Thou shalt not covet

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Exodus 20:12; Matthew 5:21-37

What do we make of a regime that has “thought crime” on the statute books?

Well then, what do we think of God the Father?  Because on Mount Sinai here is His concluding word of the ten:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

“Covet” is actually a rare word in the King James translation.  It comes to us (through French), from the latin cupiditas, meaning desire.  And that’s certainly how the Authorized Version translates it most often: to desire or delight in.

It’s a heart word.  It’s about where we set our affections.  And here it is, inscribed on stone by the finger of God and given to the people.  The concluding commandment of the ten is about my heart’s desires!  What kind of law is this?

How do you legislate desires?

Well actually, this is what the law has pointed towards all along.  The first and last words are book-ends to show us the intention.  We begin with “thou shalt have no other gods before My Presence” and we finish with “thou shalt not covet.” That’s because the question throughout is: ‘Where will you look for life?  Will you look to the Presence of the unseen LORD, the Son of the Most High God?  Or will you look to the things of this world, your neighbour’s house, wife, job, car, things?’  The Good Life is about setting our hearts upon the LORD before everything else.

Martin Luther, in his Large Catechism, gives a brilliant exposition of the law’s expectation for our hearts.  He’s commenting on the first commandment and says:

“What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the whole heart… That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.

“Therefore it is the intent of this commandment to require true faith and trust of the heart which settles upon the only true God, and clings to Him alone. That is as much as to say: “See to it that you let Me alone be your God, and never seek another,” i.e.: Whatever you lack of good things, expect it of Me, and look to Me for it, and whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, creep and cling to Me. I, yes, I, will give you enough and help you out of every need; only let not your heart cleave to or rest in any other.”

As Luther will go on to say, every breaking of the other commandments is first a breaking of this one.  First, our hearts stray from Christ. However we travel from there, it will end badly.  The tenth commandment is simply the flip-side of this truth.  It describes the “other gods” which we’re tempted to love.

And in between 1 and 10 we are continually dealing with heart issues.  It’s never been about surface level moral action.  Even when it tells us “thou shalt not kill or commit adultery” (Exodus 20:13-14), its meaning goes far beyond actual homicide and sexual activity.  As Jesus shows, the law highlights more than my behaviour, it highlights my heart – my anger and my lust (Matthew 5:21-30).

But the law can’t change my heart.  In fact, when the law comes into my heart, it doesn’t just highlight sinful desires, it provokes them.

The Apostle Paul describes this process in Romans 7.  He considers our verse for today “thou shalt not covet” and confesses:

the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence (i.e. lust).

It’s the old truism – nothing makes me want to walk on the grass more than the sign: “Do not walk on the grass.”

What are we like?  A good law comes with right and proper expectations for my heart and soul.  But not only does this law expose my sin, it multiplies it.  That’s how sinful I am.

Many people want to draw a distinction between law and grace as follows: law deals with externals, grace deals with internals.  This is a dangerous mistake.  The law also deals with internals.  The law has all sorts of expectations for my inner life.

The difference between law and grace is not external versus internal: it’s me versus Him.  Under the law I consider myself as the Faithful One with a heart set on God.  Under grace I look to Christ as the Faithful One who accomplished the law (inside and out) on my behalf.

My hope is not in my ability to look to God alone and refrain from coveting.  My true hope is Jesus Christ who resisted all temptation, set His face resolutely for the cross, and for the joy set before Him endured the cross, abandoning Himself wholeheartedly to the Father.

When I see Jesus living the Good Life for me, my heart is moved.  And maybe, just maybe, my neighbour’s ass loses something of its allure!

Honour thy father and thy mother

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Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 3:14-21

It’s interesting to read modern alternatives to the Ten Commandments. When people today are asked about their own vision of the Good Life, their silence on the subject of God is deafening.  Few people today see God as having anything to do with the “Good Life.”   Maybe that’s not surprising.

What is surprising, is when Christians consider God to be irrelevant to the ten commandments.  Some Christians try to cite the ten commandments as a ‘common sense’ morality that could be detached from the God who gave them.  They’d like to argue that the whole world not only can agree on them, but that it pretty much has.  They claim that the law written on these tablets of stone is some “natural law”, known by all – at least ‘deep down.’

