The Birth of a Nation

Posted: January 8, 2015 in Exodus, Route 66
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Route 66: Exodus, “The Birth of a Nation”

Every nation has a beginning – has a starting point.  For the United States, we celebrate ours on the signing of the Declaration of Independence: July 4, 1776.  For Israel, it is remembered with the celebration of the Passover.  That was the day that God purchased His people, and that was the day they exited out of Egypt.

If Genesis recounted the birth of the Hebrews as a people (among the beginnings of many other things), Exodus recounts the birth of the Hebrews as a nation.  They had to start somewhere, and they started as a relatively small clan of 70, which had come from an even smaller start of a single child of Abraham.  Exodus picks up the account showing how the clan was transformed into a nation, united under their Covenant God, and made into His worshipping people.  In the process, we continue to see the lineage of the Messiah unfold, as well as the development of the overall Biblical theme: God rights every wrong through Jesus Christ.  For the Christ/Messiah to come, He must have a nation from which to be born, and a law of which to fulfill – these are the things that see their beginnings in the book of Exodus.

BACKGROUND: Author, Title, Date
The book itself is the 2nd of what is known as the Pentateuch: the 5 books of Moses.  Tradition holds (like Genesis), it was authored by Moses, and indeed it contains the first historical mention of Moses, as well as some of his most detailed biographical information.  The authorship of Moses is debated by liberal scholars (as they do with each of the 1st 5 books of the Bible), but their objections are relatively without merit, and the vast majority of scholars throughout Jewish and Christian history have maintained that Moses wrote the books.  As to when Moses wrote them, that’s something we cannot say with certainty – though 40 years of wilderness wandering certainly gave Moses plenty of time to do it.

The historical dates that Exodus recounts are a subject of a bit more debate.  On one hand, the Bible gives us some fairly precise dating.  1 Kings 6:1, "And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord." . All we would need to do is count back 480 years from Solomon’s reign, and we’d be able to come to the date of Israel’s exodus from the land of Egypt.  If the 4th year of Solomon as 966BC, that would put the date of the exodus around 1446BC.  However, due to the specific Egyptian cities that are mentioned in Exo 1:11, other scholars conclude that these cities could not have existed prior to 1290BC.  There are two problems with this argument: (1) It is based solely on the idea that those cities had to be built by certain kings who did not live until the 1290 timeframe (which is not necessary), and (2) It goes against the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture.  To be sure, we may not know the exact calendar date that the exodus took place, but the Biblical reference of 1446BC is certainly plausible.

As to why the book itself is titled “Exodus,” it’s simply the transliteration of the title given it in the Greek LXX.  It’s certainly descriptive of the contents, as the Hebrews exit from their slavery, and begin their journey with the Lord God as His covenant people.

So why should Exodus matter to us?  Because in Exodus we see the glory and faithfulness of God.  We see God’s glory in how He reveals Himself to Moses, and tells Moses His name and His character.  We see God’s faithfulness in how He brings His people out of Egypt in a grand redemption, exactly as He promised that He would.  We see God’s mercy in how does not cast away His people when they deserve it, and we see His substitution sacrifice to be given by Jesus prefigured in the Passover.  When the Christian reads Exodus, the Christian sees the goodness and glory of God.  That’s a God that leaves us in awe, and One whom we are inspired to worship!

Generally speaking, there are three main sections of Exodus, based upon the location of the nation: Israel in Egypt (Ch 1-10), Israel’s journey to Mt. Sinai (Ch 11-18), Israel at Mt. Sinai (Ch 19-40).

Thematically, however, Exodus can be broken into 5 main parts: Moses’ background and calling (Ch 1-4) – Moses’ encounters with Pharaoh & the plagues (Ch 5-10) – the Passover, Red Sea, and wilderness (Ch 11-18) – Mt. Sinai and the commandments (Ch 19-24) – the instructions and construction of the Tabernacle (Ch 25-40).  Due to Hollywood movies, we’re generally familiar with much of the 1st half of the book, but the majority of the book details not only the narrative of how the nation was born, but what God expected of the nation that He birthed.  He revealed to them His glory, and He gave them a method of worshipping Him.

