With contributions from popular Bible teachers such as Tim Keller, John Piper, and Kathleen Nielson, this collection of eight biblical expositions explores the incredible accounts of God revealing himself visibly to his followers in Scripture.
About the Author
Kathleen Nielson (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is an author and speaker who loves working with women in studying the Scriptures. After directing the Gospel Coalition’s women’s initiatives from 2010–2017, she now serves as senior adviser and book editor for TGC. She and her husband, Niel, make their home partly in Wheaton, Illinois, and partly in Jakarta, Indonesia. They have three sons, two daughters-in-law, and five granddaughters.
D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University) is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he has taught since 1978. He is a cofounder of the Gospel Coalition and has written or edited nearly 120 books. He and his wife, Joy, have two children and live in the north suburbs of Chicago.
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is the host and teacher for Revive Our Hearts, a daily radio program for women heard on 250 stations. Since 1979, she has served on the staff of Life Action Ministries in Niles, Michigan. She has authored or coauthored eighteen books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, A Place of Quiet Rest, and Seeking Him.
Timothy J. Kelleris the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. He is the best-selling author of The Prodigal God and The Reason for God.
John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.organd the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books, including Desiring God;Don’t Waste Your Life;This Momentary Marriage;A Peculiar Glory;andReading the Bible Supernaturally.
Jenny Salt (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is the dean of students at Sydney Missionary and Bible College.
Read an Excerpt
On the Mountain
THE TERRIFYING AND BECKONING GOD
Since I was the first plenary speaker, I should say something about the gathering itself. We gathered to connect women who hear and do Bible exposition. TGC did not bring women together to talk and think about women but to talk and think about God. Every culture of the world by God's common grace has its peculiar glories and tends to be attentive to and aware of things in Scripture that at least some of the other cultures don't see. They bring their various exegetical riches and theological understanding of the infallible Word of God to the whole church, and that enriches the whole church. That must also be true of both genders. For women to come together to hear and do Bible exposition certainly enriches all of those gathered, and it will enrich the whole church.
We're considering together the theme "Here Is Our God," looking into passages where God reveals himself in spectacular ways to his people. Exodus 19 is a great place to start. It's an important chapter, so important that several key New Testament texts refer directly to it (e.g., Hebrews 12 and 1 Peter 2). In Exodus 19, Moses and Israel come to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. Chapter 19 does not contain the Ten Commandments, but it sets them up. The passage divides into three basic sections:
1) The History and Order of Grace (19:1–8)
2) The Terrifying and Beckoning God (19:9–19)
3) The Going Down of Moses (19:20–25)
1) THE HISTORY AND ORDER OF GRACE (EX. 19:1–8)
The History of Grace
The first couple of verses tell us something about the history of grace. Alec Motyer makes a good observation concerning these first two verses. You wouldn't think of this unless you were a biblical scholar who keeps a map in his head as he is reading. He says that God and Moses basically told the Israelites, "Trust us. We're going to take you to the Promised Land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to Palestine." And the children of Israel trusted them. But Sinai is farther away from the Promised Land than Egypt. Sinai is actually south. So God led them almost in the opposite direction from where he said he was going to lead them. They were supposed to go to a land flowing with milk and honey, yet God took them to a desert, a mountainous desert (v. 2). The land was far worse than Egypt. And that's where God met them.
It is often so: you give your life to Jesus and say, "I'm putting everything into your hands. I'm trusting you with my whole life." And then you watch things go downhill from there. Weeks later, months later, a couple of years later, you ask, "What happened? I gave myself to him. I trusted him. And everything is getting worse and worse." If you admit it, you are farther away from the things you had hoped God would give you. You think, "I gave God everything. Surely he'd give me this and this and this. You know, if he wants to." God seems to be taking you in an opposite direction. So often the history of grace in our lives follows this pattern: God seems to be taking us away from where he said he is going to take us. My two favorite penultimate examples of this pattern both happened at Dothan.
