Sunday, May 30, 2010

Exodus 24

The covenant ratified (vs. 1-8)—There is a brief interlude in the explanation of the law to once again demonstrate the glory of the Lord. Jehovah calls Moses, Aaron, the latter’s two sons Nadab and Abihu, and 70 elders of Israel (the perfect spiritual number) up to the mountain to “worship from afar” (v. 1). Only Moses may approach Him (v. 2). Before they do this, Moses informs the people of “all the words of the Lord and the judgments.” The people agree to obey Jehovah (v. 3). Moses writes down everything Jehovah has told him so far, then builds an altar and twelve pillars “according to the twelve tribes of Israel” (v. 4). “Young men” are sent to offer burnt offerings (v. 5); the Levitical priesthood has yet to be established. Moses then takes the blood of the offerings, puts half of it “in basins” and half of it he sprinkles on the altar and on the people (vs. 6-8). The people once again declare their loyalty to the Lord. The blood sprinkled on them ratifies that covenant, and Moses let them know it: “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words" (v. 8). The people have made a commitment to God, just as He had made a promise to them. He certainly will fulfill His end of the deal; they will not.

The glory of the Lord (vs. 9-18)—The Law of Moses was a very sacred thing, of course, and the reverence the Israelites were to have for it is emphasized by the Lord’s appearance on the mount again. After ratifying the covenant, Moses takes Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the 70 elders up the mountain (v. 9); we learn subsequently that Joshua went, too (v. 13). They all “saw the God of Israel”—only in a manifestation which He allowed, of course—but it was certainly an impressive sight: “And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity” (v. 10). And that was only what was under His feet! Verse 11 is not easy of explanation. The Lord did not lay his hand on any of those who came upon the mountain, and “they ate and drank” (v. 11). Perhaps He wanted them not to be afraid, though reverence and respect were certainly demanded. Again, only Moses was allowed to approach Jehovah, and He would give Moses more of the law which He had written (v. 12). Interestingly, Joshua was with Moses (v. 13), but we don’t know exactly how far he went, for the text says “Moses went up to the mountain of God” (v. 13). Before he left, Moses told the elders to wait for “us” until they returned. Aaron and Hur (Miriam’s husband) were to serve as judges in Moses’ staid until he returned (v. 14). As Moses ascended the mountain, “a cloud covered the mountain” (v. 15), representing “the glory of the Lord” (v. 16). This cloud covered the mountain six days (v. 16). On the seventh day, the Lord called to Moses “out of the midst of the cloud,” where the latter remained forty days and nights (v. 18). “The sight of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel” (v. 17). It was an awesome, intimidating sight, no doubt, and it was intended to be. Jehovah was hoping to inspire obedience in the people with this mighty show of His glory, but how soon people forget. Indeed, it will be during this forty day period that they will build the golden calf. More on that in a subsequent chapter.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Exodus 23

Honesty and justice (vs. 1-9)—Several laws dealing with honest behavior:
--v. 1—No rumor-mongering or false witnessing;
--v. 2—don’t follow the evil multitudes, nor testify in a way that perverts justice;
--v. 3—just as they were not supposed to show partiality to the rich, don’t do it to the poor, either; justice is justice;
--vs. 4-5—“love your enemy”; if there is a way you can help him (the example of restoring and aiding his animal is used) then do it;
--v. 6—is the opposite of verse 3; don’t pervert the judgment of the poor;
--v. 7—stay “far” away from any false matter; “do not kill the innocent and righteous” may be in regard to judicial matters, given the context;
--v. 8—don’t take a bribe; that leads to a perversion of justice;
--v. 9—don’t cheat a non-Israelite; JUSTICE IS JUSTICE.

The Sabbath rests (vs. 10-13)—The people were to work the land for six years, and to let it lie fallow the seventh (vs. 10-11). This is not bad agricultural practice, which the Lord certainly knew, and the Israelites might have known as well. There are indications later in the Scripture that the people didn’t do this. Part of the rationale for this was to help the poor (v. 11). Israel had no governmental welfare system, a scheme which has nearly always been abused in history. Benevolence is not virtuous unless done voluntarily, and that is what the Lord expected of Israel (and us). The command to not labor on the Sabbath is repeated here again, no doubt for emphasis (v. 12). Don’t even speak of other gods (v. 13).

