Chronological Bible 11: Moses’ Final Instructions

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This week’s readings came from Deuteronomy 1-25. There are still nine chapters left in the book, but I’ll go ahead and speak to the book in its entirety here.

The Israelites, at this point in their history, find themselves camped on the east side of the Jordan river. They have been wandering in the desert for the past forty years as punishment for their rebellion against God’s leadership since being brought out of slavery in Egypt. God had promised that all those who rebelled would die in the wilderness and would not enter into the land that He had promised them. Now if you will recall, that curse was given specifically to all the fighting men aged twenty and over, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, two of the twelve spies sent to scout the land. They stood against the rest of their people in favor of following God and entering the land as He had commanded.

A quick side note: Something I’ve always found interesting is that God says, in Numbers 14:24, “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants will possess it.” And yet a bit later, (verse 30), “not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.” Why mention only Caleb in the first instance, and both Caleb and Joshua in the second, when both of them stood together in obedience? I’ve looked some and been unable to find an explanation, but it is my thinking that Joshua is not mentioned in the first instance simply because he is younger than Caleb, and their age difference is likely that Joshua is under twenty years old and Caleb is over twenty. Hence, of the two, Caleb is the only one who actually falls under the curse. I don’t know if that’s the case, so if you know, please leave me a comment in the comments section of this post.

To put Deuteronomy in perspective, think with me through these reflections. I am currently 56 years old. As we’ve prepared our house for sale, I have been going through some mementos. Here is a picture of me in band during my senior year of high school. (The image is a composite because the picture was too wide for my scanner.) I have a red oval around me.

Senior Band Here I am (bottom right corner) in a photo about a band award I received.

Band paper

Finally, here I am a few years before in a school choir photo.

Inked76_77 Vidor Choir_LI

Needless to say, music was a big part of my high school days and has been ever since.

Here’s my point. I was in my teens when these pictures were taken, and I’m in my fifties now. I still remember quite a bit about my high school days. But, a lot has happened in the 39 to 40 years since these photos, including an entire teaching career. However, this represents the same length of time that the Israelites were wandering in the desert. The “teens” when the Israelites exited Egypt who witnessed the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the 10 commandments… these former “teens” are in their fifties now as Moses is delivering the words of Deuteronomy. These former “teens” have lost their parents in the wilderness and are now being prepared to enter and take the land that was promised forty years earlier. These former “teens” need to be reminded of some very important teachings and events which they probably remember, but may not have fully recognized the significances. Case in point – while I remember a lot from my teen years, I know for a fact that some of the things I did and learned at that time look very different now as seen through forty years of maturity, wisdom, and knowledge. We may read Deuteronomy and think it boring because it seems to be repeating things we just read a short time ago in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. However, as you reflect on it, try to picture yourself as part of the new generation of Israelites learning from the mistakes and experiences wandering with their parents in the desert for decades.

In Deuteronomy 5:1-3, it says

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.

In Deuteronomy, Moses recalls the important events from the desert years, including the exodus from Egypt, the ten commandments, the idolatry with golden calf, the spies report of the land and the ensuing national rebellion, the importance of offerings, festivals, social justice, and clean living.

There are a couple of very important passages that I don’t want you to miss. First, Moses reminds the Israelites of why God chose them in the first place. Deuteronomy 9:4-6 says

Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess the land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.

He repeats THREE times, it’s not about you! The Israelites were to be God’s tools for judgment on wicked nations. Additionally, in Deuteronomy 4:4-8, Moses points out,

But you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today. See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

Not only were they God’s tools of judgment, they were also simultaneously His tools of evangelism. This corresponds to Paul’s teaching about the church in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

We have the same responsibilities – to simultaneously proclaim God’s judgment on the world and also offer reconciliation and peace through the gospel salvation and atonement available through Jesus Christ.

Next week the readings will complete Deuteronomy (chapters 26-34), Psalm 90, and Joshua 1-12.

For Further Investigation

Chronological Bible 10: The desert wandering comes to an end

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This week our Bible passages are found in Numbers 19-36 which mainly takes place near the end of the forty years spent wandering in the wilderness.

As I mentioned last week, the book of Numbers begins with the Israelites camped at the base of Mount Sinai. God instructs them to take a census in advance of the conquest of the promised land of Canaan. However, the Israelites rebelled and were sentenced to spend forty years wandering in the desert instead. The last half of Numbers finds us near the end of that forty year period. There is still rebellion in the hearts of the people. Moses evens succumbs to that temptation and becomes disobedient to God. God instructs him to speak to a rock to provide water for the thirsty people, and Moses, in anger toward the people, instead chooses to strike the rock with his staff and try to make it appear that it is his actions that cause the water to come forth. This act of disobedience costs Moses the privilege of setting foot in the promised land as well.

