This weeks readings came from Exodus 13-34. The following provides a summary of the contents of these passages.
- Consecration of the Firstborn – Following last week’s introduction to the Israelites of the Passover, further details are outlined here. All firstborn male children and livestock are to be set apart for God. The children are to be redeemed with additional livestock.
- Feast of Unleavened Bread – Celebration of the Passover meal initiates the beginning of this week-long feast in which no yeast is to be found among the people.
- Pillars of Cloud and Fire – As the Israelites head across the desert, God led them by day with a cloud and by night with a pillar of fire.
- Crossing the Red Sea – When they arrived at the shores of the Red Sea, the Egyptian army threatened to overtake and destroy them.
And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. (Exodus 14:13-14)
God parted the sea, the Israelites walked through on dry ground, and when the Egyptian army followed, God released the waters onto them, destroying them.
- Bitter Water Made Sweet – The nation encountered a spring with bad water. God showed Moses a piece of wood that he was to throw in the water and the water became clean and drinkable.
- Bread from Heaven – The people complained of hunger, so God caused manna to collect on the ground each morning. It was a flaky substance which could be baked or boiled and tasted like honey wafers. The manna continued to supply the people each day until they reached the promised land 40 years later.
- Water from the Rock – Another time the people complained about lack of water, so God instructed Moses to strike a certain rock with his staff and water flowed from it
- Israel Defeats Amalek – The Amalekites attacked the nation. Moses stood on a hill overlooking the battleground. As Moses lifted his hands up, the Israelites prevailed, but if he dropped them, the Amalekites would win. Aaron (Moses’ brother) and another man held Moses’ hands up for him when he tired, and the Israelites defeated the Amalekites.
- Jethro’s Advice – Moses’ father-in-law met the Israelites in the desert and observed Moses overworking himself answering all the people’s questions. He advised Moses to delegate responsibilities to other leaders as well.
- Israel at Mount Sinai – Israel arrived at Mt. Sinai, later known as the mountain of God. This is the same place where Moses encountered God in the burning bush.
- The Ten Commandments – God called the people to the foot of the mountain and spoke in all their hearing the ten commandments.
- Laws about altars, slaves, restitution, social justice, Sabbath and festivals – God gave Moses various instructions on societal and worship behaviors. These tie in to the two main “themes” in the ten commandments, summed up by Jesus in Matthew 22:35-40.
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Exodus 24-31 contains instructions for the construction and financing of the tabernacle. I’ll discuss some of the elements of the tabernacle in next week’s blog, since that set of reading involves the actual construction and use of the tabernacle.
Following the giving of the ten commandments by God, the people urged Moses to ask God not to speak directly to them, as they were terrified. Moses then spent 40 days and nights with God on Mt. Sinai receiving the tabernacle instructions and the tablets on which God had written the ten commandments (per customary Hebrew covenant process). When Moses returned to camp, he found the people had already broken their covenant with God and were worshipping golden calves instead. In anger, Moses broke the tablets with the ten commandments and interceded for the nation before God. God instructed Moses to carve out replacement tablets and then God would re-write the covenant law on them.
The ten commandments are the focal point of this set of passages. This marks the beginning of the time the people spent in the desert before taking possession of the promised land. The ten commandments appear again in Deuteronomy, near the conclusion of the 40 year wanderings in the desert. As we’ll see over the coming weeks, the ten commandments frame this period of wandering in the desert and represent the fact that the Israelites are unable to fulfill the requirements of the Law themselves. It points to the future incarnation of Jesus, the ONLY person to completely fulfill and complete the requirements of the law. Jesus himself said,
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)