God and a stiff-necked people: Reflections on Exodus 33-34

God shows himself to Moses and to the people of Israel in incredible ways throughout the story of the Exodus. He protects Moses and raises him up to be a leader in Israel. God come to Moses and speaks to him in a burning bush and reveals his name. In ushering them out of captivity in Egypt, God shows his might pouring out 10 plagues on the land and he shows his mercy in sparing the children of Israel during the 10th plague. God provides a way for them in the Passover by the blood of a lamb. God then leads Israel out of Egypt, guiding them by the cloud of his presence. And if these acts weren’t enough, God then parts the Red Sea as pharaoh’s army advanced behind them. Truly this is a God with control over all things. He has great power and has used it to save his people and to be with them.

Unfortunately the chosen people of God cannot match his faithfulness and so quickly they are turning to those things which are not god. They reject God and turn to idols. This is sin and it offends God to the point that he says his presence can no longer be with the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

Exodus 33:1–3

Why can’t God be with the Israelites? It is because of their sin. It is because they are sinful and God fears that he will destroy them because of it. He describes their issue by describing them as a “stiff-necked people.”

The idea that God’s presence will no longer be among the people is devastating to Moses. This has been a hope that the God who revealed himself as, I AM, would remain with Israel and guide her. Moses has enjoyed the immense blessing of being in the presence of God and wants this blessing for others.

So Moses intercedes with God. If your presence will not go with us, why did you bring us out of Egypt? How can we be your people if you are not with us? We don’t want your angel–we want you.

Moses then asks to see the glory of God and God passes before him. He hides Moses in the cleft of a rock and God’s goodness goes in front of him and God says in chapter 34:

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.

Moses’ response is to bow in worship. And then he makes his final plea. He wants for the people what he just experienced himself, the presence of God. What argument can Moses make to get God to remain there among the people? What reason can he put forth for why God should make his dwelling in the midst of a sinful people? What does Moses say? In verse nine he says, "If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

What sort of argument is this? Why had God already said he couldn’t be with the people, lest he consume them? Because they were stiff-necked. Now Moses is asking God to stay with them because they are stiff-necked. Does this make sense?

Let’s say there were two roommates, one of whom was moving out. Jack says to Jill, “Why are you leaving?” and Jill responds, “Because you’re filthy.” So Jack thinks this over and comes back and says, “Jill, I think you should reconsider.” “Why?” she replies. And his thoughtful argument is this, “Because I’m filthy.”

Would that make sense? His filthiness is why she’s leaving. So why would use that as a reason to stay? Do they have an unhealthy codependent relationship? Is Jack too dependent on Jill relying on her alone for his cleanliness, needing her to stay so he won’t be filthy?

While inappropriate for Jack to put that responsibility on another, it is entirely right for Moses to realize that only God can provide for Israel. Because they are stiff-necked they are sinful and that separates them from God. But in their sin, who can save? Could they ever save themselves? No. Therefore, Moses realizes that because they are stiff-necked they need God all the more. It is the problem and cause of separation, but it is also the cause of their great need. Israel is desperate for God to be with them because they know they are lost without him.

Graciously God says yes. He will remain with them, but we see throughout scripture what he does to make a way for our holy God to be with a sinful people. The end of Exodus tells us about the tabernacle and how that provides a way. We sometimes can read about it (or the temple) and see it as a barrier to being with God. Instead we should see in it how our God desires to be with us and for us and that is the way it could be accomplished.

It was the way for generations. The presence of God was seen as located among Israel. But now because of the work of Jesus Christ, the world is different. Read what Paul writes in Ephesians 2:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Those provisions of the old are fulfilled and nullified in him because on the cross Jesus took the sin that separated. He removed the barriers and brought us together with God. Now in Jesus Christ, we who are a stiff-necked people are blessed with his Spirit and the very presence of God is not confined to a tabernacle or a temple and it is not limited to the few priests. We who are in Christ all have the presence of God by his Spirit and we all are made into temples of the Holy Spirit.

Where once the world went to Jerusalem to seek the presence of God in the temple, now the temples go out from Jerusalem to the world.

Our Bodies Are Not Our Own, So What Are Our Bodies For?

Paul begins the final section of chapter six with a illustration that parallels food and the body. He says that food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food. He doesn’t want us to be deceived in thinking that the body is meant for sexual immorality and sexual immorality for the body. No, Paul shows us the correct purpose for the bodies that God has given us. The body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body.

Paul then makes an argument about the negative affect of treating the body as though it were meant for immorality and makes a positive argument for why it is for the Lord and how the body is the Lord’s.

Many in Corinth saw sex as something to be treated casually and even within the church there were those who thought that freedom in Christ meant the freedom to do anything with their bodies, including incest and prostitution. Paul disagrees with this and tries to show why what we do with our bodies has great importance.

