No doubt the most important existential question with which each of us grapples is, why am I here? In other words, what is my purpose? And related to this is the question, am I achieving it?
It is for this reason that one of the most popular books published in recent history was Rick Warren’s called The Purpose Driven Life. I have not read the book, though I am somewhat familiar with its theme. To this day it is used by churches around the world in an attempt to reach unbelievers, to reach the unchurched. I do not want to get into the debate as to the merits of the book but I do like the title.
When it comes to the believer, of course, this question is extremely important. Everyone lives according to some purpose, but ours must be defined by God.
Since we have been saved from a life of futility we desperately desire to live for the glory of God. By God’s grace we have come to appreciate the general purpose for which we were created (and then graciously re-created) which, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, is to “glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever.” Or to use John Piper’s paraphrase, our primary purpose is “to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” This indeed is the purpose-driven life for it is God’s purpose for us.
But specifically, what does this look like? Quite simply it looks like the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be Your Name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Or, even more succinctly, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19).
To apply yourself to this purpose is to live “God’s purpose-driven life.”
This is the lesson from our text. In a nutshell, Moses understood that God’s purpose—God’s mission—was, in the words of the apostle Paul, to reconcile the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). And the nation of Israel was a key element in the fulfilment of this purpose. In the verses before us Moses prayed that he and the people of Israel might be blessed by God to live God’s purpose-driven life. May you do so as well.
The book of Exodus is a narrative within the grand metanarrative (overarching theme) of the Bible, which is that of the fallen world being reconciled to God and thus restored to its former glory—and then some! It is the story of God establishing the new heavens and the new earth by the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
God chose a man named Abraham to be the father of all who believe through a nation from his own loins, the nation of Israel. It was through this nation that all other nations would one day be blessed with the gospel (Genesis 12:1-3).
After Abraham’s death the children of Israel entered Egypt as a family of some 70 individuals, but over a period of 400 years they were fruitful and multiplied to become a nation numbering some two million. The Egyptians, threatened by Israel’s growth, mistreated them by oppressive enslavement and attempted genocide. God intervened and delivered them by the hand of a man named Moses.
Some three months after their miraculous deliverance Israel was encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai and Moses was summoned to the top to meet with the Lord. There the Lord revealed to Moses the Ten Commandments and several case laws, which were collected into a document called the Book of the Covenant. In the context of this lawful revelation God told Moses that if the children of Israel would be faithful to Him then He would make them His peculiar possession.
“If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people” (Exodus 19:5). Literally, God promised to make them His inheritance with the result that they would be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” to Him (19:6).
Having received this word from the Lord, Moses relayed it to the people and they in unison cried out, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (19:8).
After the Lord gave the precepts to Moses He declared the promise of His presence through His Angel (23:20-21). God said that if the people obey the voice of the Angel of the Lord then God Himself would drive out their enemies and establish them as a great nation in the Land of Promise (23:22-31). The Lord concluded this promise with the proviso that the children of Israel were to be exclusively His. They were to live according to His purpose as laid out in His prescriptions and thus they were prohibited from making any covenants with the other nations (23:32-33). They were to be driven by God’s purpose.
The nation of Israel reaffirmed their commitment in 24:7: “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.”
In summary, they understood the purpose of God for them and publicly affirmed their commitment to live God’s purpose-driven life. So far, so good!
With this public declaration of submission to God’s purpose-driven life still ringing in Moses’ ears, he once again ascended the mountain to meet with the Lord. There the Lord gave him the Ten Commandments in written form and the plans for the construction of the tabernacle. Over a forty day period Moses was encouraged that the Lord desired and had designed the means by which He could dwell with the nation of Israel. What an exciting prospect!
But then things went terribly awry. Under the derelict leadership of Aaron, the people worshipped a golden calf as representative of Yahweh. They were guilty of transgressing the First and Second Commandments. Their purpose-driven life went from God-centred to man-centred. Fat chance that the nations would be impacted for good! Or so it would seem.
God responded with a wrathful declaration that He was going to destroy them. Moses intervened and interceded on their behalf. He pleaded with the Lord that, in order for His glory to be manifested among the nations, He must not destroy the people. God relented in response to the mediatorial ministry of Moses (32:7-14).
