the sign day

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Exodus 31:12-18

12 And the LORD told Moses, 13 “You are to speak to the sons of Israel and tell them, ‘You must keep my Sabbaths, because this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, so that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. 14 You should keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it should be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul should be put to death from among his people. 15 Work should be done six days, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of sacred rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day should be put to death. 16 Therefore the people of Israel should keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'” 18 And when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, he gave to Moses, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.

the sign day

The Sabbath was a sign day. Every Saturday, an Israelite under the Mosaic covenant was to cease all unnecessary labor for the entire day. Notice what this sign day was a sign for:

  1. The LORD is the One who sanctifies Israel (13).
  2. The day is holy for Israel (14).
  3. Israel’s LORD rested and was refreshed on the seventh day (17).

This message and command was vitally important for those within the covenant being established. It did not apply to those outside the Israelite community. While taking a rest once a week is a good idea for anyone, this sign was specific for the Israelite, and is not an obligation for Gentile Christians.

The Sabbath was a unique way of linking the people of Israel with the LORD who rescued them. It was a regular break in the normal routine that specifically reminded the Israelites that they were created by God, and that this same God who created them redeemed them from bondage. Taking the day off of work was not done under Pharaoh, because under him the work was never finished. The Sabbath reminded the Israelites that they are under new management.

LORD, thank you for the rest we have in Jesus. Thank you that we need not work for our salvation, but can rest from our labors, trusting in the finished work on the cross.

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faith in community

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Exodus 31:1-11

1 The LORD told Moses, 2 “Notice, I have called by name Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, 4 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, 5 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. 6 And see, I have appointed as his assistant Oholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all the skilled workers their skill, so that they may make everything that I have commanded you: 7 the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, 8 the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, 9 and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, 10 and the finely worked garments, the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons, for their service as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They will do just what I have commanded you,.”

faith in community

The tabernacle building project shows us how faith in the Israelite community worked. The LORD gave the commands to Moses, and he passed them on to the Bezalel and Oholiab, who would oversee the architectural and artistic details of the construction. Just as Moses had been called to lead the nation, these men also had been specifically called to the task they were to accomplish, and that calling came with skill (wisdom) and intelligence, knowledge and all craftsmanship, all given by the God who called them. Moses had to have faith that God did that for them. He had to trust that the LORD was involved in the process. They had to have faith that God was speaking through Moses, and in their own God-given skill to accomplish what he instructed them to do.

There was added to that another layer as well. God had also called and qualified a group of skillful (wise hearted) workers. The LORD assured Moses that he had given the workers all the skill necessary to build the tabernacle and its furniture to code – that is, to the exact specifications they would hear from him through Moses.

The LORD could have done it another way. He could have called and endowed one special craftsman with all the knowledge and all the skill and set him to work alone to accomplish the task. I’m guessing that the LORD did not do it that way because the Israelites would not learn the lesson of faith in community that way.

Faith in community is a lesson we are called to learn as we do the work of the kingdom today. It takes cooperation and teamwork. It also takes trust in the divine plan as it is being revealed through his servants whom he has called to reveal it. It is hard work, and we do not always get it right. But there is a lesson in the process that glorifies the God who chooses to work within us.

LORD, teach us to trust you, and in the community in which you are working.

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the aroma of worship

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Exodus 30:22-38

22 The LORD told Moses, 23 “And you, take for yourself the best spices: of liquid myrrh 500 shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, 250, and 250 of sweet smelling cane, 24 and 500 of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. 25 And you should make of these a sacred anointing oil blended like the perfumer would; it will be a holy anointing oil. 26 With it you should anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, 27 and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, 28 and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils and the basin and its stand. 29 You should consecrate them, so that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them is to be holy. 30 You should anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. 31 And you should say to the people of Israel, ‘This should be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. 32 It should not be poured on the body of an ordinary person, and you should make no other like it in composition. It is holy, and it should be holy to you. 33 Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an outsider should be cut off from his people.'” 34 The LORD said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, gum resin, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each there should be an equal part), 35 and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. 36 You should beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I should meet with you. It should be most holy for you. 37 And the incense that you should make according to its composition, you should not make for yourselves. It should be for you holy to the LORD. 38 Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume should be cut off from his people.”

the aroma of worship

While visiting Singapore a few years ago, I was struck by how different the little communities within the city are. My family walked from one section of the city to another, and noticed the differences in architecture, food, and even the way each community smells. It was most noticeable when we entered the Indian community. The smell of sandalwood was prominent, and added to the distinctiveness of the places there.

