The rescue of Abraham’s children from Egyptian slavery
By Moses, the shepherd of God’s people
The book of Exodus establishes God’s covenant relationship with the full-fledged nation of Israel. The descendants of Abraham prosper after settling in Egypt, only to be enslaved by a fearful, hateful Egyptian Pharaoh.
God appoints Moses to lead the people out of this bondage. Moses serves as God’s spokesman, as the Lord brings plagues and judgments on Egypt, leading to the release of Israel.
The Book of Exodus continues the story of God’s unique relationship with a people known as Israel. But the situation for Israel in Egypt has changed drastically.
As Exodus begins, hundreds of years have gone by from the time when Joseph and his family settled in the land of Egypt.
With Joseph as Pharaoh’s second-in-command, Jacob (Israel) and his children enjoyed favored status. But Exodus announces that a new Pharaoh is in charge, and he wants to write his own history.
Meanwhile, as God had promised, Israel has become a nation; but it is a nation living as aliens and outsiders within a land not their own. So, for many reasons Pharaoh and the Egyptians turn against these outsiders and cruelly oppress them.
A Going Out
Exodus then is a story of divine rescue. God remembers the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and He prepares a new prophet, Moses, to be His mouthpiece to Israel and to Egypt’s powerful king.
With miracle after miracle, God defeats the so-called gods of Egypt demonstrating that He is the True God and these slaves belong to Him.
The title of the book, Exodus, is taken from the Greek translation and means literally “a going out.” It is named for the central, miraculous event in the book, the “going out” of the Hebrew slaves from a land of oppression toward a new land that would become their home.
Set Apart From Other Nations
The book ends with the people of Israel on their way to this new land. But for a time they must discontinue their journey and camp at Mount Sinai, a special place where God chooses to reveal Himself initially to Moses and then to the rest of the people.
At Mount Sinai, God establishes a new covenant with Israel, a covenant that builds upon and expands the earlier relationship He formed with Abraham and his descendants.
At the heart of this covenant are God’s directives to His people. They put into law His will and form a blueprint for a new kind of society that God intends to be an example to the rest of the world.
These directives order their private and public lives; they form the basis for civil and religious society. They demonstrate God’s perspective on right and wrong and set Israel apart from other nations.
GOD’s Prophet, The People’s Priest
Moses’ greatness as God’s prophet and the people’s priest is demonstrated on nearly every page of this book. Although Moses stammers badly, God uses him and his brother Aaron to speak more clearly and effectively than any prophet in history.
Moses is surely a giant in Israel’s history, which may be why tradition ascribes this book—as well as the rest of the Pentateuch—to Moses as author.
- Israel in Egypt
- The heroism of two women
The first few verses of Exodus connect it with the account of Genesis. Those who came down into Egypt are listed first and the years between are quickly covered.
Exodus 1:7 continues the Genesis account.
The key verse in this book is Exodus 20:2, which says, “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”
- The birth of Moses
- Moses’ first attempt to help his people
- Moses in Midian takes a gentile bride
In this chapter we have before us Moses the deliverer. He is prominent as the deliverer of Israel in the first eleven chapters of Exodus.
Exodus is the great book of redemption. Nothing is begun or ended in this book. It is simply a continuation of the story that started in Genesis and continues on into the Books of Leviticus and Numbers.
- The call of Moses
- The commissioning of Moses
Burning bushes in the desert are not uncommon. Dry plants make good tinder, and lightning strikes quickly set them ablaze. What is unusual is the fact that this bush continues to burn: a curiosity for this seasoned shepherd.
As Moses draws close, he sees more than he expects; he encounters the one True God and His Special Messenger.
But the form of the encounter is not completely clear. Moses hears directly from God, but he sees only fire and God’s Special Messenger. The point here is not simply to amaze Moses with miracles but to call him to an important task.
God’s people are suffering, and they need someone willing to go and rescue them. God has already decided the right person for the job, but he needs to be persuaded.
- Moses’ objections to being Israel’s deliverer
- Aaron becomes Moses’ spokesman
- Moses returns to Egypt
God has been called by many names and titles, and those reflect to some extent aspects of God’s nature and character. In this encounter, God reveals to Moses His name.
This is a special name by which God invites His covenant partners to know and call on Him for all time. It sometimes appears in books or translations as YHWH or Yahweh, but this is only a transliteration of the four letters in Hebrew; it’s not a translation of its meaning.
