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The book of Exodus covers the time from the death of Joseph to the just after Moses need a second set of stone tablets. It picks up where Genesis left off, with Israel safely settled in Egypt. Though from the beginning to the end the narrative covers about 430 years of history, everything past chapter two only covers two years, from just before to just after Israel leaves Egypt. No other Old Testament book is quoted more by the New Testament writers.

As with Genesis, and in keeping with ancient near east tradition, this historical account is not the dry list of facts and timestamps western history tends to use, but a colorful narrative that puts the reader into the story. One of the key points we learned in the Genesis studies will continue in Exodus: that God has purposes and plans for things that from our perspective make no sense at all. Faith is easy when things go well and seem rational to us, but faith is proved genuine when it endures through trying circumstances.

Exo. 1

The text really begins with verse 8, where time has passed and a new Pharaoh arises who has no regard for Joseph. He sees the rapidly-growing nation of foreigners as a possible fifth column should Egypt be attacked, so he enslaves them and treats them harshly. This seems like a poor strategy, since it’s such treatment that is much more likely to motivate treason against the host country. And so it turned out to be; not due to attack from other countries, but to the fact that the more Pharaoh oppressed Israel, the more it prospered.

In verse 15 Pharaoh decides to ignore that pesky bit of cause-and-effect and try another method of oppression: He orders the Hebrew midwives to kill all the male babies, apparently before the mothers see them alive, based on what the midwives say when confronted by Pharaoh for not obeying him.

But notice that the midwives use at least a partial cover story: that since Hebrew women are strong and vigorous (likely another unintended consequence of the work they were forced to do), they went from labor to delivery much faster than the Egyptian women, so the boys were already born by the time they’d arrive. The fact that Pharaoh buys this excuse is what seems to indicate that it was too late to kill the boys once the mothers saw that they weren’t stillborn. As Constable’s notes point out, this plan is the only thing that miscarried.

For their bravery, God blesses the midwives with children of their own. Many Christians today believe that a woman disobeying a man is a terrible sin, but God is in the habit of treating women of valor like the adult human beings they are. Meanwhile, Pharaoh decides to dispense with the inconvenience of midwives and just orders his people to take any Hebrew male infant they find and throw it into the river, likely the Nile. But there is no mention of the people of Egypt actually carrying out this command, and this is further supported in the next chapter.

Exo. 2

In the Genesis study we learned that Levi was a wicked and violent man who was passed over as an elder son of Jacob. But we also learned that God can and will restore and reinstate people if they genuinely repent, or if they don’t follow in their wicked father’s footsteps. So now we see an example of God’s mercy in the birth of Moses, whose parents were of the tribe of Levi. God’s sense of irony is shown here, in that he turns the very method Pharoah used to eradicate the Hebrews into the method of their eventual escape.

Moses’ mother hides him as long as she can, and then she makes a wicker basket of papyrus coated with tar to make it watertight. It’s interesting that the Hebrew word here is the same as that used for Noah’s Ark, and those are the only two instances of the word in the Hebrew scriptures. So she puts the baby into the basket and sets it down in the river, which technically meets Pharoah’s requirement! Then Moses’ older sister Miriam watches to see what happens to him.

We should know by verse 5 that this is all God’s doing, because just then Pharaoh’s daughter comes to bathe in the river. She sees the basket and hears the baby crying, but though she knows it’s supposed to be killed, she rescues it anyway. Then Miram wisely offers to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby for her, which unbeknownst to Pharaoh’s daughter, will be the baby’s natural mother— and she’ll be paid for her services! Well played, Miriam.

Of course, the time eventually comes when the child must be handed over to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopts him as her own son. And it is she who names him Moses, meaning I drew him out of the water. This again shows how God uses foreshadowing, since later Moses will lead Israel across the Red Sea on dry ground.

Constable points out another foreshadowing as well: it’s always women who save Moses, who in turn will save Israel from extinction, which parallels the women who stayed with the condemned and crucified Christ after all but one of the men had run away. God is no respecter of persons.

As we see starting in verse 11, Moses grows up in the privileged life of Egyptian royalty, well-educated and respected. But for reasons explained in Heb. 11:24-25, one day he goes out to see how his people are being treated, and he comes upon an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. So he looks around to see if anyone else is watching, then kills the Egyptian, though perhaps not intentionally. If he had any inkling of his eventual role as Israel’s savior, he went about it in the worst way.

Of course, this would end his career as a royal, because people always find out. The next day when he tries to break up a fight between two Hebrews, they resent his interferance and ask if he’s going to kill them just as he killed the Egyptian. He knows he’s dead meat, so he runs away to the land of Midian.

In verse 15 we see that by God’s unseen guidance once again, Moses just happens to rest at a well where the daughters of a local priest come to draw water for their father’s sheep. But they don’t see Moses there at first. Then other shepherds come and tries to push away the women, but Moses rescues them and helps them get the water they need. So they go to their father Reuel (elsewhere called Jethro) and tell him that they were rescued by an Egyptian, and he can’t believe they just left him there alone. So Moses takes shelter in the home of Reuel, who later gives his daughter Zipporah to him as his wife.

As we come to verse 23 we see that a long time has passed (40 years according to Acts 7:30), and finally the Pharaoh who wanted to kill Moses is dead. But the people of Israel continue to suffer as slaves, and their crying out to God has reached the point where he will have Moses fulfil his true calling. Later we’ll see how this calling happens, including a refutation of some needlessly divisive theories about the true name of God. But we need to clear up a few miscellaneous points for now:

  1. There is no evidence that the Hebrews helped build any pyramids.
  2. The use of Hebrew to describe the Israelites, first seen in Genesis, is likely derived from a descendant of Shem named Eber.
  3. Methods of calculating the number of years Israel was in Egypt can be studied at the resources below. The fact that it’s been disputed for a long time shows that it isn’t as clear as we’d prefer, but at least we can say that the integrity and inspiration of scripture is not threatened by any of this.

The Genealogical Timeline

Take a look at these resources on the matter of the number of years in the genealogical timeline up to Moses:

Exo. 3

As we continue our study of Exodus we encounter the famous incident of the burning bush. According to Constable’s notes, it was not unusual for thorn bushes to sponaneously burst into flame in the Sinai desert. What got Moses’ attention was that the flames didn’t consume the bush. So when he went to investigate, the angel of the Lord appeared and spoke directly to him— which hadn’t happened to anyone in hundreds of years. And as clearly stated in verse 6, this angel is God Himself, and he identifies himself by whose God he is: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is the first and most important name of God, not a simple label but a relationship. We’ll delve more into the labels later on.

Starting in verse 7, God explains that he has had enough of the suffering of his people; we must never forget that they are his chosen ones, according to what he promised Abraham unconditionally. He also promises to bring them to that Promised Land, which is always portrayed as literal and physical, rather than a description of heaven as some teach. So now he calls Moses to be the one to confront Pharaoh to release the Israelites. Moses wonders why he is being chosen for this task, but God only replies that once the job is done, Moses will return to worship God on the very mountain he was standing on.

In verse 13 Moses wants to know what name to use when the Israelites ask him who sent him. This is where we find scriptural rebuttals to arguments that this was the demiurge of Gnosticism, or a borrowed name from a heathen culture. The Greek text (LXX) is fairly straightforward, using theos throughout, but here we find the phrase I am the one who is. So we have the Greek telling us what the Hebrew seems to obscure or complicate. That text renders God as Elohim, and I Am as YHWH. People take those names and invent connections to other religions, but they simply mean what the LXX says they mean. YHWH is actually an acronym, the initial letters of the words in the phrase. Tradition has turned it into Yaweh or some varient, such as Jehovah in English. If it had been a literal sacred name, the LXX would have simply transliterated it instead of translating it.

This was important to Moses because, for at least several generations, the people of Israel had seemingly been abandoned by the God of their ancestors. They as a group had not done anything to deserve their slavery, but we must keep in mind that neither had any of them deserved God’s prior blessings. As we can read in Job 2:10, Should we accept good from God, and not hardship? We also remember God’s pattern of refining people so they can reach their full potential, especially in the case of Joseph, who in spite of everything never gave up on God. Or again, as we read in Job 13:15, Though he [God] slays me, yet I will hope in him.

