Recap of chapter 5 (Spoiler alert if you have not read the chapter yet)

The journey had begun. And, like all journeys, there is a “from” and a “to”.  God saved Israel from slavery, and He saved them to become a holy nation – set apart for His purposes.  Israel was to be different from the pagan nations surrounding them; they were called to honor God and to point others to this LORD.  Just weeks after the exodus, God inaugurated a new covenant with Israel that, if obeyed, would shape them into the holy nation that He intended them to be.

God had worked through Moses to lead His people out of Egypt and now they were assembled at the foot of Mount Sinai in the desert wilderness.  A holy God requires a holy people, so they were to consecrate themselves (p. 47) to prepare to meet with Him.  When God’s presence filled the top of Mount Sinai with thunder and fire the people were terrified.  They were invited to a direct relationship with the LORD, but opted for Moses to act as an intermediary on their behalf.  Moses met with God on the mountain and received the Ten Commandments written on tablets of stone.  These commands and ordinances revealed God’s expectations for His covenant people.  This covenant was sealed with blood and ratified by Israel’s full commitment to obey.

That commitment, however, did not have the spiritual character to back it up.    Just days after Israel agreed to obey God’s laws, they were up to their earrings in idolatry and then some.  While Moses was on the mountain with God, the people traded their golden opportunity for a golden calf.  When Moses caught sight of their depravity, he shattered the tablets and took immediate action.  He assembled the faithful and put to death the corrupt.  Sin, as always, was pricey, painful, and never worth the cost.

When God proposed to send Israel on to Canaan without Him, Moses prayed for God’s presence to remain.  God graciously agreed and promised He would remain with Israel, in the form of a cloud over the Tabernacle.  God then graciously answered another prayer of Moses to “Show me Your glory.” (p.54)  God  passed before him allowing Moses to only see His back because “my face must not be seen.”  What an expression of God’s compassion and grace!  After spending forty days with the LORD on Mount Sinai, Moses came down with two new tablets of the covenant law.  Moses’ face was so radiant after time with God that he had to be veiled because the people were afraid.

God’s grace compels a devotion to Him alone.  He is a jealous God for our benefit; all other gods lead to sin and death.  His people are free – not to act anyway they want, but free to become who He created them to be – holy, different, and designed to point the world to him.  God didn’t just redeem Israel from slavery; He redeemed them for holiness.  Their freedom did indeed carry a purpose.

Focus of this study

The study for this week will focus on two main lesson points: Point 1:  The focus is on the pattern of sin and the presence of God.  God’s visible presence as the Shekinah glory was extremely important to Israel.  It represented His favor upon them.  It was visible in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.  Though the editors of “The Story” only touched on the tabernacle in this chapter, His visible presence in the tabernacle was equally significant.  In the Garden, God dwelt with Adam.  After sin in the Old Testament, God dwells above the people.  In the New Testament, God dwells in the people.  When Christ returns, God will again dwell with the people and the pattern of sin and restoration will be no more!

Point 2:  The focus is on the relationship between the Old Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant.  Many Christians find the relationship between the covenants confusing so this will attempt to briefly clarify them.  The New Testament sheds light on the Mosaic covenant so this lesson uses New Testament cross references.

The Pattern and God’s Presence

God has certainly been at work.  Over the last few centuries, he has identified and cultivated a nation for himself – a people singled out not just to receive special blessings as God’s chosen, but charged to be a blessing in return.

Through a series of dysfunctional families, inter-generational battles, years of famine, and now foreign captivity, God has proven faithful to preserve his people and keep his promises.  After their deliverance from bondage, they are ready to receive the precepts of this sovereign God, showing how they will distinguish themselves among all the people of the earth.

But a pattern, or cycle, begins to emerge; one that will be seen over and over again throughout their history:

SIN.  No sooner has God given these ordinances to his chosen, than their patience wears thin and they fall into disobedience, starting at the very top of the Ten Commandments and flaunting rule #1:  “You shall have no other gods before me.”  They choose an artificial image of their own making over God.  The cycle begins as sin rears its head; and as we see through the present day, nothing really changes.  Through the ages, we have built deities of affluence, power, adulation, busyness, and addiction.  As much as the Israelites wanted freedom, they wanted familiarity more.  Such is the nature of the gravitational force of sin.

INTERCESSION.  Moses, as a very clear forerunner of Christ, was the intermediary that brought the will of God down from Sinai (after 40 days alone with God – sound familiar?)  After their disobedience, he again fills this ambassadorial role by passionately interceding for Israel.  Moses reminds God of his oaths, and then after destroying the golden calf, goes back to the Lord and, in another messianic act, intercedes again by offering himself to be “blotted out of the book you have written.”

PRESENCE.  Once intercession is made, and God’s anger at the idolatry subsides, he gives his people the most valuable gift he could possibly give:  his presence.  This becomes the third element of the repeating cycle throughout the Bible.  A tent of meeting, or Tabernacle, is constructed where the Lord would be seen and heard.  Thus inaugurates the post-intercession promise of God:  “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  This is echoed again in Matthew’s account, where Jesus invites all into his presence, “and I will give you rest.”  Immanuel, God with us.

Just as the tent of meeting ushers in the actual presence of God among his people, we begin to see a permanent, eternal template being established that points clearly 1,500 years hence:  the problem of sin, an Intercessor who, with a radiant face on a mountain, descends to usher in not a set of laws but a Kingdom of grace, by taking the people’s sins himself.

And as Moses the Intercessor led the people through their wanderings until they reached home, so our Intercessor today does the same through Holy Spirit to live in us.  And so, the Tent of Meeting is transformed:  it is no longer a crafted edifice made with hands, but something much more: by the Holy Spirit’s residence, we are now the Tent of Meeting – God living in, and talking to, us.  The cloud has become a voice within, so that “your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.”  (Isa. 30.21)

Such is the great grace of the Almighty:  a God who doesn’t just hand down edicts, but extends his own hand.  Because it’s not just about restrictions; it’s about redemption.

What do the Ten Commandments reveal about the nature of God and his desire to have a relationship with us?

What does it mean that God is holy? What are the implications of God’s holiness as we seek him?

Moses said, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” How does the fear of God restrain sin?

After a while in the same cycle of sin, intercession, presence you would think the people would learn. Why do you think this cycle continued for so long in these people? Does this same cycle occur in the lives of people today? What is the same and what is different? 

After punishing the Israelites for the golden calf, Moses immediately sought reconciliation with God. How should believers today hold one another accountable? How can we do this gracefully?

If we see God as a cosmic killjoy (Giving the commandments) just waiting for people to do something wrong so he can catch and punish them, how will this impact our relationship with him?

The Old Covenant and the New Covenant

The people of Israel had spent 400 years immersed in the pagan culture of Egypt.  Now they had been redeemed to become the shining nation of God.  On Mount Horeb or Mount Sinai, God gave Moses the ordinances and commands that would identify them as God’s unique people.  These would help them to recognize the absolute holiness of God and their need for a Savior as sinners.

I.       The Purpose of the Old Covenant

A. The Old Covenant is encapsulated in the Ten Commandments.

B. The purpose–to reveal sin.  The New Testaments gives us important insight into its purpose.

– The Law teaches us what sin is.  “Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”  (Rom. 3:20b)  The Law reveals   sin because it reveals God’s holiness and our inability to be holy apart from grace.

– The Law served as a tutor to lead people to Christ.  (Gal. 3:24)  It was external—written on stone.

– Gal. 3—Paul’s point in Galatians 3 is to demonstrate that salvation has always been by faith.  He uses Abraham’s faith to make his point.  Abraham was justified by faith 430 years before Moses received the Law.  Therefore, the Law was not a means for salvation but rather a tutor to further show our need for a Savior.  By trusting in Christ’s righteousness rather than one’s own ability to be righteous by keeping every Law, believers are justified by faith.

– The annual sacrifices reminded them of their sins.  Their sin was always there.  Those sacrifices did not take away their sins. “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.  For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeatedly endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.  If it could, would they not have stopped being offered?  For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.  But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Heb 10:1-4)

C. The problem—people could not keep the Law

– The problem was not the Law.  The problem was with the people.  They couldn’t and wouldn’t keep the Law.  “For finding fault with the people, He says, … ‘Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in my covenant, and I did not care for them, says the Lord.”  (Heb. 8:8a, 9)

What is the role of the law? How have you viewed the law differently in the past?