Nevertheless, His anger was still present and so once again Moses interceded. This time he asked the Lord to spare the people and rather to accept his life as atonement. But since Moses was a sinner, this would not do. God declared that those who sinned against Him would bear their own punishment. Nevertheless the Lord did promise that the nation would enter the Promised Land—but without Him (32:30—33:6). Enter Moses the mediator once again! Moses insisted that this was not good enough.
He understood that, unless the Lord went with them, they would not be any different than the surrounding nations, for in fact it was the presence of the Lord God, who is God alone, that set them apart from all of other polytheistic nations. And yes, once again, God graciously relented. He agreed to go with them (33:7-17).
But there was still one more thing—and it was a major thing: the people of Israel had not yet received pardon; there had been no declaration of forgiveness.
I believe that this was a major motivation for Moses plea, “Show me Your glory” (33:18). Moses needed encouragement that God was for them, not against them (see 33:13). And so, as the Lord revealed Himself, Moses came to appreciate afresh that God is “easy to live with” (Tozer) because He loves to forgive His people. God loves to save His people (1 Timothy 2:1-4; Titus 2:13)!
This knowledge of God moved Moses to do the only thing that he could do: to bow in worship before such a good and thus gracious God (34:8). The goodness of God led to repentance (see Romans 2:4) and so Moses besought God to forgive both him and the nation of their sin (34:9). How would God respond?
Verse 10 makes it very clear that the Lord answered the mediator favourably: “Behold, I make a covenant.” The Lord forgave, as evidenced by His “re-instituting . . . re-inaugurating . . . [and] reinstating” His covenant with them.1 Yes, they were pardoned! And with this pardon they were now in a position to pursue once again God’s purpose-driven life.
With this overall context before us let us now turn our attention to three elements of God’s purpose-driven life.
Moses, in worship, expressed a desire for God’s purpose-driven life for him and his people. We see this as Moses prayed and asked the Lord a very apparently outlandish request.
So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped. Then he said, “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.”
Moses had made some pretty amazing requests thus far in the book of Exodus but perhaps there is no request more amazing than the one that he made in this passage. Apparently with a straight face, Moses asked the Lord to take these people as His inheritance! Yes, these people whom he had just acknowledged as “stiff-necked” and who were in need of so great forgiveness—those were the ones whom Moses wanted to be the inheritance of God!
I could understand this much better had Moses asked the Lord to be their inheritance but that is not what he asked. Rather he asked that these people become God’s inheritance; to be the unique possession of God. Moses was asking God to use these people in a world-shaping, eternally significant way. Wow!
Pink comments on this, “A truly marvellous concept is [this], one to which our poor minds are quite incapable of rising—that the great and self-sufficient God should deem Himself enriched by worms of the earth whom He hath saved by His grace. Here Moses as their mediator and intercessor pleads that everything should be restored.”2
Perhaps we might be tempted to ask, “Moses, how could you?” His answer would not be too surprising. He would have said, “Because I understand the flow of biblical history. I understand that the Lord has saved us to be a blessing to the nations. I understand the Abrahamic covenant. I understand that God has delivered us and has covenanted with us and has agreed to recovenant with us for the purpose of His glory spreading to all the nations.” Moses understood that God’s grace to sinners is a means of their being given evangelistic opportunities with others, for the glory of God. Moses understood God’s purpose-driven life.
It was this understanding of the purpose of God that motivated Moses, on several occasions, to mediate (to intercede) on Israel’s behalf. Moses wanted the nation to show the glory of God to the nations. Such should be our motivation. Such was the motivation of Jesus in mediating and interceding for His people—and for you (see John 17)!
Moses was asking God for a second chance. He realised that the people had failed and yet he prayed, “Please Lord, in the light of who You are (vv. 6-7), will You not use us? Will You not utilise us in Your purpose?” Moses was asking the Lord to enable them to fulfil His purpose-driven life. And this is precisely the kind of life that we should desire and pursue.
Having recently returned from a cross-cultural experience I am particularly sensitive to what Moses was asking. I am particularly burdened that God will use us as a people in such an evangelistic opportunity.
