Exodus 23:20-33 - Heading Home
October 26, 2014 Speaker: Series: Exodus
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Exodus 23:20–23:33
[Exodus 23:20-33 - "Heading Home"]
It doesn't matter what culture you live in, what language you speak, what time in this world's history you live - people have always been looking for a home. Have you found it?
[Pray - Father of mercies, in your Word we hear of a better home, a truer home than we have ever experienced. Help us to hear and believe in the Way to you. Open our ears and hearts, Holy Spirit, and take our eyes from worthless things to see the One of greatest worth. For the sake of Christ we pray. Amen.]
[Read Exodus 23:20-33]
Home. It's an idea deeply ingrained in humanity. Home is fought for and died for. Home is built by loving families. Home is longed for by wandering sons who come to their senses. A home is more than just a house because "home" is the place where things are good and right and safe.
Of course, sometimes "home" is romanticized in sentimental, Norman Rockwell-esque scenes of momma, apple-pie, and Christmas. Home in those pictures is a little too perfect; it doesn't match reality. Because even though home is supposed to be the place where things are good and right and safe, even the best home doesn't live up to the ideal. And for many the thought of "home" speaks of deeper hurt. Maybe for you "home" is a place of conflict, of stress, of unmet expectations. But just because we've never lived in a home where things are as good as they're supposed to be, as right as we want them to be, as safe as we need them to be - just because we've never experienced it doesn't mean we don't want to.
Because the idea of "home" remains a powerful idea in human hearts. Beyond sentimentality; in spite of the brokenness we've experienced - Home is supposed to be the place where you can break a window playing baseball and have a healthy fear of talking to Dad about it (as opposed to an unhealthy fear of Dad). Home is supposed to be where mom and dad model love and forgiveness toward one another, then to you. Home is supposed to be the place where those who really know you - warts and all - accept you and support you and protect you through weakness and hardship. Home is supposed to always be safe; always good; always right. That's the kind of home we want.
And not just physically. Don't we want a spiritual home that is good and right and safe? Where forgiveness endures? More than that, where we don't just get clean slates but grace so that we receive more acceptance and love than we deserve? That's the kind of home we want - a home for sinners and strugglers; a place of rest for those weary of sin and self, where we know the steadfast love of God is set on us.
One of the beautiful things about this passage is - that's the kind of home YHWH says he has prepared for Israel. This is first question to consider: what does a home with this God look like?
Israel hears about the place God has prepared for them - about their home with him. It will be the place where God and his people live together; the place where the miseries humanity brought upon itself in the Fall will be restrained by Israel's Redeemer.
We see it in vv.25, 26 and 31. "You shall serve the LORD your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days...And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates...."
The description YHWH gives of what life will be like for them in their new home is full of physical promises about provision and health and life and security. What is striking about their new home is how YHWH will restrain the same curse he put on rebellious humanity in Eden. Back then he said, "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground...." (Genesis 3:19) But in this new home their bread will be blessed. The Curse brought sickness and death into the world. But in this new home YHWH will take away sickness. And even though death would still find them - the conquest of death happens later in the Story - even so, YHWH would cause his people to live long, full lives with him and one another. And just as he promised the offspring of Abraham would be as numerous as the stars (Genesis 15:5), so the people of Israel could expect their families to flourish in the land YHWH has prepared for them.
Let's sit there for a moment. YHWH promised, "None shall miscarry or be barren in your land...." (v.26). The first time I read that promise I was cut to the heart. Some of you know Jenny's and my story. We've lost two babies during pregnancy. And we have so many friends who've lost babies or walk through the dark trial of infertility - people who long to have children but can't. I can read a passage like this and fear can rise as I wonder, "Am I one of God's people? Didn't he say here his people wouldn't experience these bitter griefs? Then who am I to him?"
But I take comfort when I remember what God is doing here. He isn't making a sweeping promise for all times and places. But he is revealing his heart. He isn't making a sweeping promise for all times and places. But he is showing his people his goodness and his intent to restore this world broken by our rebellion against him.
In each promise about their new home, YHWH is making particular promises to a particular people at a particular time in the Story of Redemption. They are promises for Israel, not to us at our time in the Story. We don't have his promise of a perfect home here and now free from sickness and suffering. Instead we have the promise that Christ died and has been raised from the dead and is making all things new. And though we wait and groan for him to come and make things right, we rest in the hope that we do not wait in vain. Because we have a Redeemer who cares about us.
