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Exodus—Birth of a Nation
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Although some liberal scholars say otherwise, the book of Exodus is indisputably the work of Moses—the son of a Hebrew slave adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, raised and educated as a prince of Egypt, in preparation for the awesome calling of leading God’s people from that pagan land to their promised homeland. The name comes from a Greek word, meaning “exit,” “departure” or “going out.”
Exodus Chapter 1
The book begins with a recap of the arrival of the family of Israel in Egypt during the famine, listing Jacob’s sons in order of birth, starting with Leah’s children, then Rachel’s, Rachel’s maid’s children, and then Leah’s maid’s children (Ex. 1:1-5). Verses six and seven tell us Joseph, his brothers “and all that generation” died, but their families reproduced until they filled the land of Goshen.
A king arose in Egypt who was unaware of the debt he and his people owed to Joseph and his family (v. 8). Concerned that the large population of Hebrews might one day side with their enemies and overwhelm the Egyptians in battle, he convinced his countrymen to enslave the children of Israel—hoping to beat them down and keep them too busy and tired to revolt (9-10). However, the harder the Egyptians pushed them to build storage cities for Pharaoh, the more the Hebrews multiplied (11-14).
So the king called in the two Hebrew midwives and ordered them to kill any baby boys they delivered among the slaves (15-16). That way, there would not be enough males to win and war, and it would slow down their reproduction. Fearing YHWH more than Pharaoh, the women disobeyed the king’s command, giving the excuse that Hebrew women were too fast for the midwives to get to them in time (17-19). Although the women weren’t very honest with the king, the Lord honored them for their value of human life, and gave the midwives families of their own (20-21). So Pharaoh commanded everyone in Egypt to kill any boy babies they found by throwing them into the Nile (22).
Exodus Chapter 2
One couple descended from Levi had a baby boy after this deadly edict was passed (Ex. 2:1-2). Seeing how beautiful the infant was, the mother hid him for three months (v. 2). When she could conceal him no longer, she made a little boat for him of a water-proof basket and set it afloat among the reeds of the Nile (3).
Pharaoh’s daughter came walking along the riverbank and spotted the curious craft. When one of her maids went and fetched it for her, the princess opened the basket and found the baby inside, crying his little eyes out (5-6). She apparently did not agree with her father’s policy of infanticide, but took pity on the Hebrew baby and kept him alive.
The baby’s sister, who had been watching from a distance to see what would happen, thought quickly and offered to find a woman from the Hebrew slaves to nurse the baby for Pharaoh’s daughter (4 & 7). So the baby’s own mother got paid to take care of her little boy until he was old enough to be weaned (8-9)! Then he was adopted by the princess and named Moses, which means “drawn out,” in commemoration of how the lad came into her possession (10). So Moses grew up knowing he was a Hebrew, yet enjoying all the privileges of a prince of Egypt.
As a young man, he went out among the sons of Israel and found an Egyptian beating one of his countrymen (11). After making sure no one saw, Moses killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand (12). The next day, when he tried to break up a fight between two Hebrews, the aggressor retorted, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?” and asked whether Moses intended to kill him, as he had the Egyptian (13-14). When Pharaoh found out, he issued a warrant for Moses’ arrest, so the prince fled to the land east of Egypt (15).
At a well in the desert, he met the seven daughters of the priest of Midian, as they came to water their sheep (16). When other shepherds started to drive them away, Moses stood up for the girls and helped them water their flock (17). Asked by their father why they were home earlier than normal, the ladies told him about the ‘Egyptian’ who had helped them, and he had them invite the young man for dinner (18-20).
So Moses stayed with the family and married Zipporah, one of the priest’s daughters (21). Moses’ first son was named Gershom, which means “stranger there,” because he was a stranger in a foreign land (22).
Meanwhile, the king who had ordered Moses’ execution died. Nevertheless, the Hebrews’ conditions continued to worsen, until they cried out to God for deliverance and He heard them (23-25).
Exodus Chapter 3
How remarkably the hand of God was at work to humble the prince of Egypt! First, he was rejected by both his own people and the Egyptians. Then we find him serving in one of the most despised of occupations—that of a shepherd! To a man with an Egyptian up-bringing, this would be akin to the Vice President of the United States being demoted to a garbage collector!
“Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian,” when on Mount Horeb he saw a peculiar sight—a bush was on fire, but it was not being burned up (Ex 3:1-2)! As he moved closer to check it out, Moses was warned by a voice from the center of the burning bush not to come any closer, unless he took off his shoes first, “for the place where you stand is holy ground” (vv. 3-5). When the Lord identified Himself as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” Moses hid his face. Knowing he was guilty of murder, he was afraid to look at a holy God (6).
The Lord informed Moses that He was aware of the suffering of His people in Egypt and had come down to do something about it. He intended to send Moses to Pharaoh to lead his people out of Egypt and into the “land flowing with milk and honey,” which was currently occupied by the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites (7-10).
Moses, feeling totally inadequate, came up with every excuse in the book not to go, and God had an answer for each objection:
- “Who am I that I should go…?” He thought it was up to him to face Pharaoh and convince him to let the people go. God assured Moses He’d be with him and would bring them all safely to this very mountain (11-12).
- Whom shall I say sent me? God said to identify Him as YHWH—“I AM WHO I AM.” Moses was also to inform them He was the God of their ancestors. This would distinguish Him from the gods of Egypt, and let them know He was the same covenant-keeping God that promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob an inheritance in the land of Canaan (13-17).
Anticipating Moses’ concern regarding his credibility with the king of Egypt, the Lord told him what to say, but warned that Pharaoh wouldn’t listen. God would have to convince him with a series of signs, and then the Hebrews would be released after plundering the Egyptians (18-22). The man had nothing to worry about—God all but said, “Leave it to Me, Moses; I have everything under control.”
- “But suppose they will not believe me…?” Remembering his reception with the Hebrew slaves, Moses was afraid the leaders of his people wouldn’t take him seriously. So the Lord gave him two miraculous signs—one of his stick turning into a snake, and the other of his hand turning leprous and then being restored. And if those were not enough, God told Moses to pour water from the river on the ground and it would turn to blood (Ex. 4:1-9).
- Moses said he wasn’t eloquent enough to speak for God: “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” That was no problem for the One who made man’s mouth and empowered him to see, hear and speak. The Lord said, “I shall be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say” (vv. 10-12).
Having exhausted his best arguments against going, Moses flat out requested that God send anyone but him (13). YHWH became impatient and said, “Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well…” and he was on his way out to find his younger brother (14). The Lord proposed that God would speak to Moses, Moses would instruct Aaron, and then Aaron would speak to the others (15-16). All Moses would have to do is use the staff God had turned to a snake to perform His signs (17).
After this interview, “Moses went and returned to Jethro his father-in-law, and said to him, ‘Please let me go and return to my brethren who are in Egypt, and see whether they are still alive’” (18). He didn’t mention anything about his mission from God, just that he wanted to see his family. Jethro gave his blessing, and God assured Moses those who wanted to kill him were dead (18-19). So he loaded his wife and their son on a donkey, and then they were off to Egypt (20).
God warned Moses in advance that Pharaoh would not cooperate when he went and spoke the Lord’s words and performed the signs He gave him. “But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (21). In fact, it would come to the point where, in order to gain the release of Israel, God’s firstborn son, that He would have to kill the king’s firstborn (22-23).
At their campsite the evening of their departure from Midian, the Lord confronted Moses and tried to take his life (24). Apparently he had failed to circumcise his son when Gershom was born, and God was not about to let a descendant of Abraham get away with breaking His covenant, just because he had married a woman outside the family of Israel. Either he’d cut off his son’s foreskin, or he himself would be cut off from the land of the living (See Genesis 17:9-14). Zipporah was not happy about it, but she used a sharp stone to perform the surgery and tossed the foreskin at Moses’ feet with contempt (Ex. 4:25). She exclaimed, “You are a husband of blood,” to him because of the circumcision (v. 26).
About the same time Moses left Midian, God told his brother Aaron to leave Egypt to find him. The two of them met up at the mountain of God and embraced (27). Moses relayed all God had told him, and then they went and gathered the elders of Israel (28-29). Aaron repeated everything to them and Moses performed the signs (30). “So the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped” (31). What a relief it must’ve been to know their prayers had finally been heard!
Exodus Chapter 5
Things didn’t go so well when Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh, however. When they told him YHWH wanted him to “’Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness,” the king replied, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?” (Ex 5:1-2). Utterly unimpressed by this foreign God, he said he was not about to let His people go. When Moses and Aaron repeated their request to “go three days’ journey into the desert and sacrifice to the LORD our God” to avoid disaster from their God, Pharaoh became even more resistant, saying they were just trying to wrangle a week vacation from work for his entire labor force (vv. 3-5).
Out of sheer spite and meanness, the king ordered his taskmasters and their officers to take away their allotment of straw for the Hebrews, but require them to manufacture the same number of bricks—that way, they’d be too busy to listen to Moses and Aaron (6-9). When they relayed this edict to the children of Israel, everyone scattered throughout the land trying to gather enough stubble to reinforce the clay bricks, but they could not make enough to satisfy the Egyptians (10-13). The Hebrew foremen were beaten for not exacting the amount of bricks from their countrymen (14).
When they came to Pharaoh to protest the abuse, he said they were too idle, wanting to go and sacrifice to their God; therefore he was not about to change what had been done (15-19). Seeing no way out of their mess, the poor fellows cursed Moses and Aaron for bringing this trouble on them, saying, “Let the LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us” (20-21).
Moses, in turn, asked, “Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people?” (22). Since he came to speak to Pharaoh in YHWH’s name, things had only gotten worse, not better for the Hebrews (23).
Exodus Chapter 6
God assured Moses this was His opportunity to show the Egyptians who was really boss. “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh. For with a strong hand he will let them go, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land” (Ex 6:1). YHWH reminded His servant how He had appeared to their ancestors and had promised them the land of Canaan (vv. 2-4). He had observed the suffering of their offspring and remembered that covenant (5).
He instructed Moses to tell the children of Israel:
“…I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God…. And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage…” (6-8).
Sadly, the Hebrews were so worn out by their current distress, they would not listen this time (9).