The three major feasts (vs. 14-19)—The Passover has already been detailed for the people at length, but is mentioned here again, as well as the two other major feasts the children of Israel were to celebrate. Three times a year all males were to go to Jerusalem for these feasts. The Passover was to be celebrated in the month of Abib, the first month of the year (v. 15). It’s also called the Feast of Unleavened Bread (v. 15). Fifty days later, they were to celebrate the Feast of Harvest (Pentecost), “the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field” (v. 16), and then “at the end of the year,” they were to observe the Feast of Ingathering, or Feast of Tabernacles as it was more popularly called. Again, only the males were required to attend, but by Jesus’ time, females usually went as well. Leavened bread was not to be offered with any sacrifice, and the fat of the sacrifice was to be disposed of before the next morning. There will be more details of all this later in the Law. The section closes with the interesting admonition: “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk” (v. 19). Apparently this was a practice of the pagan peoples around them that the Lord did not want imitated.

Led by an angel (vs. 20-33)—The Lord once again encourages the people to be obedient. If they do, they will be blessed and their enemies will fall before them. An angel will lead them “into the place which I have prepared” (v. 20). Obey Him (v. 21), for, in effect, he speaks for the Lord. If they do obey him, the Lord would be “an enemy to your enemies” (v. 22). The wicked people of the land would be “cut…off” (v. 23). Part of the obedience demanded was not to bow down to the pagan gods, but to “utterly overthrow them” (v. 24). Serve the Lord and He would provide them food, protect them from illness, and make them fertile (vs. 25-26). He would confuse their enemies and drive them out (vs. 27-28). It’s a little difficult to believe that the “hornets” of verse 28 is literal; God a horde of stinging Israelites would plague the Canaanites. Verse 29 is significant. The Lord told them that He would not drive the Canaanites out of the land all in one year; somebody needed to work the land until Israel could apportion it among the tribes. So the pagan nations would be removed “little by little” (v. 30). The boundaries of the land are once again stated, as is the command not to make a covenant with the people of Canaan, nor serve their gods (vs. 32-33). “For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you" (v. 33). Jehovah repeats this no doubt because of its importance, and for emphasis. The Israelites were almost assuredly still a polytheistic people, and the Lord wanted that feature to be cleaned out of them. There is only one God, and they needed to learn that and serve only Him.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Exodus 22

Laws of restitution (vs. 1-15)—These laws are simple, fair, and just. Again, keep in mind that the Lord is dealing with a primitive people here, and bringing them out of a civil darkness that is unknown in most of the modern world (largely due to God’s laws in the Old and New Testament). There are laws that seem harsh to us, but they were necessary to instruct and control this semi-barbaric people.

A quick rundown of the laws:
--if a man steals and ox or sheep, if he slaughters or sells it, he must pay back five oxen or four sheep (v. 1);
--if a thief is killed breaking and entering, there is no punishment for his killer (v. 2);
--if the thief is caught with the goods, he must make full restitution; if he didn’t have anything, he was to be sold into slavery (v. 3); an ox or donkey was to be restored double (v. 4);
--if a man’s animal is caught grazing in somebody else’s field, then he must give the best of his own field to the other owner (v. 5);
--an arsonist must make restitution (v. 6), though the amount is not stated;
--if a man asks another to safe-keep some goods, if those goods are stolen, the thief (if found), had to pay double (v. 7); if the thief wasn’t found, then the issue was to be decided in court (v. 8);
--if there is a dispute between two men over ownership of certain goods, that was to be decided by the judges, too; the loser paid double (v. 9);
--if man A safe-keeps some livestock for man B, and the animal is lost somehow (“no one seeing it”), then man A can take “an oath of the Lord” and not have to pay for the lost animal (vs. 10-11); but if the animal is stolen, he has to make restitution—it was in his safe-keeping (v. 12). If the animal was killed by a beast, he is not held guilty of that. Such things happened all the time (v. 13).
--if man A borrows from man B, and the thing borrowed becomes destroyed somehow, man A must pay for it (v. 14), unless the owner was present (v. 15).

These are the basic laws of restitution. They are wise and proper.

Sundry other laws (vs. 16-31)—We don’t like some of these, but again, God is dealing with a different people here who needed to learn some valuable lessons, especially about purity and service to Him. So some of the penalties are strict.