We could boil all this down into modern terms as a very short exchange. Moses says, Who are you? and God replies, Hey, it’s me! Don’t worry about it. But most people seem to prefer making mountains out of mole hills and complexity out of simplicity. More than that, they love to fight and divide and condemn over syllables. Jesus faulted the Pharisees, not for lacking respect for the tiniest details of the Law, but for majoring on the minors, tithing on the tiniest garden herbs but living as evil tyrants. In the same way, among today’s most zealous guardians of what they deem the sacred name of God, we find the most rabid judgmentalism, beating their fellow servants, shunning and mocking precious souls who have confessed and lived out the gospel of our salvation.

Before leaving this topic, we should note that in the Hebrew text the name Elohim is used as a generic term, the English equivalent of which is God, and the Greek equivalent of which is Theos. Those who try to make it the name of some heathen deity are simply ignornat of the use of Elohim in that time and culture, especially since Moses literally says, Elohim, what is your name? Likewise, those who try to connect Jehovah with Jove or Jupiter also demonstrate profound ignornace of language.

Moving on to verse 16, God finishes answering Moses and then adds that he should tell them God has not abandoned them at all and will bring them to the Promised Land. Then their elders will go with Moses to demand that Pharaoh release the Israelites to sacrifice outside of Egypt. He warns Moses that Pharaoh will not give them up without a fight, but in the end the people of Israel will plunder the Egyptians— just as Pharaoh had feared but was powerless to prevent. In this way, Israel would be compensated for their years of servitude, not only from Egypt but also from God.

Some take the request for worshiping outside of Egypt as a cover story, but since the distance would be beyond the fartherst military posts of Egypt, Pharaoh would take it as an intent to leave permanently. So this was a polite, indirect statement, giving Pharaoh no reason to be offended beyond the fact that such a request is made at all. We must not let our unfamiliarity with life in that area and time cause us to think poorly of Moses or God.

Exo. 4

Though Moses was assured of God’s identity, Israel would not be so willing to accept him as having been sent from God, so they would need some kind of proof or sign. God then gives Moses three miracles to perform: the staff becoming a snake and then back to a staff, the hand becoming white with a skin disease and then restored, and water from the Nile becoming blood when poured out on the ground. In this way God establishes the testimony of two or three witnesses.

Yet even after all that, we see in verse 10 that Moses begs off his mission, complaining that he’s a poor speaker. So God indignantly demands to know who it is that gives people their abilities or can allow their infirmities. Even so, Moses still resists and gets God really irate, but he won’t let Moses off the hook, though he does make a consession: Moses’ brother Aaron will be his mouthpiece.

Let this be a lesson to all of us, that we don’t anger God by failing to trust him once we know he has a task for us. When we say, God can’t use me, aren’t we insulting him and showing no faith? Even worse, do we presume God can’t use another person, just because of their perceived faults or the flesh they were born with? God would certainly make fleshly requirements under the Law, just as he made fleshly promises to Abraham. But we in the Body of Christ are not to judge on the basis of worldly standards, per such passages as 2 Cor. 5:16, James 2:1, Acts 10:34-35, and 1 Sam. 16:7.

We can’t be sure why Moses only told Jethro that he wanted to see if his people still survived instead of revealing God’s mission for him, but what God tells Moses along the way indicates that Moses thought he might be arrested when he got to Egypt, for what amounts to be manslaughter.

At another point in the journey (verse 21), God appears again and tells Moses to expect Pharaoh to resist strongly, but to be just as strong in defying him. But then in verse 24 a very strange thing happens: An angel of the Lord comes to kill Moses! The solution is even stranger: Moses’ wife Zipporah circumcizes her son.

The Greek (LXX) and Hebrew (MT) read very differently here. For the MT, which Constable is using in his notes, Zipporah either touches Moses’ feet with the foreskin or throws it at him, and she uses a phrase thought to be from the Midianite practice of only circumcizing a male just before his wedding. But since this action makes the angel refrain from killing Moses, one might conclude that the death angel came because Moses had ignored God’s command to circumcize his son, per the covenant with Abraham. If so, Zipporah was the likely reason the rite had not been performed at the proper time.

But the LXX paints a much different picture. Zipporah falls at the feet of the angel and reports that the circumcision has been done and the bleeding has stopped, so the angel departs. If this is accurate, then Zipporah was saving Moses from his own disobedience. The MT paints her as the villain, but the LXX paints her as the hero. Constable speculates that this is when Moses sends his family back to Midian without him, with the expectation that they will rejoin him later, as we will see in chapter 18. But this passage doesn’t say anything about it.

Either way, Moses meets up with Aaron and tells him all that God had said, and then they both meet up with the elders of Israel in Egypt. For the time being, the people happily accept the news of their soon emancipation. But that acceptance won’t have much time to go to Moses’ head.

Exo. 5

As mentioned earlier, the 3-day journey Moses tells Pharaoh to grant Israel to worship God is a diplomatic expression meaning we intend to leave and never come back. Verse 8 is where Pharaoh decides that the only reason this request has been made is because the slaves have too much free time and spend it listening to troublemakers like Moses. So in his infinite wisdom, he turns the screws tighter by making them go out and scavenge for the straw they need to make bricks.

By verse 10 we see that quotas are not being met, so the Hebrew foremen are being beaten. As the saying goes, The beatings will continue until morale improves! So the foremen go to Pharaoh to ask why they’re being beaten for this unreasonable demand, and as they leave the court without relief, they meet Moses and Aaron. The foremen vent their anger on them, blaming them for their suffering. In turn, Moses whines to God that not only has Pharaoh not let the people go, he has made them shoot the messenger, who didn’t want to do this in the first place.

Exo. 6

So God repeats his assurance and the promise he made to Abraham and Isaac, then commands Moses to pass this on to the people of Israel. But of course, the Israelites aren’t in any mood to listen. Even so, God tells Moses to try a second time with Pharaoh, and Moses repeats his claim of being a poor speaker in spite of such a statement making God angry at him the first time he said it.

At verse 14 the text stops to do a genealogy of the sons of Levi, and we might wonder why here and now. But Constable’s notes argues that it’s to establish the pedigree of Moses and Aaron, since Israel isn’t listening to them anymore. There’s also a handy genealogical chart in those notes.

Exo. 7

This chapter begins with a curious statement from God: that he has made Moses like God to Pharaoh, and Aaron like Moses’ prophet. But the Pharaohs by this time had come to be regarded as literal gods, who would simply pass from one mortal body to the next as each one wore out and died. So God is both putting Pharaoh in his place and giving confidence to Moses. But he adds that he will be the reason Pharaoh’s heart becomes hard, so Moses should expect more resistance rather than any progress at this time. Then we’re told that Moses is now 80 years old and Aaron is 83.

Now what does it mean that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart? Does God override a person’s free will? We have already seen the freely-chosen condition of this Pharaoh’s heart, being arrogant and disrespectful of any other claims to divine authority over him. He has shown his character in no uncertain terms. There are several ways to look at this:

  1. God created Pharaoh to be evil; Pharaoh had no free will to be anything else.
  2. God does the hardening, but it’s only a change of degree rather than kind.
  3. Pharaoh will choose to resist God, so God is the excuse; God doesn’t literally harden his heart for him. This is the same principle as when we say another person made us angry; the anger is our chosen response, not that the person literally forced anger upon us.

The third option seems the most likely in light of the grammar and the reluctance of God to destroy the wicked (Ezk. 18:23, 33:11, 2 Peter 3:9).

Now when Moses and Aaron appear before Pharaoh as before, this time he demands a miraculous sign just as God said he would. So Aaron throws down his staff and it turns into a snake, though the LXX text in this chapter uses the word for dragon, whereas it used serpent in chapter 4. But the Egyptian sorcerers are able to turn their staffs into these creatures as well. Even so, Aaron’s staff then swallows all the sorcerer’s staffs, but Pharaoh is not impressed. Symbolically, the consuming of Egyptian staffs meant that God had sovereignty over Pharaoh, but he rejected the claim.

Verse 14 is where the actual plagues begin. Since Pharaoh basically yawned at the miraculous sign of the staff becoming a living creature, God is upping the ante: Moses will intercept Pharaoh at the Nile and turn it to blood, including water that was already taken from there and stored in containers. This would kill all the fish and make a stench, and no one would be able to use Nile water, which of course was central to their lives.

