We continue our readings in the Book of Exodus this month, with a particular focus on the Ten Commandments.
Friday 1st May
One important lesson to be learned from this chapter is that God provides not only food for the body (manna) but also spiritual sustenance. In John 6:30-35, after feeding the 5,000, Jesus refers to Exodus 16. He tells the crowd of followers that God provided manna for the people through Moses but he has now sent Jesus Christ, who is the real bread, the bread of life. The message is that God provides spiritual food for our souls as well as physical bread for our bodies. Do we want to grow as Christians? Then we must feed upon that living spiritual bread who is Jesus Christ. Notice, this is not necessarily a reference to the bread and wine of communion, it is broader than that. It is speaking about believing in Jesus and feeding spiritually upon him.
Saturday 2nd May
In this passage, we find that once again, as so often in this Book of Exodus, the people put God to the test. There was no water, and so they grumbled and complained against Moses and once again suggested that it would have been better for them to remain in Egypt than to die in the desert. Despite what God had done for them, despite the miracles, despite the leadership of Moses, they doubted and complained. And so Moses cried out to the Lord for help. God answered Moses and enabled him to do yet another miracle. He was told to strike the rock with his staff and when he did, water came out of the rock and the people were able to drink. These people were always grumbling and complaining, despite everything God had done for them. Are we the same? Instead of being thankful for all that God has done for us, do we find things to complain about?
Sunday 3rd May
Today we focus on verse 7 of the passage; ‘And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarrelled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”‘ This, you see, is what the people had been saying. ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’ Now you and I might be shocked that they asked such a question after all that had happened since Moses and Aaron first went to visit Pharaoh but clearly they did. They were not sure if God was among them! Don’t you find that astonishing? We might think that, if we saw a miracle, this would sustain our faith for the rest of our lives but not so. These people had seen miracle after miracle and weren’t even sure that God was with them. Are we convinced that God is among us? Do we have the assurance that God is with us day by day, in everything?
Monday 4th May
The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites. Now there is no doubt but that God could have wiped out the Amalekites as he had done the Egyptian Army, without great difficulty. Instead, he chose to use Moses and in a strange way. As long as his hands were held out above him towards God, the Israelites prevailed in the battle but when he became weary and his hands began to fall, the Amalekites would prevail. Eventually, they made Moses sit down and two men (Aaron and Hur) held up his arms to the Lord and the Israelites won the battle. God was teaching the Israelites an important lesson. He wanted to make it clear to them that they had defeated the Amalekites not because they had a good Army but because they had a good God. It didn’t matter how strong their Army was, the final outcome was in the hands of the Lord. That should provide us with food for thought also. Our lives are in the hands of God, not in our own hands. We must remember that he is Lord.
Tuesday 5th May
We read this whole chapter one more time today, to remind ourselves of the key message, namely, that we must have faith in God. Unlike these Israelites, we must never lose the conviction that God is sovereign. Occasionally, we might see a dramatic sign or a miracle. We might be encouraged by an answer to prayer or by the conversion of a friend. We might come across a strong and compelling argument for the truth of the gospel. Nevertheless, our faith in God must never depend upon such things as these. Our faith must be like those of whom Jesus spoke to Thomas, ‘who have never seen and yet have believed’. Calvin said that we believe because of ‘the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit’. In other words, our confident assurance in God does not depend upon signs or wisdom, or miracles or arguments but upon the fact that we have been born again of the Holy Spirit of God and with that experience of new birth has come a sure and certain confidence in the presence and power of the living God.
Wednesday 6th May
Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, visited him. He listened to all that God had done and he watched Moses in his day to day work as leader of the people. Initially (verses 1-12) Jethro gave thanks to God for all that he had done. In the second half of the chapter (verses 13-27), however, Jethro became very worried. He could see clearly that Moses was doing too much. He was not sharing responsibility, not delegating duties to others and was carrying too heavy a burden upon his own shoulders. The situation was not good and bound to get worse unless something was done, so Jethro approached Moses on the matter and made various suggestions. Moses accepted these suggestions and a new tier of authority was established among the people. The result was that Moses shared his leadership and his authority and shared the burden of oversight which previously he had carried alone. This principle of shared leadership and responsibility is very important and we shall return to it tomorrow.
