Exodus

by Peter and Vita Toon

Bible Study Starters

Servant Books, 1979

 

 

Contents

How to use the studies

Introduction to Exodus

Study 1: The call of Moses 1:1–4:17

Study 2: Moses in Egypt 4:18–7:7

Study 3: Nine plagues 7:8–11:10

Study 4: Passover and exodus 12:1–15:21

Study 5: Journey to Horeb 15:22–18:27

Study 6: The covenant 19:1–20:21

Study 7: The book of the covenant 20:22–24:18

Study 8: The tabernacle 25:1–27:21

Study 9: The priesthood 28:1–31:18

Study 10: Apostasy and renewal 32:1–34:35

 

 

HOW TO USE THE STUDIES

      Studying the Bible should be exciting, and especially so in a group of believers.  The Bible is God’s gift to the church, containing his self-revelation.  It is the book of God’s message to people everywhere, in all sorts of conditions.  Since it is a book for God’s people (and via them to the world), it follows that the treasures and blessings it contains become available when a group of God’s people read and study it together.  With sincere hearts and listening ears and in the spirit of fellowship, a group of believers becomes a microcosm of the whole church as it hears what God has to say from his word.

      This study is intended to get a group of Christians started on the task of studying the Bible profitably together, though it can be used for individual study as well.  It is intended to facilitate the process wherein God’s people hear God’s word today.  It will have served its purpose when members of the group find the living God through the printed page of scripture.  Then they will find that both attendance at the Eucharist and daily devotion is enriched.

      To function well together, members of the group will want to do some preliminary reading of the book being studied.  Further, the group will need a leader to get the early studies under way.  He or she could be replaced at the half-way stage.  Here are some suggestions for the leader(s) to help the studies run smoothly.  Naturally this task will be easier if all members acquaint themselves with these suggestions.

      1.   Since the Bible yields its truth especially when set in the context of an atmosphere of worship, prayer, and trust, make sure that the group begins and ends its time of study and fellowship with prayer.  We need to read the Bible joyfully as believers.

      2.   Since the Bible was written in languages which sometimes do not translate very well into modern English, always have available several translations/paraphrases (e.g., the Revised Standard Version, Jerusalem Bible, New International Version, New American Bible, Good News Bible, or Living Bible) in order to be aware of the possibilities of meaning and interpretation.

      3.   Always bear in mind that your first task is to understand what the text means, what God originally said through his servant who wrote the book.  We are always faced with the temptation to read into the text what we want to see there.  When we know what God originally said to people in a different world from our own, we can ask what he has to say today.

      4.   To assist in the demanding but exciting task of interpreting the Bible today, the questions at the end of each study will prove helpful.  If seen in this light, they will help you understand the connection between the original meaning arrived at by exegesis and the application of that meaning today ( = hermeneutics).

      5.   Seek to ensure that every member contributes in one way or another.  Each Christian has a spiritual gift from the Lord and when encouraged can use this for the good of others.  If someone is doing too much talking, persuade that person to give others a chance.

      6.   Try the following method of approach, involving as many members as possible:

            (i) Read the whole biblical passage

            (ii) Read each section (as indicated in the notes) from a different translation

            (iii) read the notes for that section

            (iv) discuss the meaning of the section

            (v) use the questions at the end of each section as a means

                        of making the whole passage relevant today

            (iv) use the final time of prayer as a means of bringing to God the concerns that have arisen.

 

INTRODUCTION TO EXODUS

      This is the second of the five “books of Moses” known as the Pentateuch.  The word “exodus” is based on a Greek word meaning “going out” or “departure”; it describes the contents of the book well.  The Hebrew tribes (the people of Israel) were delivered from their bondage in Egypt to become the special people of God in a ceremony at Mount Horeb (Sinai).  On the mountain God entered into an agreement with the people so that he became their sovereign Lord and they became his worshipping and obedient people.  Half the book is concerned with the deliverance from Egypt and the other half with the contents of the agreement (covenant).  Moses is presented as the man chosen by God to act as leader, priest and prophet of the people of Israel and as the mediator of the covenant.

      For Christians who wish to understand the New Testament fully, Exodus is of great importance, since the New Covenant, inaugurated by Christ, can only be appreciated against the background of the Old Covenant (also called the Mosaic Covenant, since it was made through Moses).  It is also very important for the teaching which is given on the name of God, who is the LORD, Yahweh or Jehovah (see study 1).

      Moses is traditionally regarded as the author of the book by both Christians and Jews.  Look up Mark 1:44; John 7:19–22; John 1:45 and Acts 26:22.  Within Exodus itself look up 17:14 and 24:4.

      To benefit from these ten studies you would do well to read through Exodus at one or two sittings, and then read the long section for each study in advance of the meeting with others.

 

Helpful books

A good atlas of the Bible will be helpful.  For commentaries see A. Cole, Exodus (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, IVP) and J. H. Dobson, A Guide to the Book of Exodus (SPCK).