The name is built on the Hebrew verb “to be” and refers to the fact that God is the Self-existent One — “I AM WHO I AM.”
Many translations render the divine name “ LORD ” (in capital and small capital letters), but this translation uses “the Eternal One,” for at the heart of the name is the notion that God has always been and always will be.
God transcends time and existence; He is the ground of existence.
Out of respect, the ancients would seldom speak or write the covenant name; they would use it only on the most solemn occasions. Still God is establishing a unique relationship with Abraham’s descendants, and it is time to reveal to them His name.
This strange episode is difficult to understand. There is much here that is unexplainable.
What is clear is that Moses has been called by God to challenge Pharaoh — one of the most powerful men in history — and to rescue hundreds of thousands of Hebrew slaves from lives of hard labor.
On a human level, at least, this seems like risky business. But Moses’ mission is something else entirely; it is God’s business, involving promises made by a holy God to Abraham hundreds of years earlier, promises to provide for and protect His people.
One key aspect of that covenant is the obligation of all males to be circumcised. Apparently Moses has neglected to circumcise his son, a fact that could jeopardize the entire mission.
So when Zipporah realizes the gravity of the situation, she takes action and circumcises him. With their covenant responsibilities now met, Moses is free to continue the mission.
- Moses’ appeal for Israel’s deliverance
- The increase of Israel’s burden
- Moses’ prayer
Chapter 5 begins the contest with Pharaoh. The plagues are leveled against the idolatry of Egypt. It is actually a battle of God with the gods of Egypt. Moses returned to Egypt after an absence of forty years.
The deliverer is prepared now to deliver his people. He was to assemble the elders of Israel, and they were to go to Pharaoh and present their request. Pharaoh refused to let Israel go, and this opened the struggle between God and the gods of Egypt.
The plagues were not haphazard. God did not send a plague of frogs and then say, “I wonder what calamity I should send next.” Probably nothing was ever quite so organized and meaningful as these plagues.
They were directed very definitely toward the idolatry of Egypt. Pharaoh asked the question, “Who is the Lord? I do not know Him, and I do not intend to let Israel go.” So God introduced Himself and did it by bringing plagues on the land of Egypt.
In Exodus 7:5 the Lord makes it very clear what He has in mind: “And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.”
God used the plagues to deliver His people and to let the Egyptians know who He was. Each plague was leveled at a different god of Egypt. There were thousands of temples, millions of idols, and about three thousand gods in Egypt.
That will outdo anything we have in this country today. There was power in the religion of Egypt. The Egyptians were not fools. We have transistor radios, color television, and have been to the moon, but that does not mean we are superior.
All of our knowledge is based on that which has been handed down from the past. We have been building upon the knowledge that has come to us through the centuries.
Paul makes it clear that there was power in the Egyptian religions in 2 Timothy 3:8 when he says, “Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.”
The power in Egyptian religion was satanic and Satan grants power to those who worship him. The oracle at Delphi in the Greek periods is an example of it.
God directed His plagues against the idolatry in Egypt, against Pharaoh, and against Satan. It was a battle of the gods.
Exodus 12:12 confirms it: “For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.”
God exposed the gods of Egypt as false, and He revealed to Israel His ability to deliver them. These Israelites had been born in the brickyards in the midst of idolatry, and God had to show them that He was superior.
A brief outline of each plague might be helpful at this point in order to see that there was some sense to them. When Moses first stood before Pharaoh, he changed his rod into a serpent.
The wise men of Egypt performed the same miracle. This reveals that Satan has definite powers. After this demonstration came the ten plagues.
- Jehovah’s answer to Moses’ prayer
- A partial genealogy of Israel
- Renewal of Moses’ commission
Up until this point in the story, Moses has taken the lead in rescuing the people of Israel from Egyptian bondage. But this genealogy signals that Aaron will play an increasingly important role in the days ahead.
Both Moses and Aaron are descended from Levi — whose children are set aside to serve Israel as priests — but the genealogy traces Aaron’s lineage, not Moses’. Later generations will look back at Aaron as the ideal priest.
Chapter 6 is a continuation of the last part of chapter 5. The time for the plagues to descend upon Egypt is at hand. The battle of the gods is about to begin.
What has led up to this moment?
In retrospect we find that the first thing Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel did was ask Pharaoh for permission to go out into the wilderness and sacrifice unto the Lord for three days.
Pharaoh’s answer was no because he “did not know the Lord.” He then increased the burden of the Israelites. The children of Israel complained to Moses who in turn complained to the Lord.