Thursday 7th May
We read this chapter again today to see how the principles established here in Exodus 18 were carried forward into the church. In the New Testament, we find that the leadership of the church was put in the hands of elders and so the pattern of shared ministry and responsibility was continued. We are told that in each place where the church was established in New Testament times, elders were appointed (Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5). This sharing of the load of work is perhaps the most pressing issue in the church today. The number of ministers who are suffering from stress, ‘burn out’ and sheer physical exhaustion is significant. It is simply impossible for any Minister to carry out a kind of one man ministry in terms of pastoral care and even if it were possible, it would not be desirable because it obscures the parity of the eldership and reduces the effectiveness of the minister in his task as teaching elder.
Friday 8th May
In this chapter, we come to one of the most significant events in the life of the nation of Israel. In their wilderness wanderings, they come to Mount Sinai, where God meets with Moses and promises that, even although the whole earth belonged to him, the Israelites would be his ‘treasured possession’. There was, however, a condition, as we see in verse 5: ‘if you obey me fully and keep my covenant’. Moses took the message to the people and they responded, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said’. Unfortunately, as we know from the rest of the story, they were very quick to break this promise. As Christians, we are God’s covenant people. Have our lives been lived in obedience to what God has said? We should be slow to criticise the Israelites when we have often failed ourselves. The Church of Scotland is currently failing to obey what God has said and instead is following the ways of the secular and pagan culture. How can we expect God’s favour and blessing if we are disobedient to his Word?
Saturday 9th May
We read these verses again today to highlight verse 6, which is picked up in the New Testament. God said of the Israelites: ‘you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’. In 1 Peter 2:9, these words are echoed in a letter addressed to Christians: ‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.’ It is important to see this continuity between Israel and the Church. Like the Israelites, as Christians we are God’s chosen people (the elect) and we too are a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. Part of what this means concerns our worship. We are a holy priesthood, a royal priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. The sacrificial system is finished because our great High Priest has offered a once-for-all sacrifice on the Cross. The only sacrifices now needed are spiritual sacrifices. In other words, our worship of God in spirit and in truth.
Sunday 10th May
In our modern church, we rarely see a real ‘fear of God’ when people gather for worship. The emphasis is usually on a joyful time of fellowship and praise, with the reading and preaching of Scripture. What is often missing is the sense of coming into the presence of an awesome, all powerful and holy God. Here in this passage, the Israelites were left in no doubt as to what it meant to come into the presence of God. They had to consecrate themselves, they were only to approach God in the manner he laid down and there were limits set. Above all, ‘everyone in the camp trembled’ as God made himself known. Only when there is a recovered understanding of the holiness of God, accompanied by a proper ‘fear of the Lord’ will the church be reformed and renewed. After all, if people really understood the awesome power and holiness of God, they would not so blatantly disregard what he has taught us in the Scriptures.
Monday 11th May
After all the build up to this moment, we have the striking expression in verse 17, ‘Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God’. This meeting with God was through the mediation of Moses. The people were not permitted to go up the mountain, only Moses and Aaron. Moses would meet with God in the most intimate and special way because he was God’s choice as leader of the people. Later, it would be the High Priest who met with God on behalf of the people. As Christians, we are immensely privileged that we can meet with God without an intermediary. Christ has opened up the way for us, so that we can meet with God at any time and in any place. Do we take time to meet with God every day?
Tuesday 12th May
Today we begin to study the Ten Commandments. We have read the whole chapter today (and will do so again tomorrow) then we shall take each commandment in turn (sometimes more than once). Of all the chapters in Exodus this one is the most familiar. No doubt many of us learned these verses at an early age, in school or Sunday School. Notice how this chapter begins: ‘And God spoke all these words.’ Moses has gone up Mount Sinai, has met with God and God has spoken to him. God also told Moses that when he went down from the mountain he was to tell the people that God had spoken. This was to make it clear that the authority for what Moses taught them came from God himself. God has spoken from heaven. The God we worship is a God who speaks. He has chosen to communicate with us. We take this for granted but it is remarkable. Remember that we are mere human beings and, worse still, we are fallen human beings.