 

Special note

      Many modern scholars do not accept that Moses wrote this book.  They believe that Exodus represents the work of an able editor, who joined together various documents (now lost) to which they give letters.  So they speak of J, E, D and P documents and in their commentaries seek to show from which source or document the various parts of Exodus come.  This method will be seen in the useful commentary by R. E. Clements (Cambridge University Press).  At the level of personal and group Bible study this modern method will not be found very helpful, for it is highly speculative.  Other useful books include the Interpreter’s Bible (Abingdon) and commentaries by Brevard S. Childs (Westminster) and R. A. Coles (Tyndale Series, IVP).

 

Study 1:  The Call Of Moses

1:1–4:17

      In these chapters we have a description of the cruel treatment of the Hebrews in Egypt. One aspect of this is the command of Pharaoh that all male Hebrew children be killed at birth. Moses should have been killed, but through the love of his mother and the special providence of God he came to be brought up in the palace of Pharaoh. Yet he did not forget his Hebrew origin, and because he killed an Egyptian (who had killed a Hebrew slave) he had to flee to Midian. Here, while looking after the flocks of his father-in-law, he met the living God, the God of his ancestors, who gave him a special commission.

 

1.  1:1–22      The Hebrews in Egypt

      There was a change of dynasty in 1570 B.C.  The Hyksos kings (1720–1570 B.C.) had been friendly to Joseph and his relatives, but they were replaced by another dynasty when Ah-mose I began to rule in 1570 B.C.  The reference could be to him or to a later Pharaoh.

 

2.  2:1–22      Moses in Egypt and Midian

      Moses is probably the Hebrew form of an Egyptian word, mesu, meaning a child or son.  It is derived from a verb meaning “to draw forth” or “to pull out”.  Acts 7:23 tells us Moses was forty when he killed the Egyptian.

      The killing of the Egyptian was neither according to God’s nor Egypt’s law.  Moses needed further discipline to prepare him for God’s task.  Hence forty years in Midian.

      For the Midianites and Israel, see Genesis 25:2.

 

3.  2:23–4:17            The call of Moses

      3:14–17 represents one of the great parts of the Old Testament (but see also 33:19 and 34:5).

      The desire of Moses to know the name of the living God reflects an important aspect of Hebrew culture.  The name of a person or god conveyed important information about his character or position.  The God of Abraham, who speaks to Moses, repeats the name by which he had earlier been known (Genesis 12:1,4,7,8).  He is YHWH (Yahweh) or JHVH (Jehovah), for the Hebrew letters may be transliterated either way.  (In these studies we have followed the practice of many Bible translators in using the term ‘the LORD’ for the divine name.)  What this name means is given in Exodus 3:14a, where the Hebrew may be translated, “I am who I am” (= “I am here, truly present, and ready to help”) or “I cause to be what comes into existence.”  So we are probably right in claiming that the meaning of the divine name is – “the living God, Creator of all things, Lord of history, Leader of Israel and Communicator with human beings”.  As the Hebrews experienced the deliverance from Egypt, the miracles in the desert, the giving of the Law at Sinai and the entry into the promised land, they found their God was truly the living LORD, whose actions and words agreed with his name.  Note that in the New Testament the name of God is further explained as “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”.

 

4.  Questions for discussion

      1. To what extent is loyalty to God to come before obedience to the state (1:20–21)?  Take note of Romans 13:1ff. and 1 Peter 2:13 and 17.

      2. What is meant by the providence of God?  Answer with special reference to 2:5–10.

      3. Do good ends ever justify bad means?  Answer with special reference to Moses’ behaviour in 2:11ff.

      4. In what ways can we increase reverence for the LORD (Yahweh/Jehovah) in our churches and homes?

 

Study 2:  Moses In Egypt

4:18–7:7

      After his encounter with the LORD, Moses returned to Egypt.  With his brother Aaron he appeared before Pharaoh with the request that the Hebrews be allowed to go into the desert to have a festival in honour of the LORD.  Not only was this request denied but Pharaoh made the lot of the slaves worse.  This action caused Moses to seek the LORD who answered, assuring him that it was his will that the Hebrew people be set free.  Aaron was to act as Moses’ spokesman and Moses would receive words and commands from the LORD.

 

1.  4:19–31    Moses returns to Egypt

      The idea in verse 21 of God hardening the heart of Pharaoh has to be interpreted in the light of other statements that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (8:15,32; 9:34).  For Pharaoh’s heart “being hardened”, see 7:13–14,22; 8:19 and 9:35.  For God hardening the heart see 9:12; 10:1,20,27; 14:8.  As men reject God they harden their hearts, because this is how God has made men: to reject God is always to harden your heart.  In this way God is seen as the ultimate cause of the hardening.

 

2.  5:1–6:1     Moses and Aaron visit Pharaoh

      The pilgrimage would have been to Mount Horeb (= Sinai) (verse 3).

      The Egyptian bricks were larger than the average brick used in the West today; they were made from mud mixed with chopped straw or reed (verses 6–9).

