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Exodus 20:18-21 Epilogue; Response to God’s Presence

09/25 Exodus 20:18-21 Epilogue – Response to God’s Presence; Request for a Mediator

We have for the past ten weeks studied God’s ten words to his people. God is communicating what is expected of the people he has redeemed out of slavery, people he has taken to be his own, what is expected of those who live in relationship with him. Now, at the conclusion of God’s thunderous voice from heaven, we see the response of the people to his words. This has great insight for us in how we relate to God.

We have been focusing in some detail on each of God’s ten words. To get the flow of this passage, I want to step back from examining the individual trees and take in the big picture of the forest and how it all fits together. So let’s read through chapters 19 and 20 of Exodus.

The Covenant Proposal

19:1 On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3 while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” 7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. 8 All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.

Preparation to Meet God

9 And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” When Moses told the words of the people to the LORD, 10 the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11 and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” 14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. 15 And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”

The Context of the Meeting

16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the LORD to look and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out against them.” 23 And Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.”’ 24 And the LORD said to him, “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, lest he break out against them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.

God Speaks to His People

20:1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. 8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

The People’s Response

18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

May God bless the reading of his word, and may we, his people respond with deeper trust and heartfelt obedience and worship.

Covenant Relationship

So we see, God is entering into relationship with the people he has delivered, laying out the terms of this covenant relationship.

The word in verse 18 translated ‘flashes of lightning’ is interesting. It is a different Hebrew word from the lightnings of 19:16, and it only appears one other place in the five books of Moses.

Genesis 15:17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.

This was where God cut his covenant with Abraham. Now as he enters into covenant with the exodus generation, he uses this word to remind us that he is the God of Abraham, who graciously enters into relationship with his people and who always keeps his promises.

The Fear of God

God makes himself known in a way that terrifies the people. He requires that they make proper preparation to meet with the holy God. God manifests himself in thunder, lightning, earthquake, fire, smoke, and thick darkness, with loud trumpet blasts, so that the people trembled.

He establishes boundaries and warns the people of the danger of getting too close to a holy God uninvited. Moses spoke to God and God answered in thunder. Moses is down at the foot of the mountain with the people. God, from above the mountain, wrapped in smoke and thick darkness, with fire and earthquake and trumpet blasts, thundered out his ten commands to his people. We see the response of the people in verse 18

18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off

The people respond with fear and distance themselves from God. They were already kept at a distance by the boundaries that had been established. Now they wanted to flee. Certainly part of their fear came from this terror inducing display of God’s presence. But a great part of their fear would come from the content of what God said. His ten words to them would stir in their hearts the guilt of having already fallen short of God’s perfect standards, and the fear of further failing to live up to his expectations.

the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”

They recognized that the wages of sin is death. This presence of a holy God carried life and death severity, and the people were acutely aware that they fell painfully short. Throughout the bible, this is the effect God’s presence has on his people: ‘Woe to me, for I am utterly sinful and God is perfectly holy.’

Two Kinds of Fear

the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

God reveals himself to his people. The people are terrified. Moses tells them ‘do not fear, God has come so that you will fear him; don’t be afraid – the whole purpose for God coming to you was to make you afraid.’ At first, this sounds like double talk. ‘Don’t be afraid because God came to make you afraid.’ There must be a right and proper fear of God, which is the fear God intended to produce in his people, and there must be an improper fear that Moses tells the people not to have.

The improper fear was what they were doing. They were standing far off. God had set boundaries for them, and they were distancing themselves even more from God. Their fear of God made them want to run and hide in guilty shame, to avoid God, to run from him. This is the fear that Moses rebukes. Do not fear God in such a way that you flee from him. This is the fear John is talking about when he writes:

1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

John has been talking about the love of God for us in sending his own Son to be the propitiation for our sins (4:10) and our Savior (4:14), and that this is our confidence for the day of judgment (4:17). Do not fear God’s punishment so that you run away from him to try to hide yourself from him

