It All Begins With Faith

28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. – Hebrews 11:28 ESV

The author of Hebrews skips over a large section of the biography of Moses, leaping straight from his hasty departure from Egypt after killing another Egyptian to the days just prior to his second departure when he led the entire nation of Israel into the wilderness. The account in Hebrews leaves out large, seemingly significant sections of Moses’ life, including his call at the burning bush, his somewhat reluctant return to Egypt, his encounters with Pharaoh, and the first nine plagues. Yet, all of these events in Moses’ life required faith. From the moment God called Moses in Midian and told him he would be the deliverer of God’s people, Moses had to have faith in the word of God.

When God had appeared to him at the burning bush in Midian, He told Moses:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.– Exodus 3:7-9 ESV

This would have been good news to Moses. But then he heard the rest of God’s plan.

Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” – Exodus 3:10 ESV

Moses was reluctant, even resistant to God’s plan. But God told him, “I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12 ESV). God had given Moses a promise; an assurance that he was the one to do the job. God would be with him and God would bring him and the people of Israel back to the very same spot – Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai. God went on to tell Moses the rest of His plan.

“But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.  So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 23:19-22 ESV

So Moses eventually obeyed God, and everything went just as God had said.; all the way up to the point to which the author of Hebrews refers in verse 28 of chapter 11. There was going to be one last plague that God would bring to the land of Egypt. And while the first nine had been troubling and even devastating at times, the final plague would be deadly. God warned Pharaoh through His servant Moses.

Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle.’” – Exodus 11:4-5 ESV

While God had protected the people of Israel from most of the other plagues, this one was going to be nationwide and non-discriminatory. All the first-born males throughout the land would die, both man and animal, including the firstborn of the Israelites – unless they followed God’s directions.

On the tenth day of the month, every household was to select a lamb – a one-year-old, unblemished male lamb. They were to “keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight” (Exodus 12:6 ESV). What the Israelites were to do next was not left up to their imaginations or up for debate.

“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. – Exodus 12:7-13 ESV

The people of Israel were instructed to take the blood of their lambs and sprinkle it on the doorposts and lentils of their homes. This final step was essential for their salvation. God had told them, “For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you” (Exodus 12:23 ESV).

The blood of the innocent lamb would protect them. But this entire process would require both faith and obedience. Of all the plagues, this one hit the closest to home – literally. If the people of Israel failed to follow God’s commands, they would suffer the same fate as the Egyptians. Their protection and preservation required faith and action. And Moses led the way.

He placed his faith in God and did as he was told to do. The whole scenario must have sounded bizarre to Moses. There was no precedent for killing a lamb and sprinkling its blood as a form of protection from death. The sacrificial system had not yet been given. In addition, this would have been a costly command to keep because as shepherds the people of Israel put a high value on their livestock, especially those that were one year old and without blemish. A male lamb would have been prime breeding stock and invaluable to the future value of the flock.

God’s plan would have sounded far-fetched and fairly sketchy to most of the Israelites. They most likely had doubts as to whether it would work. You can imagine their fear and dismay as the “destroyer” passed over the city that night and they heard the cries coming from the homes of all those who had lost a firstborn. They would have wondered if the blood would work. But as the dawn came and they discovered their firstborn alive and well, they were greatly relieved. But what saved them from the pain of death and loss was not the quantity or quality of their faith, but the presence of the blood. The death angel looked for the sign of the blood. It was the blood of the unblemished lamb that saved them, not their faith. It was God who protected them, not their faith. Their faith was simply an instrument through which they expressed their trust in God. Moses and the people had to put their faith in God’s plan of salvation. And when they did, it worked. 

So, the author of Hebrews states that it was Moses’ faith in the word of God that ultimately convinced the people of God to sprinkle the blood on their doorposts and lentils. He believed what God had said, and his faith was influential and infectious. By faith, he obeyed the command of God. By faith, he instructed the people of God. His faith in God was instrumental in saving tens of thousands of firstborn Israelites. By faith, he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood. His faith showed up in action. He took God at His word and took steps to obey God’s word. And his faith in God resulted in the salvation of God’s people. His obedience led the Israelites to do the unimaginable and sprinkle the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their home. And because they did, they were spared the penalty and pain of death. The death angel “passed over” their homes and their firstborn were allowed to live. And it all began with Moses’ faith in God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Faith Rather Than Fear

27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. – Hebrews 11:27 ESV

Once again, we have an apparent contradiction between the Exodus account of the life of Moses and that of the author of Hebrews. Exodus tells us that when Moses became aware that news of his murder of the Egyptian had gotten out, he became afraid.

Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” – Exodus 2:14 ESV

Then it goes on to say that when Pharaoh heard about Moses’ crime,  he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian” (Exodus 2:15 ESV). Yet, the Hebrews account states, “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king.”

Which is it? Was Moses afraid or not? Did he flee or not? The author of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, provides the answers. Yes, Moses was afraid, but the context tells us that his fear was based on his awareness that news of the murder had spread. His little secret was out. By the time Pharaoh heard about it, Moses had had time to think about his predicament and to reflect on what he should do. According to Hebrews 11, he had already made plans to go to Midian; not out of fear, but out of faith.

Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for “flee” can mean “to hasten” or “to put to flight.” The Exodus passage can make it sound like Moses fled for his life out of fear of Pharaoh. But when you combine the two passages, it makes better sense that Moses was put to flight by Pharaoh. We almost immediately assume that Moses was in fear for his life. He ran because he was fearful that Pharaoh would have him captured and killed. But think about what Hebrews 11:24-25 says, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.”

Moses had already made the decision to extricate himself from Pharaoh’s household. But as the adopted grandson of the Pharaoh, the likelihood that he would be put to death for murder was probably slim to none. What Moses feared was having to go back to his life in the royal palace with its “fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25 ESV). Again, we read that Moses left Egypt because, “he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26 ESV).

So it was “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king” (Hebrews 11:27a ESV). Moses didn’t leave Egypt because of Pharaoh, but because of God.

He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. – Hebrews 11:27b NLT

Moses headed to Midian, not out of fear for his life, but out of faith in God. He somehow knew that God was going to fulfill His promise to His people and restore them to the land of Canaan. He didn’t know how yet. He didn’t know when. But he believed it was just a matter of time and he was content to go to Midian and persevere until that time came. Little did Moses know that it would be 40 years before God put that part of His plan into action. And when God finally did decide to act, Moses would be surprised to discover that He was God’s choice to set the plan into motion.

The day would come when God deemed it time to redeem His people. Exodus tells us, “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Exodus 2:23-25 ESV).

God knew their plight, and He knew where Moses was. He knew what Moses had been doing for the last 40 years. The flight of Moses to Midian had been part of God’s plan. Just as Moses had been kept alive in the basket made of bulrushes, He had been protected in Midian, removed from the effects of the fleeting pleasures of sin and the treasures of Egypt. During his 40 years in Midian, Moses had given up his quest to be the savior of the people of Israel. He still believed in God’s promise to redeem His people, but he had long ago given up the idea that he might play a role.

But God had other plans. He was still going to use Moses, but in a way that Moses would find surprising and a bit scary. Hebrews says that Moses “kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.” During his time in Midian, he kept trusting in God. Remember how the author described faith in verse 1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Moses had never seen God and yet he “kept his eyes” on Him. He kept believing in the reality of the One he could not see and the promises he had yet to see fulfilled. According to Hebrews 11:6, faith is required to please God and whoever wishes to draw near to God “must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

It would be safe to say that Moses sought God during his time in Midian, and the day would come when God revealed Himself to Moses.

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” – Exodus 3:1-4 ESV

Moses had a direct encounter with the unseen God. He came face to face with Yahweh, and it was a life-changing moment. Forty years after leaving Egypt, he returned, not as the grandson of Pharaoh, but as the representative of God. By faith, he had left Egypt and now he was going to be returning the same way – trusting in the promises of God Almighty.

To be directed by God requires faith in God. We must believe that He is at work in our lives in ways that we cannot see or even understand. When Moses left Egypt, he left everything behind.  He was forced to begin a new life. He left looking like an Egyptian (Exodus 2:19) but upon his return, he appeared as a Hebrew prophet and the personal spokesman for God.

His 40-year exile in Midian proved to be little more than a temporary pause in the plan of God. Yahweh was watching and waiting, preparing to implement His divine redemptive plan at just the right time and using just the right person for the job: Moses.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Out With the Old, In With the New

For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. – Hebrews 8:8-13 ESV

In this passage, the author of Hebrews uses the Old Testament to prove his point and bolster his case concerning the new and better covenant made possible by Jesus. He quotes from Jeremiah 31, verses 31-34. In this passage, the prophet Jeremiah delivered a message from God to the rebellious people of Israel who were living in exile in the land of Babylon. Jeremiah had spent years warning them that this would be their fate if they failed to repent of their sins and refused to keep their covenant commitments to Yahweh. Even after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, Jeremiah had sent a message to the captives living in Babylon.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord. – Jeremiah 29:4-9 ESV

It was because of their failure to keep their end of the covenant that they found themselves living as exiles in a foreign land. But God wanted them to accept their fate and endure the punishment He had ordained for them. They were not to listen to the false prophets who tried to minimize their guilt and who promised them immediate salvation. God wanted them to know that their divine judgment came with a non-negotiable timeline.

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:10-11 ESV

When the seven decades had passed, God would keep His promise and restore a remnant of the exiled people of Israel to the land of Canaan.

“For behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it.” – Jeremiah 30:3 ESV

And in chapter 31 of Jeremiah, God declares that their restoration will be accompanied by a new covenant. On the day that He restores them to their former homeland, God promises to do four things for them. Back in verse six, the author of Hebrews refers to these four things as the “better promises.” Each of these four promises falls under the new covenant, which will not be like the old covenant that God made with their fathers in the wilderness.