 

3.  6:2–13      A further revelation to Moses

      This further word from the LORD is to be compared with what had been said in 3:14ff.

      For the covenant with the patriarchs see Genesis 17:1–14.  The possession of Canaan (Exodus 6:4) is promised in Genesis 17:8.

      The idea of redemption in verse 6 is taken from the duty of members of a family to buy out of slavery another member of the family who was a slave (see Leviticus 25:47–49).  For God to redeem is for God to take back to himself those who already by the Abrahamic covenant are his people.  He will regain his people by mighty acts of deliverance.  So the whole idea of the exodus is connected with the theme of redemption.

 

4.  6:14–27    The family record of Moses and Aaron

      The purpose of the lists is to establish the Levitical descent of Moses and Aaron.  Thus on reaching Jacob’s third son, Levi, it continued by listing the branches of the Levite tribe.  Jochebed (verse 20) means “the LORD is glory”.

 

5.  6:28–7:7  The LORD’S command to Moses and Aaron

      Verse 28 continues the theme from verse 13 after the digression concerning Levitical descent.  The LORD is still speaking to Moses.

      The ages of Moses and Aaron (verse 7) of 80 and 83 are not surprising, for in Egyptian records of this period there are accounts of public servants of over 100 years of age.

 

6.  Questions for discussion

      1. Does the idea of hardening of the heart (4:21) have any relevance today?

      2. Can it be said that as God was on the side of the poor, oppressed Hebrews he is also on the side of the poor and underprivileged wherever they are?

      3. Does 6:9 have any relevance for Christian missions and evangelism?  Are special methods necessary where a people’s spirit has been broken?

      4. Why does it seem to be the case that a family tree is so important in the Old Testament (6:14–25) and has so little relevance in the New Testament (Galatians 3:28–29; 1 Timothy 1:4).

 

Study 3:  Nine Plagues

7:8–11:10

      Pharaoh remained stubborn and would not let the Hebrews leave his country.  Therefore the LORD sent nine plagues which brought shame and punishment on the Egyptian people.  They were also a judgement on the gods of Egypt.  Natural explanations can be found for most if not all the plagues, but even when these are found, the fact that they happened at the time they did points to the overruling providence of God.

 

1.  7:8–13      The sign of the staff

      In 4:17 the staff was in the possession of Moses but in the intervening period it had been given to Aaron.  This initial exhibition of the power of the LORD prepares the way for the larger demonstration in the plagues.  Also the confrontation between Moses (with Aaron) and Pharaoh sets the pattern for future meetings.  In the plan of God the obstinacy of Pharaoh will be used to show God’s great power.

 

2.  7:14–10:29          The nine plagues

      (i) The Nile turned to blood (7:14–24).  A possible natural interpretation is that when the Nile rises at the beginning of its flood season (late June) a large quantity of a red soil deposit (red marl) is carried by it and this makes the water red.  The problem with this approach is that it does not explain how the fish died and the river stank.

      (ii) Frogs (7:25–8:15).  Frogs and lizards were found in great quantities in the swamps and lakes of Egypt.  The plague is probably a severe intensification of what was a constant problem in the land.

      (iii) Maggots or lice (8:16–19).  It is difficult to be certain exactly what kind of insects are here described.  Older translations took it to be gnats but modern translators prefer to render either as maggots or as lice.

      (iv) Insects (8:20–32).  Here, as in (ii), a natural and constant problem in Egypt is intensified so as to become a plague.  Flies and mosquitoes were a common nuisance, and as they increased in great numbers they presented a terrible problem.  The Hebrews in Goshen were protected by the power of God; this discriminatory act of God prepares for the final plague when the Hebrew first-born were not killed.

      (v) Cattle disease (9:1–7).  The word used for “disease” is a general one and so it is impossible to determine the nature of the problem.  Again the cattle of the Hebrews are protected.  Camels were not domesticated in Egypt until about 300 B.C. and so these must have been brought into the country from other parts.

      (vi) Boils (9:8–12).  Skin disease in Egypt was common (see Deuteronomy 28:27) and so this appears to be the intensification of a common problem.

      (vii) Hail (9:13–35).  Hail in the setting of a violent storm causes devastation.  Again Goshen is preserved.  The purpose of the plagues is set out in verses 14–16.

      (viii) Locusts (10:1–20).  Once more a perennial problem becomes a plague.  By now Pharaoh is under pressure even from courtiers to let the Hebrews go (10:7); earlier (9:20–21) some of his subjects had shown similar feelings.  So Pharaoh now engages in serious negotiations (10:8–11).  A plague of locusts was one of the worst types of disaster that ancient people feared.  They still represent a threat in the region of the upper Nile.

      (ix) Darkness (10:21–29).  Severe sandstorms occur in Egypt in the spring when the hot south-east wind (the Hamsin) blows clouds of sand and brings a temporary darkness.  But there is no mention of a wind in the text and so a darkness, as at night, is intended.  Again the Hebrews in Goshen do not experience this darkness.

