Quick thought as my wife and I were getting in a few burning-eyed moments in the scripture before attempting to get half-half-dozen hours of sleep while our newborn slept. Right after the ten commandments in Exodus 20:1-21, comes this rather interesting section:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it. And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.”
Now at first glance, it seems like God is stringing together a bunch of relatively unrelated thoughts, but upon a closer and more careful inspection, you discover that this passage deals with the logical questions following the ten commandments. The ten commandments were the summation of God’s self-revelation to Israel under Moses; a very broad picture of who he is by describing what he’s like. God let Israel know more about him by revealing several dozen of his characteristics.
Several dozen? But there’s only 10 commandments!
Yup. Several dozen, if not a hundred or more.
Consider just Exodus 20:2 and consider what he says about himself as you take only the first clause in the verse:
– “I am the Lord your God…”
1. He is self revealing – The quotation mark at the beginning is significant; there’s no other (self-proclaimed) deity that has revealed himself to mankind through actual speech. Remember Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al? The didn’t have a clue why Ba’al didn’t show up to defend himself because Ba’al hadn’t made his ways known to him, so much so they even took Elijah’s mocking suggestions seriously! (you never know…maybe Ba’al is on the pot!)
2. He is imminent – The very fact that there are quotation marks also suggests that God is not too “above us” to make himself known to us. He’s not the deistic God hated by atheists who wound the watch and wandered off, only to return when he needs to hurt things for sport. He’s in the midst of mankind, making himself known to them.
3. He is condescending – The phrase “I am the Lord your God” isn’t a phrase that is some sort of “Behold, the one who cannot be named who is above all description and beyond all knowing!” language. God talks about himself in language that is accessible. In his self revelation, God condescends to mankind; he speaks to us like us for us to know him.
4. He is powerful – God uses words, and the implicit assumption is that words will be sufficient. God has all the power needed to accurately reveal himself to us in words, since words is what he chose to use. There is a modern manifestation of contempt for the Bible that comes in the form of postmodern thought saying “God is bigger than the words that we use about him”. The idea sounds clever, for who would want to suggest that God can be accurately described in a paragraph, or a page, or even a thousand pages? God has to be bigger than we can ever imagine, right? The error is that God has not chosen to reveal his entirety to us, and what he has revealed is sufficient to arrive at his purpose in our knowing him. God’s purpose in our knowing him isn’t to give us an insight into his whole life story or answer all the questions we could ever have about him; that could only come in eternity (if it even comes then) and would take all of eternity (i.e. we’ll never “fully arrive” at knowing God). Nobody could possibly exhaustively know God now because nobody lives anywhere long enough to acquire that level of knowledge! God’s main concern is sharing himself with us for eternity and that means reconciling rebellious sinners to himself through the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. All knowledge that God has revealed to us is ultimately and solely revealed unto the end of salvation. God doesn’t really offer a whole lot of window-dressing along the way.
5. He is relational- The Lord is the personal God of Israel; “your God”. The Lord is not someone who is “out there” and you hope, through your various efforts at impressing him, that he notices you. Yahweh has not only made himself known to you, he’s let you know that you’re personally connected and he has and interest in you.
6. He is asceitic (asceity = the quality of self-existence) – His name is “Yahweh”, which means “I am”. The idea behind the name is that God is self-existent. He is the one who existed when nothing else did, and he makes himself known as such.
7. He is personal – He uses personal pronouns (“I”); he doesn’t speak of himself in third person out of some sort of silly attempt at sounding spiritual, and he isn’t above talking about himself in personal terms that we can somehow understand. He talks like a person to other persons.
So, just in the first clause of one verse, I grabbed out seven characteristics that God had made known. I could go on and on, but I won’t for the sake of finishing this post this year. Needless to say, the people of Israel would have had a whole lot of knowledge of God coming from their meditating on the 10 commandments, not to mention what they learned from the experience of being around the mountain. One of the big lessons that came from being around the mountain was that God is not approached lightly:
– “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.'” – Exodus 19:12
So as God has made himself known and you realize that anyone who takes him lightly ends up dead, the logical question springs to mind:
So how do we approach God without dying?
Glad you asked, and God is knows that’s on everyone’s mind! He is compassionate in making that the next thing he talks about after talking about himself. So he reminds the Israelites to not make images “to be with me” (22:23), meaning to not try to portray him in any sort of figurine or statue or any other representation (God knows how quickly the image of what’s worshiped becomes the image that is worshiped). He tells the Israelites how to make his altars (22:24). He gives them consolation in knowing that he will work in their hearts to produce worship of himself when he states “in every place where I cause my name to be remembered” (22:24) and knowing that they will want to make stone altars, he lets them know how that is to be done as well (22:25). Finally, he reminds them of the utter importance of fleeing from every semblance of sin, especially in his official ceremonies of worship. He warns the Israelites to pay close attention to how they build and orchestrate the structures and activities of his worship, lest in their thoughtlessness they do things that may cause them to sin (22:26).
There is so much take-away here. I could talk about how compassionate God is in answering our questions before we even know to ask them.
I could talk about worship and how we need to “ramp up” (no pun intended…okay, kinda) our alertness in church to be mindful and intentional in the hundreds of little details that compose our services of worship (how we dress, what we say, how we walk, etc.).
I could talk about postmodernism and how stupid it is.
I won’t do any of those things. I’ll just let you ruminate a little and go take care of a very needy baby.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Is 1400 words still a little bite? Not according to Wagner!” Unger