Here is a brief summary of each:
--if a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed, he must marry her. If her father utterly refuses to give him to her, then the father must pay money to keep his daughter (vs. 16-17). The idea here is to protect the woman, of course. If a man seduces a woman, he better be prepared to marry her. This law is not for rape; it’s for deception. A man who deceived a young woman paid for it by having to marry her. Or, the father might release him by paying the dowry;
--a sorceress (witch) was to be put to death (v. 18). She lured men away from God. This is an Old Testament law, not a New Testament command, but some ignorants over the last 2,000 years have used it judicially to kill suspected witches;
--bestiality was a capital crime (v. 19), as was sacrificing to any god but Jehovah (v. 20);
--widows and orphans (the helpless) must not be mistreated; oppression of the needy made God very angry (vs. 22-24);
--the poor were not to be exploited; moneylenders could not charge them interest; if his cloak was taken as collateral, it was to be returned before sundown so that he could be protected from the cold night (vs. 25-27). The “poor” aren’t defined here, but it was expected that the people would be able to recognize them or judge properly. Human relations were (are) very important to God, and it was expected that mercy be shown to the less fortunate. After all, He had been merciful to all of Israel, rich and poor;
--verse 28 is a bit ambiguous. The NKJV has “God,” the ASV and KJV has “gods.” The latter is probably correct, given the rest of the verse; “gods” here means “magistrates,” not foreign deities. Authority was to be respected, in religion, the home, and government;
--of their farm produce and sons, they were to give God the first, the best, and without delay (v. 29). It would be nice if God’s people honored that principle today;
--the same principle was true of animals, though the babe was allowed seven days with its mother (v. 30); this was perhaps for the health of the mother, or the full development of the young one. The Romans didn’t consider a lamb pure or clean before the eighth day, nor a calf before the thirtieth;
--and holiness meant not eating any animal killed by another; that was to be fed to scavengers (v. 31). Again, purity is no doubt the goal here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Exodus 21

Treatment of male slaves (vs. 1-6)—Slavery was very common in the ancient world; indeed, it wasn’t until the 19th century of our era that it began to be looked upon with disfavor. In most places, slavery was very brutal. The Israelites had it, but God regulated it. A Jew could enslave another Jew for only six years; he had to be released in the seventh (v. 2). If he was alone when he became a slave (not married), he was to be freed like that, even if he married while a slave. However, if he was married when he became a slave, he could take his wife with him when emancipated (vs. 3-4). Anything he acquired while a slave belonged to his master (v. 4). Interestingly, the slave had the option to remain with his master for life; instructions are given concerning that in verses 5 and 6. This probably happened frequently when the slave married during his tenure as a slave. Notice that such a slave was to serve his master “forever” (v. 6)—obviously, only until the end of life. The word “forever” in Hebrew does not always mean eternal duration, and there are a lot of people who need to understand that.

Interestingly, the ASV, KJV, and NKJV all use the word “servant,” and not “slave.” The New American Standard Version and the English Standard Version use “slave,” and this is more accurate. These people were slaves, involuntary servitude, not servants, a term which implies voluntary service and thus the right to leave at any time.

Treatment of female slaves (vs. 7-11)—Even though the modern mindset would not approve of the Law of Moses’ treatment of women, the Lord does regulate behavior relating to the opposite sex. They were protected against the most egregious treatment of men. A man could sell his daughter into slavery (v. 7), and that might happen under great financial stress; she wasn’t permitted to leave after six years, as were male slaves. However, if her master had betrothed her to himself (promised to marry her), but was not pleased with her, she could be bought back by her family; he could not sell her to anybody else (v. 8), “since he has dealt deceitfully with her,” i.e., promised to marry her but didn’t. If she became his daughter-in-law, then he must treat her as he would one of his own daughters (v. 9). If the master had married the female slave, but took another wife, then the slave-wife had the same privileges as the other wife (v. 10). If he refuses to follow any of these regulations, then the female slave was to be set free (v. 11). These laws were extremely progressive for the mid-second millennium before Christ.