Constable notes that various natural plagues such as of frogs, bugs, hail, and even darkness were common seasonal problems, but here God is going to directly control their timing, their intensity, and in some cases, their selectiveness in afflicting only the Egyptians. The notes also state that these plagues all take place in northern Egypt near Zoan, per Psalm 78:43, which is either the same as or near Goshen. God has prepared Moses, and now he is preparing Pharaoh.

So Moses and Aaron do as God commands, and the result is as God had told them. But again, the Egyptian soothsayers do the same, so again Pharaoh yawns and goes home. It would have been much more impressive if the soothsayers could undo what Moses did, instead of only copying and making things worse for their people. This condition lasts for seven days, which if it were merely the seasonal redness from flooding, would have lasted about 3 months, and the water would still have been drinkable and not deadly to the fish.

Exo. 8

The second plague is that the Nile will swarm with frogs, which will come out onto the land and enter all the houses. As one of many sacred animals, a person could be put to death even for killing one accidentally, so having them underfoot would be a huge problem for the Egyptians. Only after this happens does Pharaoh ask Moses and Aaron to end the plague, and again we note that he doesn’t ask his sorcerers to do so, obviously because they’re unable. But God, through Moses, lets Pharaoh decide the moment the plague is to end. When it does, the land reeks with piles of dead frogs, which might have put a dent in the people’s reverence for them as sacred animals. But like many of us, as soon as God answers the prayer, Pharaoh retracts his promise to let Israel go.

The third plague is of gnats, though it could also mean lice or fleas or even mosquitoes. But this time the soothsayers can’t duplicate the plague, and they recognize a divine power their dark arts can’t match. Pharaoh just shrugs it off, even though his own magicians were outmatched and have just admitted to using tricks instead of actually having power.

The fourth plague is of something called dogflies, but just to make sure the Egyptians don’t think Moses is working for any run-of-the-mill deity, God only sends it only on them and not the land where the Israelites live. And this time God does it without requiring any action on the part of Moses or Aaron. Constable notes that these flies preferred to latch onto people’s eyelids and could actually cause disfigurment through swelling caused by stings. Not even Pharaoh’s house was spared, but though he finally agrees to let Israel worship God, he wants them to do so in Egypt. Yet since such worship would involve animal sacrifice the Egyptians would kill them, so they have to leave Egypt entirely. God will not compromise or strike a deal, and Moses warns Pharaoh not to lie again. Pharaoh relents, but once again, as soon as Moses prays for God to end the plague, Pharaoh breaks his word.

Exo. 9

The fifth plague is of a terrible disease on cattle, horses, oxen, and sheep— in other words, their work and farm animals— and again the land of Goshen is spared. This time Pharaoh makes no offers or promises, but digs in his heels and refuses to let Israel go.

The sixth plague is of terrible boils that break out on the skin of all the Egyptians and their animals, after Moses throws handfuls of soot into the air as Pharaoh watches. He still couldn’t care less.

If all of that wasn’t enough, the seventh plague will prove once and for all that Egypt has no god like the God of Israel. God explains to Pharaoh, through Moses and Aaron, that the only reason Egypt hasn’t been totally and instantly wiped out is because God is using all this to prove his point. But this time he gives a warning to whoever among the Egyptians chooses to listen: Put your people and animals under strong shelter, because a hail storm is coming, the likes of which will never have been seen in Egypt before. Some of Pharaoh’s attendants listen, but others don’t. So even in this, God is showing mercy to the Egyptians on an individual basis.

The plague turned out to be not only the hail itself, but also loud thunder and fire that, as the LXX puts it, ran about on the land. Lightning is referred to as fire in verse 24, so we could speculate that this might have been something like ball lightning, though some commentators think it means that lightning strikes caused fires which spread on the land. Regardless, none of this affected the land of Goshen.

Now God has Pharaoh’s attention and he confesses the sins of himself and his people. But Moses knows better than to think he’s being honest this time, even though all their crops were ruined except the later harvests, and many people and animals had died. And as expected, when the plague stops, so does Pharaoh’s shallow guilt trip and even shallower promise.

Exo. 10

God is about to unleash the eights plague, and he tells Moses that this will make fools of Pharaoh and his court. This time it’s locusts, who will cover the land and strip it of whatever the hail plague hadn’t pulverized. As soon as Moses leaves Pharaoh’s court, his advisors ask him if he’s even aware that Egypt is already in ruins. But Pharaoh’s retort is that Israel will indeed need their God’s help if he lets more than just the Hebrew men leave the country— meaning he’d rather they all died than to let the Israelites go.

God sends the plague, and again Pharaoh pretends to really mean it this time. Moses prays for relief anyway, though to no avail, and the stalemate continues even if it means the ruin of Egypt.

The ninth plague— palpable, gloomy darkness— again comes on only the Egyptians, even without Moses saying anything to Pharaoh. It lasts for three full days, which some say also foreshadows a future prophetic event. But no such thing is prophesied except over the kingdom of the Beast during the Tribulation, and it doesn’t say the number of days. Now when Pharaoh summons Moses and tells him everyone can go but they have to leave the livestock, Moses refuses to compromise, and Pharaoh ejects him from his court permanently. To this Moses agrees; he will never speak to Pharaoh again.

Exo. 11

Now we come to the final plague: death of all the firstborn in Egypt, from the animals to Pharaoh’s son, as payback for the order to murder all male babies born to the Hebrews. God reserves the right to avenge.

However, individual Israelites will only be spared if they put the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their houses so the death angel passes them by. We could argue over whether this death angel is an angel or God Himself, but does it really matter? Either way, this is the origin of Passover, rich with symbolic reference to the eventual Passover Lamb, Jesus. Speaking of rich, before God begins this plague, the people of Israel are to ask the Egyptian people for silver and gold jewelery and whatever clothing they can spare, and the Egyptians give generously. At this point, Moses finally has the respect not only the Egyptian people but also Pharaoh’s court.

The section starting in verse 4 seems to backtrack a bit to add the last thing Moses says to Pharaoh, telling him of this final plague and that Pharaoh’s own servants will bow down to Moses. Yet not even the loss of his firstborn son will persuade Pharaoh to concede to the God of Israel for very long.

Exo. 12

Before the death angel arrives, God tells Moses and Aaron to mark this month as the first month of the year for Israel, roughly equivalent to late March and early April. On the tenth day of the month each household must select a flawless one-year-old male sheep and observe it till the 14th, and on that afternoon they are to slaugher all the lambs. Then they are to smear some of its blood on the top and sides of the doorframe of their house.

They must eat the meat that night after roasting it over a fire, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. And the people have to dress as if prepared to leave in a hurry, though the blood on the doorposts would keep them safe from the death angel. This all foreshadowed what Jesus would eventually fulfill (see this outline, especially point 5-C).

The immediate context is God’s vengeance against Egypt and Pharaoh, but since this is to be a perpetual memorial, it means much more. Then God adds another requirement: For seven days the people must not eat anything with yeast in it, and they cannot even have any yeast in their houses. Later in the scriptures we’ll see that yeast is symbolic of sin that infects the whole group. The first and last days of that week will be holy days when no work except food preparation can be done. This week, to be known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, begins on the evening of the 14th and ends on the evening of the 21st, with the 15th beginning the actual Passover, since days began after sunset. The 14th would become known as Preparation Day, which is an important detail when studying Jesus’ final week in the Gospel accounts.

When passing all of this to the elders of Israel (verse 21), Moses adds that no one is allowed to leave their house until morning. Then he repeats that this will be a reminder for all their generations, of the night when God overpowered and humiliated all other claims of godhood. This establishment of a national calendar, whose first month was called Abib (and then Nisan after the later return from Babylonian captivity), is the first step toward making the people of Israel into the nation of Israel, but this will require a formal covenant to be given after they reach the mountain God told Moses he’d return to.

We see in verse 29 that the death angel arrives in the middle of that night, and by the time it’s over not a single house in Egypt has been spared. Finally Pharaoh lets Israel go, but he still has the gall to ask Moses and Aaron to bless him first! The rest of the Egyptian people couldn’t be more motivated to expel the Hebrews at this point, giving them anything they wanted, and in this way Egypt was plundered.

So off they went, first from the city of Rameses to Sukkoth, and this is where we’re told about the 600,000 men of fighting age. Verse 40 is another place where scripture cites 430 years as how long the Israelites lived in Egypt, but remember to balance this with all the other references as is shown in the timeline chart from Abraham to Moses. That timespan goes all the way back to when Abraham was given the Promise.