God said that when the new covenant was enacted, He would put His law into their minds and write them on their hearts. In other words, their motivation for obeying God would be internal and not external. Under the new covenant, they would have the capacity to obey Him willingly and gladly. He also promised that they would be His people and He would be their God. This was actually a recommitment on God’s part, a reiteration of the promise He had made to the people of Israel when they were living as slaves in Egypt.

“Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.’” – Exodus 6:6-7 ESV

But this time, things would be different. This renewed relationship would be permanent and not based on their own capacity to keep God’s law. Unlike the old covenant which was conditional in nature, the new covenant would be the work of God. He promises them a special relationship with Him that will be better than the one they enjoyed during their days in the wilderness and as His chosen people living in the land of promise.

The history of the people of Israel was one marked by blessing and cursing and with faithfulness and apostasy. And ultimately, because of their unfaithfulness, God was forced to give them over into the hands of their enemies, as punishment for their failure to remain obedient to the covenant commitment they had made. That is why He says, “they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them” (Hebrews 8:9b ESV).

The third promise God said would come with the new covenant was an intimate relationship with Him – for all Jews. They would no longer need to be taught about God because they would know Him closely and personally. Finally, God promised that the new covenant would bring complete and permanent forgiveness of their sins. No more sacrifices would be needed. No more threat of punishment, condemnation, or death.

When God spoke these words through Jeremiah, He was indicating that the old covenant was on its way out. With the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, the sacrificial system was put on hold. There was no way for the people of God to receive forgiveness and atonement for their sins. And even after the people returned to the land, the Temple was rebuilt, and the sacrificial system was restored, the old covenant remained in a weak and ineffective state.

The new Temple cast a dim shadow of its former glory. The great city of Jerusalem would never achieve the status it once enjoyed in the days of King David and his son, Solomon. Over the following centuries, the Israelites would find themselves a conquered people, living under the heavy yoke of a long line of foreign kings, all the way up to the occupation of Rome in the days of Jesus.

But the promises God gave them in association with the new covenant were fulfilled, in part, with the coming of Jesus. His death, burial, and resurrection made them possible. That is why Jesus, on the night He shared His last Passover meal with the disciples, told them, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people – an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:20 NLT).

The sacrificial death of Jesus made possible the new covenant, and with the coming of the new, the old became obsolete. Even at the time the letter of Hebrews was written, the old covenant, based on the Mosaic law, was passing away. With the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in A.D. 70, the sacrificial system was brought to an end. Jesus had predicted this event when He announced to His disciples that all the beautiful buildings associated with Herod’s Temple would soon be destroyed.

Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” – Matthew 24:1-2 NLT

In quoting the passage from Jeremiah, the author of Hebrews is telling his Jewish readers that God is not yet done with the people of Israel. The promises found in Jeremiah were specifically for the people of Judah and Israel. But Gentile believers have been grafted into the family of God and have become descendants of Abraham. That is what Paul meant when he wrote, “…if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29 ESV).

Paul also wrote, “…you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree” (Romans 11:17 NLT).

But while the Gentiles have been included in the promises found in Jeremiah 31, God has not forgotten His original covenant people, the nation of Israel. That is the point the author of Hebrews is trying to make. There is no reason for them, as Jewish Christians, to return to their reliance on the old covenant with its rules, rituals, and regulations. The old covenant remained incapable of saving or sanctifying anyone; as was the case in the days of Moses, David, and Solomon.

Jesus has ushered in something far greater and better. A better high priest. A better covenant based on better promises. A better sacrifice. A better mediator. A better outcome altogether. And to those Gentiles who enjoy a restored relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, the new covenant has brought freedom from law-keeping and self-righteousness. Obedience and faithfulness to God are no longer based on external motivators or the self-produced capacity to keep a list of rules and rituals. It is based on the indwelling Spirit of God who encourages and empowers us to live in faithful service to God. We don’t have to earn His favor, we already have it. That is why Paul reminds us:

We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Yet For All That…

40 “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, 41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 43 But the land shall be abandoned by them and enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes. 44 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. 45 But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.”

46 These are the statutes and rules and laws that the Lord made between himself and the people of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai. Leviticus 26:40-46 ESV

The final judgment the people of Israel will face for breaking their covenant commitment with God will be their defeat by a foreign power and their expulsion from the land. It was during their captivity in Egypt that they had become a nation, and God had led them out of Egypt and was in the process of leading them to their promised land. Yet, at their temporary camp at the base of Mount Sinai, God was warning them about their need to remain faithful and keep the covenant He had made with them. If they failed to do so, they would end up the way they began – as captives in a foreign land. God would keep His promise to give them the land of Canaan as their inheritance, but they would be required to walk in His statutes and observe all His commandments (Leviticus 26:3). As long as they were faithful, Yahweh would continue to dwell among them and provide for and protect them.

Yet, God made it perfectly clear that their future would be filled with pain and suffering if they chose to disobey Him. He had set them apart as His own, but they were going to have to live up to that preferred status. Their behavior would need to come in line with the expectations of Yahweh. All the blessings and benefits that came with being God’s treasured possession came with conditions. There was a commitment and a cost to being God’s “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6 ESV).