At another point of rebellion, the people grumble against God and he sends venomous snakes among them. When they cry out to him, He instructs Moses to create a bronze replica of the snakes and lift it up on a pole. If people looked at the snake, they would be healed of the bites.

There’s also a fascinating story of a man (Balaam) hired by the king of Moab to pronounce a curse on the Israelites. He finds that he is unable to speak a curse, but is only able to speak blessing. However, he also is in rebellion to God by even trying to curse the nation and God sends an angel to bar is journey. His donkey, seeing the angel on 3 different occasions tries to stop, but Balaam beats it. Miraculously, the donkey then speaks to Balaam to explain why he’s stopping.

Much of the rest of this passage details a series of lists which stay true to the name of the book (Numbers). There are lists of the number of required sacrifices needed during a year, a second census of the new generation of fighting men, lists of cities captured east of the Jordan (the beginning of the conquest of the promised land), a listing of all the places encountered during the 40 year wandering, and descriptions of the future boundaries of the land that God is giving to them.

The big takeaway from the book of Numbers is God’s faithfulness to his promises, even to a faithless people. During the forty years, the Israelites continued to be provided for with manna for food, water where there wasn’t any before, and clothes which lasted. Their flocks prospered and grew as well. The New Testament points back to the story of the bronze snake (John 3:14), the provision of manna (John 6:30-35), and the water from the rock (1 Corinthians 10) as pictures of the salvation and sustenance available to believers in Jesus as well.

Next week we’ll look at the first part of the book of Deuteronomy.

For Further Investigation


Chronological Bible 9: Rebellion in the Wilderness

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This week’s readings came from Leviticus 27, Numbers 1-6, and Numbers 10-18. Essentially, the book of Numbers is split between this week and next week.

The book of Numbers gets its name from the census that is taken of the Israelites at the beginning of the book and at the end of the book (with about 40 years in between, but more on that later.) In the biblical narrative, Numbers begins with the Israelites still camped at the base of Mount Sinai almost a year after the initiation of God’s covenant and the giving of the ten commandments. The tabernacle has been designed, built, and assembled, and the laws concerning worship and sacrifice have been established (see last week’s blog post regarding the book of Leviticus). God instructs Moses to take a census of the fighting men (age 20 and up). This is in preparation for the planned conquest of the Promised Land of Canaan. There were 603,550 fighting men from the twelve tribes. The Levites were not to be counted as part of this census.

The Levites, however, were counted in their own census by the three clans (sons of Levi), the Kohathites, Gershonites, and Merarites. Men aged 30 through 50 were counted to care for and transport the furnishings of the tabernacle (Kohathites), the textile coverings of the tabernacle and courtyard (Gershonites), and the posts, pegs, frames, etc. (Merarites).

Another part of the “numbering” was the designation of camping positions with respect to the tabernacle. When the Israelites set out and later set up camp, they had specific designated order of marching and order of camping around the tabernacle.


Diagram from Step Into The Story (referenced below)


The Levites were to camp next to the tabernacle, between it and the rest of the nation, with Aaron’s descendants (priests) camped in front of the entrance in the east. The rest of the tribes then set up around the Levites.

The narrative progresses with the Israelites approaching the promised land, with various bits of complaining along the way. The next main part of the story occurs when Moses selects 12 men (1 from each tribe) to spy out the land in preparation for conquest. The spies tour the land for 40 days and bring back conflicting reports. The land is good, but the inhabitants are threatening. 10 of the men counsel against invasion, while two (Caleb and Joshua) stand firm on God’s promise and advise the nation to trust God and enter the land. The 10 prevail in convincing the nation, and the people rebel against God and Moses. It is this culminating act of rebellion which prompts God to give the people exactly what they asked for.

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in the wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:1-4) …. And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and all of your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure. (Numbers 14:26-34)

The rest of this section of Numbers provides further details of proper worship and additional rebellious attitudes of the people.

Next week we’ll look at Numbers 19-36 which mainly takes place near the end of the forty years spent wandering in the wilderness.

For Further Investigation

Chronological Bible 8: The Sacrificial System

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This week the readings come from Leviticus 9-26, but I want to discuss the whole book of Leviticus in this post. The Israelites are still camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where the ten commandments were given and where the tabernacle pieces (discussed last week) were constructed and first assembled. The book of Leviticus contains instructions given to the Israelites regarding how they are to relate with God and how the Levite priests are to conduct their work. Before going through some of the instructions, I want to point out what I believe is a critical explanatory passage from Leviticus 20:22-26.