Then God adds another stipulation for the passover observance: no foreigner is allowed to participate unless the males are circumcised. The meal can’t be shared outside of the house, and none of the sheep’s bones are to be broken. These will have their final fulfillment at Jesus’ crucifixion, which had to happen in Israel (the house).

Exo. 13

Now God declares that all the firstborn males, human or animal, are to be consecrated to God. The stipulations for the festival are stated again as well, along with clarification that this all begins when they reach Canaan (the Promised Land). The reason the firstborn males belong to God is because of Pharaoh’s attempt to kill them all.

In verse 17 God decides that Israel should not go through the land of the Phillistines even though it was a shorter route, or they might turn back to Egypt if war breaks out. As Constable notes, that route was heavily fortified by the Egyptians. So he leads them instead toward the wilderness by the Red Sea. This happens in what the text calls the fifth generation, and this is where it says that Moses remembered to bring the bones of Joseph. By day God used a pillar of cloud, and by night a pillar of fire. They were likely the same object, whose fire would be less helpful during the daytime, and of course whose cloud would be useless at night.

Exo. 14

Now God sets up his final nail in Egypt’s coffin. He has Israel camp such that they are strategically trapped between the wilderness and the sea, to lure Pharaoh into seizing the opportunity to enslave them again. In spite of everything, Pharaoh and his officials can’t imagine why they let all those slaves go, but later we’ll see that it isn’t just the Egyptians who have the memory and sense of a goldfish. So off the Egyptians go with their entire army, catching up to them at the camp.

Speaking of short memory, in verse 10 we see that Israelites quickly forget all they’ve just seen God do. They whine to Moses, Is this why you took us out here to die, because there wasn’t room for our graves in Egypt? We were better off as slaves than to die out here! Of course, Moses has to remind them not to be such sniveling cowards, but to sit back and watch the show as God takes care of business for them.

Then (verse 15) God has Moses hold the staff over the sea so the people can cross on dry ground. According to Constable’s notes, the phrase yam sup is not Egyptian for sea of reeds meaning a shallow marsh, but Hebrew for the sea at the end. Besides, the entire large and sophisticated army of Egypt would not drown in a marsh! God also tells Moses that once Israel begins to cross over, the Egyptians will chase after them, but it will be their undoing. Now the pillar of cloud and fire moves between the Israelites and the Egyptian army, causing darkness and gloom to keep the two groups apart during the night.

Meanwhile, Moses does as instructed, and God brings a strong wind to make a dry path through the sea, with the water forming walls on either side. So the people of Israel go across, and by morning the Egyptians see them and commence their pursuit. But God slows them down by putting them into a panic and jamming their chariot wheels. Only when they finally realize that God Himself is fighting for Israel do they try to retreat.

But since Israel had crossed the sea by this time, God has Moses hold out the staff again to cause the waters to return. The next morning, the Israelites could see all the drowned Egyptians on the far shore, and there were no survivors, though it’s doubtful that Pharaoh himself had gone with them instead of staying on high ground to direct the assault. Either way, he had no army at all anymore, and no son to succeed him to the throne of Egypt— which for a self-proclaimed god had to be quite embarrassing.

So finally, at least for the time being, all the people of Israel honor and trust God and his servant Moses. We should all know by now that such a condition is always short-lived.

Exo. 15

The bulk of this chapter is the celebration song the people of Israel sing in praise of the mighty God who delivered them. Hebrew poetry tends to be in the form of couplets, where a statement is made and then repeated in different words, rather than the vowel rhyming we’re accustomed to in English. At least for the time being, Israel is truly worshiping God from the heart.

This is one, but not the only, way to worship God. In both Testaments, it’s clear that God wants to be in a parent-child relationship with us, and that true worship is when our daily lives reflect that relationship. As it says in Isaiah 29:13, These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And as Jesus put it in Mat. 15:11, It’s not what goes into us that defiles us, it’s what comes out. In the same way, it’s not what we do outwardly that is true worship, but where that worship is coming from. If our hearts are not in it, and we don’t live like God matters, it’s just empty words and hollow tunes.

This brings up a growing problem in Christian worship: The worship team or church leadership imposes its will and taste in music on the congregation. But how can we join our hearts in worship if the music is grating, or the lyrics are shallow, or the tune is nearly impossible for the average non-musician to sing? When I was much younger, I thought that only luddites would forbid the use of instruments in worship, but maybe they were on to something. How many of our worship songs would be singable without instruments? Don’t get me wrong though; even Miriam and all the women had tamborines in this passage, and they all not only sang but also danced. But I think the modern church has made participation in worship nearly impossible. Somewhere between Bringing In The Sheaves and Draw Me Close is worship singing that truly honors God and what God has done and will do, rather than what we say we will do or how God makes us feel.

Now back to the text, where Moses’ sister Miriam, who is called a prophet, leads the women in worship. She is no less a prophet than any man would be, and she isn’t the only such woman in scripture. We need to remember why it is that God has put emphasis on first-born males and not females: It’s a reminder that Pharaoh tried to murder them (and later that Herod would murder them). Still, through most of history, it’s been mostly baby girls who were killed. Even today in some eastern cultures, girls are aborted at a much higher rate than boys. This is what societies do, not what God does or approves.

After the celebrations, Moses leads the people into the wilderness, but after three days of walking they find no water. So the fickle and faithless Israelites do what they do best: whine and grumble against Moses. Even so, they get what they demand: a miracle from God through Moses, which God uses to remind them who he is. They seem to need a lot of reminders. This illustrates God’s patience and reluctance to punish.

Exo. 16

Shockingly, they get to the next area of wilderness and start complaining again, saying they’d have been better off to die in Egypt, where at least they had pots of meat and all the bread they wanted.

So God says, Fine, I’ll rain down bread from the sky, but I’m going to test their sincerity in following my rules! So he tells them to gather the bread for six days but not the seventh, which means that on the sixth they must gather twice as much. Moses points out to the people that it isn’t him and Aaron they’re complaining against, it’s God.

Then God has Moses tell Aaron to assemble the people and tell them that God will give them meat in the evening and bread in the morning, to show them once again that he’s God and they’re not. As promised, he sends a flock of quail for meat, and the next morning the ground is covered in something they decide to call what’s this?, which is where the word manna comes from. They collect just what they need for the number of people in their home, which is a good reminder that what God does with one person is not always what he does with another. Moses also tells them not to try and save any for the next day, but of course many of them don’t listen, and the next day the manna has become worm-ridden and smelly.

The next test comes on the sixth day, when they’re told to gather twice as much and it would not go bad the next day. But some people go out the seventh day to gather more anyway, and of course none is found. This is the first use of the word sabbath meaning rest. Like circumcision, it predates the actual Levitical law, so some take this to mean it is a rule for Gentiles as well. But again, this is for the nation of Israel; it is not given as a command to all nations. There is no evidence that the whole world ever knew to make every seventh day holy to God.

As a reminder for coming generations, God tells Moses to have Aaron collect a jar full of manna to be preserved. This manna would be the bread of Israel throughout the full forty years of their wandering. Constable states that since caravans passed through the areas of wandering, the people of Israel certainly traded with them and so had other food during that time, but manna was their staple nonetheless.

Exo. 17

God has Israel move on, and again they come to a place where there is no potable water, so again they take it out on Moses. So God has Moses take the elders to a certain rock, and Moses is told to strike the rock with his staff, which causes water to flow out. It’s as much a miracle that this stopped the grumbling again for the time being, as that water came from a rock.

As if they needed another reason to whine, in verse 8 we see that Israel is attacked by the army of Amalek. But God has another lesson to teach them. They muster an army, and during the battle Moses is going to stand on a hilltop with his staff in his hand. This is where we first meet Joshua, and notice that the Greek name for Joshua is Iesous— exactly the same as the name of Jesus in the New Testament.

Moses is accompanied on the hilltop by Aaron and someone named Hur, while Joshua leads the army. As long as Moses holds up his hands, presumably to hold up the staff, Israel prevails in the battle, but the tide turns every time he lowers them. So to deal with fatigue, they have Moses sit on a rock while the other two hold up his hands. Clearly it is God winning the battle, even though people are actually fighting it.