But for Israel at this time in the Story of Redemption they have these promises. Because if they will listen and obey (we'll talk about that in a moment), then YHWH will make them an example to the world of what life with him is like. So, he is calling Israel to trust that life with him is better than any life this world promises. Even in YHWH's setting of their borders Israel hears the safety and security they will enjoy in a radically unstable world where borders moved all the time. Because against YHWH the natural, fallen, broken order of this world - the order that shows itself in hunger and sickness and miscarriage and infertility and war and death - against YHWH that order is impotent. And as Israel trusts him then YHWH will not only restrain the physical consequences of human sin. He will also restore Israel's spiritual life to the way things are supposed to be.
Because YHWH's promises point beyond the physical. YHWH isn't establishing a mere physical home for Israel. These physical promises correspond to the restoration of spiritual life YHWH is working in his people. He is creating a physical and spiritual home where he and his people will live together in peace. He's making a home where he will be their God and they will be his people and life will be good and right and safe - physically and spiritually. That's the point of v. 25 - "You shall serve YHWH your God." Their hearts were to be oriented toward YHWH alone in trust and love and devotion the way God made us in the beginning. And YHWH would cause their hearts and bodies to enjoy their home with him.
That's the same promise we have in Christ - the promise of a home with God where life is good and right and safe physically and spiritually. That's the home Jesus spoke of in John 14 when he said, "In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." God's intention for his people has not changed. He is still preparing a place - a home - for him and his people to share.
Throughout the New Testament we see that like Israel's home our home with Christ will be a place where life is restored to the way things are supposed to be. Think about the description of it in Revelation 21:4 - "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." But that home is never defined in physical terms alone. Because our true home is where things are right spiritually, too - where our relationship to God is restored to the way it's supposed to be. As it says in Revelation 21:3, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God." Spiritually and physically, God is preparing a home for us in Christ where the Curse is undone completely, not just in part.
In the Gospel of Jesus we hear the promise of a true home. But that leads us to the second question - if our true home is being prepared by Christ, then how do we get there?
Israel must have been wondering how to get to their new home. There was a wide wilderness between them and Canaan. And once they arrived, there were Canaanites in the land - strong and fierce people who knew war, who would fight for their home. How would they get there?
Look at v.20 - the angel of YHWH will "guard" and "bring" Israel to their new home. This angel is closely associated with YHWH himself - YHWH's name is "in" him and the people are to listen to and obey the angel just as they would YHWH himself. Through this angel, YHWH will (v.22) show himself to be an enemy to Israel's enemies - an adversary to their adversaries. He will drive the Canaanites out and make room for Israel.
There's a huge issue here that we don't have time to talk about today (but will talk about later because it comes up later). It's the fact that the Canaanites are not just driven from the land - they are to be utterly destroyed. This is a hard issue and there is so much to talk about. But we'll have to talk about it another time, though.
But for now, it is presented as a matter of fact that Israel will not reach their home by their own efforts. They will arrive because YHWH is working through this angel. So, get to their home Israel will have to depend fully on him, this messenger from YHWH. He will guard them along the way. He will bring them to their home with YHWH. That's a gift to Israel. We've already seen their weakness. They are a faltering people, easily frightened (like us).
But - and this is key - because the angel is the one by whom YHWH is working, Israel needs to listen to him. The angel will bring them to their new home, but not without their trust and obedience. That's what much of this passage is about - their successful arrival home requires obedience. Their obedience doesn't earn them a home - this home is already a promised gift! But their obedience is the instrument by which they will arrive - and stay - at their new home.
In v.24, obedience means Israel can't worship what the Canaanites worship. The Canaanites worshiped all sorts of gods - of harvests and fertility and storms. But those gods can't save - only YHWH can. So, Israel is called to reject those gods.
They're also called to reject the way the Canaanites worshiped. The cultic prostitution to entice the gods into giving fruitful harvests, the child sacrifices to prove their devotion to the gods - all those broken, empty forms of worship; those attempts to control and coerce the gods into giving people what they want are not the ways YHWH is to be worshipped. YHWH is taking away false worship and telling his people how to worship him truly. In fact, the next passages are all about worship as YHWH lays out the pattern for the tabernacle - the place where God will meet with his people.
Ultimately, in obedience to YHWH, Israel is called (in v.32) to reject any covenant, any detente, any understanding with the gods or people of Canaan. They are called to follow YHWH, their Redeemer with a singular devotion. He's already prepared a home for them to live with him. The angel of YHWH will guard and lead them. He would fight for them. He would drive out the Canaanites in a progressive, successful conquest. Israel was simply called to embrace YHWH alone as God and obey him. That was their way home.
Only, they couldn't do it.
If ever there were humans who were set up to obey and live, it was Israel. But if ever there were humans who failed as miserably as me, it was Israel. The story of Israel is an unrelenting demonstration of human inability to follow God on our own to the point that Israel itself was removed from their new home by God's judgment.
