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Directions for Devotion

Exodus ch.20, vs.18 to 26

“Devotion” means: ? where people give themselves to some cause - a devoted teacher, say (so, we speak of devotion for God - loving Him with heart and soul); ? when something has been set aside for a particular cause (so, we speak of devotion to God).  The Lord brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt to be His people (19:4-6) and then taught the people devoted to Him how to show their devotion for Him!  This is also how God deals with us, when we come to trust in Christ.  We find that He chose us before we chose Him (John 15:16), and that the directions He gives are not for us to follow on our own.  He provides all we need - in Jesus.  This is grace.  The directions here, which the Israelites undertook to follow (see  Ex 24:3), are given in the context of a relationship with God through grace.

A relationship of Grace (1): MEDIATOR.  The Lord graciously bore with the people’s weakness (20:19-21) and spoke to them through Moses.  We now have an even greater Mediator (Hebrews 3:1-6).  We meet with God and hear His Word to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.

A relationship of Grace (2): REALITY.  Israel was not left to stumble in the darkness for truth about God.  The Lord graciously made Himself known.  He spoke from heaven (20:22).  He has now spoken by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2) so that we too may know the reality of God (Hebrews 1:3)!

A relationship of Grace (3): SIMPLICITY.  We tend to think things can’t be simple.  We take God’s law as a way to earn His favour, rather than remembering that He is the God of grace.  5 points in vs.23-26 are arranged like an archery target, ringing a simple promise.

simplicity - not worshipping others (v.23).  The Lord told His people not to turn to other gods.  He alone can satisfy our souls.  

simplicity - not presuming (v.24a).  A way was given to approach God.  It was lowly, involved sacrifice and spoke of repentance (burnt offering = what sin deserves) and faith (fellowship offering = peace with God).  So much of the Old Testament points us to the cross of Christ!  It is only by Him (as we repent and believe the Gospel) that we may approach God and know His grace.  We cannot presume to come any other way.

simplicity - “I will bless” (v.24b).  Where the Lord causes devotion, He graciously comes and brings His blessing.  That is the simple promise!

simplicity - not profaning (v.25).  Any attempt to improve what God has provided takes the focus of God and His grace, and spoils everything.

simplicity - not worshipping self (v.26).  Elevated altars draw attention to the worshipper, and the effort being made, and thus appeal to the pride that wants to receive praise.  God warned that such “worship” only exposes our shame.  It takes away from the simplicity of a relationship of grace.

Exodus ch.21, vs.1 to 11

The World in those days.  Reading about people being bought and sold rightly makes us uncomfortable!  The world was very different in the days of Moses.  Then, if someone could not repay his debts, he “sold himself” to work for a richer household, who would pay what he owed.  A thief who couldn’t compensate for his crime also was sold in this way (Ex 22:3), and a poor family might even (in exchange for money) give up a daughter to be a handmaid, or possibly a wife, in a wealthy home.  The Bible doesn’t say that these customs were right, or wrong.  This is how things were done then.  The Bible tells us the directions that the Lord gave to His people through Moses, so that they would show that they were  His people, devoted to Him.

The World in our day.  Things are different now.  The welfare ‘safety net’ is meant to prevent abject poverty.  And yet, our world is no different in ways:

The Lord is still the same.  This is why His laws, or judgements (v.1) have abiding significance.  God still has the same principles. He does not change.

Devotion is still the same.  Those who know God in Christ are called to show their love for Him (see Hebrews 12:14, 28) in every part of their lives.

Temptations are still the same.  We still live in a sinful world.  It is easy to be so taken up with our own needs that we mistreat others.  We still need God’s forgiveness, and His grace in Christ to live by His direction.