Yet in reality these are particular commands from a particular God to a particular people.   And the prohibitions on killing, stealing, lying, etc, flow out of the particular Lord He happens to be.

On Mount Sinai the unseen LORD begins by stating how particular He is – “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”  (Exodus 20:2)  And His first three words to His people are strictly theological:

1. Have no other gods before my Presence (i.e. my Son).

2. Do not bow down to or serve any other gods.

3.  Do not carry my name vainly.

Then straight away we reach the fourth command: Sabbath – a Jewish observance if ever there was one.  And together these first four commands (often known as “the first table”) are the foundation for the last six.  Particular love for this particular covenant God is not an optional preamble – it is the very heart of the law.

Then, having established the priority and power of the first table, we now come to the second table – love for others.  And here is the first word that flows out of love for God…

Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. (Exodus 20:12)

The very first command regarding love of people makes it unavoidably concrete.  Not everyone has a spouse or siblings or even a neighbour.  Everyone has a mother and father.  And so our Heavenly Father says “Start there.”  Not with an abstract love for humanity but with those relations closest to you.

Linus, a character in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, once remarked: “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand.”  He identifies a real issue for the human heart.  We can easily nurse a feeling of goodwill towards humanity. But loving the actual people in our lives is where we constantly fail.  Yet that’s what we actually need if all our talk about loving the world is to take flesh.  We don’t need more love for “the world”.  We need to love the people we live with.  And so the Father says: “Love your parents.  Honour them.”

As the Apostle Paul will say, God the Father is He “of whom the whole family [on] … earth is named.”  (Ephesians 3:15)  Therefore to honour our heavenly Parent we must honour our earthly parents.

Conversely, if we fail to honour our earthly parents it’s a sign we are out of sorts with God.

In Romans 1, Paul reveals a litany of sins.  He says of the human race estranged from God:

Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents.  (Romans 1:30)

We probably don’t think that “disobedient to parents” belongs on such a list.  But for Paul it summarizes what’s wrong with the human heart.  Our natural inclination towards childish rebellion is chilling when you think about it.

Before we’ve even learnt to speak we rebel in all sorts of ways against those who have begotten us.  We owe them our existence and yet we oppose them with a mad mistrust. Dishonour of parents is symptomatic of our dishonouring of God.

The Good Life is different.  The Good Life – as lived by Jesus – loves our heavenly Parent and honours our earthly ones.  At the beginning and end of His life Jesus showed what this will look like (Luke 2:49-52John 19:26-27).

The saying is almost true: Charity doesn’t quite start in the home.  It starts in heaven.  But when the life and love of Jesus gets into us, the first outworking is in practical service to our nearest and dearest.

Remember the Sabbath Day

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Exodus 20:8-11; Luke 14:1-6

Where is the world heading?  Climate catastrophes?  Asteroid impact?  Nuclear armageddon?  Global pandemic?  Cosmic ‘big crunch’?  Heat death?

Not according to the Bible.  In the beginning, God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh.  And ever since, the week has proclaimed to us God’s purposes with the world.  Through His Word going out in the power of the Spirit, this world will be brought to rest, i.e. to perfection, consummation, peace.  The goal is Sabbath.

So we, made in His image, should work and rest like Him:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:  But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:8-11)

And for centuries the Jews kept the seventh day.  They invested huge significance in keeping it.  For some it was the most important gauge of spiritual health imaginable.  With such a mindset, there were always going to be demands added to the plain words of Scripture.  It got to the point where, in Jesus’ day, simple acts of kindness were considered heinous breaches of the holy day.  (See Luke 14:1-6 for one of many Gospel examples).

But Jesus came to do work – the true work of bringing rest.  He came to remake His world from the inside.  And, just as the law requires, He completed the job by the sixth day (the sixth day being a Friday).

With evening coming and the Sabbath closing in, He cried out from the cross, “It is finished.” (John 19:30).

Christ had accomplished the work on that sixth day.  By “the sweat of His brow” Christ had done it.  And so He rested on that holy Saturday.  Rested in the grave.