The good kind of fear is an awe-filled admiration of who God is in all his omnipotent power and all-present awareness and absolute righteousness. It is a realization of the complete other-ness of God, his holiness and perfection and hatred of all impurity and evil. It is an awareness that he is good and righteous and just and that he will punish all wrong-doers. It is a fear of doing anything that would displease this holy God. This is a fear that desires more than anything to draw near in relationship to God. This is the fear that knows it cannot hide from God, so it lays its sinful self bare to the all seeing God and throws itself at his mercy. This is a sanctifying fear. The purpose of God’s coming was ‘to test you so that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.’ There is a good sanctifying effect of the proper fear of God. After Paul tells us in Philippians that every knee will bow to a sovereign Jesus, he tells us to

Philippians 2:12 … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. This is that healthy fear of the ruling reigning Jesus that produces a passionate pursuit of holiness in thought and word and deed. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

The power to pursue holiness comes from the proper fear of God. This is why the bible over and over again tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Request for a Mediator

the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

Notice what the people ask for? This is beautiful! They request a mediator! If we come face to face with a holy God, we will be undone. We need someone to go into God’s presence for us, and bring his words back to us. We will listen if God’s presence is mediated, but we are unfit and unable to survive his presence on our own. When God’s people understand who God is, when they begin to have a proper fear of him, then God’s people understand their need for a mediator. When we accurately understand who God is in his righteous majesty, we dare not approach him casually. We must have someone to go between us.

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

We need a mediator. Jesus Christ is that mediator. He is the only one that can forgive sinners and bring us safely into the presence of almighty God. This is the good news!

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,…

Jesus took our place as sinners and suffered the righteous wrath of God. Now that our sins are paid for, he can bring us into the presence of the Father with great joy! (Jude 24). This is what the people longed for. This is what Moses pointed forward to.

Hebrews 9:15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

Jesus is our mediator. He mediates the new covenant, the better covenant, the contract by which he bore our sins and paid for them in full, and transfers to us his perfect righteousness, so that we can enjoy the presence of the Father forever.

Exodus 20:21 The people stood far off, while [he] drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

Mark 15:33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” …38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

Jesus, our mediator, went before us into the thick darkness where God was, and opened to us a way in to the very presence of the Father.

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus invites us to come. Put your trust in Jesus alone and come.

Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Praise God for our mediator!

Hebrews 12:28 Therefore let us be grateful … and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

September 25, 2011 Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exodus 20:17 Word #10 Covet Only the Right Things

09/18 Exodus 20:17 Word #10 I Shall Not Want; Don’t Desire the Wrong Things

God is addressing his covenant people whom he has rescued out of slavery and taken to be his own. He is declaring to them what it will mean to be in relationship with him. I am YHWH who brought you out of slavery. #1. You must have no other gods before me. #2. You must not misrepresent me with images. #3. You must uphold my reputation. #4. You must set aside time to enjoy your relationship with me. #5. You must show honor to those I have placed in authority. #6. You must honor life that I created. #7. You must honor your covenant commitments. #8. You must protect the rights of those around you. #9. You must uphold the reputation of those around you. And #10:

Exodus 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

This word takes God’s commands to a whole ‘nother level. When Jesus pointed the rich young man to the commands ‘you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, you shall honor your father and mother,’ the young man felt he could honestly say ‘all these I have kept from my youth’ (Mt.19:20; Mk.10:20; Lk.18:21). Saul the Pharisee, was able to say that he was, ‘as to righteousness, under the law blameless’ (Phil.3:6), but he confesses that this particular command aroused the sinful passions of his flesh (Rom.7:5). He says,

Romans 7:7 …Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. …18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

This particular command makes it clear that God requires more than superficial external obedience. God is concerned about our hearts and our inward desires.