      It is to be noted that the third, sixth and ninth plagues come unannounced, giving no time for repentance.

 

3.  11:1–10    Announcement of the tenth plague

      This section brings the story of the plagues to a climax by the announcement of a further, terrible and final act of God.  The taking of the precious possessions was to serve as a punishment for the Egyptian treatment of the Hebrews and as wages for their years of labour.

 

4.  Questions for discussion

      1. Carefully examine the reaction of Pharaoh to the demands made by Moses.  What can we learn from his attitude?

      2. Is it right to interpret “natural disasters” today as acts of God?

      3. What can we learn of the character of God from these judgements on the Egyptians?

      4. Is the taking of Egyptian jewellery (11:2) defensible on either Old or New Testament moral principles?

 

Study 4:  Passover And Exodus

12: 1–15:21

      The exodus was both a spiritual and a political event.  It represented the mighty deliverance of the Hebrews from the land of bondage and it became a primary article of faith (20:2).  At the same time it meant the binding of a company of slaves into a nation, which, as represented by the modern state of Israel, could be said still to exist.  The festival which celebrated the deliverance from Egypt was the Passover, whose origin is here described.

 

1.  12:1–28    The Passover

      The first of months (12:2) was “Abib”, meaning “barley ears” and thus referring to the beginning of the barley harvest, the time of the vernal equinox.  Later the Jews began their year in the spring.

      Passover was essentially a family festival (and remains so for Jews) not requiring a central sanctuary.  The lamb or kid was to be without blemish – thus pointing to Jesus, the Lamb of God, 1 Peter 1:19; Hebrews 7:26; 9:14.  The blood on the doorposts and lintels can be seen as pointing to the blood of Christ by which the wrath of God is removed from us.  The total consumption of the lamb, by eating and fire, can point to the fact that the whole Christ was involved in suffering and death.

      It is possible that verses 15–20 refer to future observances of the festival.

      At the beginning of the barley harvest, before the new grain was used, it was necessary for hygienic reasons to remove all the old leavened meal (from which the leaven was taken).  So only unleavened cakes were eaten for seven days, after which the new crop could be used normally.  However, the immediate problem here was that the Hebrews were to leave in a hurry and the dough would not have time to rise (12:34).  So unleavened bread was the only solution.

      Leaven can be seen as a symbol of corruption as well as of diffusion by fermentation – see Matthew 16:6 and 1 Corinthians 5:6–8.

 

2.  12:29–51  The tenth plague and departure from Egypt

      The final plague fulfilled God’s first warning to Pharaoh (4:23).  So great was the distress that Pharaoh made an immediate plea to Moses.  Succoth (.= “cattle sheds”) was probably near Lake Timsah at the eastern end of the Wadi Tumilat.  The rough figure of 600,000 in 12:37 corresponds with the 603,550 in Numbers 1:46.  The 430 years of verse 40 corresponds with the rough figure of 400 in Genesis 15:13–14 (see also Galatians 3:17).  The command not to break a bone (verse 46) is related to Christ in John 19:33–36.

 

3.  13:1–16    The law of the first-born

      The first-born in Egypt had been slaughtered.  Here to commemorate the exodus the Hebrews are required to offer the firstborn of their flocks and herds to the LORD.  For the ass, an “unclean” animal, a substitute had to be offered, as also for a first-born son (cf. Numbers 18:15).

 

4.  13:17–14:31        Crossing the sea

      The shortest route to Canaan would have been along the coast road, but they took a southern route in order to go to Sinai.  Although it was longer, it avoided a confrontation with the Philistines (13:17).

      The Hebrew phrase yām sūp, translated “Red Sea”, is more probably “Sea of Reeds”, referring to a reed-covered swampland or lake, possibly the Sirbonian Sea.

      Pharaoh remained incurably obstinate and determined to overtake the Israelites in order to recapture them.  In the divine providence the same wind which created deliverance for Israel created disaster for the Pharaoh’s chariots and horses.  The purpose of God’s activity in this event is given in verse 31.

 

5.  15:1–21    The songs of Moses and Miriam

      It is worthwhile to read these out aloud as examples of early Hebrew poetry.

 

6.  Questions for discussion

      1. In what sense can we say that Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover Festival?

      2. Should Christians regard the first-born as belonging especially to God?

      3. What do the pillars of cloud and fire tell us about the character of God?

      4. Is the miracle of the exodus minimized if the crossing was not of the wide Red Sea but of a narrower lake or swamp?

 

Study 5:  Journey To Horeb

15:22–18:27

      Having crossed the sea the Israelites make their way to the holy mountain where Moses had already met God (chapter 3).  On the route the great company of at least two million was given food and drink both by natural means and by the supernatural intervention of God.  The people were also preserved from human enemies, the Amalekites.  Moses was reunited with his wife and sons who had stayed with Jethro, who appeared at an opportune time to give needy advice to Moses.  In this section we see man’s tendency to unbelief and God’s ability to provide for man’s need.  There is a summary account of this journey in Numbers 33.

