The Goings of God (Final)

Studies on the book of Exodus.

J. Alec Motyer

2. The indwelling is a product of the mind, will and purpose of God.

Throughout all these complex details of the Tabernacle, there is one continuing story line, one truth that binds the whole together: "There I will meet with thee and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the cherubim which are upon the ark of testimony" (25:22). Did they ask Him to come? No, not at all. Could they have compelled Him to come? Certainly not! Why, then, has He come? Because it is His will to do so. We have to keep coming back to this assertion: "There I will meet with the children of Israel. The tent shall be sanctified by my glory" (29:43). God says it. The only compulsion put upon Him was that of His own nature. The whole idea of the indwelling God is a product of the mind and will of God.

i. The love of God

As we explore the dimensions of the reliability of this truth we find first of all that the indwelling arises out of the love of God. Right in the centre of the passage on the Great Rebellion, we read these surprising words: "Thou shalt worship no other God, for the Lord whose name is Jealous is a jealous God ..." (34:14). The heart of man is potentially fickle, so the redeemed need to be warned against going after other gods. This is just as true in the New Testament as in the Old: "My little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21). Notwithstanding all the glory that had been revealed to them, the people of God had to be warned lest they go awhoring after other gods. The redeeming love in the blood of the lamb, the caring love of the pilgrimage journey to Sinai, the majestic holiness of God at that mount, still leave them capable of being enticed away. Man's heart is fickle, but there is no such fickleness in his God.

He told Moses that His name of Yahweh is His name for ever. There is no change in Him. This, then, is the same Yahweh whose name -- that is to say, whose inmost nature -- is Jealous. What a name for God! Pure jealousy in burning, passionate consistency. We have degraded the idea of jealousy by confusing it with possessiveness, as we sinners are bound to do. God's jealousy, however, is pure love, which means that He has a burning, passionate consistency with regard to us.

ii. The perseverance of God

If we look back again over the chapters 25 to 31 concerning the pattern of the structure, then 32 to 34, the story of the Great Rebellion and then come back to the final section 35 to 40 which resumes the story of the building of the Tabernacle, we are impressed with the perseverance of God. He is so determined to dwell among His people that even that dreadful rebellion could not deter Him. This is the second lesson to be learned from that tedious repetition of the details of the building. At every moment God is saying to His people, "See, this is what I planned to do, and this is precisely what I have done. The fact that you proved rebels cannot deflect Me off course". Not even the sin of God's people can turn Him away from His purposes. He just goes on persevering.

iii. The gentle consistency of God

Perseverance means that God goes on until He gets His own way, but consistency means that He always acts in accordance with His own nature. Here is the root and ground of our assurance. We belong to a changeless God. This proved the basis of Moses' appeal on behalf of the people. "The Lord spake to Moses saying, Go, get thee down, for thy people which thou broughtest up out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves" (32:7). Moses, for once, disobeys. He does not go down: he stays to pray. Now what did he say to God? First he appealed to God's consistency as the people's Redeemer: "Why is Your wrath hot against Your people whom You have brought forth out of the land of Egypt?" (32:11).

Secondly he appealed to God's consistency regarding His own name: "Wherefore should the Egyptians say, For evil did He bring them forth?" (32:12). He urged God to be mindful of His own name and reputation. "What, then," says Moses, "would the Egyptians think of You when they find that the Redeemer has after all turned out to be a Destroyer?".

Thirdly Moses appealed to God's consistency regarding His word of promise: "Remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self" (32:13). "You do not speak idle words," Moses argued, "You swore this on the basis of what You are. Your good name is involved." So it was that Moses was able to base his prayer on the matter of God's consistency, reminding God that He could not go back on His work of redemption, He could not go back on the revelation of His name and He could not go back upon the word of His promise. Moses was quite right. This was something that God simply could not do. So we read that "the Lord repented of the evil which he had said he would do unto his people" (32:14). He could not do it for He is a consistent God.

God put a temptation in Moses' way by speaking to him of "Your people" (v.7). "Your people," says God, "just look at them, your people!" Moses might well have repudiated them. How easy would it have been for him to reply: "They are not my people. They are not my responsibility!" God added to the temptation by offering to have done with that nation and make a great nation from Moses' family. In this way He offered Moses an opportunity to seek his own personal glory, but this Moses at once set aside and even offered his own life for the people of God and their salvation: "Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin ... and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book of life" (v.32).

As we read on in the story, we learn that Moses never ceased to intercede on behalf of God's people. They had forfeited their right to have that holy God in their midst, and their rebellion was exposed when the Lord announced that He could no longer go with them. Moses, however, could not accept this. We read that he "used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp" (33:7). It was not the Tabernacle, but was pitched well away from the camp and was called the "tent of meeting". The whole Tabernacle project was in suspense because of the people's rebellion, but Moses kept the matter alive by putting up a little "mini-tent" and calling it by the same name as the great tent. In His marvellous grace the Lord came right down to Moses in his little tent and met with him there. So we read: "the people saw the pillar of cloud stand at the door of the tent ... and the Lord spake to Moses face to face" (v.10) .

We are told what they talked about, for Moses only had one topic of conversation, which was an appeal for God to continue with His people. Moses never stopped interceding over this one point. "You must come up with us," he pleaded, "if Your presence does not go up with us, then don't let us move on at all." He does not stop until he wins back from God the promise of His continued presence as they move on together. This reaches a climax when Moses has a private revelation of God's glory, and the name of God is proclaimed before him: "The LORD, the LORD, a God full of compassion, gracious, slow to anger, plenteous in mercy." Moses, a supreme opportunist, leaps in at this, knowing that if God is like that there is hope after all. "Moses made haste and bowed his head to the earth and worshipped, and said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let the Sovereign One, I pray thee, go in the midst of us" (34:9). God's gracious reply was, "All right, Moses! You win! I have made a covenant, and I will not leave you" (v.10).