“See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall speak to Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of his land. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.” (Ex 7:1-3)
Pharaoh’s resistance would give God the opportunity to pour out His judgments on the Egyptians and strong-arm the Hebrews from their grasp (vv. 4). Then “the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD” (5). Thus encouraged, 80-year-old Moses and his 83-year-old brother, Aaron, did as the Lord instructed (6-7). The next six chapters of Exodus feature an epic showdown between Moses and Aaron—representing YHWH, the God of the Hebrews—versus the priests and magicians of Egypt—representing the entire pantheon of Egyptian gods and goddesses. For those who would enjoy an in-depth study on this topic, I recommend two books: Moses and the Gods of Egypt, by John J. Davis, and the chapter on the book of Exodus in Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts.
Moses and Aaron went back to Pharaoh and performed the sign God had given Moses in the desert: Aaron threw down his rod, which turned into a snake (8-10). However, Pharaoh called his wise men and magicians who managed to duplicate the trick—whether through demonic power or sleight-of-hand (11). Even though Aaron’s snake swallowed up the ones produced by the magicians, Pharaoh was unimpressed and wouldn’t listen to the men of God (12-13). Interestingly, the Egyptians had three deities represented by serpents: Atum (god of primordial creatures), Edjo (goddess of the delta) and Thermuthis (goddess of fertility, the harvest and fate).
The first plague struck at the heart of Egypt, which is the Nile and its tributaries—as well as every bucket, pitcher and pool of precious water. According to Exodus 7:14-21, Moses and Aaron met Pharaoh on his way to bathe and confronted him again. When Aaron held his rod out over the water, everything turned to blood. The fish died, the water stank and no one could drink any of it for an entire week (vv. 24-25)! However, the magicians again managed to do something similar, so Pharaoh continued to be unmoved (22-23).
This plague was a powerful stroke against the Egyptians and their religious system for several reasons:
- It caused physical suffering through thirst.
- It resulted in economic hardship, through the death of the fish and a likely hindrance to river travel.
- It made it impossible to maintain the strict hygiene the Egyptians normally observed, since their sacred waters were made putrid.
- It judged the Egyptians for spilling the blood of the children of Israel and throwing Hebrew infants into the Nile.
- It showed YHWH’s superiority over the river and fish gods—including Khnum, Hapi, Osiris and Neith.
Exodus Chapter 8
Next, the land was overrun by frogs—creatures considered sacred to the goddess Heqt, or Heket. Normally the Egyptians welcomed these symbols of their deity. But when the putrid waters of the Nile drove them by the thousands from their usual habitat into the homes, beds, ovens and even the kitchens of the Egyptians, the noise, the slime and the smell of the creatures was too much for them!
Exodus 8:1-6 tells us how the Lord performed this miracle through Moses and Aaron. Although the magicians were able to summon frogs as well, Pharaoh found the presence of so many amphibians too close for comfort, so he actually asked the prophets, “Entreat the LORD that He may take away the frogs from me and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may sacrifice to the LORD” (vv. 7-8). Although YHWH killed off the offending creatures the very day that Pharaoh requested, he didn’t make good on his promise to release the Hebrews to go and worship once he gained relief from the frogs (9-13 & 15). So everyone gathered up the carcasses and deposited them in heaps, making the whole land stink even more (14)!
In the third plague, the Lord made gnats out of the dust of the earth (16-17). Very likely attracted by all the piles of dead frogs, these were probably the pesky sort of biting insects that swarm around livestock and humans and get into a person’s eyes and nose. The magicians admitted they were licked with this sign. Unable to duplicate the plague, they told Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God” (18-19). Nevertheless, Pharaoh still would not budge in his resistance to Moses and Aaron.
The fourth plague involved swarms of yet another kind of insect—perhaps flies or mosquitoes (20-21). This time, the Lord demonstrated his favor on the Hebrews by keeping the plague away from Goshen, so only the Egyptians were affected (22-23). As YHWH expressed His contempt toward the Egyptian priesthood and further contributed to the discomfort of the Egyptians, it wasn’t long before Pharaoh was looking for relief (24).
The king offered to let the Hebrews worship their God, but he did not want them to leave Egypt (25). Since they would be slaughtering cattle, sheep and goats which the Egyptians considered sacred, Moses and Aaron said they couldn’t make their sacrifices locally, or the Egyptians would be offended and stone them (26). Instead, they needed to travel the distance of a three-day journey into the wilderness to worship God (27). Pharaoh offered to let them go a short distance, so long as Moses would intercede for him and get rid of the flies (28). Moses said they would pray for this plague to end, but said, “…let Pharaoh not deal deceitfully anymore in not letting the people go to sacrifice to the LORD” (29). As anticipated, once the plague was stopped, Pharaoh was just as stubborn as ever in refusing to let the Hebrews go (30-32).
Exodus Chapter 9
The plagues began to escalate from more than just an affront against the Egyptian gods and a nuisance to the people. A terrible disease (possibly anthrax or something similar carried by the insects or otherwise related to the previous plagues) struck and killed all the cattle, horses, flocks, oxen and donkeys belonging to the Egyptians (Ex. 9:1-3). However, the Lord preserved the livestock of the Hebrews, so not one of them was affected (vv. 4-6). This would have devastated the Egyptians, who relied on these animals to plow their fields, carry their burdens and transport them from place to place. It also demonstrated YHWH’s power over the Egyptian gods Apis, Hathor Ptah, and Ra, who were signified by sacred cows and bulls. Still, the stubborn king refused to let God’s people go (7).
Plague number six struck the Egyptians directly. When Moses and Aaron threw ashes from a furnace into the air, the Egyptians and their animals became covered with boils (8-10). So severe was their affliction that the priests especially were too humiliated to appear in public (11). This plague proved the inferiority of Imhotep, Isis, Sekhmet and Serapis, who were the Egyptian deities responsible for controlling disease and healing. At this point, it was no longer the king hardening his own heart against the Hebrews, “But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh,” so He could make an example of him and his people (12).
Moses continued to demand in YHWH’s behalf that Pharaoh let his people go, warning that things would only get worse if he did not (13-14). God wanted Pharaoh and his people to know “there is none like Me in all the earth.” Although He was quite capable of wiping them all out, the Lord said, “for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth” (15-16). Because the king kept exalting himself against God’s people, the Lord said He was sending a terrible hailstorm to destroy the vegetation of Egypt—along with any living thing left out in the open (17-19). A compassionate God, He warned the king and his subjects to bring in their livestock and their servants; but not everyone took the Lord’s message seriously enough to do so (19-21).
With this seventh plague, God further devastated the Egyptian economy, by wiping out the livestock again—quite likely those purchased from the Hebrews or others to replace what had been killed by the pestilence—and all the early crops. In all the land there was thunder, lightning and hail so horrendous, the Egyptians had never seen anything like it in their nation’s history (22-25)! The trees, barley and flax were shattered (31). Only the land of Goshen, where the Hebrews lived, was spared (26).
This plague showed that Horus and Hathor, Ra and Nut had no real power over the earth and sky. Nor was Seth in control of storms or crops.
Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron into the palace and admitted, “I have sinned this time. The LORD is righteous, and my people and I are wicked” (27). He begged the men to call off the storm, and then he would let their people go (28). Moses said he would ask God to stop the hail just as soon as he left the city, so “that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s” (29). However, he wasn’t buying the king’s false humility; he knew Pharaoh and his underlings did not yet fear YHWH (30). Sure enough, as soon as Moses appealed to God to stop the storm, Pharaoh and his servants sinned yet again and refused to let the Hebrews go (33-35).
Exodus Chapter 10
The last three plagues completed YHWH’s devastation of Egypt and proved His power over all their gods. They also put an end to Pharaoh’s posturing and games. God told Moses in advance that what He would do next would make for some powerful faith-building stories to tell future generations (Ex. 10:1-2).
With the threat of a locust swarm that would consume the wheat, spelt and other plants not destroyed by the hail (Ex. 9:32 & 10:3-6), Pharaoh began to waver in his resolve to keep the Hebrews in Egypt. His servants urged the king to let the men go before they further destroyed the country with their plagues, so Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron back and offered to let the adult males go, but not their little ones (10:7-11).
So God had Moses summon an east wind that brought a swarm of locusts so severe the Egyptians had never seen anything like it (vv. 12-14). There were so many, they blackened the earth and sky and left nothing green in their wake (15). The wind-god Amon and the gods of the earth and growing things had failed the Egyptians.
Pharaoh again confessed his sin against God and Moses and begged their forgiveness and removal of the plague (16-17). When Moses’ prayers brought a west wind to blow the insects out to sea, the Lord again hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so he would not release God’s people (18-20).
The ninth plague came unannounced and displayed YHWH’s power over a host of Egyptian gods. With three days of darkness so oppressive and tangible the Egyptians dared not leave their homes (21-23), the Lord spited the sun gods (Ra/Amon-Re, Mut, Khons, Aton, Atum, Khepra and Horus/Harkhte), as well as the sky goddesses (Hathor and Nut), the moon god Thoth, and all the deities of the stars! His people, however, were entirely unaffected by darkness in Goshen (23).
This time Pharaoh was willing to let all the people go worship God, but they were required to leave their most valuable assets, their livestock (24). Moses insisted the animals were needed for sacrifices, “not a hoof shall be left behind” (25-26). Again, the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so he replied, “Get away from me! Take heed to yourself and see my face no more! For in the day you see my face you shall die!” (27-28). To this Moses replied, “You have spoken well. I will never see your face again” (29).
Exodus Chapter 11
Before Moses and Aaron left the palace for the last time, the Lord told Moses what He was going to do next (Ex. 11:1-3). Moses told Pharaoh and all present that about midnight, YHWH would sweep through Egypt and kill the firstborn of both man and beast (vv. 4-5). “Then there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as was not like it before, nor shall be like it again” (6). Not one man nor animal of Israel, however, would be affected, “that you may know that the LORD does make a difference between the Egyptians and Israel” (7). After that, Moses prophesied, the servants of Pharaoh would respect God and His messengers and send them on their way (8).