I am convinced from Scripture that our purpose is to be God’s purpose, which is to impact the nations for His glory by making of disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ through the proclamation of the gospel. This is God’s purpose-driven life. May God deliver us from less worthy pursuits!
What Moses understood, Paul did as well. In Ephesians 1 Paul prayed that the Ephesian believers would have the eyes of their understanding opened that they might “know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” Again, Paul was not speaking of their inheriting God but of Him inheriting them! That is, the awesome privilege of being known by Him; the amazing blessing of belonging to Him; the unfathomable experience of occupying a place in His household; and in what follows, the amazing privilege to impact the globe for God’s glory.
We need to get a grip on this matter of being God’s inheritance. Once we do then we can have a purpose-driven life. Once we do then we can understand something of why we need to live such a peculiar existence.
The purpose-driven life is a Great Commission centred one. And so I must ask, what is your purpose? Do you have one? Is it the right one? Is it God’s purpose? Do you see that God has saved you to give you evangelistic opportunities?
We need to see that God has given to each of us spheres of influence through which we are to be a blessing to the nations. And as we come to grips with the reality of this purpose of God then we will no longer see a sacred/secular dichotomy but rather will live out our opportunities to be in line with God’s greater metanarrative.
As noted briefly above, I recently had the privilege to enjoy something of a cross-cultural church experience. Visiting an international church I was introduced to a group of Christian businessmen who desire to use their business opportunities for the great commission. They use the term “business as mission” to describe the integration of business goals and mission goals. It is an answer to the prayer “may Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”—as people and communities are positively transformed through for-profit business activity.
The idea of integration is important; this is not ministry tacked onto business for convenience, or business tacked onto ministry. Instead the mission is outworked in and through the business, through its activities, through the products and services and through relationships. The business itself and life in business for those involved becomes the means of carrying the good news of Jesus through word and deed to the ends of the earth.
God has saved you to serve Him. The only legitimate purpose-driven life is that which is faithful to God’s purpose. And since there is no doubt about what that is (see Matthew 6:9-10) we must look at our opportunities providentially given by God for the gladness of the nations through the glad tidings of the gospel of God. In the words of the psalmist, “Sing unto the LORD, bless his name; show forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his wonders among all people” (Psalm 96:2-3). Is this your purpose? It must be!
God next gives His people an encouraging word regarding how He will manifest His power in the Promised Land.
And He said: “Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you. Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I am driving out from before you the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite.”
The song “I Cannot Tell” well the essence of these verses. The hymnist writes of how there are many things that we do not now—we cannot tell—in the Christian experience, but at the same time asserts with great confidence many of the things we do know. Similarly, Israel was marching into something of an unknown future. There were a great many things that they could not tell, but there were also some things—as we see here—of which they could be certain.
God here promised the nation of Israel that He would do marvellous, awesome things as they marched into the future. “What is obvious, but left unstated, is that Israel will not only enter the land, but they will conquer it, master it and settle it.”3 This is a direct answer to Moses’ request that the people be claimed by God as His inheritance. God in essence was saying, “Yes Moses, I will claim them and I will use them to conquer in my name.” This is tantamount to our Lord’s promise to the disciples in Matthew 28:20, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Especially in the light of the context of the people’s recent idolatry, this is an almost unbelievable statement. If it were not in the inspired record we might be tempted not to believe it! And yet history proves that the Lord kept His promise. For the nation of Israel did indeed inherit all the land (Joshua 21:43; etc.). The nations were forced to see the power of God and to come to the understanding that the God of Israel is indeed the Lord of all.
We should pause here to reflect upon the truth that Israel did not deserve any of this. It was all by the grace of God. And it was for the glory of God.
Israel has come to Him as it were as an adulteress and He is saying, “Yes, I’ll take you back and I’ll keep My promises to you and I will walk with you and I will be with you.” Now this is grace. . . . She wasn’t faithful to the covenant. That’s what the whole passage is about. She wasn’t faithful to the covenant. But the covenant holds. Why? Not because of Israel, but because of God’s grace.1
We would do well to be reminded from this that the Lord has promised that one day the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the seas.
