As we worshipped in song Sunday morning at the farm, an osprey fascinated me as it kept watch near its nest and then began circling low over the congregation. With every soaring rotation, this bird of prey rose higher and higher, and my 12-year-old son leaned over and said, “You know, don’t you, how they fly higher?”
“To find their prey?” I whispered a guess.
“They fly in pockets of rising, warm air,” he whispered back in his typical textbook fashion as the raptor became a mere speck hidden among cotton-ball clouds in the blue sky. His answer got me thinking about the verses of Exodus 19 that come just before God gives His people the Ten Commandments. God says to them:
“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”Exodus 19:4-6, NASB
While verse 4 in our English Bibles uses the word eagles, the original Hebrew word here is nesher, a bird that attacks its prey with its sharp beak. While a nesher could be an eagle, hawk, kite, buzzard, or osprey, the common nesher of Israel is the Old World griffon vulture. Some raptors can glide up to 36,000 feet above sea level using the warm air to soar, and as I watched the osprey at the farm disappear from view like a helium balloon, I marveled at the imagery of Exodus 19 and how, in His love, God rescued His people from the grasp of Egyptian slavery.
The more their oppressors tried to reach out to take them back — and the more their sinful hearts turned back to a life of idolatry — the higher God took His treasured people to safety. He promised that as they obeyed Him, as they kept what we now know as the old covenant, He would bless them. Just 50 days after their hasty departure from Egypt, God gave them a love letter of sorts, a moral guide for how to do life His way, the best way so that they might know Him and be with Him. We know this collection today as the Ten Commandments. In Hebrew, they are called aseret ha’devarim, or the ten words. In Greek, these words have the name decalogue.
Although the Israelites immediately declared, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do (19:8),” they failed just as quickly. The law was a heavy burden that crushed them and necessitated ongoing sacrifices to temporarily make them right with God. Through the law, God set the stage for His perfect Son to become man in order to sacrifice His life to carry His children to their Father on eagles’ wings. Jesus became the once-for-all sacrifice to usher in the new covenant of grace and mercy and allow the Ten Words to stand as a guide for what pleases God.
As I watched the sky in hopes of seeing the osprey descend back to its nest, I marveled at God’s timing to include a bird of prey in our time of worship to our Creator. Pastor Brett Gilchrist had just reminded us from Hebrews 8 of the beauty of living as new covenant believers under God’s grace and mercy — not under the law’s judgment. He read the words of Jeremiah:
“I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people … For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”Hebrews 8:10, 12
God didn’t say the new covenant would do away with the moral law of Exodus 20 that guides healthy relationships with Him and others. No, indeed, Jesus declared in the Sermon on the Mount that He came to earth to fulfill the law and the prophecies (Matthew 5:17-20). He placed a great significance on the law, simply summarizing them as:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”Luke 10:27
As a women’s ministry team, we long for each of you to understand God’s heart behind the Ten Words of Exodus 20, to understand the gift of being born on eagle’s wings to nearness and joy with the Father. We have chosen a simple yet powerful book to guide weekly discussions through the Ten Commandments. Beginning the final week of June, you and your friends are invited to attend a weekly coffee and conversation hour to discuss Jen Wilkin’s newest book Ten Words To Live By: Delighting in and Doing What God Commands.
We recommend you purchase a copy of the book or download the audio version before the week of June 28. The best prices are currently at crossway.org with two caveats — signing up for a free membership to save 30-50 percent off products and spending $30 or more to receive free shipping. The best deal for the summer ahead may be the audio version read by Jen Wilkin for just $7.49, or the paperback/ebook combo for $10.99. We suggest you buy two or more extra copies to get free shipping and then invite friends to join you for coffee and conversation this summer. This book isn’t going to disappoint!
We’re opening registration today. We invite you to choose a time to attend a weekly group, and even if you can’t attend each week, please sign up. We know life happens, including special events and vacations. This is a low-key weekly event to stay connected with each other — and in God’s Word — throughout the summer.
We will also be including a simple Bible memory challenge that coordinates with our discussion of the Ten Words, audio recordings, and weekly posts of reflection and teaching. To get you started this week with some context for the giving of the Law, we encourage you to read and/or listen to Exodus 19 several times (audio below), memorize verse 4, and ask yourself:
- What do I learn about God from this chapter?
- What do I learn about the Israelites from this chapter?
- How would I have felt to be gathered with God’s people at Mount Sinai?