“An eye for an eye” (vs. 12-27)—The next section deals with matters of violence, and the basic principle is “an eye for an eye.” But there were mitigating circumstances that allow for leniency. Murder was punishable by death (vs. 12, 14). Involuntary manslaughter, however, was not a capital crime, but still must be punished; “cities of refuge” were set up where the killer could flee. He couldn’t stay home (v. 13). Striking or cursing one’s parents was a capital crime (vs. 15, 17); parental authority was to be respected—“honor thy father and mother.” Such was/is very important to God because He intended the family to be the foundation of civil society. The current collapse of American morals and decency can be traced, to a great degree, to the degeneration of the family. Kidnapping was a crime to be punished with death (v. 16). If two men fought and one of them was incapacitated, but not killed, then the one who injured the other would pay “for the loss of his time” (v. 19). If a man beat his slave (male or female) and killed him (her), he “shall surely be punished,” though the law doesn’t say how (v. 20). If the slave lived a day or two, then the master was not to be punished; it was assumed that the slave must have died for some other cause (v. 21). Notice, that the slave “is his property.” “Natural rights” is a modern concept, not an ancient one, though Cicero, the great Roman orator, argued for them. That will be well over 1,000 years after the Law of Moses, however. If a woman was hurt by a man during a fight, and gave birth prematurely, then if she and the baby came to no harm, the offender would pay a fine (v. 22). “But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (vs. 23-25). The “eye for an eye” judicial ruling was not peculiar to the Law of Moses; it had existed before, and was simply endorsed by God as a fair and just system. If it was a slave who was injured (an eye or tooth is knocked out), then they were allowed their freedom as a result (vs. 26-27).

Culpability for one’s property (vs. 28-36)—Hebrews were also responsible for any damage done by animals under their ownership. The example of an ox is used in these verses. If an ox gored someone to death, it was to be stoned and the flesh not eaten (v. 28). The owner would not be held accountable, unless “the ox tended to thrust with its horn in times past” and the owner refused to do anything about it. Then the owner, too, was put to death (v. 29). Or he could redeem his life by paying a fine (v. 30). If somebody else’s ox gored a slave, then the owner was to pay 30 shekels of silver. These are some examples of culpability, which is the principle established in these verses, and the last few verses give a couple more incidents thereof (vs. 33-36).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Exodus 20

The Ten Commandments (vs. 1-18)—Here we get into the Law of Moses proper. Most of the rest of Exodus, yea, most of the rest of the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) will be a unveiling of the Jewish constitution, which was a theocracy, or “rule by God.” At least that was the way it was intended. Eventually, Israel will reject God as its king, but that wasn’t the way it was intended. The Law had ceremonial and moral laws, and is related in detail.

It begins with its most famous message: the Ten Commandments. The first four deal with man’s relationship to God; the last six man’s relationship with humanity. God, rightfully, comes first. The ten laws are as follows, with comments as necessary.

1. “No other gods before Me” (v. 3). He is the only God anyway, and He certainly brooked no higher allegiance than to Himself. Israel had been surrounded in Egypt by pagan gods; they needed to learn to serve the one true God, and Him alone.

2. No graven images (vs. 4-6). Other peoples worshipped carved images; God would not allow such, for it smacked too much of paganism. His justice is far reaching (v. 5), as is His mercy (v. 6).

3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain (v. 7). This refers to false oaths, cursing, or any flippant use of God’s name. We must revere God completely, and to use Him name in a common or thoughtless manner reveals a condition of heart that needs to be corrected.

4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy (vs. 8-11). No work on the Sabbath. Interestingly, there is no mention here of Saturday being a day of worship, only a day of rest. God “made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day” (v. 9), and He instructed the Jews to do the same. It was to be “hallowed” by Israel (v. 11). The Christian day of “rest” is Sunday, the day the Lord Jesus arose from the dead. There is no command in the New Testament not to work on Sunday, but there is instructions to worship on that day. It would be nice to have respect for that day and give it totally to the Lord, but in our materialistic, worldly society, such simply isn’t the rule any more.

The next six commandments concern man’s relations with man.

5. Honor your father and mother (v. 12). Men must learn to respect authority. If one does not respect the authority of parents, he most likely will not respect the authority of God.

