January 31, 2017
A Table of Lessons for February
Gen. 45:16-28, Mt. 20:17-34
Gen. 46, 1 Cor. 13
It is Joseph’s desire that his brothers “shall haste and bring down my father hither” (45:13). Whatever mixed and conflicting motives may have resided in him, it seems that bringing his father and family to Egypt was in Joseph’s plan from the first visit of his brothers.
The pharaoh agrees, possibly hoping the others will be as wise and helpful as Joseph (see Gen. 47:6), and possibly aware of the value of an ally in Canaan after the famine. Treating his family well will also please Joseph, and Pharaoh wants to keep this very helpful man happy. The chapter ends with Jacob’s decision to go to Egypt.
Dating Joseph’s life and times is difficult, and the dates proposed by historians often vary by more than a hundred years. Yet, realising the dates are approximations, a few notes may help put Joseph in historical perspective. Canaanite raiders have been invading Egypt for centuries, but around 1900 B.C., the Hyksos, from upper Mesopotamia and Canaan, use horse drawn chariots to conquer much of Egypt and establish a new kingdom there. By the time Joseph arrives in Egypt, between 1800 and 1760 B.C., the Hyksos control the eastern part of the delta and Goshen. They quickly adopt Egyptian ways, and call their king, “Pharaoh.” This means Joseph’s pharaoh is a Hyksos, not an Egyptian. The Egyptians will be able to re-take Egypt sometime around 1700 B.C. They also conquer Canaan and Mesopotamia, essentially eliminating the Hyksos empire.
While moving to Egypt, Israel (Jacob) stops in Beer sheba, where his father, Isaac, had lived. God visits him in “visions of the night.” The visions reveal one of God’s primary reasons for taking Israel to Egypt; to make them a great nation. During the time in Egypt, the children of Israel will become a great multitude. But they will also become great in other ways. They will preserve the stories of the Creation, Fall, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph. These stories will unify them, and give them an identity as one people. They will not just be a great horde; they will be a great nation. More importantly, the stories will cause the Hebrew people to look to God as their God and their hope. They will cause the Israelites to begin to see themselves as the people of God. Under the inspiration and leadership of God, Moses will commit these stories to writing, and they will be seen as what they are, the story of God’s calling and redemption of Israel. Thus we also see here the transforming power of Scripture, and God’s Divine preservation of it. Through it the Hebrew people see that God has brought them to Egypt to prepare them for Canaan. They see that God has been working toward this for generations, and they see that He is using them here and now.
February 2, Purification of Mary
Mal. 3:1-5, Lk. 2:22-40
Mt. 20:1-16, 1 Cor. 14
Commentary, Luke 2:22-40
Two ceremonies take place on this fortieth day after the birth of Christ. First is the ceremony of the purification of Mary. According to Leviticus 12:1-8, a woman who gives birth to a son is to remain in seclusion for forty days. This is a time of rest and healing for the woman, and for the son. By the fortieth day, her bleeding has stopped and she goes to the Temple to give an offering of two doves. The doves are presented to the priest, who offers them on the Altar. He then pronounces the woman “clean,” meaning free of bleeding and ceremonial uncleanness, and able to return to normal community life.
Second is the presentation of Christ in the Temple. The Child is presented to the Lord by the parents in an act of dedication, which recognises that He belongs to God. He is blessed by the priest in two benedictions, and the father gives two shekels of silver to the Temple, symbolising that God is given Him back into the parents’ care.
It is very likely that the family stays for the regular prayers and sacrifices of the daily Temple services. It is a very happy and moving day for them, reminding them of the blessings of God, and of their duties toward Him.
Gen. 47:1-12, Mt. 21:23-46
Gen. 47:13-31, 1 Cor. 15
Commentary, Genesis 47:1-31
The pharaoh is a good administrator. He knows there is a social upheaval from Egypt to Mesopotamia due to the famine. He also knows that the peoples and kings in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys are making dangerous and continuous raids on his eastern front in Canaan, and he knows they will invade Egypt when they are able. Remember that this pharaoh is a Hyksos from Canaan, not a native Egyptian. His father or grandfather conquered eastern Egypt with the horse and chariot. Though he and his people have become very Egyptianised, the native Egyptians resent him, and would rebel if they thought they could conquer him. Jacob’s family is large and armed. Placing them in eastern Goshen will ensure a powerful pharaoh friendly force in the area.
Joseph also acts to secure the area for Pharaoh by controlling the economy. Using grain, he is able to gain money, livestock, and twenty percent of future crop harvests for Pharaoh. Thanks to Joseph, the pharaoh now has increased his military, political, and economic control of the area, which still has a large population of native Egyptians.
Joseph probably hopes the Hebrews will remain in Egypt. He will change his mind after his father’s death, but he has schemed and manipulated them to get his family there, and he probably hopes they will make Goshen their permanent home. As the result of Joseph’s work, they are a powerful family in an enviable land, far removed from the sacrifices and dangers of war torn Canaan. It seems that his brothers and children also like Egypt, for they remain there long after the seven years of famine end. Joseph lives to see the third generation of Ephraim’s children, all of whom were born in Egypt.
But Jacob still hopes the people will return to Canaan to possess the land God has promised to give to them. Knowing he will die in Egypt, he asks Joseph to bury him in Canaan. This act will give the Hebrews a memorable tie to the land of Canaan, the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Gen, 48, Mt. 22:1-22
Gen. 49, 1 Cor. 16
The blessing of Manasseh and Ephraim carries a double meaning. First, it is an adoption ceremony in which Jacob calls them his own sons. This makes them equal in inheritance and prominence with Reuben, the first born of Jacob, and all the other sons of Jacob. Second, it formally recognises Joseph as the clan leader, to be followed by Ephraim. This position should have belonged to Reuben, but in the Providence of God it goes to Joseph. The entire clan has already recognised this, including Reuben, and we read of no dispute over the position.
Joseph, however, disputes his father’s blessing of Ephraim. He seems to think his father has made a mistake, for Manasseh is Joseph’s first born, and Joseph naturally assumes he will be head of the clan. He gently attempts to move his father’s hands to the “correct” position. Jacob gently refuses. It is Ephraim, not Manasseh, whom God has elected to be the head.
God’s election is not always according to man’s ideas. Sometimes the least are the greatest and the last are first. We even see this in the line of Christ. Though of the house and lineage of David, He is not the first born of the first born, in direct succession back to David. He is of the people, not the palace. Yet He is the true King of Israel. Likewise, the Hebrews are shepherds, not builders of military or commercial empires. Nor are they the most Godly or moral people. Yet God has elected them to be the recipients of His grace, simply because He wants to show His grace. This is as true in the New Testament era as it was in the Old. It is not your inner worth that makes God love you. He elects to love you because He is love. His love originates in His lovingness, not your lovability.
Here again we see God Providentially working in His people. He has given them a safe place to live, and here their numbers are increasing dramatically. We also see God unifying the people. Their identity as a people, or nation, is growing. It seems their faith is growing also. The coming centuries will be good for Israel, as God prepares to take them back to Canaan.
The dying Jacob calls his sons together. This is normally a time for him to pray God’s blessings on the men and their families. But Jacob’s words carry the sting of curse as well as the balm of blessing.
Ruben dissuaded his brothers from killing Joseph, and seems to have been absent when they sold Joseph to the Ismaelites.. But as the eldest of the sons, and as the heir apparent, he should have boldly ended the conspiracy against Joseph. His failure makes him unstable as a pot of boiling water, liable to boil over at any moment. His is not the steady head needed to lead God’s people. He has desecrated his father’s couch, meaning he has detested that which his father loved, Joseph. Therefore he will not “excel,” meaning he will not lead the clan, nor will his branch of the Israelite people.
Simeon and Levi have instruments of cruelty in their habitations. That is, they have a cruel streak in their natures, like that in the other brothers. The “slaying” of verse 6 is poetic, rather than literal, and refers to their treatment of Joseph, not even caring if he died in the hands of the Ishmaelites. They will be scattered in Israel, rather than taking Ruben’s place as head.
Judah will be praised by his brothers. Through him the house of David will be established, leading at last to the Messiah and His Kingdom. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah.” But Judah is not innocent either. He should have stopped the mistreatment of Joseph. Instead, he persuaded the brothers to sell Joseph as a slave. Perhaps his motives were good, thinking slavery would be better than murder. But he should have stood against his brothers, no matter the cost. Judah himself never holds the clan headship. That goes to the brother he helped cast into slavery.