By God’s omnipotent power He will fulfil His plan. And the Lord Jesus Christ is the One who is entrusted even now with all authority in heaven and in earth and who ensures that the nations will be discipled (see Psalm 2, 110, etc.).
It is vital that we grasp the biblical plot line—God’s purpose—that He is reconciling the world to Himself and He is doing so even in judgement.
Both now and then, the nations would (and will) stand in awe of the one and only true God and this would (and will) be a means of evangelism. The nations that Israel would confront and conquer would in the end be blessed as individuals would be converted (e.g. Rahab, etc.).
Cole suggests, “It was to be, at one and the same time, a work of judgment and a work of salvation. All God’s doings partake of this twofold nature: to the Christian, both aspects are summed up in the cross, by which a man is either justified or condemned.”5
This is how we must view history. Consider how God in the Bible brought nations to the peak of power—Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, etc.—only to ultimately humble them and thereby to bless His people. Consider how God’s chosen people often inherited the blessings of pagan nations. Is that perhaps why God has allowed nations today, such a China, to reach such a zenith of power, despite the fact that their governments actively oppose Him and His people?
The point must be reflected upon that God’s kingdom will come in God’s way by God’s power. We are a part of a God’s purpose which will not fail. So engage yourself in this activity!
Remember that God had graciously agreed to recovenant with the nation of Israel through the mediatorial work of Moses. We have a hint that God was going to do this in v. 1 when Moses embraced his hope of glory. Once God agreed to this covenantal renewal (v. 10) the Lord then stipulates once again the terms of the covenant.
Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be a snare in your midst. But you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods, and one of them invites you and you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters play the harlot with their gods and make your sons play the harlot with their gods. You shall make no moulded gods for yourselves.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread you shall keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, in the appointed time of the month of Abib; for in the month of Abib you came out from Egypt. All that open the womb are Mine, and every male firstborn among your livestock, whether ox or sheep. But the firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb. And if you will not redeem him, then you shall break his neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed.
Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; in ploughing time and in harvest you shall rest. And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end. Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the LORD God of Israel. For I will cast out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year.
You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leaven, nor shall the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover be left until morning. The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring to the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel. So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”
So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped. Then he said, “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.”
The reason for this repetition is clear: The Lord’s mission had ethical responsibilities as well as redemptive blessings. In the words of Kaiser, “The wonders would be so outstanding that the people would be awestruck. For Israel to benefit from God’s miraculous display, however, they needed to be obedient to his commands.”6
And so after God promised His power to be exercised on their behalf He then gave, as it were, the conditions required for this power to be experienced.
It is important to note that the language here of covenant is with reference to God’s declaration that He is a jealous God. The picture here is that of a marriage relationship.
Idolatry in Scripture is akin to adultery; to marital infidelity. The nation had recently committed such an evil. It is for this reason that, when God begins to highlight the ethical obligations, He begins with terminology designed to remind them of a marital covenant. As a jealous husband passionate for the wellbeing of His wife, God here declared His love for Israel, His bride. He would tolerate no rival, especially the most threatening rival: idolatry.
Kaiser notes that the word “jealous” in v. 14 is a “particular word” that “is used only of God, occurring but five times in the OT, and illustrates the parallel between idolatry and adultery.” It highlights the way in which “God relates to his people.”7
Henry also helpfully observes, “The covenant made with Israel was a marriage covenant (Jer. 31:32); idolatry, therefore, was adultery. . . . The Israelites are [therefore] commanded to destroy every monument of idolatry, however curious or costly; to reject all treaties of alliance, friendship, or marriage with idolaters, however advantageous; and to refuse all invitations to idolatrous feasts. . . . Jealousy is called the rage of a man (Prov. 6:34); but it is God’s holy and just displeasure. Those cannot worship him aright, who do not worship him alone.”8
As Rushdoony comments, “The people had given themselves to false worship. Now, as the covenant is renewed, these laws stress true worship. . . . To obey God is basic to true worship.”9
Israel required this commandment to lessen the temptation to which they would be exposed as they confronted the idolatrous nations. The children of Israel were in need of being on guard lest they commit spiritual adultery.