6. Do not murder, which is the meaning of the KJV’s “kill” (v. 13). Life is sacred, and given by God. Jesus will show, in the Sermon on the Mount, how obedience to these commands must come from the heart; eliminate hatred, and murder will cease (Matt. 5:21-22). And “love thy neighbor” will be clearly stated later in the Law of Moses. Thus, the attitude of heart described by Jesus is implicit in the commands given here.

7. Do not commit adultery. Trust is essential for any marriage to succeed.

8. Do not steal. Respect for private property—a cornerstone of any free peoples. It isn’t yours, you didn’t earn it, it doesn’t belong to you, don’t take it; such constitutes stealing. Excessive taxation and redistribution of income actually constitutes “theft.” The rich can be guilty of breaking this command, too, by oppressing and extorting from those less wealthy than themselves. This is the claim of the modern liberal. It keeps him in power.

9. Do not bear false witness, i.e., lie. The proper use of the tongue is essential in honorable human relations.

10. Do not covet. Envy, jealousy, and resentment at what others have lead to strife, wars, and conflict. Be satisfied with what is yours.

These are not the only commandments in the Law of Moses, of course, but they are the cornerstone in our association with God and man. If Israel (and us) were to practice the principles and edicts found in these ten laws, then certainly there would be very little sin and iniquity in society. It isn’t obedience to the Ten Commandments that is creating the world’s problems today.

I do believe it is worthy of note that only nine of the ten commandments are in force today. We are not expected to keep the Sabbath. That ceremonial law was abolished at the cross, as was all the Law of Moses. We do not obey the Ten Commandments today because they are binding on us; we honor these laws because all of them (save the Sabbath) are also found in the New Testament.

The people fear (vs. 18-21)—The awesome power of God was still on display (v. 18), and “when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.” They wanted Moses to intercede for them (v. 19). Moses told them not to fear, but there was a purpose behind these divine demonstrations: “God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin” (v. 20). There is a direct correlation between fearing (reverencing, respecting God) and not sinning. The people kept their distance while Moses approached Jehovah (v. 22).

Instructions concerning the altar (vs. 22-26)—The people were to make burnt offering to God. Israel was largely an agricultural society, thus their “wealth” consisted of their flocks and herds. The altar upon which the sacrifices were made was, in and of itself, of no real importance, thus God didn’t want them to waste time—at the moment—constructing an elaborate one. That would change when He gave instructions concerning the tabernacle and temple. But at the moment, a simply altar was sufficient. The idea in verse 26 “Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it” not only concerned modesty, but was a rebuke of pagan idolatry, the priests of which built their temples, etc. on elevated sites, thinking that height meant closeness to their gods.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Exodus 19

Camping before Mt. Sinai (vs. 1-2)—The people had been gone from Egypt three months when they arrived before the famed mount where they would receive their law. The Arabs call the mountain “the mount of Moses.” Sinai means “bush” or “bushes,” so designated, no doubt, for the appearance of God to Moses in the burning bush. Another name for the mountain, which actually has two peaks, is Horeb.

“A special treasure” (vs. 3-6)—The Lord called Moses up to the mountain (v. 3), and gave him a message to deliver to the people. Reminding them again of what He had done for them in Egypt (v. 4), Jehovah then sets forth the conditional promise that if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (vs. 5-6). Nearly all of God’s promises are conditional; we obey, He blesses. Well, He’s good enough to bless people even when they don’t obey—He sends the rain and sunshine on the just and the unjust (Mt. 5:45), but to be a “special treasure” requires submission to His will.

The people accept Jehovah’s words (vs. 7-8)—Moses transmitted the message to the people, and they responded “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (v. 8). Which was a bunch of hooey, this group was never obedient to God.

Consecrating the people (vs. 9-15)—Yet, the awesome events on top of the mountain did put a fright into the people. The Lord came to Moses in a thick cloud—clouds are often associated with a “coming” of the Lord; part of this awe-inspiring appearance was that the people might have greater faith in God and Moses (v. 9). Yet, when Jehovah was near, consecration was necessary, and He told Moses to command the Israelites to prepare themselves, for on the third day “the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people” (v. 11). They would not literally see Him, of course, but they would know, by the majesty of the happenings, that He was there. No one was to come near the mountain: “Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death” (v. 12), “whether man or beast” (v. 13). The people were to wash their clothes (v. 14), symbolizing inner purification, and not “come near your wives” (vs. 14-15). Mental, physical, and spiritual preparation before the holiness of Jehovah. I wonder how well we prepare ourselves before we approach the Lord every Sunday.