Wednesday 13th May
As we read this story of how the law of God was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, we must remember that the law is much more than just the Ten Commandments. Traditionally, theologians have identified three aspects of the law of God: the moral law (especially the Ten Commandments); the civil law (the rules required to govern Israel as a nation state); and the ceremonial law (the laws governing the worship of God, with particular reference to the priesthood, the temple and the sacrifices). If we ask why God gave the law, we might say that he was showing his covenant people how to live. How then can we sum up the law? Jesus was once challenged on this very subject and gave a fine answer in Matthew 22:35-40. What did Jesus mean by this? Well the first four commandments are about love to God and the remaining six are about love to neighbour. If we love God and love our neighbour we will be keeping the Commandments.
Thursday 14th May
Before giving Moses the Ten Commandments, God begins with a statement of his identity. He says, ‘I am the LORD your God’. The one speaking to Moses is the God who revealed himself to Abraham and made a covenant with him and his descendants. This is the Creator of all things, who graciously chose the Israelites out of all the nations on the earth and said, ‘I will be your God and you will be my people’. He is their God and therefore they must listen to him and obey him. As well as a statement of his identity, God also refers to his great power exercised on behalf of the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’ He is their redeemer, their deliverer and thus has the right to impose his rule upon his people. Many today say they do not believe in a god. The fact remains, however, that the Lord is the Creator and Judge of the world before whom everyone will one day stand. We ignore him at our peril.
Friday 15th May
The first commandment is in verse 3: ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ The Shorter Catechism helps to clarify its meaning and purpose. Question 46 asks: ‘What is required in the first commandment?’ Answer: ‘The first commandment requires us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly.’ This is the positive side to the commandment, telling us what we must do. Question 47 asks: ‘What is forbidden in the first commandment?’ Answer: ‘The first commandment forbids the denying, or not worshiping and glorifying, the true God as God, and our God; and the giving of that worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone.’ This is the negative side to the commandment, telling us what we must not do.
Saturday 16th May
One last reading of these verses, in order to emphasise the importance of this first commandment. The famous evangelist D.L. Moody once wrote a little book on the Ten Commandments. This is what he said about the first commandment: ‘If men were true to this commandment obedience to the remaining nine would follow naturally. It is because they are unsound in this that they break the others.’ We cannot serve two masters and we cannot offer to God a divided heart. It is all or nothing. In this commandment we are called upon to worship only one God, the living God who has told us what he is like, who sent his Son, who has given us the Bible. That is the one God we are to worship. Any other god is a false god.
Sunday 17th May
Today we come to the second commandment: ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them’. In the first commandment, we were told that worshipping a false god was forbidden; in this commandment we are told that worshipping the true God in a false manner is forbidden. The first commandment tells us to worship God alone, the second calls for purity and spirituality as we worship. Now you might be thinking that, of all the Ten Commandments, this is the one which modern human beings are least likely to break. After all, we don’t make idols of wood and stone and bow down to them. We must not be complacent, however, because it is simple even for good things to become objects of idolatry.
Monday 18th May
It would be wrong to leave this second commandment without noting what it tells us about God. Attached to this commandment, are the words: ‘I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.’ This is a promise of judgement and a promise of blessing, depending upon the obedience or disobedience of the people of God. It contains this striking revelation as to the character of God: ‘I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.’ God has a holy jealousy for that which belongs to him. This is plain, unmistakeable and uncompromising. Our God tells us that he is a jealous God, who will not put up with his people running after other so-called gods. This is not a selfish, self-centred jealousy of which we human beings might be guilty. It is a holy jealousy for his own people, whom he set his love upon in advance and for whom his Son died.