Good Coveting

The word translated ‘covet’ means ‘to desire or delight in’. When Moses repeats this command in Deuteronomy 5:21, he adds another similar word that means ‘to desire, long for, or lust after’. Both of these words are used in both good and bad ways in the bible. Desiring or longing for your neighbor’s wife or his possessions is wrong. But in Genesis (2:9) God filled the garden with all kinds of trees that were desirable. And he gave it all to our first parents for their pleasure and enjoyment. In the Song of Solomon (2:3) this word is used of good sexual desire between a husband and wife. In Isaiah (53:2) it is used for a desire for the Messiah. Listen to how this word for coveting or desire is used in Psalm 19:

Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

Here we see that coveting is commended when we covet God’s truth and God’s ways more than much fine gold.

The synonym that Moses uses in Deuteronomy is used of David’s reminiscent longing for water from the well of Bethlehem (1Ch.11:17); It is used for the soul’s yearning for God (Isaiah 26:9).

Both of these words are used of God’s own holy desire for mount Zion (Ps.68:16; 132:13)

When the New Testament translates the tenth commandment it uses the Greek word (epiyumew epithumeo), a compound of (epi epi) – on upon or to, and (yumov thumos) – which means passion, heat, boiling up. This is a word that communicates intensity of desire or fervent passion. It, too is used in both bad and good ways. When Jesus talks about adultery of the heart (Mt.5:28), he uses this word. Jesus also uses this word (Mt.13:17) to describe the passionate longing of the prophets and righteous people to see the days of Messiah. Jesus used it of his own desire to eat the final Passover with his disciples (Lk.22:15). Galatians 5:17 draws a contrast between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit – the very same word is applied to both good and evil desires. Paul in 1 Timothy (3:1) tells us that aspiring to serve the church as an elder is a noble desire.

So the tenth command does not simply say ‘thou shalt not covet’ or ‘you may not desire’, because there are good things that we should desire, and passion and desire are God-given drives that can and should be used for his glory. This final command is not so much a new and distinct command as a summary command that under-girds all the others. What we are forbidden to desire is specifically that which would lead us to break God’s other commands. Do not long for someone else’s wife, which would lead to adultery; or someone else’s property, which would lead to stealing or jealousy or even murder. This command comes under and behind the others and says not only don’t do these things, but don’t even allow your heart to be enticed by these things.

Idolatrous Coveting

In fact, the New Testament equates covetousness with idolatry.

Ephesians 5:5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

So if covetousness is a form of idolatry, and the covetousness that is forbidden is desiring the wrong things, and idolatry is worshiping the wrong things, then our desires are a form of worship. The person or thing that we long for, that we delight in, that we look to for satisfaction, that has become our God. The longing, delighting, desiring, is worship.

What we are saying goes something like this: ‘I think this thing or this relationship will satisfy my deepest longings, but God says that this is off limits for me, so I will have to go against what God says in order to have what will satisfy me.’ I have elevated the thing to the position of a god that I look to for satisfaction, and I have dethroned God, who has become an obstacle to my happiness.

Cultivate Contentment

This is why God tells us that it is so important to be content with what we have. Jesus tells us:

Luke 12:15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Take care and be on your guard, because everything in our consumer society cultivates covetousness. We must battle this tendency that is resident in our hearts. Paul tells young pastor Timothy:

1Timothy 6:6 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

It is not having riches that is wrong. It is the discontent, the desire, the love, the craving for something we don’t have that is so deadly. When we are so caught up and focused on the thing that we don’t have, we neglect to thank God for all the good that he has given us. We imply that he is not good for withholding the thing we think we need. We demonstrate our unbelief in him as our provider. We become focused on the gift and lose sight of the giver.

Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Be content and lift your eyes to remember that you have the one thing that will truly satisfy. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” If God himself promises to always be with us, we possess the one thing that will bring lasting joy. Being content is not settling even when there is something better to be had. Being content is realizing that we have the best thing and we can stop looking and simply enjoy.

Enjoying God

Let’s dwell for a moment on what we have.

Psalm 103:2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

How often do you stop to count God’s blessings to you? My sins have been forgiven! I have been bought with the precious blood of Christ! God’s steadfast love and mercy is abundantly poured out on me. On top of all that, he satisfies my soul with good!

Psalm 65:4 Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!