The Holy Mountain (vs. 16-25)—And indeed, “on the third day, in the morning…there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled” (v. 16). The people stood before the mountain (v. 17), which was encompassed “in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire” (v. 18). The whole mountain “quaked greatly” (v. 18). It must have been an breathtaking, thrilling sight. The Lord once again called Moses to Him (v. 20), and told him again to warn the people to stay away from the mountain (vs. 22-24). Humans cannot touch the holy things of God without His approval. It would be nice to see such reverence and fear of the Lord today. And we should be very well aware of the awesome majesty of His power, that He brooks no disobedience or flippancy in His presence. This scene at Mt. Sinai, at the appearance of the Lord, was indeed a frightening one for the children of Israel, and it should be for us. Tragically, they did not learn from it, and most people today don’t seem to have the proper reverence when they approach God, either. I wonder sometimes what the Lord thinks when people be-bop into worship services dressed in tennis shoes, shorts, and T-shirts, talking about every worldly thing they can think of up to the very second before the worship period begins.. Is that really respectful of God? Our outward actions are a manifestation of what is truly in our hearts. Which wins, reverence or our own comfort and convenience?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Exodus 18

Jethro visits Moses (vs. 1-6)—Moses had sent his wife, Zipporah, and two sons (Gershom and Eliezer) back to Midian to visit with her father, Jethro. (v. 2), who is called Reuel in Exodus 2:18. That’s probably his proper name, which Jethro was his official title. He was a priest of Midian, which would indicate his worship of their gods. The fact that Moses lived 40 years with him doesn’t seem to have affected the Hebrew’s faith in Jehovah. In this chapter, Jethro comes for a visit, bringing Moses’ wife and two sons with him (v. 6).

Jethro and Moses converse (vs. 7-12)—Moses goes out to meet his family (v. 7), and there is a joyful reunion, thought, interestingly, Zipporah and the children aren’t mentioned. Again, that can be accounted for by the strict patriarchal society of the day; women and children weren’t mentioned unless there was some overriding importance in doing so. Moses tells Jethro all that the Lord had done in Egypt (v. 8), and Jethro rejoiced to hear it (v. 9). Verse 11 records an interesting statement of the priest: “’Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.’" Notice: “greater than all the gods.” Jethro apparently wasn’t prepared to admit that Jehovah was the only god, which is not too surprising, since he had been a priest of foreign gods all his life. But it was a significant admission that the Hebrew god was the greatest. Whether Moses’ father-in-law was ever converted to monotheism is unknown. He was willing to offer sacrifices to Jehovah, however (v. 12).

Jethro’s judicial advice (vs. 13-27)—Moses was handling all judicial matters by himself. Anybody that had a complaint came directly to him. Well, with the huge multitude of Israelites in the wilderness, this was a near impossible situation, and Jethro recognized it and gave Moses some advice: “Select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you” (vs. 21-22). This multi-tiered judicial system, with Moses acting as the “Supreme Court,” was wise for a large body of people, and Moses recognized it. It took a tremendous load off of him. Moses allowed the lower “rulers” to judge “the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves” (v. 26). Jethro soon after left and went back home (v. 27).

Friday, May 7, 2010

Exodus 17

The people complain—again (vs. 1-7)—For the fourth straight chapter, the children of Israel find something to gripe about. They had moved on from the Wilderness of Sin, “according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim.” But there was no water there. As if the Lord didn’t know that. But the people demand Moses give them water, to which he responds, “Why do you tempt the Lord?” (v. 2). They had seen Him provide water and food for them before, but it’s as if He had never done anything for them. Moses takes the complaint to the Lord, and He, patient with Israel again, provides the water they need. Verse 7 says “they tempted the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” What did He have to do to prove that He was with them? Was there anything He could finally do to convince them? The answer to that will actually be “no,” these people who left Egypt will never have true faith in Jehovah.