The other brothers are likewise told they will not inherit Ruben’s position. Only Joseph will lead the clan. His father, Jacob, received the blessing that should have belonged to Esau, his elder brother (26). Likewise Joseph is not the first born, but is the elect of God to receive the blessing and estate of his father. Even Benjamin is forbidden from seeking the leadership. He will be a mighty warrior, but not head of the family.
Jacob charges his sons to bury his body beside those of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebekah in the land of Canaan. This request may be as symbolic as it is sentimental. He may be telling his sons that they are not Egyptians. Their heritage is elsewhere, and they should not allow themselves to be distracted from it by the baubles of Egypt.
Gen 50:1-14, Mt. 22:23-46
Gen. 50:15-26 , 2 Cor. 1
Commentary, Genesis 50
Jacob’s funeral caravan is enormous. Many of Pharaoh’s own house, as well as ministers of state and religion make the journey, accompanied by a large military force. This is another brilliant move by Pharaoh. It pleases his number one man, Joseph, and it is a great show of force in Canaan. It says to Canaanites and Mesopotamians that Pharaoh owns and controls Canaan. It is so much a part of his empire that he even buries his dead there.
Joseph and his people continue to live in Egypt for many decades. His grandchildren and great grandchildren are born and raised there in peace and security. But Joseph is not buried in Egypt. He tells his people to take his bones hence, meaning out of Egypt and back to Canaan, where he hopes to be buried beside his fathers.
Genesis ends with the Hebrew people firmly established in Egypt, yet holding some remembrance of the hope of dwelling in Canaan as a free and independent nation. They still do not understand that they are called to receive more spiritual blessings than material ones. Nor do they understand that God is calling them to be a unique people unto Himself. But they do understand that God has much more ahead for them as His people. Thus, they hold onto their hope.
We close the comments on Genesis with a few words from Dr. Griffith-Thomas’ Genesis: A Devotional Commentary:
“The great promise of redemption recorded in chapter iii, is taken up and gradually prepared for through a long line from Seth through Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
“From the sacrifice of Abel straight onward to the sacrifice of Isaac, the vision of Jacob at Bethel, and the story of Joseph, we have picture after picture of redemption, which find their full meaning, vividness, and glory, in the New Testament Revelation, until at length in Jacob’s benediction we have a striking reference to the primal fact of sin and the primal promise of salvation… . The red thread of redemption binds every chapter together, and gives the book one of its essential marks of unity.”
Exodus 1, Mt. 23
Ex.2, 2 Cor. 2
Genesis is the story of God choosing His people. From Able to Seth, from Noah to Abraham and his descendants, God is choosing and marking a people for His own possession, who will be the recipients of His grace and favour. Exodus is the powerful story of God’s deliverance of His chosen people. We could say Genesis is the story of the election of God’s people: Exodus is the story of God’s redemption of His people. Their redemption is from slavery in Egypt, and the means of their redemption is the blood of the lamb.
The parallels between their redemption from Egypt, and our own redemption from sin are remarkable. They are enslaved to a cruel pharaoh; we are enslaved to sin and Satan. Their bondage is bitter unto death: the wages of our sin is death. Their redemption is accomplished by God alone; our salvation is accomplished for us by God alone. They are saved by the blood of the lamb; we are saved by the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God. They receive the Law in the desert; we have the Bible in the spiritual desert of this world. They wander in the wilderness; we wander through trials and temptations, sometimes seeking God, sometimes refusing to follow Him. In both we see an invisible hand guiding His people, and a powerful grace that does not give up until we reach the promised land.
Genesis closes with the Hebrew people living comfortably in Egypt. Joseph has died, but his brethren still retain the Pharaoh’s favour, and continue to increase in number and power in Goshen. But a new king arises that does not know Joseph. It is impossible to know just who this king is, but we know that around 1700 B.C. the native Egyptians are able to gather an army and mount a series of campaigns that conquer the entire Hyksos empire. By 1650 Egyptians rule Egypt again, and the native Egyptian pharaoh, who did not know Joseph, sees the Hebrews as allies of the Hyksos, and enemies of the Egyptians. He forces them into bitter, punitive bondage, which soon escalates into an attempt to to completely annihilate the Hebrew people.
The genocide causes the Hebrew people to turn to God in a serious cry for deliverance. The stories of the patriarchs, and God’s promises to give the land of Canaan to their descendants, are carefully preserved and taught. Joseph’s story is also preserved, and his unburied sarcophagus reminds them of his intention to be buried in Canaan. These things combine to give the people hope that their slavery will end, and they will leave Egypt in freedom. Their slavery actually induces them to seek and trust God.
Moses is born into this era of sorrow. Hoping that Pharaoh’s daughter will spare the child, his mother and sister place him in a basket near where she bathes in the Nile. She does spare the child. She even adopts him. But One greater than the sister and mother of Moses is working here. The God of Moses directs the events for His own purposes according to the counsel of His own will. He brings the Egyptian princess to the water. He moves her to have compassion on the infant. He even makes it possible for Moses’ own mother to nurse and care for the child. It must be through his mother that Moses learns of his Hebrew identity.
Knowing his people suffer while he enjoys the benefits of the Egyptian court seems to cause turmoil in Moses’ heart. Does he want to ignore his heritage and be an Egyptian? Or does he need to give up his privileges and be a Hebrew? Seeing a Hebrew mistreated by an Egyptian, seems to force him to decide. He decide for his people, and slays the Egyptian. The next day, realising his crime is known, he flees Egypt to take refuge in the desert. Now he is a shepherd, as his people were before him. Here God will grow him and prepare him for his great life work. It is around the year 1350 B.C.
Ex. 3, Mt. 24
Ex. 4:1-17, 2 Cor. 3
Again we see the hand of God guiding events in human lives and human history. In His Providence, God brings Moses to the home of Jethro, who is a descendant of Midian, a son of Abraham through Keturah (Gen. 25:2). Jethro is called a priest, meaning a person who serves in the corporate worship of God. He lives in the area known as the mountain of God, probably meaning the mountain of which the Midianites had an altar for worshiping God. It is also the mountain on which God will give the Law to Israel through Moses. This brings Moses under the tutelage of a God fearing man, and into the fellowship of God fearing people. God will use these things to grow and shape Moses for forty years before sending him back to Egypt.
The call of Moses is unique. He is going to appear before one of the most powerful men in the world of his day. Only the Babylonians and Chinese have civilisations, cultures, wealth and military power that compare to Pharaoh’s. Yet Moses is going to command Pharaoh to release the descendants of his people’s enemies, so they can return to an area known for its hostility to Egypt, to set up a new kingdom there. God knows he will need great faith to accomplish his mission. So God calls him through a miraculous sign and meeting.
God knows and intends that the pharaoh will not release the Hebrews. He plans to do mighty signs and wonders that will bring Egypt to its knees in fear, and Israel to its knees in worship.
But first, Moses must be brought to his knees. En rout to Egypt, his wife, Zipporah, gives birth to a son. According to the Covenant, the child must be circumcised. The Midianites probably practiced circumcision, but Zipporah does not want it done to her son. Only when she sees that her husband will die, does she consent, and then she is forced to circumcise the child herself. Angry, she throws the bloody foreskin at Moses. But both have been humbled. Moses, who has probably acquired a sense of self-importance, has learned that he is not indispensable to the deliverance of Israel. Zipporah has learned that her son belongs to God, and, though he is the son of the man who will do great things, he is not above the law and will of God. Now, much humbled, and relieved of all delusions of grandeur, the family travels to Egypt.
Ex. 4:18-31, Mt. 25:1-30
Ex. 5, 2 Cor. 4
Commentary, Exodus 5
Great joy must fill the hearts of the Hebrews. When they hear that the Eternal I AM has sent a deliverer, “they bowed their heads and worshiped.” Pharaoh has a different response, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice ?” The pharaoh has his own gods, and the Hebrews’ God doesn’t seem to be helping them lately. He will continue with the gods of Egypt. His response sets the tone for everything that follows until the destruction of the Egyptian army. It is a contest of the god’s of Egypt against the God of Israel. It is the gods of the intellectual, cultural, economic, and military superpower, against the God of slaves.
To show his contempt of the God of slaves, Pharaoh decrees that their work should be harder. In addition to their normal work, they must also forage for the straw used in bricks.
