Exodus 40:16-38 – No Matter Where We Go, God Is with Us

Israel Encamped Roundabout the Tabernacle in the Wilderness of Sinai
John W. Kelchner (1866-1942)

Moses followed the Lord’s instructions. And on the first day of the first month of the second year, the sacred tent was set up. The posts, stands, and framework were put in place, then the two layers of coverings were hung over them. The stones with the Ten Commandments written on them were stored in the sacred chest, the place of mercy was put on top of it, and the carrying poles were attached. The chest was brought into the tent and set behind the curtain in the most holy place. These things were done exactly as the Lord had commanded Moses.

The table for the sacred bread was put along the north wall of the holy place, after which the bread was set on the table. The lampstand was put along the south wall,then the lamps were attached to it there in the presence of the Lord. The gold incense altar was set up in front of the curtain, and sweet-smelling incense was burned on it. These things were done exactly as the Lord had commanded Moses.

The curtain was hung at the entrance to the sacred tent. Then the altar for offering sacrifices was put in front of the tent, and animal sacrifices and gifts of grain were offered there. The large bronze bowl was placed between the altar and the entrance to the tent. It was filled with water, then Moses and Aaron, together with Aaron’s sons, washed their hands and feet. In fact, they washed each time before entering the tent or offering sacrifices at the altar. These things were done exactly as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Finally, Moses had the curtains hung around the courtyard and at the entrance.

Suddenly the sacred tent was covered by a thick cloud and filled with the glory of the Lord. And so, Moses could not enter the tent. Whenever the cloud moved from the tent, the people would break camp and follow; then they would set up camp and stay there, until it moved again. No matter where the people traveled, the Lord was with them. Each day his cloud was over the tent, and each night a fire could be seen in the cloud. (Contemporary English Version)

There is no place we can go where God is not.

The presence of God is an overarching theme, not only of the book of Exodus, but of the entire Bible.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and formed man and woman as the apex of divine creative work. Humans alone bear the stamp of God’s image and likeness. People were created to be with God. 

Sadly, however, humanity took their own path, apart from God, and fell into the suffering of guilt, shame, and misplaced love. 

“No one can hide so that I can’t see him,” declares the Lord.
“I fill heaven and earth!” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 23:24, GW

Ever since the fall of humanity from their majestic position with the Lord, God has been on a determined, yet patient, mission to restore, reconcile, and reclaim lost humanity so that they can be together again. The Lord longs for people to find their way back to the peace and rest of the garden.

God chose Abraham and set apart his descendants, the Hebrews, to be a people and a kingdom of priests, to reverse the curse. 

The Lord chose Moses to free the people from bondage, giving them laws and commandments to communicate that the divine presence is among them. For the ancient Hebrews, God was like a pillar of cloud, a sentinel watching over them. 

Eventually, in the fullness of time, when it was ripe for the promised Savior to come, God sent the Son, the Lord Jesus, the “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us.”

Jesus lived a holy life, died a cruel death on our behalf to atone for all guilt and shame. Christ rose from death so that people might experience new life and once again connect with God and enjoy the divine presence forever. The Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, and now watches over us, interceding on our behalf. 

And that’s not all; until Christ comes again to this earth, to judge the living and the dead, God’s Holy Spirit has been sent to be the continuing presence of Jesus for this present time. The Spirit is with God’s people, always.

There is no place you can go where the Spirit of God is not already there.

It just doesn’t matter where we are located geographically; it doesn’t matter if we screw up; and doesn’t matter what kind of situation we find ourselves in. The truth of the matter is this: God is with us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. 

God’s eyes are on human ways,
   and he sees all their steps.

Job 34:21, CEB

There are no guarantees in this life that things will turn out well, or that everything will go our way, just because we are believers. In fact, we are promised the opposite – that there will be suffering and hardship. Yet, what makes all the difference for the believer, is that we have the abiding presence of God with us.

The Lord has gone to the greatest lengths possible to make relational connection happen. And it is the persistent and pervasive presence of God that enables God’s people to face and endure all things with faith and confidence.

No matter where we travel, God is with us.

Ever-present God, your grace and mercy overwhelm the universe. Thank you for your constant and abiding love, even in the midst of hate and violence. Enable me to always live in awareness of this reality so that my life might confidently follow you anytime and anywhere; through Jesus Christ, my Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Exodus 6:1-13 – Our Own Worst Enemy

Moses and the Burning Bush by Marc Chagall

Then the Lord told Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. When he feels the force of my strong hand, he will let the people go. In fact, he will force them to leave his land!”