God has chosen us to be near him, to enjoy his presence forever. What greater benefit is there than that?

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

We turn so quickly to people and things to bring happiness. We have deceitful desires (Eph.4:22) that lie to us and persuade us that we can find fulfillment in more or better or bigger or different or new. “In your presence there is fullness of joy. At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Genuine fulfillment is found only in God.

Psalm 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

We must realize that it is truly all about God. Heaven is all about God. Not the gold, not the gates, not the loved ones – all those things are good, but there is nothing, no-one in heaven or on earth to be desired besides God. God is my portion forever. You shall have no other gods before me. When God is at the center, all other desires fade in importance. I desire nothing besides you!

Psalm 27:4 One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.

One thing. One thing is the passion of my life, my heart’s desire. One thing I seek after. One thing I covet, I long for. One thing is the burning passion of my heart. To gaze upon the beauty of the LORD. To be with him forever.

Luke 10:38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Is this the one thing you covet? To sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to his teaching? To enjoy the satisfying richness of his presence?

Psalm 23:1

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

3 He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

September 18, 2011 Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exodus 20:16 – Word #9 Uphold the Reputation of Others

09/11 Exodus 20:16 Word #9 Uphold the Reputation of Others

We are studying the rules for God’s house, the standards for those he has redeemed and brought into a relationship with himself. We are to worship only him; we are to worship him in the way that he himself describes; we are to honor his name; we are to take time to enjoy him; we are to honor those he has placed in authority; we are to value the life he created; we are to honor our covenants as he honors his; we are to uphold the rights of those around us.

Today we look at commandment #9. This is primarily a command against the perversion of justice. God is righteous. He loves justice. He is truth. He hates the perversion of justice. In fact, Psalm 89:14 tells us that righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne or his rule. He expects us, his covenant community to reflect his truth and righteousness and justice in our interaction with one another under him.

Exodus 20:16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

The wording of this command uses the language of the law-courts. It could be translated ‘you shall not commit perjury against your neighbor’, although the application is not limited to the courtroom. Listen to some of the applications of this command. Just a few chapters later in Exodus it says:

Exodus 23:1 “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. 2 You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, 3 nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit. …6 “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. 7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. 8 And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear–sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.

In a society such as Israel, the evidence of eyewitnesses weighed heavily in the establishment of truth. To find out what happened, you asked someone who saw it happen. If you were out to get someone, you could attempt to abuse the legal system to do harm to an innocent person. If you were angry with someone and wanted to do them in, you could charge them falsely with a capital offense and have them sentenced to death. There were, of course, some safeguards built in to the law to protect from this kind of misuse.

Deuteronomy 17:6 On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. 7 The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

There must be more than a single witness to establish a case against someone. The witnesses must be cross-examined, and their testimonies must agree. The witnesses understood the gravity of their responsibility, because they would also serve as the executioners.

Deuteronomy 19:15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. 16 If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, 17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. 18 The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. 20 And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. 21 Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

So if you sought to do harm by bringing false accusations to court and it was discovered that your charges were false, the penalty that you sought against your brother was to be done to you. If you were trying to use the courts to murder someone, then you were to be executed. If you were seeking the payment of a fine, then you had to pay out the amount you were suing for. If our courts were to implement something like this, it would put a quick stop to many frivolous lawsuits!

Proverbs on False Witnesses

The wisdom book of Proverbs has a lot to say about the evils of false witnesses.

Proverbs 6:16 There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

Proverbs 12:17 Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit.

Proverbs 14:5 A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness breathes out lies.

Proverbs 14:25 A truthful witness saves lives, but one who breathes out lies is deceitful.

Proverbs 19:5 A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape.

Proverbs 19:9 A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish.

Proverbs 19:28 A worthless witness mocks at justice, and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity.

Proverbs 21:28 A false witness will perish, but the word of a man who hears will endure.

Proverbs 24:28 Be not a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips.

Proverbs 25:18 A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow.