God wanted to assure Moses of who He was and what He was going to do. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had heard the groanings of Israel and was going to deliver them.
God wanted Moses to look at the past history of Israel and see how He had kept them. God had demonstrated time and time again His love for Israel and His desire to help them.
God had intervened many times in their behalf. God also intervenes in our behalf today. I am certain He has for me—maybe you are not sure of God’s working in your life.
Philippians 1:6 says: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
God knows our needs today. He knows our desperate condition. He can and wants to help us just as He helped Israel in Egypt.
- The renewal of Moses’ commission—continued
- The Egyptian magicians
- The first plague—water turned to blood
The battle between the Lord God of Israel and the Egyptian gods has not yet been joined, but we are coming to it now. God has been preparing the children of Israel, Moses and Aaron, and even old Pharaoh for the engagement.
Moses is going to stand before Pharaoh, but Aaron will do the speaking.
Was Moses tongue-tied, did he stutter, or did he have some other speech impediment?
My personal feeling is that Moses’ problem was psychological. After forty years in the wilderness he may have felt inadequate and fearful. God wanted to make it very clear, however, that He, and not Moses, was going to deliver the children of Israel.
By the way, that is one reason it is so difficult for God to move today in our individual lives in the church. There is always some person or some organization who is taking the credit.
When we are always getting in the way to take the credit, the mighty bared arm of God is not revealed. God had to put the human element out of the way because He cannot use the flesh.
God, speaking through the apostle Paul, tells us this in Romans 7:18, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.”
It is difficult for some people to believe that there is no good in man because they rather count on it, especially in a time of emergency. But God does not want our flesh.
He cannot use it; He will not use it. God has set the flesh aside, and Aaron will speak for Moses.
- The second plague—frogs
- The third plague—lice
- The fourth plague—flies
The plagues continue upon the land of Egypt. God is directing His attack against a people immersed in idolatry.
Frogs were represented by Heka, a frog-headed goddess. Also Hapi was depicted as holding a frog out of whose mouth flowed a stream of nourishment.
This indicates the close relationship between the god of the Nile and the frog goddess, one of the oldest and the mother of goddesses. She was the goddess of fertility and rebirth, the patroness of midwives.
One Egyptian picture shows Heka reciting spells to effect the resurrection of Osiris. Also a carving shows her kneeling before the queen and superintending at the birth of Hatshepset.
- The fifth plague—murrain
- The sixth plague—boils
- The seventh plague—hail
God continues to deal with the stubborn heart of Pharaoh and with his people. So long as Pharaoh resists the Lord God, anguish and disaster will be poured out upon the land of Egypt and its inhabitants.
Up to this chapter we are told that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and now we are told that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
Pharaoh’s continual refusal to acknowledge the Lord God and obey His wishes has brought about God’s power in destruction.
God wants to shower blessings upon us and wants to save us, but our refusal can turn blessing to cursing. So is the case with Pharaoh.
- Pharaoh is threatened with a plague of locusts
- The eighth plague—locusts
- The ninth plague—darkness
- The Lord’s claim on Israel
A person begins to wonder what it is going to take to cause Pharaoh to let Israel go. God has many reasons for doing what He does. One reason for the plagues was to make Pharaoh reveal that he was a godless man.
God could have taken the children of Israel out of the land immediately without making any contact with Pharaoh. If He had, the critic would say that God certainly was not fair to Pharaoh.
He should have given him an opportunity to let Israel go, and He should have given him an opportunity for salvation. Well, friend, that is exactly what God has done.
God also wanted to demonstrate to His people what He was able to do before He took them into the wilderness. He wanted them to know that He was well able to bring them into the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
That story has been told through the observance of the Passover for nearly four thousand years.
- The Israelites ask Egyptians for jewels
- The firstborn of Egypt are threatened with death
This is the final chapter in this section of the contest with Pharaoh. The death of the firstborn is the final act of judgment upon Egypt before Israel is freed from the yoke of bondage.
Pharaoh should have learned by this time that it is futile to enter into conflict with God. God has been long suffering and forgiving, but He must make Pharaoh understand that it is time for Israel to leave Egypt.
All of Egypt was inclined to take Pharaoh’s side in this contest with God and He must deliver one final blow upon Egypt in His attempt to teach them the lessons they need to learn.