Ch 1 – Background of Hebrews in Egypt
Exodus begins where Genesis left off.  The family of Jacob/Israel had come into Egypt, having been saved by the hand of Joseph (who himself had been miraculously saved and glorified by the Sovereign Lord God).  The band of 70 Hebrews dwelt in Egypt, but separated from the Egyptian people in the land of Goshen (Gen 47:1-7), and there they were able to multiply in large numbers, remaining unmixed as a people.  Their growth in population threatened the Egyptian Pharaoh, fearing that the Hebrews would side with their enemies in times of war, so Egypt enslaved the people (who were once the invited guests of the Pharaoh), and forced them to serve in hard labor.

In one particular act of cruelty, the Pharaoh decided that the Hebrews were still too much of a population threat, and ordered the death of every male child that exited the womb (think of it as a late-term abortion).  The Hebrew midwives disobeyed Pharaoh (rightly fearing God more than their Egyptian master), and Pharaoh responded by reiterating his command, stating that every Hebrew male that was born alive ought to be thrown into the river to drown.

That takes us directly to Moses…

Ch 2 – Background of Moses
In an act of divine irony, at the birth of Moses, he was indeed thrown into the river – not to drown, but to be saved alive.  Moses’ mother placed her baby into a homemade waterproof ark, and placed him in the river.  Moses’ sister followed the floating basket carrying her brother to the point that it was picked up by Pharaoh’s daughter, who desired to keep the baby boy for herself.  Miriam quickly suggested that she find a nursemaid to be employed by the daughter of Pharaoh, and was able to bring back her & Moses’ mother for the job.

BTW – this ought to correct some misconceptions people often have of Moses.  Moses wasn’t raised not knowing who he was.  For the first years of his life, he spent every day with his natural-born mother.  We actually have no idea how long Jochebed would have remained as a servant in the house of Pharaoh tending to Moses; it could have been several years after he was weaned.  Thus Moses had always known he was a Hebrew; he just didn’t know what he was supposed to do as a Hebrew until God revealed Himself to him.

It was in his confusion that as a young man Moses tried his own plans to free his people.  Exodus 2:11–12, "(11) Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. (12) So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand." . It was bold – it was decisive – and it was stupid.  Moses saw his fellow Hebrew being oppressed (notice that Moses knew this man was a “brother” – proof he knew his Hebrew heritage), and killed the Egyptian oppressor.  Moses thought he had done it in secret, but the truth was quickly made known, and his murderous violence didn’t even win him friends among the Hebrews (2:14).  Moses had acted in his flesh & all he accomplished was making things worse for himself.  The Egyptian Pharaoh certainly wasn’t going to put up with it, and Moses had to flee for his life.

  • Have you ever jumped ahead of God in your flesh?  How did it turn out for you?

In the end, Moses fled Egypt to the land of Midian, and found a wife & a new job as a shepherd.  Basically he started over, starting with nothing…and that was exactly where God wanted him.

Ch 3-4 – Moses called by God
Moses had settled into his new life with his new family, off in the fields of Midian far from the land of Egypt, when he has an encounter like no other.  For the first time in 400 years, God revealed Himself to a Hebrew.  Unlike God did with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God did not appear in a vision or in the form of a man; He appeared as the Angel of the Lord in the form of a burning bush.  The strange sight of a bush burning while not burning up caught Moses’ attention, and that’s when God spoke to him, telling him how God had heard the cries of His people and had not forgotten them.  Moses would indeed be used by God to free the Hebrews, but it would be done according to God’s plan and God’s way, and God would receive all of the glory.