Example 1. The book of Genesis records that Jacob had twelve sons. Because he loved his wife Rachel more than his other wife, Leah, Jacob favored Rachel's sons over all the others. That utterly poisoned everything and everybody in that family. This was a case of overt parental favoritism. It poisoned the life of Joseph, who was one of Rachel's two sons. All the pieces were in place for Joseph to become spoiled and arrogant even though he was only a teenager. He could have been on his way to being an absolutely cruel, awful person. Their whole family system was broken, suffering the effects of selfishness and sin. The other brothers were bitter and cynical: they had a love-hate relationship with their father, and they were angry at Joseph and Benjamin. It was a mess. One day, in the area of Dothan, far away from home, the brothers who were out shepherding saw Joseph come to them. They threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery in Egypt. And there it was, you might say, that Joseph turned to the God of his father: in the pit, on the trip, and in the dungeon where he ended up in Egypt and pled, "Get me out of here!"
Silence. Many years of silence.
Example 2. Something happened in Dothan years later. The prophet Elisha and his servant were locked up in the besieged city of Dothan (2 Kings 6). Elisha's servant panicked, thinking that they were going to lose their lives. Elisha prayed. Then the eyes of Elisha's servant were opened, and they both could see chariots of fire all around the city. God delivered Elisha and his servant dramatically from this besieged city.
That's the way it's supposed to be!
One guy prayed and prayed and nothing happened for years and years. God never seemed to answer his prayers. Another guy prayed and saw chariots of fire.
Now, when we get to the end of the book of Genesis and the end of Joseph's story, we see that God's grace was as operative in Joseph's life as it was in Elisha's life. But here's the difference: Elisha's immediate need was a fairly simple kind of salvation. He needed help from an army. But Joseph and Jacob and all those guys needed something way deeper. They needed their souls saved.
What if God had just showed up to Joseph early on and said something like this: "You are a spoiled brat. Do you realize that if you keep going the way you are, as self-centered as you are, you're going to destroy your life, and nobody's going to like you? You're going to make a mess of your marriage." Have you ever tried to do that with a teenager? He won't listen to you.
John Newton, the great hymn writer, wrote in a letter, "Nobody ever learned they were a sinner by being told. They have to be shown." It took years for God to break open Joseph and his brothers and his father to grace. At the end of Genesis, Joseph says, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (50:20).
Joseph's descendants, who grew into a great people, got to the Promised Land through the desert. They were looking for the Promised Land, but God took them to the desert. In the desert he would meet them. The desert was the way to the Promised Land.
The ultimate example of this pattern is Jesus. He shows up and preaches the kingdom of God. Think of his followers responding, "Yes! The kingdom of God! Lion lying down with the lamb! Every tear wiped away! Yeah!" The next thing you know, Jesus is on the cross, dying in agony. Imagine some of Jesus's followers looking up at him and thinking, "I don't know what good God could bring out of this." We know, of course, that the way to get to the resurrection is through the cross. The way to get to the ultimate resurrection (the new heavens and the new earth) is through the cross, through Jesus's going through that desert, loneliness, and suffering. If Jesus wants to come back and end evil and put everything right without ending us, then he had to go to the cross. Again, the way to the Promised Land is through the desert.
So often that is how grace works. Are you ready for that?
John Newton said, "Everything is needful that he sends. Nothing can be needful that he withholds." Think about that for the rest of your life. It'll do you good.
The Order of Grace
Alec Motyer sees three things in Exodus 19:4–6. The sequence of these central elements is extremely important for understanding the whole Bible:
1) The saving acts of the Lord (v. 4)
2) Our response of obedience (v. 5a)
3) The blessing that the obedience brings (vv. 5b–6)
Motyer says that nothing must ever be allowed to upset this order: (1) salvation by grace, (2) obedience, (3) blessing. Nothing in your mind must ever upset that sequence. That's the order.
To put it another way, God did not appear and give the children of Israel the law and then have them promise, "We will do everything the Lord says," and then reply, "Good. I'll save you. I'll take you out of Egypt on eagles' wings." No, God just saves them.