- The beginning of Israel’s religious year
- Institution of the Feast of the Passover
- The tenth plague—death of the firstborn
- The Israelites are driven out of Egypt
Perhaps the best way to look at the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh is as a contest to see who truly is God. In Egypt Pharaoh is considered a god. He has certain powers and abilities, and the might of Egypt resides with him.
When Moses and Aaron appear before him to demand the release of the Hebrew slaves, each refusal becomes an occasion for the True God to demonstrate His superiority over Pharaoh and all the other gods of Egypt.
Each successive miracle attacks deeper into the heart of Pharaoh’s power and politics. Slowly but surely, Pharaoh’s power is subverted until God breaks Pharaoh’s grip on the people of Israel completely.
With the final miracle everything begins to unravel: the death of the firstborn is personal for Pharaoh.
- Israel’s firstborn sanctified to God
- Journey to Etham by divine guidance
This night is still remembered by Jewish people each year during the festival called Passover. The exodus — God’s liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt — is one of the most important events in all Scripture.
For over 400 years, God’s covenant people lived as outsiders in Egypt. For as long as that last generation could remember, they had been slaves living embittered lives under a cruel regime. But God heard their cries and acted finally and decisively to rescue them.
Now it is time to go home, to a land they have never seen, a land of promise and prosperity. They return not as slaves but as free people, a powerful force for God in the world.
The exodus leaves a permanent mark on the people of Israel. It is celebrated in song, recorded in Scripture, and commemorated in a festival; the prophets even see a day when a new exodus is coming.
- Pharaoh and his army pursue Israel
- God’s victory over Egypt
It is impossible to locate these places definitely, but they were somewhere between the Nile River and the Red Sea.
Pharaoh has spies watching the children of Israel. The movement of perhaps two and a half million people would be difficult to conceal anyway.
Pharaoh expects the Israelites to move up the coastal route and through the land of the Philistines. When they head toward the wilderness, he thinks they are lost and do not know where they are going.
God says that when he thinks they are trapped, he will pursue them. It is obvious that Pharaoh let the Israelites go reluctantly. God is not through with this man Pharaoh yet.
- Israel’s song of redemption
- Israel murmurs because they lack water
Throughout this redemption story, it is clear that the Lord has protected Israel while He has judged and frustrated Egypt.
After the many wonders before the Passover and the miraculous guidance by the cloud and the pillar of fire, God destroyed the Egyptian army in the midst of the sea.
For centuries people have sought to explain this great miracle and make sense of it.
- Was it a volcanic eruption and a tsunami that parted the waters?
- Was it a shallow lake that drowned Pharaoh’s army?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Only God knows. But reason cannot grasp all that took place that day. When God’s covenant people were on the verge of extinction, God stepped in to fight for them. No one survived that day except by the miraculous grace of God.
- Israel murmurs because they lack food
- Manna and quail are provided by God
- Manna described and collected
- The Sabbath given to Israel
“The Eternal Provides.” That could well be the theme for the entire exodus adventure.
- When there is no water, He provides.
- When there is no bread, He provides.
- When there is no meat, He provides.
These provisions are clearly God’s gift to His people. They do not depend upon the cleverness, skill, or hard work of the Israelites.
It must be difficult for these former slaves — whose lives have been all about work — to stop, to rest, and to truly believe their lives and futures depend upon God and not upon themselves.
This is an interesting statement.
Aaron is directed to place the jar with the special bread like substance that God provides “before the covenant,” which is either a reference to the directives God will provide (chapter 20) or to the special container — the covenant chest — God directs Aaron to build (chapter 25) to preserve some of Israel’s most precious treasures from the exodus and their time in the wilderness.
Neither of these items exists at this point in time.
- Water flows from the smitten rock
- Contention with Amalek
The children of Israel have left the land of Egypt and are on a wilderness march. They are on their way to Mount Sinai. Along the way Israel has had seven experiences that are pictures of the tian life.
Remember, “. . . all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10: 11).
All Christians will do well to read and heed these lessons. These lessons are given to us in picture form and their meaning is clear.
- The visit of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law
- Jethro’s advice to appoint judges accepted by Moses
In chapter 18 we come to the last of the seven experiences the children of Israel had between Egypt and Mount Sinai. God has been leading Moses directly by revelation but now Moses turns to worldly wisdom for help rather than to God for revelation.
- Moses delivers God’s message
- Israel prepares for a visitation from God
Jethro is more than Moses’ father-in-law; he is also an insightful leader and a skilled counselor. He sees that what Moses is trying to do is counterproductive.