It was in this that God revealed His name to Moses – the very first time that God’s name is truly revealed and explained in all of Scripture.  Exodus 3:14–15, "(14) And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (15) Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’" .  Whenever we see the capitalized LORD in our Bibles, it is a reference to this covenant name of God: Yahweh/Jehovah = HE IS (the 3rd person of “I AM”).  This speaks to God’s origin (He has none…He is ever-existent).  This speaks to God’s promise (the LORD is the God of Moses’ fathers).  This speaks to God’s glorious victory (this is His name forever, to all generations).  When God reveals Himself as I AM (Yahweh), He reveals Himself as the One True Almighty God who is eternally faithful to His covenant promises and covenant people.

  • This is our glorious God!  This is the One we worship, and the One whom Jesus is the very image of.  We worship the ever-existent faithful God, worthy of all glory.  We are not worthy to come into His presence.  Like Moses, we ought to be taking our shoes off our feet in recognition of His holiness – yet also like Moses, we have been invited to come near to God.  When we have faith in Jesus, we are brought into the presence of God, and brought into His own family to dwell with Him forever.  That is amazing grace!

As God commands Moses to go back to Egypt, God gives Moses several miraculous signs to perform, demonstrating the power of God.  The rod that turned into a serpent, and the hand that became leprous would be mere demonstrations.  Because God knows all things, God knew that Pharaoh would not receive these signs (4:8-9), and that the more severe plagues would be sent in response.

God was ready to demonstrate His power among the Egyptians, but Moses wasn’t ready to be used by God in the process.  Moses protests not once, but twice.  First he claims that he’s no good at public speaking (which is obviously no problem for the omnipotent God), and then he simply refuses to go, asking God to find someone else.  At that point, the full anger of God is no longer concentrated upon Egypt, but upon Moses.  God had graciously invited Moses to serve and be used by God, and Moses was turning it down.  God in His grace provided Moses’ brother Aaron to serve as a mouthpiece, but Moses was God’s instrument of choice.  Moses had to come to the realization that God was God, and Moses was not.

  • Have you ever said “no” to God?  How did it turn out?  God gives us the choice to serve.  He can certainly do all things, but He does not force His will upon us.  However, that doesn’t mean God is content to leave us in rebellion.  We can kindle His anger, just like Moses.  The eternal wrath of God we had earned was placed upon Jesus, but the daily discipline of God was not.  God wants our willing service – His desire for us is to trust Him with abandon.  Are we willing to do it?

Ch 5-6 – 1st encounter with Pharaoh
Moses actually travels back to Egypt at the end of Ch. 4, and the very beginning of Ch. 5 shows Moses & Aaron’s first audience with Pharaoh.  (It wouldn’t be their last!)  Finally fully obedient to the Lord, Moses (through Aaron) tells Pharaoh the commands of God to let His people go, that they might hold a feast to Him in the wilderness (5:1).  Pharaoh was obviously not a worshipper of the one true God, and did not recognize the God of the Hebrews, and had no reason to obey.  Pharaoh accused Moses & Aaron of encouraging laziness among his slaves, and commanded that the Hebrews’ task be made even more difficult by making bricks without the provision of straw.  They would have to go out and find their own straw, and still maintain their daily quota.

Obviously this didn’t win any friends for Moses and Aaron among the Hebrews, and they brought their complaint to Moses.  (It wouldn’t be the last time!)  In response, Moses had learned his lesson from before, and instead of taking matters into his own hands, he took his problems to the Lord.  Moses knew that God had brought him here, so God would have to see it through.

  • This is typically where we have problems.  Things don’t work out the first time the way we think they ought to, so we begin our process of planning and manipulation, trying to “fix” things.  Newsflash: it’s not ours to fix.  If God builds something, God will maintain it.  If God called us to something, God will provide for it.  That obviously doesn’t mean we sit back and relax; it does mean that we don’t stress over it, but rather take it back to the Lord God in prayer.  Philippians 4:6–7, "(6) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; (7) and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." .  It goes back to the idea of remembering that God is God, and we’re not.  If God truly is God, then we take our problems to Him as if He IS God, and we trust God to deal with them (or show us how we ought to deal with them) accordingly.