One of the greatest points of difference between Israel and all the other nations on earth was to be their behavior. God’s commandments provided His people with a blueprint for living as His set-apart people. The Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant contained all the rules and requirements that would regulate their lives and separate them from the rest of fallen humanity. The Israelites were no different than any other people group on the planet. They were just as sin-prone and wired to pursue self-reliance. Yet, God had set them apart to live in communion with Him. But to do so, they would need to live in compliance with His holy and righteous laws. If they did, they would reflect His nature and honor His name among the pagan nations of the world.

But as this chapter has shown, if they failed to keep His commands, their actions would be seen as an act of rebellion and a personal affront to the character of God. Rather than honoring God through their obedience, they would bring shame to His name by treating His laws with contempt. And God swore to bring judgment upon His covenant people if they persisted in violating their covenant commitment.

“…if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt, and refusing to obey my commands, I will punish you…” – Leviticus 26:15-16 NLT

But as harsh as God’s punishments would be, His grace would never fail, and His covenant commitment would remain firm. Despite their future rebellion, God would not abandon or forsake them. There was one last condition that would dictate the fate of God’s people. Verse 40 opens with two simple words: “But if….”  They begin a conditional statement that outlines what God will do in response to an action on the part of His exiled people.

This section fast-forwards to the future when God’s people are living in adverse conditions in a foreign land because of their refusal to keep His commands. It is a time of great suffering and sorrow.

“You will die among the foreign nations and be devoured in the land of your enemies. Those of you who survive will waste away in your enemies’ lands because of their sins and the sins of their ancestors.” – Leviticus 26:38-39 NLT

Yet despite those desperate conditions, God provides His people with a glimmer of hope. If they will only confess their sins and humble themselves before Him, He will remember the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is not as if God will somehow forget what He promised to the patriarchs and need to be reminded. It is that He will hear their confession, see their humility, and renew His commitment to do all that He had promised to do. Their time in exile will function as a temporary delay in God’s covenant commitment. His blessings will be put on hold but He will remain firmly committed to keeping His covenant promises.

What is interesting to note is God’s promise to remember the land. During their time in exile, the land will go fallow and unattended. With no one to occupy them, many of the cities and villages will become virtual ghost towns. Fields will go unplowed and cultivated. Vineyards will return to their wild and untended states. But this imagery is in keeping with God’s commands concerning the Sabbath Year. When the people finally occupied the land of Canaan, they were commanded to set apart every seventh year as a time to allow the land to rest.

“For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.” – Leviticus 25:3-5 ESV

This law was just as binding as any other, but it seems that the Israelites failed to honor this command during their time in the land of Canaan. And God later warned the Israelites that their disobedience to all His commands would result in their expulsion from the land.

Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. – Jeremiah 25:8-11 ESV

This future judgment is in perfect alignment with the warning God issued in Leviticus 26:33. He had predicted their failure to obey and had warned of the ramifications. And in the book of 2 Chronicles, we have recorded the fulfillment of these prophecies.

He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. – 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 ESV

For more than 490 years, the Israelites failed to keep God’s commands concerning the Sabbath Year. They refused to allow the land to rest, choosing instead to treat that year just like any other year, plowing, cultivating, and harvesting as they always did. Ignoring God’s command, they decided to do what they deemed best, greedily gathering as much produce as they could and, in doing so, revealing their unwillingness to view God as their ultimate source of provision.

So, God decrees that the land will rest for 70 years and “enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes” (Leviticus 26:43 ESV). The land will rest while they suffer unrest. God’s land will be restored while God’s people endure hardship.

But when they finally come to an end of themselves and bow in humility before God, confessing their sins and crying out for deliverance, God promises to restore them as well.

“But despite all this, I will not utterly reject or despise them while they are in exile in the land of their enemies. I will not cancel my covenant with them by wiping them out, for I am the Lord their God. For their sakes I will remember my ancient covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of all the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 26:44-45 NLT

Seven decades of suffering will be followed by forgiveness, restoration, and renewal. Despite their serial unfaithfulness, God will redeem His people from captivity yet again and return them to the land of Canaan. It was a God-ordained famine that led Jacob and his family to seek refuge in Egypt, and it was there that God transformed them into a mighty nation, causing Pharaoh to enslave them in an attempt to control them. But God heard their cries and delivered them from their suffering. He eventually led them to the land of Canaan, just as He had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But as Leviticus 26 predicts, God’s people would eventually suffer a spiritual famine, failing to nourish themselves on the blessings of God and choosing instead to feast on the tempting but malnourished delights of the world. And their decision to reject the food of God as revealed in the law of God would result in the judgment of God. But their actions would never negate the promises of God.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – Matthew 5:6 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Guidelines for Living in a Fallen World

35 “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. 36 Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. 37 You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. 38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.

39 “If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: 40 he shall be with you as a hired worker and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers. 42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. 43 You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God. 44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. 45 You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. 46 You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.” Leviticus 25:35-46 ESV

In this section, God deals with the issue of poverty among the people of Israel. It was an inevitable and unavoidable reality that some within the Israelite community would end up impoverished and in need of assistance. God has already addressed the future scenario of someone having to sell their land to pay off debts. Now, He deals with how the community was to respond to the less fortunate among them. The poor were to be treated fairly and with compassion.