The Word for their ways.  There is a structure to the laws given here.  Two general rules are given, concerning manservants (v.2) and maidservants (v.7).  Each is expanded by rules for three particular cases.  The law for a man-servant sets a limit to the period of service.  This law prevented anyone taking advantage of someone trapped in poverty.  No matter how poor, each person was to be respected.  The third particular case (v.4), however, shows that the master also was to be respected, and given due service.  The second main law (v.7) is that maidservants, when taken on from their fathers’ home, are not to be treated the same way as menservants!  The point is that people may not abandon their responsibility when it becomes inconvenient for them.  Responsibility is to be shouldered; respect is to be shown.

Between these two main rules, and their particular cases, one other situation is addressed (v.5-6).  A servant could “sign up” for life.  A special ceremony made the decision public.  The ceremony involved ear-piercing, which symbolised being willing to hear and obey (see Psalm 40:6-8) and reminded of the devotion of the priests to God (see Exodus 29:20).  Hebrews 10:5-10 links this to the perfect obedience and finished work of the Lord Jesus.

The Word for our way.  Those who would hear and obey the Lord, then,  must show due respect to every person, and not try to throw off duty or responsibility.  God cares.  So must those who are devoted to Him.

Exodus ch.21, vs.12 to 36

A cross bull must be kept under control (v.29).  So must your temper.  Most of the laws here deal with situations where tempers have not been kept in check.  These directions teach us how to live to please the Lord.

1.  Capital Offences.  Note the repeated words, “put to death” in vs.12-17.  The stark message was, “Whoever does this can’t be part of God’s people or share in the Promised Land.  They’re no longer among the redeemed.”  This is a fate worse than death!  Can it happen to Christians?  Everyone saved by the Lord Jesus is kept safe by Him (John 10:28), but some who profess faith do not truly belong to Him (Matthew 7:21-23).  The New Testament speaks of the Church “putting out” people who lived immorally (1 Corinthians 5:1-5), who did not hold to Christian doctrine (1 Timothy 1:20) or who persisted in divisiveness (Titus 3:9-11).  The Holy One does not leave His people in sin.  If we want to stay there, we show we are not His.  The grace of God, and the fear of the Lord, lead us to pursue self-control!

2.  Consequences of Offences.  Four scenarios in vs.18-27 show what happens when things get out of hand.  People get hurt; harm is done.  Both the injured and the injuring end up paying for it, in different ways.

Community & Constraint  In these laws, the wrongdoer was not put out of society.  He and the one he hurt both still belonged to God’s people.  This is how it is in the Church.  God has made us a community; we are constrained, therefore, to exercise self-control (Romans 12:18) and quickly to ask forgiveness when we wrong our brother or sister (Matthew 5:23-24).

Chastening & Compensation  The wrongdoer was to be called to account by others, and had to pay.  His wrongdoing was punished.  For Christians, the punishment for every sin was borne by the Lord Jesus on the cross, but the Father of our spirits chastens us (Hebrews 12:4-11).  We are rebuked by one another.  We live with the consequences of our actions.  God disciplines us for our good to share in His holiness.  He leads us to develop self-control.

Contrition & Concern The laws God gave not only lead to sorrow for wrong doing; they lead to a concern to help the one hurt too.  The “eye for an eye” rule made sure that the compensation matched the injury.  The Lord Jesus taught that this actually points us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-42).    It’s not about getting what you’re owed, but about helping others learn to show concern.  It’s about each one  developing self-control and grace.

3.  Covering Offences.  Vs.28-36 are not just about farm safety!  They give a way for a life to be ransomed - by paying a price to cover, or atone for, the wrong done (v.30).  This is what God has provided in the Lord Jesus Christ.  He was valued like a servant (see v.32), but He gives a new life so that, in the power of the Spirit, we may be devoted to God as His people.

 

Exodus ch.22, vs.1 to 17

A question of trust.  Seven situation laws, some with several sub-points, are covered by these verses.  All relate to the breakdown of the dependability and trust one may expect of another in a community.  And God’s people are a community; the directions for devotion given at Sinai commanded the Children of Israel to show that they belonged to the Lord by their practice towards one another.  They had a duty to each other and to God - as do we.