Any sexual interaction creates a new unity. Therefore there is no casual sex. This is a myth of our culture that says sex can be “just sex.” It is something more. So to have sex with a prostitute is to join yourself to the prostitute. It is not a casual encounter with no significance and to make it all the worse, Paul reminds us that we are already joined to Christ. We are members of Christ and to engage in this wrong behavior is to take the members of Christ and make them members with a prostitute. We should rather flee this sexual immorality and flee to Christ.

This stems from a low view of the body and of sex. Sex shouldn’t be seen in the same way as food. Ken Bailey’s commentary says this on the topic:

Paul is objecting to the dehumanizing of sex that takes place when it is turned into a form of entertainment and made parallel to food. Paul is rejecting the view that says “I feel hungry–I eat. I feel sexual desire–I engage in sex.”1

No we are made for something more. Our bodies are for the Lord and in Christ we are bound to him, two are made one in spirit. If we throw ourselves into immoral sexual relationships we are pulling ourselves away from unity to Christ and united our bodies, temples of the Spirit, to a prostitute. We are torn apart from the fellowship we find in Jesus.

It is more than a moral argument about what is acceptable in polite society. Paul wants his readers to realize that our bodies are meant for the Lord and they will be raised up with him. Our bodies are meant for the resurrection and what we do to them matters. Christianity is not a religion that pulls away from the body and focuses only on the otherworldly. We believe God created this world and proclaimed it good. Our God even came to us and took on flesh in Jesus Christ. Jesus had a body and our bodies are of great worth and we can’t toss them aside or think what we do with them has no meaning. No, they are meant for the Lord and destined to be raised with him.

Memory Verse 1 Cor 6.19-20

Our bodies are given a great task in that they are temples of the Holy Spirit. Where once there was one place where all people went to seek the presence of God, now the one who is found in Christ is the very dwelling place of his Spirit. As a temple, our bodies then are to be places of worship, sacrifice, dedication, praise, offering, and thanksgiving. As a temple, we represent God’s presence where ever we walk.

Sexual immorality draws us away from Christ, harming the unity we have with him. It also misunderstands the purpose of our bodies, giving us a vision of a purpose that is far too small for the Christian. God has given us our bodies to be temples of the Holy Spirit, to be for the Lord. And we are the Lord’s. We have been purchased at great cost to be Christ’s. The price for you and for me was his death. But that is how much we are loved and prized by God. We are beloved, a cherished possession. So know that we now do in our bodies matters. His sacrifice for us gives our whole selves–bodies and all–great significance. If you and your body are important to God, they should be important to you as well.

The last line says it all so well. Remember, you are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.


  1. Ken Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes. 185. ↩

Our Body is for The Lord and is a Temple of the Holy Spirit

Memory Verse 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

In chapter seven Paul is continuing his discussion of sin in the church body, and specifically sexual sin. He isn’t making a simply moralistic argument about what is proper for a Christian community rather it is a theological argument.

Paul doesn’t base the conduct of the church on any passing norms in the culture. For the sake of argument he even acknowledges the church in Corinth’s thought that all things are now lawful for us in Christ. But Paul says that just because something is permissible, that does not mean it is good for the body. Our bodies have a purpose and it is not to satisfy sexual desire. We are not our own, rather we are Christ’s. And we serve his purposes.

Memorizing 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 will serve us well in remembering what we are called to do with the bodies God has blessed us with.

Memory Verse 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 for iPhone

Merely Human Or?

Paul uses this great phrase in 1 Corinthians 3, saying at the end of verse 4, “are you not being merely human?” We’ve been shown a variety of comparisons in this letter as Paul is always urging us to be more as we follow the ways of God. Do we settle for milk or move on to solid food? Do we settle for being merely human, or do we look for even more? The choice should be obvious, but it is not always easy. But we do not act alone, for we have God with us, helping us to choose the greater–to choose himself.

Here is how he frames the choices in this life:

  • Merely human with the wisdom of the world?
    or recipients of the wisdom of God in the cross, by his Spirit?

  • Merely human trying to do things in our own strength?
    or empowered by the Spirit, serving God in the work to which he has called us?

  • Merely human built upon what will burn up and be lost?
    or God’s building, the temple of his Spirit, built to late upon Christ?

  • Merely human tied to the fleeting things of this life?
    or Christ’s cherished possession, recipient of all things, for all things are his?

If we are being built by God, what’s God’s building plan?

