Today’s Reading: Exodus 31-34
I’m sure we have all heard someone say, “God said…” Many times throughout history, leaders of countries, nations, and peoples have said, “God said…” God is always on their side. I still see leaders doing this all the time today.
So, have you heard someone say “God said…” and wondered to yourself, “I don’t think God really said that. That doesn’t sound like God to me.”
Perhaps some of us are even bold enough to admit that we have said, “God said…” But, at some point later in our life, we came to know God in a deeper way and realized God didn’t really say what we thought he said.
Why do people wrongly attribute things to God? Because they want to believe that whatever they are doing and saying is right. We are always right in our own eyes. So, in order to justify our own words and actions, we attribute those words and actions to God.
If people do that today, if leaders of people do that today, then is it possible that people and leaders of people did this in the Bible? Is it possible that God recorded people wrongly saying “God said…” in the Bible for our learning? If this is a common phenomenon among people, to attribute some words or activity that we want to be true to God, which I believe it is, then why wouldn’t God record events like this in the Bible?
I have to come to believe that God did indeed record people wrongly attributing words and actions to God in the Bible. He did this for our learning. In Romans 15:4, Paul says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” And, Paul, speaking of the nation of Israel, says in 1 Corinthians 10:11-13, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.”
Everything in the Bible is written for our learning. That doesn’t mean that everything written in the Bible is an example that we should put into practice. People learn the most from their failures. So, why shouldn’t we expect failures to be recorded in the Bible so that we can learn from them?
Any temptation we suffer has been common to all people throughout all history. If we today wrongly attribute words and actions to God, then shouldn’t we expect that to be recorded in the Bible too? Why wouldn’t God record these failings for our learning and instruction?
I only began to read the Bible this way when I truly allowed the Holy Spirit to be my teacher. I only began to separate what was truly God from what people professed to be God in the Bible when I let Jesus be my translator (see Luke 24). Jesus is the clearest, simplest view of God ever. If we have seen Jesus, then we have seen the Father. So, when I began to focus on Jesus first and let him show me where he was and was not in the Old Testament, then the Scriptures began to take on an entirely new meaning. My learning took a dramatic increase.
Many people don’t want to read the Bible this way. It’s too scary. They want a flat Bible where everything written is equally true, equally valid, and equally worthy of us doing. But, that doesn’t require any discernment at all. It’s equivalent to asking God for a set of rules to follow. That’s not life though. God wants us to depend on us voice. He wants us to discern his still, small voice in the tempest that is going on around us.
Therefore, I believe that God has written the Bible in such a way that it is not flat. There are multiple voices speaking in the Bible. And, we need the Holy Spirit to teach us which voice is God’s. The Holy Spirit teaches us this way through the Bible so that he can lead us in exactly the same way in our every day life. Every day we have multiple voices speaking to us. And, not all of them are God. We need to be able to discern which voice is God’s and which voice is not.
I believe the clearest evidence of the need to read the Bible with this sort of discernment is Romans 12:1-2, which says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
See, all of us, myself included, like to quote the part about not being conformed to this world but being transformed by the renewing of our mind. However, almost all of us leave off the last part, which is the most important and explains why we are to be transformed and have our minds renewed. Why our are we transformed and our minds to be continually renewed? “So that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The Holy Spirit gives us discernment so that we can test the Bible. What in this book is really God? What in this book is just someone professing something to be God but really isn’t?
Perhaps, you’ve read this far and think I have lost it. Perhaps, you think I’m trying to make the Bible say whatever I want it to say. Perhaps you think I am denying the truth of the Bible. But, that is not so. I want to clearly see Jesus in it. i want to discern what is God and what is not.
So, with that long introduction, let me give you an example to show what I mean.
MOSES SPEAKS AND 3,000 DIE
Moses was the leader of the nation of Israel. Therefore, I believe there were times when he was just like every other leader of every other nation throughout history – sometimes he wrongly attributed words and actions to God. I think Exodus 32 is an example of Moses doing this.
At the beginning of the chapter, Moses is on the mountain with God. He’s gone a long time and the people don’t know what happened to him. So, Aaron tells the people to take off their earrings so he can make a golden calf for them to worship.
Now, Moses obviously didn’t write about this in real time. He wrote about this event some period of time after it happened. So, while all scripture is inspired by God, we can also see Moses’ personality and perception coming through. This is Moses’ retelling of what happened, but a retelling inspired by the Holy Spirit for our learning.
In Exodus 32:7, Moses writes that God said to him, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.” It’s always bothered me that God said this to Moses. It never made sense to me. God called Israel Moses’ people? God said Moses brought them out of Egypt? Everywhere else in scripture Israel is God’s chosen people. Everywhere else in scripture it is God that brought Israel out of Egypt by his mighty hand. I don’t think God just had a slip of the tongue here or was blaming Moses for what the people were doing while he wasn’t with them. No, I think we are seeing evidence of Moses’ pride coming through. He is taking credit for things that God did.