You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nations that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them. But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

All the described offerings, declarations of clean/unclean things, prohibitions of immoral and idolatrous behaviors, codes of ethics, defining of festivals, and guidelines on caring for others were intended to teach the Israelites a couple of very important principles. First, that God is completely holy and cannot be approached by anything unholy. Second, that to be in right relationship with God is very costly. And third, that the Israelites represent God to the world around them and they are to be seen as being different in the way they related to their God as compared with how other nations’ religious and ethical practices. While the rules have been set aside because of the new covenant through Jesus, these basic principles still hold true for Christians.

There are three categories of items discussed in Leviticus that I want to explore a bit: offerings, clean vs. unclean, and ethics.


There are five types of offerings described in these passages: Burnt, Grain, Peace, Sin, and Guilt. Without going into detail (see the additional resources below), the offerings have several important aspects as they relate to the sacrifice Jesus made of himself on the cross. The Burnt offering was intended to be entirely burned as an act of worship, just as Jesus was completely consumed by death. Several offerings (sin and guilt) involved the symbolic transference of one’s sin onto the animal through the laying on of hands by the person while the sacrifice is made, just as our sins were transferred to Jesus as he was crucified, allowing him to represent us and us to represent him. As Paul said, in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Some of the offerings involved a shared meal of the sacrificial elements between the priests and the offerers, symbolizing reconciliation and fellowship with God. Similarly, Christ’s sacrifice for us enables us to approach the throne of God and have fellowship with him, having been made holy by the blood of Jesus.

These passages also describe the Day of Atonement, which was the only day of the year that the High Priest was able to enter the inner sanctuary (holy of holies) of the tabernacle to offer an atoning sacrifice for the nation as a whole. When Jesus died, the curtain separating the inner chamber and the outer one of the temple was torn from top to bottom, indicating that God has now removed the barrier that separates us and him through the eternal atonement provided by Jesus.

Clean vs. unclean

All the teachings in these passages about activities, animals, objects, etc. which were to be declared clean or unclean may have some hygienic or health related aspects, but the basic idea is that to approach God in worship, you must be prepared and approved. One commentary I read likened this to voter registration – to vote, you must be registered. One who is registered is not better, or more righteous, than one who is not, but the registered one has the legal privilege to vote. Likewise, one who is “clean” has the legal standing to approach and fellowship with God. This has implications today in the sense of preparing our hearts and minds to worship God, rather than being flippant about how we approach him. In 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, Paul is teaching about worshipping through the observation of communion. He says

Whoever, therefore, eats of the bread or drinks of the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

We must be discerning about ourselves as we prepare to worship God. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.”

Ethical Behavior

Finally, the last part of Leviticus deals with how the Israelites should treat each other. As you will recall, the last six of the ten commandments dealt with our relationships with others. A key passage in Leviticus regarding this behavior is in Leviticus 19:17-18.

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

These passages speak of caring for the poor by not reaping completely from your fields, but leaving some for them to gather. It also speaks of returning purchased (e.g. rented) property to the original owner every fifty years (the year of Jubilee), and of forgiving debts every seven years. This points forward to the gift of forgiveness and restoration of life that we receive by believing in and following Jesus.

Next week our readings will come from Leviticus 27, Numbers 1-6, and Numbers 10-18.

For Further Investigation


Chronological Bible 7: The Tabernacle

This week’s readings were Exodus 35-40, Numbers 7-9, and Leviticus 1-8. All of these passages involve the construction, setup, and proper use of the tabernacle, which was the “tent of meeting” that God ordained to represent his presence among the Israelites. Exodus finishes out with God providing Moses the description of the tabernacle and then Moses collecting the materials and overseeing the construction and setup. God was very specific about the materials and specifications for the tabernacle. In Exodus 25:40, God says,

See that you make [the elements of the tabernacle] after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.

Also, in Exodus 26:30, God said,

Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain.