Yet wonderfully, on the next day, He rose up into a whole new week – a whole new world!  And in this whole new world, it all begins with consummation and rest.

Under the old covenant the day of rest was at the end.  The goal of life was peace.  But Christ took on that work Himself.  And, having accomplished it, His day (the Lord’s day) is at the beginning.  So we begin with peace.

Now, physically speaking, this world is still the old world.  Creation operates according to the old calendar.  It is groaning, awaiting its seventh day of rest.  And we must still live in our old bodies, groaning along in our worldly labours.  We look ahead to a world perfected.

But, spiritually speaking, Jesus has begun a whole new world.  And by the Spirit we are brought into His resurrection reality.  Spiritually speaking we have entered that rest.  We are on the other side – beyond the seventh day.  We are eight-day people!

Because we share in the life of the risen Lord, we have begun with rest.  We may live in a fallen world with fallen bodies and we may groan along with it, awaiting physical Sabbath.  But we never have to strive for spiritual Sabbath.  Right now, and for all time, we have rest for our souls.

Are you weary?  Jesus brings Sabbath – even now – to a world burdened and desperate for rest:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  (Matthew 11:28-30)

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See also “God rested

Taking the Lord's name in vain

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Exodus 20:7; Romans 2:17-24

Protestors will often march carrying placards: “Not in my name.”  They are incensed that their government would act in ways completely at odds with their own outlook.

At Mount Sinai, the Father is similarly concerned.

“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”  (Exodus 20:7)

More literally you could translate it, “You will not lift the name of the LORD your God up to worthlessness.”  It’s about lifting up / bearing / carrying the name of the LORD.

And religious people are constantly lifting it up to ridicule – using the LORD’s name like a rubber stamp on whatever they want to do.  The third commandment is an Almighty “Not in my name!”

It’s not telling us to refrain from speaking the divine name (as some orthodox Jews take it).

And it’s not really about swearing.

- Jumping Jehoshaphat!
- Now, Mary-Beth-Lou-Ellen, don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.

It has implications for swearing.  But you can break the third commandment without ever uttering a word.

A couple of times in the Bible the Lord complains to His people like this:

“For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.”  (Romans 2:24).

Notice who is to blame for the blasphemy?  Not the cussing heathens – the hypocritical “believers.”  When non-Christians think nothing of the Name of Jesus, who is to blame?  It’s us – the people of God. We have lifted the LORD’s name up to worthlessness.  That’s the problem.

And it affects every area, not just our speaking but our whole lives.  We either commend Jesus – lifting up His name to honour; or we disgrace Jesus – lifting up His name to shame.

Either way, note this, we bear His name.  We cannot choose not to bear His name.  If we belong to the LORD we will carry His name, for good or ill.

In the same way, my wife now carries my name – for better or for worse.  She could do things to drag the Scrivener name through the mud (though she’s several generations too late for that).  Or she could (and does!) lift up the name to honour.

And so with us.  Let us begin with the incredible truth that we do bear the LORD’s name.  We are, after all, the bride of Christ.  We have come to Him as sinful and bankrupt and in His marriage covenant He has taken our sins and debts at the cross and given us His righteousness and riches.  We have been drawn into His family relations and now bear His name.

Today let’s not use it as a rubber stamp.  Let’s wear it as our crown.

Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father by him.  (Colossians 3:17)

I am a jealous God

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Exodus 20:4-6; 2 Corinthians 11:1-3

It’s right there in the midst of the ten words from Mount Sinai:

“I the LORD thy God am a jealous God”  (Exodus 20:5)

What a horrible idea, we might think, a jealous God!?  What kind of a God gets jealous?

Well Mount Sinai is no unguarded moment of candour.  The LORD is very open about His jealousy.  At a glance I found 34 times in the Bible where the LORD is said to be jealous.  This is not something He seems to be embarrassed about.

And here in Exodus 20 it serves as the justification for his word against graven images.  It’s a case of “Don’t go after other gods because I’m jealous.”

Well again we have to ask, What kind of a God gets jealous?

Answer: A God of love.