Moses is wearing himself down in continual service to the people, and the people are frustrated with the many hours they must wait to have their cases heard by a single arbitrator.
Jethro’s counsel advances the best possible solution for all concerned. Moses remains the sole spiritual leader of the emerging nation, the people’s representative to God, and the conduit of God’s wisdom to the people.
But now he is to delegate his governing authority to a set of judges.
The legal and administrative system Jethro proposes is much like a military command with the masses of people divided and then subdivided.
Those who are honest and capable hear the normal disputes that arise on a daily basis, much as they have observed Moses handling them in the past.
The more difficult and unique issues are still dealt with by Moses. In this system, there is no difference between civil disputes and religious inquiries.
This is an administration designed to handle all problems, secular or spiritual. Life, after all, doesn’t fall into nice, neat categories.
- The giving of the Ten Commandments
- The effect of God’s visit
- Instructions concerning the altar
Until now God has dealt only with Moses on behalf of His people; at Mount Sinai, He turns to address them directly in order to express the core of His covenant obligations. He begins by reminding them of all He has done for them.
His miraculous deeds in liberating the Hebrew slaves and providing for them in the desert become the basis of this new relationship. He then proceeds to lay out the Ten Directives that will define and shape their lives together.
The first four Directives concern their duties to know and worship the one True God. The last six pertain to how Israel is to live with one another in a covenant-based society.
Properly understood, all the other teachings, prescriptions, and directives that come in later chapters derive from these Ten Directives.
- The law concerning master and servant relationships
- The law concerning personal injuries
After God gives Israel the Ten Directives, He gives them other instructions that derive from the first ten. They do not cover every situation but provide guidance for how God’s people should live.
- The law concerning property rights
- The law concerning crimes against humanity
The difference between these two situations is the difference between daylight and dark. If a homeowner is protecting his property at night and injures a thief, it is to be treated as a case of self-defense.
But if the crime takes place during the light of day, it is not necessary to incapacitate or capture the thief; it is necessary only to recognize the thief and bear truthful witness against him in court. The right to personal property does not eclipse the right to life.
- The law concerning property rights—continued
- The law concerning the land and the Sabbath
- The law concerning national feasts
The Hebrews follow a lunar calendar that has 11 fewer days than the solar calendar. Since it has only 354 days in the year, an extra month (a “leap” month) is added periodically to bring the dates into alignment with the seasons.
Within this annual cycle, God sets aside several great feasts for the people to celebrate. The people are to honor their God by having days of pure rejoicing as they recall their rescue from Egypt and God’s ongoing provision.
In keeping with the needs of an agricultural people, these feasts are situated around the harvests: first, the collection of the winter grains; second, the harvest of the other grains 50 days later; third, the gathering of the main crops of the field.
- Order of worship before the existence of the tabernacle
- The children of Israel acknowledge the covenant
- Moses ascends Mount Sinai alone
Exodus 24 concludes the section on social legislation begun in Exodus 21. We have found that the Law of Moses is much more than the brief Ten Commandments and that the area of social legislation covers a great deal of ground.
- Materials to be used for the tabernacle
- Instructions for constructing the ark of the covenant
- The table of showbread; the golden lampstand
From above God’s glory appears as a cloud. From below it appears as a fire. As with the burning bush earlier on Mount Sinai, the mountain seems to burn but is not consumed.
This table is to be placed in a special room of the congregation tent with the elements symbolic of God’s place among His people.
One of the major elements is the bread of the Presence; it is arranged in two rows of six flat loaves representing the twelve sons of Israel.
There is also a pan for holding incense and pitchers for fine wine; all these elements remind God’s people of His loving grace. The golden lampstand stands nearby, bathing the room and its contents in warm light.
This special room and all it contains stimulate the senses — sight, smell, touch, and taste — and serve to remind those who enter of God’s tangible blessings.
- The curtains of the tabernacle
- The boards and sockets of the tabernacle
- The veils
At the very center of Israel’s camp is the congregation tent. It is the heart of the nation, a place of unique revelation, and a constant reminder of God’s presence and actions which create and form His people.
Everything must be portable because this is not a settled population but a people on the move. God describes exactly how this large tent and its furnishings are to be constructed.
Each layer covering the tent and the detailed work on the covenant chest, the seat of mercy, the table of presence, the lampstand, and all the utensils are physical reminders of deep, spiritual realities.
The building, assembling, disassembling, and reassembling of the tent are labor-intensive; yet it is a work of obedience and devotion calling Israel to remember their special relationship with God.