What happened when Moses took these issues to the Lord?  God reaffirmed exactly what He was going to do with Pharaoh.  God hadn’t been taken by surprise when Pharaoh refused to obey; God knows all things in all history and future…He knew exactly what Pharaoh would do.  All Pharaoh did was give God an opportunity to show Himself strong on behalf of His people.  God had something bigger in mind than merely bringing His people out of slavery; He was giving birth to a chosen nation that would worship Him as the only God in witness to all the world.  It would be the struggle in getting them out of Egypt that would accomplish this.  It would all culminate in not only the people’s freedom, but in their redemptionExodus 6:6–8, "(6) Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (7) I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (8) And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the Lord.’ ”" .  That was His plan for His people.  Just as a diamond takes rubbing and polish to truly shine, there would be some trials that the people would endure – but the end result would be glorious.

Ch 7-10 – The plagues
Moses and Aaron went back to Pharaoh, and began performing the signs that God had given them.  (BTW – Moses was 80 years old when all of this took place, per 7:7.  Never think you’re too old or too young to serve the Lord!)  Initially, God showed Himself more powerful than the magicians of Egypt, and eventually God showed Himself more powerful than all of the false gods of Egypt.  From the get-go, God knew that Pharaoh’s heart would be hard and would resist Him.  But in the process of Pharaoh’s rebellion, God would show Himself as the one true God among all of the rest of the Egyptians.  By the end of it, ALL the Egyptians would know that the Hebrew God is the Lord. (7:5)

There were 9 initial plagues:

  • The waters became blood.  This struck at the very symbol of the Egyptian nation: the Nile river.  All the waters in the land turned to blood – and it wasn’t limited to waters in the river alone, but even the waters that were stored in ponds and buckets.  The fish died, the river stank, and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard. (7:21-22)
  • Frogs.  The entire land was overrun with the frogs…people couldn’t even bake bread in their kitchens without having them come up in the kneading bowls.  Pharaoh asked Moses to pray that the frogs be taken away (which Moses did), but Pharaoh continued to harden his heart. (8:15)
  • Lice.  This time, the plague wasn’t on the land, but on the people and livestock.  The very dust of the earth became as lice, and it infected everyone.  Even the magicians realized that this was the finger of God, but Pharaoh’s heart was still hard. (8:19)
  • Flies. Swarms of flies invaded the land, and even the homes were full of flies.  This time, God made a difference between the Egyptians and Hebrews, as the land of Goshen remained free of the plague.  Pharaoh seemed to bend a bit, granting permission for the Hebrews to sacrifice while remaining in Egypt, and Moses refused, holding out for what God had commanded.  Pharaoh initially agreed, but then hardened his heart and changed his mind. (8:32)
  • Disease among livestock.  Again, there was a distinction between Israel and Egypt, as the livestock of Egypt became sick and died, while the livestock of Israel remained healthy.  Again, Pharaoh’s heart was hard. (9:7)
  • Boils.  This time the disease struck the people themselves as boils and sores broke out all over the bodies of the Egyptian population (as well as their livestock).  Pharaoh’s heart was still hard, but by this point God was the one hardening it (9:12).  Pharaoh had made his choice, and God was giving him over to it.
  • Hail.  God changed His message a bit to Pharaoh, still commanding him to let the Hebrews go, but acknowledging that God had sovereignly raised him up specifically for the purpose of showing the power of God in him, and giving an opportunity for God’s name to be declared in the earth (9:16).  A supernatural hailstorm was sent to Egypt, such as had never been seen before.  Fire and hail fell to the ground, as Egypt was decimated.  Pharaoh confessed the righteousness of God and his own sin, and pleaded for mercy.  Of course, once the hail ceased, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened once more.
  • Locusts.  The hail had come during one growing season; the locusts came during another.  By the time the locusts were done, there was nothing green left in the land of Egypt.  Their entire economy had been destroyed, all due to the stubbornness of Pharaoh, whose heart God continued to harden.  
  • Darkness.  The last plague was a direct strike at the false god the Egyptians thought to be the most powerful: the sun god, Ra.  For three days, the darkness was so thick over the land of Egypt that it could be felt. (10:21).  Yet again, there was a distinction with Israel, and the Hebrews had light.  Pharaoh’s heart was hardened a final time by the Lord, and he commanded Moses to depart and never return.