“If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and cannot support himself, support him as you would a foreigner or a temporary resident and allow him to live with you. – Leviticus 25:35 NLT

The Hebrew word that is translated as “brother” in the ESV is (‘āḥ), which can refer to a brother of the same parents, a half-brother, a member of the same clan or tribe, or, more broadly, a fellow Israelite. Since God’s focus throughout this chapter has been on the national celebration of the Year of Jubilee, it would seem that He is dealing with the much broader level of the Israelite community and not just a familial relationship. The same terminology is used in the book of Deuteronomy where God prohibits the Israelites from charging of interest to a “brother.”

“You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. – Deuteronomy 23:19-20 ESV

It makes more sense to view this from the much broader perspective of the brotherhood that existed between all Israelites. As the chosen people of God, they were to care for their own. God expected His people to show mercy and extend grace to one another. The poor were never to be treated as second-class citizens or to be taken advantage of because of their unfortunate circumstances. Instead, the Israelites were to provide them with assistance which include food and shelter, as well as interest-free loans. God commanded that they treat these individuals like family.

“…show your fear of God by letting him live with you as your relative.” – Leviticus 25:36 NLT

God reminds His people that there was a time when they were poor and enslaved, but He had shown them mercy and graciously provided for all their needs.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.” – Leviticus 25:38 NLT

When they were living as nothing more than slaves in Egypt, God treated them like family and provided them with freedom, food, and the promise of a land to call their own. He welcomed them with open arms and guaranteed them a part of His inheritance. Now, He was asking the Israelites to do the same with one another.

When the Israelites arrived in the land of Canaan, they would each receive their portion of the inheritance. But despite the graciousness and goodness of God, some would still end up in poverty. Human nature and sin would combine to create less-than-ideal outcomes that left some among the people of God destitute and desperate. Financial ruin would drive some to take drastic measures, such as selling themselves as servants to their wealthier Israelite neighbors. But God had already made provision for such circumstances in His diving of the Book of the Covenant.

“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he may serve for no more than six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave, he shall leave single. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife must be freed with him. – Exodus 21:2-3 NLT

And God would later reiterate this command and provide further conditions concerning the release of these indentured servants.

“If a fellow Hebrew sells himself or herself to be your servant and serves you for six years, in the seventh year you must set that servant free.

“When you release a male servant, do not send him away empty-handed. Give him a generous farewell gift from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. Share with him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were once slaves in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you! That is why I am giving you this command.” – Deuteronomy 15:12-15 NLT

The Israelites were never to exploit the less fortunate among them. They were to recognize that the rich and the poor were all equal in the eyes of God. He showed no partiality but treated all His children fairly and justly, and expected them to do the same.

“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 10:17-19 NLT

God wanted the Israelites to remember that He considered each of them His servants and, as such, they were not to enslave one another. Pharaoh had attempted to enslave God’s people and suffered deadly consequences for his actions, and the people of Israel were not to avoid repeating his mistake. An indentured servant was never to be treated as a slave, and they could not be sold like property. While an individual was paying off his debt in the employment of a fellow Israelite, he was to be treated fairly and justly. And when the sabbatical year came, he was to be set free and provided with a generous gift to assist him in rebuilding his life within the community.

But in verses 44-46, God deals with the highly uncomfortable and unpopular topic of slavery. And, in this case, He is not talking about Israelites paying off their debts as indentured servants; He is dealing with foreign slaves.

“However, you may purchase male and female slaves from among the nations around you. You may also purchase the children of temporary residents who live among you, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat them as slaves, but you must never treat your fellow Israelites this way. – Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT

Passages like this one are difficult to reconcile and explain. They seem to fly in the face of our more modern and enlightened sensibilities. They appear to paint God in a negative light, portraying Him as supportive of the institution of slavery. But is God actually sanctioning the enslavement of human beings or is He attempting to regulate what had become a ubiquitous and inevitable part of the fallen world?

“Because men and women are sinners and live in a fallen world, such things as divorce, and we can add for our purposes, slavery, occur. It is sadly a part of the human experience, and the Bible sets out to first regulate treatment of slaves and the to set the grounds for slavery’s elimination. The Bible makes is clear that slaves were not mere chattel but had God-given protections and certain rights (e.g., Exodus 21:7-11). For example, a runaway slave from a foreign country was not to be returned to his master (Deuteronomy 23:15, 16). The motivation for gentler treatment of slaves was theological: The Israelites had once been slaves in Egypt whom God had delivered. The cruelty that they experienced in Egypt was not tolerated in Israel.” – Kenneth A. Matthew, Leviticus: Holy God, Holy People

Over the centuries, many have expressed disappointment and even disdain for the Bible’s lack of an outright ban on the institution of slavery. After all, in His declaration of the Decalogue, God clearly outlawed murder. But consider the fact that He did not prohibit war. In fact, God would later sanction and even participate in the battles between His people and the nations of the earth. God also declared the marriage union to be indissoluble and binding (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 9:5-6). Yet, despite God’s hatred for divorce (Malachi 2:16), He made concessions for it because He knew that, because of sin, it was inevitable (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). God, who never changes, did not alter His view on divorce but made provisions for its inevitable presence among His people. Because of their sinful natures, they would follow the ways of the world and choose to disobey His commands regarding everything from divorce, murder, sexual immorality, and slavery. And when these egregious activities showed up among His people, God provided guidelines for dealing with them. He did not eradicate all sin among His people but provided them with wise and righteous laws to regulate how they were to live in a fallen world filled with all kinds of ungodly temptations.