Do you know what it means to be carried on eagles' wings (v. 4)? Israel didn't fight their way out of Egypt. They didn't even run out or walk out in this sense (of course, they literally did). What God is trying to get across is that when an eagle carries you, you don't do anything. You are lifted up and moved from one place to another. It's sheer grace. It has nothing at all to do with your performance.
So God saves you by sheer grace and then says, "Because I saved you by sheer grace, obey me." He does not say, "Obey me, and I'll save you." No, it's, "I've saved you; now obey me."
Motyer adds that the whole narrative from the Passover to the exodus to Mount Sinai is "a huge visual aid before our eyes." It's a visual aid. Of what? Of the gospel!
An Israelite could have said this:
I was in bondage under penalty of death. I was a slave in a foreign land. But I took shelter under the blood of the lamb. And I was led out and saved by the mighty arm of God. I did nothing at all to accomplish it. The Lord did it all for us his people. He saved us by his sheer grace. Then we came to the place where God showed us how to begin to live out our salvation. He gave us the law. And now we haven't reached the Promised Land yet, and we often fail and fall; we certainly aren't perfect. But we even have a way of constantly dealing with our sins through the atoning sacrifice, through the blood. And we'll eventually get to the Promised Land.
That's what an Israelite could have said during this period of time. And a Christian can say every one of those things, too.
Alec Motyer is absolutely right. This story is the most astounding visual aid. It's the gospel writ large. You'll never understand the whole Bible unless you understand the order: (1) grace, (2) obedience, (3) blessing. It's not (1) grace, (2) blessing, (3) obedience. Nor is it (1) obedience, (2) grace, (3) blessing.
If it was law then deliverance, we would say, "You obey; therefore God accepts you." But since it's deliverance (the exodus) and then law (the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai), the gospel is this: "God accepts you; therefore, you obey." A Christian says, "I'm accepted because of the blood of Jesus Christ; therefore, I obey." There is nothing more important to understand.
Superficially, a person who operates under "I obey; therefore, God accepts me," and a person who operates under "God accepts me; therefore, I obey" are probably both trying to obey the Ten Commandments. On the surface they are both trying to obey. But the person who understands the gospel, who understands this sequence, will be motivated by love, joy, and gratitude. The other person is operating out of fear. It is self-centered to say, "If I obey, then God will bless me and answer my prayers and take me to heaven." Why does such a person obey God? To get things. But a person who already has everything in Jesus obeys not to get things from God but to get God, to please, resemble, love, delight in, and honor him. Those are utterly different inner dynamics.
The obedience of a person who says, "I'd better obey so that God will deliver me" is always conditional. This person thinks, "I'm really pretty good. I've been doing everything I should. I've been praying and reading my Bible. I've been exercising sexual self-control. I've been charitable to the poor. And my life isn't going very well. But she's not doing any of those things, and her life is going very well. What's going on?!" If you ever feel like that, then you've probably got the sequence wrong. You might get an A in your Exodus exam, but you don't get what the story of Exodus means. If it's true that you obey because you've already been accepted, then what would the conditions be? You're saying, "I'm doing this because of what I've already received from him."
God says, "I saved you. Now obey me, and then these blessings will come." And God names blessings (vv. 5b–6). God doesn't say, "I want to make my covenant with you." He says, "I want you to keep my covenant." The hint is that God is saying, "I've already brought you into a relationship with me. Now I want to make it formal." In other words, the blessings are there for you; they are yours in principle because God has saved you by his grace; but it's through obedience that you'll actually realize them.
What are those blessings?
1) "You will be my treasured possession."
2) "You will be for me a kingdom of priests."
3) "You will be for me ... a holy nation."
