Thursday, May 29, 2014

Does Moses Add His Own Condition Regarding Consecration? -- Exodus 19:14-15


So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people, and they washed their garments.  And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”
 
Every once in a while we are presented with a text in Scripture that some of us may find a little problematic or at least one that we need to dig deeper into.  This is one such verse for me, as you will see.
After God tells Moses that He wanted him to consecrate the people and to prepare them for His coming down “on Sinai”, Moses does return to the bottom of the mountain and consecrates the Children of Israel.  The people did indeed wash their garments as a symbol of their willingness to present themselves as being clean before God, but what about their hearts, their minds, and their lives or behavior?  The answer seems to reveal itself in later chapters and books of Scriptures.  While washing our clothes, we would do well, Matthew Henry suggests, to be thinking about washing our souls by repenting from the sins we have committed since our deliverance. He also writes, “It becomes us to appear in clean clothes when we wait upon great men; so clean hearts are required in our attendance on the great God, Who sees them as plainly as men see our clothes. This is absolutely necessary to our acceptably worshipping God.”  Note he is not saying we need our “Sunday best” to be worn at all times, but is calling for the equivalent in clean hearts.
But the real problematic part for me was the issue of whether or not the message of the need for consecration was only for the men?  Is that why Moses warned them “do not go near a woman” again until we have met with God?  If not, why was that said?
Commentator Chuck Smith simply states that this was spoken to men with respect to their wives.  That is, they were not to have sexual relations with them for this short period of time.  They were to just really set themselves aside for God, and God alone.  And perhaps since it was the men who in those days dominated the sexual relationships between husband and wife, Moses addressed this statement to them, while the whole consecration matter was intended for all the Children of Israel.
Moses was saying, “Look if you want to have done all you could to be ready to meet God when He comes down on Sinai, you need to focus on Him and that means no sex with your wives until after that – it’s only two days.”  You may think that what Moses was asking for was a little too much.  Well, maybe.  I must admit I am a little puzzled by it especially as we have no record here of God demanding this.  However, in I Corinthians 7:5, the apostle Paul writes the following: “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”  That’s the New Testament take on the same matter.  But it is addressed to both the husband and the wife.  Society had changed much on this topic from the day of Moses to the time of Paul.  The matter of equality of husband and wife, before God, continued to evolve as a concept in the New Testament, and neither Jesus nor the Apostles taught against this progression.
There is an excellent book on this very development, as well as two others, in Scripture written by William J. Webb. It is entitled Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring The Hermeneutics of Culture Analysis.  Intervarsity Press, 2001, is the publisher.
Did Moses add something here on his own initiative?  Perhaps he did, but God allowed it to remain as part of His Holy Word.  And Paul supported it many years later.  Did Moses do this because he felt it was appropriate and/or what God would expect?  Not sure.  This was not the last time that Moses was to act on his own.  And when he did so another time it cost him dearly.  However, here, clearly, even if he acted on his own initiative as a leader, God did not disapprove of his action.
Here’s the bottom line for me.  If we want to meet with God on the mountain and hear His voice and get His directions for our lives, it cannot be on a spur of the moment type of thing.  Great preparation is necessary.  And that means physical, mental, and spiritual consecration.  Sometimes I fear far too many of us are guilty of simply wanting what God has for us, but not willing to do our part to receive it.  Salvation may be a free gift of God that we cannot deserve or earn, but walking closely with God and benefitting from His being our Lord and Master, Teacher and Friend, requires hard work.  Just ask Moses or the host of other saints God has used mightily through the ages.
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