how we ruined the world) and the rest of the Bible (how God puts it right). Certainly, Genesis and Exodus have been an extended response to the curses given to Adam and Eve, as God has begun to show grace to his fallen people.

It’s noticeable that in his response, we have seen both the blessing of God and the fire of God increase. The blessing of God began as early as Genesis 3, when God promises to crush the serpent (Gen 3:15). It increased to Abraham (Gen 12:2-3), and increased again to God’s people, as he rescues and redeems his people and ‘carries them on eagle’s wings’ (Exodus 19:4). At the same time, the fire of God increases – beginning with a burning torch (Genesis 15:7), it emerges at the burning bush (Exodus 3:2), and by the time that God reappears to Moses again in the same location, the whole mountain is on fire (Exodus 19:18) with God’s holiness.

Something similar is going on in the covenant that God is making in his people. There is the blessing of the covenant (Genesis 12, 15, Exodus 19:1-8) – in this sense, the covenants appear to be unconditional. But then each covenant also contains commands to be obedient (Gen 17:1-2, Exodus 20:1-21) – in that sense, the covenants are conditional. In other words, although the covenants that God forms grow and fit inside each other like Russian dolls, there is an apparent contradiction at their heart. God has promised to bless his people, but he must reject his people because of their sin.

The way in which that apparent contradiction will be resolved will take us all the way to the cross.

Read Exodus 19:1-20:21 and think about the following questions.

  1. At the end of Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are faced with a dreadful curse. Have the events of Genesis 12-15, and Exodus 3-6, brought any resolution?
  1. In Exodus 19, what does God promise? What does it mean to be a treasured possession, or a kingdom of priests, or a holy nation?
  1. In Exodus 19:9-19, why must the people not approach God? Why is his presence so terrifying?
  1. From Exodus 20:20, what effect can God’s character have on us, even as believers trusting in the death of Jesus Christ? How specifically, will the fear of God help you battle sin this week?
  2. Reading Hebrews 12:18-24, how are we as Christians given something more majestic than what happened at Mount Sinai?

The covenant remembered – Exodus 3-7

Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that the Bible is about God. We can often go looking for ‘ourselves’ in the storyline and try to learn about what we should do or how to live. (Especially when we have just learnt from Genesis what dire straits we’re in!) Often these things are there, and certainly the Bible is instructive, but it is God who is the hero. This is no more apparent than in the book of Exodus.

In Exodus 3-7 God reveals himself in a new way. One of the most astonishing and well attested facts of the Bible is how over hundreds and hundreds of years and numerous authors, there is one coherent story. It is something God has used to give a rich tapestry of his revelation to us. The reason for the coherence is that God has a single plan, known from before time. God is not making this up as he goes along.

What this means is that at every step of the way, rather than an unexpected twist that God has to deal with, it is a new stage of his revelation. And each stage of the revelation, whilst containing the seed or elements of the whole plan, it is perfectly designed to tell us something specific at that point. With God’s promise to Abraham, it was a very basic and bold explanation of how God will put things right. He will directly reverse the curse, it will be a covenant, (or promise) that is unbreakable. Even that alone gives us much to dwell on.

Now, the new information is not just more revelation of his plan, but of God himself. This is because they are intimately connected. Over two conversations (ch3v5-ch4v17 & ch5v22-ch7v7) and much doubt on the part of Moses and the Israelites, God is determined to be known as ‘I AM’. What God means is that ‘he is who he is’ and ‘he is who he will be’. He is unchanging. And we are to understand that unchanging character by his actions. Specifically his action as redeemer.

We now learn that redemption is necessary and this promise keeping rescue is the chief way the Israelites are to know who God is. The knowledge of God is one of the key themes in the book of Exodus. Another is God being with his people. It is why this is not just any rescue he promises. It is redemption, to be bought by him and for him. It is not political liberation, it is a movement from one service to another. In this redeeming act, God would be their God – a reversal of the fall where God was displaced. In John’s gospel Jesus proclaims that whoever commits sin is a  slave to sin. This is the rescue he offers. He does so as “The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world“. In the book of Revelation ch15, we’re shown how this mighty act of God is the redemption the exodus points to as this victory is proclaimed:

They held harps given them by God and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb:

“Great and marvelous are your deeds,

Lord God Almighty.

Just and true are your ways,

King of the nations.

Who will not fear you, Lord,

and bring glory to your name?

For you alone are holy.

All nations will come

and worship before you,

for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

 

Questions

Read Exodus ch4v18-ch5v21:

1) Why is it that God repeats his conversation with Moses in ch 6?

2) How does the rescue relate to the promise to Abraham?

3) John chapter 8 tells us that Sin is the real master we are all enslaved to. How does that help us understand what it means for God to rescue through ‘great acts of judgement’?

4) In what way does this passage deepen your understanding of Christ’s death and resurrection?

5) How does knowing God as redeemer change your view of yourself and your life now?

A new beginning – Genesis 12-15

Genesis 12 marks a new beginning for human beings. In the first eleven chapter we’ve witnessed the slow unrelenting spread of sin. Life is far from the blessing enjoyed in the paradise garden of Eden. But now God will bless Abram and make him the very embodiment of blessing. What the builders of the Tower of Babel failed to accomplish will be brought about in Abram’s life – but it will be done by God. God will make Abram and his descendants into a nation and make his name great. Moreover, Abram will bring blessing to all the nations of the earth.

However, there are major obstacles to the enjoyment of this blessing. How can an elderly and barren couple have descendants? How can a tiny tribe possess a land already occupied by others? Despite the circumstances God told him to leave all behind and go “to the land I will show you” (Gen. 12:1).

By Genesis 15 Abram still had no children or even the smallest portion of land. Abram opened his concerns before God and did not come away empty-handed. He received a renewed promise of a son and descendants like the stars in the sky. God also gave him a sign (Gen. 15:9-17). Covenants were made in the ancient Near-East between a king and a loyal subject, who was granted a piece of land as a reward for faithful service. At the conclusion of the covenant agreement, it was the custom for the parties to walk between the pieces of a cut-up animal. This served as a kind of acted-out curse. But in God’s covenant with Abram only God passed through the pieces in the form of a blazing, smoking torch (v.17). Do you see how amazing this was? The immortal God was saying, “I would rather be torn apart than see my relationship with humanity broken.”

 How could God have demonstrated his commitment to Abram more graphically? Only if the figure became a reality; and so it did. God took on flesh and tasted death in the place of the covenant-breaking children of Abram. On the cross the covenant curse fell completely on Jesus, so that the guilty ones who place their trust in him might experience the blessings of the covenant.

Questions

1)      How did the covenant ceremony in Genesis 15 foreshadow Christ?

2)      Did Abram have the power to destroy God’s purpose for his life by being disobedient? Can anyone prevent God’s promised blessing from coming to the nations?

3)      Egypt was a constant source of temptation to Abram, and later to Israel, whenever they doubted God’s goodness or ability to keep his promises. To what do you turn when things go wrong and you doubt God’s love and power?

Genesis 3 and the awful reality of sin

imagine-having-nothing-to-hide

 

The Estee Lauder advert above not only sums up the way you might feel when you’ve found the perfect make-up, but the way that people long to feel in totality – free from shame, with all their mistakes hidden, open and unembarrassed to be themselves. In other words, back in the garden of Eden – the place where Adam and Eve were ‘naked and felt no shame’ (Genesis 2:24). Imagine for a moment what it would be like if you could let your mum or dad, husband or wife, boss or friends, sort through all of your things – or look through all of your thoughts – with no fear of them finding anything you didn’t want them to.

That is the world which we forfeit whenever we, like Adam and Eve, reject God’s word, undermine God’s character, and attempt to steal his job. When we do so – whenever we arrogantly assume that we know better than God what will be to our benefit – then we damage ourselves as well as stealing glory from God. It is a profoundly bankrupt strategy, in the light of the fact that the God who we are rebelling against is the very God who breathed life into us, owns us, and is constantly working for our good.

What made me think about all this was a meeting with other Christians this week. We sang together, praised God, felt close to him, and repeated words about our devotion to him. Everything was good news and relentlessly upbeat. We were constantly reminded how precious we are to God, and asked to hold out empty hands and receive a feeling to comfort from him.

I may be wrong, but I just wondered whether the meeting – devoid of any mention of sin or failure – was an attempt to return to the garden of Eden. And whether an awareness of the depth and scandal of our sin, coupled with a deep awareness of the forgiveness won at the cross, would not have given us a deeper joy? Committing sin is a bankrupt strategy, but confessing it as forgiven sinners is the opposite. Isn’t that what New Testament worship is all about?

Read Genesis 3 and think about the following questions.

In Genesis 3:1-6, what exactly is it that Adam and Eve are tempted to disbelieve about God?

In Genesis 3:7-13, what are the signs of Adam and Eve’s guilt? How has God’s creation order been inverted?

In Genesis 3:14-24, what key areas of life have been cursed? What are the signs of hope in verses 15 and 21, however faint?

Genesis 3 presents a profound problem, and the rest of the Bible is concerned with finding a solution. Ultimately, it has to address two issues – our estrangement from God, and our guilt before him.

Pray: giving thanks that this is not the end of the story. Praise God that Eve was not the last person to say ‘take and eat’.