1) "You will be my treasured possession." "Treasured possession" refers to the personal wealth of an ancient king. In those days kings were absolute monarchs, which meant that they essentially owned everything. If you were the king of a land, practically speaking you owned everything in the land. But this word refers to one's private, personal wealth or possessions, something that you love so much that you put it in your room as your own personal delight. On the one hand, God already treasured Israel, or he wouldn't have saved them. On the other hand, God says, "If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession." That's why Motyer is right in saying that God is already treating Israel as a treasured possession, as a jewel. Yet God is saying, "I want you to obey into that kind of relationship. I want you to obey so that we can treasure each other."
Think of how obedience works in a relationship like that. If you fall in love with someone, you try to find out what pleases that person, what delights that person, what that person likes. Then you want to surprise that person by giving it or doing it. You might not think of it this way or use this term, but you are seeking the will of the beloved when you do that. You are trying to find out your beloved's will, what your beloved wants. And you are complying. You are essentially obeying your beloved's will. Why? Because you want to delight your beloved.
Some years ago in some lectures on legalism and antinomianism Sinclair Ferguson explained the gospel this way: "God accepts you; therefore, you obey." Legalism is, "You obey; therefore, God accepts you." Antinomianism is, "You really don't have to obey. Either there is no God, or God accepts you no matter how you live. He loves and accepts everybody." Sinclair argued that most of us tend to think of legalism and antinomianism as opposites, but they are actually the same: they both oppose the gospel because neither understands the grace of obedience. Most antinomians are ex-legalists who are broken under the fact that they could never understand why we must obey, that is, to treasure our treasure, to be treasured by our treasure. It's a love relationship.
But that's not all.
2) "You will be for me a kingdom of priests." A priest has access to God, but, in particular, priests are mediators. They bring people together. Priests bring people who are outside into a connection with God on the inside. If we have a relationship of love in which we are God's treasured possession, not only will others see and desire that love, but also we will be able as God's people to bring other people in, to show them the way to come into relationship with the God who made them. We get to be a whole kingdom of priests.
But that's not all.
3) "You will be for me ... a holy nation." A holy nation literally means "a different kind of human society." Holy means "separate, distinct." God is saying, "I want you to obey so that you really will be different."
The gospel shuts up your ego and gets it all sorted out so that you're not constantly whiplashing between (a) thinking too much of yourself and (b) being down on yourself. The gospel does this by (a) humbling your ego into the dust with knowledge that you're a sinner and (b) affirming it to the sky by telling you rightly that you're now a son or daughter of the king and that you can't lose that status. As C. S. Lewis taught, you don't think less of yourself or more of yourself; you just think of yourself less. What beautiful community you can have then. What remarkable, transparent relationships. What comfort. How wonderful. No pecking order. No biting and devouring each other.
"Holy nation" doesn't just refer to good relationships. It also implies that money, sex, and power operate completely differently when the ego is sorted, and therefore a godly human society with changed hearts will be a community that shows the world something amazing. Jesus, the light of the world, says to his disciples, "You are the light of the world." That describes what a holy nation is. The Sermon on the Mount describes a holy nation. If we really lived like that, if we really lived as God's treasured possession, as a kingdom of priests, as a holy nation, we would be the light of the world.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Here Is Our God"
Copyright © 2014 The Gospel Coalition.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Preface Kathleen Nielson D. A. Carson 7
1 On the Mountain: The Terrifying and Beckoning God (Exodus 19) Tim Keller 11
2 In the Temple: The Glorious and Forgiving God (1 Kings 8) Paige Brown 33
3 In the Throne Room: The God of Holiness and Hope (Isaiah 6) John Piper 63
4 From a Miry Swamp: The God Who Comes and Delivers (Psalm 40) Carrie Sandom 75
5 On Another Mountain: The God Who Points to His Son (Matthew 17:1-15) Nancy Leigh DeMoss 97
6 In the Third Heaven: The God Who Can't Be Talked About (2 Corinthians 12) Jenny Salt 125
7 Through the Open Door: The Transcendent and Redeeming God (Revelation 4-5) Kathleen Nielson 147
8 Home at Last: The Spectacular God at the Center (Revelation 21-22) D. A. Carson 173
General Index 212
Scripture Index 217