And God said to Moses, “I am Yahweh— ‘the Lord.’I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty’—but I did not reveal my name, Yahweh, to them. And I reaffirmed my covenant with them. Under its terms, I promised to give them the land of Canaan, where they were living as foreigners. You can be sure that I have heard the groans of the people of Israel, who are now slaves to the Egyptians. And I am well aware of my covenant with them.

“Therefore, say to the people of Israel: ‘I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment.I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!’”

So, Moses told the people of Israel what the Lord had said, but they refused to listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go back to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and tell him to let the people of Israel leave his country.”

“But Lord!” Moses objected. “My own people won’t listen to me anymore. How can I expect Pharaoh to listen? I’m such a clumsy speaker!”

But the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and gave them orders for the Israelites and for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. The Lord commanded Moses and Aaron to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. (New Living Translation)

We can become our own worst enemy.

In Lodi, California, in March of 2006, a city dump truck backed into a car belonging to a man named Curtis Gokey. The car was damaged badly. So, Gokey sued the city of Lodi for $3,600. There is, however, a catch to the story: Curtis Gokey was driving the city dump truck that crunched his personal car. And he admitted it was his fault. The city dropped the lawsuit, stating that Gokey could not sue himself. 

Like Curtis Gokey, we are often our own worst enemies. We might get down on ourselves or on God. There are times when it’s easy for us to either justify ourselves or blame ourselves, while wondering why God and/or others keep doing things we don’t like. 

When life is not going so well, it’s possible to slide into a private belief system that thinks God is not good for his promises (James 1:16-17). At worst, one can start to think that God is the problem and the source of the trouble. 

To be self-deceived is to go astray and slowly drift from the truth…. It can happen to anybody. The first step is having expectations that go unmet. An expected answer to prayer goes unanswered. Somebody lashes out and there seems to be no protection from it. Some anticipated blessing does not come to pass….

Moses was downright confused. He was confident and convinced God had called him to free the Israelites from their cruel bondage in Egypt. But nothing was going right. And the people were upset with Moses for making things worse, not better.

Trusting God and not becoming discouraged when we don’t understand everything that’s happening can be a big challenge. We might wonder if we really have what it takes to do anything well. We may wonder if God is even listening, or if God is paying any attention, at all, to our terrible plight….

  • “Why, God, did you let my son or daughter die? How in the hell am I supposed to keep going!?” 
  • “Why, God, did you give me a gaslighting boss to deal with? I get tongue-tied around her. How is she ever going to listen to me?”
  • “Why won’t people get vaccinated for COVID-19? How am I supposed to talk to the anti-vaxers?”
  • “Why, God, is everything changing? How am I going to speak up?”

Questioning can help us make sense of our situations. However, questioning may also cause us to doubt that God is there and will act on our behalf. In such times, it might be tempting to blame God for a broken relationship, a terrible event, a dysfunctional family, or an adverse situation. 

Yet, God has chosen to give us birth through the word of truth (not a word of deception and lies) so that we might have new life with fresh eyes of faith to see our situations as God sees them (James 1:18).  That is what wisdom is – the ability to see all of life from God’s perspective. 

If any of us lacks wisdom, we should ask God, who gives generously without finding fault, and it will be given to us (James 1:5).  This is a promise from a good God who knows how to give good gifts.

None of us are above falling into misinterpretations that lead to the self-deceptions of questioning God’s goodness and our own God-given personhood. We need to be vigilant in watching for the false stories we might tell ourselves such as: 

  • “This wouldn’t have happened, if I just would’ve been better.”
  • “There’s nothing I can do about it.”
  • “I’m just a big screw-up. I can’t do anything right.”
  • “God messed-up when he made me.” 
  • “I don’t know what to say. I’m not good with words.”

We are all to take charge of our lives through having a robust theology of God that discerns the Lord is always good, all the time, without exception; and that we are called by a good God to do good work.

The good news is that a good God has taken care of the sin issue once for all through the cross of Christ. The Lord has brought us the good gifts of forgiveness and grace. God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us and guide us into all truth so that we will have wisdom and humility to live the Christian life as it is meant to be lived. 

For the Christian, the key to it all is faith – genuine authentic faith that places head, heart, and hands completely in Jesus Christ so that we have right belief, right motives, and right actions all rightly working together in a full-orbed Christianity that glorifies the triune God, encourages Christ’s church, and blesses God’s big world. 

Don’t be your own worst enemy by sabotaging your thoughts with the double-mindedness of wondering about the true nature of God. 

Explore the depths of God in Christ and discover the goodness that can result even in life’s most difficult experiences.

Lord God almighty, Creator of heaven and earth:

When evil darkens our world, give us light.

When despair numbs our souls, give us hope.

When we stumble and fall, lift us up.