God makes it abundantly clear that he cares deeply what we do with our words. God hates, calls an abomination, and will not allow to go unpunished, a false witness who breathes out lies and one who sows discord among brothers. This is a serious issue.

Silent Witness

What may be surprising is that this command also condemns those who keep silent when they ought to speak up.

Leviticus 5:1 “If anyone sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify, and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity;

A witness that refuses to testify and by his silence allows injustice to be done is as guilty as a false witness. Notice, witness is not what you do, but who you are. If you know the facts, you are a witness, whether you speak up or remain silent. You may be a good witness, or you may be an evil witness, but you are a witness.

Connection with the Third Command

This command is intimately connected with the third command. Being a witness has everything to do with establishing the character of a person. A false witness slanders the character of an upright person. A true witness helps to establish the true character of a person, whether to establish the guilt of the lawbreaker or to defend the good character of the righteous. Commandment 3 has to do with the slander of the name or character of God. Commandment 9 has to do with the slander of the name or character of a person created in the image of God. We are to actively defend and uphold the good name of those around us. We are to intentionally pursue the good reputation of our neighbor. This means refusing to use our words in any way that would tear down or undermine the character of another person, and this means not remaining silent when others engage in tearing down the good reputation of another, but speaking out in their defense.

We are His Witnesses

This should help us understand our role as God’s witnesses. In Isaiah, he says.

Isaiah 43:10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.

We are, because of our relationship with God, witnesses to his character and nature. We may be a good reflection of God’s character, or we may be a poor testimony to who he is, but we are his witnesses. Witness is not something we do; witness is who we are. Jesus said:

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Our Character as Witnesses

Our character as his witnesses is, according to Jesus, tied directly back to how we treat one another.

John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Paul in Ephesians 4 is praying for the unity of believers in the church, and contrasting their way of life with those who do not know Jesus. He tells us that as Christians,we must set aside or put away our old habits and way of life and to instead put on the new transformed life of the Spirit.

Ephesians 4:20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

We are to put away falsehood; instead we are to speak truth with our neighbors. And the reason he gives is that we are members one of another. He has been talking about the various gifts God has given his body the church to promote unity and to strengthen one another. Since we are mutually dependent on each other and organically connected to each other in this body he calls his church, we must deal honestly with each other. There is no sense lying to yourself! He tells us that the things that we say and the way we interact with one another can give opportunity to the devil. Did you ever consider that what you say could open the door for Satan to gain access to divide Christ’s body? He tells us to let no corrupting talk come out of our mouth but rather things that build up. Our talk can have a putrefying effect on the body, or our words can actually become the means of grace to our hearers! The power of the tongue is great both to do harm and to do good. We can spread infectious rottenness, or pour out the riches of undeserved kindness. We can build up with our words, which really gives grace.

In another ‘put off / put on’ passage, Paul again focuses our attention on what we say.

Colossians 3:8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. …12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

So the old pattern of lying malicious slanderous talk that comes out of our mouths is to be replaced by a reflection of God’s compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with each others faults, extending undeserved forgiveness, and love. Instead of tearing one another down, we ought to be overflowing with thankfulness, our hearts saturated in the good news about Jesus so that we can speak and sing encouraging upbuilding gospel centered things into each others lives. Notice, in both of these passages, the new self is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator. If that is true, then even the legitimate wrongs and faults we see in each other will be lovingly and privately addressed, with a view to reconciliation and transformation, rather than publicly pointed out with a view toward condemnation.

Jesus Slandered

And remember when you are slandered, even by your brothers and sisters, Jesus understands what it means to be injured by the words of false witnesses.

Mark 14:55 Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.”’ 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree.

Jesus knew what it meant to be slandered, to be falsely accused, even to have his own friends turn against him. The Psalms reflect his heart.

Psalm 41: 6 And when one comes to see me, he utters empty words, while his heart gathers iniquity; when he goes out, he tells it abroad. 7 All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me. … 9 Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.