Tuesday 19th May
The third commandment says: ‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.’ For us today a name is nothing more than a label to identify someone and upon hearing this commandment about not misusing God’s name someone might well say ‘What’s in a name?’ The answer is that, in the Bible, names are very important and the name of God particularly. God’s name was and is very significant. There are many passages in the Old Testament in which God mentions a place ‘where he will cause his name to dwell.’ Even the various names used for God in the Bible are significant and each tells us something about his nature and character. Yet many people misuse God’s name, particularly by swearing, by using profane language. I find it appalling that even in children’s films, people regularly take God’s name in vain. We should note that this is a commandment which contains a warning, ‘…for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.’
Wednesday 20th May
The fourth commandment is ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy’. In the verses which follow, this is explained in more detail. The Sabbath as part of the Jewish religion was firmly established. It was even regarded as a sign of the covenant (Exodus 31:13; Ezekiel 20:12). God made it clear that blessings would be granted to those who kept it (Isaiah 56:2-7; Isaiah 58:13-14). Some have argued that the Sabbath was a Jewish institution which passed away with the temple and the sacrificial system. We should note from verse 11 of our passage, however, that the Sabbath was instituted at creation and not simply on Mount Sinai. We see that in Genesis 2:2-3. The Sabbath was ordained by God at creation as a permanent reminder that God created the world and then rested. It is a perpetual celebration for God’s people before and after Christ. We ought always to observe the Sabbath.
Thursday 21st May
One important point concerning the Sabbath is that it was intended by God to be a blessing to the people and a delight. Unfortunately, over the years, that changed. In Matthew 12:1-14, Jesus said that the Pharisees had transformed the Sabbath from a blessing into a burden, through their rigid set of minute regulations. Instead, Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. It is to be a blessed day of rest and worship, not a burdensome thing. We are to enjoy the Sabbath! The Christian church chose to designate the first day of the week as the ‘Lord’s Day’ (Revelation 1:10) and this became the ‘Christian Sabbath’. It is to be a day of rest, a day ‘holy to the Lord’ and a day of worship. To turn the Sabbath into a legalistic burden, as the Pharisees did, is as bad as not observing it at all.
Friday 22nd May
The first four commandments are called the ‘first table’ of the law and are concerned with our duty towards God. The ‘second table’, which we begin today, is concerned with our duty to one another. The fifth commandment is: ‘Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.’ The word ‘honour’ here means more than just obedience. A child may obey through fear. Honouring father and mother involves love and affection, gratitude and respect. It also goes beyond the immediate family. As the Shorter Catechism makes clear in question and answer 64, it includes honour and respect for all who are in authority over us. The general crisis of authority and lack of respect we see around us today is a direct result of neglecting this commandment.
Saturday 23rd May
Today we come to the sixth commandment. In the King James Version of the Bible, this commandment was translated as ‘Thou shalt not kill’ but in almost every modern English translation it is translated as, ‘You shall not murder.’ This is not only a better translation but it helps to underline four things the commandment does not mean. First, it does not refer to the killing of animals for food. Second, it does not refer to capital punishment (See Genesis 9:6). Third, it does not refer to situations as when a burglar may be disturbed in the middle of the night and killed (See Exodus 22:2-3). Fourth, it does not imply that we should all be pacifists and refuse to serve in the armed forces. Three chapters after the Ten Commandments are given, God tells Israel to engage in war against her enemies
Sunday 24th May
Yesterday we saw what the sixth commandment does not mean. Today we think about what it does mean. There are three points to be made here. First, this commandment forbids the intentional murder of another human being, since human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 9:6). Second, this commandment forbids suicide. I fear that the day is not far off when legislation concerning assisted suicide will be on the statute books. There is no justification either for suicide or assisted suicide from a Biblical perspective. Third, this commandment forbids the deliberate causing of another person’s death, such as where someone arranges the death of another, even if they do not carry out the murder themselves. For example, King David’s actions in 2 Samuel 11.