So we see how God is acting in accordance with His own nature. He goes with them because it belongs to His nature to be a God who pardons iniquity, One who maintains His holiness and [47/48] yet will live and move in the midst of sinners. What a precious truth for us! We may rely on the divine indwelling because it is the purpose of God's own heart. He planned it and it is carried through by His love, His perseverance with us and His consistency with Himself. This is most clearly illustrated by the fact that the man who became the high priest was Aaron, the Aaron who led the rebellion.

"He maketh the rebel a priest and a king,
He has bought us and taught us a new song to sing:
Unto Him who has loved us and washed us from sin,
Unto Him be the glory for ever. Amen".

3. How do the people enjoy the presence of the Indwelling God?

We need to consider the other side of this truth. The fact of His indwelling is a sure one but we must ask how the people of God enter into true enjoyment of His indwelling.

i. By honouring His supremacy

At the beginning of this passage we noted that everything began with the Holiest of All. That is to say that everything took its shape from the holy place where God dwells. The Ark was not a piece of furniture in the Tabernacle, but rather was the Tabernacle provided to house the Ark. Everything took its shape from the inner sanctuary and everything moved out from there. God determined the whole structure, and the one thought which runs throughout these instructions is: "See that thou make them after the pattern which has been showed thee" (25:40). The basic condition for the enjoyment of the divine presence was that everything should be done as He commanded. Let one thing fail to be as He desired it, and God could not come and dwell in the midst of His people. The attention to detail may appear tedious to us but it is a divine principle for us all. God will certainly dwell in the midst of His people but if they are to enjoy the reality of His presence, then they must be obedient to His will.

ii. By a life of consecration

The people of God only enjoy His presence as they embark deliberately on a life of consecration: "Speak unto the children of Israel that they take for me an offering ..." (25:2). The description shows that it was a very costly offering. Now where did they, a slave people, get all these precious things? They got them from the Egyptians before they left. The gold and the silver and the rest all came under the sheltering blood on that Passover night and were carried out under that blood from the land of Egypt. It was only because they were a redeemed people that they possessed these things. So we see that Consecration means giving back to God what has become ours because of the blood of the Lamb.

Consecration is also a deliberate entering into the meaning of that blood in a personal way. The priests were those who chiefly enjoyed the tabernacling presence of God, for they were busy about the Tabernacle all the day, and they did so by virtue of an experience of the benefit of the blood of the covenant. The essence of their consecration to the duties and the privileges of their holy task was based on a sin offering (29:14), a burnt offering (29:18) and peace offerings (29:28). Until those offerings were made they could not enjoy the presence of God. Priests though they were, they had to enter into the benefit of the shed blood if they were to enjoy God's presence. They had to look at the blood of the sin offering, and say, "Yes, for me that blood is shed. My sins were laid upon the Iamb of God".

They had to look upon the blood of the burnt offering, and say, "Yes, that offering secures my consecration. That blood has been put upon the tip of my ear and the thumb of my hand and the toe of my foot, in token of the fact that it consecrates to God my mind, my actions and the direction in life's walk". They had to recognise that the blood of the peace offering expressed the resultant fellowship between man and God, and looking at the blood of that peace offering, they could say, "Thank God that I, even I, can enter into fellowship with God". These offerings represent the total blood of the covenant and to us they speak of that precious blood which cleanses us from all sin, that has achieved for us a consecrated status before God and that has provided us with a perpetual basis of intimate fellowship with Him. "This is my blood of the new covenant," said Jesus. So not just as priests, but as high priests, we are able to enter into that Most Holy Place of All, "through the veil, that is to say, his flesh" (Hebrews 10:20).

We must do this. We must embark quite deliberately on a life of consecration, giving back to Him all that is ours through the blood [48/49] of the Lamb, and entering into the virtues of that blood by simple faith. For those men in far off Sinai, Aaron and his sons, the way of salvation was that of simple faith. The blood was shed; concerning that blood God said, "This blood is your way of forgiveness and access", and they replied, "We will accept the promise of God" and showed their faith in what God has said by laying their hands upon the sin offering to nominate it as a personal substitute. We must do the same. Simple faith is the way of salvation right through the Bible. All the promises of Calvary are implicit in Exodus 12, in Exodus 24 and in the book of Leviticus. The way of salvation is identical through the whole of Scripture.

iii. By worshipping before the Ark

This is the third condition for enjoying God's presence. God put this first. This is the thing which He showed to be of supreme importance -- the Ark. In principle this was what every Israelite worshipper did. The Ark expressed what God is. Inside it there was the holy law, the expression of the innermost nature of the holy God. The Ark also declared what God has done. There above it, bending inwards, face downwards, and of one piece with the Ark there were the cherubim. In Genesis 3 we read of these cherubim for the first time. There they carried a sword and were on constant watch to guard the presence of God from sinful intrusion. On the Ark, however, the sword had been taken away and their eyes no longer roved to search out intruders but gazed with fixed intensity upon the shed blood. The blood occupies their whole vision. God has done a new thing. He has found a way whereby His wrath has been quenched and communion established. The adoring gaze of heaven is fixed for all eternity upon a Lamb as it had been slain.

For those who worshipped before it, the Ark not only expressed God's nature and declared His redemption work, it also showed what God requires. If we ask what He requires of us who now move forward in our pilgrimage, the answer is twofold: He requires us to abide in fellowship with Him by the constant efficacy of the blood of Christ and also to recognise that we have been called to holiness. So we are to go on our way. The vision is not to recede; it must intensify. We must go on our way in faith and obedience, living always very near to the cross. If we do this we will discover that we too are moving in "the goings of God".

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