Then, Moses has a conversation about God’s wrath burning against Israel. Was it really God’s wrath that was “burning hot” against Israel? Or, was it Moses’ wrath? Was there some of that old spirit that killed an Egyptian rearing its ugly head again in Moses?
When Moses comes down the mountain, he sees the golden calf. Verse 19 says, “Moses’ anger burned hot.” Why doesn’t it say that God’s angered burned hot? Is it important that it was Moses’ anger that burned hot? Was Moses putting his anger onto God to justify his own actions?
So, Moses asked Aaron what could the people have done to cause you to make a golden calf for them to worship. In verse 22, Aaron replied, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot.” Aaron sees the burning hot anger coming from Moses. And, Moses doesn’t correct him on that. Moses doesn’t say, “It’s not me you have to worry about. It’s God wrath and burning hot anger that you better worry about.”
In verse 26, Moses responded to everything he saw, saying, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.” That’s interesting. If Moses wanted to know who was on the Lord’s side, why didn’t he say, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to him.” In Joshua 5, when Joshua meets the commander of the Lord’s army, Joshua asks whose side is he on – Israel’s or the Canaanites? The commander of the Lord’s army says neither. He’s on God’s side. That’s not what Moses seems to ask or answer though. Moses wanted to know who was on his side, which he believed to be God’s side.
So, all the sons of Levi gather around Moses. Verse 27 says, “And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kills his brother and his companion and his neighbor.'” Many, many times in the Old Testament we read, “God also said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel…'” God would say something to Moses and tell Moses to say it to Israel. But, that doesn’t happen here. Moses says something without any instruction from God, but Moses attributes it to God as if God told him to say it. And, it isn’t interesting that Moses standing in the gate, the place of man’s government, when he said this.
Now, Jesus told us over and over to love our enemies, to love our neighbor, to love those that persecute us, etc. Therefore, does it really seem like God would have told Moses to tell one of the tribes of his people to kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor? Or, was Moses tired of having the people grumble and complain to him about God leading them out of Egypt? Was Moses looking for support? Is it possible that when the tribe of Levi came to his side, Moses said let’s get rid of all those who are complaining against me?
Verse 28 says, “And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.” Levi did according to what Moses said. Why doesn’t the Bible say Levi did according the word of God? Could it be because that’s not what God said to do?
Now, I’m sure there are many of you thinking I’m just twisting scripture. You’re thinking I’m reading way too much into this. But, their is a contrasting event in the New Testament that makes believe everything I have written so far. And, i believe what Moses did and wrote was given to us to directly contrast with the event this particular event in the New Testament.
JESUS SPEAKS AND 3,000 LIVE
In Acts 1:6, the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” Even after living with Jesus for three years and being taught by the resurrected Jesus for 40 days, the disciples still want to overthrow the Roman empire and have the kingdom restored through some sort of revolution with the sword. But, Jesus responded it was not for them to know times and seasons. Jesus says in verse 8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Interestingly, the Greek word witnesses is martys. It is where we get our word martyr. Jesus told the disciples to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit so they would be ready to die, just like he did, to bring about the kingdom instead of being ready to kill.
In Acts 2, the 120 disciples locked themselves in the upper room. They were all praying in one accord. And, the Holy Spirit comes rushing upon them, giving them the power to speak words in other known languages. The 120 disciples spoke about the mighty works of God, they spoke the words of Jesus, to Jews gathered from all over the world. The power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, came to strengthen the disciples so they would be willing to die in order that God could gather his people through them.
Peter goes on to explain what happened. They weren’t drunk as some thought. Rather, this was the beginning of the Spirit of God being poured out on all flesh. The Spirit of God is life and freedom. Peter powerfully preaches through the Holy Spirit the words of Jesus.
Acts 2:41 says, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
How interesting! Peter preaches Christ and him crucified, the word of God, with the power of the Holy Spirit and 3,000 people came to life.
At the word of Moses, the tribe of Levi killed 3,000 of their own brothers by the sword.
Jesus said that those who live by the sword would die by the sword. Jesus told Peter to put away the sword. Jesus is the image of God, the exact imprint of his nature. Did God tell Moses to tell the sons of Levi to put the sword on their side and kill 3,000 of their brothers? Or did Moses say that and wrongly attribute it to God?
Is it just a coincidence that the when Jesus, the Word of God, was preached that 3,000 souls were saved? That 3,000 souls lived instead of dying?
Or, should the fact that 3,000 lived by the word of Jesus and 3,000 died by the word of Moses, a man, a leader of a nation, tell us that we are to purposefully contrast these events so that we can learn from Israel’s example? Should we not take heed lest we fall to the temptation that is common to all men?
I think this is precisely why these contrasting events are recorded in the Bible.
We need to see Jesus. We need to know Jesus intimately. We need to be transformed by him, having our minds continually renewed, so that by testing we can discern what the will of God is, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
God is life! Let us follow Jesus!