So God tells Moses to write this down as another memorial, and have Joshua memorize it, because God would remain the enemy of the Amalekites and eventually wipe out the memory of them from the earth. It will also remind them that the battles they win as a nation are not won by them, and that God will only enable them to win as long as they walk in his ways. We should note also that Moses wrote words, since liberal critics claim writing hadn’t been invented yet.

Exo. 18

After this, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro hears about all this, so he comes to see him and brings along Moses’ wife and sons, and Moses gets them up to date on all that has happened. Then Jethro praises God and accepts that this God is the one above all others.

The next day, Moses sits down to judge the disputes that had arisen among the Israelites, as was his habit. But Jethro sees how inefficient and exhausting this is, so he advises Moses to only deal directly with issues concerning direct commands from God and the toughest legal cases, but appoint people of high character and wisdom to handle the day-to-day disputes among them. Moses takes his advice and delegates judging authority to them by tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands. A rough equivalent would be how the US deals with legal issues on city, county, state, and federal levels. Though Israel as yet had not been given a detailed law code, they certainly were familiar with such things.

Next we’ll move on to the beginnings of that law, but first take a look at Constable’s notes on this chapter for some uncanny details comparing Jethro and Melchizedek (p. 165-66).

Melchizedek (Gen. 14:17-24)

  1. He was a Gentile priest of Salem (Gen. 14:18).
  2. He met Abraham as Abraham returned from defeating the Mesopotamians (Gen. 14:18).
  3. He brought gifts to Abraham (Gen. 14:18).
  4. He was king of peace (Heb. salem, Gen. 14:18).
  5. Abraham’s heir was Eliezer (God is my help, Gen. 15:2).
  6. Melchizedek praised God for rescuing Abraham from the Amalekites (Gen. 14:19-20).
  7. He offered bread and wine (Gen. 14:18).

Jethro (Exod. 18:1-27)

  1. He was a Gentile priest of Midian (Exod. 18:1).
  2. He met Moses as Moses returned from defeating the Amalekites (Exod. 18:5).
  3. He brought Moses’ wife and sons to Moses (Exod. 18:2-6).
  4. He offered Moses peace (Exod. 18:7).
  5. Moses’ heir was Eliezer (Exod. 18:4).
  6. Jethro praised God for rescuing Moses from the Egyptians (Exod. 18:10-11).
  7. He offered sacrifices and ate bread with Moses (Exod. 18:12).

Exo. 19

Three months after leaving Egypt, Israel reaches the wilderness of Sinai and camps at the foot of Mt. Horeb (aka Mt. Sinai in scripture), the mountain where Moses was first called by God at the burning bush. They would stay for a total of eleven months, according to most commentators who piece together events through the book of Numbers. And according to research at this source, Israel only actually traveled for about two years, and camped for 38 at Kadesh. There are some good maps there as well, along with the statement that Kadesh was near Petra, which may be the place of safety for the Judeans to run to halfway through the Tribulation. Both are near the south end of the Dead Sea.

This is where we first see the phrase in the Greek, royal priesthood and holy nation. We know this phrase from 1 Peter 2:9, and we remember that the New Testament quotes the Greek rather than the Hebrew, which here in Exodus is translated kingdom of priests and holy nation. Take a moment to review the covenants chart to remember where we are at this point.

Now back to Exodus, and we see that this is a conditional promise of God to the house of Jacob and the people of Israel― conditional because of the if in verse five. Heb. 8:6-13 cites the Old Testament as saying that the new covenant would be with the people of Israel and Judah. The whole purpose of the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 was to answer the question of whether all Christians had to also be Jews, and the answer was no. But whether the church is the ultimate royal priesthood and holy nation is examined in Constable’s notes on 1 Peter 2:9.

In this context, long before the church, the nation and people of Israel are the original recipients of this conditional promise. And as would eventually be explained in Gal. 3:12-25, its function was temporary and instructional, and of works rather than faith— a contrast between the unconditional covenant of Abraham and the conditional one of Moses. The blessings can extend to the world, but the covenant is with this nation.

After the people verbally agree to this covenant, Moses goes up to take their answer to God, who then tells him to go back down to the people and tell them to prepare themselves for a solemn, legally-binding ceremony to enact the covenant in writing. They are to purify themselves and wash their clothes. They must also keep away from the mountain on pain of instant death, and only approach it after they hear a trumpet blast from God and the pillar of cloud leaves.

They have 2 days to prepare, which Moses adds must include couples abstaining from intimacy. Most commentators take this as a matter of subduing the body’s cravings, and in the later laws we’ll see that most uncleanness has to do with body secretions of various kinds. What we can not conclude, as so many have done over the centuries, is that this command is saying women are inherently unclean and unworthy to be in God’s presence.

When the time comes for this to take place, the people are terrified by a loud trumpet and other loud sounds, along with lightning and darkness. It could be taken as something like a volcanic eruption by the description in verse 18, but the cause is again the miraculous presence and power of God. This is the first instance where God’s loud voice is equated with a trumpet, and the last will be in Rev. 1:10. Neither of these trumpets are of mere angels or have to do with judgment, but with the presence of God.

There is a conversation at this time between God and Moses, and God tells Moses and Aaron to come up but have everyone else stay at the bottom. This includes priests as well, though no priesthood has as yet been established. Ancient near east practice was that heads of families were de facto priests, and we’ve already met Melchizedek and Jethro as some examples. So the likely reason priests are singled out is because they may have thought themselves exempt from the command to keep their distance from the holy mountain.

Now we’re about to read the details of the covenant law, but before we do we should understand some points as brought out in Constable’s notes. There were two common types of covenants: parity (between equals) and suzerainty (between a sovereign and his subjects). Both took the form of a preamble, history, statement of principles, and consequences of obedience and disobedience. This covenant is of course the suzerainty type, and it contained three basic categories:

  1. Moral life
  2. Religious life
  3. Civil life

This hardly means that Christians can pick and choose to follow one category or another, or even dissect the Ten Commandments and discard the one that isn’t in any way repeated in the New Testament, so they can say they keep the law. Rather, it simply classifies the applications of the laws, but all were binding on Israel.

Exo. 20

Verses 1-2 comprise the preamble, identifying the sovereign and his proven power, and how the subjects owe him their allegiance. The first four commmandments will deal with how the people must relate to God, and the last six with how the people must relate to each other. Though various groups through history have divided the Ten Commandments differently, the numbering used unanimously by the early church was that with which most are familiar: that the first is no other gods, the second is no idols, and the commandment about coveting is one commandment rather than two.

Verses 3-6 are the first two commandments; the first means not that God is to be the chief one among many, but the only one. The second refers to no idols or likenesses of physical or angelic beings of any kind, for the purpose of being venerated as having divine power or ability. We see here that God says he is a jealous God, so we need to know the difference between jealousy and envy. Jealousy is protecting what is rightfully ours, but envy is desiring what is not rightfully ours. So God being jealous is not a bad or immoral quality at all.

But what about verse five, which speaks of God avenging sins for up to four generations of those who hate him, and mercy to thousands of generations of those who love him and keep his ordinances? And how would we reconcile this with Ezekiel 18, where especially verses 4 and 20 say that the one who sins is the only one who will die? Remember that God says this as part of the formal drawing up of the covenant, not mere poetry or hyperbole.

The answer is the difference between guilt and consequences. Here, God is referring to how those who hate God will invite very long-lasting consequences on their descendants, whereas in Ezekiel the topic is on being held guilty for what someone else has done. We all can relate to how one simple mistake or sin can affect us and our family and friends, and we have seen this for the whole nation of Israel, which of course will reach its extremes when they’re exiled as a nation in the future.

The third commandment (not taking the Lord’s name in vain) means to not use it as a casual or vulgar expression. The added warning seems to make this an unforgiveable sin, at least under the law, likely because it meant a person is treating God as worthless or shameful.

The fourth commandment is about keeping the Sabbath, which was the seventh day of the week from one sundown to the next. The reason in the immediate context is to remind them of creation week, which makes no sense if creation took many eons, and nothing in either the Greek or Hebrew indicates any such thing as a day per an epoch. And this rest meant that no one― slave or free, male or female, foreigners, or even animals― was to do any labor. The Bible also speaks of a future spiritual rest in both Testaments, in Psalm 95 and Heb. 3 and 4, and we’ve already seen God allude to this when he made the rule about not collecting manna on the seventh day. It’s interesting also that the Greek text says remember the day of sabbaths (plural). The context makes it clear that there is only one sabbath per week, so the meaning of the plural here is simply that this is a repeating cycle.

