The Gospel According to Moses


Week XIV: Mt. Sinai


Day 92: Jethro’s Advice

And Moses father-in-law said to him, "The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone."

Exodus 18:17,18

When Jethro the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, came to Sinai to visit the camp of the Israelites he was amazed when he observed Moses on a typical day of judging the people. From dawn until dusk the poor man of God sat listening to complaints, answering questions, offering counsel, and settling disputes among the people. Moses alone knew the Lord well enough to offer sound advice and answers to the people of God.

Jethro immediately saw that this was ultimately a "no-win" situation. Moses couldn’t keep up this kind of schedule for very long without having a breakdown. And already the people were being neglected—there was just too much work for one man to do.

You pastors who are trying to go it all alone, not feeling able to trust the members of the congregation to help in the work of the ministry, should listen to the advice given here to Moses. Most studies have shown that a one-man ministry show can only meet the needs of two hundred people. If you’re extremely gifted you might push it up a little; if you’re somewhat less than a dynamic leader it may be considerably less than two hundred. And when people aren’t being ministered to they will move elsewhere. Your church will never arise above the two hundred mark unless you rethink your philosophy of ministry and make some changes.

Jethro, a priest and leader of the Midianites, offered a three-point program to solve the problem...

1. "You be the people’s representative before God..." (vss 18:19). In other words, you give yourself to prayer, intercession, and knowing God better, Moses. The first and foremost duty of a man of God is to be just that—a man of God.

2. "Then teach them the statutes and the laws..." (18:20). If you’re the only one who knows God well enough to minister then you’re lax in your teaching duties, Pastor. You should be raising up others of ministry capability. And all your people should know enough to solve most of their own problems.

3. "You shall men who fear God..." (18:21). Take those men and women you have educated and give them some responsibility. Place them carefully: over small groups at first, and as their trustworthiness is apparent, over more. Start sharing your ministry with others, and you will see your own ministry grow rather than diminish. Release your trusted people into ministry.

These are three very good ideas, that are echoed elsewhere in the Bible, too. If you will apply them in the context of your own ministry, you’ll find your own job is easier, while your ministry grows and you actually reach more people; more people will be working for the Lord, and there will be less grumbling and dissatisfaction in the camp. Sounds to me like it’s worth a try.


Day 93: On Judging Biblical Characters

Now listen to me: I shall give you counsel, and God be with you...

Exodus 18:19

For many years I used a popular study Bible (okay, it was the Scofield Reference Bible) that places a footnote on the above verse. It reads...

"Cf. Num. 11:14-17. Jehovah entirely ignored this worldly-wise organization, substituting His own order."

This is a perfect illustration of one of my pet peeves, so I hope you’ll pardon me—and maybe learn something—if I take off on it today.

That terse little note says a whole lot that the Bible doesn’t say. It passes judgment on Jethro, Moses, and all of the leaders that were ordained to lead Israel in this chapter. Jethro is "worldly-wise," or in the flesh, unspiritual, without faith, and given to tricky little man-made solutions to problems. There is nothing in the Scripture that justifies such a glib dismissal of this man and his ideas. Moses, for his part, is assumed to be weak-willed and foolish, easily swayed by his father-in-law’s carnal advice—for he listened to the "worldly wise" inventions of Jethro. For that matter, all of the leaders put into position that day were ordained of man, not God. I repeat, that is a very heavy judgment to pass on a whole group of biblical men without any scriptural evidence.

Scofield refers us to Numbers eleven, where we find the story of how the Lord took of the Spirit that was on Moses and gave it to seventy of the elders of Israel. It doesn’t say anything about the "worldly-wise" government they’d had until that time; Jehovah utters no condemnation of Jethro’s system—very likely the seventy anointed by the Spirit were the top level of leadership already recognized by the people and by the earlier ordination of Moses. The judgmental editor does take another opportunity to slam Moses again, though...

"There was no more power than before—only more machinery. Moses had murmured (v.11) because of the burden that God had laid upon him. God, in distributing the burden, shows that Moses’ power had, all along, been in proportion to his burden."

Scofield and his fellow editors feel the same liberty to criticize Peter and Paul, pass a blanket condemnation on Barnabus’ ministry after he separated from Paul, and to take liberties with many other heroes of the faith, as well. Everybody looks bad to these people—no one is above critique, and a superior, nasty-spirited critique at that.

Sadly, the Scofield editors are not alone, and that’s the point I desire to make. Preachers, authors and critics have been taking jabs at the saints of old for much too long, and it’s about time someone said something about it. Peter was not a buffoon—Jesus made him leader of all the disciples. Moses was not a legalist or a weakling—the Bible says he was faithful in the Lord’s house. Job troubles weren’t triggered because something tragic would come upon him. Paul didn’t resist the Holy Spirit—those who accuse him of such things wouldn’t know the Holy Spirit if He bit them on the nose. And Paul had a lot more faith than those who criticize him for his thorn in the flesh. We are just too free with our criticism of our betters.

Instead of judging Bible characters by our understanding and the prevailing conventional wisdom, we should judge ourselves by the Word of God. Our own little doctrinal stands and opinions change all the time, but the Bible has stood the test of time since the days of Moses. When you are as godly and influential as he, you may begin to criticize, but until then hold your peace, for a greater man stands before you. Of course, if you were as godly as he you wouldn’t criticize anyway, for you’d not judge your brother.


Day 94: A Kingdom of Priests

Now then, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.

Exodus 19:5,6

There are those who believe and teach that the Old Testament was a Jewish phenomenon, and that the Gentiles didn’t really get drawn into the promises of God until the ministry of Paul. Nothing could be more insulting to the God of the Universe, or be more untrue in the light of Scripture. He is God of the whole world and He cares about the whole world, and always has.

The book of Genesis traces the development of man as a whole, including the table of nations in Genesis ten, and the scattering of the nations in chapter eleven. To reach those nations He develops the chosen people plan in Genesis twelve. He calls Abram, and enters into a covenant with him, the basic parts of which are: I will bless you...and you will be a blessing to all the nations. There isn’t a break in God’s concern for the Gentiles. True, the Old Testament accounts are mostly written by Jews and from the perspective of Jews, but throughout there is one reminder, then another, that God has not forsaken the Gentiles. The most powerful, though, is this covenant with Abraham, part of which is the call to bless the nations.

That covenant is renewed to Israel at Sinai—in fact it is the first thing mentioned as the Sinai dialog begins. "You keep My covenant and you’ll be my special possession, a kingdom of priests among all the nations." Essentially it’s a renewal of the Abrahamic covenant. God calls Israel to be a "kingdom of priests." What do priests do? they stand between God and man, they minister to man on behalf of God, and pray to God on behalf of man. This one nation was called to fulfil the covenant of their forefather Abraham, to be a blessing to the nations. This is a sort of Great Commission, given long before Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives and sent His disciples into all the world.

Israel didn’t obey the commission very well over the years, though we do find representative Gentiles in Rahab and Ruth, in David’s mighty men, and elsewhere. Isaiah reminded Israel of the missionary call often; he’s been called the "Apostle Paul of the Old Testament." Nevertheless, Israel became, by and large, exclusive rather than out-reaching toward the nations around them..

Let’s not be too hard on them, however. The western church has been pretty sporadic in sharing the good news, too, up until the last two hundred years. Even today, as we in America sit in the land of gospel aplenty, two and a half billion people have yet to hear any news of Jesus at all. Many sermons have been uttered, many books written, and thousands of missionaries have indeed gone forth, but if you stacked it up against all the other things that have been said and written by the church of America, and all the money spent on various enterprises, you’d find that evangelism to the nations has received nominal mention at best. We’re doing just a little better than the ancient Israelites in keeping up our half of the Abrahamic covenant. God has indeed blessed us, but to what extent have we been a blessing to the nations?


Day 95: Preparing to Meet God

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. 11 And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death....14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes. 15 And he said to the people, "Be ready for the third day; do not come near your wives."

Exodus 19:10-12,14-15

Moses had gone up into the mountain to talk with the Lord and the Israelites were camped at the foot of Mount Sinai. In preparation to meet God, the people were given three instructions: stay away from the mountain itself, wash your garments, and don’t have relations with your wife. These instructions may seem strange, or even chauvinistic, unless you remember the frequent use of symbolism in the books of the Law. All three relate to the subject of the fear of God and holiness, God’s and ours.

Let’s start with the prohibition against touching or going near the mountain. This speaks of God’s holiness and unapproachableness. No sinful human can approach God. None may come to the Father except by the offering of Jesus Christ for his sin. God is holy, set apart from His creation. He is God and we are but men. It would be brash presumption to try to act familiar with him. It would be totally out of order, without respect and or any sense of propriety. There is a vast difference between God and men; we don’t hang out with Him like one of our buddies. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, the starting place for any real relationship with Him. Don’t touch the mountain.

Washing the garments illustrated the same respect and fear. Get ready to meet someone important, Israel. You don’t show up in blue jeans and a tee shirt, bad breath, your hair in curlers, and a cigarette hanging out of your mouth. That’s just plain bad taste, and presumption. It’s popular today to dress casual for church, and that’s okay—we don’t want to look like something we aren’t; but we do want to look like the best version of ourselves when we worship God, not just careless slobs. We want to show some fear of God.

Touching a woman goes along the same line of reasoning. Women aren’t unclean before the Lord; they are heirs together with their husbands, Peter said. But sex is the most pleasurable and intense of the drives of the flesh, and when you’re setting yourself to seek the things of the Spirit, it’s a good idea to abstain from the flesh, (see also 1 Cor 7:5). You’re not just hopping out of bed, pulling on some clothes and running out the door to meet God, so to speak. You’re showing some respect, you’re sanctifying yourself, setting yourself apart for Him and Him alone. You’re being holy, as He is holy. You’re showing that you have some fear of God.

This is not merely an Old Testament concept, and neither is it entirely symbolic. Today, we need the fear of God more than ever before. In our struggle for freedom from tyranny, injustice, prejudice and a class society we have gone too far, and don’t respect authority or fear God as we should. In our attempt to be honest and true, unhypocritical and unashamed of what we are, we’ve sometimes failed to recognize that some are better than us, especially God, and that we should be trying to better ourselves. God wants us to be intimate with Him, but that doesn’t necessarily imply familiarity. Think about it.


Day 96: The First Commandment

Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods...

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.

Exodus 20:2,3

We come now to Exodus chapter twenty and the "Ten Commandments." They are a central part of the Law of Moses, ten unchangeable laws governing man’s basic attitudes and actions, toward both God and other men. It is not legalism to practice and teach the Ten Commandments; it is common sense, for they are all common-sense instructions; and they contain the core of our value system as Christians. So let’s look at the first one.

"You shall have no other gods before Me." This is the cornerstone on which all the law of God is supported, namely, there is one true God, and all others are pretenders, false and contrary to legitimate worship. It has been termed the single most offensive teaching of Christianity, for it blatantly says that everybody who doesn’t worship the God of the Bible is wrong, and under condemnation. Many, even among those who call themselves Christians, find that hard to accept.

I was first exposed to blatant idolatry in India, when I saw people literally worshipping in front of carved images, anointing them with oil (clarified butter, actually), and addressing prayers to them. This is a gross insult to the true God, for it credits others for His accomplishments and goodness; and is also adulterous in that the idolater turns from one god to another seeking favors, rather than being faithful to the real God.

Some say that all gods are representations of the same higher power, the Almighty allowing Himself to be addressed by different names. Anyone who has actually seen the practice of idolatry or examined the teachings of other religions could never take such a rose-colored view of it. The harsh, cruel Allah of Islam is not the same as the merciful God of the Bible. The lascivious Krishna, one of whose claims to fame is that he had sex with all the women of the city of Mathura in one night, is hardly just another name for Jesus Christ. The most popular god in India, by the way, is Shiva, who is worshipped in the person of his male organ. Nearly every Hindu shrine and temple has a stone representation of it. Millions of people do their devotions (puja) to it daily. This is not the God of the Bible under another name; it is the epitome of everything He stands against.

Some say that it’s sincerity that counts, not scientific accuracy of the exact nature of God. Unfortunately, this is not what the Bible teaches. If you claim to be a Christian and believe that the Bible is God’s Word, then find out what it says!

One thing the Bible says is, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me," Jesus speaking, of course (John 14:6). And in Acts 4:12, "There is salvation in no one else [but Jesus Christ the Nazarene—verse 10]; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved." If there are a lot of people who still don’t worship the true God, then we should be telling them about Jesus; we shouldn’t be making excuses for them. It’s the first commandment, and the most important: "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."


Day 97: Common American Idols

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.

Exodus 20:2,3

Let’s look at the word "before" in our text: "You shall have no other gods before Me." It means no other gods more important than Yahweh, none ahead of Him in our affections and priorities, nothing between us and Him. And it means more than that—it means no idols at all. "Before God" means in His sight, as in standing before Him. There are to be no other gods in our lives and affections at all.

If you’re an American chances are that you do not worship false gods such as the ones we referred to yesterday. You wouldn’t be caught dead anointing a phallic symbol with butter, hanging garlands around a statue, or offering prayers to a false god. But idolatry can be anything that takes too much of your affections, time, money, and commitment.

Some idolize their jobs. You may not even like your job, but if it’s a priority over the things of God—that is, if you put work ahead of prayer time, church attendance, Bible reading—you would miss prayer before you’d miss work—then this is an idol in your life.

The same could be said of leisure time. Watch the rush to the cabins and beaches in the summer time, see the churches empty out and the offerings go down, and you’ll see what an idol leisure and play is to American Christians.

How about family? This idol has been promoted by the church itself very vigorously for the last few decades, and it shows. People judge ministries by how well they minister to their families, what kind of programs they have for the youth, rather than how many souls are being won, or how much the Lord may want you in this church. Christians spend more time home and less in ministry and church-related activities than twenty years ago, in order to tend to their families (which usually amounts to watching TV while the kids run around the neighborhood, anyway).

What about that TV? You’d think it was our national god if you could observe millions of Americans worshipping before it every night, accepting all its input, guiding their lives by the values picked up from it!

How about houses and cars, boats and motorcycles, kitchen gadgets, fancy bicycles, personal computers, and all the other things we pour our money and hearts into? Do we pour ourselves into God like that? Are these things idols in your life?

The thing about most American idols is that they’re basically harmless, or even wholesome, in themselves. Who can argue with having a house or taking care of your family? It’s the degree of devotion, the priority status, that you have to examine. Don’t get defensive toward me for pointing this out, but take time to examine yourself and your life, your loves and priorities. Make sure you’re not breaking the first and greatest of the commandments: "You shall have no other gods before Me."


Day 98: The Second Commandment

No Images or Likenesses

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.

Exodus 20:4

The subject of idolatry has already been covered pretty well in the last two days. The fashioning of an idol—a statue or representation of a false god—is forbidden; nothing could be more clear in the Scripture.

What about making representations of other things? This verse seems to exclude any and all statues, paintings, or likenesses of anything in heaven, on earth, or in the sea. That would mean that we couldn’t have any art at all, as we now know it. That’s pretty much how Muslims believe. Their temples are adorned with intricate designs and even flowers, but not with images of men, animals, angels, or God. But before we go too far in this direction, let’s remember that the Lord instructed Moses to fashion cherubs, or angels, within the most holy part of the tabernacle in the wilderness. An extreme view of images or likenesses doesn’t fit the Christian view of things. They are forbidden only as objects of worship.

Nevertheless, it’s a tendency of people to worship representations, whether the people are from primitive tribal cultures or the western world. Statues, or images of some kind (e.g. icons), have always played a profound part in the worship tradition of the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches. Defenders of these traditions insist that it is the thought behind the image, rather than the image itself, that is important. Hindus and Buddhists say the same thing. The average worshipper is talking to a stone, in either case. Idolatry is idolatry.

Images can be dangerous. Pornography is nothing more than the worship of images, not in stone, but in glossy full color. Those images become a major part of the person’s life, affecting social behavior, finances, and relationships. I can’t help but mention the television here, too. These moving images, much more powerful and stimulating than any ancient stone gods, have a deep effect on the lives of those who watch them. It can lead to hero worship and idolatry.

The Christian has to be aware of the dangers of images, too. Some of the most common idols in the world today are pictures of Jesus or Mary. People pray to them, adore them, and can even open themselves to visitations from seducing spirits disguised to look like the person in the picture. We don’t know what Jesus looked like. Isaiah suggests he was average, even homely (see 53:2). Any representation of Him is pure imagination. Any prayers directed towards it are idolatrous.

It’s alright to have a picture of Christ, a cross, a dove, or some such thing in your home if it’s merely a piece of art that declares your faith in God to those who visit you. But if you find yourself looking in its direction as you pray, take it down, or it could become a stumbling-block. The danger is subtle, yet real, even to a sincere believer. That’s why John exhorted the early church,

"Little children, guard yourselves from idols," (1 Jn.5:21).


The Gospel According to Moses, Week X

The Gospel According to Moses, Week XI

The Gospel According to Moses, Week XII

The Gospel According to Moses, Week XIII

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All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Version unless marked otherwise.

Copyright © 2005  Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.

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