Introduction: We embark this week on the marvelous story of God’s wilderness care for His people, taking them through the desert, past many hostile enemies in order to firmly plant them in the Promised Land, “the mountain of His inheritance” in Exodus 15:17. May we be reminded that all which God ordains in our lives has this glorious goal: not our mere survival, but our being led triumphantly into the glorious presence and worship of God forever!
Mon/Tues: read Exodus 15:13-17; Deuteronomy 9:4-6 and Exodus 32:7-13. Who were these “Hebrews” whom God redeemed out of Egypt and then led through the Red Sea? Well, they were notorious for being a weak, complaining, unfaithful and compromised people. Second, they were called the Hebrews because they “passed by” the other nations into their inheritance in Canaan (the verb “pass by” in Exodus 15:16 is the root of their name “Hebrew”), thereby ensuring that God would become famous for choosing and then “sticking with” a most spiritually handicapped race of stiff-necked sinners (Deuteronomy 9:6)! How carefully and tenderly did God lead this group of spiritual misfits for forty years in the desert, and then into the Promised Land to inherit “houses they did not build; vineyards they did not plant and houses filled with good things they did not provide (Deut. 6:10-11)!
Such undeserved grace is also our foundational covenant hope: that God will keep His promises to lead us all our lives long – even if He has to carry each of us on His back, due to the weakness of our faith and the debilitating effects of sin upon us. Wasn’t this also Moses’ argument for God to spare the Hebrews in Exodus 32:7-13? No doubt inspired by the Spirit of Christ when tested as to his love for God’s people, Moses pled for God not to give the Egyptians grounds to gloat over the rejection of Israel in Exodus 32:12! What a blessed God of gracious leading we have – inspiring us to pray for grace for others from the very same well of undeserved favor which we have enjoyed!
Meditate and Pray: Though we have not been led dramatically through the Red Sea and into the desert, following God’s fiery pillar and cloud, we must continually remind ourselves of the debt we owe to God’s daily, patient and gracious leadership of our lives. Listen to John Calvin on such gracious leadership from Psalm 103:8:
This ought to give us courage every time that we offend God, to return boldly to him, knowing for sure that we shall find him ready to grant us mercy. It says that God is ‘patient’ and long-suffering (Psalm 103:8), and even that he is so good that as soon as he sees poor creatures degraded by their offenses, his only desire is to grant them pardon and have communion with them. Since it is this way, he does not wait for us to come to him, but he takes the pains of coming to seek us, that we may be near his grace. John Calvin. August 26, 1562 sermon on 2 Samuel 12:13-14.
Wednesday: read Exodus 3:12 and 15:13-17. God promises in Exodus 15:13 and 15:17 to lead the people He has redeemed from Egypt to worship at “His holy dwelling” – first at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19-20, and then ultimately to Mount Moriah, at the center of Jerusalem – where Abraham had been commanded centuries earlier to sacrifice Isaac and where David’s son Solomon would eventually build the temple.
Even in our day, where many religious freedoms are under threat, this is still God’s goal for all those upon whom He sets His love: to dwell with them, to be their God, and to accept their worship through the sacrificial blood shed on His altar. What a promise of safety in this hostile world to share with the Hebrews of old! We can worship God in safety “through the blood of the
Lamb,” just as they did! After all, didn’t God promise such worship as the “sign” that He had sent Moses to redeem the Hebrews in Exodus 3:12? And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.
Meditate and Pray: Thank the Lord for the perfect sacrifice of His Son, the LORD Jesus, by which the fire of God’s favor upon us comes down from Heaven in order to bless our worship and render it acceptable to God. This is what Pentecost meant for the church: the “fire” of God’s acceptance being poured out on the whole church by the LORD, the Spirit! Now, in view of such mercies, we can indeed, with Moses’ and God’s people of old, “offer our bodies as living sacrifices” (Rom. 12:1). Sing about this wonderful fire of grace, with which you can serve the LORD, in hymn # 565 in our Trinity hymnal:
All for Jesus, all for Jesus!
All my being’s ransomed powers:
All my thoughts and words and doings,
All my days and all my hours.
Let my hands perform His bidding,
Let my feet run in His ways;
Let my eyes see Jesus only,
Let my lips speak forth His praise.
Worldlings prize their gems of beauty,
Cling to gilded toys of dust,
Boast of wealth and fame and pleasure;
Only Jesus will I trust.
Oh, what wonder! how amazing!
Jesus, glorious King of kings,
Deigns to call me His belovèd,
Lets me rest beneath His wings.
Thursday: read Exodus 3:18, 15:13-17 and Leviticus 9:23-24. It bears repeating that, before fulfilling His promise for His people’s inheritance in Canaan given in Exodus 15:17 (a rich inheritance with lavish vineyards, fields “flowing with milk and honey” and houses full of good things), God first took them to worship at Mt. Sinai in the wilderness. Worship was to be their first priority. For example, look at how God instructed Moses to go with the elders to the king of Egypt, demanding in Ex. 3:18: “Let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God.” This was in accordance with the LORD’s promise that, after the exodus, all His people would “worship on this mountain” (Ex. 3:12).
Notice especially that the means of their worship would be to “offer sacrifices” (Ex. 3:18). How then would God show that He accepted those sacrifices at “the mountain of God”? For an answer, look again at that fire which burned in the bush in Ex. 3:2. Would not that fire come down again from heaven, to consume what was offered, as a sign to God’s people that they were accepted before Him? For example, think of Moses’ brother Aaron, whom we will meet in Exodus 4:27. Look at how God accepted Aaron as High Priest to offer sacrifices on behalf of His people in Leviticus 9:24: “Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the
burnt offering and the fat portions of the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.”
Meditate and Pray: Do we not have the same grounds for joy today? Our unchangeable God the Father has accepted the burnt offering of our LORD Jesus, and proves His acceptance by sending down the fire of the Holy Spirit! Let us also bow down and shout with joy! Moreover, let us realize how the focus of our lives must be on the priority of worship. Our God is indeed a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29) – let us serve Him acceptably with reverence and holy awe!
Friday: read Exodus 15:13-18. Many trials faced God’s people in the desert: hunger and thirst in Exodus 15-17; rebellion against Moses and testing God’s patience, as well as Moses’ exhaustion under the strain of leadership in Exodus 17-18… to name just a few. It would be centuries before they would see God’s dwelling place of worship established in the Promised Land! Yet, even when our journey seems just as hot, fruitless, long and wearying as the desert wanderings of the Hebrews, let us remember that God never, in a detached manner, directs us from Heaven where to walk in our trials. He comes down to walk with us! Even in the Old Testament days of manna and water from the rock, it was Christ Himself who led them through the desert! See 1 Corinthians 10:4. As I said in a 1996 sermon:
Our perseverance in living according to God’s Word is tied to Christ – who walked the way before us and walks it with us now, knowing every turn and pitfall. God does not point us to an untraveled road. In giving us His Law and His directions for this life, God does not give us an untested road map or a route which simply looks good “on paper.” It is a way that has been tried. Since His Son walked that way, every foot of it is known by Him. Jesus has taken repeated trips on the pilgrim way, guiding weak, faltering saints to glory. Aren’t you glad that He can guarantee you safe passage? Aren’t you glad that He has answered for all your sins, and for every accusation which could bar your way? In just this way, the way of God’s Law has been pioneered by Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith.