(Exodus 19-40, Leviticus)
Even though they could not obey it, the Law was good. God’s commands, God’s character, and God’s presence are always good. The problem was not the Law, but the people.
Moses ascended Sinai amidst the smoke and fire of God’s presence, and he remained there for 40 days. The people could see the smoke and the fire, but they were rightly afraid to draw too close.
During those days, God told Moses who He was and what He wanted from His people.
God is holy.
God is powerful.
God is present.
God is good.
It was clear to Israel that they could not approach God too closely. Yet it was also clear that He was present. He was with them. He cared about the details of their lives.
We look back to the Law and are tempted to see oppression and unreasonable regulations. They looked at the Law through the lens of God’s grace.
As they sought to follow God’s commands, they remembered that He was always there. He cared about the details: the clothes they wore (Dt 22:11), the food they ate (Lev 11), the way the treated their neighbors (Lev 19:18), and the way they worshiped Him (Lev 11:44-45).
At the heart of the Law was the simple concept that we were made to love God and others. No area of life was excluded. Everything they did reflected their hearts and revealed what they loved. The Law made that clear to the nation of Israel.
The Law spoke about the God who made them and wanted to know them. No other nation had the privilege of seeing God’s presence among them, of hearing His voice, of understanding how to worship Him.
No, the problem wasn’t the Law. The problem was the people. People like you and me, who are incapable of obedience. Even while Moses was on the mountain, even when they could see God’s glory emanating from the smoke and the fire, they chose to make an idol of gold.
We’re tempted to believe that if we only saw God, we would worship Him wholeheartedly. If only He showed up in power, if only we could see fire and smoke and miracles and hear His voice, we would always believe. The history of God’s own people tells us otherwise. The problem is not that we can’t see Him; it’s that we don’t trust Him.
We fail to believe what was at the very heart of God’s Law, which is that He loves us and wants to know us. We don’t believe that His way is best, so we set up our idols. It’s the same problem Israel had. We are incapable of obedience.
The problem with the Law was that it revealed God’s character but provided no power for them to obey. The history of Israel would make that painfully clear.
One day, though, God Himself would arrive in our midst, as a man, determined to bridge the gap. His death and resurrection would pave the way for our rebellion to be destroyed and for His Spirit to move in. The day would come when God would empower His people to obey.
Meanwhile, the people learned the painful lesson that God was good, but they were sinful. In His holiness God showed them how far they were from what He wanted of them. In His mercy He still moved closer to them. In His grace He forgave, and anticipated the day when He would send salvation.
We now live in the day of salvation and praise the God who showed us who He is and paved the way for us to know Him.
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