Moses must’ve been a man of remarkable patience. Three times the king had promised to release the Hebrews, but had changed his mind when relief from the plagues was given. Only now did Moses lose his temper and leave Pharaoh’s presence “in great anger” (8). As he was on his way out, the Lord told Moses, “Pharaoh will not heed you, so that My wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt” (9).
Exodus Chapter 12
That day, the Lord told Moses this would be the first month of the year for the people of Israel (Ex. 12:1-2). He instructed Moses to tell the Hebrews to select a blemish-free yearling from the sheep or the goats on the tenth day of that month and to keep it until the fourteenth day. Each household (or two, if the families were small) was to select their lamb and then slaughter it on the fourteenth day (vv. 3-6). They were to paint their doorposts and lintels with some of the animal’s blood (7). The meat was to be roasted and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (8-9). The leftovers were to be burned up, so nothing remained until the morning (10). Everyone was to eat the meal quickly, fully dressed, as though ready to leave at any moment (11).
God explained, “For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment” (12). The blood was a marker to keep the Lord from entering the households of His people to destroy them (13). From that time forward, the nation of Israel was to keep the Passover feast as a memorial of how God delivered them from Egypt (14 & 17). Starting and ending with “a holy convocation” in which no one was to work (other than to prepare the meal), they were to keep their homes yeast-free for an entire week (15-16 & 18-20).
Moses passed the information on to the elders of his people (21). For the first time since the plagues began, their preservation from judgment required an act of obedience—the sacrifice of an animal and the application of its blood to their door frames (21-23). Even when they reached the Promised Land, the Israelites were to observe this ritual as a reminder to them and an opportunity to inform their children how God had preserved His people while He struck down their enemies in Egypt (24-27). Bowing in worship, the people hurried off to carry out Moses’ instructions (27-28).
Just as promised, YHWH struck the firstborn of every man and animal—from Pharaoh’s heir to the throne to the captive in his dungeon (29). The land was filled with cries of grief, as each household was awakened in the night to find someone was dead (30). This plague showed even the gods who were supposed to be the guardians of life—Isis, Meskhenet, Selket, and even Pharaoh himself, who was worshiped as a deity—were impotent against YHWH.
The king sent word to Moses and Aaron to leave, taking all their people and their livestock to go and worship God as they had said, “and bless me also” (31-32). The other Egyptians urged the Hebrews to leave quickly, crying, “We shall all be dead” (33).
As God had instructed in Exodus 11:1-3, Moses had told the people to ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold, silver, clothing and other treasures. The Egyptians were so anxious to have them leave as quickly as possible, they gave the Hebrews whatever they requested. “Thus they plundered the Egyptians” (Ex. 12:35-36). Consider it several hundred years of back pay for their labors!
Without even having time to put leaven in their dough, the Hebrews left Egypt with their bread strapped to their backs in their kneading bowls (v. 34). So sudden was their departure, they didn’t prepare any food to take with them, so they baked unleavened bread when they camped the following day (39).
430 years to the day when Israel first arrived in Egypt, they left (40-41). This was about 2,569 years after the earth was created [See the PDF entitled, “Ages of the Patriarchs and Earth before the Exodus“]. There had been seventy men and their direct descendants (not counting their wives), when they first came to Egypt (Gen. 46:26-27). Now they were leaving with over 600,000 men, plus women and children and a “mixed multitude” and livestock too numerous to count (Ex. 12:37-38)!
Moses gave the people further instructions regarding future Passover observances:
- No foreigners were allowed. Only Hebrews and their circumcised slaves could partake of the feast (vv. 43-45).
- This was intended as a sit-down meal (no take-out allowed) (46).
- None of the lamb’s bones was to be broken.
- All Israelites were required to participate. Any non-Hebrew could join them, so long as he and his household were willing to be circumcised and live according to Hebrew laws (47-49).
Exodus Chapter 13
Moses continued his directions regarding the commemoration of their deliverance from Egypt. When they reached the Promised Land, the people were to keep their observance of the feast of unleavened bread in the month of Abib (Ex. 13:3-7). All of this was to remind them year by year how the Lord had delivered them from their enemies (vv. 3 & 8-10).
Another ordinance established to commemorate their deliverance was the dedication of their firstborn. God said, “Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine” (2). The first male offspring of every clean animal born to the Israelites was to be set apart for God (11-12). For a donkey or a man, they were to substitute a lamb (13). Again, this tradition was to provide the opportunity for fathers to tell their children that they sacrificed these animals as a token of their appreciation for how God accomplished their deliverance by taking the firstborn of the men and animals of Egypt (14-16).
In fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:13-14), the Hebrews “went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt” 430 years after the arrival of Jacob and his family (Ex. 12:41 & 13:18). In keeping with the oath made by the children of Israel in Genesis 50:24-25, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him” as the Israelites fulfilled his prophecy, as well (Ex. 13:19).
Not wanting to expose them to war too soon, the Lord led Israel across the wilderness to the Red Sea, rather than through the land of the Philistines to get to Canaan (vv. 17-18). Verse twenty says, “So they took their journey from Succoth and camped in Etham at the edge of the wilderness.”
Unlike His usual dealings with men, the Lord chose to manifest His presence in a visible way throughout the travels of the Israelites in the wilderness. According to verse twenty-one, “the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night.” Why did He the Lord do this? I can think of several good reasons:
- The children of Israel had lived in a pagan land for so long, they were not used to following a God they could not see. As babes in the faith, they needed extra reassurance that YHWH was with them.
- With mixed feelings toward the leadership skills of Moses, the people needed this reinforcement that they were going the right way. When you have a miraculous manifestation of God directing you, it’s kind of hard to argue with the person telling you it’s time to move on!
- The cloud provided shade from the desert sun during the daytime. At night, the fire gave light and heat.
- This physical manifestation of God also showed the pagan nations that a mighty Presence was with the Israelites, so it was not a good idea to mess with them.
Exodus Chapter 14
In the wilderness outside of Egypt, the Lord told Moses His final plan to gain glory at the Egyptians’ expense. He instructed Moses to make camp near the Red Sea. This, He said, would make Pharaoh think the Israelites were overwhelmed by the wilderness. Then YHWH would harden the king’s heart again, so he would come after the Hebrews. Finally, YHWH would execute a stroke so mighty and bold against Egypt’s finest, “that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD” (Ex. 14:1-4).
About that time Pharaoh was told that their main labor force was fleeing the country, and the king and his servants realized what a mistake it would be for them to lose this major economic asset (v. 5). So Pharaoh summoned his army and headed out with 600 of his best charioteers in pursuit of the Israelites (6-8).
When the Egyptian army overtook the former slaves, the Hebrews were terrified and cried out to YHWH (9-10). The Israelites accused Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness?” (11). They reminded him how they had told him to leave them alone and said it would’ve been better to remain slaves in Egypt than to die in the wilderness (12).
“Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (13-14).
Then God told Moses to have the people move out, while he extended his rod over the sea and divide it (15-16). The children of Israel would pass through the sea on dry ground, and then the Lord would lure the Egyptians in after them, so He could prove his power over their army (17-18).
The Angel of God who was in the cloud moved from the front of the Hebrew camp to the rear and formed a wall between the Egyptians and the Israelites (19). To God’s people the cloud gave light to reveal what He was doing in their behalf; to the Egyptians, the cloud brought darkness (20).
When Moses stretched out his hand with the rod as instructed, “the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided” (21). Moses and his people marched into what had been the bottom of the sea, now completely dry and walled on either side with heaps of salt water (22).
The Egyptians followed hot on their heels, but the Lord bogged down their chariot wheels and made it clear to the pursuers that He was fighting against them (23-25). Meanwhile, YHWH told Moses to stretch out his hand again, so the water would return to its normal place on top of the Egyptians (26). At daybreak, while the Egyptians were trying to flee back the way they came, the waters engulfed them; not one member of Pharaoh’s army survived (27-28).
“So the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore” (30). When it dawned on the Hebrews what had happened, they finally realized God had done what He had promised—He had delivered them from Egypt and completely destroyed the forces that had kept them in bondage for so long! With this display of God’s power, they finally learned to respect and believe in YHWH and His servant Moses (31).
Now it is important to note here that the body of water the Israelites crossed was not the Gulf of Suez portion of the Red Sea that borders the western edge of the Sinai Peninsula near Egypt. Rather, it was more likely the Gulf of Aqaba on the eastern edge, adjoining modern-day Saudi Arabia. One reason this had to be the case is that the site traditionally believed to be the location of the Red Sea crossing is too shallow to have drowned an entire army. It’s too near their home for the Israelites to have needed to camp for the night. And finally, there is no archaeological evidence (such as submerged chariots, armor or weapons) to show that an army of well over 1,200 was lost there. For an excellent discussion of the evidence for this view, check out the article, “Is Mount Sinai in the Sinai?” found at the Bible and Archaeological Search and Exploration (BASE) Institute website at http://www.baseinstitute.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=52&Itemid=66.
“I will sing to the LORD,
For He has triumphed gloriously!
The horse and its rider
He has thrown into the sea!
The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” (Ex. 15:1-2).
For He has triumphed gloriously!
The horse and its rider
He has thrown into the sea!
The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” (Ex. 15:1-2).
The Hebrews called God a warrior and told how he drowned all of Egypt’s finest, casting them into the sea like stones (vv. 3-5). He “dashed the enemy in pieces” and “consumed them like stubble” who had risen against Him (6-7). “[W]ith the blast of Your nostrils” their God gathered the waters into a heap so they could pass through (8). But when the enemy tried to pursue, “You blew with Your wind,” and brought the sea back on top of them (9-10). The Egyptians “sank like lead in the mighty waters.”
Now the Hebrews understood they had a God like no other (11). He had swallowed up their foes, but led forth the people He had redeemed with mercy and strength (12). They anticipated the inhabitants of the Promised Land would quake with fear when they heard of it and would not interfere with their arrival when the Hebrews came to claim their inheritance (13-16). The Lord would “bring them in and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance…which You have made for Your own dwelling…” (17). With joyful anticipation and awe, they concluded, “The LORD shall reign forever and ever” (18).
Miriam, the prophetess, sister of Aaron and Moses (the one who watched over her baby brother at the Nile so many decades before), took up a tambourine and led the women in song and dance. Together the ladies echoed the opening lines of the men’s song (20-21).