Ch 11-12 – The Passover
All of the nine plagues had been the preview.  They were sent to demonstrate the power of God to the Egyptians, and God had been successful.  Everyone but Pharaoh understood that God had destroyed Egypt.  Now God would break even the heart of Pharaoh.

This final plague would not only be an act of judgment, but one of redemption.  The plague of death was coming to the land, but God would provide a way of escape.  Every single home (Egyptian and Hebrew) would face the curse of death, but every single home could also be redeemed from that curse if they trusted God and placed themselves under the substitute that God provided.  A lamb was to be taken & slaughtered, and the blood was to be placed upon the doorposts of the house.  The meat of the lamb was to be roasted and eaten in entirety, and served with unleavened bread & bitter herbs, in view of the fact that the people could be called to leave at any moment.  Those who did so would find that the Lord would pass over their houses, and strike only the uncovered houses with the death of the firstborn child.

That is exactly what took place, and among those whose doorposts were not covered with the blood of a lamb, there was not a house where there was one not dead. (12:30)

  • Was it awful?  Yes.  But so was the sin and slavery that they faced.  From the very beginning, it was shown that the wages of sin is death – and that is where the Egyptians and Hebrews found themselves.  The Egyptians were the oppressors, but the Hebrews were not exempt from their own sin.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  The Hebrews were literally enslaved to Egypt, but spiritually enslaved to their sin.  They needed redemption, and that is what God provided through the blood of the lamb.  The lamb took the death that was coming for each of them, and God could pass over in His grace.
  • This is what Jesus does for us!  He is the Passover lamb of God sent to take away the sin of the world.  His blood was shed on our account, and when we put our faith in Him, we come under His covering.  The wrath of God then passes over us – we no longer face an eternal death.  Now we have been redeemed, and are free to live and serve the Lord!

Ch 13-15 – The Red Sea
The Hebrews actually begin leaving Egypt in Ch 12, having been given gold and other wealth and provisions to them by the Egyptians.  (The Egyptians wanted them out of town as fast as possible!)  In essence, they had received 400 years of back-pay, with interest.  God commanded them to move out, and gave them regulations for remembering this moment with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the command to redeem every firstborn that came from any womb.  This had been a pivotal moment in the history of Israel, and God ensured that they would remember it, and thus remember His act of redemption towards them.

  • That’s the function the Lord’s Supper serves for us.  It’s a memorial feast, to remember the work of God’s redemption on our behalf.  Every time we partake of the bread and cup, it is to remember that we’ve been bought with a price: the body and blood of Jesus.

The Hebrews exit out of Egypt (bringing the bones of Joseph with them, 13:19), and they are led by the very presence of God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day & pillar of fire by night.  There could be no question that God was in their midst, and God was the One who had redeemed them, calling them by name.

Eventually they come to the borders of the Red Sea, and Pharaoh had once again changed his mind and pursued the Hebrews.  The people panicked, but Moses remained calm, exhorting them to trust God.  Exodus 14:13–14, "(13) And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. (14) The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”" . (Good advice we should still follow today!)  God was not concerned about the Egyptians, as His plan was moving perfectly forward…and He commanded His people to do the same: move forward, trusting God.  At God’s command, Moses stretched out his hand, and a massive wind came all night long, causing the waters of the Red Sea to divide and become a wall to them on their right and left. (14:21-22)