You see the concept of jealousy depends on the context of committed relationships.  And the LORD wants a devoted, exclusive, covenant union with His people.  Because He’s a God of love, He’s a God of jealousy.

Let’s notice a few things about the LORD’s jealousy.

First the word for “jealous” could just as well be translated “zealous”.  In fact both English words have come to us from the Greek translation of this word (“zelos”).

In Hebrew it’s derived from the word for ‘red’.  It’s the idea of hot-blooded commitment.

The Bible has all sorts of examples of good jealousy on a human level (e.g. 2 Corinthians 7:7,11; 9:2; 11:2).

And we can all think of good jealousy – good, appropriate, hot-blooded, protective, possessive zealous ardour.  In fact if this jealousy is missing from a relationship, you may wonder whether true love is also missing.

So now let’s think of the jealousy of a Father who tells His people: “Thou shalt have no other gods before My Presence.” (Exodus 20:3).  He jealously covets His people’s affections and wants them whole-heartedly devoted to their true Bridegroom, Christ.

We are very far here from the popular conception of God as some distant omnibeing indifferent to the plight of his creatures.  Neither is He some stern patriarch in the sky unwilling to reveal his feelings lest he lose face.  Here is a God with His heart on His sleeve.  “I am jealous” He says.  In fact a few chapters later He will say “My name is Jealous.” (Exodus 34:14).

God loves with a burning, faithful, marital  love.

First of all the Father loves His Son in the power of His Almighty Spirit.  It is a marriage-like love – rightly possessive and rightly jealous.

Then He loves His people – those who are married to His Son.  He loves the bride of Christ with that same ardent love.

And throughout the Bible God’s people, for their part, are called to be “faithful.”  Not simply “obedient”, “faithful”!  And when we sin we’re not just called “transgressors”, we are called “adulterers.”

To be on the inside of God’s jealous love is a wonderful thing.  It is to be rightly possessed and secure.  It’s the sunshine of His love.

To be on the wrong side of His jealousy is a terrible thing.  Because for those who demean, threaten or harm the objects of His love (either His Son or His people) they will feel that jealousy as the consuming fire of His wrath.

The same jealous love will be experienced in two very different ways.  For some – the sunshine of His love.  For others – the blazing fire of His judgements.  This is the jealous God.

What kind of a God is this?  Certainly not a cold, calculating, clockwork God.  And not a God to be tamed or taken for granted.  Here on Mount Sinai we see a passionate God entering into committed, covenant relationship with us.  He is not afraid to wear His heart on His sleeve.

But it’s on the mountain of Calvary that we see the full depths of His passion.  There on the cross His heart was not simply bared but pierced.  His jealous love was not merely named but demonstrated for all time.  With His arms outstretched to the world the question for humanity is not “Will you continue to disobey this Cosmic Lawgiver?”  The question is “Will you continue to spurn this Jealous Lover?”

Graven images

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Exodus 20:1-3; Jeremiah 2:9-13

Where do we look for strength, for comfort, for help, for love, acceptance and joy?  Where do we look for life?

According to the Bible, the answer is: “all the wrong places!”

We are inveterate idolaters.  We are always setting our hearts on idols: on things that are not God.  The human race was made to worship, but estranged from the life of God, we worship everything but God.

The very first word from Sinai was this

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.  (Exodus 20:3)

The Good Life means not preferring any gods before God.

Well actually the King James have done what the majority of translations have done – they have finished the sentence with the word “me.”  But more literally the Unseen LORD on Sinai says “You will have no other gods before My Face.”  Or you could equally say “My Presence.”  It has been the Face or Presence of the LORD who has saved the people and brought them to Sinai (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:37).  And so the Father says to the people, “You’re mine, I have redeemed you.  Here is the Good Life: you won’t have any other gods except my Son!”

It’s the Son of God who is the true Divine Image.  He is the One we’re meant to look to in order to see God.  He is the One we look to in order to receive life.  But when people resist the first word from Sinai – Look to Jesus – they will immediately look to other images.

Spirituality abhors a vacuum.  When you stop worshipping Jesus, you start worshipping something – anything – else.