Fast forward to the New Testament and the apostle Paul provides a new perspective on the issue of slavery based on the death and resurrection of Jesus. With Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, He leveled the playing field, making salvation available to any and all, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, or social standing.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28 ESV

Paul did not call for the elimination of all slavery. It was an accepted part of the social fabric of his day. But Paul was not an advocate of the institution of slavery. Instead, he was a proponent of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which was accessible to all people from every walk of life.

It is interesting to note that God had allowed His own people to live as slaves for centuries before He released them from their captivity. And even after their miraculous deliverance from the evils of slavery, the Israelites would find it tempting to enslave others. Their release did not naturally create a revulsion for the institution of slavery. Just as they were predisposed to lying, cheating, sexual immorality, and idolatry, they would be drawn to the allure of slavery as a form of power and control. God knew His people would follow the ways of the world, so He provided them with stringent guidelines that were intended to separate them from all the other nations.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Cut It Out or Be Cut Off

1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them, This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. If any one of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp, and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it as a gift to the Lord in front of the tabernacle of the Lord, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people. This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they sacrifice in the open field, that they may bring them to the Lord, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the Lord. And the priest shall throw the blood on the altar of the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting and burn the fat for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.

“And you shall say to them, Any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it to the Lord, that man shall be cut off from his people.” – Leviticus 17:1-9 ESV

Leviticus 17-26 contains what has come to be known as The Holiness Code. Many scholars believe it was added to the Leviticus corpus much later, perhaps during Judah’s exile in Babylon. It appears to be a summary section that seems somewhat of place, containing language and style inconsistent with the rest of the book. Some believe these chapters include portions written by other authors that were later compiled, edited, and then placed within the book of Leviticus. But the evidence for these conclusions, while compelling, is far from convincing. There is no ironclad proof that these chapters were not penned by Moses. While they differ in style, they carry the same theme that has permeated the rest of the book, the theme of holiness.

These chapters stand out, not only because of their stylistic differences but also because their emphasis shifts from the priestly class to the average Israelite. God was calling all His people to a life of holiness – in every area of their lives. For the last few chapters, the focus has been on the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system associated with it. Chapter 16 dealt with the singular Day of Atonement, a once-a-year sacred event that took place within the context of the Tabernacle and was presided over by Aaron and his sons.

But in chapter 17, God turns his attention to a potential problem among His people. While He had provided them with a comprehensive sacrificial system and a sanctuary in which to perform all the prescribed rites and rituals, He knew that they would be tempted to seek alternative options that would be unacceptable and unholy. Their long tenure in Egypt had left them more than amenable to the worship of false gods, as the golden calf episode so clearly demonstrated (Exodus 32).

Verses 1-9 are not presenting a hypothetical scenario that might take place, but they deal with a pre-existing problem among God’s chosen people. Take a close look at verse 9.

“…the people must no longer offer their sacrifices to the goat demons, acting like prostitutes by going after them.” – Leviticus 17:9 NLT

Evidently, the people of Israel had adopted the pagan practices of their former captors, worshiping the false gods of Egypt, including “goat demons.” These were divine beings that were commonly portrayed with both human and animal characteristics. Separate from both gods and humans, these supernatural creatures were able to move between the divine and real worlds, causing great harm but also coming to the aid of all those who called upon them.

“‘They could be something like genies,’ says Egyptologist Kasia Szpakowska. ‘They would come to one’s aid as often as they acted as fearsome, dangerous creatures.’ Images of demons first began to appear in the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1640 B.C.). Before this time, worship of the gods was highly centralized and mediated by the pharaoh, but during the second millennium B.C., all Egyptians were able to directly participate in religious life…It’s possible these demons—who likely numbered far more than 4,000—were more important to Egyptians’ everyday experience than were the remote gods venerated in the land’s great monuments. ‘An Egyptian demon is really any divine being not worshipped in a temple,’ says Szpakowska. ‘And they were everywhere.’” – Eric A. Powell, “The World of Egyptian Demons,”

One such “demon” was believed to have the form of a goat and inhabited the wilderness places. It is estimated that the ancient Egyptians had as many as 4,000 different demons they worshiped and feared. So, it seems that the Israelites had picked up on this propensity for worshiping and sacrificing to a variety of divine beings, including gods and demons. In fact, the book of Chronicles records the actions of Jeroboam, when he established the northern kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12).