Exodus 35-40

  • Sabbath Regulations
  • Contributions for the Tabernacle
  • Construction of the Tabernacle
  • Making the Ark
  • Making the Table
  • Making the Lampstand
  • Making the Altar of Incense
  • Making the Altar of Burnt Offering
  • Making the Bronze Basin
  • Making the Court
  • Materials for the Tabernacle
  • Making the Priestly Garments
  • The Tabernacle Erected
  • The Glory of the Lord

Numbers 7-9

  • Offerings at the Tabernacle’s Consecration
  • The Seven Lamps
  • Cleansing of the Levites
  • Retirement of the Levites
  • The Passover Celebrated
  • The Cloud Covering the Tabernacle

Leviticus 1-8

  • Laws for Burnt Offerings
  • Laws for Grain Offerings
  • Laws for Peace Offerings
  • The Priests and the Offerings
  • Consecration of Aaron and His Sons

I want to take a look at all the prescribed elements of the tabernacle, starting with the perimeter curtains and moving inward. Images below are from the teaching materials of the Lifeway Bible Study curriculum The Gospel Project.

taberrnacle layout

The tabernacle includes all of the elements shown in the picture above. It was designed to be portable, and the descendants of Levi were designated as the people who cared for, assembled/disassembled, carried, and used the various elements as priests for the nation. (Specifically, Aaron’s descendants were designated as the priests). If you recall from last week, the Israelites were instructed to dedicate all their firstborn children to God. The Levites were designated as the substitutes for all the firstborn’s of the rest of the nation. In Numbers 8:17-18, God says

“For all the firstborn among the people of Israel are mine, both of man and of beast. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I consecrated them for myself, and I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel.”

The tabernacle had an outer courtyard which was rectangular in shape. A person would approach on the east side, where the entrance curtain was located, signifying that there is only one appropriate way to approach and fellowship with God, and also signifying a turning away from the rising sun, which is often associated in pagan worship practices. A person would be met by the priests at the gate where the person could offer the gifts and sacrifices he/she has brought.

Inside the courtyard, the priests would offer the various offerings brought by the people. The first element located between the entrance and the tent of meeting was the bronze altar, used for burnt offerings. I’ll discuss the specific sacrificial system next week. The significance of encountering the altar first was to represent the fact that one must be cleansed and forgiven of sins through the substitutionary blood sacrifice of an unblemished animal.

The next item encountered upon approach to the tent was the basin, which held water for cleansing of the priests as they approached God’s house. This served as a reminder of the necessity of cleansing and washing away filth in the presence of God.


Only the priests could enter the actual tent structure, located near the west end of the tabernacle complex. The above diagram shows a cutaway view of the tent. The lampstand (menorah) had seven branches to it and was designed to provide light to the space in front of it. It was to be placed on the south interior side of the tent to provide light for the work of the priests.

The bread table was to be placed on the north interior side of the tent. It was to continually hold bread offerings, representing fellowship with God.

The altar of incense was placed at the west end of the tent, before the curtain (discussed next). The incense to be burned was a specific formula used only for worship of God. It the smoke and fragrance were to represent the prayers of God’s people.

The curtain was intended to separate the outer chamber from the inner (holy of holies) chamber. It represents the complete holiness of God and the fact that He cannot have fellowship with anything less holy than He. Only the high priest could enter through the curtain into the holy of holies, and only on a specified day of Atonement (which I’ll discuss next week). Significantly, this curtain (as found in the 1st century temple) was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died on the cross, signifying that the necessary separation of God from humans was over because of the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus.


The only object found in the holy of holies was the ark of the covenant. It was a box with a gold lid called the mercy seat. The solid gold lid had two cherubims on it, facing down with their wings stretched across the top and touching. Moses would hear the voice of God coming from the space below the wings, which represented the throne room of God. Inside the box were placed the two tablets of the ten commandments, a jar of manna to remind the Israelites of God’s provision, and a section of Aaron’s staff (budded, as we’ll read about later in Numbers.

The big takeaway that I want to emphasize from these passages is that God is to be approached on his terms, not ours. We don’t get to pick and choose which of God’s requirements we want to listen to and which we’ll ignore. We are not saved from our sins by the things we do in terms of following the law, because we are unable to do that completely. Yet it is still God’s expectation of his people to be holy as He is holy.

Next week we’ll be looking at Leviticus 9-26, so I’ll discuss all the Leviticus passages then.

For Further Investigation

Chronological Bible 6: The Sinai Covenant

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.

Final Thoughts

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)

Next week we’ll look at Exodus 35-40, Numbers 7-9, and Leviticus 1-8.

For Further Investigation

Chronological Bible 5: Moses Confronts Pharaoh

This week’s readings came from Job 35-42 and Exodus 1-12 (with a few genealogical verses from 1 Chronicles 6). The book of Job concluded with Elihu’s speech and then God confronting Job, but I discussed those last week. This week I want to concentrate on the first part of Exodus, which tells the story of the eventual release of the Israelite nation from the bonds of slavery to Egypt.

