Monday, July 20, 2015

Can You Handle Being Second, or Third, or a "Non-mention" in God's Service?

God’s Invitation to Moses and the Elders of Israel
Exodus 24:1-2: Then He said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall worship at a distance. Moses alone, however, shall come near to the Lord, but they shall not come near, nor shall the people come up with him.”
Chapter 24 of the book of Exodus begins with the words, “Then God said to Moses.” So, as timing often gets a little confusing in Scripture, we are left to ascertain, “Just when was that particular ‘then’?” In Exodus chapter 19, verse 24 God told Moses to “Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you.” And then we read in the last verse of chapter 19, “So Moses went down.” At the beginning of Chapter 20, God starts a communication that does not end until the last verse of Chapter 23 – a whole four chapters in length. In between the end of Chapter 19 and the beginning of Chapter 20, we can only assume that not only did Moses go down and tell the people what God had said, but he also “came up again with Aaron” as God had asked him to do (Chapter 19:24).
So the long discourse of God’s was indeed in the hearing of both Moses and Aaron.  And now we come to the beginning of Chapter 24 when God instructs Moses directly (that is, not words to be shared with the people) and says, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron [again], Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel.”  So this time God invites 74 of the leaders to come closer to Him on the mountain.
Now we know Moses and we know his brother, Aaron, but who were Nadab and Abihu? This is the second time (but not the last time) that we read their names in Scripture. Back in Exodus Chapter 6, verse 23, we read that Aaron married Elisheba, . . . and she bore him Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. So Nadab was Aaron’s oldest son and Abihu his second oldest. What we do not know is why God asked for them in particular.  It is possible that they had special duties by that time and had become recognized leaders among the Israelites. In fact, as we will see later on in Exodus (28:1 and 29:9), Aaron and his four sons were the first priests appointed as God established the priestly system. [But don’t get too excited right now about these two at least, as their story does not have a happy ending, as we will discover later on in our study.]
But in the meantime, let us focus on the incredible privilege it must have been to be invited by God to come up to the mountain and be closer to Him.  It reminds me of the account of the Transfiguration, when Jesus invited three of His twelve disciples to join Him for that -- Peter, James, and John. In their case, as A. B. Bruce asks in his classic volume, The Training of the Twelve (1877), did “ . . . selecting them to be eye-witnesses of the prefigurement of the coming glory, imply a corresponding precedence in in the kingdom itself? The three disciples probably hoped it did; the other disciples hoped not, and so the dispute began.” And perhaps it was the same afterwards for these two, and the 70 elders of the Israelites in our current passage in Exodus.  Perhaps this was where priestly pride or positional one-upmanship commenced for those who have offices in the church.  Certainly the issue for the disciples was a matter of pride and jealousy among them, which directly led to the issue of “who will be greater in heaven”.  A. B. Bruce, continues, “It was nothing that they (the disciples) should all be great together; the question of questions was, who should be the greatest – a question hard to settle when vanity and presumption contend on one side, and jealousy and envy on the other.”
Let us set that aside for now and focus on the thought of “being invited by God to come up”. What a privilege that would be? Can you imagine the Almighty God giving you a special invitation to “come up and meet with Him now”? What was it like for these 72 that had not been up there meeting with Him before after Moses and Aaron went down and told them the plan? What went through their minds? How did they feel?
When I saw my 10 year old grandson this morning and asked him how he was, he said, “Excited and a little nervous.” And he wasn’t even going to meet anyone special today. He was simply starting his first karate lesson; a day he had been waiting to arrive for some time now. Or imagine you being invited to have tea (along with hundreds of others of course) at Buckingham Palace at which occasion you would meet the Queen. Or, if you are not much into royalty, imagine having become famous for something you did, and you were invited to the White House to meet the President of the United States. How would you prepare?  What would you be telling your friends and relatives? And so on. More importantly, how would you behave afterwards? There’s no getting around it – being asked to go “go up and meet with God” is indeed a big deal.
But let us not lose sight of the fact that God wanted these 74 men in total to go up to Him and “worship” Him.  They were to do so from a distance. You see, even when God calls us to take part in some important event for which only a handful could participate in, even then it is not about us, but it is about us worshipping Him.  It’s always about Him and if you cannot handle that, then may I humbly suggest you either reconsider your position or recognize you are not who and what He wants you to be.
And just in case any of the 74 thought otherwise, that is, they thought “Wait, it can’t be all one-sided, I mean after all, God did invite me up here, he did give me this opportunity when He could have selected millions of others, I must have some importance” God says, “Worship at a distance” because you are not able to get any closer to Him for you are not holy and divine as He is.
And then comes the clincher.  Just when you thought you were all together in this; you had made it to the inner circle, along with Aaron, and from now on, it was all of you together, God speaks again, and He says, “Only Moses can come near Me; the rest shall not.” Wow. Can you handle it?  Can you allow God to make the calls of who is to do what in His service and in His worship? Can you stand being second place, or third, or even a non-mention? And can you rejoice in the selection that God made? It’s only then that God sees in you the kind of heart He wants to see.  It’s only then that He declares you to be ready for more and different service.  It’s only then that the phrase “the last shall be first” can ever have a chance of applying to you. Moses had passed all those tests years ago, back in Egypt. Now it’s your turn and mine.

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