The Hebrews now regret the appearance of Moses. Rather than deliverance, his demands have made their lives incredibly harder. They come to Moses to reproach him. They want him to stop interfering, to go back to the desert and leave them in slavery.
Moses, too, is shocked at the response of Pharaoh. He thinks God has played a trick on him. “Wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people?” he asks. “Neither hast thou delivered thy people at all”
Like most people, he thought accomplishing the will of God would be easy. He thought the world would give up without a fight. He thought the Egyptians would repent in tears and bless the Hebrews on their way, when he said, “Let my people go.” But that is not God’s plan in Egypt, and it rarely happens that way in life. The world opposes the Church. It acts more like Sodom and Gomorrah than Nineveh. Rome is drenched with the blood of the saints for centuries before becoming Christianised.
The same is true in everyday life. Half-hearted prayers rarely do anything but make the one praying feel better about himself. Real change in life habits and attitudes comes from long seasons of self-examination, immersion in Scripture, confession, and repentance. Most “Christians” never do that, which explains the shallow, me-centered entertainment orientation of most churches.
Ex. 6:1-13, Mt. 25:31-46
Ex. 6:14-30, 2 Cor 5
Every event in Exodus is a theological statement. We could say they are acts by which God reveals Himself in human events and history. This means they are not random, isolated events. They are deliberate expressions of the nature and purpose of God. Pharaoh’s refusal to release the Hebrews, besides fulfilling what God said would happen, is a Providentially guided event. God causes it to develop a reverential fear and faith in the Hebrew people. If God had simply had the pharaoh release the Hebrews, they would not have remembered it with the same intensity. They might even think their release had been given by a good pharaoh, and all they ever had to do was ask for it. But the conflict in which God crushes the Egyptian gods and forces the release of the Hebrews will remain in their collective memory forever.
Verse 9 is a pivotal verse in the chapter and in Exodus. “Moses spake unto the children ofIsrael: but they harkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.” The children of Israel refuse to listen to Moses because they are afraid. The last time they listened to him, God did not get them released, and the pharaoh made their bitter bondage even more bitter. If Moses tries again, Pharaoh will probably make their bondage even more harsh. So they just want Moses to go away. They have given up hope.
In other words, they are just where God wants them. They have concluded that freedom is impossible. How can a small contingent of slaves force mighty Egypt to release them? They can’t. But God can. The One who created and sustains all things can easily make pharaoh do His bidding. So, now that Israel sees that her only hope is God, the Lord sends Moses to Pharaoh again.
Verses14-27 give Moses’ pedigree. This is done to identify Moses. He is a real person, and part of a real family, and part of the children of Israel. Who is this man who dares speak to Pharaoh, and claims to talk to God? He is Moses, son of Amaran and Jochbed, of the line of Levi. He is the son of slaves. And he is of uncircumcised lips. He is a mere man, and a sinful one like the rest of Israel. Why should Pharaoh listen to him? There is no earthly reason why he should.
Ex. 7, Mt. 26:1-35
Ex. 8:1-15, 2 Cor. 6
Moses has expressed more doubt. The Hebrews have rejected him (6:9), and he realises his own sinfulness and inability to change Pharaoh (6:30). This is also what God wants. Moses must be made to realise he is completely unable to do anything to secure their freedom. So, God has Pharaoh reject Moses, and increase the cruelty of the Hebrew bondage (see chapter 5). Israel, too, rejects Moses (5:20-21, and 6:9). So, Moses feels like a complete failure, and he is. Now that he understands this, God is going to use him to accomplish His will. But everyone will see that it is God who brings Israel out of Egypt, not Moses (Ex. 7:5).
The Egyptian magicians are able to mimic some of the signs God has given Moses. There is an evil power in this universe, and it is able to do miraculous things. It even tries to convince us that it is light and truth and goodness, and that to follow God is slavery, while to follow it is freedom (see Gen. 3). But its power is limited, and those who trust in it, like Egypt, will be destroyed.
In verses 8-12 God defeats the Egyptian magicians. Though they are abel to turn their rods into serpents, Aaron’s rod swallows their rods (7:12). In verses 14-25, God attacks one of the most sacred treasures of Egypt, the life-giving Nile River.
From the heart of Africa, the Nile flows over 4,258 miles to the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt, centered in the delta region, is also located in the vast Sahara desert. Without the Nile, Egypt would be dry, windswept sand. Erosion has carried vast quantities of fertile soil from the African interior to the delta region. The fertile soil, coupled with abundant water, makes the delta a natural center for agriculture. The surrounding desert is difficult for invading armies to cross, and serves as a natural defensive barrier. The Mediterranean Sea is also difficult for armies to cross, and serves both to protect Egypt from invasion, and invite trade and shipping. These factors contribute to make Egypt a rich and powerful super power in the ancient world.
The Egyptians believe the river is the gift of, and protected by the gods. The connection between the gods and the river is so intense, the Egyptians believe to worship the Nile is the same as worshiping the gods. So, if God wants to display His sovereign power to the Egyptians, the river is a logical first point of attack.
The rod that swallowed the Egyptian rods now smites the Nile, which turns to blood. All the water, throughout Egypt bleeds. The stench must be terrible. The fear is even worse.
The foolish Egyptians also turn water into blood, but what comfort is that? Had they turned the blood back into water they would have shown their gods are more powerful than the Hebrews’ God. They can mimic, but not defeat the God of Israel.
Now Egypt is covered with frogs. They over run the land. They are in the food, the water, the houses, the fields and the streets. Again the Egyptians are able to bring forth frogs, as they did bleeding water. But they cannot remove the frogs.
Pharaoh wants the frogs removed, but does not want to appear to give in to Moses’ demands. He summons Moses to the palace, but says to remove the frogs tomorrow (8:10). This verse has given rise to many good sermons about the foolishness of putting off repentance and faith in God. Pharaoh would rather spend one more night with the frogs, than repent, and many people would rather spend more time in the consequences of sin than repent and enjoy the good things of God. Another night with the frogs, anyone?
Ex. 8:16-32, Mt. 26:36-75
Ex. 9:1-12, 2 Cor 7
God wants the lesson of the frogs to linger, so He does not simply remove them, He lets them die a natural death. Now the Nile delta is covered with dead frogs decaying in the heat. The stench is worse than the smell of the river of blood, for “the land stank” (8:14). But God is not finished with Egypt, nor has Israel learned to trust Him yet. Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, and God brings a third plague to Egypt. The dust of the earth becomes lice (8:17), bitting, itching, disease laden lice. This time the Egyptians are unable to mimic the plague. They cry out, “This is the finger of God” (8:19).
In verses 22 and 23, God puts a division between the Egyptians and Hebrews. The plagues will not affect Goshen, an area in eastern Egypt where the Hebrews are kept. This is to show that the Hebrews are God’s people, which will increase their faith. It also serves to show that the plagues are directed at the Egyptians, not people in general. They are not accidents that affect all people, they are acts of God directed at the Egyptian people. God unleashes a plague of biting buzzing dirty flies, which the Bible calls “a grievous swarm” (Ex:8:24).
Now Pharaoh agrees to let the Hebrews go into the desert to worship, if God will remove the flies. He is not releasing them, only letting them go to worship, after which they must return. But, of course, Pharaoh does not let the Hebrews go. God keeps His promises; Pharaoh does not.
The plagues have been terrible, full of disease and suffering which have disrupted Egyptian life and prosperity. But the next plague increases in severity and destructiveness. The Egyptians are rich in herds and flocks. Cattle, sheep, and goats flourish in the fertile and well watered fields. They are important food sources. Horses and camels are important elements in the defense of Egypt. Camels carry military supplies. Horses pull the chariots that give the army its tactical power. But God strikes them down. Imagine the land now, filled with rotting, stinking animal corpses. Not only is the stench, and accompanying disease horrible, but a large portion of the Egyptian wealth and economy collapses overnight. Mighty Egypt is crumbling quickly.
Next comes the boils, painful infections on the skin of the Egyptians. Moses takes dust from a furnace, possibly a place where they burn the dead animals, or where the slaves bake their bricks, and scatters it on the wind in the sight of Pharaoh. God multiplies the dust into a massive cloud that causes boils on man and beast, including the magicians. Yet Pharaoh will not release the children of Israel.