The text begins with a listing of the descendants of Jacob who are now residing in Egypt, and then has the statement (1:8), “Now there arose a new king of Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” As you recall, Joseph had been placed as second in command over all Egypt under the pharaoh of his day, but after Joseph died, the people began to fear the Israelites because they had become so numerous. You must understand that between the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus, approximately 350 years have passed, so it’s not like the people became fearful overnight. The Israelites have grown by this time to be a nation of over a million people. The current king of Egypt issues an order that all the male children being born to Israel must die. One of the Israeli women gave birth to a son whom she hid in a floating basket and placed it in the waters at the edge of the Nile. The boy’s sister observed that Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby and adopted it as her own, naming him Moses.

Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s house but eventually recognized the brutality with which his people were being treated and ended up killing an Egyptian over it. This forced Moses to flee to the desert for safety. While there, he encountered God speaking from a bush which burned but was not consumed. Again, you have to be conscious of time when you read this and realize that Moses is approaching the age of 80 by now. His life, as described in the narrative, is broken up into 3 40-year segments: his life in Pharaoh’s house for the first 40 years, his exile in the desert for the next 40, and then his leadership of the Israelite nation to lead it out of Egypt during the final 40 years.

From the burning bush, God calls Moses to return to Egypt and demand the Israelites be released. God also tells him that Pharaoh will refuse until God has sent a series of 10 signs (plagues) upon the Egyptians, concluding with the death of their first born children. This death sentence ultimately led to the Israelites being released, and to the institution of the celebration/remembrance of Passover, when God’s judgment “passed over” all those who listened to him and obeyed him by covering their doors (symbolic of lives) with the blood of the Passover lamb.

The Plagues

As Moses was confronting Pharaoh about letting the Israelites go, God performed a series of ten miracles/plagues against the Egyptian people. The plagues were

  • Nile turning to blood
  • Frog infestation
  • Dust turning to gnat infestations
  • Fly infestation
  • Large-scale deaths of livestock
  • Boils on humans and animals
  • Devastating Hail
  • Locust devastation
  • Three days of darkness
  • Death of the firstborns (people and cattle)

Scholars have pointed out that many of these plagues represent God’s power over elements worshipped by the Egyptians. I specifically want to point out two things about them.

First, these plagues were pre-planned by God when he initially called Moses to go to Pharaoh.

And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.” (Exodus 4:21-23)

God instructed Moses to perform all the miracles first, which would ultimately culminate with the deaths of the firstborns. The plagues were not an impulsive act of an angry God. Rather, they were a just act of judgment against a people who rejected him.

Second, ultimately the purpose of the plagues was to teach about and bring glory to God, both in the eyes of the Egyptians and in the eyes of the Israelites.

“The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” (Exodus 7:5) …. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 10:1-2)

The Gospel of the Exodus

There are two big ways in which the gospel story of Jesus are reflected in these passages. The first one is in the broad story line of the Exodus itself. We’ll be looking at more detail about individual elements as we continue our journey through the Bible, but for now, consider the overarching story of the Exodus.

God’s people were in slavery. God chose to send a great prophet (Moses) to confront the source of their slavery (Pharaoh and Egypt) and facilitate their release. Once their captor was defeated, God’s people were led out of slavery, but spent some time in the “in-between” world of the wilderness, sometimes falling back into the mindset of slavery, but still journeying toward and anticipating that time would God would ultimately settle them in their promised land.

This is a picture of God’s work through Jesus. All of humanity is in slavery to sin. God sent his son (Jesus) to confront the slaveowner (Satan) and to defeat him by dying and then resurrecting from the grave in victory over the power of death. He then offers us the ability to follow him in that victory and leave behind the enslaving power of sin. When we follow him, though, we still battle against the influences and temptations of sin as we continue our life’s journey. Ultimately, though, Jesus will deliver those who have trusted him and followed him into the final promised “land” of heaven to live with him.

The Gospel of the Passover

The particulars of the Passover meal specified in Exodus 12 are

  • Sacrificial lamb without blemish
  • Male
  • Killed at twilight
  • None of the lamb’s bones could be broken
  • Blood had to cover the doorway to the house
  • All of the sacrifice had to be roasted and consumed, with no leftovers
  • It had to be consumed with anticipation of the exodus (e.g. in a hurry, ready to leave)
  • The accompanying bread must be unleavened (representing quick preparation and not “polluted”)
  • This would distinguish God’s people from those who aren’t. Foreigners who were not Jews had to become Jewish (e.g. be circumcised) to participate.
  • The actual Passover event (death of Egypt’s firstborns) occurred only once, but the Passover celebration was to continue in perpetuity.

When Jesus died on the cross, he fulfilled the elements and picture of the Passover himself, providing the second, and eternal, “Passover” victory over death.

Next week’s readings will be from Exodus 13-34.

For Further Investigation