And so, here comes the second word from Sinai:

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.  (Exodus 20:4-5)

Perhaps we think we’re free from idolatry since we have not bowed down to a statue recently.  But “graven images” are not defined by their materials but by their effect.  It’s not how they’re produced.  It’s what they produce in us.  They are things we bow down to or serve.

So, obviously, it’s stupid to make a wooden statue and then serve it (read Isaiah’s devastating send-up of that kind of idolatry).   But the Bible speaks equally of the “graven images of our hearts” (see Ezekiel 14 for instance).

Our hearts are captured by any number of enslaving passions.  So we might start a hobby and then get obsessed.  Or choose a career and then be enslaved to it.  Or embark on some scheme and find ourselves dancing to its beat.  That’s just like carving an idol and then bowing to it.  We start off in charge, but soon we bow to it, and it rules us.

Isn’t that the nature of our hearts?  We go after sex, money, power etc but the things we choose end up choosing us.

For me it was something as paltry as cricket.  I used to have a T-shirt that said “Cricket is life, the rest is mere detail.”  And though I’d laugh about it, that was essentially the way I lived – spending every hour I could chasing a little red ball around a field.  And when my cricketing dreams were ended, how did I feel?  Did I feel like a failed cricketer?  No, I felt like a failed person.  When something is your life and it crumbles, it feels like death.  Which only goes to show – it was a graven image all along.  A created thing.  A good thing.  But I’d turned it into a god thing.  And when we invest our hopes and dreams into these little idols they break our hearts.

More importantly it breaks God’s heart (as we’ll see tomorrow).  His very first word to us is to seek life in Christ.  And that’s the only solution.  We’ll only wean our hearts from graven images when we behold the true Image of God, Jesus Christ. As the old Scottish preacher, Thomas Chalmers, once said:

“The heart is…  so constituted [that] the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.”

This works in every area of life – religious or otherwise.  At university we’d talk about the countries we’d visited, the parties we’d been to, the romantic conquests.  Fast-forward 5 years and we are changed people.  Now we compete over who has worked the longest week:

‘I’ve worked 60 hours this week’
‘That’s nothing, I’ve worked 70 hours.’
‘I haven’t been home since October’
‘I wear a nappy to save on bathroom breaks.’

The partying has cut back drastically.  How?  Fresh will-power?  No.  New passion.  Fast-forward 5 years again and now it’s kids that dominate the discussion.  Now we all have a much healthier perspective on career.  Again, how?  Fresh wisdom?  Not really.  Just a new controlling passion.  In Chalmers’ words, there is an expulsive power to a new affection.

But there is the greatest power in that original affection: the Presence and Image of the unseen LORD, Jesus Christ.  He is our first love.  Returning again and again to Him is our only liberation from enslaving idols.  We must see Him as the Source of our strength, comfort and joy.

In the words of Jeremiah, those idols are broken wells, while Jesus is a Fountain of Living Waters (Jeremiah 2:11-13).  Forsake the fakes, return to the Source.

Jesus Christ… is the true God, and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:20-21)

Thou shalt

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Exodus 20:1-3, 18-22

No-one likes the phrase “laying down the law.”  But that’s what the unseen LORD does on mount Sinai. As we saw yesterday, God the Son has brought the people to God the Father.  And now they learn some house rules.

The order is important.  They’re not told in Egypt “If you obey my commands I will redeem you from slavery.”  No, they are redeemed apart from law.  The people do not clean themselves up to earn their salvation.  They are saved first and in this redemption they learn how to be the LORD’s people.

Thus on mount Sinai, Israel is given the ten commandments.  Except that the Bible never calls them “the ten commandments” (dare I say it, this is a mistranslation by the KJV, but one that is followed by most of the English versions).  It’s “the ten words” that are revealed on Sinai.

These words from the LORD are a revelation of the Good Life.  The Good Life is a life of ‘loving God’ (the first four words) and ‘loving others’ (the last six).

As such it’s a perfect description of the life of God’s Son.  He is the One who supremely loves His Father and loves his neighbour.  Even in eternity, this has been His life.

And so Israel (also called “the son of God” – Exodus 4:22), is given the life of God’s Son to live out.