Jeroboam appointed his own priests to serve at the pagan shrines, where they worshiped the goat and calf idols he had made. – 2 Chronicles 11:15 NLT

God knew that His people had a built-in predilection for idolatry and unfaithfulness. So much so, that they would continue to struggle with remaining true to Yahweh, despite all He had done for them. He had provided the Tabernacle to serve as His dwelling place among them and He had given them the sacrificial system so they could remain holy and worthy of His divine presence. But it seems that they were still practicing the habits they had picked up in Egypt.

Between the time they had left Egypt and arrived at Mount Sinai, where God gave them His law, the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to false gods. But now that the Tabernacle was complete and the sacrificial system was in place, those days were officially over. God would no longer tolerate their unfaithfulness. So, he laid down “the law.”

“Blood guilt will be accounted to any man from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox or a lamb or a goat inside the camp or outside the camp, but has not brought it to the entrance of the Meeting Tent to present it as an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord.” – Leviticus 17:3-4 NLT

Anyone who sacrificed an animal for the purpose of worshiping a demon or false god was in serious trouble. Their actions were to be deemed a capital offense punishable by death. These verses are not dealing with the slaughter of an animal for food. This is a prohibition against offering sacrifices outside the context of the Tabernacle and for any other reason than worshiping Yahweh. God would not tolerate blood sacrifices of any kind that were not dedicated to Him. He alone could provide forgiveness and atonement and, for that reason, He alone was worthy of Israel’s undivided attention and undistracted devotion.

If someone slaughtered an animal “in the open field” (Leviticus 17:5), with the intent of offering its blood to a goat demon, they were advised to alter course and bring that animal to the Tabernacle as a sacrifice to God.

“And the priest shall throw the blood on the altar of the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting and burn the fat for a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” – Leviticus 17:6 ESV

The guilty party could escape the death penalty and enjoy life, by a simple act of course correction that demonstrated his commitment to Yahweh’s holiness and His status as the one true God. Even though his original intent had been evil and an offense to a holy God, it was never too late to do the right thing and demonstrate a change of heart. But for all those who dared to disobey God’s law and continue their obstinate pursuit of the gods, demons, and spirits of the Egyptians and other pagan nations, the penalty would be both harsh and fatal.

“Any man from the house of Israel or from the resident foreigners who live in their midst, who offers a burnt offering or a sacrifice but does not bring it to the entrance of the Meeting Tent to offer it to the Lord—that person will be cut off from his people.” – Leviticus 17:8-9 NLT

“The penalty for such idolatry and disregard for the one true God was to ‘cut [the guilty person] off from his people’ (Leviticus 17:4). The implication is that the crime is serious, as serious as murder, in fact, for the guilty person faced death. The use of this expression probably meant that God brought about the judgment.” – Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus

God takes holiness seriously. There could be no syncretism on the part of His people. He would not tolerate their worship of any gods other than Himself. While they might consider their habit of being equal-opportunity idolaters fully compatible with their status as God’s chosen people, God was not amused or willing to give an inch. He had made His position on the matter quite clear.

“You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.” – Exodus 20:3-5 NLT

When it came to idolatry, God was quite adamant. Cut it out or be cut off.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Providence and Provision of God

21 These are the records of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the testimony, as they were recorded at the commandment of Moses, the responsibility of the Levites under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. 22 Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the Lord commanded Moses; 23 and with him was Oholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver and designer and embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen.

24 All the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering, was twenty-nine talents and 730 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary. 25 The silver from those of the congregation who were recorded was a hundred talents and 1,775 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary: 26 a beka a head (that is, half a shekel, by the shekel of the sanctuary), for everyone who was listed in the records, from twenty years old and upward, for 603,550 men. 27 The hundred talents of silver were for casting the bases of the sanctuary and the bases of the veil; a hundred bases for the hundred talents, a talent a base. 28 And of the 1,775 shekels he made hooks for the pillars and overlaid their capitals and made fillets for them. 29 The bronze that was offered was seventy talents and 2,400 shekels; 30 with it he made the bases for the entrance of the tent of meeting, the bronze altar and the bronze grating for it and all the utensils of the altar, 31 the bases around the court, and the bases of the gate of the court, all the pegs of the tabernacle, and all the pegs around the court. – Exodus 38:21-31 ESV

The Tabernacle was the work of Bezalel and his team of skilled artisans and craftsmen, but the material used to construct this one-of-a-kind structure had been donated by the Israelites. In other words, it was a community-wide effort, and it had all been under the direction of Yahweh. This entire project had been His idea and its completion had been made possible because He had deemed it so. God had been the one to order the collection of all the building materials so that His house could become a reality, and the willing participation of the people would play a vital role in bringing His sanctuary to completion.

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” – Exodus 25:1-9 ESV

The inventory Moses provides helps to give a sense of scale to this massive project. In a rather matter-of-fact way, Moses records the staggering amount of gold, silver, and bronze required to complete God’s house. And it would seem that the people of Israel supplied every single ounce that God had called for in His design. More than a ton of gold was donated by the Israelites. Their bracelets, amulets, rings, and necklaces were melted down so that Bezalel and his associates could adorn the Tabernacle and its furniture just as God had commanded. According to Moses’ inventory, the Israelites contributed an additional 3.75 tons of silver and nearly 3 tons of bronze for use in the construction of the Tabernacle.