At the cross, Jesus even bore in his body the false accusations and slander we hurl at God. If we claim innocence from this charge, remember, Jesus said:

Matthew 25:40 … ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

To slander a brother or sister is to reproach God himself.

Romans 15:2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” (Ps.69:9)

Phillip P. Bliss, c.1875

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

September 11, 2011 Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exodus 20:15 Word #8 – Abundant Generosity

09/04 Exodus 20:15 Word #8 Abundant Generosity

God is giving to us his expectations of how we, who have been purchased by him and brought into a relationship with him, should conduct ourselves, in relation to him and to other people. We must honor God above all, and we must honor others as a concrete expression of how we honor God in our hearts. We are to only worship the one true God; we must worship him in spirit and truth; we must honor his name; we must take time to enjoy his presence. In relationship with others, we are to honor those he has placed in authority over us; we are to value and preserve the gift of life; we are to reflect his covenant faithfulness in our own covenant relationships.

And then comes commandment #8:

Exodus 20:15 “You shall not steal.

This, like the last two, is a terse, abrupt two word prohibition in the original: no murder; no adultery; no stealing. For this to make any sense at all, we need to understand how God views the rights of individuals to own personal property, and then we can look at some examples of the application of this prohibition to some actual scenarios, we will look at the reason behind the command, then we will look to Jesus for some guidance, not only on what we are forbidden to do, but also on what we must do in relation to personal property as followers of him.

Personal Property

You must not steal; you must not take without permission that which belongs to someone else. Inherent in this command is the understanding that something can belong to someone. We have the right to personally own things. This is my pocketknife. It belongs to me. To take it from me without my permission is theft. Some wrongly assume that the bible mandates some sort of communistic society on its followers. The book of Acts does say on several occasions that “they had everything in common” (Acts 2:44; 4:32). We will come back to those passages and look at what they teach before we are through, but to assume that the bible denies any private ownership is to rob commandment 8 of any coherent meaning. How can you steal anything if nothing belongs to anyone? Communism is often a mechanism for the strong to say that what is yours is mine and what is mine is also mine.

God’s Ownership and our Stewardship

The fact is that God owns everything. He says:

Psalm 50:12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.

Paul said to the Athenians:

Acts 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

And to the Romans he said:

Romans 11:35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

John who baptized said:

John 3:27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.

God’s ownership of all things extends even to people.

1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

God owns it all! This is why Malachi can say that to withhold tithes and offerings is equivalent to robbing God.

Malachi 3:7 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ 8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.

God owns everything. Whatever we have he has entrusted into our care. When he requires that we give a portion back to him, it is theft to keep it for ourselves.

Personal Property in the New Testament

God owns everything, and he entrusts it to us to manage wisely for his glory. So to appropriate for myself what God has entrusted to someone else is doubly wrong. Let’s look at one of those passages in Acts to see this concept of personal property.

Acts 4:32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

This passage, which says that the early believers had everything in common, clearly affirms the right to personal property. The things that were shared in common were things that belonged to an individual. It says “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” The things legitimately belonged to their owner. The owner voluntarily shared with other believers. Some were even selling their property and giving substantial amounts so that their needy brothers were well cared for.

That this was voluntary is confirmed by what Peter says to Ananias and Sapphira in the very next verses in Acts 5

Acts 5:1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”

Peter affirms that the field legitimately belonged to the couple. He affirms that even after they sold it, the money belonged to them to do with as they saw fit. They were not judged because they only gave part of the money and kept some back for themselves. That would have been totally proper for them to do. What was wrong was that they lied by pretending to be more generous than they really were. Peter is very clear that the sharing of personal property was voluntary and not in any way compulsory.

Examples of Stealing

Let’s look quickly at some of the concrete examples of stealing that the Old Testament gives, so that we understand what is included in this prohibition. In the next chapters of Exodus, we are told that stealing a person, or kidnapping, or being in possession of a stolen person was a capital offense. We must not steal freedom from anyone. Keep this in mind, by the way, when you are troubled over the bible’s seeming acceptance of slavery – slavery in the bible is something altogether different from what we with our American history think of as slavery. We will have opportunity to deal more with that subject later in Exodus.

