It’s one of those foundational pieces of counsel that, by God’s grace, has stuck with me over the years. Long ago I was offered a bit of sage advice: Beware, our possessions have a way of possessing us. We may buy things, but all too easily those things can end up owning us.
We want to get our money’s worth and so they consume our leisure time. They break down and need fixing, so we increase our investment in them (either money and/or time) and thus, need all the more to make sure we get a good return. And so, it’s not unusual that what our stuff demands can have a way of stealing from what our Lord deserves.
And so, perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising if, from time to time, God allows tests to come our way to reveal something of how tightly we hold on to stuff. Opportunities that require decisions to be made that reflect the degree to which we pursue mighty mammon or have subjected it to Almighty God. I’m thinking that, at least in part, such was the case for some fresh out of slavery Israelites . . .
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for Me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for Me. . . . And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.”
(Exodus 25:1-2, 8 ESV)
First thing that hits me is a sense of wonder and awe that my God is a God who desires to dwell in the midst of His people. Chapter 25 launches a series of detailed instructions concerning how to build the tabernacle–a sanctuary upon which God would descend so that He might dwell among men and women. A place where some measure of God’s infinite glory might be known. A place where, through designated representatives, ordinary people might approach an extraordinary God. A place which would demonstrate the separating nature of God’s holiness and yet a place where that separation could be spanned through the blood of reconciling atonement.
Be still and know afresh that our God desires to dwell in the midst of His people. Our God is an awesome God!
But then I noticed this little challenge at the beginning of these instructions. Moses was told to gather from every man “whose heart moves him” the materials necessary for the tabernacle’s construction. Gold, silver, bronze, colored yarn, fine linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for lamps, spices for anointing oil, precious stones.
So, where are a bunch of just liberated slaves from Egypt going to come up with such stuff? Well actually, they were loaded with this kind of stuff. In addition to the flocks and herds they had accumulated while living in Goshen, when they left Egypt it says that they were told to ask the Egyptians “for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians” (Ex. 12:35-36).
God’s people left Egypt with a lot of stuff. Those who had once been considered the property of others were now in possession of a lot of property. They were loaded! They possessed designer label things that they never could have imagined owning. They were decked out with gold and silver and jewelry, the likes of which they had never had access to before. For some it must have felt like they were finally receiving what was owed to them after so many years of hard labor. And now, says the LORD, as your heart is moved, give it up. Let go of it and hand it over for the building of a place where I might dwell in your midst.
So many of the gods of Egypt had been trounced during the time of the plagues, and now, one more was to be dealt a death blow–mammon.
I’m thinking this was a test. The people had already said they’d obey God (Ex. 24:7), but would that obedience find it’s way to their wallet? Here they are packing the plunder of the world they had been rescued from and now they’re being asked to give of it freely that God might have a place among them. Would their possessions posses them? Or would they find that they really could not serve two masters, that it was impossible to serve God and to serve wealth (Matt. 6:24)? Stay tuned . . . the answer is revealed in a few pages.
But for now, it’s less about the Israelites and more about me. How am I doing with the world’s treasure that’s in my possession? The stuff freely given by the God of my deliverance? Does it own me? Or, by God’s grace, am I acting as a faithful steward over it? Am I seeking to build my bank account and fill my storeroom with stuff? Or, am I desiring, above all things, to know the God who longs to dwell in the midst?
Hmmm . . . worth noodling on . . .
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
(Psalm 139:23-24 ESV)
O, that our possessions would not posses us. But that all we have, and all we are, would be His and His alone.
Because of grace. For His glory.