The fifth commandment is about children respecting their parents, because just as the whole nation owed its life to God, so also children owe their lives to their parents— both of them. As the New Testament points out in Eph. 6:2, this is the first commandment with a promise. This is not to say that parents are always sinless or perfect, but that children under their care should show them more honor than other adults, and especially more than themselves or their siblings. It is unwise to disrespect anyone we’re dependent on.

The sixth and seventh commandments really stem from the same principle: Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you. The main distinction between adultery and fornication is that in the latter there is no one from whom the other person is being taken, except perhaps in a society where the daughter is considered the property of the father.

One point to make about stealing is that it requires such a thing as private property. The society God is structuring here is not a commune but an association of families owning their own properties, livestock, crops, equipment, and employees. Land ownership within tribes was especially important to God regarding the nation of Israel.

We could actually add the eighth commandment in the same category, since murder is the taking of a life that doesn’t belong to you. Critics like to point at this one and say that God violates it since he takes life, but life is his to give or take. Would the critics put themselves under the same rules as they put their own children? Rather, this commandment is to keep people from treating life as cheap or theirs to take without divine permission. Such permission was granted to society when Noah got off the Ark, but only if a person took another person’s life; it was never granted as a matter of personal vengeance or a way to solve differences.

Some even try to make the killing of animals murder, but the context here and throughout the scriptures never supports such a meaning. Neither does it grant us the right to maim or torture people or animals, unless a person has maimed another person, and even then there is no permission to make the eye for an eye torturous. God has already delegated the authority to wage battle, but again, it is delegated, not to be taken upon ourselves.

The question often arises as well about suicide. But if we belong to God, then not even we can take our lives because they don’t belong to us. However, we also must show compassion since many suicides are the result of immaturity, severe suffering, or mental illness. Let God be the judge, but at the same time, let us be more intent upon showing concern such that others won’t even consider it. Prevention is far better than grief.

Now to the ninth commandment, bearing false witness. This is specifically about false accusations, not all statements of untruth. After all, God himself used cover stories in various times in Israel’s history, and he will send a strong delusion during the future Tribulation. But this is hardly a blanket endorsement of lying. Politeness and diplomacy are often borderline or outright lies, but they can prevent hostility or needless tension. Intent is everything; are we trying to harm or help? Slander is always harmful of course; its purpose is to ruin someone’s life or reputation for something they never did. Simply being offended or not liking a person is hardly justification for this.

The tenth and final commandment is against envy: not simply wanting something but having the desire to take it though the owner is not offering it for sale. In fact, all the commandments prohibit taking what is rightfully another’s, whether the other is people or God, objects or honor.

After all this, the terrified Israelites ask Moses to speak to God for them in the future, but Moses explains that this fear of God is part of the instruction. They have thus asked for intermediaries between themselves and God. Critics take this as an indictment against God, who in their judgment is immoral for wanting to be feared. But again we appeal to them as parents; do they not expect their children to fear punishment should they defy them? Parents give rules to protect and guide (ideally at least), so defiance can be dangerous or deadly. And if the children don’t learn by words, then they will have to learn by actions. When done with compassion and love, children raised in this way rarely fault their parents but respect them instead. And this is what God has repeatedly demonstrated, being reluctant to punish, but always having reconciliation and maturity as the goal.

Then in verse 24 God instructs them to make altars out of dirt or uncut stones, because the tools would defile them. They are also not to build the altars so high that anyone could look up the robes of the priests and shame them. These requirements were likely in response to the worship practices of other religions.

Exo. 21

The first six verses are about Hebrew servants. The Greek word there is paida (from which we get pediatric), meaning child or youth, not doulos meaning slave. Though the context doesn’t make a clear distinction between the two meanings, the main point is that these were fellow Hebrews and must not be enslaved for life, unless by the servant’s consent and with the legal sanction of judges. Compared to slavery in the surrounding nations, this was very humane and protected the rights of servants or slaves as human beings. Hebrews were thus treated as indentured servants, more commonly for the purpose of paying a debt. And in this we see that the laws of Moses did not simply mimic existing laws from other cultures but improve them. Remember that Israel did not form in a social vacuum.

However, we see immediately the inferior status of female servants, in line with the fact that all females were considered inferior in being or essence in ancient near east culture. A woman was always the property of some male relative or spouse. She could be bought and sold even if not a slave, and she had no choice in the matter if her father decided to sell her as a concubine. Even so, she had to be treated kindly and given adequate provisions for living; this was an improvement compared to other cultures.

Remember this when people today whine about backlash against patriarchy. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but all human beings should treat each other as equal in rights, opportunities, and respect. Not equality of outcome or disregard of ability or character, but equality of humanity. There’s a huge gap between God’s natural order, and people’s natural order.

The next topic is homicide, and if accidental, the offending party could run to one of what were called Cities of Refuge for a certain time, so the deceased person’s family couldn’t avenge themselves. If intentional, there was to be no refuge anywhere, not even at God’s altar. In contrast, the Code of Hammurabi allowed capital punishment even if the death was purely an accident.

We see also that if a child deliberately killed or even insulted their parents, that child was to be put to death, though there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that this was actually carried out, as it was left to the discretion of the parents. The point seems to be that this was a last resort for a habit of assault against parents, not a flippant attitude against children over everyday arguments.

The next brief topic is kidnapping, which is considered a capital offense and executed without mercy.

After this the text turns to two men fighting and one being injured. It’s basically an early form of worker’s compensation, because the injured party must be compensated for loss of employment and medical expenses. But if the injured party is their own servant, they’re only punished if the servant dies. The reason is that the servant is the owner’s property, so the owner is already punished by loss of services, and no further legal penalty is imposed. The reason death is worthy of punishment is again because life belongs to God and can never be owned by us, but only leased.

Of course, to our modern western ears, this all seems barbaric. But remember that God is only setting minimal standards in light of human frailty; it was a step, not the whole staircase. Jesus is the top of that staircase, but even in the New Testament we see the teaching of a gradual change so as not to cause chaos in society. However, too many have dragged their feet and clug to what God intended to be superceded, such as flesh-based entitlement.

Next we move on to cases where a pregnant woman is injured and the baby miscarries, and this is where we first see the principle of an eye for an eye. Since there was no premeditated intent to harm the unborn child, the punishment is to fit the degree of injury. It seems to indicate that if the child appears fully formed and would have otherwise been born alive, the one causing the baby’s death must pay with their own life. Constable’s notes include an argument against the claim of abortion advocates that this passage treats the baby as not a person, so check that out if you’d like to see the scriptural support for babies as vauled human beings. Regarding permanent damage to various body parts of an owner’s servant, the servant is to be set free as compensation.

Next the topic is harm against humans by animals. Whereas Hammurabi demanded the death of a man’s son if his ox killed another man’s son, these laws of Moses demand the death of the man, but only if he was habitually allowing his ox to run free and cause damage. If not, then only the animal must die, and it cannot be eaten. Even so, if the man is to die, he can offer to pay a ransom for his life. But if the person killed by the animal was a child, no ransom can be substituted. If the victim was a servant, even a female one, the animal’s owner has to pay the full price of a servant, that being 30 pieces of silver― the amount we all know that Judas was offered to betray Jesus, so they only valued him on the level of a common servant.

Next is the case of someone failing to take reasonable safety precautions for a pit they dug, and an animal falls in and dies. Basically the pit owner has to abide by the modern saying, If you break it, you buy it. In the case of one animal killing another animal, the killer animal must be sold and the money divided, and the meat of the dead animal divided. But if the killer animal was known to be dangerous, the owner would have to pay the full price rather than half.

In all of this so far, we see that these laws show compassion for victims beyond other societal norms, including the vaunted Code of Hammurabi. In some cases the Biblical laws are harsher, because the value God places on human life is higher. But all of this is to teach people to respect other people and their property.

Exo. 22

The first section of this chapter is about theft. The penalty involved compensation beyond the value of the stolen goods, as a punishment and deterrent. If the thief is caught in the act and dies at the owner’s hands, the owner is not held guilty unless it was daytime. And if the thief can’t pay the penalty, he has to be sold as a slave. One of my ancestors suffered the deaths of her husband and baby on the way to the United States, and she was sold as a slave to compensate the ship’s captain for the trip.