Ex. 9:13-35, Mt. 27
Ex. 10:1-11, 2 Cor. 8
God sends Moses to Pharaoh again. In His words we gain a very important understanding about why God is freeing the Hebrews. He frees them that they may serve him. Yes, the Hebrews benefit from God’s mighty acts. Yes, they have great joy in the grace of God poured out upon them. But, He frees them from Egypt to love and serve Him.
There is a second reason for God's acts in Egypt; "that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth." This is addressed to Pharaoh in verse 14, but it also applies to the Hebrew people, and to all people in all times. God is redeeming Israel and judging Egypt to reveal His glory. “[F]or this cause have I raised thee up," He says to Pharaoh in verse 16, "to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” This is why God is raising up Israel. This is why He gave the Bible and the Church. This is why He came to earth, died on the cross and rose again. These mighty acts reveal His glory and create a people for the praise of His glory.
Fortunately God often displays His glory through acts of mercy, and for the purpose of calling people to receive His mercy. While the plagues devastate much of Egypt, they also invite Egyptians to escape the fate of the unbelievers and disobedient. They will be spared if they believe the word of God and act accordingly.
The seventh plague consists of a devastating hailstorm. The lightning is so intense, thick, and continuous that it looks like a wall of fire advancing toward them. Hail destroys crops and vegetation. People and animals caught in it are killed. The storm is so frightening Pharaoh calls for Moses and begs him to “intreat the Lord (for it is enough) that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail.” He promises that if God will stop the storm, he will release the children of Israel.
Moses knows Pharaoh speaks out of the fear of the moment, not sincere repentance and faith. Yet the Lord relents and the storm subsides. The storm is a serious blow to the economy and spirit of Egypt. The flax crop, from which clothing is made, is destroyed. The barley, an important food crop, is also destroyed. By God’s grace, the wheat and rye crops, which are still in the grass stage escape destruction.
When Pharaoh sees that the storm has ceased, his heart is hardened and he refuses to let the Hebrews go.
Moses and Aaron appear before Pharaoh again. They declare that another, and even worse plague is coming. An army of locusts will devour what is left of the crops and vegetation of Egypt (11). By now Pharaoh’s advisors want him to save what is left of Egypt and expel the Hebrews, but he will not surrender. He wants to allow the Hebrew men to go into the desert to worship God, but leave their flocks and the women and children behind. He probably thinks this will appease God, yet ensure that the men will return to their work. Giving them this option, Moses and Aaron are thrown out of the palace (11).
Ex. 10:12-29 Mt. 28
Ex. 11, 2 Cor. 9
The cloud of locusts is more fearful than the storm cloud of lightning and hail. Its effects are even more devastating. At least the storm left some crops. The locusts eat them all (10:15).
Pharaoh has another phony conversion, and asks to have the locusts removed. No sooner are they gone than he returns to hatred and rebellion against God. This brings on the plague of darkness.
Thus far, the Egyptians’ gods have been unable to deliver them from the hand of the God of Israel. Their god of the Nile could not protect the river. Their gods of cattle and crops have been unable to preserve their food supply. But their chief god, the sun god, has been unchallenged. The sun still rises and sets, as always, and the Egyptians probably believe he will yet deliver them from the hand of God. Not so. God blots out the sun and darkness covers the land. Even the sun belongs to God, and cannot deliver Egypt from Him.
Pharaoh attempts to bargain with God again. He probably hopes to gain time by letting the men and women go into the desert for a while to worship God, while keeping the children ensures their return. While they are gone, their God may stop wrecking Egypt, and Pharaoh will have time to plan his next move. Moses, moved by God, refuses this compromise. Angry and hardened in his sin, Pharaoh orders Moses not to come to him again.
One plague remains. This one will be so terrible, and will cause the Egyptians such agony they will not merely release the Hebrews, they will force them to leave Egypt. The first born of every house from man and beast, will die. Chapter 11 is given to the prediction of this plague to Pharaoh. But notice also the bold statements about Pharaoh’s own servants (advisors and courtiers). Moses is very great in their eyes. Pharaoh has withstood the words of Moses, and Egypt has suffered because of it. Everything Moses has said has happened. But, after this final plague, Pharaoh’s most loyal servants will come to Moses and urge him to take the Hebrews out of Egypt forever.
Ex. 12:1-36, Mark 1
Ex. 12:37-51, 2 Cor. 10
The death of the first born finally breaks Pharaoh’s determination to keep Israel in slavery. We all know the story. God tells the Hebrews to mark the doors of their houses with the blood of a lamb. They are to eat a meal commemorating the bitterness of their bondage. They eat hurriedly, dressed to leave instantly.
This meal is to be repeated annually in Canaan. It will be accompanied by Scripture readings re-telling the story of deliverance. It will remind Israel that they came out of Egypt by the hand of God, and it is only by His grace that they were not killed also.
It is this Passover that Jesus used to interpret His sacrificial death. He is the Lamb whose blood marks us for deliverance. Like the lambs in Egypt, His life was given to save ours. Like the lambs of Egypt, the flesh and blood of the Lamb of God are life and peace to His people. Through His flesh and blood, God’s grace is given to His people.
The Hebrews are humbled now. They know it is not Moses who frees them; it is God. They see the devastation of Egypt, and realise that a great price has been paid to show them the glory of God, and to raise them to believe in and serve Him in faith. The events of the plagues and their release are to remain in their memory forever.
Ex. 13, Mark 2
Ex 14:1-14, 2 Cor. 11
Chapter 13 reiterates and explains God’s commandment to keep the Passover as an annual remembrance of the deliverance from slavery. The remembrance will be like a sign on the hand and a frontlet between the eyes of the Hebrew people. The sign on the hand is a ring, which some people wear as a sign or commemoration of an important event or association in life. Wedding rings, class rings, and fraternity/sorority rings are examples. A frontlet is attached to the front of a person’s head covering so it hangs just above and between the eyes. It can also signify membership in an orgainsation, or commemorate an event. God is saying the Passover, is like a ring and a frontlet for Israel because it commemorates their deliverance from Egypt, and identifies the Hebrew people as continuing participants in, and recipients of, the calling and grace of God. (9, 16). It will also serve as a time for instructing the young. They need to know what God has done for them, so they can continue the faith and practice given to them by God.
According to verse 17, God does not take Israel along the northern coast of the Sinai Peninsula, which would have been the shortest and easiest route to Canaan. He takes them much farther south to the western coast of the Red Sea. He does this to keep them from coming into contact with the warrior tribes along the Mediterranean coast and the area southwest of the Dead Sea. A miraculous cloud leads them. During the daylight it is like a pillar of smoke. At night it is a tower of fire. It symbolises God’s presence with His people, and it leads them on their journey.
God intentionally leads Israel into a trap. At least it appears so to the Hebrew people and the Egyptians. Their way is blocked by the Red Sea on the east. To their south is the desert, where they cannot survive. If the Egyptians attack them from the north and west, the Hebrew people will have to surrender, or be exterminated. This is what the pharaoh thinks, and he resolves to recapture Israel and bring the people back to rebuild Egypt. He gathers the chariots and soldiers, and traps the Hebrews on the coast of the Red Sea.
The people of Israel are sure they will be captured and returned to a more terrible and crushing slavery, or they will be exterminated here in the desert. They turn to Moses. Before the Egyptians appear, Moses is the nation’s greatest hero. Now he is hated. “For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness,” they cry reproachfully (12). Moses’ reply is a statement of faith. He knows one more miracle of deliverance is going to be accomplished on the Egyptians. The Hebrews are helpless, but God is mighty. He will fight for them. Thus, He will give them yet another reason to trust and love Him. He has led them into this trap to deliver them.
How helpless we are in this world. We are trapped and surrounded, and unable to deliver ourselves. Our only hope is the help of God. We are even more helpless in the realm of spiritual things. We cannot deliver ourselves from the world, the flesh, and the devil. We cannot save ourselves from the certain fires of hell. But, once God allows us to understand this, we are ready to see His great deliverance of us. As He crushed the Egyptians by the Red Sea, He conquers death and hell for us. He does this by the cross of Christ.
Ex. 14:15-31, Mk. 3
Ex. 15, 2 Cor. 12
The children of Israel, or Hebrews, leave Egypt by way of Succoth in southeastern Egypt. Their travels are difficult to trace from there. Most historians believe they traveled east on a well known trade route, then turned south into the desert, crossing the Red Sea near the mouth of the Gulf of Suez.