Paul writes how God is the one who truly gives the growth and we just take a part in being used by God, whether to “plant” or “water.” But what are we growing into? What is the building plan? It’s a humbling beginning to this chapter as we recognize our place before God. We can claim no credit for God’s work. We take a part, but God is the true actor. But as humbling as that is, we are then shown an extraordinarily privileged and high calling that God has for each of us. God is growing us and building upon us because, as it says in verse 16, we are God’s temple, the dwelling place of the Spirit of God. Paul writes, “For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

plant and water

This is an amazing truth for God’s people. The temple had been the dwelling place for God. It had been a place among the people, but distinct from them. Only a select few could enter and even fewer still could enter the Holy of Holies. In all of creation this was the place of his presence. Now Paul writes that we are his temple. We are that holy place of his presence. The Spirit of the Most Holy God resides in us, in we who are in the foundation of Christ.

This past Sunday I preached on this text as well as a text from Daniel 7. Along with the strange visions of that chapter, we get a parallel picture of God’s craftsmanship, compared to what will ultimately be burned up, fade away, and be destroyed. We learn in both texts that what God builds, and builds upon Jesus Christ, is the only thing that will last. I wrote for the sermon:

“In Daniel, these great beasts look so powerful, but they will come to an end.
Only the kingdom of God will last.
The Son of Man will have all dominion, glory, and a kingdom that will last forever.

Likewise, the powers in our time will fall. They will not last. A life built upon them will not last.
But a life built by God, upon Jesus Christ will last.
Therefore your life will last, your life will be eternal.

Only that which is of God is forever, and your life can be in God’s hands. Your life can be forever, if it is built upon the one foundation: Jesus Christ. We are God’s building, his temple, and his craftsmanship is flawless. We live forever when we live a life in Christ.”

Paul, Apollos, and a long line of servants of Christ have served his Church. There have surely been many who have blessed you by similar service. But we know that through it all, by the Spirit, God has been working upon you and in to give you the growth. We are being built into his temple, a place of God’s very presence, and if that were not already amazing enough, we have a sure hope that God’s building, his people, are built to last forever.

Daniel and Friends in a Foreign Land

rembrandt lion

These friendly felines are in his future.

When you open Daniel you may think you’ve gone back to our history blitz since 2 Chronicles finishes in a similar way to how Daniel begins. Not only has Judah been attacked, but they have been brought into exile. Daniel is among some of the elite that are chosen to train in the king’s palace. But don’t let the sound of that invitation fool you since only eight verses in we see a problem. Daniel does not want to defile himself with the food he is offered and has his guard give him and his three fellow exiles vegetables and water.

The end of this is that God softened the guard to be permissable and blessed Daniel and company. But it is just the tip of the iceberg in relation to how exiles are to maintain their worship and their faith in a hostile, foreign environment.

So much of worship in the Old Testament is very localized and geographically bound. Without the temple or the priests doing their jobs, how are they to offer up praise or sacrifice to their God? How can they keep themselves from being overwhelmed by this opposing culture of the Babylonians?

Think of the difficulties you might have trying to celebrate Thanksgiving in a country that doesn’t do the same? Or how about Christmas? You could do something, but it wouldn’t be the same. The Fourth of July that we kick off with grand fireworks and big bands would be hard to muster if you are an alien living abroad all alone. But these examples would be nothing compared to what is on the line for the people of God taken in to exile. They must look at their history and their relationship to God and figure out ways in which they can carry on. God’s promise was for a promised land, so what does it mean if they are taken away? God had them make for himself a temple, but that was left behind. Now what?

One thing they turn to and we see in Daniel is prayer, but even that will eventually get him into trouble with his new land.

Solomon’s Temple

Solomon’s Temple is given great attention in our readings this week. As I write that it looks a bit wrong to call it Solomon’s Temple. It’s not his. He had it built, but we don’t always name a building after its architect or patron. It was for God.
Anyway–that’s what it is known as and I thought y’all might like to see some artist’s renditions to get a sense of what it may have looked like.

Enjoy. (My favorite is the second one. Be sure to click on it and read all the extra info!)

Interestingly, an Isaac Newton sketch of the temple

Click to see enlarged version (ESV Study Bible Illustration – another good example of why study Bible’s are great!)

And here is a video that is another interpretation (and the only one I found with such a tall front to the building–not sure how they did that math… but still interesting 3D look into things).

Solomon built resentment along with the his other building projects

The Brick Testament’s rendition of Solomon’s Palace (click for source)

Since we have so much to read this week I want to make sure to at least give some helpful, short posts as I’m reading through 1 & 2 Kings.

In 1 Kings 5:13 we see forced labor being drafted by King Solomon for his building projects, which I believe are more than just the temple. It is an interesting thing to read of in regards to a man who has just been described as exceedingly wise and just. Even though these laborers produce some fine work for Israel, when we continue on in our reading you’ll see another result. Just read chapter 12 to find out how Israel felt about the burden that was placed upon them. They end up rebelling because their next king, rather than giving them relief, increases their burden.

Solomon’s extensive building and harsh demands on the people primed them for rebellion.