Seeing the God You Cannot See

Not only had the tablets of stone been shattered on the rocks below Moses, but the people had broken their covenant relationship with God. They deserved his wrath. Yet God had graciously forgiven them and promised to go with them, bringing them into the promised land. As Moses, who had plead for forgiveness for his people, saw God’s mercy, he asked to see God’s glory (Exodus 33:18). And God did reveal something of that glory.

You cannot see your God and live. Moses was uniquely close to God. Although he did not hold the title of king, he was the leader of God’s people as he brought them out of Egypt. He filled a priestly role as he interceded for the people and offered sacrifices. But the title often ascribed to him is prophet. He brought the revelation of God to the people. But he was not just a prophet among others. God spoke directly with him in a way unlike any mere human being. “As Christ reveals the Father in virtue of a most direct and an uninterrupted vision of Him, and not in result of isolated communications, so Moses, though to a lower degree, stands nearer to God, and is more in all that he speaks and does the mouthpiece of God than any subsequent prophet.” (Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 120). Continue reading

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The Golden Calf—and God’s Grace

How quickly things change! One day God speaks the Ten Words from Mt. Sinai. Less than six weeks later Israel involved in riotous worship of a golden calf. Yet even here, as Exodus 32 tells you, God reveals his astounding grace.

You resemble what you worship. Idolatry ignores God’s Word. God had spoken the Ten Words. Moses ascended the mountain, where God engraved those commandments in stone as a covenant document. Further, he showed Moses the heavenly pattern for the tabernacle and it furnishings. In Moses’ absence, the hearts of the people turn from the Lord to an idol. They demand a visible God, and Aaron acquiesces, forming the golden calf. This may be a violation of either the First or Second Commandment (or both), and possibly the Seventh. God sends Moses down to the people. Idolatry this blatant may seem to be a distant, primitive problem, but our hearts are idol factories, as Calvin remarks. We find excuses for thinking that what God says doesn’t really apply to us. We choose to go our own ways. We put things, career, money, self, ahead of God—and make them idols. Israel’s problem is our problem. Continue reading

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The Ark of the Covenant

Look at the camp of Israel, God’s holy people. As you move from the border to the center, you encounter increased levels of holiness, until in the most holy place, is the ark of the covenant, described in Exodus 25:10-22.

The ark of the covenant expresses the majestic holiness of God. Cherubim guarded the symbolic throne of God. The most holy place, unlike the temples of surrounding nations, contained no image of the god that was worshiped. It was not a place where the devotees could come into the presence of their deity. Rather, the most holy place was windowless and dark, entered only once a year by the high priest. The one piece of furniture in it was the ark of the covenant. This was a wooden box (roughly 45” by 27” by 27”) made of acacia wood, overlaid with gold, inside and out. It had a gold covered rectangular cover, called the atonement cover or mercy seat. On it were two cherubim, angelic beings that seem to have served as heavenly throne attendants for the Lord, see Genesis 3:24; Revelation 4, Psalm 80 and 99; also Isaiah 6. This cover was the symbolic throne of God, the place where he who dwells in the heavens came down to be in the midst of his covenant people. “Especially the presence of the ‘Kherubhim‘ [cherubim] upon the ark in the most holy place gives a majestic expression to the majesty-side of the divine holiness. These Kherubhim are throne attendants of God, not ‘angels’ in the specific sense of the word, for the angels go on errands and carry messages, whereas the Kherubhim cnno tleave the immediate neighborhood pf the throne, where they have to give expression to the royal majesty of Jehovah, both by their presence and and their unceasing praise (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8, 9).” ( Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 167). The ark, together with the tabernacle and its other furnishings, was not a bare sign point forward to something better (though it certainly was that). Rather, it was also the place where God, mysteriously and sacramentally made connection with his people. Here is where he extended his grace and salvation to them. Continue reading

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Priestly Robes

How important is what you wear? Do clothes make the man? In Exodus 28:15-30, and the rest of the chapter, God gives detailed instructions as to what the high priest is to wear.

Aaron’s robes identified him as high priest. His attire set him apart. The garments of the high priest showed that he was not just an Israelite among his fellow countrymen. He was functioning on their behalf as he entered the presence of God in the tabernacle. The other priests also had priestly garments, but God’s instructions to Moses focus on what the high priest was to wear. This was not a volunteer or self-appointed position. Rather, God called them and set them apart to their office (Exodus 29 has some of those details). The priest represented the people before God. “These garments showed that those who wore them were not ordinary Israelites, but Israelites who had been ‘set apart’ from the rest of the people (v. 1) to serve as priests.” (W. H. Grispen, Exodus, p. 263). Continue reading

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Washed—So That You Will Not Die

In medical settings hand washing is crucial—sometimes a life and death matter. God instructed Moses to make a basin for the courtyard of the Tabernacle, as Exodus 30:17-21 points out. It’s use was important enough that he described it as a life and death matter: the priests “shall wash their hands and feet so they will not die” (verse 21).

The basin was for washing. God had Moses make a basin for the courtyard of the Tabernacle. It was made from the bronze mirrors of the Israelite women, donated for that purpose. Parents teach children to wash hands so that they don’t spread or ingest germs. But sanitation and microbiology were not the reasons for the basin in the courtyard. Not just the hands, but also the feet of the priests were to be washed. Leviticus 1 tells us that at least some of the sacrifices were washed as port of their being presented to God. Interestingly, we are given far fewer details about the basin in the courtyard than we are about other items, such as the altar or the furniture in the Tabernacle. Solomon’s Temple seems to have been built and furnished like the Tabernacle, but on a much grander scale. 1 Kings 7 records the bronze sea, which along with ten smaller basins, provided water for cleansing in that building. Continue reading

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