For the Israelites under Moses, the tabernacle and its worship was designed by the LORD to be a unique experience. Contributing to that uniqueness was the fact that the tabernacle area, the priests and the furniture was to smell unique. The sweet smelling aroma of the spiced oils and incense was to be a marker of the distinctiveness of the place and its purpose. That distinctiveness was to be taken very seriously. Anyone attempting to imitate that prescribed aroma for himself personally would be executed.

The tabernacle does not exist today, so it is not possible to literally obey these instructions as the Mosaic Israelite community could in that time. But I do see a word of warning for believers today in this text. Much of modern worship seeks to be relevant, and seeks to bring popular cultural entertainment practices into the worship experience. There is no problem with being either modern or relevant – and there is no necessary spiritual benefit for worship following the archaic practices of previous centuries or decades. But in our rush to be relevant we must never forget that biblical worship should be unique. The aroma of our worship should be distinct and different. It should not feel like a funeral dirge nor should it feel like a rock concert.

LORD, help us to honor your holiness and uniqueness with our expressions of worship.

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ritual washing

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Exodus 30:17-21

17 The LORD told Moses, 18 “You should also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You should put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you should put water in it, 19 with this, Aaron and his sons can wash their hands and their feet. 20 When they go into the tent of meeting, they should wash with water, so that they may not die. When they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to the LORD, 21 they should wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It should be a permanent statute for them, both to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.”

ritual washing

This rule was hijacked by the Pharisees and their followers, and made into a requirement for all kinds of spiritual service. So, today the rabbis today claim that the rule “has been observed by the pious in all ages, who wash their hands before beginning any of the statutory services, which the Rabbis declare to be the present-day equivalents of the sacrifices.”[1] In Jesus’ day, it had been made into a custom that every meal should begin with this ceremonial washing. Jesus did not encourage his disciples to adopt this tradition, and they were criticized for it.[2] Jesus explained that defilement comes from within – that eating with ceremonially unwashed hands does not defile anyone.[3] So, is Jesus ignoring this command, and teaching others to do so?

If we look at the command itself, we will see that it clearly has limitations. It has only to do with Aaron and his descendants – the priesthood. the washing is to occur only as they approach either the altar in the courtyard or the holy tent itself. Were the priests to test this rule by attempting to approach their service unwashed, they would be struck dead.

So, Jesus is right in his exegesis to reject this external rule that tradition has set up requiring ritual washing at every table. The Aaronic priests were to be set apart from the people as holy to the LORD, because of their special work of intercession. Their washing was to remind them of the holiness required for that service. It was to encourage the inner cleanliness that Jesus spoke of.

It is this inner cleanliness that is so elusive for those of us who have submitted to the new covenant priesthood. I refer not to ordained ministers (which I am), but to the priesthood of all believers in Christ.[4] We have no earthly tabernacle to enter as we approach the LORD to intercede on behalf of his creatures. But we do have a requirement to come before him undefiled. James instructs us that “pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”[5] That is how we prepare ourselves to enter the LORD’s presence on behalf of others. It involves loving and serving others, and keeping ourselves from spiritual compromise. Without this preparation, washing of the externals is hypocrisy.

LORD, we seek to serve you, and others in your name. Clean us, that we may appear before you and not die.


[1] J. H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs. (London: Socino Press, 1985), 353.

[2] Mark 7:2.

[3] Matthew 15:20.

[4] Revelation 1:6; 5:10.

[5] James 1:27 NET.

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atonement money

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Exodus 30:11-16

11 The LORD told Moses, 12 “When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each should give a ransom for his life to the LORD when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. 13 Each one who is numbered in the census should give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel equaling twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the LORD. 14 Everyone who is numbered in the census, from twenty years old and older, should give the LORD’s offering. 15 The rich should not give any more, and the poor should not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the LORD’s offering to make atonement for your lives. 16 You should take the atonement money from the people of Israel and should give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the LORD, so as to make atonement for your lives.”

atonement money

That half shekel ransom fee was not the atonement itself, but it was given by each worshipper as part of their worship experience. That little gift spoke volumes:

  • It was a reminder during the census that numbers do not matter. If tempted to look at the vast number of Israelites tallied, and presume safety and security in those numbers, the LORD warned them that such thinking brought the plagues on the Egyptians, and could do the same to them.
  • It was a reminder that wealth and power do not matter. Each was to give the same amount, because in the LORD’s eyes the differences between us are insignificant. True equality can only be envisioned by those who dare to see their entire nation “under God.”
  • It was a reminder that worship matters. The atonement money was something of value that was to be offered for a service that mattered. Bringing the people of Israel to remembrance before the LORD was a blessing, a valuable one.