These are signs — located right in the center of the camp — that point to the fact that His graciousness is ever before them.
- The brazen altar
- The court of the tabernacle
- Oil for the lamp
Notice now as we move outside the tabernacle proper to the court that the articles of furniture are made of brass: the brazen altar and the brazen laver. Inside, you recall, the articles of furniture were of gold.
As you get closer to God, the emphasis is on the person of Christ. As you move farther out, the emphasis is on the work of Christ.
- Aaron and his sons set apart for the priesthood
- The ephod
- The breastplate
- The Urim and Thummim
- The robe of the ephod
Whenever Aaron and his sons enter into God’s presence, they wear these heavy ceremonial garments covered with the names of the tribes of Israel to remind them of their holy calling; they come before God to represent His people, not their own interests.
But these stones, carved with the names of the twelve tribes, are there to remind God as well. It is not that God forgets, but as our story shows there are times — sometimes long seasons — when the heavens seem silent while God’s people are suffering.
The Scriptures tell us that when God’s covenant people call on Him, He remembers His promises and comes to save them.
These stones sit prominently on the shoulders of Aaron and later high priests as a memorial, as unspoken prayers calling out and calling upon God to act on behalf of His people.
The richly detailed description of the high priest’s attire reflects key aspects of God’s relationship with His people. The engraved onyx stones on the vest remind the priest that he stands before God representing the people of Israel.
The Urim and Thummim offer assurance that God will direct and guide His people through difficult times and decisions in the future.
The beautifully embroidered robe worn under the breast piece represents the riches and beauty of God’s provision. The medallion on the front of the turban announces that Israel must be holy in order to serve the Lord.
- The consecration of the priests
- The sacrifices of the consecration
- The food of the priests
- The continual burnt offering
One difficult aspect of Old Testament life to appreciate (at least in the Western world) is the use of animal sacrifices. The Israelites are first a nomadic people; later when they are settled, they become a shepherding people.
For them to offer their best and dearest to God means most naturally an animal, one without blemish and young.
These animals are the basis of their economy and provide them with food, clothing, shelter, and security. To offer God an animal sacrifice is to offer a piece of their lives.
So offerings are very personal and differ based on what families can afford. In some cases, the sacrifices are completely consumed, but in others the priests and the people take some of the meat home to their own tables.
This way the whole community shares in the bounty of the sacrifice.
- The altar of incense
- The ransomed may worship
- The cleansed may worship
- The anointed may worship
- The incense
This is the great worship chapter. In looking at the first compartment of the tabernacle proper, the Holy Place, we see three articles of furniture. All speak of worship.
We have already considered the lampstand and the table of showbread, but there is also an altar here. It is the altar of incense.
The table of showbread and the golden lampstand typify God’s people meeting and fellowshiping together.
(This is not where you meet together and gossip, but where you feed on the person of Jesus Christ. It is a banquet.)
The altar of incense is the place of prayer.
THEME: The call of Spirit-filled craftsmen; the Sabbath Day becomes a sign
This chapter seems to be a departure from the study of the tabernacle, but actually it is not. What we have here is an interval between the giving of the Law and the instructions of the tabernacle.
Moses spent a great deal of time on Mt. Sinai, receiving all the instructions. The children of Israel became somewhat impatient while they were waiting for him to return.
This chapter tells us about the workmen who made the tabernacle and about one in particular who was given a special gift for making the articles of furniture, especially the more difficult pieces.
- The golden calf
- Condemnation of Israel’s apostasy
- The intercession of Moses
This is truly a dark moment for Israel. Moses left Aaron and Hur in charge 40 days ago, and both men are beginning to feel the strain.
The people are stuck in the desert, and they are growing increasingly impatient without Moses and direction from God.
So the people begin to question, and eventually they demand a physical representation of God like the ones their neighbors have. Aaron complies.
With Moses and God occupied, the people begin breaking the Ten Directives, one after another: worshiping other gods, making idols, invoking God’s name for their own selfish purposes, and committing other indecent acts.
The people of God fall quickly, and they fall hard. For a brief period, their very survival is in doubt.
- Israel’s journey continues
- The tabernacle is placed outside the camp
- Moses’ prayer and the Lord’s answer
The golden-calf incident creates a deep rift between God and His people. For their safety, God refuses to travel with them to the land of promise; instead, He sends His messenger to guide them.
The people’s response to God’s threatened absence is to mourn and refuse to wear their jewelry and fine clothes. The meeting tent and the congregation tent reflect this rift too.