After three days in the wilderness of Shur, they forgot how great God was and started complaining again. They came to a pool of alkaline water too bitter to drink. Moses cried out to the Lord, and He told him to toss in a tree, which made the water drinkable (22-25). Then God informed the Israelites, “If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you.” (26) The Lord was actually introducing Himself by yet another name—YHWH Rapha—and making the connection between their health and obedience to God.
The place where the waters were made sweet the Hebrews called Marah, which means “bitter.” Then they moved on to a place called Elim, where there were twelve wells and seventy palm trees, and camped at that spot a while (27).
Exodus Chapter 16
Two and a half months after leaving Egypt, the Israelites reached the wilderness of Sin (Ex. 16:1). That was a long time to go without the diet they were used to, so the people complained to Moses again, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (vv. 2-3). They had forgotten the price of that food—years of back-breaking slavery.
Moses consulted with the Lord, who told him He would “rain bread from heaven” to feed the people (4). Moses and Aaron told the congregation God was going to give them all meat that evening and bread the next morning, “for the LORD hears your complaints which you make against Him” (6-8). As we typically do, these people thought they were just fussing at their leaders, whom they held responsible for their misery. Yet Moses and Aaron made it clear it was really the Lord, who had appointed them as leaders, who was offended about their complaints.
When Aaron called the people together, God manifested His glory in the cloud that had accompanied them, and then told them they’d have all they needed within the next twenty-four hours (9-10). “And you shall know that I am the LORD your God” (11).
Sure enough, a massive flock of quail flew in that night and covered the ground, so the Hebrews had meat (13). The next morning, the people found a layer of dew on the earth which evaporated into a fine coating of some substance, which Moses informed them was edible (14-15)—“bread from heaven” God had called it in verse four.
In order to test their obedience, the Lord relayed strict instructions on how they were to gather and use the food: Each day they were to go and pick up a certain amount to feed all the members of their household; anything left over was to be disposed of. Interestingly enough, although they gathered varying amounts, no one ever had too much or too little (16-19). Unfortunately, some had to learn the hard way not to keep any overnight, because the next morning they found the food was smelly and infested with maggots (20).
The sixth day, God provided twice the usual amount, so that no one would have to go out and gather food on the Sabbath, since the Lord wanted them to rest (22-23). This time only the food lasted for more than one day without spoiling (24). Even though Moses explained this, some hard-headed folks went out to gather on the seventh day, and found nothing (25-27). So God said concerning these people, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws?” (28). Then He commanded everyone to stay in their own tents on the Sabbath day, and they did (29-30).
The supernaturally provided bread they called Manna, which means “What is it?” The stuff resembled white coriander seed in appearance and tasted like crackers made with honey (31). The Lord instructed Moses to keep a sample of the heavenly food in a sealed jar, so that later generations could see what the children of Israel ate for forty years in the wilderness (32-35).
Exodus Chapter 17
Again the Hebrews were on the move, and they came to yet another place where there was no water (Ex. 17:1). This time, they demanded of Moses, “Give us water, that we may drink.” He reminded them that their complaints against him actually directed against the Lord (2). Nevertheless, they insisted he had brought them out of Egypt to kill them and their livestock with thirst (3). The Israelites were on the verge of doing Moses bodily harm, when He cried out to YHWH, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!” (4).
The Lord instructed Moses to take some of the elders of Israel as witnesses and strike a particular rock with his rod (5). God promised He would cause water to come out of the rock to satisfy the people (6). After He did what He had promised, Moses called that place Massah and Meribah, which mean “Tempted” and “Contention,” because the people had tempted and contended with the Lord and His servants, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (7).
Yet again the Lord showed His care for the children of Israel, when Amalekites came from the southern part of the Promised Land to attack the Hebrews at Rephidim (8). Moses sent Joshua out with an army of hand-picked warriors, while he, Aaron and Hur went to the top of a nearby hill (9-10). As long as Moses held the rod of God aloft, the Lord granted the army of Israel success; whenever Moses lowered his arm, the enemy prevailed instead (11). When Moses’ arms grew tired, his two friends sat him on a rock and held up his arms for him, until the Amalekites were completely defeated that evening (12-13).
God told Moses to record the victory in a book and remind Joshua often that He would “utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (14). There Moses built and altar he named YHWH Nissi—“The LORD is my Banner” and declared YHWH would be at war with Amalek “from generation to generation” (15-16).
Exodus Chapter 18
Although the Scripture does not tell us in so many words, Moses had apparently sent his wife and son home at some point during his long struggle with Pharaoh. Perhaps he was concerned for her safety, or she found the climate of Egypt undesirable. At any rate, she was home with her father at the time of the Exodus from Egypt.
After the Hebrews had been in Rephidim a while, Jethro came out to meet Moses in the wilderness, along with the prophet’s wife and now two sons (Ex. 18:2-5). The second son (perhaps not previously mentioned because he was not born when Moses first returned to Egypt) was called Eliezar, which means “God is my help.” When he was named, Moses explained, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh” (v. 4).
When Moses heard his family had arrived, he went out to meet Jethro, bowing before the older man and kissing him (6-7). Moses’ father-in-law had heard how YHWH had brought His people out of Egypt (1). But when Moses told him the rest of the story, Jethro rejoiced and said,
“Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, and who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them” (8-11).
Together the priest of Midian and his son-in-law offered sacrifices and then shared a meal with the elders of Israel (12).
The next day, Moses continued his normal routine of judging and instructing the Hebrews. Observing how the people stood in long lines from morning until evening to gain a hearing with their leader, Jethro inquired about the whole thing (13-14).
After receiving Moses’ explanation, the older man stated that it was not good for Moses to judge the people all alone. “Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you…” (15-18). Then he advised Moses to continue to serve as the go-between for the people and God and to instruct them concerning God’s law (19-20). However, Moses needed to recruit “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness” to serve under him, exercising authority over groups of tens, hundreds and thousands according to their ability (21). Anything too complicated for them Moses could take care of, but everything else they could handle themselves, “So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you” (22). Provided the Lord was okay with this, Jethro assured his son-in-law that Moses would be better equipped to endure his responsibility “and all this people will also go to their place in peace” (23).
Before Jethro returned home, Moses took his father-in-law’s advice and selected capable men from the ranks of Israel to help him manage all the disputes that arose (24-27). This later became the model for our judicial system in the United States—with municipal judges handling simple matters at the local level; county, state and federal courts dealing with more complex issues; while the Supreme Court panel hears only a few of the most difficult and farthest-reaching cases.
Exodus Chapter 19
Three months after their departure from Egypt, the Israelites came to the wilderness surrounding Mount Sinai and set up camp (Ex. 19:1-2). Church tradition places the location of this holy mountain at Jebel Musa near the southern edge of the Sinai Peninsula between modern-day Egypt and Israel. However, not many people know that site was adopted based on the word of the fourth century Roman Emperor Constantine, who fancied himself ‘the new Moses.’
Contemporary explorers, Larry Williams and Bob Cornuke, using their Bibles as a guide, traced the route of the Israelites from Egypt to Mt. Sinai, and discovered the holy site was actually located in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Now called Jabal al Lawz, this mountain bears all the indicators that it was the place where God met Moses and the Israelites—including stone boundary markers its base, a stone altar, twelve pillars and other important landmarks. To learn more about this incredible discovery and the journey it took to find it, get a copy of Howard Blum’s book, The Gold of Exodus, or the DVD, The Search for the Real Mt. Sinai. You can also read highlights about their findings at the BASE Institute website, http://www.baseinstitute.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=52&Itemid=66.
Moses went up the mountain to meet with the Lord, and God gave him a message to relay to the people:
“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (vv. 3-6).
Now you may never have considered this, but this is the language of a man requesting the hand of his beloved in marriage. God is making His proposal to Israel to make her His bride!
When Moses gathered the leaders of Israel, they accepted YHWH’s offer: “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (7-8). So Moses, serving in the role of a match-maker or mediator between the two parties, returned to the mountain and repeated their response to God.
God told Moses He would appear to Israel in a thick cloud “that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever” (9). That way, they would not only affirm Moses as the Lord’s chosen spokesman, but they would do what he said. Then He gave the congregation several action points in preparation for this important event:
- They were to consecrate themselves, wash and put on clean clothes by the third day, when God was scheduled to appear (10-11).
- They were to set up boundaries around the mountain, which no one could cross—neither man nor beast—on pain of death (12-13).
- When they heard the sound of a long trumpet blast, they were all to approach the boundaries, but go no further (13).
- Everyone was to abstain from sexual intercourse until after the Lord’s arrival (15).
Moses and the people did as they were told (14). The morning of the appointed meeting, there were thunder and lightning and the sound of a mighty trumpet blast coming from a thick cloud at the top of the mountain (16). The spectacle was so awesome, the people trembled with fear. As the people drew near the base of the mountain, they saw it was engulfed in fire and smoke, “and the whole mountain quaked greatly” (17-18). One almost wonders from this description whether Mt. Sinai might have been an active volcano!
Moses went up to meet with the Lord, and then God sent him back down to warn the people not to encroach on His holy ground. He also instructed him to bring his brother near, but not to allow the priests or the people to come up the mountain (20-25).
Exodus Chapter 20
With a voice as loud as a trumpet and awe-inspiring as thunder, the Lord stated the terms of His marriage covenant (Ex. 20:1 & 18). In true contractual fashion, the Lord began by introducing Himself as ‘the party of the first part’: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (v. 2). In what we now know as the Ten Commandments, YHWH then stated His expectations for His betrothed:
- “You shall have no other gods before Me” (3). Any marriage relationship is meant to be exclusive. God wants to be first in the hearts of those He loves, with no competitors for their affection or allegiance.
- “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (4-6). First, the people of Israel were not to make any kind of idol, or visible substitute for God. This was as offensive to Him as the pornographic fixation of a man would be to his wife. Some people are disturbed at the thought of God being jealous, but if you consider how deep His affection is toward His people, you can understand that He would not want us to be lured away from Him by a rival deity that would not treat them as uprightly as their Spiritual Husband. He afflicts the offspring of those who reject Him only to the third and fourth generations, but He blesses to the thousands those who love and submit to Him.