  • Skeptics often question this, and some Bible teachers even claim that “Red Sea” could really be translated “Reed Sea,” and that the literal Red Sea as we know it did not truly part.  A smaller marsh simply had its water level lowered to the point that the Hebrews could cross over.  The problem is that this simply isn’t what the Bible says.  It says that the waters stood as a wall, and that the Hebrews walked across on dry land. (14:22)  In addition, the Egyptian army was completely drowned, being covered by the sea (14:28).  That’s something that simply could not happen in a marsh.  And regarding any translation issue, there really ought to be no question.  The Jews certainly understood this to be a reference to the RED Sea; not the Reed Sea.  The LXX translates this as “Red Sea” in Greek, and the inspired Scripture in the NT describes this as the Red Sea (Acts 7:36, Heb 11:29).
  • Is it a miracle?  No doubt.  But the God who created the heavens and earth can certainly work miracles if He desires.  Our entire faith is built upon the miracle of God’s own Son rising from the dead.  If we can believe that as a historical accuracy, then the parting of the Red Sea is easy.

The people obviously rejoice in their freedom and the triumph of God, and Moses sings a song of praise to the Lord, which is picked up by his sister Miriam who leads the women in a massive tambourine worship team.  (Interestingly enough, this song of Moses is listed by name in Rev 15 as a song that will be sung in heaven during the days of the Great Tribulation.)

Ch 16-18 – God’s provision in the wilderness
Technically, the account of God’s provision actually starts at the end of Ch. 15, after the conclusion of Moses’ song, as the wandering people encounter bitter waters (non-potable), and God miraculously makes them sweet to drink.  (Chapter breaks are not inspired.)  God’s provision continues in Ch. 16 with the manna.  They had come out of Egypt with all kinds of initial provisions, but eventually all their food would run out.  Yet God would not let them go hungry, and He gave them bits of bread from heaven (manna).  Jesus would later compare Himself to the manna, saying that He is the true bread from heaven (Jn 6:41) – Jesus is the ultimate provision of God.  When we partake of Jesus, we partake of life!

Water was still an issue for the people as they journeyed through the wilderness, and this was a constant point of contention.  The people simply did not trust God to provide for them.  Yet God always proved Himself faithful, and did it once more when He commanded Moses to strike a rock with his staff, and so much water burst forth from the rock that multitudes of people were able to drink to the full.

  • The NT also compares Christ to these waters, just as He was compared to the manna. Jesus is the spiritual Rock from which all Israel drank (1 Cor 10:4) – Jesus is the ultimate provision of God for us.

In one other act of provision, God actually provides personal wisdom and counsel to Moses.  Moses had taken it upon himself to hear all the complaints from all the people, and it was understandably wearing him down.  Upon the advice of his father-in-law Jethro, this burden was distributed among the elders of the various tribes.

  • It’s a very practical topic, but one that also demonstrates a spiritual principle: we are brought together in a body…we need each other.  Moses could not lead the nation alone, and neither can we function well apart from one another in the Body of Christ.  God has empowered others to help build us up, and empowered us to help build up others.

Ch 19-20 – Mt. Sinai and the 10 Commandments
Finally the people come to Mt. Sinai, and God tells them through Moses to prepare themselves for what’s about to happen.  The entire nation is about to personally witness the glory and presence of God!  They had daily experienced God’s presence through the pillars of cloud & fire – they had seen God’s power through the plagues and the Passover – but they were about to experience it in an entirely new way when God visited them on Mt. Sinai.  And they did!  Exodus 19:16–19, "(16) Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. (17) And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. (18) Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. (19) And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice." . Can you imagine being there?  The awesome power and wonder of God, right before your eyes – amazing!  We WILL experience it for ourselves, when we stand in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Are you ready for that day?

It was at Mt. Sinai that God gave the basic outline of His covenant with His people.  He was coming to them as their Covenant God, and He would provide the details of the covenant relationship through the various laws and commandments.  He begins with the foundations – the things that speak of the relationship between God and man, and the relationship between men with one another: the 10 Commandments.

  • You shall have no other gods before Me.
  • You shall not make for yourself a carved image.
  • You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  • Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  • Honor your father and your mother.
  • You shall not murder.
  • You shall not commit adultery.
  • You shall not steal.
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  • You shall not covet.