They needed another way home because their obedience couldn't cut it. And the very demands of obedience God made did the work he intended in the hearts of his people; his demands created in them a deep need for his grace that would both forgive and provide a way for God and his people to live together.
Do you feel that need? Because we need a home where things are good and right and safe physically and spiritually - but if the way home depends on my obedience, then I'm in trouble. Because I haven't obeyed. I have not been singularly devoted to God with all of my heart and soul and mind and strength. I have loved myself more than my neighbor. And I have trusted other gods to make life good and right and safe. Such wrong worship, God says, makes us his enemies. And enemies can't be in his home.
But the Gospel says what we could not do, God did. The Gospel says that for people like me, God has provided a way back home - and the way is Jesus the Christ. In him is the hope of the true home for which we've always longed.
Because the way home does not depend on our obedience - it depends on Christ's obedience. And his was perfect. It was Jesus alone who fully obeyed the word of God, who was singularly devoted to God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength. It is Jesus alone who loved his neighbor more than himself, counting your interests ahead of his own. And it was Jesus who not only obeyed God in life, but also in death, going to the cross to pour out his blood for the forgiveness of sins.
When we confess ourselves to be rebels with rebel hearts, but turn to trust the One who died for us, God himself says that we are counted as obedient in his sight. We aren't strangers with clean slates in Christ. We are the children of God - counted as faithful members of his own family with a place in his home. That standing comes to us simply through faith, believing in Christ. That's what Jesus asks of those who want a home with God - belief in him.
That's what he said in John 14:1-7 - "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."
To know and trust in Jesus is to know the way home - it's him. Because the obedience God demands was satisfied by Christ and it is counted as ours when we believe in him. So, our obedience becomes the obedience of faith - not of works. And because Christ was raised from the dead, we have the hope that God is preparing a physical home - an eternal home - with him that will correspond to the spiritual home Christ has already secured for us.
That's the promise of God we hear in the New Testament. Spiritually, you who trust in Christ are already home. Physically, you who trust in Christ are not yet home. And remembering that difference keeps us from confusing the "already" with the "not yet." Even though we are free to pursue justice and right wrongs, even though we can and should do whatever is in our power to make this world good and right and safe we can't make the here and now our perfect home through the right legislation or elections or force. To put it another way, there is no call for Christians today to drive out any metaphorical Canaanites from the world. We renounce any such use of force in the name of any religion.
Please don't misunderstand. There is work for us to do as believers in a God who loves to right wrongs and we pray together for the Lord's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. But there are some griefs and evils in this world that will not be overcome in this age. We need our Savior to return, just as he promised he would, to restore all things to the way they're supposed to be.
But that, too, is a hope this passage points toward. And it is a hope that has arrived with the resurrection of Jesus. Because he is not only our obedience before the Father - by faith Christ is our guide, our leader, our King who will bring us home. We cannot fail to conquer through him who loves us. We cannot fail to arrive at our true home with him.
Where does this need to land in our lives? What is causing us to stumble? Is there some alliance with the world that we have bought into? Is there some enemy of God that is causing us to be afraid? Are there any other gods who we trust to make us a better home than Jesus can?
If the answer is yes (and the answer is yes), then what are we supposed to do? We're supposed to listen again to Christ and obey him by believing in him. We're supposed to listen to his word and believe that if he says he pardons our sin because he poured out his blood, then he has done it. And if he says he counts us as faithful before the Father, then we have something to say to our fears! Because if God is for us in Christ, then who can be against us!
No, we have the promises of God because of Christ. We have the promise of a perfect home with him in the new heavens and earth in the age to come. Already Christ has won it for us. Already you are in his home with him by the work of his Spirit. And soon he will come again, so that where he is you can be also.
[Pray - Father, we don't deserve a home with you. But because you are gracious and compassionate, you made a way for us to have one. And it cost you the blood of your own Son. For such a gift we offer you nothing but our humbled praise, thanking you for giving us Christ and in him all things. For the promise of restoration - begun already and soon to be finished - we rejoice. For the security we enjoy in Christ we lay ourselves down in worshipful rest this day, knowing that his obedience has satisfied your demands would could never satisfy even if we lived a thousand years. For each day of those years would only see an increase of our rebellion. But through faith in Jesus we have been counted as faithful forever. Help us now, Father, to live as becomes his people - to run toward obedience instead of away from it; to worship you alone and turn from the other gods we serve. We need your Spirit to do this in us or it will not happen. But you who began this good work in us will bring it to completion on that glorious day when Christ returns. Keep us repenting and believing and working until that Day, Father. For the sake of the glory and honor of Christ. In his name we pray. Amen.]
[Benediction – from Number 6]
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.