But of course, this is a tall order – to put it mildly!  Here’s how they react:

The people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”  (Exodus 20:18-19)

These words describing the Good Life were death to the Israelites.  The law is good.  But we are not.  And a good law applied to a bad people means death.

Even God’s people, with God’s law can’t live the Good Life.  The law can only describe this life for the people – it can’t produce it in them.  Actually the people become distanced from the LORD after the speaking of the law.  They want Moses to stand in between them and shield them from this holy God.

Well Moses isn’t really up to that job.  But in Deuteronomy 18 the LORD promises to raise up another intermediary.  Moses tells the people:

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen – just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb [that is, Sinai] on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.’  (Deuteronomy 18:15-18)

The Father thundered the ten words from Sinai and it drove the people down.  The Good Life never entered a human heart coming from stone-tablets.  But in the fullness of time He would send, not thunder-bolts, not commandments, but His Son.  He would put the words into Jesus, His Prophet.  And in Jesus the Good Life would be lived out by God’s Son.  Where the law exacerbated the gap between God and man – Jesus bridges it.  And all of a sudden there is a fulfilment of the promise “Thou shalt.”

Perhaps you are thinking, Promise?  What promise?  Well think about it. “Thou shalt” is a strange way to phrase a law is it not?

After all, it’s not in the imperative (the grammatical mood for commands).  God could easily have said “You must not murder”.  But God didn’t say that.  He said “You shall not murder.”  You won’t.  You’re my special people.  I’ve saved you.  You won’t lie, you won’t murder, you won’t covet.  You won’t.  It’s future indicative (for grammar buffs).

Now obviously that still carries commanding force.  When a mother says to two screaming children “There will be peace in this house”, by golly there had better be peace!   And when God says there will be peace, there’s a huge commanding force to that.  But there’s also promise there.

Because, what if there is a Person called Peace?  What if there is an actual embodiment of the Good Life?  And what if He lives out the life of God’s Son as one of our brothers?

If He does this, then the promise is fulfilled.  The Good Life has been lived.  “Thou shalt” has become “He did!”

And now we can renounce ourselves and trust in the One promised by the law.  You see, in the ultimate sense, there is only One fulfiller of the law – the Lord Jesus.  But in Him, His righteousness, His Spirit and His very life is mine.  I am free now to live His life in the world:

Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (Romans 10:4)

In Jesus, and with Jesus, I become a secondary fulfiller of the law – freed to love God and neighbour.  So as I hear God say “Thou shalt” it will trigger a series of responses:

“I can’t!”

“He did!”

“We will!”

On Eagle’s Wings

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Exodus 19

Do you need a priest to bring you to God?

The Bible answers yes.  But perhaps not the priest you were thinking of.

Back in Exodus 3 Moses is at the burning bush and the One in the bush promises to save the people:

“Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.”  (Exodus 3:12)

The One in the bush will be with them.  He will save them and bring them to God.

Well, who is this Saviour in the bush?

He is introduced as “The Angel of the LORD” (the One Sent from the LORD), v2.  And He calls Himself the great I AM.

Here is the Priest we all need.  He is the Divine Sent One acting as Go-between – bringing heaven to earth and earth to heaven.

And if you read from Exodus 3 to Exodus 19 you’ll see this One from the bush referred to as “God” and “the LORD” and “the Angel of the LORD.”  Sometimes He’s called “the Glory of the LORD”, later He’ll be called “the Presence (or Face) of the LORD.”  He’s the One travelling in the fiery, cloudy pillar.

He’s the One who at the Red Sea stands between the Egyptian army and the escaping Israelites – like Gandalf saying to the Egyptians “You shall not pass!” (Exodus 14:19-20)  He is God’s Divine Priest, leading the people to the Unseen LORD.  He is Jesus Christ before His birth into the human race – the eternal Son of God.  And He is the One speaking our phrase for today.

That’s the Who of this phrase “bare you on eagles’ wings”.  Christ is the One carrying His people.  And now that He has brought them out to Mount Sinai, as promised, He tells them How He has done it:

Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.  (Exodus 19:4)

Here’s the How of His deliverance:  He has carried them “on eagle’s wings.”

That speaks of three things in particular.