- “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain…” (7) This is one we so often gloss over. We use the name God or Jesus so lightly—as an expletive or an expression of surprise/disgust. People swear a solemn oath and then break it. We tack on the phrase “I swear to G_ _,” hoping to validate something we’ve said that isn’t 100% true. All these things make us guilty before a holy God whose name is as powerful as He is.
- “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God” (8-10). Here is another law of God we break constantly. God intended for human beings to work six days a week and then take the seventh day off. In Israel, their Sabbath was our Saturday. Except for people walking the short distance to their village synagogue, the place shut down this one day of the week. No one was to work—not an Israelite, his family, his servants or even his livestock. Resident aliens who were not Hebrew were not to work either. Why? “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day” (11). We are made in God’s image; therefore, we need a rest even more than He did! I am not so legalistic as to suggest you have to take Saturdays off to be in compliance with this rule. For my family, our Sabbath is Sunday: We go to church, come home and eat lunch and take a nap, and then do something quiet and recreational the rest of the day. For those in ministry, Monday or Friday may be their day off. The point is, you work six days and rest one, like our Creator did.
- “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (12). For some people, this is a tough one—especially if your parents have been abusive or incompetent. The fact of the matter is, there’s only one perfect Parent, and He has placed our biological and adoptive parents in our lives as representatives of His authority. Even when we don’t approve what they do or believe they deserve it, we can still honor our parents for who they are. Doing so works to our benefit, even if it’s never acknowledged or appreciated by them.
- “You shall not murder” (13). This one is a no-brainer. God gave every person on this planet life, so He alone has the right to take it. In other parts of Scripture, He makes it plain that killing in war, in self-defense or by accident is excusable, though these incidences do have consequences. If you deliberately kill another person, however, you violate God’s law, which requires your execution in return (See Genesis 9:6 & Numbers 35:9-32).
- “You shall not commit adultery” (14). God is a faithful, covenant-keeping God; therefore He expects us to honor our vows to one another—the most sacred of which is a vow of exclusivity in marriage. Although some people take a strict interpretation of this verse to mean only those guilty of sexual intercourse with someone other than their spouse is an adulterer or adulteress, the New Testament indicates that this involves premarital sex, as well (See Matthew 1:18-19). In fact, Jesus equated a lustful look at someone with adultery (Matt. 5:27-28). So even consuming pornography qualifies as a violation of this law in God’s eyes. Not only that, but marrying a person who is divorced is adultery in God’s eyes (vv. 31-32).
- “You shall not steal” (15). Here’s another easy one. God is a giving God; therefore, He wants us to be givers, too, not takers. What’s mine is mine; what’s yours is yours—unless by mutual agreement we choose to exchange something or give an object away.
- “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (16). Because of its legal language, some people want to keep this strictly concerning our testimony in a court of law. Yet if you get behind this rule to God’s character, you realize that because He is a truthful God, He wants us to tell the truth, too. When you lie about someone, you are maligning their character in the court of human opinion, and may therefore cost them something precious. If you lie about something else, you may just find yourself entangled in a whole mess of contradictions on down the road. It’s better to always tell the truth and never lie about anything.
- Finally, God said, “You shall not covet…anything that is your neighbor’s” (17). God gives us everything we need. To desire something that doesn’t belong to you denies the sufficiency of God’s provision. Also, it is the starting point for so many of the other sins: If I desire another person’s spouse, I may try to kill that person or commit adultery with the one I’m attracted to. If I desire their property, I may lie or steal to acquire it. Instead, God wants us to be grateful for what we have, which leads to contentment.
When God concluded these pronouncements, the people came to Moses and said, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (19). So terrifying was the manifestation of the Lord’s presence and the sound of His voice, they backed away (18). Even though Moses tried to reassure them, saying, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin,” the people would not venture anywhere near the Lord (20-21).
Having introduced His core values, YHWH began to lay out the rules of the household to His new bride. The Ten Commandments were to be Israel’s guiding principles; now the Lord began to flesh them out and expand on them. Although the Hebrews were just glad to be free; the Lord was doing something bigger than rescuing them from bondage—He was birthing a new nation. As such, they needed a system of government and just laws to succeed.
God first reiterated His injunction against any form of idols (22-23). Then He described the proper construction of altars: They could be made of earth or uncut stone; they could not have steps, nor could they be chiseled with any kind of tool (24-26).
Exodus Chapter 21
Having been slaves for several hundred years, the idea of servitude was a part of Hebrew culture and would remain so for centuries more. However, one of God’s first concerns was for the just treatment of Hebrew servants. If a man sold himself as a servant, his buyer was to employ him for six years, and then let him go free (Ex. 21:2). If he came to his master alone, he was to leave alone; if he came with a spouse, she was to leave with him (v. 3). However, if a wife was provided for him by his master, she and any children they had would remain in the service of the master (4). Should the man decide to stay, then the master was to pierce his ear to signify he would remain in servitude forever (5-6).
Women, however, did not enjoy the privilege of leaving after seven years—usually because they were sold as a bride to their master (7-8). However, if a man decided he wasn’t happy with his female servant, he was not allowed to sell her to foreigners (9). If he had acquired her for his son, she was to be treated as a daughter (10). If he married another woman, she was not to be treated or provided for any less than before (11). If the master was unwilling to comply with these three directives, then she was allowed to go free (12).
The matter of violent crimes worthy of capital punishment was addressed next:
- If a person deliberately struck someone else and killed them, they were to be put to death (12 & 14). If the death of the victim was not premeditated, the Lord allowed the killer to flee to a place of safety (13).
- Anyone who lashed out against a parent—either physically or verbally—was to be killed (14 & 16).
- Kidnapping was punishable by death, as well—whether the victim was sold or kept alive (15).
If men got into a fight and one of them was disabled, the one who injured the other was responsible to pay for his care and lost income until the man was able to get out of bed again (17-19). If men fighting injured a woman with child, causing her to miscarry, the aggressor had to pay for the loss of the child or the woman which died—whatever injury was inflicted on her or the baby was to be done to him, as well (22-25). If a master beat his slave to death, he would be punished—unless the victim remained alive a few days before passing—since the slave was considered his property (20-21). If he struck the slave, destroying an eye or a tooth, the slave could go free in compensation for the lost organ (26-27). This would certainly cut down on the number of violent incidents in Israel!
The owner of an animal was responsible for any injury it might cause, too. If an ox gored a person to death, it was to be killed, but not eaten (28). However, if the owner of the animal knew it had previously been aggressive, then both the man and his animal were to be killed, since the man should have taken precautions to prevent such a thing (29). There was, however, the option of the man paying a fine instead (30-31). If an ox gored a slave, the man was to pay the owner thirty shekels and kill his animal (32). Should his ox injure another animal, the owner of the live animal was to sell the beast and give half to the owner of the dead one—unless, of course, the animal had previously been aggressive. In that case, he would get the dead ox and give the owner of the victim his live one instead (35-36).
Anyone undertaking a construction project had to be careful to cover the pit he dug. Otherwise, he would have to pay for any animal that happened to stumble into it and be killed (33-34).
Exodus Chapter 22
Anyone caught stealing had to restore five times what he had sold or eaten (Ex. 22:1). If the item was found in his possession, he had to repay double (v. 4). That would be an effective deterrent to theft! Anyone breaking and entering at night could be killed without penalty by the home owner (2). If by daylight, the killer had to make restitution (3).
Should someone let his animal get loose and graze in another person’s field or vineyard, they had to pay for or replace what was damaged (5). Likewise, anyone who let a fire get out of control and burn another person’s crop was obliged to make restitution (6). Anyone watching out for another person’s property had to return it in good shape, or face prosecution or pay for its loss or destruction (7-13). Likewise, unless the owner of an animal was present when it happened, any injury incurred while a creature was borrowed or hired was the responsibility of the one who had it at the time (14-15).
A man who seduced a virgin was obligated to pay her father a bride price and marry the young lady (16). If the father wouldn’t let her go, he was still obligated to pay the bride-price for a virgin, having ‘deflowered’ her (17).
Other crimes worthy of the death penalty included witchcraft, bestiality and idolatry (18-20).
Hebrews were not to mistreat aliens, since they had been strangers in Egypt themselves (21). Should anyone mistreat a widow or fatherless child, the Lord would see to it that they were killed and their wives would be widows and their children orphans (22-24). No Israelite was allowed to lend money at interest to a fellow Hebrew, nor was he to keep the person’s cloak overnight as surety to repay the debt (25-27). No one was allowed to curse God or a ruler of their people (28).
No one was to delay bringing the first fruits of their crops as offerings to God; nor were they to fail to dedicate their first born sons (29). They were to keep the first born of their animals with their mothers for seven days, but then bring them to the priests for God on the eighth day (30). No Hebrew was allowed to eat what had been mauled by animals, but were to throw that meat to their dogs (31).
Exodus Chapter 23
Expanding on the idea of not bearing false witness, the Lord said no one was to circulate rumors (Ex. 23:1). They were not to “follow a crowd to do evil” or testify in such a way as to pervert justice (vv. 1-2). No one was allowed to favor or withhold justice from a poor man or mistreat an alien (3, 6 & 9). Bribery and corruption of any kind were strictly forbidden (8). God said, “Keep yourself far from a false matter; do not kill the innocent and righteous. For I will not justify the wicked” (7).
Israelites were instructed to sow their fields and harvest crops and fruit for six years and then let them lay fallow the seventh (10-11). This was required for several reasons:
- It gave the land a rest, just as people need to rest every seven days.
- It allowed the poor and wildlife to benefit from what sprang up on its own the seventh year.
- It taught the Hebrews to plan ahead and trust God to provide during the years they didn’t sow crops.
Likewise, they were to take a day off every seven days to give themselves, their livestock and their servants a rest (12).
Under no circumstances was anyone to invoke the names of other gods (13).
Three national holidays were prescribed for God’s people with mandatory participation required for all the men (14 & 17):
- The Feast of Unleavened Bread, commemorating the Hebrews’ departure from Egypt in the month of Abib (15)
- The Feast of Harvest, or First Fruits, when they were required to bring a sampling of the first ripened fruits and grain in the spring to God’s house (16 & 19).