LORD, every time we give to our local church, remind us of these important truths. Bring to our minds what we know about your grace. Remind us that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. Bring to our minds what we know about you. May we value our times together worshipping you and proclaiming your worth.

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holy smoke

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Exodus 30:1-10

1 “You should make an altar on which to burn incense; from the wood of acacia trees you should make it 2 Its length should be one cubit, and its breadth one cubit. It should be square, and its height should be two cubits. Its horns should be of one piece with it. 3 You should overlay it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. You should also make a molding of gold around it. 4 And you should make two golden rings for it. You should place them under its molding on two opposite sides of it, and they should serve as holders for poles with which to carry it. 5 You should make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 6 And you should put it in front of the veil that is above the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is above the testimony, where I will meet with you. 7 And Aaron should burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he should burn it, 8 and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he should burn it, a regular incense offering before the LORD throughout your generations. 9 You should not offer unauthorized incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering, and you should not pour a drink offering on it. 10 Aaron should make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he should make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.”

holy smoke

The incense provided a pleasant scent, but it was also evidence of destruction. Smoke that emitted from the incense was the proof that it had been consumed. The worshipper’s prayer is counted as incense before the LORD.[1] As the smoke rises upward into the face of God, the prayers of his saints rise with it.[2] Here is where the twin truths of grace and prayer meet. The atonement is a gift from the grace of the LORD. The regular prayers before the altar of incense cannot replace that grace, and they do not earn it. But we should pray. It is an appropriate means of celebrating that grace by which we are saved.

Christians often struggle with feelings of inadequacy about their prayer lives. We feel we do not pray often enough, or stay at it long enough when we do. But that is the problem. There is no “enough” when it comes to prayer. It is a response to a permanent gift, a celebration of an everlasting grace. Of course we do not pray enough! The answer is not that we should pray more, but that we should recognize prayer as a response to a God whose grace is enough. Pray regularly, but not to gain a standing with God. His gift of grace on the cross took care of that. Pray regularly as a testimony of faith in this God of grace.

LORD, accept our prayer this day. May it be a pleasing offering of praise – a testimony that your grace is enough for us.


[1] Psalm 141:2.

[2] Revelation 8:4.

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I will meet with the people

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Exodus 29:35-46

35 “Thus you should do to Aaron and to his sons, according to all that I have commanded you. Through seven days should you ordain them, 36 and every day normally, you should offer a bull as a sin offering for atonement. Also you should purify the altar, when you make atonement for it, and should anoint it to consecrate it. 37 Seven days you should make atonement for the altar and consecrate it, and the altar should be most holy. Whatever touches the altar should be holy. 38 “Now this is what you should offer on the altar: two rams a year old day by day regularly. 39 One ram you should offer in the morning, and the other lamb you should offer at twilight. 40 And with the first ram a tenth seah of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering. 41 The other lamb you should offer at twilight, and should offer with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the LORD. 42 It should be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it should be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they should know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

I will meet with the people

The altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting was to be consecrated by the priest’s obedience, and it would be sanctified by the LORD’s presence. The LORD desired to dwell among his people, and be their God. But, moreover, he desired to regularly meet with his people, and speak his words to them. The sacrificial system was not the end; it was a means to an end – the regular meetings between Israel and their God.

Today, all of the sacrifices have been fulfilled in Christ. But our LORD still wants to regularly meet with his people, and share his word with us. No, I’m not talking about weekly worship, and neither was the LORD, when he gave these instructions through Moses. The altar was used every day. When Jesus instructed his disciples how to pray, he told them to pray for daily bread.

LORD, grant us the discipline to meet with you regularly, taking advantage of the grace through which you have offered free access into your presence.