Everything that follows in this passage is designed by God to protect His people from falling into such sinful disloyalty. If the nation of Israel would have God’s purpose-driven existence then they would need to be covenantally faithful. And the same is true for you and me. We must be ruthless when it comes to any temptation to spiritual infidelity. “Every idol—that which comes between the Lord and my heart—must be ruthlessly hewn down.”10
Making the most of evangelistic opportunities depends on fulfilling ethical obligations. It is interesting that the material in these verses is nothing new from that already recorded earlier before they committed this awful sin. But now the God of second chances repeats Himself. Commentator John Mackay points out that these were “a sample of the demands of the covenant, dealing with particular areas of living which are seen to be especially hazardous in the light of the defection involving the Golden Calf.”11 In a sense the Lord was saying, “Do this and live.”
Let’s attempt to categorise these obligations and to apply them to ourselves in our quest to live God’s purpose-driven life.
In vv. 12-17 we have what we might term “covenantal restrictions.” Here the Lord exhorted Moses to take care to not enter into unholy alliances with the nations with which Israel would come into contact. Israel, by virtue of God’s presence, was a holy nation and they must take care to be holy. Again, the scene here is that of a marital relationship and so, in the words of James, God was warning His people that friendship with the world is enmity with God.
What many in our “tolerant” day find shocking is that rather than entering into friendly alliances with the nations the Lord expected the children of Israel to destroy their false religions. They were to throw down their altars and to cut down their sacred pillars (“Asherim”). No syncretism, no ecumenism was permitted. The “interfaith” movement was not permitted under Yahweh’s purpose.
Rather than being horrified by this commandment we should learn from it the dangers of friendship with the world. Listen to the insight of Ortlund, who describes the danger unfolding in stages:
First as a treaty of mutual advantage, then as an invitation to share in worship, then eating of a sacrifice made to a pagan god or goddess, and finally intermarriage with the Canaanites, with the result that all distinctions may in time be expected to dissolve. What begins as an agreement between friends eventuates in the extinction of Israel as a people uniquely covenanted to God.12
So how do we apply this to the church of our day? Can we go around destroying pagan altars? Are we to blow up mosques and Hindu temples? Of course not!
We need to understand that Israel was in a unique situation. God was developing a nation which was to be a blessing to the world and for this reason she needed to remove all presence of any rival religions. Further, Israel was a theocracy, and South Africa is not. We cannot apply this scene in its fullness. Civil authority should outlaw false religions but that is a separate issue which we will not delve into here.
However, having given these caveats, let me say that the local church is a theocracy and therefore we are to cast down any threat to the worship of the true God (see 2 Corinthians 10:1-5). We are to be intolerant of that which would lead us away from God. We are to be intolerable with respect to anything that would challenge the exclusivity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is vital for us to see that Israel could only be a blessing to the nations if she was first of all ruthless with the false religion of the nations. She was protecting herself from falling into their worldview. Also, by destroying false religion and thereby safeguarding her own walk with the Lord, Israel was in a position where she could truly help them.
We should understand that the “user-friendly” model (as with the emergent church movement) is in the end catastrophic for those we are trying to reach.
Note that this separation also applied to marriages; in some ways, especially to marriages. For God’s purpose to be accomplished a multigenerational church was (and is) necessary. And biblical marriages were (and are) a key to this. We had better be careful with respect to which we give our daughters to marry. Fathers—and mothers (Proverbs 31)—be careful to train your sons with reference to the kind of wife they need to look for! The church must be very careful about this (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
One final word, and this time to parents: Note in v. 17 the prohibition from making molten gods. In an interesting book I am working through called The Mission of God, Christopher Wright helped me to see that the nation of Israel never considered the nations to be actual worshippers of the stone, metal and wood idols that they were bowing to, but rather these idols represented the false gods that they worshipped. In other words, the peoples may have claimed to be worshipping the same God as the Israelites and yet in fact their worldview was radically different—and the idols proved this. Sadly, the children of Israel would eventually succumb to the same nonsense and would influence the nations away from God. The Bible records that “they feared the LORD, yet served their own gods—according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away.” But their fear of the Lord was only a veneer, for the next verse reads, “To this day they continue practicing the former rituals; they do not fear the LORD, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances, or the law and commandment which the LORD had commanded the children of Jacob, whom He named Israel” (2 Kings 17:33-34).
