When our Bible study focuses intently on each passage, one after another, we may find it difficult to step back and see how they fit together. But we must remember the Bible is a work of literature. It was not written to be scrutinized in bites; it was written to be devoured in gobbles. We should remember to read the Bible as we’d read any other book: moving through it at a reasonable pace and recognizing ongoing themes, climax, resolution, and character development. When we hit milestones in the text, we should take the opportunity to survey where we’ve been and how it fits together.
So, now that we’ve seen God finally make his covenant with the people of Israel, it’s a good time to catch our breath. From this point in Exodus, we’ll see God working out the implications of that covenant and establishing a home with his people. But where have we been so far?
Let me list the main points I’ve proposed for each passage in this section:
- Exodus 19:1-25: The purpose of God’s deliverance is to make something special out of an utterly undeserving people.
- Exodus 20:1-21: God makes a treaty with his redeemed people, inspiring them to fear and obey, so they might draw near to him.
- The case laws
- Exodus 20:22-21:32: God’s kingdom is different from the world’s kingdoms in that all its citizens have rights, and justice is the cost of living.
- Exodus 21:33-22:15: It is good and God-like to pay restitution for damage done to others’ property.
- Exodus 22:16-31: Social justice is rooted in God’s just character, and it flows from maintaining purity before him.
- Exodus 23:1-19: God’s people diligently employ truth and rest to do good for others.
- Exodus 23:20-33: How you trust God’s angel determines how God treats you.
- Exodus 24:1-18: It costs both personal sacrifice and substitutionary death to draw near to God in covenant.
In addition, my overview of the whole book led me to this overall main point:
Who is Yahweh, and why should you obey him? He is the God who 1) demolishes the house of slavery (Ex 1-15), 2) prepares to rebuild (Ex 16-18), and 3) builds his house in the midst of his people (Ex 19-40).
The main idea of Act I (Ex 1:1-15:21) was that Yahweh demolishes the house of slavery. He does this in two parts:
- He trains up a qualified mediator to deliver (Ex 1:1-7:7).
- He delivers his people from their enemies into a frightful joy (Ex 7:8-15:21).
And the main idea of Act II (Ex 15:22-18:27) was that Yahweh prepares the house of his people by showing them they need his law to know him.
Pull It Together
Now what do these things show us about the flow of thought in chapters 19-24? We are in between the need for the law and the instructions for the tabernacle. In giving the law, how does God begin building his house?
- Act I describes God’s deliverance of his people. Act II shows how God prepares them for a covenant relationship with him. Act III now constructs that covenant relationship.
- Exodus 19:1-25 tantalizes them with assurance of becoming something special.
- Exodus 20:1-21 causes them to have second thoughts.
- Exodus 20:22-23:33 defines what it means to be special, unlike the other nations:
- Every member of society has basic rights.
- Property is respected.
- Justice goes together with purity, just like it does in God.
- Truth and rest are not for selfish ends but for the good of others.
- Everything hinges on whether you trust God’s angel.
- Exodus 24:1-18 closes the deal by offering them the blood of a substitute and a meal with God.
These chapters show the making of a special people. They’re brought close, but not too close lest they die. They’re informed of Yahweh’s impossible standards. They’re given a picture of a community that reflects God’s glorious, gracious, and generous character. They decide to move forward with this deal, but not without a reminder that something has to die to make it possible. And that those who “see God” can get only as close as the pavement under his majestic feet.
When we read these chapters as a unit, we can’t help but see that obeying the law will never make us righteous before God. Instead, obeying the law is like enjoying a bit of utopia, or biting into a juicy fruit of paradise—but only when covenant blood has been shed to bring us near. Without the blood, the law inspires only dread and defensiveness.
Act I: Yahweh demolishes the house of slavery (Ex 1-15).
Introduction: Nobody can prevent Yahweh from keeping his promises, but we’re not sure how he’ll do it (Ex 1).
Part 1: Yahweh appoints a mediator and ensures he is fully qualified and trained for the task of deliverance (Ex 2:1-7:7).
Part 2: Yahweh delivers a deserved destruction to his enemies and a frightful joy to his people (Ex 7:8-15:21).
Act II: Yahweh prepares to rebuild by exposing how deeply his people need his law to know him (Ex 16-18).
Act III: Yahweh builds his house in the midst of his people (Ex 19-40).
Part 1: God architects a perfect paradise for the community of his people, so he can bring them near through the blood of a substitute (Ex 19-24).
Gaze Upon Jesus
Jesus came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17). This is great news, because he then offered his blood of the covenant to cover us and cleanse us forever (Matt 26:28). Through him, we have full access to the Father (Heb 4:14-16). By giving us his Spirit, he’s now working out paradise in the community of his people (Gal 5:13-26).
Head: Do not expect law, education, wealth, or community service will ever bring paradise on earth. Nothing but the blood of Jesus can do that.
Heart: Do you love God’s law because it enables you to find Christ? Do you want to become more like him? Do you want your church or neighborhood to reflect his character? Or do you just want more stuff, or to be left alone?
Hands: Walk by the Spirit, and don’t gratify the desires of your flesh. Let the law show you how to keep in step with the Spirit, not being conceited, neither envying nor provoking (Gal 5:16-26). And keeping in step with the Spirit means most of all that your allegiance is to none but Christ, God’s true angel/messenger (1 John 5:11-12).
Click here to see what I’m doing with this sample Bible study and why I’m doing it.