Take Two Tablets (Exodus 24:12-18)
On February 3, 1983, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed 1983 to be “The Year of the Bible. 1983 was a very good year. It’s remembered for the final episode of M*A*S*H, which ended after 11 years and 251 episodes. It was also the same year that Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. We might remember those other events, but I’m sure none of us recall that 1983 was, in Regan’s terms, “The Year of the Bible.”
President Reagan’s proclamation said: “Today our beloved America and, indeed, the world, is facing a decade of enormous challenge. As a people we may well be tested as we have seldom, if ever, been tested before. We will need resources of spirit even more than resources of technology, education and armaments. There could be no more fitting moment than now to reflect with gratitude, humility and urgency upon the wisdom revealed to us in the writing that Abraham Lincoln called ‘the best gift God has ever given to man. . . . But for it, we could not know right from wrong.”
The year of the Bible came and went, and few people took notice. You didn’t even know that 1983 was the “Year of the Bible” until I told you, did you? Yet, we still need the “resources of spirit even more than resources of technology.” In this fast-paced world, we need those resources of spirit more than ever.
Tonight’s text from Exodus 24 provides an excellent place to start. What do we learn about the resources of spirit in this text?
Those Resources are Schooling, v 12
“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commandment, which I have written for their instruction.”
God had already given what we call the Ten Commandments back in chapter 20, and God provided many other commandments between chapters 20 and 24. We often see the Ten Commandments and just the Ten Commandments on tablets. The text does NOT say that Moses only wrote the Ten Commandments on these tablets—notice that God tells Moses that he had written on the tablets “the law and commandment.”
The law and commandment were “for their instruction.” This whole passage is about the covenant relationship between God and his people. In Exodus 24:8, Moses takes blood and throws it upon the people and declares: “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Recall that a covenant places requirements on both parties. God places a requirement on himself: to aid the Israelites as they conquer Canaan: Exodus 23:20-33. Most of the passage from 20 to 24, however, is God’s placing requirements upon the Israelites. The so-called “Ten Commandments” are requirements upon the Israelites.
The Israelites needed these requirements for their “schooling”—in order to know what God wanted. We cannot hope to please God without knowing what he expects: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:14-15). In essence, Paul says: People cannot please God unless they know what he requires—“How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?”
If we want to please God, we absolutely must spend time in Scripture in order to know what God expects. “The law of God is in his heart; his steps do not slip” (Ps 37:31). “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps 119:11).
How well do we know the words of Scripture? Do we know the words of Scripture well enough to keep from sinning against God?
These words for the Israelites’ instruction were also for their own good. Notice some of the commands God instituted in these chapters:
- “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 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” (Ex 20:9-10). Man needs rest, and God here orders the Israelites to take rest.
- Women are elevated in these chapters far beyond what was typical in the Ancient Near East. “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her child come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Ex 21:22-24). The laws throughout the Old Testament are good for women and provide far more protection than typical Ancient Near Eastern laws.
The words of God are good for us, too. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (Jn 5:24). Because of the words of God, we have life and so many other blessings. Think of all the heartache we avoid when we pay attention to God, think of all the relationships that aren’t severed when we pay attention to God. What a blessing are the Words of God!
Sometime ago, a lady wrote into Reader’s Digest and told about needing surgery.
My doctor had recommended surgery and referred me to a specialist. Arriving early for my appointment, I found the door unlocked and the young surgeon, deeply engrossed in reading, behind the receptionist’s desk. When he didn’t hear me come in, I cleared my throat. Startled, he closed the book, which I recognized as a Bible. “Does reading the Bible help you before or after an operation?” I asked. His soft, one-word answer was: “During.”
Think of all the good Scripture will do us if we read it during life!
Those Resources are Superior, vv 13-14
“So Moses rose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. And he said to the elders, ‘Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has a dispute, let them go to them.”
Moses prioritized in order to go up the mountain and get the word of God. God had appointed Moses as leader for the people. “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Ex 3:10. However, Moses delegated responsibility to Aaron and Hur in order that he could go up the mountain and receive God’s Words.
How could Moses delegate such an important responsibility? Moses understood the importance of the Word of God? “Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding” (Prov 23:23). “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” Moses understood as busy as he was, as important a role as he performed in Israel, he had to go and get the Word of God—not only for himself but for the people of God.
Think about us for just a moment: How important is the Word of God in our lives? Think about how many of our brethren throughout the country would be in church right now, but the Super Bowl is on, so they’re home. Are we like that sometime? Do we ever entertain ourselves when we could be spending time in Scripture? Do we run the rate race of life and never stop to examine the Scriptures and see how they apply to us?
Moses didn’t just get the Word of God for himself, but he got the Word of God for the children of Israel. Are there not times that we need to get the Word of God for others? What about our children? How much Scripture are they going to learn if we don’t make teaching them Scripture a priority? What about our neighbors and friends? Are they ever going to learn truth if we don’t make demonstrating and teaching truth a priority?
Yesterday, RJ and Wil had games at the Y. On the way back, Tammy’s mom called my cell. I handed Tammy the phone and saw her face light up—one of her high school teachers, one of Tammy’s mentors, was dying and had requested to be baptized. Tammy’s mom and Margaret Ann are the closest of friends. Margaret Ann is critically, critically ill with cancer, and she has no family to care for her. When she was in Lexington, Tammy’s mom stayed with Margaret Ann night and day and cared for her greatly. Tammy’s mom had taught Margaret Ann for forty years or so, but when she became so ill, Tammy’s mom picked up that teaching in earnest. Yesterday, Margaret Ann was baptized into Christ because Tammy’s mom made teaching her and serving her a priority. Are we willing to do the same?
Those Resources are Sublime, v 12
Notice what God told Moses when he instructed him to come up the mountain: “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandments, which I have written for their instruction.” This is why these words were schooling for the Israelites and why they were superior to everything else Moses had to do: They are the words of God! They are sublime; they are divine in nature.
We understand, do we not, that the Bible is the very Word of God? Concerning Judas, Peter says: “The Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David” (Acts 1:16). “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21).
Thus, every word we read in Scripture is from God: It’s not simply a good idea; it’s not simply sound counsel from a friend; it’s not simply information about the formation of the world; it’s not man-made. Scripture is the Word of God which came to man from God!
Those Resources are Strenuous
These commands were quite difficult for the Israelites to follow. Part of the covenant God made with the Israelites concerned idolatry: “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. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God” (Ex 20:4-5). Yet, while Moses is on the mountain receiving the Tablets, we read: “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, ‘Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Ex 32:1)—Aaron then collected gold from the people and constructed a calf for them to worship.
It’s so easy for us to see the problems with the Israelites, but how easy is it for us to see that same reality in ourselves? Paul knew well about the struggles of sin: Romans 7:15-24a. Someone has aptly said, “Men do not reject the Bible because it contradicts itself, but because it contradicts them.” Does the Bible not have a great tendency to contradict us? How many times do we lie awake in the night because we realize we stand in contradiction to Scripture? How often do we realize that we have violated the Law of God?
These instructions are difficult. They were hard for the Israelites to follow, and they are hard for us to follow, too. But we also know, as Jesus said, that Scripture is not only strenuous, but it is life. Has Scripture given you life?