When doubts assail us, give us faith.

When nothing seems sure, give us trust.

When ideals fade, give us vision.

When we lose our way, be our guide!

That we may find serenity in Your presence, and purpose in doing Your will.

Through Jesus Christ, our Savior, Lord, Brother, and Friend. Amen.

Exodus 5:10-23 – More Bricks, Less Straw “Why, God!?”

A brick making scene from an ancient the ancient Egyptian tomb of Rekhmire, c.1400 B.C.E.

So, the slave drivers and foremen went out and told the people: “This is what Pharaoh says: I will not provide any more straw for you. Go and get it yourselves. Find it wherever you can. But you must produce just as many bricks as before!” So, the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt in search of stubble to use as straw.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian slave drivers continued to push hard. “Meet your daily quota of bricks, just as you did when we provided you with straw!” they demanded. Then they whipped the Israelite foremen they had put in charge of the work crews. “Why haven’t you met your quotas either yesterday or today?” they demanded.

So the Israelite foremen went to Pharaoh and pleaded with him. “Please don’t treat your servants like this,” they begged. “We are given no straw, but the slave drivers still demand, ‘Make bricks!’ We are being beaten, but it isn’t our fault! Your own people are to blame!”

But Pharaoh shouted, “You’re just lazy! Lazy! That’s why you’re saying, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifices to the Lord.’ Now get back to work! No straw will be given to you, but you must still produce the full quota of bricks.”

The Israelite foremen could see that they were in serious trouble when they were told, “You must not reduce the number of bricks you make each day.” As they left Pharaoh’s court, they confronted Moses and Aaron, who were waiting outside for them. The foremen said to them, “May the Lord judge and punish you for making us stink before Pharaoh and his officials. You have put a sword into their hands, an excuse to kill us!”

Then Moses went back to the Lord and protested, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!” (New Living Translation)

It was God – Yahweh, the great I AM – who called to Moses from the burning bush. It was God who told Moses to go to Egypt because of the groaning of the Israelites in their slavery. It was also God who promised Moses that Divine help would deliver the people from their awful bondage. 

But the promised vision of release and rescue from captivity ran into the harsh buzz-saw of reality. 

Moses did exactly what God told him to do. He was completely attentive and obedient to God’s revealed will. And the result? Pharaoh forced the Israelite slaves to make bricks without being supplied with the straw to do it. Now, the people’s situation is even worse than it was before Moses showed up on the scene. What’s up with that!?

Since we know the end to the story, we understand where all of this is going. However, when we put ourselves in the sandals of Moses, it’s anything but clear about what was happening.

“Confusion is a sign of intelligence; only fools are crystal clear.”

Haresh Sippy

None of us gets off this planet without facing some hard things. We may even face those difficulties when we’re just trying to do the right thing. We’re simply trying to help, do our best, obey God, and then we get in trouble. In those situations, we can empathize with Moses getting testy with God and expressing his complaint.

The God of the universe is big enough to handle our protests in the midst of trouble – even when those complaints are directly pointed toward him. God gets it.

There is an appropriate place for us to freely express our abject disbelief, our painful wonderings, and our outright anger toward God. We won’t get a lightning bolt from heaven if we ask and cry out, “Why, God? What the **** are you doing!?”

There have been many times in my life when I questioned whether I was really sent by God to be in a certain place or to do a certain thing. I seriously wondered whether I really heard God, or not. Maybe it was my own voice in my head. Perhaps it was an emotional decision. 

The incongruence between what we believe and how things are actually turning out can be maddening.

But there is something we must all realize: Just because things go from bad to worse does not necessarily mean God isn’t in the thing. 

We are not always, even usually, privy to the mind of God in the big picture of what the Lord is doing. 

In the middle of trouble, we might think God is not at work, not paying attention, or slow to act. Yet, God knows exactly what’s going on and what the plan is. Sometimes, we need to discern and know that things will get worse before they will get better – and that God has not abandoned us.

Wise God, I trust you that you know what you are doing, even though I don’t see what in the world is going on. Help me to see all things from your perspective so that I might have the wisdom to move forward in faith and patience. I’m out on a limb for you! Please don’t let it break! Amen.

Exodus 35:1-29 – Real Worship Isn’t Boring

Gathering to Build the Temple by Yoram Raanan

Moses gathered together the whole Israelite community and said to them: These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do:

Do your work for six days, but the seventh day should be holy to you, a Sabbath of complete rest for the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath will be put to death. Don’t start a fire in any of your homes on the Sabbath day.