The congregation tent is to be God’s unique dwelling with His people, so it is located right in the middle of the camp. But now there is another tent, the meeting tent set up a long way from camp, far from the contagion of evil spreading there.
From time to time, God and Moses meet there to talk; and Joshua stands watch over this intimate encounter, for only Joshua and Moses are not imperiled when the rest of Israel violates God’s directive and worships the golden calf.
Moses speaks with God and does his best to get God back on good terms with His covenant people.
- The tables of the Law renewed
- Moses’ commission is renewed
- Moses’ face shines
These are the second tables of the Law. The first tables were broken by Moses when he descended Mount Sinai and found that the children of Israel had made a golden calf and were worshiping it.
He now comes back to the mount with blank tables of stone.
- The Sabbath reemphasized
- Free gifts for the tabernacle
- Bezaleel and Aholiab called to the work
In this chapter the Lord returns to talk to Israel about the Sabbath Day. This is the third time.
The Lord insists that the first reason for the Sabbath is that it belongs to the first creation. God rested on the Sabbath Day. As mankind left the creative hand of God, he began to wander away from God.
There came the day when mankind as a whole no longer recognized God but began to worship the creature. And man gave up keeping the Sabbath Day.
Now God said that the Sabbath was a peculiar sign between Himself and the children of Israel. God began to lay down rules that actually apply more to Israel in the Promised Land than to any other place.
If anyone did work on the Sabbath Day, he was stoned to death. It would be very hard to carry on our society without someone working on the Sabbath Day, which is Saturday.
Suppose no fire was kindled on the Sabbath. This would cause great problems in the frozen North. God’s laws were made to suit the land in which Israel lived.
- Construction of the tabernacle
Two skilled craftsmen are given special mention in this work of the people. They are called to transform the abundant gifts the people freely provide into the congregation tent and its furnishings.
It is God who gifts the hearts and hands of these two individuals and further inspires them to teach others.
Of all the women and men who lend their expertise to this project, only Bezalel and Oholiab are recorded. Until Solomon’s temple is built in Jerusalem, their handiwork will be admired by all of Israel as the house of the Eternal One.
This project is nothing like the forced labor the people endured back in Egypt. All the creativity and work put into the building and furnishing of the congregation tent comes from the heart.
People with various skills — skills honed in slavery — step forward as free men and women to create a home on earth for God. Ultimately all talent and skill comes from God. Used properly they all point back to God.
- The plan of the tabernacle
Everything mentioned in this chapter has been dealt with in previous chapters in the Book of Exodus.
Rather than repeating the Scriptures which have been quoted in previous chapters, I will recap some of the highlights and the things which I feel are of primary importance.
The two articles of furniture in the outer court were the brazen altar and the laver. When you stepped inside the Holy Place, there were three articles of furniture: the golden lampstand, the table of showbread, and the altar of incense.
In the Holy of Holies was the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat. There were three compartments to the tabernacle. And there were three entrances to the tabernacle.
(1) There was a gate through the linen fence that surrounded the tabernacle.
(2) There was an entrance which led into the Holy Place.
(3) The third entrance led into the Holy of Holies, where only the high priest went once a year on the great Day of Atonement (as we shall see in Leviticus) and sprinkled blood on the mercy seat—which is what made it a mercy seat.
There were seven articles of furniture arranged in such a way as to give us a wonderful picture. The brazen altar speaks of the Cross of Christ where we receive forgiveness of sin.
The laver speaks of the fact that Christ washes or cleanses those who are His own. The laver is where we confess our sins, and receive His forgiveness and cleansing. The Holy Place is the place of worship.
In it is the golden lampstand typifying Christ, the Light of the World. The table of showbread pictures Christ as the Bread of Life upon which we feed. The altar of incense is the place of prayer.
It speaks of the fact that Christ is our Intercessor. In the Epistle to the Hebrews the altar of incense is placed in the Holy of Holies (rather than in the Holy Place) because our Intercessor is now in heaven.
But the altar of incense is outside in the Holy Place also where you and I can come today. When believers want to worship God, they come into the Holy Place.
Confession, praise, thanksgiving, intercession, making requests—these are the things that have to do with worship. And all of this is in the Holy Place.
If you want the light which the world gives, you go outside, but if you want light from the lampstand, you must come inside. In order to serve Christ you cannot walk by the wisdom of the world but by the light of the Word of God.
