That you may teach them
by Glenn Pettit
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Then the LORD said to Moses, "Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them."
Throughout Scripture we have the same scene repeated: a prophet receives the Word of God, and then he or she goes to the people to instruct them in the way they should go. The direct revelation of the Word does not come to all believers, only to a chosen few. As Paul wrote: "And He Himself gave SOME to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers..." (Ephesians 4:11, emphasis mine) Not everyone gets direct instruction from the Lord God, and so some are meant to receive the Word, and some are meant to teach it, and ALL believers are meant to learn it.
2 Timothy 3:16-4:2
3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
3:17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
4:1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom:
4:2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
During the time of the Exodus, Moses was called to set himself apart from the rest of the Israelites to receive the direct Word of God, and to then instruct the people in what he received. Like Paul and his protege Timothy, Moses was exhorted to guide people to righteousness with the Word that he had been taught. We should therefore note a few important things about today's verse.
First of all, Moses was called to come by himself. As at other times, Moses alone heard God's voice, and he was instructed to keep the other Israelites away from the presence of the Lord, lest they be consumed by the fire of the glory of God. (Exodus 19:12, 24:2) God chose Moses--and Moses ALONE--to receive direct instruction. Was Moses necessarily more holy than the other Israelites? No, in fact Moses was a murderer, but the Lord chose him because He knew Moses would be faithful. Moses wasn't selected for being holy or set apart, he was selected and THEN set apart for the work of the Lord. The prophet was called to go alone.
Moses was called to a place few would dare to go: the mountaintop covered with the glory of God. It is not an easy place to reach, and it is not an easy place to stay. Those who were not invited would be consumed by God's holy fire. And yet Moses was called to go there, and so he went. Moses went there to receive instruction from the Lord, to get that which he could not get by staying among the people. Could God have spoken to Moses right where he was, in the Israelite camp? Certainly, but then the instruction would have been watered down by everyday concerns, and the Word of God would not come to Moses without the interference of the voices of men. Thus, Moses had to go away from others to receive the direct Word he was called to teach.
The Word of God was given to Moses in a fixed and immutable form--not on papyrus scrolls that could burn or wither but on tablets of stone that would endure like the very mountain upon which Moses stood. Today we have the complete written Word of God in our Bibles, and while it is on paper, the Holy Spirit of God has guarded and protected the Word, keeping it from wholesale dilution and destruction. (Read Jeremiah 36 to see just how zealous God is for preserving His Word.)
Finally, we see that the Word of God is meant to be taught. Just as some are given to be apostles and prophets, so are all believers meant to receive instruction in God's Word. The Bible does no one any good just sitting on a shelf, but nor does it help anyone to try to teach themselves. You see, as Paul wrote, SOME are meant to teach and preach--not all, just some. Not everyone has been chosen to teach, and not everyone has the gift of teaching, but we receive the gospel through preaching. (Romans 10:14-17) Like Moses before him, Paul was set apart to teach, and so he did, and thus brought many to Christ. Moses wasn't just called to be the man who would lead the Israelites on their physical journey out of slavery, he was called to teach those people God's laws and statutes, to be their guide to SPIRITUAL freedom. They couldn't get there on their own. They needed a teacher, and Moses was the man God chose.
I am not trying here to put pastors up on a pedestal above other believers. If anything, we ought to remember that Jesus taught that those who want to lead need to SERVE first. (John 13:1-17) But in today's verse, we need to see that God didn't give His Word to just anybody, nor did He expect that everybody would just "get it" when presented with His Word. If everyone understood and lived by the Word of God the first time they encountered it, then the world would be a FAR better place than it is. But the awful truth is that we, like the ancient Israelites, are a stiff-necked and proud people, prone to idolatry and sin more often than Godliness and righteousness. If we truly understood that God has written His Word upon our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33), then pastors would be out of a job and there would be no need for the written Word. But we ARE stubborn, and we ARE sinful, and we DO ignore the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and so we need instruction. We need to be taught. That is why God called Moses to receive His written Word and to use it to TEACH.
It's not an easy job teaching the Word of God. Look at the trials that Moses went through--the slips back into idolatry, the rebellions, the refusal to follow direct commandments, the nostalgia for the "good ol' days," the willfulness of a few, the doubt of nearly all--and you will see some of the problems with which every modern pastor contends. God's Word is direct and plain, but it is not simple, and it is not easy to see how and what we are to learn from it. That is why God calls apart men like Moses and Paul and our own pastors--people who are willing to go to the hard places, to learn the Word, and then return to the people to teach them.
Yes, we need to be reading and studying God's Word ourselves, so that we can know God's Word and the sound of His still, small voice ourselves--and so we can be sure that our all-too-human pastors are not being led astray by voices not heard on the mountaintop. But we should always remember that our self-teaching is not enough, nor was it ever meant to be. God has called some people to teach us His holy Word, and we ought to listen to those teachers for our own edification. By combining our own study with the teaching of Godly preachers, we will grow in the knowledge of the Lord and His righteousness, and we will, as Paul wrote, be equipped for the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do.
Holy Lord, Almighty God, we thank You today not only for Your Word, but also for the teachers You have called and set apart for Your will. Thank You, Father, for the God-loving pastors and preachers who keep the fires of faith burning in this broken world. Instruct my heart, Lord God, in Your righteousness, and enable me to learn from Godly men whom You have called to teach. Let Your Word alone be proclaimed, that all men and women way follow Your way, Your truth, and Your eternal life as promised through Christ Jesus, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
© 2010 Glenn A. Pettit-Noel
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