Parents, be careful of who is influencing your children. Every teacher has a worldview; do you know the worldview of those who are teaching your children about the world?
I am convinced that one of the keys to parenting is active parental involvement when it comes to the authority figures in the lives of your children. Beware: Unholy alliances usually prove to be catastrophic in the end!
In vv. 18-26 the Lord deals with several covenantal rights. Here He instructs Moses with reference to the need for him and for the nation of Israel to obey the Lord in the matter of the various feasts, holy days and sacrificial rites as prescribed by Him. We will look at these under three headings.
First, there were rites of commemoration (vv. 18-20, 22-25). The Lord mentions here (as samples, no doubt) such things as the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) and the related ordinance of the firstborn belonging to Him and the consequent need for them to be redeemed by a sacrifice (remember the Passover night); the Feast of weeks (preceding Pentecost); and the Feast of Ingathering (otherwise called the Feast of Booths). Further, the Israelites were instructed to be sure that the men went to the designated meeting place for these feasts three times in a year.
In an earlier sermon in chapter 23 we learned that do so would require at least five weeks a year away from home and from one’s crops. There was the potential danger of one’s land being invaded, supplies stolen or even of the boundary markers being moved resulting in the virtual stealing of their land.
But the Lord (there and here) assured them that if they were faithful then He would take care of things while they are away in worship. “No one should fear that his holdings will be imperilled when he is worshipping God at the central place appointed for that purpose. God promises to protect the worshipper’s land.”13 God would be their own personal rapid response security company!
Why were these ordinances, these rites, so necessary for the people to live God’s purpose-driven life? Because they were all designed by God to strengthen their walk with Him. These prescribed acts of worship (if I can put it that way) were designed by God to help the nation to avoid idolatry, to avoid spiritual infidelity. And the ordinances which God has prescribed for the church of our era are no different. For instance the rite of Communion, the Lord’s Supper, is a means of grace to help guard our hearts from becoming hardened to sin (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-34).
Let me conclude this point by pointing out that these feasts were all fulfilled in Christ and, with exception of the Passover, we have no prescribed new covenant corollary. And yet as Ryken has pointed out, “The Old Testament festivals were all fulfilled in Jesus. So the way we keep them today is by trusting in him for our salvation.”14
In v. 21 God (again!) prescribes the necessity of keeping the weekly Sabbath. God expected for them to spend one day a week in concerted God-centred contemplation. And He requires no less of the believer under the new covenant. After all, are we any less prone to idolatry?
This necessary day of rest is for the purpose of nourishing our souls in Christ and as we do so we will find ourselves better able to exercise covenantal restriction the rest of the week.
Coates captures it well
The rest of the Sabbath must be observed, and the distinctive feature of it in this case is that “in ploughing-time and in harvest thou shalt rest.” It intimates the necessity for recurring periods in which we cease from activity to contemplate in rest what God has done. The Sabbaths must be kept, no matter what the needs of the Lord’s work may be: for I suppose that ploughing-time and harvest might typify the most exacting and strenuous times in His work. The soul must know what it is to lay aside its activities, and have its rest with God. I am afraid we do not always keep our Sabbaths. We are either doing something, or occupied with what we are going to do. There is not enough restfulness with God.15
I appreciate Ryken’s helpful and (stinging!) comment, “Anyone who is too busy to keep the Lord’s Day holy should take a Sabbath to rethink his or her priorities.”16
In v. 26 God stipulated that the nation of Israel was to be faithful in their stewardship. Failure to do so was indeed tantamount to idolatry.
Misappropriation of God’s resources is not only thievery (Malachi 3) but it is also a form of idolatry. Paul wrote that covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). As we learn to give sacrificially we are guarding ourselves from this sinful infidelity. After all, as Jesus instructed us, no man can serve two masters.