1) It speaks of speed.  Nations that quickly over-run their enemies are swift as eagles (e.g. Daniel 7:4).  Those borne on eagles’ wings are brought at once to the Father.   If we are Christ’s, then He does not delay in sweeping us up into the life of God.  No-one who is Christ’s should imagine that their case is lost in paper-work somewhere in heaven’s bureaucracy.  Straight away we have been brought to the Father.

2) It speaks of a renewing vigour (e.g. Psalm 103:5; Isaiah 40:30-31).  Those borne on eagles’ wings become strong again.  Christ doesn’t merely deliver us into the Father’s arms as the care-worn men and women we were.  As He gives us His new birth we have our youth and vitality renewed.

3) It speaks of motherly care.  As Moses would sing later in Deuteronomy:

He found [Israel] in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.  As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: So the LORD alone did lead him,  (Deuteronomy 32:10-12)

Christ does not merely deliver His people – He dotes on them.

This is the kind of Priest we need.  Praise God, this is the Priest we have.  And His name is Jesus.

Bread of heaven

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“I never knew Christ was all I needed until Christ was all I had.”

It’s the statement of an African Bishop but for Christians the world over it rings true.

It’s the very essence of what God was teaching the Israelites in the wilderness.  And it’s exactly what Christians are being taught in our own time between salvation (Exodus) and glory (the promised land).  This in-between-time (the wilderness years) is a time of testing and hardship.  But we are learning – or at least we should be – that when Christ is all we have, actually He’s all we need.

The Israelites had been reminiscing about Egypt (with its fleshpots) and grumbling about their wilderness conditions.

The LORD responds with words familiar from our study of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Exodus 16:4 “Behold, I will rain down…”

…what?  “Fire and brimstone”?  “Righteous anger”?  “I will rain down thunderbolts on their camp”?  No.

“I will rain down bread from heaven for you.”

It’s called Manna (v31).  It’s bread not baked with human hands.  ‘Angels’ food’ as Psalm 78 calls it.  And it’s for them – for the grumblers.  The LORD will shower upon them his daily provision for as long as it takes to get them to His holy habitation.  Grace for the grumblers!

Exodus 16, verse 31 says that manna tastes of honey.  Now that’s interesting because the place they’re headed is a land flowing with milk and honey.  Their future will gush with honey, and in the meantime the LORD will sustain them with little pledges of the life to come.  Every morning the Israelites taste the future and it keeps them going.

Manna becomes a whole discipleship regime to teach the people.

And here is lesson one: Horde ye not!

Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning [i.e. keep some for later].  Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank  (Exodus 16:19-20)

The LORD gives them all they need for today.  But if they horde their things for tomorrow, it rots.  What a lesson!

Here’s lesson two:  Learn to rest!

The LORD institutes the Sabbath and tells them He’s going to provide double the manna on Friday.  Therefore they should take Saturday off. But,

it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none.  (v27)

The LORD gives them a day off, but they work anyway.

What would you have been like at these lessons in dependence?  Are you a hoarder?  Would you have collected more than a day’s worth?  You’d have seen it rot.

Are you unable to rest?  Would you have gone out on the Sabbath to gather more?  You’d have found none.

Would you have been content for the day, or forever worrying about tomorrow?

This discipleship programme for the Israelites was leading them into deeper dependence.  Daily dependence.  And it’s what we all need.

Jesus considers us all to be in the position of these Israelites.  After all He taught us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Jesus applies the lessons of manna to all of life.  He assumes that we are a wilderness people and that we ought to depend on the Father’s daily provision.

And notice we’re not to pray “Give us this day our bread for next year, or for next month or even for next week.”  It says “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Do I depend on the LORD for today’s needs?  Do I leave tomorrow in His hands?

Well Jesus has done something extraordinary to reassure us that we can depend on Him.

In John chapter 6, Jesus again encounters some grumbling Israelites. And they’re in a wilderness place.  And they’re hungry.  Once again Jesus feeds the multitudes miraculously with bread.  He couldn’t say it any clearer: “I AM the LORD of Exodus 16.  I AM the One who accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness”

But then He goes one step further and says to them “I AM the Bread of Life.”  (John 6:35)

Jesus doesn’t just provide – He is the Provision.