The battle with Amalek (vs. 8-16)—A group of people called the Amalekites attacked Israel at Rephidim. Amalek was a grandson of Esau, so actually kin to the Israelites. But there was never any harmony between the two peoples. The battle here had a strange twist. Moses stood on top of a hill with Aaron and Hur, who may have been Moses’ brother-in-law, the information is not clear. During the battle, every time Moses held up his arms, Israel started winning. When his arms got fatigued and dropped, Amalek gained the advantage (v. 11). So Moses sat on a stone and Aaron and Hur supported his arms, and Israel finally won the battle. The significance of Moses’ hands being in the air is obscure—a supplication to God? It’s not clear, but whatever the rationale, it worked.

The Lord was pretty disgusted with the Amalekites; their close kinship to Israel should have produced filial support, not war, so in verse 14, “the LORD said to Moses, ‘Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.’” Interestingly, some 400 years later, the Lord said to King Saul, “'I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’” (I Sam. 15:2-3). Notice it was 400 years before God decided to destroy the Amalekites for their attack on Israel in Exodus 17. The Lord works in His own time. Saul botched the job (read I Samuel 15), but David finished off Amalek about a generation later (I Sam. 30:1-17).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Exodus 16

The third complaint (vs. 1-3)—The children of Israel moved on from Elim and came to a location called the Wilderness of Sin (v. 1). Their food supply must have run short because they complain “against Moses and Aaron” (v. 2), the third time in six weeks that they have murmured. Their complaint was really against the Lord, of course (v. 8). After all He had done for them, after all He had shown them, they still demonstrate virtually no faith in Him. Yet He remains patient with them—for awhile.

The promise of provisions (vs. 4-8)—The Lord told Moses that he would “rain bread from heaven” (v. 4). The people were to go out for six days and collect it, and on the sixth day, take twice as much (vs. 4-5). This was a “test” to see “whether they will walk in My law or not” (v. 4), i.e., will they trust and obey Him. The Lord would also provide them meat that night (but not every day). This would again teach the people something they seemed determined not to accept: “the LORD has brought you out of the land of Egypt” (v. 6). The “complaint” was again, in one sense, reasonable; the people needed food. But the lack of faith was again, unreasonable, given all they had seen Jehovah do for them.

The glory of the Lord (vs. 9-12)—The “glory of the Lord appeared” to the people in a cloud. Clouds are frequently part of God’s manifestation; Jesus will come again with the clouds (Revelation 1:5), and His judgments are also figuratively accompanied by clouds (Is. 19:1; Matt. 24:29-31). At this occasion (v. 11), Jehovah told Moses that He had heard the people’s complaint and would provide for them. Once more, Jehovah was trying to convince them that “I am the Lord your God” (v. 12).

“What is it?” (vs. 13-21)—That evening, as promised, the people had meat in the form of quail (v. 13), and the next morning, when the dew lifted, there “was a small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground” (v. 15). The people “said to one another, ‘What is it?’” (v. 15). It was a bread the Lord provided for them. They ended up calling it “manna,” which means “what” (v. 31). They were told how much to take—an omer per person. There is some disagreement as to exactly how much an omer was; verse 36 says it was “one-tenth of an ephah” (does that help you?). An omer was apparently between a half-gallon to three quarts. Regardless it should have been enough for the people. Moses commanded them not to leave any of it till the next day (v. 19). Of course, some of them did and “it bred worms and stank” (v. 20). But it was there for them each day they needed it.

The Sabbath day (vs. 22-31)—The Law of Moses had not yet been given, of course, but here the Lord commands observance of the seventh day, “a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord” (v. 23). The people were to cook what food they would need on the day before, and gather enough manna for two days, something He had told them already in verse 5. Naturally, “some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none” (v. 27). This angered the Lord, and He repeated that He had provided for them enough on sixth day: “See! For the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day" (v. 29). So the Sabbath became a day of rest for the children of Israel (v. 30). Verse 31 tells us what manna looked like and what it consisted of: “it was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.” Whether the Lord provided them manna every day for the next 40 years is unknown. Perhaps they received the manna only when they needed it. The people did have their flocks and herds, of course, but they certainly wouldn’t want to thin those out too much.

The preservation of manna for posterity (vs. 32-36)—The Lord commanded Moses to set aside an omer of the manna, put it in a pot, and lay “it up before the Testimony” (v. 35). It would be put in the ark of the covenant once it was built. It would be there for hundreds of years as a perpetual reminder of what the Lord had done for them in Egypt and the wilderness.