The fact remains that God’s purpose—the furtherance of His kingdom—requires funding; funding that He has entrusted to us. If we will live God’s purpose-driven life then we must be committed to bringing the firstfruits of the land to the house of the Lord. As has often been said, God increases our income to increase the standard of our giving!
In summary, God has given to us all that we need for life and godliness and as we engage in the commemoration, in the celebration as we sacrifice in making our contribution we are further strengthened in our relationship with the Lord and thus able to pursue God’s purpose-driven life.
Finally, in vv. 27-28, God brings this reinstituting of the covenant to a close by reiterating that these words were to be recorded on stones. Originally God had supplied the stones and He did the writing. Here Moses supplies the tablets and he writes at God’s command. Nevertheless, this is God’s Word. Matthew Henry writes, “Moses is ordered to write these words, that the people might become better acquainted with them, and that they might be transmitted to the generations to come. We can never be enough thankful to God for the written word.”17
How true that is! If we will live God’s purpose-driven life then we must be a people of the Book. After all, we are sanctified by the truth of God’s Word (John 17:17) and it is the inspired Word of God that is profitable for us (2 Timothy 3:14-17). We are therefore to preach (and practice) the Word at all times and in all circumstances (2 Timothy 4:1-5).
I want us to note the way that God closed this encounter with Moses. He clearly made a distinction between Israel and their representative Moses. Currid observes, “‘I have made a covenant with you and with Israel,’ is actually, “I have cut with you a covenant and with Israel.’ This form of words certainly has the purpose of elevating the figure of Moses.”18 Here once again we have a beautiful type or picture of the Lord Jesus.
In a sermon on this text Ligon Duncan said,
Moses is miraculously sustained in that encounter with God for forty days without physical sustenance. Only God can do that. But it’s pointing forward to someone else, isn’t it. Because I seem to remember someone else once, who was in the wilderness for forty days without bread and water, but He wasn’t communing with God in the wilderness. He was in hand to hand combat with Satan, and He was your Mediator, Jesus Christ, and your salvation hung in the balance as He, without bread and water, lived righteously so that He could die righteously in your place. And His living righteousness and dying righteousness could be credited to you, so that you could be stood before the throne of grace clothed in that living and dying righteousness and not in the filthy rags of your own righteousness, and so be accepted in Him. Yes, Moses is exalted in this passage, but Moses is exalted so that we as Christians can see the exaltation of the Saviour in whose name and by whose merits we are saved. Hallelujah, what a Saviour.19
You see, because Jesus lived God’s purpose-driven life He was able to mediate for you. And now, because of this grace, and because of Christ’s work, you can live God’s purpose-driven life. Don’t settle for anything less; don’t settle for the idols of this age. Rather seek to live according to God’s purpose, growing in your commitment to loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
That my friend is the purpose-driven life. As Rick Warren wrote, the key to such a life is the realisation that it is not about you. Rather, thank God that it is all about Him!
- J. Ligon Duncan III, “Glorifying God,” http://goo.gl/Y69oj. ↩
- A. W. Pink, Gleanings in Exodus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), 355. ↩
- John D. Currid, Study Commentary on Exodus, 2 vols. (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2001), 2:314. ↩
- J. Ligon Duncan III, “Glorifying God,” http://goo.gl/Y69oj. ↩
- Exodus: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 230. ↩
- Walter J. Kaiser Jr., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 2:486. ↩
- Kaiser, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 2:486. ↩
- Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 3 vols. (Nashville: Royal Publishers, 1979), 1:218. ↩
- Rousas John Rushdoony, Commentary on the Pentateuch, 5 vols. (Vallecito: Ross House Books, 2004), 2:493. ↩
- Pink, Gleanings in Exodus, 357. ↩
- Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005), 1061. ↩
- Ryken, Exodus, 1056. ↩
- Currid, Study Commentary on Exodus, 2:319. ↩
- Ryken, Exodus, 1063. ↩
- Pink, Gleanings in Exodus, 362. ↩
- Ryken, Exodus, 1065. ↩
- Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1:218. ↩
- Currid, Study Commentary on Exodus, 2:320. ↩
- Duncan, “Glorifying God,” http://goo.gl/Y69oj. ↩