1.  Fallen World.  These laws, however, recognise that we live in a fallen world where people do bad things, such as taking what is not theirs (v.1).  This means that there can be a breakdown of trust (v.8), or bad blood (v.3) and social problems (v.16).  Remember that these laws were given to the Children of Israel, and that they had been called to be God’s chosen people!  Even in a church setting, people do bad things.  “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).  We must (i) watch ourselves, since the root of every actual sin lies in our hearts; and (ii) remember that we are all accountable to God.  The oath (v.11) was a reminder that every lie is heard by the Lord, who knows the whole truth!

2.  Two Principles.  These laws call us to a trustworthiness expressed in: (a) respect.  This is to be shown for people’s property (vs.1-4), and extends to being careful about unintended consequences of our actions (vs.5-6), but it’s really respect for people (who own the property!).  Even the thief has rights (v.3); the seductive cad is at fault because he shows little respect for the family he troubles (v.16-17).  Respect for one another is the hallmark of civilisation - and much more of a church called to “love one another.” (b) responsibility.  Vs.7-15 show that we are to be responsible for our own property (especially if we hire it out, v.15) and all the more responsible for the things that others entrust to our care.  As with all of God’s Law, we find that we have failed to live up to the standard set here.  We need God’s forgiveness, and His grace to live anew, by faith in Christ.

3.  Judgement and Grace.  “Restitution” is repeated often in these verses (see v.3, 5 etc).  This was a strict rule; every thief had to pay back more than he’d taken, even if he had to be sold to pay (v.3); and, there had to be compensation in cases of neglect (v.5-6, 12, 14).  The guilty party, however, was still a member of the community - so there may have been some strained relationships!  These laws provide for justice, but call for grace too.  God’s people are to be “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph 4:32).  These laws, then, also provide a sign of redemption.  We ask how we may “make good” with God, and find He has supplied the restitution.  Eph 2:14 describes Christ as “our peace” - the sacrifice that reconciles the guilty to God.

 

Exodus ch.22, vs.18 to 31

The Lord Jesus said, “A city on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt 5:14).  He calls His Church to live as a testimony to the world.  This calling also was given to God’s people in the Old Testament; see Psalm 67:1-2, Exodus 19:5-6.  At Sinai, the Lord gave Moses directions for the people He had taken to be His own. They were to reflect His compassion (22:27) and holiness (22:31).  The verses here describe how we let our light shine as we live in faith.

1.  Things to put away from ourselves.  V.18-20 list three types of person who were to be “done away with” and give three different expressions for doing away with them!  The last expression (“be destroyed” v.21) implies eternal damnation.  The message was that there was no place among God’s people for those who do things (witchcraft etc.) that represent turning away from trust in the Lord.  There is no place in the New Testament for taking the life of anyone, but there must still be a thorough putting away of every practice and belief that is incompatible with trusting and serving God!

2.  Thing to put away for others.  Notice how the verses are structured.  The focus moves from our relationship to God (v.18-20) to our relationship to others (v.21-28) and back to our relationship to God again (v.29-31).  There always is a close connection between the two; see 1 John 4:20.

All sorts of people are included here, from least (v.21) to greatest (v.28).  For the sake of others, we must put away disrespect.  The reason given goes beyond empathy (i.e, “How would you like it?”).  God said, “My anger will be aroused” (v.24).  The question is, “Do you think God won’t care?”  We must remember this in our treatment of others.  Where we reverence God, we will respect one another - and God’s light will shine in a dark world.

3.  Thing not to keep from others.  The other side to this is that we are not to withhold compassion from one another.  People who have been saved through the Lord’s compassion (v.21) must then show compassion (see 1 John 4:7-8).  One example of this is lending to someone in need (v.25).  That is not the time to be calculating rates of return or being sticky over the details of a contract.  It is a time for grace.  Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

4.  Things not to keep for ourselves.  V.29-31 emphasise putting God first.  The Lord’s people were not to cling to what they should yield to Him, but were to be prompt in their obedience (v.30).  Nor were they to hold on to what He said to throw away (v.31).  We can imagine others asking, “Why did you do that?”  They were letting the light shine!  These ceremonial laws don’t apply to us, but the principle remains.  When we put the Lord first in our lives, when by His grace through faith we love the Lord and fear His Name, then our light shines for Him in this world, like a city on a hill.