In response to this outpouring of God’s holiness & revelation, the people were afraid, and they asked Moses to speak with God on their behalf.  Their response is understandable, but they missed out on a glorious opportunity.  We DO have a mediator between God & Man, but our Mediator isn’t Moses; it’s Jesus.  Jesus is the perfect mediator between God & Man because He is both God AND Man.

Ch 21-24 – Ordinances and laws
If Ch. 20 gave the basic foundation for the covenant relationship between God & man, then Chapters 21-23 give many of the rest of the judgments that would help the people of Israel function practically as a nation.  Although the list of laws is long and varied, there are several themes that continually pop up:

  • Mercy.  Servants and women are to be treated with respect; not as property.
  • Justice.  People were not to take vengeance for themselves; they were to act according to the rule of law, as commanded by God.
  • Personal responsibility.  If someone’s animal hurt someone, the owner was responsible.  If someone made a promise, they were to keep it.  It was basic common sense, but enshrined into law.
  • Holiness.  Although other books would detail far more what it meant to live as a person redeemed by God, the subject is addressed in Exodus as well.  God was to take first place in their lives, as they trusted Him.  They were to maintain the feasts of God, and live according to basic moral principles reflecting His holiness.

Israel agreed to do all of these things, and in Ch. 24, they affirm the covenant for the first of many times.

The remainder of Exodus goes into far more detail of the holiness of God, primarily through the illustration of the tabernacle.  God had called His people out of Egyptian slavery – He had redeemed them from death – He had given them a national covenant.  What next?  Now He gives them national worship.  They had the presence of God among them, and they needed to know how they could worship and approach this God.  That was the purpose of the tabernacle, and God goes to great detail in describing it.

Ch 25-27 – Instructions for the tabernacle
The layout of the tabernacle and the various pieces of tabernacle furniture are described.  Every aspect in some way can be tied to the holiness of God, the wages of sin being death, the redemption price He paid for His people, and the glory of His presence. 

The inner sanctuary furniture is described first: the ark of the testimony & mercy seat (the throne of God) – the table of showbread (the people constantly before God) – the gold lampstand (the light of Christ & oil of the Spirit).

The tent is described next with all of its various curtains (10 in all), the gold-plated walls, and the thick veil that served as a door inside the tabernacle, and outside leading in.

The various items in the outer court are described next, including the bronze altar of sacrifice & the tabernacle court/fence.

Ch 28-30 – Instructions for the priests
The instructions begin by describing the priestly garments – each item one of significance, pointing to the holiness of the Lord God & how the priest bore the responsibility of bringing the needs of the people to God.  Ultimately, it speaks how we as believers in Christ are a priesthood of believers, clothed in the righteousness of our Lord Jesus.

God goes on to describe the ritual of consecration for the priests, as they are dedicated to their work of ministry to the Lord, being touched with the blood of sacrifice.  The daily offerings they are to perform are described, as well as several pieces of furniture that they are to use: the altar of incense (prayers) – the ransom money collection (redemption) – the bronze laver (to be washed and cleansed) – the anointing oil (to be set apart by the Spirit) – the incense (for the altar & prayer).

Ch 31 – God’s gifting and God’s sign (craftsmen and Sabbath)
Just as God called certain people to serve as priests, God called and gifted certain people to serve as craftsmen in building the tabernacle.  Again, God has called us all into a Body of Christ, and there is more than one way to serve the Lord.

The Sabbath law is reiterated here.  Why?  Because everything about the tabernacle taught of the holiness of God.  So did the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was to be the outward sign of the covenant between God and His people.  It was a testimony to all of the cultures that surrounded them that the Hebrews trusted the Lord God for their provision.

  • Ultimately, the Sabbath looks forward to our rest in Christ Jesus.  We do not work for our salvation; we find our rest and peace in what Jesus has already accomplished on our behalf. 

Ch 32 – The golden calf
It was in the midst of all of this glorious revelation being given to Moses on Mt. Sinai that the sounds of war started to erupt from the Hebrew camp below.  As it turned out, it wasn’t war at all – at least, not war against a foreign nation.  The people were rebelling (warring) against God.  Weary of waiting for Moses to return from the mountain, the people decide to take things into their own hands and construct an idol that they could worship.  They even conscripted Aaron into their sin, and he built for them a golden calf, claiming that this was the god that led them out of Egypt.