 

1.  15:22–27  Water in the wilderness

      The tendency to complain so soon after a great deliverance is a sober comment on the human heart.

 

2.  16:1–36    Quails and manna

      The quails would have been migrating in large numbers and exhausted by their long journey they would have been easy to catch.  The miracle lies in the quantity and the time of their arrival.

      Manna probably refers to the excretion of an insect which lives in the bushes of this region of Sinai.  The excretion falls to the ground and hardens in the cool night air.  Arabs still call it “mann”.  Chemically it is sugars and pectin.  Coriander is a plant which produces a greyish-white edible seed with a spicy flavour.  Again the miracle lies in the quantity and the timing.

 

3  17:1–7       Water from the rock

      Here the strange and difficult conditions of life in the desert were again too much for the Israelites and they fell into argument amongst themselves.  The LORD, however, had pity on them.  “Massah” means trial by testing, and “Meribah” means trial by argument.

 

4.  17:8–16    Defeat of the Amalekites

      The Amalekites were tough and aggressive bedouins.  Not only did they despise those tribes which lived a settled existence as farmers, but they also jealously guarded the water-holes of the desert.  See Genesis 36:12 and Numbers 13:29.  From this time onwards Israel was in a virtually permanent state of war with them.  (Look up Amalekites in a concordance to follow up this theme.)

      Joshua appears in the narrative without any introduction as the second in command of Israel (24:13).

      The symbolism of Moses’ uplifted hands is not clear.  It could be a means of putting the Amalekites under the “ban” or “curse” (as in Genesis 14:22, the sign of an oath); alternatively it could be a way of making effectual prayer; or Moses can be seen as the actual channel of the divine power when his arms are raised.

      Jehovah-nissi means “the Lord is my banner”.

 

5.  18:1–27    The visit of Jethro

      As a result of the reunion of Moses with his family, he is advised by Jethro to introduce an order or class of lay judges.  They would deal with ordinary legal disputes.

      Gershom is mentioned in 18:3 and 2:22.  Eliezer (“God is my help”) is mentioned only in 18:3.

 

6.  Questions for discussion

      1. Does the readiness of the Israelites to argue among themselves have any application to Christians?  If so, what is it?

      2. Does God in his providence still supply our needs?  Give examples.

      3. If Amalekites were the persistent enemies of God’s people in ancient times, who or what are the persistent enemies today?

      4. Do too many Christian leaders and pastors appear unable to delegate responsibility?  Answer with reference to the advice of Jethro to Moses.

 

Study 6:  The Covenant

19:1–20:21

      Chapters 19 to 31 contain an account of God’s revelation to Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai.  There are three main elements in this account.  First, the LORD manifests or reveals himself as the living God; secondly, he makes a covenant with Israel; and thirdly he gives laws and instructions.  These three ingredients appear in this section.

 

1.  19:1–25    The LORD descends on Sinai

      The mountain is usually identified as Jebel Musa which is in the south of the Sinai Peninsula.  Jebel Qaterina, where there is a Greek monastery, is an alternative site.

      Moses was the mediator between God and Israel, assuming the roles of prophet, priest and national leader.

      The making of the covenant, 19:5–9, places Israel in a position of great privilege and responsibility.  Note the use of this passage in 1 Peter 2:9, and see also Isaiah 61:6.

      The descent of God in power and holiness on the mountain (verses 9–11) is announced, and this is to be recognized in practical terms, so that the people are taught of the holiness of God—there is to be bodily purity, sexual abstinence and refraining from touching the mountain.  God revealed himself in a way which resembled a volcano (smoke and fire) and a thunderstorm (thunder and lightning).

 

2.  20:1–17    The ten commandments

      Similar lists are found in Deuteronomy 5:6–21 and Exodus 34:14–26.

      Verse 2.  God is the living LORD and the deliverer of Israel.

      Verse 3.  Israel must worship only the LORD.

      Verses 4–6.  The LORD is Spirit and is not to be worshipped through material representation.  See the words of Jesus in John 4:24.

      Verse 7.  God’s name of the LORD is holy and is always to be used reverently.

      Verses 8–11.  The sabbath originated in God’s example (Genesis 2:2–3).  It provided a practical opportunity to rest (Deuteronomy 5:12–15) and a means of signifying the consecration of time to God by having a day specially for him.

      Verse 12.  When families lived together in what are now called “extended families”, aging parents were totally dependent on their children.  So the need to honour.  See also Ephesians 6:2 and Leviticus 19:32.

      Verse 13.  The verb “to murder” here refers not to all killings but only to premeditated murder and the private taking of revenge before a proper trial.

      Verse 14.  As a betrothed person was seen as virtually married this command covered betrothal as well as marriage.

      Verse 15.  Probably originally this referred to kidnapping for slavery, since general regard for property is required by the tenth commandment.  See further 22:1–4.

