22 And the LORD told Moses, “This is what you should say to the people of Israel: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have communicated with you from the sky. 23 Do not make gods of silver to represent me, nor make for yourselves gods of gold. 24 You should make for me an earthen altar and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. I will come to you and bless you in each place where I cause my name to be remembered. 25 If you make me an altar of stone, you should not build it out of carved stones, because if you use your tool on it you defile it. 26 And do not go up by steps to my altar, so that your nakedness is not exposed on it.’
As soon as the ten words from God had been pronounced, the LORD himself provided a few exegetical explanations of them. This showed how important it was for the covenant keepers to understand clearly what the LORD wanted, so that their practices met up with his expectations.
The first thing to be explained was monotheistic worship. It was to be done with a whole new set of rules – opposite those of polytheistic worship.
1. The fallen spirits who demanded worship from their people had also demanded that those people make representational images to depict them. These images had to be made of something intrinsically valuable, like silver or gold, or at least stone carved by an artisan. The more valuable the representation, the more power the adherent possessed. But the LORD would not follow that convention. He demanded that worshippers come to him with nothing to commend themselves. In other words, the relationship was to be one based on the grace of the LORD, not the wealth or wisdom or strength of the worshipper.
2. Those fallen spirits also required that certain places be adorned with elaborate costly altars, also to make a distinction between the haves and the have-nots. The wealthy or skillful or powerful who could afford to appease the gods would (it was suggested) be treated with deference by those gods. It preserved a class system that favored the rich and kept the poor in their place. The LORD would have none of that. His altar would be made of dirt, or untouched stones. Anyone could make such an altar. It was particularly important at this juncture for the LORD to make such a rule, because it reinforced the new concept of salvation by grace.
3. The fallen spirits had also taken advantage of the unbridled lusts of their adherents, requiring altars with steps that exposed the genitals of their priests. Their “worship” services involved all sorts of sexual acts and pornographic depictions. The LORD was rewriting the rules for worship, demanding modesty and refocusing on the spiritual realities rather than the physical. The sexual urges are a powerful force. Rather that adopting that force as the unclean spirits had done, the LORD demanded that his followers stay focused on him, not each other. He knew that one of the easiest things for the human being to idolize – and be distracted by — is someone else’s body.
LORD, help us to rediscover your way of worship. We want to approach you on the basis of your love and grace. We reject any worship which takes our focus off you.