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exclusive dining

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Exodus 29:31-34

31 “You should take the ram of ordination and boil its meat in a holy place. 32 And Aaron and his sons should eat the meat of the ram and the bread that is in the basket in the entrance of the tent of meeting. 33 They should eat those things with which atonement was made at their ordination and consecration, but an outsider should not eat of them, because they are holy. 34 And if any of the meat for the ordination or of the bread remain until the morning, then you should burn the remainder with fire. It should not be eaten, because it is holy.

exclusive dining

The sacred meal eaten by the priests in the courtyard at the entrance of the tent of meeting was an exclusive dining experience. Nothing was to be kept for leftovers or later snacking. It had to be eaten together by all the priests in service. This symbolized the unity required by those who sought to represent the LORD, and minister to others in his name.

Christian churches struggle to be and remain unified. It is hard for us to deal with our differences (which are a manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s ministry through diversity) and our need for unity of purpose and testimony (what is a manifestation of unifying work of this same Holy Spirit).

Meals, and other such times together, help us to preserve that underlying unity, and give us opportunities to understand and appreciate our diversities. They remind us that we are in ministry together, and help us to check our individualistic motives.

LORD, we seek to serve you only, but we understand that it cannot be done alone. Give us the blessing of unity and community.

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getting used to the new look

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Exodus 29:26-30

26 “You should take the breast of the ram of Aaron’s ordination and wave it for a wave offering before the LORD, and it will be your portion. 27 And you should consecrate the breast of the wave offering that is waved and the thigh of the priests’ portion that is contributed from the ram of ordination, from what was Aaron’s and his sons. 28 It will be for Aaron and his sons as a perpetual due from the people of Israel, for it is a contribution. It should be a contribution from the people of Israel from their peace offerings, their contribution to the LORD. 29 “The holy garments of Aaron should be for his sons after him; they should be anointed in them and ordained in them. 30 The son who succeeds him as priest, who comes into the tent of meeting to minister in the Holy Place, should wear them seven days.

getting used to the new look

The priests who succeed those initially ordained were required to wear their new priestly garments for a full week. This served as a reminder that the service was a 24/7 service. It was not to be thought of as a special event, separated from the priests normal life. It was to be seen as the new normal.

Likewise, when we come to Christ, we are all ordained into the priesthood under the new covenant. From that time on, our earlier identity and allegiances will be forever affected. The Christian life and the ministry that comes with it are life altering changes. From that time on, we are no longer to see ourselves as we once did. Our life goal and orientation has been permanently changed.

LORD , as we prepare ourselves to minister your grace, may we also be prepared to turn away from our old routines and desires, and to concentrate fully on service to you, and to others in your name.

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take them from their hands

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Exodus 29:19-25

19 “You should take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons should lay their hands on the head of the ram, 20 and you should kill the ram and take part of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the great toes of their right feet, and throw the rest of the blood against the sides of the altar. 21 Then you should take part of the blood that is on the altar, and of the anointing oil, and dab it on Aaron and his garments, and on his sons and his sons’ garments with him. He and his garments should be holy, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him. 22 “You should also take the fat from the ram and the fat tail and the fat that covers the entrails, and the long lobe of the liver and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, and the right thigh (for it is a ram of ordination), 23 and one loaf of bread and one cake of bread made with oil, and one wafer out of the basket of unleavened bread that is before the LORD. 24 You should put all these on the palms of Aaron and on the palms of his sons, and wave them for a wave offering before the LORD. 25 Then you should take them from their hands and burn them on the altar on top of the burnt offering, as a pleasing aroma before the LORD. It is a food offering to the LORD.

take them from their hands

The priests are preparing to serve the LORD. The various elements of this part of their ordination ritual spoke of their consecration for that service. Their consecration was symbolized by the preparation of a meal that they would offer to the LORD. Each element of the meal was a testimony of their complete dedication to the task the LORD had called them to.

  • The blood of the ram symbolized the forgiveness they accepted as a gift of God’s grace, purchased for them, and then applied to them. The blood dabbed on the fingertips, toes and ears showed their complete acceptance of that grace and forgiveness.
  • The oil symbolized the purity in which they were to minister, untainted by ugliness of the world around them. This purity as well was a result of grace.
  • The ram was a symbol of a life that had to be taken in order for that atonement by grace to function.
  • The bread was to be unleavened, showing again the purity required for ministry. Some of this bread was waved before the LORD, then consumed by the altar. This was a reminder that the priesthood exists for his sake, not just for the sake of those ministered to.

LORD, as we prepare ourselves to minister your grace, may we accept your means for our ministry, relying not on our own craftiness or skill, but on your Holy Spirit. May we be grounded in your grace, dedicating our entire lives to sharing the gospel with the lost.

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