We now move into the second half of Exodus. The first half charted Israel’s journey out of oppression in Egypt and into freedom. Now that the people are fully out of Egypt and have reached Mount Sinai, the focus shifts to God making a covenant with his people. A commitment to have a relationship with them.
Up until now, the commitment was made to individuals. He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But here he makes this commitment to a whole nation of people (Exodus 19:4-6).
For this relationship to function, there has to be some rules. Every couple has to at some point decide what is and isn’t acceptable in their relationship. So the next few chapters begin to outline the rules the Israelites need to follow in order to have a good relationship with God.
What’s important is that the Israelites realise they need to be weary the closer they get to to presence of God. God is powerful, and the fact that they can come to him should not be taken lightly. So they are told to prepare themselves so they are ready for God, and when he comes there is thunder and lightning and fire, to show his raw power.
We get the big Ten Commandments. It’s worth doing a study on these. For hundreds of years the ‘New Christians’ course for the church was the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, so they’re worth knowing well.
There is one that I want to focus on though, and that’s number four, “you shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). We often restrict this to not saying ‘God’ as a swear word. This doesn’t really do this commandment justice.
The Hebrew ‘nasah’ (נשׂא) has much more of a sense of carrying. When you carry someone’s name, you carry their reputation. In every town there’s always one or two families that have a reputation. And anyone that carries that family’s last name carries the family reputation. We’ll say something like “there goes one of the Bradford’s. I wouldn’t mess with them”.
That is the sense that is meant here. God is saying look, if you’re going to be one of my people then you’re taking and carrying my name and my reputation with you.
For example, when you decide to call yourself a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, you are now a representative for Jesus and other Christians, you carry that reputation.
If you are living in a way that does line up with God’s ways, you are giving Christians, and therefore Jesus, a bad name. So when God is telling the Israelites “do not take my name in vain” he’s not worried about them using his name as a swear word, he’s concerned that they carry his name well. That they do not drag his name through the mud by behaving poorly and not loving right.
This is an important reminder to us today. If we call ourselves Christians, then we can’t just live however we want. We can’t do things that our going to give Jesus a bad name. Instead, we have to do our best to represent Jesus well to the world around us.
If the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 are the highlights, the key points, of the covenant, Exodus 21-24 then goes on to flesh out the covenant in more detail. First comes a section on civil and criminal laws.
These laws include what you can and can’t do with a slave which crimes can be punished with death, and much more. While many modern readers might struggle with the idea of slavery, the Ancient Israelites’ practice of slavery is vastly different to what we see it as.
Rather than a strict case of one human owning another, this was where someone who had fallen on hard times could sell themselves to another person, and then work off that debt for no longer than seven years. In a time where there was no welfare system, this set up would be a life line for many.
If Psalm 22 is one of the most famous lament psalms, Psalm 23 is one of the most famous psalms of trust. It is attributed to king David.
Psalm 23:1-4 - The Lord as shepherd
Psalm 23:5-6 - The Lord as host
A short psalm, Psalm 23 is dedicated entirely to declaring God’s faithfulness and loving kindness to his people. He is a God who protects and provides. It uses two different metaphors to do this.
The first is of a shepherd. Just as sheep don’t need to worry about their needs, or try to provide for themselves, God’s people can trust that God has all their needs in hand.
And this isn’t just a nice saying that isn’t grounded in reality. When the Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years, God catered for all of their needs (Deuteronomy 2:7).
God’s provision for his people is a source of rest, and reinvigoration. He leads them to rest, provides them water for their first, and even guards their souls, leading them in righteousness.
The psalm then looks at the forces of darkness and death and points out that even those carry no power before God. His people need not fear these things because God will protect and comfort them.
Which leads us to our second metaphor, a generous host. God invites his people into his presence and creates space for them. Even when it feels like they are surrounded by enemies, God is still there providing for them.
But the greatest gift is not God’s provision, but his presence. The psalmist ends, grateful that they are allowed to dwell in God’s presence.
Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.
As we read though God making a covenant with Israel, the guys at BibleProject shows us how the theme of covenants plays out throughtout the Bible.
In this interview with Dr. Carmen Imes, Tim and Jon discuss the command, “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” What does this mean? Carmen discusses how many people miss the point of this commandment all about who we are and what we’re called to do.Check the podcast out here
Understanding the context of your passage is always important. BibleProject always do an incredible job of breaking down each book so you can see how your passage fits into the wider story.
BibleProject have done an animated recap of Exodus 1-18 to help you fit today's passage into the overarching story of Exodus.
Spoken Gospel outlines the book of Exous and point out some of the key themes, all in the medium of spoken word.
This Bible study devotional covers Exodus chapters 19-20. This is the story of God descending on Mount Sinai and giving the Ten Commandments.
As always, Spoken Gospel are committed to showing you how Jesus fulfills these specific passages. In Exodus 19-20, we see that Jesus is the same God who came down on the mountain to give the Law, who actually comes off the mountain to fulfill the Law.
The Naked Bible Podcast is for those that want intense Bible study. Be warned, many will find these podcasts go too deep for them. There are sixepisodes, averaging an hour each, covering these three chapters. But for those that persevere this will be a rich source of teaching for you.