      Verse 16.  This primarily referred to wrongful behaviour in a law court which could result in a miscarriage of justice.  At the same time it covered the telling of lies (see Leviticus 19:16).

      Verse 17.  This relates to attitudes, not actions, and is at the root of the previous four commandments.

 

3.  20:18–21  The LORD on Sinai

      This section continues that of 19:1–25.  The Israelites were filled with fear at the presence of the LORD whose word to Moses they had been hearing.  They requested that for the future Moses only be given the law so that he could give it to them later.

 

4.  Questions for discussion

      1. To what extent is it right to think of modern shrines such as Lourdes in France as the equivalent in Christianity of holy places and mountains in Israelite religion?

      2. What responsibilities and privileges are contained in 19:5–6, and to what extent do they relate to Christians?

      3. Is a Christian obliged to keep all the ten commandments?

      4. Does God expect non-Christians to make the ten commandments the basis of morality for modern society?

 

Study 7:  The Book Of The Covenant

20:22–24:18

      On the basis of the words of Moses in 24:8 the section from 20:21 to 23:19 is often called the Book of the Covenant.  It contains a collection of laws just as the much briefer decalogue (the ten commandments).  However, unlike the decalogue, the Book prescribes penalties and uses the third person, “when a man . . .” most of the time.

      It is important to note that the Book begins with a section (20:22–26) on the worship of the LORD.  For Israel duty to human beings was based on a prior duty to God.

      Special note.  If time does not permit reading all the following sets of laws, then a selection of at least three should be made.

 

1.  20:22–26  The law of the altar

      Before the centralization of worship in Jerusalem under Solomon there were sanctuaries with altars in different places.  The whole or burnt offering meant that the animal was burnt on the altar.  Peace or shared offerings required only that certain parts were burnt (Leviticus 3:1–17) while the rest was eaten by the worshippers.

 

2.  21:1–11    Laws of slavery

      Slaves were acquired by the Israelites as prisoners of war and also as payment for debt.  Though slavery was part of the social order it was humane in contrast to other nations.

 

3.  21:12–17  Laws concerning capital offences

      Murder, kidnapping and the striking or cursing of a parent are dealt with here.  The taking of refuge (verse 13) was until a trial was conducted.  For cities of refuge see Deuteronomy 19:4ff. and Numbers 35:9ff.  As the family was the basic unit of the social order and needed special protection, tough laws covered the relationship of children to parents.

 

4.  21:18–32  Laws regarding bodily injury

      The main concern here is to provide rules for compensation.  It is worth noting that slaves had some rights.

 

5.  21:33–22:15        Laws regarding damage to property

      These presuppose that some evil intent led to the damage to or loss of property.  So the guilty are treated more severely than in 21:18–36.

 

6.  22:16–31  Assorted laws

      In this passage there is a return to the use of the second person (“You shall . . .” etc.).  Witches are treated severely, for not only do they work against God’s will but they introduce alien ideas and powers into Israelite society.  See further Deuteronomy 18: 10–14.

 

7.  23:1–9      Laws regarding conduct in legal cases

      These were for everyone from judges to those giving testimony.  Justice could only exist when this standard of behaviour was commonly accepted.

 

8.  23:10–19  Laws concerning the Sabbath and public worship

      Verses 10–13 deal with the sabbath, including a rest for the land.  Verses 14–19 deal with the minimum religious obligations for Israelite men.  They are to attend the three feasts: of unleavened bread (Deuteronomy 16:1–8) in spring; of weeks, or Pentecost (Deuteronomy 16:9–11; Acts 2:1) at the end of the corn harvest; and of tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:13–15 and John 7:2ff.) in early autumn.  Note that verse 19 is still a rule for Jewish cooking.

 

9.   23:20–-33          Epilogue to the Book

      Here the LORD anticipates the future history of Israel and promises his presence and help.

 

10.  24:1-18  The ceremony of the covenant

      The terms of the covenant have been given in the decalogue and the Book of the Covenant.  Blood was regarded as containing the life of a creature.  To throw the blood over the people and over the altar was to establish a living bond between the LORD and his people (verses 5–8).

      The eating of the meal (verses 9–11) in the presence of the LORD represented the acceptance of the covenant.  In the future any breaking of the laws was a breaking of the covenant, and had to be followed by repentance and appropriate sacrifice.

      The solemnity of the occasion is emphasized by the presence of the glory of the LORD (verses 16–18).

 

11.  Questions for discussion

      1. Is it true to claim that until people get their relationship with God right they will never get their morality and behaviour right?

      2. Are there lessons which modern people can learn from the laws in sections 4 or 5 or 7?

      3. On the analogy of minimum religious observance (23:14-19) should the church also have some minimum rule of attendance in order to keep a check on who its members are, and how many it has?

      4. What do all these laws have to tell us about the concern of God for the whole of life?

 

Study 8:  The Tabernacle

25:1–27:21

      From chapter 25 to 31 the emphasis is on the organization and administration of worship.  Detailed instructions for the making of the tabernacle (a portable temple), its furniture and priesthood are supplied.  It is therefore seen that in the covenant the LORD required standards not only of personal and social morality but also of ritual and ceremonial integrity.