God holds the Egyptians away from the Israelites by moving the Pillar from the front of the camp to a place between the Israelites and the Egyptians (vs. 20). The Pillar must have terrified the Egyptians, for it seemed to hide Israel in a wall of deep darkness. But to Israel it was a tower of light and comfort.
Again God commands Moses to raise his staff. He sends a “strong east wind.” It is a mighty wind, and probably caused great fear in the camp of Israel, in spite of the inspiring presence of the Pillar of Fire. The Hebrews got very little rest that night. Fear of the Egyptians, and the constant, powerful wind kept them awake, and, we would think, in prayer.
The Lord dries the sea, making the water as walls on either side as the Israelites pass through. The Egyptians, still intent on taking the Hebrews back to Egypt, plunge ahead, disregarding the lessons of the plagues and the fearful and dangerous appearance of the water. They should have listened to their fears. They should have turned back, or joined with Israel and gone on to Canaan. But they listened to their pride and anger, and they died.
The Hebrews must have been awed and terrified at the power and fury of the Lord. The timbrel and dance in verse 21 are part of a somber procession through the camp telling the story of their redemption and expressing faith that God will deliver them from their enemies when they enter Canaan.
Their faith does not last long. Finding water, they are angry to find it bitter. We do not know the cause of the water’s bitterness, but we see the bitterness in the people, who “murmured against Moses,” an angry outcry against him similar to their reproaches in Ex. 14:13.
There is both promise and threat in verse 26. The threat is that, if Israel proves to be a disobedient people, constantly murmuring and doubting in spite of their miraculous deliverance and protection, God will bring the Egyptian diseases upon them. If they do what is right in His sight, according to His word and statutes, He will continue to be “the Lord that healeth thee.”
Ex. 16, Mk. 4:1-25
Ex. 17, 2 Cor. 13
We have seen God’s deliverance of His people several times in Exodus. He has delivered them from the plagues, from the death of the first-born, from bondage, from Pharaoh’s army, and from thirst. Now He delivers them from hunger. At every step God has been faithful, and, at every step, Israel has murmured. They murmured in Egypt when their burdens were increased. They murmured at the Red Sea, at the bitter water, and now they murmur in the wilderness.
After leaving Egypt, they crossed the Red Sea onto the Sinai Peninsula. Since then they have been traveling along the coast of what we call the Gulf of Suez. It has been about forty-five days since they left Egypt, and their food supplies are running low. In the wilderness there is very little grass for their animals, and the situation is starting to look bleak. They stop to camp. Tired, hungry, and worried, they murmur (2). Has God brought them out of Egypt to die in the desert?
Many today think they would have had more faith than the children of Israel had. Seeing the plagues, the parting of the sea, and other miracles, they would have trusted God completely. They forget how weak their faith is, and how often they fail, in spite of having the Bible, the knowledge of Christ, the Church, and all the means of grace.
The children of Israel are camped somewhere in the central highlands of Sinai. They will have to cross these mountains to get to Canaan, and that will be difficult. Somewhere to the east, hidden by other hills, is Mount Sinai, where God will come to them and give the Law and the Covenant. But they don’t know that. They only know they are tired and hungry.
We know how God graciously supplies their food. We know about the manna from Heaven. We also know it as a symbol of Christ, the true bread of Heaven, the “food” of the hungry soul. God fed the children of Israel with manna for forty years, until they finally entered Canaan.
The children of Israel have been led deeper into the mountains. They are drawing near to the Mountain of God, and also drawing near to the home of Moses’ father in law. Jethro’s identification as a priest of Midian in Exodus 3:1, has confused many people about the location of Mount Sinai. Assuming Jethro lives in the land of Midian, which is modern Saudi Arabia, they conclude that Mount Sinai is also in Saudi Arabia. But Jethro lives in southern Sinai, where Mount Sinai is also located. He is a Midianite, but he does not live in Midian.
The highlands are rugged and dry, and the children of Israel are thirsty again. This is a serious problem, for it seems to them they will all die of thirst, and they wonder, again, if they would be better off going back to Egypt.
Any one wandering in the wilderness of Sin (1) spiritually speaking, is going to think it is better to go to “Egypt” than the “Promised Land.” Most people cannot make up their minds whether to return to “Egypt,” or follow God. So they do neither. They just wander in the wilderness of sin for the rest of their lives. Leaving Egypt is not the same as entering the Promised Land. Half way to Heaven is still the pit of hell.
Moses fears the people are going to stone him because they blame him for problems caused by their own lack of faith and obedience. But God comforts him, and has mercy upon His murmuring people by giving them water.
Now a greater test awaits Israel. An Amalekite army confronts them. The Israelites are former slaves. They are not trained in arms and war. The Amlekites are raiders who fight and kill for profit. They have probably heard of the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt, and the gold and wealth they brought out of the land. They are sure the slaves will easily fall to their fighting power.
But God is with Israel. To show that He, not their fighting skill, gives the victory, He instructs Moses to stand on a hill and hold his arms out to the Lord. When his arms are up, Israel wins the battle. When his weary arms fall, Amelek wins. Aaron and Hur hold up Moses’ arms, and Israel wins the battle.
It is a costly lesson. Many Hebrew men are dead. Others are wounded. There is terrible sorrow in the camp, in spite of the victory. But Israel has to learn to trust God. The people must learn that He is the Deliverer, else they will turn away from Him and become no different than the Canaanites or Egyptians.
Ex. 18, Mk. 4:26-41
Ex. 19, Galatians 1
It is now three months since the children of Israel left Egypt. They are camped in a broad valley at the foot of the Mountain of God. Here they will receive an intense time of revelation of, and instruction in, the Covenant God has made with them. Before God comes down to the mountain to give the Law, Jethro comes to Moses. At some point after the incident in Ex. 4:24-26, Zipporah returned to her father’s house. We do not know when or why she did this. We only know she arrives at the Hebrew camp with Jethro, and remains with Moses.
Jethro makes a profound statement in verse 11. He recognises that the plagues of Egypt were not just a contest between the Egyptians and the Hebrews. They were a contest between the gods of Egypt and the God of Israel. Who is God? Who is worthy of the love and obedience of the children of Israel? Only The God is worthy. He is greater than all the gods. We should not see Jethro’s statement as an admission of the existence of other gods, nor of a belief in other gods by Jethro. He is saying the other gods are non-existent. God is greater than all others because He is the true and living God.
Verses 13-25 record Jethro’s sage advice to Moses. Yet he cautions Moses only to do it if God commands it (23). The captains suggested will be a combination of judges and leaders. They will probably lead their respective companies in battle and on the march, organise and oversee them in camp, and arbitrate between them in disputes. They will not be able to judge without a true and absolute standard. Without such a standard, their judgments would be arbitrary and subject to emotions and feelings rather than truth and justice, yet, Israel does not possess a codified system of law based on the will of God. This is about to change.
As in chapter 18, Israel is camped at the foot of Mount Sinai. It has been three months since they left Egypt. Jethro has met Moses, and given sound advice about organising Israel, which the people will need if they are to function as an independent nation instead of a conglomeration of slaves. Soon after Jethro’s departure, Moses is called to the mountain top by God. Here he is given a message from God to Israel.
Moses is to remind Israel of all that God did to free them from the bitter slavery of Egypt. He is to remind them of the way God provided for them in their journey, and the way He has brought them unto Himself, meaning the Mountain of God and into a faith Covenant with God.
Next Moses is to invite the people, in God’s Name, to ratify the Covenant God has made with Abraham and his descendants This is an opportunity for Israel to say, “God is our God. His will is our Law. His service is our joy. We will believe His truth. We will obey His commandments. He is not just the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. He is our God, and we are His people.”
God is saying He has called Israel to be His people, and He will bless them in ways they do not yet understand. But, if they will be His people they must live and act like His people, in ways that are in accordance with His nature and goodness.
The people quickly agree. “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (vs. 8).
In verse 9 Moses has climbed the mountain again and “returned the words of the people unto the Lord” (8). God speaks to Him again. This message is about preparation to receive the formal conditions of the Covenant. The people are to set bounds around the mountain so no man or beast can touch it. This probably is a fence, and it signifies that no person can come to God apart from grace. To attempt to come to Him apart from grace is death.