Exodus ch.23, vs.1 to 9

These verses focus on disputes between people which often end up in court!   If (by grace, through faith) we belong to the Lord, then the way we live must reflect our devotion to Him.  A Christian’s life is to be marked by:

1.  Truth.  Exodus 23:7 directs that we shouldn’t touch a false matter with a barge pole!  This echoes v.1: “Do not spread a false report.”  Different things, however, may turn people away from telling the truth:

(a) Power (vs.1, 7).  A witness is in a powerful position.  The temptation can be to abuse that power to get what you want - see 1 Kings 21.

(b) Popularity (vs.2).  It’s easy to be swayed by others, particularly by popular opinion, especially if you feel that pressure is being brought to bear.

(c) Profit (vs.8).  In many situations, there is money to be made by being economical with the truth.  The temptation is real!

(d) Prejudice (vs.3, 6).  Whether towards or against the poor (or anyone), prejudice is when you don’t look at how things actually stand, but how you would like them to be.  This means setting your own view above the truth.

The heart of the issue is that when we turn aside from the truth, we sin.  This is seen in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus.  “Witnesses” abused the situation to make false allegations.  Pilate would not stand against the crowd.  Judas Iscariot took the money.  The chief priests were envious of the Lord.  And so the One who is the Truth was put to death!

But God is just.  He “will not acquit the guilty” (v.7).  He knows the truth.  We need to find salvation in Jesus who died, the Just for the unjust.  We need to know Him as the risen Lord, the Truth that overcomes falsehood, by whom we may stand for what is right and speak the truth in love.

2.  Grace.  Disputes may end up in court, but rarely are contained there!  Disagreements divide.  Neighbours become opponents (v.4).  Things can become personal and emotional, with anger and hatred (v.5).  The directions here call for a rising above animosity and antagonism.

It is a matter of conscience.  The laws in vs.4-5 come down to recognising that life is lived before God, and He sees, even if no one else does!

It is a matter of conflict.  V.5 reflects how someone may have to struggle with different thoughts, but shows what is the right thing to do.

It is a matter of copying - of showing the same grace that we receive from God.  The Lord Jesus called His disciples to love their enemies, because that is what the heavenly Father does (Matthew 5:43-47).

This point is reinforced by v.9.  The Children of Israel had been brought out of Egypt by the grace of God.  They were therefore to show grace to others.  Christians, who know the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ, are to do the same.  Our lives are to show the grace and truth that we find in the Lord.

 

Exodus ch.23, vs.10 to 19

Colossians 3:11 says, “Christ is all and in all.”  Categories used to separate people aren’t important among followers of Jesus.  He is all that matters.  The words also express the Christian’s devotion: “Christ is all to me.”

God called for this devotion from the Israelites at Sinai.  Exodus 23:13 shows that they were to obey the Lord and trust Him alone.  He was to be all in all to them.  The same call is found in the directions around this verse.

1.  Everything is from God.  Exodus 23:10-12 give directions on how to organise times of work in the Promised Land.  One day a week was to be the Sabbath (v.12); each field was to be left fallow one year in seven (v.11).  The premise of these commands is that everything is a gift from the Lord!  He has the authority to direct what is to be done, and the ability to provide for those who trust and obey Him (see Leviticus 25:18-22).  This is still true for us.  We live in the providence of God (see Acts 17:24-28).  Because we have plenty to enjoy, we need to remember that everything is from God.

The reasons given in vs.11-12 highlight an important horizontal dimension.  The fallow field provided food for the poor; the Sabbath provided rest for the worker.  Sin makes people self-centred; when, however, we remember that everything is from God then He is the centre, and others matter to us.