- The Feast of Ingathering in the fall, where they were required to give a portion of their harvest of late crops (16).
No one was to offer leavened bread with a blood sacrifice, and they were to burn all the fat (18). Unlike the common practice among pagans, a person was not to boil an animal in its mother’s milk (19).
God promised to send His Angel before the Hebrews to bring them safely to their new home, and He expected His people to do all He instructed through this representative (20-21). As long as they cooperated, God said, “I will be an enemy to your enemies…” (22). With the Angel’s help, God was going to cut off the inhabitants of Canaan, so Israel could live in their territory (23). The Hebrews were to demolish every artifact of their pagan religions, so they would not adopt their evil practices (24).
If they were faithful to serve YHWH alone, He promised to bless their food and water and keep sickness away, no female would miscarry or be barren, and everyone would live to a ripe old age (25-26). He would frighten their enemies and drive them out (27-28). The inhabitants of Canaan would not be run off all at once, because God didn’t want the wild animals to take over (29-30).
Eventually, Israel would inhabit everything from the Red Sea to Philistia (the west coast of the Promised Land, bordering the Mediterranean), and from the wilderness in the southwest to the Euphrates River in the northeast (31). This happened in the days of King David and Solomon.
The Hebrews were not to make any kind of agreement with the pagan inhabitants of their land or the gods of the people living there (32). Not one of them was allowed to remain in the Promised Land, because God said they would lure His people into idolatry and sin (33).
Exodus Chapter 24
When Moses relayed this more detailed social contract to the Israelites, they again affirmed, “All the words which the LORD has said we will do” (Ex. 24:3). So Moses duly recorded everything the Lord and they had said.
Early the next morning, he built a stone altar and twelve pillars, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, at the base of the mountain (v. 4). [In 1988, adventurers Larry Williams and Bob Cornuke found all of these at the foot of Jabal al Lawz in Saudi Arabia.] With the assistance of some young men, Moses made several burnt offerings and slaughtered oxen as peace offerings to God on his new altar (5). He used half of the blood to dedicate the altar; then with the other half he dedicated the people, after he had read aloud the Book of the Covenant (6-8). As he sprinkled them with the blood of the sacrificial animals, Moses said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words” (8).
Just before Moses came down from the mountain, YHWH had told him to bring Aaron and his two oldest sons, and seventy elders of Israel up to see Him (1-2). When they all did so, “they saw the God of Israel,” standing on a pavement of sapphire stones as clear as the heavens (9-10). Although men are not normally allowed to see such a thing on this side of eternity, these men not only saw the Lord and lived, but they somehow shared a meal in His presence (11)!
Moses was then called further up the mountain alone to receive the Lord’s commandments written in stone (12). He and his assistant Joshua went on up, while the elders were ordered to remain below (13-14). In Moses’ absence, Aaron and Hur were designated to handle any important matters (14).
While Moses was on the mountain, a cloud covered the peak for six days, then God called him out of the cloud (15-16). To the Hebrews below, “the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire” atop the mountain (17). For the next forty days, Moses was alone on the peak, receiving further revelation and instructions from God (18). It is very likely that during this time, he neither ate nor drank, unless God miraculously provided something without Moses telling us.
Exodus Chapter 25
The next three chapters describe the tabernacle and its furnishings. This was to be a portable worship center—a special tent enclosed in a cloth fence—which the Israelites carried with them throughout their journeys in the wilderness. First, the Lord told Moses to take a free-will offering from the Israelites to provide the materials needed for its construction (Ex. 25:1-2). This included:
- Precious metals—gold, silver and bronze (v. 3).
- Fine blue, purple and scarlet thread and fabrics of linen and goat hair (4).
- Animal skins and acacia wood (5).
- Oil and spices (6).
- Onyx and other precious stones (7).
God gave Moses careful plans and patterns to have the people construct from these supplies “a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them” (8-9).
The first thing God described was a gold-plated chest in which to carry the stone tablets and other sacred artifacts. This was to be about 2½ feet wide and deep by four feet long, with long poles at the sides, so the priests could carry it (10-16). For a lid, God described a beautiful “mercy seat” made of solid gold, with two cherubim facing each other and overshadowing it with their wings (17-21). There God intended to meet with Moses, once the tabernacle was complete (22).
Next, God described a low wooden table, also plated with gold, on which to lay out the bread offered to the Lord. It was about 1½ feet wide, three feet long and a little over two feet tall, with a four-inch ledge all around. This, too, had poles for carrying and came with golden bowls, platters and pitchers for serving (23-30).
The third article to be fashioned for the tabernacle was a gorgeous solid gold lamp stand. It had a central shaft with six branches (three on each side), hammered into the shape of almond blossoms, each supporting one of seven oil lamps. From a single talent of gold, the lamp stand and all of its utensils were to be crafted (31-40).
Exodus Chapter 26
The tent itself consisted of several layers of curtains made of different materials. The first layer was made of linen curtains woven with pictures of cherubim fastened together with loops and gold clasps (Ex. 26:1-6). Next was a layer of curtains made of goat hair fastened with loops and bronze clasps (vv. 7-13). Over that went a layer of rams’ skins dyed red, and then goat skins [According to Strong’s Greek and Hebrew Dictionary, the word, tachash, may also be translated badger, dugong, dolphin or porpoise.] (14).
To support the tabernacle, Moses was instructed to make boards that were fifteen feet long and two feet wide that fit together with tenons and set in silver bases with crossbars to stabilize the walls. All the wooden panels and bars were overlaid with gold. According to the dimensions given, this framework would have made the interior of the tabernacle roughly forty feet by sixteen feet (15-30).
Within the tent was to be a veil of blue, purple, scarlet and linen with cherubim woven into it, which was to hang from golden hooks on four gold-plated wooden pillars set in silver bases (31-32). This was to divide the interior into two chambers—the Holy Place, where the table and lamp stand were placed, and the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant rested (33-35). At the mouth of the tabernacle was hung a screen, also embroidered with blue, purple and scarlet, hung over five gold pillars set in bronze bases (36-37).
Exodus Chapter 27
A bronze-plated wooden altar 7½ feet square and 4½ feet tall was to be placed outside the tabernacle. Its grate and utensils were solid bronze, and it was to be carried with wooden poles plated with bronze (Ex. 27:1-8).
In order to cordon off the area reserved for worship, Moses was instructed to erect linen curtains on silver hooks and pillars with bronze bases. According to the dimensions given, it would have enclosed an area 150 x 75 feet as a courtyard for the tabernacle. The entrance to the worship center consisted of a decorative screen resembling the curtains of the tabernacle set in front of an opening in the courtyard [like the entrance to a playground or baseball field] (vv. 9-18). All the utensils, tent pegs and pegs for stabilizing the fence around the court were supposed to be bronze (19).
It is interesting that the wooden articles for the tabernacle were made of acacia—one of the most common trees found in Africa and the Middle East. This is also a very thorny tree—quite likely the source of Jesus’ crown of thorns much later in Israel’s history. For a marvelous article on how God thus redeemed thorns as part of His plan to reverse the curse against mankind, see the article, “The Splendor of Thorns” at http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/am/v4/n3/splendor-thorns.
In verses 20-21, the Lord instructed Moses to collect pure olive oil, so Aaron and his sons could fuel the lamps in the golden lamp stand and keep them burning at all times.
Exodus Chapter 28
Next, the Lord informed Moses that He had chosen his brother Aaron and his sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, to serve as priests (Ex. 28:1). God then described the holy garments which gifted Hebrew craftsmen were to make “for glory and for beauty” for Aaron to wear when he served God and the people (vv. 2-3).
The first item was the ephod—a sort of vest or apron worn by the priest to distinguish him in his position. The high priest’s ephod was woven of gold, blue, purple and scarlet thread with fine linen, “artistically worked” (5-6). We don’t know whether the colors were made into a plaid, stripes or some sort of pattern; only that it was a thing of regal beauty, fastened with shoulder straps and an “intricately woven band” around the waist (7-8). On top of the shoulders were two onyx stones in gold settings, engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel—six on each stone (9-13). Braided gold chains were attached to the settings on the shoulders (14).
Of the same colorful fabric, the craftsmen were to make a six-inch square breastplate of double thickness set with four rows of precious stones, each engraved with and representing a son of Israel. For Reuben, Simeon and Levi, there were sardius, topaz and emerald in the top row. The second row featured turquoise, sapphire and diamond, to represent Judah, Issachar and Zebulon. In the third row were jacinth, agate and amethyst for Dan, Naphtali and Gad. The bottom row had beryl, onyx and jasper, to represent Asher, Joseph and Benjamin (15-21). This was to hang from the ephod with gold rings and chains attached to the top corners of the breastplate (22-25). A blue cord was run through rings attached to the bottom corners of the breastplate and tied to rings at the waist of the ephod to keep it in place (26-28). Within the pocket formed by folding the cloth to make the breastplate, the priest was to carry instruments of direction—the Urim and Thummim (“lights and perfections”)—by which God indicated His will to the priests (30).
Under the ephod and its breastplate, the priest was to wear a robe of royal blue with a carefully worked neck opening and a hem trimmed with small gold bells and colorful knots resembling pomegranates (31-34). The purpose of the bells? So “its sound will be heard when he goes into the holy place before the LORD and when he comes out, that he may not die” (35).
The craftsmen were also to fashion a linen turban with a gold plate attached by a blue cord to the front. On this plate was to be engraved the words, “Holiness to the LORD” in order to make the gifts offered by the Israelites acceptable (36-39).
Under the blue robe, the priest was to wear a plain linen tunic with a woven belt. Aaron’s sons were to receive linen tunics, belts and hats, as well. And all five of them were to wear linen undergarments, “to cover their nakedness” from their waists to their thighs so as not to offend God (40-43).
Exodus Chapter 29
When it came time to consecrate Aaron and his sons as priests, they were to bring with them a young bull and two unblemished rams—along with a basket of unleavened bread, unleavened cakes with oil and unleavened crackers with oil (Ex. 29:1-3). Moses was to bathe and dress each man in his priestly garments and anoint Aaron with oil (vv. 4-9).