Preparation includes three days of somber reflection. They are to wash their clothes and sanctify themselves. This is a time of much prayer and fasting, as the people continually dedicate themselves to meet the God of all the Earth. Their preparation shows that meeting God requires inward and outward preparation. The tradition of wearing our “Sunday best” to church grows out of this passage, and expresses an attitude of coming before God reverently and prepared to meet Him.
The Lord appears in a cloud of smoke. The earth quakes at His presence. This is no glib “Christian Happy Hour.” The Lord reveals Himself in a way that inspires holy fear in His people.
Ex. 20, Mk. 5:1-21
Ex. 21:1-17, Gal. 2
The revelation of the moral law, known as the Ten Commandments, is one of the monumental events in human history. It is necessary to understand that the Law is not given to enable man to make himself acceptable to God by keeping commandments. That would require absolute, 100% conformity to the letter and spirit of the whole Law. The Law is given that the people of God may know the standard by which God calls us to live. This is what God requires of those who would have fellowship with Him. This is what Israel is committing to. With the Law comes knowledge of sin, for seeing what God requires reveals how very far we fall short of His Standard. The Law, then, also reveals God’s grace, for He continues to bless and use Israel in spite of her moral and spiritual failures. God forgives the penitent.
The commandments are divided into two Tables. The first consists of commandments 1-4 and deals with our obligation to God. The second consists of commandments 5-10 and deals with our obligation to one another. The order of the Tables is also significant. Our obligation to God is first. Out of it grows our obligation others. Many have noted that the Commandments forbid certain things, and that this very prohibition demands other things. The following gives a brief hint of what the Commandments demand.
The first commandment, put God first.
The second commandment, worship only God.
The third commandment, be sincere in faith; reverence God’s name.
The fourth commandment, keep the Lord’s Day.
The fifth commandment, honour thy father and thy mother.
The sixth commandment, reverence all life.
The seventh commandment, keep yourself sexually pure.
The eighth commandment, enjoy the fruit of your labours, and let others enjoy the fruit of theirs.
The ninth commandment, speak the truth.
The tenth commandment, be satisfied with what God gives you.
The “judgements” in verse 1 apply the moral law of chapter 20 to every day life. They also show the judges, appointed in Ex. 18:13-26, how to apply the moral law to disputes among the people. We could say they apply the moral law to the civil courts. These judgements continue through chapter 23.
We would think their recent and bitter slavery would make all manner of servitude abhorrent to the people of Israel, but there are situations in which a person may be reduced to servitude. A man may sell himself into bondage due to poverty, or a son may be placed into an apprenticeship. It is important for us to know such bondage is an indentured servitude in which the master owns the right of the servant’s labour, but does not own the person as “property.” In these, and other situations, God gives laws to govern the rights of servants and masters.
Verses 2-6 give laws for male slaves. Kindness of master to slave, and faithful service of slave to master are the heart of these verses. The servitude lasts for seven years. During the servitude the slave retains the rights over his own property and family, and the master retains the rights over his. This is why a slave man who marries a slave woman cannot take her with him if he leaves his master. He may still live with her as husband and wife, but she cannot leave her master for another city or employment, although, a master is free to allow this if he wants. The slave is also free to stay with the master. If so, he receives an ear ring that shows his permanent status as a willing servant.
Women servants are treated differently to prevent abuse by masters. A master cannot send a woman servant away, for this would leave her homeless and destitute. She is the master’s responsibility for life. Verses 8 and 9 are easily misunderstood and require a few comments. First let us see that they refer to a woman intended to become the wife of the master or one of his sons. If the marriage does not take place, he is required to return her to her family, and is not entitled to financial compensation, for he has broken the contract. Under no circumstances is the master allowed to sell her out of Israel the way Joseph’s brothers sold him. From this we see that these verses do not reduce a woman to mere property. On the contrary, they protect her rights and security.
Verses 12-14 deal with the death sentence. Murderers are to be executed. Accidental death does not require execution. Striking or cursing a parent, and kidnapping are both capital offenses.
Ex. 21:18-36, Mk 5:21-43
Ex. 22:1-16, Gal. 3
Verses 18 and 19 are about what happens “if two men strive together.” This is a physical assault in which the aggressor harms, but does not kill, the victim. The assailant owes the victim for the loss of his “time,” meaning financial losses incurred due to the injury (18:19). The aggressor is also responsible for all medical expenses until the victim is “thoroughly healed” (18:19).
20 and 21 deal with injuries to Gentile slaves, probably former enemies captured in battle. The master is permitted to punish such slaves for serious offenses, otherwise they would be as much of a menace to Israel as they were as enemy soldiers and raiders. Cruelty to, and murder of them, however, are not permitted. Slaves who are killed while being punished are considered to be murdered, and the master is to be punished accordingly. If the slave dies after a day of two, it is difficult, given the medical skills of the time, to know if he died as a result of the punishment, or some other cause. Therefore, the master is not punished.
If a pregnant woman is accidentally injured and her baby dies, the penalty is similar to that of an assault in verses 18 and 19. If the woman is injured further, it is considered intentional, rather than accidental, and the guilty assailant suffers “life for life” (22-25).
26 and 27 return to the treatment of Hebrew servants. The master has authority to enforce his right to their labour. He does not have the right to inflict what we might call “cruel or unusual punishment.” Doing so breaks the contract, and the servant goes free.
28-36 basically say a person is responsible to ensure that his livestock and property do not harm others. Failure to do so incurs penalties ranging from financial remuneration to execution.
Two of the most precious God given rights are the right to life, and the right of property. Exodus 21 had much to say about the right to life, and how it is to be protected, even for those in bondage, and the circumstances in which it is forfeited. Chapter 22 has much to say about the right of property. We could say chapter 21 deals with the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” Chapter 22 deals with the Eighth Commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.”
The penalty for intentional theft is restoration of five times the value of the stolen property. Killing a thief in the act of theft is not an offense, but killing him after the fact is an act of revenge and murder. Clearly God takes the right of property seriously. The rest of the chapter lists examples of what is or is not theft, how the judges are to discern between the two, and what penalties to enforce upon the guilty.
Ex. 22:16-31 Mk. 6:1-29
Ex. 23:1-19, Gal. 4
Verses 16 and 17 apply the Seventh Commandment to every day life. It’s point is simple, but serious: if you have sex, you marry the person. The woman’s parents, however, have the right to disallow the marriage. Several things, such as violence or vice, may make the man unfit as a husband. In such cases he will pay a heavy dowery to the woman.
Verses 18-20 reveal the mind of God regarding fornication, and its spiritual counter part, idolatry, particularly witchcraft. It is mentioned together with fornication because idolatry is spiritual fornication as sexual promiscuity is physical fornication. They are part of the civil ordinances because Israel is not a secular nation, which happens to contain citizens of a certain religious persuasion. Israel is the Church in the Old Testament, and those present at Sinai are hearing and agreeing to the terms and requirements of being the Church. At this point, anyone disagreeing with the terms is free to leave. Likewise, in later years, anyone who rejects the terms can easily leave. What they cannot do is remain in Israel and openly commit and practice these things.
Verses 21-27 are about justice and mercy in interpersonal and business relationships. Verse 28 causes no small stir in the hearts of readers today. Respected commentators, like Matthew Henry, believe “gods” refers to the judges appointed over the people in Ex. 18:25 and 26. Others, such as George Rawlinson, in The Pulpit Commentary, Keil and Delitzsch, in their Commentary on the Old Testament, and Jamieson, Fausset and Brown make much ado about the word Elohim not having the article “the” in the Hebrew Bible. If it had the article it could be translated, “the gods.” Without the article, it refers to God. On the basis of the lack of the article alone, it appears that the verse is best translated; “Thou shalt not revile God, nor curse the ruler of thy people.” Verses 29-31 are about honouring God with His offerings, and being a holy people.
God continues to give judgments to those who will hear and settle disputes among the Hebrew people. Raising a false report (1) refers to false accusations, and lying or obscuring truth in court to pervert justice. Following a multitude (2) forbids doing something, or thinking it is acceptable just because “everyone is doing it.” Specifically it forbids mob violence instead of going through the courts and judges. Verses 3 and 6 forbid favouring the poor. Justice is blind to station, wealth, or persons. Truth alone decides the verdict. Verse 8 forbids bribes. 9 forbids injustice to foreigners. All of these verses apply the Ninth Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” to disputes in court.