 

1.  25:1–9      Preparations

      Israel was asked to give the materials for the tabernacle as an offering to the LORD, their deliverer.  The activity of worship is thus intimately related to unselfish giving.  If the people are to give, then it is the LORD who is the designer; it is to be built according to his instruction.  For the tabernacle see Numbers 1: 47–54.

 

2.  25:10–22  The ark (chest)

      This is not to be confused with Noah’s ark (boat)!  In fact the tabernacle was made before the ark (36:8ff.), but its place here reflects its central importance as the container of the tablets of law and as the symbol of the divine presence.  For its contents see Deuteronomy 10:2; 1 Kings 8:9 and Hebrews 9:4.

      The cherubim symbolized the heavenly beings or spirit messengers of God — Psalm 18:10; see also Psalm 104:3–4; Ezekiel 1; and Revelation 4.

      Older translations have “mercy-seat” for “cover” in verse 17.  In having this they are interpreting by reference to the sacrificial laws (see Leviticus 7; 17:11; 23:27; and 1 Chronicles 28:11).

 

3.  25:23–30  The table

      A table was required for the non-animal offerings and for the golden vessels which were used for libations.  For the “bread of the presence” (“showbread”) see Leviticus 24:5–9.

 

4.  25:31–40  The lampstand

      A lamp was necessary for the dark sanctuary, but it also came to symbolize that God is light.  The pattern is complicated, but what it looked like can be known from the portrayal of a lampstand (based on that in the temple of Herod) on the Arch of Titus in Rome.  See 1 Samuel 3:3 for its use in Eli’s day.

 

5.  26:1–37    The tabernacle

      This description falls into three parts.  Verses 1–14 describe the covering materials which consisted of an inner layer of ten hangings of woven linen on top of which were a series of eleven layers of goats’ hair.  These were normal materials for the tent of a nomad.  Verses 15–30 describe the woodwork which formed the frame on which the hangings lay.  Verses 31–35 describe the veil which divided the Holy of Holies (verse 33) from the main area into which the congregation would come.  Although it is made of expensive materials the tabernacle as here described is both movable and functional, which was what people on the move required.  So the tabernacle was a portable shrine for the presence of God which accompanied Israel.

 

6.  27:1–21    The altar, courtyard and night-light

      The movable altar was to be outside the tabernacle and is to be contrasted with the earthen and stone altars (20:24–25) intended for local use.  The courtyard measured 150 x 75 feet, a much larger area than the tabernacle.  The screening around it was 71 feet, too high to look over.  It is not clear whether the lamp here is the same as that in 25:31.

 

7.  Questions for discussion

      1. Does 25:1–9 have anything to teach us concerning the building of churches, especially in missionary areas abroad?

      2. Why did God give the Israelites the ark of the covenant?  Did they really need such a symbol of his presence?

      3. Should the architecture (e.g. Gothic) used in churches relate in a definite way to the worship offered by congregations?

      4. In the light of 26:31–35, what does Mark 15:38 mean?

 

Study 9:  The Priesthood

28:1–31:18

      The contents of these chapters relate specifically to the worship of the LORD in the tabernacle.  So there are elaborate instructions concerning the priests who will minister in the sanctuary, and these are followed by instructions concerning other subsidiary aspects of worship.

      Special note.  As there will be no study of chapters 35 to 40 which describe the actual fulfillment of God’s instructions concerning the tabernacle, you are urged to read these chapters as soon as possible after this study, so that you may see how God’s purpose was achieved.

 

1.  28:1–43    The vestments of the priests

      Although the title is not specifically used, Aaron is the high priest, and the priests are to be drawn only from his family.

      Aaron’s vestments are a breast-piece, an ephod (a loin cloth fastened by a belt), a mantle, a chequered tunic, a turban and a sash.  Their purpose is given in verse 2.  As the one who stood between God and Israel it was important that the dress of the high priest reflected the grandeur of God.  Also his vestments had both a practical purpose (e.g. in the breast-piece was a pouch for the Urim and Thummim, verse 30) and a symbolic purpose (e.g. the twelve precious stones of the breast-piece symbolized the twelve tribes of Israel).

      Urim and Thummim were probably two stones used in the sacred lot to determine God’s will.

 

2.  29:1–46    The consecration of priests

      This is a detailed account of the ceremonies by which the priests are to be installed into their office.  The purpose of the ritual is symbolically to cleanse the priest from all traces of sin so that he may approach the holy God and his altar.  The actual carrying out of these ceremonies is described in Leviticus 8:1–9:24.  Leviticus 1–7 has descriptions of the various sacrifices and is necessary reading for those who wish to understand the sacrificial system of the Old Testament.

      Five symbolic acts constitute the consecration of the priests.  There is washing (verse 4) to purify; investiture (verses 5–9) to give priestly functions; anointing (verse 7) to provide divine grace; sacrifice (verses 10–21) to make atonement for sin and to dedicate to God; and filling the hands with sacrificial meat and bread (verses 22–28) to invest with authority to perform sacrifices.