The men would place their hands on the bull, and then it would be sacrificed and used to consecrate the altar. The animal’s fat would be burned on the altar as a sin offering, while the remainder of its body was taken outside the camp and burned (10-14). The first ram would be sacrificed and cut up as a burnt offering (15-18).
The second ram was used to consecrate Aaron and his sons. Some of its blood was applied to the right ears, thumbs and big toes of each of the priests; while the rest was applied to the altar. A portion of that was mixed with anointing oil and sprinkled on the men (19-21). The fatty parts and the right thigh of the sheep was to be handed to Aaron and his sons, along with one of each kind of bread to be waved and then added to the burnt offering (22-25).
The breast of the ram was for Moses, while the left thigh was for Aaron and his sons to eat (boiled) with the remaining bread “by the door of the tabernacle of meeting” (26-28 & 31-33). Any left-overs from their meal were to be burned up (34). This process of consecrating both the altar and the priests was to be repeated for seven days (35-37). When it was time for one of Aaron’s sons to take his place as high priest, the process would be repeated for him (29-30).
Once the altar was consecrated, the priests were to offer two yearling lambs every day as a burnt offering—one in the morning and one in the evening. With them were to be burned a measure of fine flour, oil and wine (38-43). That would make the worship center and all who came there acceptable, so God could live with them and they could know Him personally (44-46).
Exodus Chapter 30
Having prescribed the garb and dedication ceremonies for the priests, the Lord went on to describe more of the tabernacle’s furnishings. First was a wooden altar for burning incense, eighteen inches square at the top and three feet tall, with gold plating and a gold molding around it. Like the other furnishings of the temple, it was to be carried with gold-plated wooden poles attached by rings at the sides (Ex. 30:1-5). Its location within the holy tent was to be in front of the veil separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place—that way Aaron could burn incense on it whenever he came in to trim the lamps (vv. 6-8). The incense altar was to be used strictly for that purpose—nothing else (9). Once a year, Aaron would apply the blood of the sin offering to it to atone for the golden altar (10).
In anticipation of the first census that would be taken as described in the book of Numbers, the Lord directed Moses to receive a ransom of a half shekel for every male over twenty that would be counted. This money was to be offered “for the service of the tabernacle of meeting,” so that no one would suffer any plague due to the census (11-16).
Next, God ordered a bronze basin for holding water for Aaron and his sons to wash their hands and feet whenever they approached the altar or the tabernacle (17-21). Although no dimensions were given, one must assume it was big enough to hold a sufficient quantity of water for them to wash in, but not so large that it would be burdensome to carry.
The Lord gave the recipe for anointing oil: five parts liquid myrrh to 2½ parts each of cinnamon, sweet cane, cassia and a portion of olive oil (22-24). The sweet-smelling perfume was to be mixed exclusively for use in anointing the temple, its furnishings and accessories and the priests; no one was allowed to concoct it for himself (25-32). Anyone attempting to do so would die (33).
Likewise, the Lord prescribed a special recipe of equal amounts of spices, frankincense and some other ingredients to be ground into powder, salted and stored for use on the incense altar (34-36). Anyone duplicating the compound for personal use would be killed (37-38).
Exodus Chapter 31
The Lord designated two men to head up the group of artisans who would craft all these holy artifacts. The first was Bezalel, son of Uri of the tribe of Judah, especially gifted with “the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge…to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship” (Ex. 31:3-5). His assistant was a Danite, Aholiab the son of Ahisamach (v. 6). They were to oversee the work of all the other artisans gifted to carry out the work on the tabernacle and its accessories, as well as the priestly garments (6-11).
In the remainder of this chapter, the Lord reiterated the Sabbath requirements—that anyone who worked on the seventh day of the week would be put to death (12-15). Throughout their generations the Hebrews were to keep that day holy, since God Himself had worked six days creating the earth and then rested (16-17).
Having concluded His instructions, the Lord handed Moses a set of stone tablets. On them were inscribed the His commandments, “written with the finger of God” (18).
Exodus Chapter 32
What follows is sure evidence of the fact that you can bring a man out of Egypt, but it’s hard to get Egypt out of the man. The Hebrews had lived in that pagan country so long, they had been conditioned to think of gods in terms of images they could see and touch. So when Moses was on the mountain for over a month (c.f.—Ex. 24:18), the people decided they needed an image to worship like they had in Egypt. So they said to Aaron, their second in command, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Ex. 32:1).
By now, Aaron should have known better. He had been used by God to speak to Pharaoh and perform mighty miracles in YHWH’s name. He had witnessed all that God had done so far in the wilderness, and had even seen Him in person on the mountain. But, like his fellow Hebrews, Aaron had grown up with idols all around him, so he didn’t think twice about carrying out their request.
Aaron replied, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me” (v. 2). According to J. Vernon McGee’s Through the Bible commentary over this passage, earrings were a sign of a person’s devotion to a particular idol. By breaking off this jewelry, their action was a sort of sign that the people were breaking off their attachments to the gods of Egypt—which was a good thing. Unfortunately, what Aaron did with those ornaments was not good: He took the jewelry they brought him, melted it down and poured it into a mold and then sculpted it into a calf idol (3-4). Undoubtedly, Aaron’s statue was not unlike the images of Apis which they had seen in Egypt.
The people got excited and exclaimed, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” (4). Aaron then constructed an altar and proclaimed, “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD” (5). Although he was giving YHWH credit for bringing them out of Egypt, Aaron was breaking the second commandment and God’s specific instructions not to associate Him with any man-made image or other object of worship (See Ex. 20:4-6 & 22-23).
So early next morning, the people got up and made offerings and sacrifices to their new idol. They ate a sumptuous feast and then began to engage in the kind of revelry associated with worship in Egypt (Ex. 32:6).
YHWH witnessed it all and told Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves” (v. 7). Notice the pronouns used in that sentence: “your people whom you brought out.” God was so disgusted with their idolatry, He didn’t even want to claim the Israelites any longer! Having described their sin, the Lord told His servant He intended to wipe the “stiff-necked” Hebrews out and then start over by making a “great nation” through Moses instead (8-10).
God knows everything, and His ways are always perfect. I doubt He really intended to carry out this threat. Instead, He was testing Moses to see how he would respond.
A true prophet, Moses instantly began to intercede for his people, presenting three reasons for God to relent from His proposed course of action:
- Moses first reminded the Lord of His relationship with the people. He said, “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” (11). Moses asserted that the Israelites were God’s people whom He brought out of Egypt.
- Then he told God how such an action would affect His reputation among the Egyptians and other pagan people: They would think YHWH brought the Hebrews out with evil intentions, “to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth” (12). How then would His name be glorified in all the earth?
- Finally, he appealed to God’s reliability. He reminded YHWH of His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and how wiping out their descendants would bring into question His faithfulness to those vows.
Satisfied with these arguments, “…the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people” (14).
So down the mountain went the prophet, with the stone tablets inscribed on both sides with the Law of God clutched firmly in his hands (15-16). Partway there, he met up with his faithful assistant, Joshua, who thought he heard the sound of battle in the camp (17). Moses replied, “It is not the noise of the shout of victory, nor the noise of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing I hear” (18).
As he approached the camp and saw the idol and the people dancing before it, Moses lost it. He smashed the stone tablets at the base of the mountain and then rushed toward the spectacle (19). He burned the golden calf and ground it to powder, then scattered it on the water and made the people drink it (20). So much for their new god!
Having left his brother in charge of the people in his absence (Ex. 24:14), Moses then turned to Aaron and asked, “What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” (21). Knowing how close they had come to being exterminated, Moses couldn’t conceive what would motivate his brother to endanger the lives of his countrymen by allowing such a breach of God’s Law.
Aaron could’ve risen to the occasion and confessed his sin at once. However, like a little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he quickly attempted to diffuse Moses’ anger against him by laying the blame elsewhere: “You know the people, that they are set on evil” (22). He related how they had come to him, wondering what was taking Moses so long and demanding that Aaron make a god for them (23). He then related how he instructed them to give him there gold, but then said when he cast it into the fire, “this calf came out” (24).
Uh-huh…how convincing! Aaron really expected Moses to believe this graven image miraculously emerged from the forge? Probably too disgusted to continue his conversation with his brother, Moses stepped away and looked around some more.
Noticing how out of control the crowd had become and how their behavior was bringing shame on them in the sight of any other people who might happen to observe it, Moses called from the entrance of the camp: “Whoever is on the LORD’s side—come to me” (25-26). His relatives from the tribe of Levi gathered around, so Moses authorized them from the Lord to execute those engaged in riotous behavior (26-27). Carrying out His orders, the Levites killed about 3,000 Israelites that day, and were commended by God for their zeal (28-29).
The next day Moses told the people they had blown it big-time. “So now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin” (30). Back with the Lord on the mountain, Moses confessed on behalf of his countrymen how terribly they had messed up. He asked God to forgive them, and then said (again in true intercessor style) “…but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written” (31-32). If the Lord was not going to let his people off the hook, then Moses didn’t want to experience God’s grace without them.
God made it clear He didn’t operate that way. “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book” (33). What this book is, we are not told, but it seems to be the book of the living. God told Moses to head for the Promised Land and that His Angel would escort them. He also said He’d punish the wicked in due time (34). Sure enough, He sent a plague on Israel for worshiping their idol (35).
Exodus Chapter 33
The Lord again disassociated Himself with the Israelites, instructing Moses to head out with “the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt” to the land He had promised their forefathers (Ex 33:1). Although the Angel was going to accompany them to drive out the inhabitants of the land, YHWH was remiss to do so, “lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people” (vv. 2-3). Being a holy God, He could not tolerate their constant rebellion, and He loved them too much to risk destroying them for their sin.
This grieved the children of Israel, so they stripped off all their jewelry as a sign of mourning, and God reinforced the gesture (4-6). They apparently went without their ornaments until they reached the land of Canaan.
Before the tabernacle was built, Moses used to pitch his own tent far outside the camp, where he could meet with God (7). Whenever the people saw him heading that direction, they would stand at the doors of their tents and watch for the cloud of God’s presence to descend over Moses’ “tent of meeting” (8-9). While Moses spoke to God face to face after the cloud covered his doorway, the others worshiped at the entrances of their homes (10-11).