The next section concerns a careless animal owner whose livestock is grazing on someone else’s land, and the demand of suitable compensation for arson or careless burning that spreads to destroy someone else’s crops or stacked grain. It also deals with a person who is negligent in safeguarding what someone else entrusted to them, and cases where the person was actually robbed rather than negligent. More mundane issues are covered up to verse 15.

Now the text turns to issues of morality carrying property compensation penalties. If a man seduces an unbetrothed virgin, he has to pay the bride price and marry her, or whatever payment the father demands.

Three other issues are then briefly mentioned: the no-questions-asked execution of sorcerers, those committing beastiality, and those sacrificing to any god but the real God. The Greek word for sorcerer is pharmakous meaning someone who administers potions to induce visions or hallucinations, and the Bible doesn’t care if the intent is black or white magic. The modern word pharmacy is derived from this but has changed to mean dispensing medications for healing, and the Bible clearly allows the use of medicinal compounds. Too many would-be theologians jump to the wild conclusion that all modern medicine is forbidden by God, because they don’t consider how the Bible uses words, and that these words change meaning over time and between languages and cultures.

In verse 21 the text turns to the issue of hospitality, with the reminder that the people of Israel were once foreigners in Egypt. God makes it clear that he himself will administer severe penalties to those who oppress foreigners, as he did to the Egyptians on behalf of Israel.

Then in verse 25 it deals with the issue of what is commonly called usury, which some mistakenly apply to all forms of charging interest on a loan. However, this text is talking about money borrowed by the poor. The poor are borrowing out of necessity and for that reason must not be charged interest. Money borrowed by the better-off as a business investment is not in view here at all, though in other scriptures interest was not to be charged to fellow Hebrews in any case, but could be charged to foreigners. Extortion and loan sharking are cleary forbidden in all scripture, without regard to whether or not the borrowers are Hebrews. Yet even the permission to charge loan interest to foreigners is held in contempt by modern western critics, as an excuse to hate all Jews without distinction or exception. May such people be held to the same standards of guilt without a trial.

The final section we’ll cover in this section is about first fruits. We’ve already learned why God reserves the firstborn sons for himself, and now it includes also the first and best of herds and crops, to remind them that everything belongs to God and we’re just leasing it.

Tacked on to the end of this chapter is the command for people not to eat the meat of an animal that they themselves didn’t kill, but to leave it for the dogs. The rationale presumed by most commentators is that since the time and cause of death is unknown, it poses a risk of disease, and the blood had not been properly drained.

Exo. 23

Ch. 23 opens with a warning against even listening to gossip, much less spreading it. Slander can’t do much damage without people willing to hear it and repeat it. The command is to demand evidence, and the accomplice shares the guilt of the slanderer. From this comes the next warning against following the crowd in making baseless accusations. And while most would agree that justice should not be perverted to favor the rich, scripture also forbids perverting it for the poor.

The point seems to be interrupted by verses 4-5 to address a sin of omission: seeing another person’s work animal wandering off but not bothering to return it to its owner, just because the owner is someone you don’t like. The same applies if the animal is injured or overburdened and you leave it to suffer instead of helping your enemy relieve their animal.

Now back to partiality in a court of law, but the flip side: Just as it’s wrong to defend the poor in a trial when the poor person is guilty, so also is it wrong to falsely condemn the poor when they’re innocent. In other words, justice must not be perverted just because you can get away with it. No one should be wrongly acquitted or condemned because of their social standing, and more than that, the common practice of accepting bribes is forbidden. This applies even to foreigners.

The next section is usually thought of as a religious law, but it has very practical societal benefit: Not only is every seventh day a sabbath rest for people and animals, so also is every seventh year a sabbath rest for the land itself. The land has a chance to rebuild its nutrients, and the wild animals and poor people can glean whatever grows on its own. Failure to observe this command would eventually lead to Israel being deported to Babylon for the number of sabbath years the land had been robbed of. That turned out to be a total of 70 years, which is how the prophet Daniel knew the time had come for Israel to return to the Promised Land.

Now the text abruptly turns to remind the people to not speak the names of other gods, and then it begins a section on annual religious feasts. This source gives details and dates on all the eventual feasts, but the three described here are:

  1. Passover
  2. Unleavened Bread, beginning the next day and lasting for seven
  3. Tabernacles or Booths, said here to be at the end of the year, though Lev. 23:34 says the seventh month; year in this passage refers to the harvest season.

Again we see the reference to every male among you, a reminder of Pharaoh’s attempt to kill them all, and a reminder about the other first fruits. To this is the added stipulation that a lamb must not be boiled in its mother’s milk, the reason for which we can only speculate about.

There is a clear break at this point to look to the future. The angel is presumed to mean the Angel of the Lord, which most take to mean Jesus, the Person of the Trinity to eventually incarnate as the ultimate Passover Lamb. This is the one who will guide them into the land he is preparing for them. But there are conditions; the people have to listen to him, and the consequences depend on whether or not they do so.

The people are warned that when they come to the Promised Land currently occupied by the ethnic groups listed, they must not worship their gods or behave as they do. God goes on in that section to point out that he cannot drive them out all at once or the land would become desolate and wild animals would become a problem.

Now God defines the boundaries of the land, as shown in this map. The actual occupied area will turn out to be smaller than this due to disobedience. But again the people are warned not to worship the heathen gods or make alliances with the people there, and none of them are to be left in the land.

Exo. 24

All of this has only been the writing out of the covenant, but now it needs to be signed by both parties. Moses, Aaron, and two others are to bring 70 elders with them to worship God from a distance, but only Moses can come near to God. Before they go, the people again affirm their acceptance of the terms, and Moses builds an altar at the foot of the mountain, along with setting up twelve stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel.

Next Moses has sacrifices made, and he takes the blood and puts half in bowls and half on the altar. Then he reads the whole covenant aloud and the people affirm their acceptance again, so he sprinkles some of the blood on them too, which signs and seals the legal agreement. This symbolized the willingness to give one’s own life should they break the agreement.

Now Moses and the others can go up to the mountain. That’s where they see an appearance of God standing on something they can’t really describe, and they eat the sacrificial meal in his presence. This meal sharing, like the blood sprinkling, was typical of solemn legal agreements, especially involving deities.

Now Moses goes on farther, bringing only Joshua, to receive the stone tablets of the law. They leave the elders in the care of Aaron and Hur, and all of them are to watch over the people. So the glory of God covers the mountain like a cloud for six days, and on the seventh God calls to Moses, at which time the glory of God becomes like an intense fire. Moses goes into that and stays there for 40 days.

Exo. 25

God begins to give instructions on furnishing the Sanctuary or Tabernacle, a portable temple to be set up according to precise specifications and made with the finest materials. This was to impress upon the people that God was among them per the covenant both parties have just agreed to, as a kind of throne room for official meetings. The people had asked for a mediator, and this would be the point at which mediation would take place. Here is a depction of how the Tabernacle probably looked:

The centerpiece of the Tabernacle would be the famous Ark of the Covenant, whose description you can read up to verse 24. The Ark as depicted in Raiders of the Lost Ark really wasn’t all that bad. The passage goes on to describe all the various utensils and equipment needed for various ceremonies and sacrifices as well.

Exo. 26-27

The specifications continue into ch. 26, while the altar itself is described in ch. 27. Then God adds a courtyard area around the temple with the same quality of materials and attention to detail.

Exo. 28

Now God turns to the matter of a priesthood, comprised of Aaron and his sons. Aaron was likely chosen because he had already been functioning as a mediator for Moses. The priests are assigned special garments of high quality and precise detail, equal to everything else associated with the Tabernacle, and the description goes on for quite a while. Constable has a lot of material on all this, and you can see here and here for artists’ conceptions of how this all was laid out. There are depictions of priestly garments as well.

Exo. 29-31

Ch. 29 is where the ceremonies for consecrating the priests are described, but they will be examined in more detail in Leviticus 8. Ch. 30 continues with additional articles for the Tabernacle and rules for financing its upkeep, while ch. 31 is where God selects skilled workers for its construction. Verse 12 is where God turns back from the priesthood to the people, who are reminded to honor the sabbaths, and that the penalty for failure is death! This is God, and he is to be taken seriously and honored as the one to whom all owe their lives.