2.  Everything is for God.  Exodus 23:14-19 give directions on how to organise times of worship in the Land.  Vs.14-17 describe the three annual feasts (Passover, Weeks and Tabernacles - Leviticus 23, Deuteronomy 16).  These marked God’s goodness, but also taught that everything is for God:

V.15:“No-one is to appear before Me empty-handed” - some of what the Lord had provided was to be offered back to Him in grateful praise.

V.17: “appear before the Sovereign Lord” - the title declares His dominion.  The directions highlight the vertical dimension: life is lived before God!

Vs.18-19 contain four short “do’s and don’ts” of worship/sacrifice.  The last is not explained, but it may have been a practice in Canaanite worship.  God was telling His people that they were not to make “improvements” to His directions.  (This is another way that the selfishness of sin shows itself - when we think we know better than God!)  All was to be done His way.

“Christ is all.”  The Law of Moses was fulfilled in Jesus (Matthew 5:17) and doesn’t apply directly to us today, but it still tells us how God calls Christ’s Church to be devoted to Him, to trust and obey (see Exodus 23:13).  The command, “Do not invoke the names of other gods” balances the promise of Exodus 20:24 - “Wherever I cause My Name to be honoured, I will come to you and bless you.”  In other words, as we more realise that everything is from God and for God, we more realise the fullness of the blessing God bestows in grace in Christ.

 

Exodus ch.23, vs.20 to 33

The words in v.20, “the place I have prepared” remind us of Jesus’ promise in John 14:2.  Exodus 23 points to a home in this world - a land with clear borders (v.31).  It was to be a place of blessing for the Lord’s people, if they lived by faith in Him (v.25-26; see also 20:24).  The promises made here never were completely fulfilled.  They point forward to “a better country - a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).  Like the Children of Israel of old, we too look forward to the place prepared, and live in hope.

1.  His Presence on the Way.  The main point here, however, is not the place.  It is the presence of the Lord.  Vs.20 & 23 mention God’s angel.  This is a special messenger.  See Exodus 3:2, 14:19.  The Lord’s Name is in him (v.21) - that is, all that is true of God is true of Him.  When he speaks, God speaks (v.22).  Only One other is described in the Bible in such terms; this is a “pre-incarnate manifestation of the second person of the Godhead.”  By the Angel and the cloud, and the ark of the covenant, God was present with His people when they journeyed on from Sinai.

There was a PROMISE in God’s presence.  The Angel would guard the people and bring them home.  This is what God does for us in Jesus Christ.  We have His presence “to cheer and to guide.”  We have the Holy Spirit.

There was a WARNING too (v.21).  The people were told to heed the angel and not rebel against Him - “he will not forgive.”  Still, as a Church, we live before God.  If someone will not trust in God, there is no forgiveness for sin.  Being part of the Church is not enough by itself.  That is the warning!

2.  His Presence in the Land.  The Angel who would lead Israel into the land would drive others out!  He would cause terror (v.27; see Joshua 2:9) and send the hornet (v.28; Joshua 24:12 - although this may not have been an actual insect!)  The Lord said He would drive out the inhabitants of Canaan little by little (v.30).  The Children of Israel would gain the land as they were fit to manage it.  They would not be given too much at once.

There was a PROMISE in this.  The Lord was going to be in the whole process.  Although the Children of Israel would not be encamped around the cloud-covered tabernacle, still they would be living their lives before God.  This is how it is for us too. No matter where we are, we are before the Lord.

There is also a WARNING in living before God.  The Israelites were told they must not ➀ make a covenant with the people/gods of the land (v.32); ➁ let the people live among them (v.33); or ➂ let the idols or other symbols of worship stay (v.24).  These things would be a snare (v.33) - something that would lure, trap and destroy them.  The warning comes to us too.  As we live before God,  in the hope that He gives, we must not allow anything to take us away from Him if we want to enter the place He has prepared!

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