Incredible blasphemy!  God was ready to consume the entire nation at that very moment, and start from scratch with Moses, when Moses interceded for the people & God relented from the harm He would bring.

  • Question: was God being fickle?  Absolutely not.  He knew exactly what He wanted to do, and He knew what He wanted Moses to do.  He wanted Moses to intercede for the people in prayer, and God responded according to what He planned to do with Moses’ prayer.
  • Prayer works!  God wants us to pray!

Moses went down the mountain to confront the mess, and received from Aaron the lamest excuse in all history.  Exodus 32:22–24, "(22) So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. (23) For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ (24) And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”" . Bottom line?  There is no excuse for sin.  When we do something bone-headed, we ought to just admit it, confess it, and seek the forgiveness of God.  The good news for all who are in Christ is that when we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin & cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 Jn 1:9)

In the end, the people faced a fierce act of discipline from the Lord, and many died in their sin.  What ought to have been a time of rejoicing and prayer became one of grief.

Ch 33-34 – The presence and person of God
It only makes sense at this point that the instruction from God would stop, and God would even threaten to take His presence away…which He does.  Moses continued to meet with the Lord, but it was obvious that the people wanted to keep their distance.  God was willing to send the Israelites along without His presence, but Moses continued to intercede for the people in prayer, knowing that it would be disastrous.  Without God in their midst, everything would fail.  Without God as their strength, they would have none at all. (Likewise with us!)

As Moses continued to meet with God, he was continually in awe of God – even requesting to see the glory of God & God answering His request!  God had to hide Moses in the rock to save his life, but Moses was allowed to catch a glimpse of the glory of God as God revealed His name and character to Moses once more.  Exodus 34:6–7, "(6) And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, (7) keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”" .

Eventually the covenant was renewed, and Moses continued to serve as a mediator between God and the people.  Every time Moses was in the presence of God, the glory of God would literally shine off of his face, and Moses would be radiant when he came back among the people.

  • Oh that we would do the same!  Spend time in the presence of God!

Ch 35-39 – The tabernacle constructed
These chapters are highly detailed, but they follow Chapters 25-30 almost to the letter (where applicable).  Every aspect of the tabernacle is built, exactly according to commandment of God.  What God commanded, the people actually performed.  (Credit, where credit is due!)

Ch 40 – The tabernacle erected and the glory of God
Finally everything is complete, and the new nation now has a place and method to worship the true God that led them out of Egypt.  This wasn’t some dead piece of molded gold; this was a dwelling place for the Living God.  He had called His people into relationship with Him – He had redeemed the from the death that they faced – He had forgiven their sin – and He was ready to move forward with them into the rest of His promise: the land.

The nation has been born, and set on its way.  Like a newborn child learning to walk, the Hebrews will stumble from time to time (and be downright rebellious) – but like a patient Father, God has given them everything they required to walk rightly.  He gave them what they needed to live in relationship with Him and worship Him in spirit and truth.  How they responded to His grace, redemption, and provision was up to them.

We look back at Exodus, and see not just a fledgling nation, but the underpinnings of our faith.  The nation is born from which our Lord Jesus will come.  The nation was redeemed in a way that pictures the work of Christ.  The impossible was made possible by the God who works the impossible.  God dwelt among His people in such a way that His presence was tangible, just as we are personally & individually filled with God the Holy Spirit.  What was pictured in Exodus is brought to completion in the Church (and will one day be manifest again in the Millennial Kingdom).

So how are you enjoying that relationship with God?  Do you understand the privilege it is to be a royal priesthood of believers? – of having Jesus as our mediator?  – getting a grasp of the redemption that Jesus has purchased for us?  These things and more ought to make our faith radically real to us.  It ought to cause us to seek God as Moses did, that the glory of God might reflect off of us as well.


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