Verses 10-12 are about the Fourth Commandment, keeping the Sabbath Holy. They extend the Sabbath to the land as well as the people. 13-19 deal with purity in worship.
Ex. 23:20-33, Mk. 6:20-56
Ex. 24, Gal. 5
Many have noticed that God’s Covenant with Israel is similar to one a king might make with a smaller and weaker nation. The greater king demands tribute, soldiers, and obedience to his laws. In return he promises to rule wisely, that his laws will promote the safety and well-being of the people, and to grant them the rights and privileges of citizens of his empire. God is like the Great King. Israel is like the weaker nation. God demands tribute in the form of sacrifices, and offerings, obedience to His laws, and the faithful love of the people. Beginning in verse 20 of chapter 23, God delineates what He will do for Israel.
He promises to “send an Angel before thee” (20-23). This Angel is nothing less than the presence of God the Son, who is with His people, even in His pre-incarnation state. He will be an enemy to Israel’s enemies (22-28). He will defend Israel from attack, and will drive her enemies out of Canaan. Verse 31 promises to give all of Canaan to Israel as a land where they may dwell in peace as they love and worship God.
Verses 32 and 33 tell why Israel is to make no covenant or peace with the pagan Canaanites. They also reveal why God will not allow idolaters and fornicators to dwell in Israel: “They shall not dwell in thy land lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee.”
Having received the terms of the Covenant, the people give their bold and resounding assent (1-3). This is an event of tremendous historic importance, for it is Israel’s acceptance of the duties and the graces of belonging to God. Moses records all the words of the Lord in a book (4), which is also an event of great historical and theological significance. It is historically important because it means Moses kept a record of the events of the Exodus and travels of Israel. Some historians have asserted that the events in Exodus are myths written to unify a diverse coalition of Canaanite tribes, and to justify the military conquest of their neighbors. But here we see Moses carefully recording what he hears from God. This book naturally includes the words of the Lord in Egypt and during the travels of Israel, for he wrote “all the words of the Lord.”
The event is theologically important. If Moses recorded events, which were known and experienced by the entire nation, then the events are true, and the God who directs them is real. In other words, this means Moses recorded God’s revelation of His being, will, and commandments. This means the book is more than just literature or history; it is Scripture.
Israel’s verbal ratification of the Covenant is followed by a solemn ceremony of commitment. Moses commands that an altar be built on a level place near the foot of the hill (Mt. Sinai). Twelve pillars are built, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. They are probably very large and very tall, and placed in a line or semi-circle around the altar. The altar itself is large enough to bear twelve sacrificial animals.
Now the young men bring the bullocks and oxen to sacrifice to God, one for each of the twelve tribes. The Bible makes a point of saying these sacrifices are peace offerings from the people to God. A peace offering expresses a recognition of sin and unworthiness of the blessings God is bestowing upon them. It expresses shame over sin, as well as repentance and turning away from sin. A peace offering expresses faith in the grace of God. It recognises that He forgives sin and bestows His blessings because He is gracious, not because they are worthy.
In solemn silence the people watch the young men place the animals on the altar, where Moses ceremonially kills them and lights the fire to burn their bodies. With burning altar and the pillars behind him, and the Mountain of God in the background, Moses addresses the people by reading Exodus 19:1-23:19, the Book of the Covenant (7). Now they respond again, this time in a very reverent and thoughtful tone, “All that the Lord hath said will we do and be obedient” ( 7).
The blood of the animals is collected; half of it has been sprinkled on the altar. Now the other half is sprinkled on the people, saying, “Behold, the blood of the Covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.”
A Covenant sealed in blood carries the implication that blood will be required of those who break it. This Covenant carries hints of the Saviour, who will shed His blood in the place of those who break the Covenant. All have broken the Covenant of God, but Christ seals a New Covenant for us by His blood.
Moses is called to the top of the Mountain again. Here, covered by a thick cloud, God instructs Moses for forty days and nights.
Ex. 32:1-14, Mk.7:1-23
Ex. 32:15-35, Gal. 6
Commentary, Exodus 32
Our Lectionary passes over the important chapters 25-31, but reading them is highly recommended and profitable. They primarily give directions for the worship of God, and construction of the Tabernacle in which Israel will worship Him. We note in these chapters that the worship of God is too great a task to be conducted according to the whims and tastes of people. God Himself directs how His people shall come before Him, and how and what they shall do in His Tent. This is as true in the New Testament Church as it was in the Old.
Immediately following their pledge of acceptance of the Covenant, and even as God is in the very act of giving the directions about His worship, the people of Israel abandon God and demand that Aaron “make us gods, which shall go before us” (1).
Verse 4 shows why idolatry is such a heinous sin. God has poured out His grace on Israel. He brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand. He brought them through the sea. He provided food and water in the wilderness. He gave them victory over an enemy army. But they make idols, and tell themselves the idols have done these things for them. They do this only forty days after vowing to God that they will be His people and worship Him alone, forever. Verse 6 refers to a prolonged, drunken orgy, like those of the Canaanite pagans (see.vs. 25). They have completely abandoned God. They have fully turned to paganism.
The party ends when Moses appears, but many of the Hebrews’ desire to remain in idolatry. We can imagine much murmuring against Moses for stopping their revelry. God sends the Levites into the camp to slay the impenitent. He must be true to His own Law, and He must show that the wages of sin is death.
The prayer of Moses in verse 32 shows his great patience and love for Israel. He would rather be blotted out of God’s book, meaning the Covenant, than see Israel destroyed.
February 24, Saint Matthias the Apostle
Acts 1:15-26, Mk. 7:24-37
Matthew 11:25-30, Ephesians 1
Matthias was called to the Apostolate to replace the infamous Judas. The other Apostles elected him by lot. We would not call a man to the ministry by that method today. We would evaluate his knowledge of Scripture and ability to communicate it to others, and his holiness of life, but these things were apparently well known to the Apostles, since Matthias had been with Christ for most of His earthly ministry. According to early Church historians, Matthias traveled to the area of modern day Georgia, where he established and shepherded churches until his martyrdom around A.D. 80.
Unlike some of the other Apostles, we have no sermons or letters from Matthias. His legacy is his life of faithful service, even unto death. His life reminds us first that we, too are called to serve Christ faithfully, as Matthias served. It also reminds us that only true and faithful men are to serve in the ministry of Christ’s Church.
“O Almighty God, who into the place of the traitor Judas didst choose thy faith servant Matthias to be of the number of the Apostles; Grant that thy Church, being alway preserved from false Apostles, may be ordered and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
1928 Book of Common Prayer
Ex. 33, Mk. 8:1-26
Ex. 34:1-26, Eph. 2
In their idolatry, the people have nullified the Covenant and left God. Therefore, God is under no obligation to them. This is a very important fact, for it explains both the wrath and the grace of God in His actions toward Israel. He owes them nothing; no protection, no provision in the wilderness, and no Angel to go before them into Canaan. He is perfectly justified if He leaves them to die in the desert. He is perfectly justified if He abandons their souls to hell. They themselves agreed to this when they said that if they break the Covenant their blood is on their own hands. In other words, if God punishes them, it is their fault and their due.
In chapter 33, God has threatened to let them go. If He does this He removes all the blessings and graces He has given them thus far. The fact that He allows many to live, and that He continues with them is due to His grace. This chapter is about His continuing grace.
The same is true of Christians. We have been called into salvation by grace, yet we rebel and repudiate our faith every day. If God averts His wrath, and if He continues to bless and keep us in His salvation, it is due to His grace alone.
God returns to Israel in mercy. The people have completely rejected Him and nullified the Covenant He made with them. They are completely unworthy of Him. This is an important point. Many wonder how God could be so cruel to them for their tiny lapse of faith. We ought to wonder why He is so gracious to them when they have completely rejected Him. If we think back to Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Esau, and the sons of Jacob, we are reminded that none of them were worthy of God’s blessings, and that His calling and blessing them is due to His grace alone. Likewise, His continuing blessing of Israel is due to His grace alone. He could leave them to die in the wilderness, and abandon their souls to hell. Instead He comes to them in continuing grace, and gives them blessings they have forfeited by their own choice. The theme of Exodus 34 is God’s continuing grace. He restates the Covenant, showing that it means no compromise with the Canaanites when they enter the Promised Land. He reminds them to keep the Passover, which God makes foundational to their identity and calling as His people.