Moses said to the whole Israelite community, This is what the Lord has commanded: Collect gift offerings for the Lord from all of you. Whoever freely wants to give should bring the Lord’s gift offerings: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and deep red yarns; fine linen; goats’ hair; rams’ skins dyed red; beaded leather; acacia wood; the oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet-smelling incense; gemstones; and gems for setting in the priest’s vest and in the priest’s chest pendant.

All of you who are skilled in crafts should come forward and make everything that the Lord has commanded: the dwelling, its tent and its covering, its clasps, its boards, its bars, its posts, and its bases, the chest with its poles and its cover, the veil for a screen, the table with its poles and all its equipment, the bread of the presence, the lampstand for light with its equipment and its lamps, the oil for the light, the incense altar with its poles, the anointing oil and the sweet-smelling incense, the entrance screen for the dwelling’s entrance, the altar for entirely burned offerings with its copper grate, its poles, and all its equipment, the washbasin with its stand, the courtyard’s drapes, its posts, and its bases, and the screen for the courtyard gate, the dwelling’s tent pegs and the courtyard’s tent pegs, and their cords, the woven clothing for ministering in the sanctuary, and the holy clothes for Aaron the priest and his sons for their service as priests.

The whole Israelite community left Moses. Everyone who was excited and eager to participate brought the Lord’s gift offerings to be used for building the meeting tent and all its furnishings and for the holy clothes. Both men and women came forward. Everyone who was eager to participate brought pins, earrings, rings, and necklaces, all sorts of gold objects. Everyone raised an uplifted offering of gold to the Lord. And everyone who had blue or purple or deep red yarn or fine linen or goats’ hair or rams’ skins dyed red or beaded leather brought them. Everyone who could make a gift offering of silver or copper brought it as the Lord’s gift offering. Everyone who had acacia wood that could be used in any kind of building work brought it. All the skilled women spun cloth with their hands and brought what they had spun in blue and purple and deep red yarns and fine linen. All the women who were eager to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. The chiefs brought gemstones and gems to be set in the priest’s vest and the chest pendant, spices and oil for light and for the anointing oil, and for the sweet-smelling incense. All the Israelite men and women who were eager to contribute something for the work that the Lord had commanded Moses to do brought it as a spontaneous gift to the Lord. (Common English Bible)

At first glance, today’s Old Testament lesson might seem a bit tedious, perhaps even boring. After all, being informed of all the details on the furnishings for building the tabernacle (the Ark of the Covenant, the utensils for worship and sacrifice, and the tent that houses it all) appears like some ancient engineer wrote it. It’s just downright laborious. 

But that’s the point. It took a great deal of planning, effort, and commitment to realize it all. Although Moses received the instructions and revelation from God on the mountain, he still had to communicate it to the people and solicit their help.

There is a wonderful synergy here, between God and the people, a kind of divine/human cooperative, a spiritual rhythm of revelation and response. 

The contributions and the work were done by people whose hearts were stirred to give of their resources and their labor. The people freely offered their things and themselves in order to realize the tabernacle’s construction. 

The epicenter of worship is a divine dialogue between us and God. That is, God speaks, and the people respond. God reveals the divine will, and the people’s hearts are stirred. 

Whenever worship becomes a mere duty and drudgery, it is cheapened. Worship that degenerates into mere obligation becomes dull and flat. Duty without delight is boring. Such worship has no impact or effect on us.

Contemporary problems of Christian worship are typically viewed as liturgical issues. Many modern worshipers disparage particular prayers, Scriptures, or readings said every week as being vain repetition. The Lord’s Table may be celebrated only occasionally, so as to not lose something of it’s specialness.

Yet, none of us looks down at eating every day, praying multiple times in a day, and using the same daily phrases of greeting and saying good-bye to others. We don’t create new shoe stores which have no shoelaces because tying our shoes every day is so boring and pedantic.

The real issue is us – not the form of worship. It’s about our own hearts. The ancient Israelites gave of their time and resources in worship because they wanted to, not because they had to. They weren’t looking to be highly entertained, emotionally captivated, or mentally stimulated. The people simply wanted to please their God and to truly connect with the Lord.

Worship isn’t a monologue. It’s not a one-way communication in which we, the people, passively sit and soak-in what’s in front of us. Worship is work. It’s active. It’s participative. And it’s a process which involves some tedious and sometimes slow patient effort. 

Moses and God’s people were genuinely enthused to participate in what God was calling them to do. Worship that comes from willing hearts is a beautiful thing, because encountering God and being stirred within by a Divine call is a wonderful and mystical thing – and it isn’t boring.

Gracious God, just as you laid it upon the hearts of people long ago to participate in the work of worship, so impress my heart with your mission in this world.  I give you my life along with my possessions so that my entire self will be dedicated to the worship of Jesus Christ. Amen.