To further impress the permanence and seriousness of this covenant, God Himself writes on the two stone tablets. These are called The Tablets of Testimony, meaning a legal witness. It really doesn’t say what exactly was written on them until 34:28, and both the Greek and Hebrew texts say the ten words rather than the ten commandments. However, the Greek word logos can mean statements or phrases as well as individual words.

As for their sizes, we do know that they would be placed inside the Ark of the Covenant, whose dimensions we’re given, and that Moses was able to carry them in his arms. Some say that they each had half the Ten Commandments, but others that each stone had the same writing so that each of the two parties to the covenant had a copy.

In the next section we will undoubtedly hear the sound of God face-palming over these people, with whom he just went to a lot of trouble to make a covenant. But why did he go to all that trouble, especially knowing how these people are?

As we’re told in Heb. 8:5 and 9:23, the earthly temple and everything about it had to be made precisely as God instructed because they represented what is in heaven. God always has good reasons for everything. We just have to trust him.

Exo. 32

The previous section went over the solemn, careful procedure to ratify the conditional covenant between God and Israel, and Moses’ 40-day meeting alone with God. Now we see that the people have quickly become impatient, and the guardians Moses appointed were nothing of the sort. Israel, including Aaron and the elders, seem to have an out of sight, out of mind attitude in spite of all the signs, miracles, plagues, fires, noises, and their own repeated words of allegience to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were afraid of God’s presence and asked for an intermediary, but this put just enough distance between themselves and God to erase their memory.

As the saying goes, When the cat’s away, the mice will play, and that’s exactly what Israel does. Aaron volunteers to make a calf-shaped idol for them out of their gold jewelry and says, These are (plural) your gods who brought you out of Egypt! So they make sacrifices to the idol, then have a feast and a wild party. The first three commandments were already broken, and now they pretty much break the rest. They have made a god in their image, with their own hands, a cheap substitute that could make no demands— and no promises.

At this point, God tells Moses what’s happening, and he refers to the Israelites as your people. Then he basically tells Moses to stand back while he wipes them all out and starts over with him. But Moses, the intercessor, pleads for their lives, and he reminds God that if he destroys Israel, the Egyptians will scoff at him and say he only led them out of Egypt to kill them— which is exactly what the Israelites kept saying to Moses as they traveled. So God backs off, and this brings up an interesting observation: that our prayers can indeed move the hands of God, who in his sovereignty allows us a significant amount of free will, of choices within boundaries. It may well be that God allows certain things to happen just to see whether we’ll try to intercede or offer points for him to consider. And it could also be that God was testing Moses as a mediator.

So Moses goes back down the mountain accompanied by Joshua, who hears the roar of the crowd and says They’re at war! But Moses says, No, they’re singing and partying! And when they get close enough to see as well as hear, Moses does what a lot of us do when we’re outraged: throw something― in this case the stone tablets written by God Himself― and they shatter. Why not, since Israel had already shattered the covenant in every other way?

Next Moses takes the idol, melts it in the fire, grinds it to a powder, scatters it on the water, and makes all the people drink it. (Do you think maybe he’s a little upset?) As the ultimate insult to them and their idol, by drinking the gold it was made from, they would literally defacate this false god.

As an interesting side note, Constable makes a connection between this drinking of the gold dust with the later test of adultery in Numbers 5:24. Here, Israel has committed adultery against God and is made to drink dust. In Numbers, if a husband suspected his wife of adultery, he would take her to the temple, and the priest would make her drink water with dust in it from the temple floor. If she survived she was innocent.

This seems barbaric to us, but not only does it stand as a testimony to the unfaithfulness of the whole nation, it also formally acquits an innocent woman who has been falsely accused in a public place, and it publicly shames the husband who tried to ruin her life. Because of this risk, husbands would have to think twice before making rash accusations against their wives, who would be destitute if divorced. Again, God is protecting the most vulnerable members of society from those with power.

Now as angry as Moses obviously is, he still saves them from complete extinction, but there’s a price to pay. He confronts his brother Aaron, who makes up the lamest excuse since Adam: He shifts blame to the people, then claims that the calf formed itself out of the fire!

Of course Moses isn’t buying it at all. And as he sees that Israel’s enemies are gloating over the people running wild since Aaron utterly failed to control them, he shouts out to the people: Whoever is still loyal to God, come stand with me!, and only the tribe of Levi comes. So he tells the men of Levi to get their swords and go kill all the others. Verse 28 totals the dead at 3,000 men, so clearly not every single person was killed. But because of their loyalty and devotion to God even if it meant punishing their own people, the Levites are designated the priestly tribe. In the Genesis study we made note of the fact that Levi himself was a scoundrel, but that his tribe would later redeem themselves, and this is when that happens.

At this point, Moses returns to the presence of God to make atonement for their sin, even to the point of offering to trade his own life for theirs. God replies that he will only take out those who remain rebellious, and he sends a plague on them for now, but complete punishment will be delayed.

Exo. 33

Here we see that they will break camp and move toward the Promised Land, but they will go without God’s immediate presence. Almost sarcastically, God gives the reason: If he goes with them, he just might kill them after all! Though God has not completely abandoned Israel, there is now great strain between them because of their shallow character. Constable’s chart for this passage shows point-by-point how the restored covenant is much more restrictive than the original.

Of particular importance is that the Tent of Meeting would no longer be at the Tabernacle in the center of the camp but at Moses’ tent, which he moves to the outside of the camp to show that Israel had effectively thrown God out of their house. Also, only Moses would see the glory of God from this point on, and the stone tablets were to be replaced.

Now Moses is concerned about the absence of God’s presence as he leads the people out, so God tells him that he’ll at least be with him. But Moses needs assurance in a more concrete way after all that has happened, so God arranges a certain place where Moses can only see a glimpse of his back rather than his face, since to see his face would mean instant death. This reminds me of a story I heard long ago, about a little boy who was afraid of a storm and wanted his parents to stay in his room with him so he could go back to sleep. They assured him that God would protect him, but he replied, Yes, but I need God with skin on!

Exo. 34

This is the point where God tells Moses to make new stone tablets. Though verse one says God would write on them, verse 28 says Moses does the writing. The clearest reconciliation of these two verses would be that the words are God’s, but the actual writing is to be done by human hands. The whole procedure is repeated, of Moses going alone up the mountain and spending 40 days with God, who again dictates all those ordinances.

During this time, God seems to add another festival called the Feast of Weeks, which is described in more detail in other passages. But commentators argue that this is actually part of the Feast of Firstfruits; that is, Firstfruits is the first day of the week after the Passover, but it begins the counting off of seven weeks to what this verse calls a harvest in the middle of the year, meaning the middle of the harvest season, known to us as Pentecost.

All the feasts from Passover to Pentecost constitute the spring feasts, and you might want to check this source for more detail. As that article points out, Jesus was crucified on Passover, buried on Unleavened Bread, raised on First Fruits, and sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. God always has reaons for his rules.

As Moses returns to the camp, he doesn’t realize that his face is glowing from being with God. Since it disturbs people, he says he’ll cover his face in the future until the glow wears off after each time he meets with God. At least they’d still have some proof that God is with them and Moses is still God’s chosen leader for them.

Exo. 35-40

From this point in the text is a repetition of instructions for Tabernacle materials, which they finally begin to build. Constable puts the timing at about a year after Israel left Egypt, which is 9 months after they arrived at Mt. Sinai/Horeb. When it’s finally finished (ch. 40), God tells Moses exactly what must be done to initiate the use of all this.

When everything is ready, God’s cloud covers the Tent of Meeting and his glory fills it, and whenever the cloud would lift and move, that would be the signal for Israel to break camp and move out. As for the routine from that point on, you might want to see Constable’s notes on Exodus for a handy chart of the ancient Hebrew calendar.


If this study of Exodus has taught us anything, it’s that God allows his people enough freedom to delay or alter his plans, but not enough to ruin his plans. His people are chosen not because of their perfection but in spite of their imperfection. He does everything possible to shower us with blessings and reluctantly uses discipline to keep us from going too far astray.

His laws for Israel were exclusively for them, as his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was for them, mediated and enacted formally through Moses. If Israel obeys, then their blessings can extend to the world. There would be many more speed-bumps to come for the nation of Israel, and a final one remains even in our day. But through the Messiah, the Passover Lamb, blessings to the world have already begun for those who, like Moses and the tribe of Levi, have accepted God’s terms.

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