The Passover reminds them what God has done for them. This reminder calls them to greater love and service to God, and strengthens them for the life and journey of faith. In this sense, it is very similar to the Lord’s Supper. In it God reminds us of His great work of salvation by the cross of Christ. In it He calls us to greater love and service, and strengthens us for the life and journey of faith. It would have been a grievous and serious sin for an Israelite to absent himself from the Passover. It is likewise a grievous and serious sin for a Christian to be absent from the Communion Table.
Ex. 34:27-35, Mk. 8:27
Ex. 40, Eph. 3
Moses has been filled with incredible power. He has also carried incredible burdens. In spite of his days with God “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Ex. 33:11), Moses is weary and needs to be nourished in his soul. There may also be a lapse of faith in his request to see the glory of God. Like the Jews in the days of Christ’s flesh, he may want a sign from God before he will believe God is going to have mercy on Israel. God could point back to the burning bush, the plagues, parting the sea, and His miraculous provision during the journey from Egypt. He could tell Moses those were signs enough, go in faith and obey His commandments. But God grants Moses’ request, and the radiance from his face afterward assures him and Israel that God is still with them.
Chapters 35-39 record more work on the Tabernacle. It is noteworthy that the Hebrews now dedicate themselves to worshiping God, and to building a symbolic dwelling for God. Yes, they know God dwells in eternity, not in anything made by man, but God has them build the Tabernacle, and later the Temple as the great symbol of His abiding presence. God dwells with Israel.
Chapter 40 closes Exodus with the Pillar, which is the Angel of the Lord, and which has led Israel from the day she left Egypt, moving over and descending into the completed Tabernacle. “The glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (34). So powerful is His presence that even Moses is not able to enter the tent, “because the cloud abode thereon and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (35).
Leviticus 19:1-18, Mk 9:1-29
Lev. 19:19-37, Eph. 4
Leviticus has one main subject, holiness; especially in the worship and sanctuary of God, but also in personal relationships. It is a clear teaching of Scripture that keeping the laws of the sanctuary without also keeping the laws of social interaction is meaningless. It is also true that keeping the laws of social interaction while ignoring the house of God is meaningless. Real faith and obedience requires both.
Leviticus can be summarised thus: chapters 1-7 are about the sacrifices. 8-10 are about the priests. Chapters 11-22 are about what is morally and ceremonially clean and unclean. Holy days and seasons are given in chapters 23-25, and an exhortation to keep the law is given in chapter 26.
We begin our reading with chapter 19, in the section dealing with clean and unclean. Verse 2 immediately and clearly summarises cleanness; “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” In truth, these words express the intent of all the Law, and even the entire Bible. To call God holy is to assert that He is entirely different from us. We are creatures; He is Creator. We are sinful; He is moral perfection. Our knowledge is very limited; His is infinite. We are weak; He is omnipotent. Most of all, we are absolutely dependent on Him; He is absolute independence.
To say we must be holy is to say we are to be different from others in the world. Their desire is to be free of God, or, at best, to accept Him only on their own terms. Our desire is to be completely devoted to Him and fully obey His will. We allow no other gods into our hearts. We serve no idols (4). We intend to bring every thought and action into conformity with His will. This is the essence of the Law.
Holiness is expressed in two dimensions. First is the Heavenly dimension, or, our duty to, and relationship with God. In this chapter God shows how this is expressed in worship through the sacrifices (5-9). The summation of all the laws of the Sanctuary is given in verse 30, “Ye shall keep my sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.”
Just as being holy includes certain thoughts and actions, it also excludes others. Verses 26-29 are pagan and, or, occult practices. Their votives drank blood and attempted to use magic spells and incantations. To “observe times” is to practice astrology and attempt to determine lucky or unlucky times and seasons by means of horoscopes and occultism. Cuttings, in verse 28 can be ritualistic or decorative scars, self-inflicted cuts to express grief, or attempts to appease pagan idols through self-mutilation and pain (1 Kings 18:26-28). Modern piercings fall under this also. Markings are tattoos and scars made as body ornaments, or as signs of membership in pagan or occult religions. The Canaanite religions included temple prostitution. Thus, families, thinking they were doing themselves and their daughters good, often sold daughters to the pagan temples to become prostitutes. Such things are forbidden to God’s people.
Even adopting the fashions and styles of pagans is forbidden. God requires a complete and intentional refusal to identify with the culture, religion, and values of unbelievers. That is the essence of verse 27.
The second, or, earthly dimension of the Law is about our relationships with the land, and with one another. God seems to be very concerned about the way we treat His earth. In other places He tells Israel that even the land is to have a sabbath, a rest. In verses 23-25 Canaan is profaned because of the sins of the Canaanites, and must be cleansed by not eating the fruit of its trees. For three years the fruit is left un-gathered. In the fourth year it is offered to the Lord, and in the fifth year the people may eat of it. Certain parts of the grain and vine crops are to be left unharvested. They belong to God for the use of the poor. Other verses in the chapter deal with justice in the courts, and a general good will toward all people. Verse 34 means to love the stranger as you love yourself. The verse seems to encapsulate all the law and the prophets, the entire message of God in our interpersonal dealings.
Lev. 24, Mk. 9:30-50
Lev. 25, Eph. 5
The daily offerings of bread of fine flour, and pure oil for lamps in the Sanctuary signify Israel’s daily consecration to the Covenant of God. They are like our Morning Prayer “that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings being ordered by Thy governance, may be righteous in Thy sight.”
As Moses is writing about these things, he is interrupted to judge an offense. We are not told if the fight or the blasphemy happens first. We are told that the blasphemy is open and public, and apparently vehemently serious. We are told that the penalty is death. Thus sin is punished, Israel sees again the seriousness of sin, and the evil is put out of God’s people.
The Lord gives sabbaths and rests to His land and animals as well as to His people. The seventh year is a sabbath year for the land, during which it may not be tilled, or harvested. The people are to plan for this, and store food and provisions accordingly.
Beside the obvious meaning of rest for the land is also the meaning of rest for the people. It is a sabbath, a time to rest from the pursuit of wealth, and to devote that time and effort to seeking and worshiping God. It is a time for self-examination and repentance. It is a time for family and relationship building. It also carries the meaning of trust in God for the sustenance of life (see verses 20 and 21). The year of jubilee has similar significance, with broader scope.
Another meaning of the sabbath year and the jubilee is that the land belongs to God. Israel dwells in it because of the grace of God, but He owns it. Furthermore, He is the true blessing of Israel. The land is given so they may have a place to dwell in as they love and serve God. But God, not the land, is the real substance of the Covenant.
Lev 26:1-20, Mk. 10:1-31
Lev. 26:21- Romans 12
Commentary, Leviticus 26
The first message of this chapter is why Israel should keep the Covenant. It tells the Hebrews they should honour the Covenant because God is God (1). All people owe love and obedience to Him by virtue of who He is. Just as all people are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights, the Creator has the inalienable right to our love and faithful obedience. The Hebrews should honour the Covenant because God has blessed them (13). He took people who had nothing to give to Him, brought them out of bitter slavery, and established them as a free people. He has fed them, led them, and delivered them from powerful enemies. He has not dealt with them as sinners, but has treated them with grace and love though they are completely unworthy of Him. He has promised blessings beyond imagination. Therefore they should keep the Covenant. They should keep the Covenant because they have promised to do so (15). They have in fact vowed that they will do all that God says. They have asserted that failure on their part makes them worthy of all the sorrows He can put upon them.
The second message of this chapter is the blessings of the Covenant. God is telling the people He is obligating Himself to them in the Covenant. In addition to the great things He has already done for them, He promises to bless them materially (4,5), bless them with peace and security (6-8), and to increase their numbers and secure these blessings to their children, and their children's, children for as long as they will keep the Covenant (11,12). God is saying He will dwell among them, and be unto them everything good they ever dreamed He would be. Verses 11 and 12 express the heart of this promise.
The third message of the chapter is the consequences of breaking the Covenant. The essence of this message is stated in verses 27 and 28. Here the Covenant is pictured as people walking together. They are in accord, having the same purpose values, and destination. To break the Covenant is to walk contrary to God. It is, to leave His side and go in another direction because we reject His purpose, values, and destination. God says, if Israel walks contrary unto Him, then He will walk contrary unto Israel. Instead of walking with them in grace and peace, He will walk with them in fury, and chastise them seven times for their sins. Behold the grace and wrath of God.