Monday 25th May
The seventh commandment is ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ In the Old Testament, the punishment for adultery was stoning to death (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). In the New Testament it is clear that God’s hatred of this sin is undiminished (1 Corinthians 6:9; Hebrews 13:4; Romans 13:9). D.L. Moody said that ‘This Commandment is God’s bulwark around marriage and the home.’ We should also note that adultery can be committed even without the physical act of sexual intercourse. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28: ‘You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ Jesus is making the important point that, if we lust after someone, sin is involved even where the sexual act does not take place.
Tuesday 26th May
The eighth commandment is found at Exodus 20:15: ‘You shall not steal.’ If the seventh Commandment concerning adultery flows out of the holiness and purity of God, we might say that this one flows out of the justice of God. This commandment is repeated elsewhere in the Old Testament (Leviticus19:11-13; Deuteronomy 5:19). It is also repeated in the New Testament (Matthew 19:16-19; Romans 13:8-10 and Ephesians 4:28). The Ephesians reference teaches us about the dignity of work and the fact that work enables the Christian to help others. We might not have been guilty of stealing from someone’s house but the following sins all involve stealing: not declaring all income for tax; stealing from an employer: stationery etc.; wasting time at work; not paying a fair wage; finding something and not returning it. Are we honest in all our dealings?
Wednesday 27th May
The ninth commandment is: ‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.’ To give false testimony or to bear false witness is an extremely serious sin. The seriousness of it is recognised by the law courts, which have stiff penalties for perjury. The commandment, of course, does not refer only to perjury in a courtroom. The most obvious example of giving false testimony is slander or malicious gossip. Indeed, there are many other sins which involve false testimony: spreading rumours, exaggeration, misrepresentation, insinuation and so on. We saw yesterday the sin of taking what belongs to your neighbour. Most of us would not take our neighbour’s property but we might take away his good name, through passing on gossip or slander. We must be extremely careful in what we say.
Thursday 28th May
Today we come to the tenth commandment: ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’ We sometimes imagine that all the commandments are concerned with sinful actions but here is a commandment that deals, not with a wicked act, but with a wicked desire. The history of this sin began at the very creation of men and women, as we see from Genesis 3:1-8. Notice especially verse 6: ‘she saw… she desired… she ate….’ Only three steps from innocence to sin. They were not satisfied with all that God had given them, but coveted more. All through history, from then until now, men and women have been covetous, desiring what they don’t have. How many of us could truly say that we have never looked at someone else’s spouse, lifestyle, house, car, salary or clothes and coveted them for ourselves?
Friday 29th May
We return to the tenth commandment in order to see that the underlying cause of covetousness is not being content with what we have. We might say that this commandment has both a negative and a positive side. On the negative side, it forbids us to covet whatever belongs to our neighbour and on the positive side it instructs us to be content with what we have. We should be like Paul who says in Philippians 4:11: ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.’ Covetousness has destroyed many a person, many a business and many a relationship. This commandment tells us to be content with what we have and not to desire what others have. We must put to death within us those wicked, covetous desires which are the cause of so much evil. As we read in 1 Timothy 6:6: ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain’.
Saturday 30th May
The verses immediately after the Ten Commandments provide us with the response of the people to God’s giving of the law: ‘When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”‘ The people were convinced by the holiness and power of God and made conscious of their own sin. This was the desired effect, as we read in Larger Catechism question 95: ‘Of what use is the moral law to all men?’ Answer: ‘The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and will of God, and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly; to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives; to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery, and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and of the perfection of his obedience.’
Sunday 31st May
It was not enough that God had spoken and given his law, he demanded a response from the people. It was important that the law be obeyed. The Israelites were God’s covenant people and he demanded covenant obedience. Unfortunately, for long periods in the history of the nation, the people failed to obey God and keep his covenant, leading ultimately to exile in Babylon. Sometimes the wrong impression is given that faith and obedience are somehow opposites, as if we are either justified by faith or justified by obedience to God’s law. The truth is that faith and obedience go hand in hand. Both are necessary if we are truly to live the Christian life. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ but God still demands covenant obedience. Are we obedient to our God?