The Holy of Holies pictures Jesus Christ in the presence of God. In the Book of Hebrews we are told to come to the throne of grace. The mercy seat pictures this, and this is where we find grace to help and mercy in time of need.
There is a mercy seat for believers in heaven. When Christ came to earth, He not only fulfilled the picture of the tabernacle, He did something quite unusual. The tabernacle in the wilderness was always horizontal with the earth.
It was set up on the flat surface of the ground, with its pillars and boards fitting into the sockets they put down. But when Christ came to pay the price for our sins, He made the tabernacle perpendicular.
The Cross was the brazen altar where the Lamb of God was offered for our sins. He died down here to save us. But He returned to heaven where He lives today to keep us saved. The Holy of Holies is in heaven today.
We do not go horizontally to God by going to a building or to a man, but we look to heaven and go directly to Him—through Jesus Christ. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
Where are you today, friend, in relation to the tabernacle? Do you need to stand at the brazen altar and be saved? There are many folk—even church members—who need to go there.
Are you a soiled Christian who needs to confess your sins at the laver and be cleansed? Or are you walking in darkness today? Step inside the Holy Place and walk by the light of the golden lampstand.
Maybe your spiritual life is a little anemic, and you need to feed on the Bread of Life to gain nourishment. Maybe your prayer life is beggarly and you need to stand before the altar of incense.
Perhaps you are in trouble and you need mercy, grace, and help. Well, there is a mercy seat for you today. Go there and accept the help that is waiting for you. God wants to bless and guide you.
- The plan of the tabernacle—continued
In Moses’ day mirrors are a luxury. They are made from good-quality bronze that is polished to a shine. These mirrors were likely gifts from the Egyptians.
We are still looking at the tabernacle in this chapter. Beginning at chapter 25, the blueprint for the tabernacle was given in every detail. Now Bezaleel and his helpers are constructing the building.
In fact, by chapter 38 the tabernacle has been constructed, as I understand it, but has not yet been set in order. This chapter pays particular attention to the outer court.
As we shall see in the Book of Numbers, Israel traveled when the pillar of cloud started moving. The ark on the shoulders of the priests led the procession. When the cloud rested, Israel set up camp.
The ark was put down on the desert sand and the tabernacle was set up around it. The siding of the gold-covered boards was put in place around it, the bars were slipped through the rings of the boards, and that bound the tabernacle together.
Then over the boards were placed four coverings; the linen, goats’ skins dyed red, the rams’ skins, and the badger or sealskins for protection. The beauty of the tabernacle had to be seen from within.
Everything in it spoke of worship, praise, adoration to God, and blessing to the individual. The outer court, enclosed by the linen fence, was one hundred cubits by fifty cubits and contained the brazen altar and laver.
This is where the sin questions was settled. The sinner would come to the gate and stand there as a sinner. The priest would lead him into the outer court.
The sinner would put his right hand upon the head of the animal he had brought—whether it be lamb, goat, or ox. Then the animal was slain and the priest would offer it on the altar.
That was as far as the individual went; from then on he went in the person of his priest. The priest had to stop at the laver and wash so that he could enter the Holy Place.
In the Holy Place were three articles of furniture: the golden lampstand, the table of showbread, and the altar of incense, all of which spoke of worship.
Next came the veil which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, and the priest did not dare go beyond that.
He did not go into the Holy of Holies, where were the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat, because only the high priest entered this room and only once a year in behalf of the nation.
- The holy garments of the high priest
Aaron was the high priest, and the garments he wore all spoke of the person of Christ. We have already been given the pattern for these garments. These garments are called “holy” because they are set apart for the service of God.
THEME: The tabernacle erected and filled with the Shekinah glory
The last half of the Book of Exodus offers a picture of the relationship between God and humanity through powerful symbols. The amazing truth of all Scripture is reflected here: God resides in the midst of His people.
In every detail of God’s directives — the ethical rules, the people’s offerings, the design of the congregation tent and its furnishings, God’s redemptive acts — God is announcing the central truth: He is present with His covenant people.
So the physical elements of this covenant bear witness to deep, spiritual realities. God is in the process of repairing the world from the damage caused by sin and death; but to do so, He needs a people.
This is why He chooses Israel and makes them different from everyone else. He needs agents on the ground devoted to liberating a world held hostage to lesser powers and feebler gods.
But where will those people be formed and trained to be God’s effective agents?
They will be shaped in the crucible of worship and obedience.
I hope that you have really enjoyed this post,
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