Moses’ assistant Joshua, however, spent all his time at the tent of meeting (11). Whether this was to make himself available to Moses, to guard the tent, or to pray, we do not know. But it seems to me he was an extremely dedicated young man.
Moses was desperate to change the Lord’s mind about sending them without Him to the Promised Land. Reminding God how He had told him, “I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight,” Moses begged the Lord to prove it by considering the nation of Israel as His own people (12-13). God replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (14). Moses said if YHWH wouldn’t go with them, then they should stay put, since the Lord was what set them apart from the other nations (15-16).
YHWH said, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name” (17). Emboldened by this statement of familiarity from God, Moses made a personal request: “Please, show me Your glory” (18). He wasn’t satisfied talking to God through the veil of the cloud; he wanted to behold the Lord full-on.
Amazingly, the Lord agreed. He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you” (19). However, God pointed out, “no man shall see Me, and live,” so He proposed that Moses stand in a gap between the rocks, so the Lord could cover him until He passed by (20-22). “Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen” (23).
Exodus Chapter 34
Having come up with a plan, the Lord set up an appointment for Moses to meet with Him on the mountain again. He said, “Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke” (Ex. 34:1). The next morning Moses was to come up alone on the mountain, making sure not so much as a flock of sheep came near the mountain, so they wouldn’t be killed getting to close to the Lord uninvited (vv. 2-3).
As instructed, Moses met the Lord the next day, carrying the new stone tablets for God to engrave (4).
“And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation’” (6-7).
Moses instantly bowed with his face to the ground in worship and then again asked for the Lord to pardon His people’s sin and accompany them to His inheritance (8-9).
YHWH replied, “Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you” (10). He promised to get rid of the inhabitants of the land—provided the Hebrews were careful to make no deals whatsoever with them, so they would not be a snare to God’s people (11-12). They were to tear down every implement of pagan worship, since (as He had told them before in Exodus 20:5) YHWH was a jealous God who did not want to share the Israelites with any other deity (Ex. 34:13-14). He did not want the Hebrews getting chummy with the pagans or their gods, intermarrying or adopting their practices (15-17). To do so was the equivalent of spiritual prostitution in the Lord’s eyes.
God reminded Moses of the Feast of Unleavened Bread the Hebrews were obligated to keep, the requirement of giving Him or redeeming their first-born, the Sabbath and the spring and fall harvest festivals every man among them was expected to observe (18-22). If they were faithful to celebrate these three festivals, the Lord promised He would cast out the nations before them, expand their borders and keep others from trying to take their land (23-24).
The Lord reiterated some more of His rules, commanding Moses to record what He said (25-27). So Moses stayed another forty days on the mountain with God—consuming neither food nor drink in all that time—and the Lord re-wrote the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets (28).
Unbeknownst to him, Moses’ face picked up some of God’s glory after spending so much time in His presence (29). So when he came down off the mountain with the Ten Commandments, he scared Aaron and the other Hebrews half to death (30). Probably thinking he was a ghost or something, they were afraid to come near the prophet until he called them by name (31-32). After relaying all that the Lord had said, Moses covered his face with a veil (33). Whenever he was in God’s presence, the veil was removed, until after he had relayed the Lord’s message to the Hebrews again (34). Between visits with God, the veil remained (35).
Exodus Chapter 35
Expanding on His rules for the Sabbath, the Lord instructed the people to work six days and then rest on the seventh. Anyone who so much as kindled a fire on the Lord’s special day was to be put to death (Ex. 35:1-3)!
Next, Moses presented the plan for the construction of the tabernacle and its accessories to the people. He said, “Take from among you an offering to the LORD. Whoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it as an offering to the LORD,” and then he listed all the supplies they would need (vv. 4-9). This is one of the reasons the Lord had the people ask the Egyptians for valuables before they left—so they would possess the raw materials required to construct a beautiful and functional worship center. Moses also issued a call for craftsmen to perform the labor required to construct the tent and its accessories, saying, “All who are gifted artisans among you shall come and make all that the LORD has commanded” (10-19).
As soon as the congregation was dismissed, they started gathering the necessary supplies. Both men and women, “as many as had a willing heart,” brought gold, silver, bronze, jewelry, wood, cloth, leather and all the other materials (20-24). Women who were skilled weavers spun linen, wool and goat hair into yarn (25-26). The elders donated precious gems, spices and oil (27-28). Freely they gave with enthusiasm for this important work God wanted to be done (29).
Moses called forth the two men, Bezelel and Aholiab, who would head up the project and listed their qualifications—the chief of which was that they were filled “with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship,” to not only design and construct what the Lord wanted, but also to teach the others who were to work with them (30-35).
Exodus Chapter 36
After the artisans got together to start the work and received what the people had brought so far, the offerings kept coming in daily (Ex. 36:1-3). So great was the outpouring of generosity from the Israelites, that the men finally had to interrupt what they were doing to come ask Moses to halt the flow of contributions: “The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work which the LORD commanded us to do” (vv. 4-5). So Moses issued a decree by which the Scripture says “the people were restrained from bringing” anything else, since the workers had more than enough (6-7)!
What would it be like, if churches today would get behind their leadership and respond to building projects like these men and women did? How much more enthusiastic might they be, if folks were allowed more participation in the construction of our places of worship?
From Exodus 36:8 to 38:20, we read the description of all the articles the craftsmen made for their portable worship center. Although much of it is a repeat of what Moses recorded of God’s directions on the mountain, the order of their construction is significant: First, Bezalel and company made the tabernacle, with its various layers, ornamentation and supports (Ex. 36:8-38).
Exodus Chapter 37
Next, they built the most important piece of furniture in the tabernacle: the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 37:1-9). Third was the table for the showbread, along with its utensils (10-16). Then they made the lamp stand and its accessories, followed by the incense altar, plus the oil and incense for these two important objects used in worship (17-29).
It is imperative to note that almost everything inside the tabernacle was made of or covered with gold. Why? I can think of several reasons:
- Gold was the most valuable metal known to men at the time—reserved chiefly for royalty and men of great importance. What could be more fitting for the King of kings?
- It is highly reflective and would have shone brightly with the light of the lamps and God’s presence. What could be better to magnify the glory of our God?
- Gold does not tarnish, rust, darken, stain or fade with time—it stays pure and beautiful forever. What else could appropriately represent the holiness and eternality of the Lord?
Exodus Chapter 38
The sixth object of worship the craftsmen made was the altar of burnt offering with its utensils (Ex. 38:1-7). From the “mirrors of the serving women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting,” Bezalel and his assistants cast the wash basin for the priests (v. 8). Next, they made the poles and the curtains of the courtyard surrounding the worship center (9-20).
It is important to note that outside the tabernacle, the main fixtures were made of bronze. This metal is also valuable and can be polished to a brilliant sheen. However, bronze is an alloy of copper and tin mixed with other metals; therefore, it is not as pure and does tarnish with age. Bronze is more tolerant of heat and more resistant to abuse than gold, being not so soft a metal. This would make it more suitable for outdoor use.
For both the tent and courtyard, silver was used for sockets, hooks and other fasteners. This was probably because that metal was both valuable and sturdy—between gold and bronze for these qualities. Bronze has more physical strength, but silver is more chemically inert, therefore it is closer to gold in its purity, as well.
In verses 24-31, we are given an inventory of the raw materials that went into the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings. In the New Living Translation of the Bible, we read:
- “The people brought gifts of gold totaling about 2,200 pounds” (24). By today’s standards, this would be worth about eight million dollars.
- “The amount of silver that was given was about 7,545 pounds” (25). That’s well over $2 million today. “It came from the tax of one-fifth of an ounce of silver collected from each of those registered in the census” –that is, the ransom money given by all the men aged twenty and over (26).
- “The people also brought 5,310 pounds of bronze” (29). Depending on the quality of the metal, this would be worth anywhere from five- to fifty-thousand dollars today.
Exodus Chapter 39
In this chapter (Ex. 39:1-31), we read how the craftsmen made the garments for Aaron and his sons. They are listed in the same order YHWH gave to Moses. Of interest is the fact that the golden threads woven into the ephod and breastplate were beaten into thin sheets and then cut into strands (v. 3). This would have been extremely painstaking work for the person responsible. The resulting outfit must have been a thing of royal beauty, indeed!
When all the articles were completed, the craftsmen called Moses to examine their work. He was pleased with how they had done everything according to God’s instructions, and pronounced a blessing over the men (32-43).
Exodus Chapter 40
When everything was ready, the Lord commanded Moses, “On the first day of the first month you shall set up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting” (Ex 40:1-2). He gave specific instructions regarding the order the items were to be put in place and how they and the priests were to be anointed and consecrated for service (vv. 3-15). Moses followed all of God’s instructions (most likely with some help from some other men), and had everything in place by the first day of the first month of the Israelites’ second year of freedom (16-33).
As soon as it was ready, the Lord took up residency in the new worship center: “Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (34). So thick was the cloud and so glorious the Lord’s appearance, that Moses could not even go into the tent at first (35). From that time on, whenever it was time for the children of Israel to move on, the cloud would lift from the tabernacle, and the Hebrews would follow (36). So long as it was stationary, they would stay put, with the cloud shading the tent by day and illuminating the camp each night (37-38).
Like Genesis, Exodus is a book of foundations. It sets the foundation of belief and fellowship for a new generation of believers.
Exodus reveals YHWH as God of gods—triumphing over the entire pantheon of one of the most influential religious systems of the time. It reveals YHWH as King of kings—exerting His will over the most powerful ruler of the most powerful nation and besting the mightiest army of the then-known world.
Exodus shows God as the protector and provider of Israel. He is both the Husband of this people and their Father, joining Himself to and birthing this new nation. He is their Law-giver and their Judge, establishing a nation of just laws and consecrated men. He is also the glorious object of their worship, choosing to dwell among them in a unique and beautiful sanctuary.
Just as the Lord worked many wonders to convince both Israel and Egypt that He was to be feared and obeyed, so today this record of His dealings with the Hebrews should encourage us to trust and obey the God who is, was and will be worthy of our reverence and submission. YHWH has gone to great lengths to secure our freedom from bondage and draw us into an intimate relationship with Him!
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible—© 1982, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
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