Jesus is the true Provision we need day by day.  And He says, “the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”  (John 6:51)

Think of the cross.  That was Jesus given to the world like bread to the hungry.  That was the true grace for grumblers like you and me.  We deserved a thunderbolt and we got the Bread of Heaven.

If you look to Jesus, broken on the cross for you, can you really doubt His provision?  No matter what the trial you’re going through, no matter what the wilderness experience, look to the cross and see what kind of Provider our LORD is. Not just giving you things to get by, but giving His very self.

Though it cost Him His life, He gave you His flesh and blood.  Do you really think He’ll withhold what you need in your wilderness times?  He was torn apart for your salvation.  Do you really think He wants to see you perish in the desert?  No!

He is a gift to the whole world, as free and available as bread for the starving.  Do you think He’s stingy?  He’s not stingy.  He gives Himself away as Bread to the masses.

When we come to those places where Jesus is all we have, He proves, time and again, that He’s all we need.  He is the One who gives Himself, body and soul, to His people.  The desert with Jesus is better than any Egypt without Him.

“Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven
Feed me now and evermore!”


Fleshpots

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Exodus 16:1-18

When we hear of “fleshpots” we’ll likely think of sexual temptation.  As in…

–  “he had lived the life of a roué in the fleshpots of London and Paris.”

But in their original, biblical context, “fleshpots” are literally cauldrons of meat.  They are a temptation, but there’s nothing sexual about them.

Here’s their mention in Exodus 16:

“the children of Israel said unto [Moses and Aaron], Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  (Exodus 16:3)

The children of Israel have come out of slavery through the Red Sea and now wander in the wilderness.  It’s not an instant translation from the house of bondage to the land of milk and honey.  In between there is hardship and testing.

It is a picture of our own Christian lives – saved from sin and Satan, brought out into newness of life but not yet living with Christ in the new creation.  Right now is a time of daily dependence on the LORD.  And just like the Israelites, we too are tempted to grumble about our present and to idealize our non-Christian past:

“Egypt was wonderful” we conveniently misremember.  “It was feasting and fullness!”

That’s how the Israelites recall their slavery and genocide.  “Forget the taskmasters, remember the barbecues??!”

Fleshpots are not about our sex-life – they are about our old-life.  But lusting after some nostalgic conception of the past can be even more spiritually poisonous.

In the wilderness years the Israelites would often look back with rose-tinted glasses.  For example:

We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick:  (Numbers 11:5)

Very literally they looked on the past as their green salad days.  But now?  Now they see only desert and scarcity.

When Jesus leads us into a desert place we re-imagine life without Him as fleshpots.  We grumble:

Our past was care-free.  And all our non-Christian friends are blissfully happy millionaires.  Jesus has led me away from life and fullness and into this desert.

Such grumbling grieves our LORD who has fought to the death to buy our freedom.   Our fond reminiscences of Egypt are like some Stockholm Syndrome – where captives develop feelings for their captors.  Jesus is pained by our nostalgia for the darkness.

As an aside we should note that the Bible is full of complaints that are addressed to God.  Those aren’t grumbles.  Those are called prayers.  And they are wonderful and godly things.  The Psalms are full of complaining prayers. “LORD this is terrible, I can’t handle it, what are you going to do?”  That’s a perfectly good prayer.  But moaning to one another in unbelief, wishing to be completely without the LORD and wallowing in a complaining spirit while never addressing our complaint to the Manager?  That’s grumbling.  And the LORD takes offence.

Of course He takes offence.  As the verse above shows, grumbling portrays the LORD as a murderer.  It paints Him as anti-life when the truth is, Egypt was anti-life.

The LORD won’t have this kind of grumbling against Him.  So what does He do?

He does the only thing that truly takes our eyes off the fleshpots and steals the complaints from our mouths:

It’s astonishing really.  We’ll see tomorrow that He showers grace on the grumblers.  For now let’s ask ourselves, are there ways we are misremembering our non-Christian past?  Are there ways we’re glamourising the non-Christian world?  Do we need to get our eyes off the fleshpots and onto Jesus?