      Verses 38–46 make it clear that there is a daily need for the expiation of sin, dedication, thanksgiving and prayer.  So the daily sacrifices and worship must continue.  As this occurs the LORD is present with his people.

      It is worth noting that priests had a duty also to teach the law (Deuteronomy 33:10).

 

3.  30:1–31:18          An appendix of unrelated matters

      30:1–10.  Incense altar.

      30:11–16.  Census and poll-tax.

      30:17–21.  Laver (bronze basin).

      30:22–33.  Anointing oil.

      30:34–38.  Incense.

      31:1–11.  Appointment of craftsmen.

      31:12–18.  Sign of the sabbath.

 

4.  Questions for discussion

      1. If all Christians are priests to God (1 Peter 2:9) and the best adornment is spiritual and of the character (1 Peter 3:3–4; 5:5), what relevance do chapters 28 and 29 have for Christians today?

      2. To what extent, if at all, should the dress of clergy (or those who lead worship) attempt to symbolize the character of God or produce reverence for God?

      3. Consider the use of Urim and Thummim in 1 Samuel 14:41.  Is there a place for similar sacred lots for Christians who are seeking guidance?

      4. It has often been claimed that there was a tremendous amount of good meat wasted in the daily offerings of the tabernacle and Temple.  Is there a good answer to this claim?  If so what is it?

 

Study 10:  Apostasy And Renewal

32:1–34:35

      These chapters contain a series of incidents concerning Israel after the receiving of the laws and instructions from the LORD at Sinai. They begin with apostasy and end with renewal.

 

1.  32:1–35    The golden bull

      In the absence of Moses, who was still on Sinai, the weak-minded people clamoured for visible gods and made an image of a young bull.  The use of the bull as a symbol of reproductive power and strength was found in cultures from Sinai to southern India.  Probably Aaron built a rough altar of earth.  Following the sacrifices there was sexual immorality.

      Moses was told by God of this apostasy and he made intercession for Israel.  The LORD responded, and did not immediately pour out his wrath and judgement.  But Moses was very displeased with Aaron and the people.  His breaking of the tablets of the law was not merely the result of anger, it was also a ceremonial and symbolic act showing the abandoning of the covenant by Israel.

      The tribe of Levi which rallied to support the LORD and Moses was Moses’ own tribe.  They came to be regarded as a priestly tribe (Deuteronomy 33:8–11).  The prayer of Moses in verses 30–35 deserves careful study.  All the people who were involved in the apostasy died in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 1:35).

 

2.  33:1–23    God’s presence with Israel

      Here are four separate incidents all of which are concerned to illustrate how God was present with his sinful people when they left Sinai.

      (i) 33:1–6  An expression of mourning.  In 32:3–4 the Israelites had removed ornaments to make an idol.  Here they did the same as a sign of mourning after hearing the harsh sentence of the LORD.

      (ii) 33:7–11  The tent of the presence.  As the tabernacle had not yet been made, Moses provided a tent at which people could meet the LORD.  Moses spoke to God “face to face”, that is directly (see Numbers 12:8).  No other person in the history of Israel was given such a privilege.  Look up Numbers 12:6–8 and Deuteronomy 34:10.

      (iii) 33:12–17  Moses in prayer.  The dialogue here is concerned with the presence of God with Israel as the people leave the holy mountain where God has made himself known.  All the LORD has promised so far is his angel (23:20–23; 32:34; 33:2), but Moses persuaded him to make his own presence known to Israel.

      (iv) 33:18–23  A vision of God’s glory.  For the name of God see also 3:15 and 34:5.  Moses could not possibly have seen God, for no human can bear that glorious sight.  But he experienced the presence of God as no other did under the Old Covenant; this experience is described in material terms, for these are the terms of ordinary language.  For what God is like we look to Christ (John 14:9).

 

3.  34:1–35    The renewal of the covenant

      Moses is given the new stone tablets (verses 1–4), hears God pronounce his name of the LORD (verses 5–9), hears the terms of the covenant (verses 10–28) and reflects God’s glory in his face (verses 29–35).

      The tablets were to be kept in the ark (25:16).

      For the name of God, see 3:5 and 33:19.

      For the feasts of 34:22, see 23:16 and Deuteronomy 16:9–10.  Note that the terms of the covenant are similar to but not identical with those of Exodus 20.

      Paul’s use of 34:29–35 (the face of Moses) in 2 Corinthians 3:7–18 should be noted.

 

4.  Questions for discussion

      1. What can we learn of intercessory prayer from the prayers of Moses in this section?

      2. Is there a contradiction between 33:11 and 33:20?

      3. Is it helpful today to speak of the LORD in human terms, with a face and hand and back (33:18–23)?

      4. How does Paul understand and use 34:29–35 in 2 Corinthians 3:7–18?

 

 

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