What was the role of the 10 commandments for the Israelites? Do they play the same role in our lives today? Why or why not?

How can the 10 commandments be used if we know we can’t follow them perfectly?

II.    The Promise of a New Covenant to Come

A. When God sent Israel into captivity for their continued sin, He gave them the hope of a New Covenant to come.   God communicated this through both prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel in about 584 BC.

B. In Jer. 31:31-34, God promises a new covenant to Israel and Judah that will be different from the covenant at Sinai that they broke.  In this new covenant, God will:
– Write the Law on their hearts within them;
– Forgive their sin and remember their sin no more;
– God will put His Spirit within them which will cause them to obey (adds Ezek. 36:27)

C. What hope God graciously offered Israel through the promise of a New Covenant to come!

III. The Preeminence of the New Covenant

The author of Hebrews (who authored this book after Christ’s life) makes the case that the New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant for several reasons.  He quotes Jeremiah’s promise of a new covenant to support His argument that the New Covenant in Christ is not a surprise, but rather another piece of God’s redemptive, well-planned puzzle.  (Heb. 8:6-13; 10:1-18)

  1. The New Covenant is based on better promises listed in Jer. 31.
  2. This covenant takes away sin because Christ is a better sacrifice.
  3. This covenant gives the indwelling Holy Spirit so that worshipers can obey God.
  4. All will know the Lord.

God showed his love for people and his desire to connect the Upper and Lower Story by moving into their neighborhood. He settled in, right in their midst. God is still seeking to connect with us on a deeply personal level. What are ways you experience the presence and care of God breaking into your daily life? 

IV. Applications and Implications

  1. Because I am a partaker in the New Covenant, I am now free to obey God.
  2. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, I can come boldly to God.
  3. I can trust Jesus’ blood to forgive all my sins—past, present and future.
  4. I have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guarantee my full future redemption.
  5. I can trust God more because of His great plan.  Nothing is an after-thought.
  6. Although His Spirit now in me prompts me to obey God, my “flesh” or my “sin nature” still exists.
  7. I am holy because Jesus’ righteousness has been given to me, not because of anything I have done or can do.

God describes himself as compassionate, slow to anger, gracious and abounding in loving-kindness. Where do you see these qualities in the new covenant and the old covenant?

God is compassionate, What does that mean? Does he call us to the same compassion for one another? How can we show that to others?

The Sub-cultural Re-write of the Ten Commandments

God is gracious enough to communicate with His people in language that we understand.  This is a fun little activity to think about communicating to different groups of people. For this activity I want you to think through the meaning behind each of the Ten Commandments and to communicate it to another group in their “language.”   I want to challenge you to choose a sub-culture from the list and re-write the Ten Commandments in such a way that group would understand.  Then share with the rest of us.  If the sub-group you were thinking about is not on the list please tell us which sub-group you choose. Below is an example (commonly found on quilting and cross-stitching patterns) of the Country Ten Commandments, and some subculture possibilities.  Have some fun!

Country Ten Commandments                                        Possible Subcultures to focus on

Only One God                                                                                                   Harley Riders

No Idols                                                                                                              Marines

Ya’ll don’t cuss                                                                                                 Cyclones

Go to Sunday meetin’                                                                                    Hawkeyes

Honor Ma and Pa                                                                                             Pre-schoolers

Do not kill                                                                                                            Surfers

Adultery Forbidden                                                                                        Teens

Must Not Steal                                                                                                   Artists (no words)

Mustn’t Fib or Gossip                                                                                      Nascar Fans

Don’t Hanker for Friends Things                                                                Quilter’s/Scrap-Bookers

Questions to consider during the week:

1. Israel’s complaining is a reminder of how easy it is to become ungrateful. List five things you are grateful for.  How does gratitude change you perspective?

2. Moses charged Israel to keep God’s commandments and diligently teach them to their children?  How can you, whether as a parent, or a member of your church community, pass on God’s commandments to the next generation?

3. As God has blessed you, how can you be a blessing to the people around you? Start with your family and move out from there, by thinking of concrete ways to show care and concern for your neighbors.

Let me know your thoughts. Do you have questions about something in the chapter that was not covered here?

Have a great week!