Stealing of livestock carried the penalty of repaying 4 or 5 times as much; if the stolen animal was returned, the thief still had to repay double. A thief who would break and enter took his life into his own hands, as the owner was authorized to defend himself with lethal force. It was considered stealing to allow your animal to graze in another man’s field – you had to pay him back. If you started a fire and it got out of control and burned your neighbor’s property, you were required to pay him back. If you borrowed someone’s property, you were required to guard their property and keep it safe. If borrowed property was stolen from you and the thief was not caught, then you had to pay it back. If you owe someone money and you are able to pay, but you choose not to, that is considered stealing.

Stealing someone’s virginity was considered theft, and the penalty, in addition to paying the bride price, was to be marriage.

What is Wrong with Theft?

So what is wrong with taking something that belongs to someone else? First of all, it violates God’s right to do what he wants with what he owns. If he wants to give one person an abundance of stuff and to me next to nothing, that is God’s prerogative. It is not mine to fix the apparent inequality by taking for myself what God has entrusted to someone else. As much as our hearts resonate with a Robin-Hood, it is wrong to steal from the rich and give to the poor. It is wrong to cheat on your taxes. It is wrong to steal from your employer, either by taking goods and equipment or by stealing time – not actually working during the time you are paid to work. Stealing violates God’s right to distribute his own resources as he sees fit.

Stealing is wrong because it violates the basic rights of people who are created in the image of God. Whether we steal freedom or property or livelihood, we are saying that my needs or my desires are greater than your God-given rights.

When we steal, we are demonstrating our unbelief. We tell God that we don’t believe him. We don’t believe in him as our provider. We are telling him that he is doing a lousy job at running his universe. We have to take things into our own hands (quite literally!) to get what we think we need. By stealing we demonstrate that we refuse to trust God to provide for our needs.

Stealing violates God’s right to distribute his own resources as he sees fit, it puts my desires above the desires of anyone else, and it rejects God as provider.

Jesus teaching on Stealing

Jesus has taken all the other commands to a higher level. Let’s see what he has to say about the 8th command. Jesus doesn’t say, as he has on some of the other commands ‘you have heard that it was said do not steal, but I say to you…’ But Jesus does have a lot to say on how we handle personal property. He even gives advice on how to protect your valuables from being broken in to. Here’s what he says:

Matthew 6:19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Every earthly investment opportunity comes with risk. Read the fine print. ‘Evidence of past performance is no guarantee of future result.’ Jesus offers a fail-safe investment plan that is totally secure. Jesus says:

Luke 12:33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.

He goes on to tell us not to worry or be anxious about present needs or future trouble, because

Matthew 6:32 …your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Jesus addresses being stolen from this way:

Luke 6:30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.

When a rich man came to Jesus asking how he could gain eternal life, Jesus pointed him to the commandments, including ‘Do not steal.’ The man claimed:

Luke 18:21 … “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (cf. Mt.19:21; Mk.10:21)

If the command is not to steal, and Jesus makes it clear that theft is a sin that comes from the heart of a person (Mt.15:19), then what Jesus commands is not merely negative; not merely a heart devoid of the desire to take what someone else has, but a heart that is positively content with what it has and overflows with generosity to others. I think we can see this if we go to what the apostles taught about stealing. Paul told the believers in Thessalonika that those that refuse to work to meet their own needs and instead presume on your generosity are stealing.

2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

To the Ephesians, he says:

Ephesians 4:28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.

Here the connection is explicit. Stop stealing, and instead do honest work so that you can practice generosity. Whatever we have has been entrusted to us by God. God requires that we use our God-given resources first to honor him, and then to bless others who are created in his image. If we develop a God-centered outlook on life, where he takes first place in all things, and learn to find our satisfaction in him, we will be content with what we have and be eager to give and bless others. We will begin to live crucified, Christlike lives, as we are taught in Philippians 2:

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

September 4, 2011 Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , , | Leave a comment