For a nation of former slave laborers and sheepherders, this represents an amazing amount of wealth. But they had neither earned nor worked for it. According to the early chapters of Exodus, God had preordained a massive wealth exchange between the Egyptians and the Israelites. In His original call to Moses, God had revealed His plan to provide the Israelites with the resources they would later need to fulfill His request for donations to build His Tabernacle.

“So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 3:20-22 ESV

And God had delivered on this promise. When the time came for the Israelites to leave Egypt, they followed God’s instructions and asked their Egyptian neighbors for a parting gift.

The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. – Exodus 12:35-36 ESV

After watching the Egyptians suffer under the ten plagues brought upon them by God, the Israelites must have felt a bit strange asking these devastated people to hand over their gold, silver, and bronze. After all, every household in Egypt had just suffered the loss of their firstborn. For the tenth and final plague, God sent His death angel throughout the land of Egypt, so “there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” ( Exodus 12:30 ESV). The staggering loss of life associated with this last plague left the Egyptians stunned and eager to see the Israelites leave their land.

The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” – Exodus 12:33 ESV

So, when the Israelites made their rather bold request for parting gifts, the Egyptians eagerly complied. No doubt, the Egyptians viewed their gifts as offerings to the God of the Israelites. By this time, they feared and were eager to appease the wrath of this powerful and death-delivering deity. So, they willingly turned over their valuables to the parting Israelites. And it is likely that many of these pieces of jewelry bore the images of their false gods. Egyptian amulets, rings, and pendants were often adorned with depictions of their diverse assortment of deities and it seems likely that these trinkets made their way into the plunder that the Israelites took with them from Egypt.

Little did the Israelites know that their sudden windfall would later be used to prepare a dwelling place for Yahweh. And when they departed Egypt, they led their extensive herds and flocks. During their 400-year stay in Egypt, they had served as shepherds and herdsmen for Pharaoh, and over time, they had seen their own livestock increase greatly in number. So that by the time they left, they did so “with great flocks and herds of livestock” (Exodus 12:38 ESV). And, once again, they had no way of knowing that these animals had been providentially provided by God so that they might have ample sources of animals once His sacrificial system was instituted. God had provided all that they would need to build the Tabernacle and fulfill His command for blood sacrifices.

Amazingly, during the fifth plague, God had brought death to all the livestock of the Egyptians, but had spared the flocks and herds of the Israelites.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, behold, the hand of the Lord will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die.”’”  And the Lord set a time, saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land.” And the next day the Lord did this thing. All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people of Israel died. – Exodus 9:1-6 ESV

God had protected the assets of His people, and when it come time for them to leave the land, God had provided them with gold, silver, and bronze – in abundance. The Almighty had providentially planned ahead for the future. Every animal they would eventually sacrifice in the wilderness had been provided by God. Every ounce of gold, silver, and bronze they would need to construct the Tabernacle had been provided for in advance and at the expense of the Egyptians. In a sense, the Egyptians bankrolled the construction of a house for Israel’s God. Their gold adorned the Mercy Seat upon which Yahweh would sit in the Holy of Holies. Their bronze necklaces would be melted down and hammered into sheets that would be affixed to the Bronze Altar. And on that altar, the Israelites would offer the livestock that God had spared in the land of Goshen. The Egyptian gold, silver, and bronze would be used to build a sanctuary to the God of the Israelites. The jewelry that had once adorned the bodies of pagan Egyptians would be used to glorify Yahweh, the all-powerful and unparalleled God of Israel.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Set Apart to Stand Out

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. – Exodus 20:4-11 ESV

God’s sovereignty versus man’s autonomy – that is the battle of the ages and it has been going on ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Their fateful decision was motivated by the desire for self-rule that they believed would give them the freedom to do as they pleased. They had bought into the lies of the enemy, who had convinced them that they could make up their own rules based on their own personal preferences. That is what Satan meant when he claimed “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV). He promised them that they would become a law unto themselves, with the power to make their own determination regarding what was right or wrong. And he falsely assured them that the first step to achieving their freedom was to reject the tyranny of God by refusing to abide by His restrictive commands.

But their decision didn’t produce a moral Shangrila, a place where everyone did as they pleased and enjoyed all the supposed perks that self-determination offers. No, the fall produced an atmosphere of moral relativism in which every man did that which was right in his own eyes and all for his own personal benefit.

So, by the time the Israelites left the land of Egypt, they had spent four centuries immersed in a society where moral relativism had been on full display. It’s not that Egypt had been a lawless place where everyone was free to do whatever they wanted. But it was a society that had long ago rejected the God of Noah. The Egyptians were the descendants of Ham, one of the sons of Noah (Psalm 78:51; 105:23). But they did not “walk with God” as Noah had. Instead, they chose a path that, according to the apostle Paul, led to a darkened state, marked by idolatry and wickedness.

But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began God . As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:18-23 NLT

What an apt and accurate description of the Egyptian culture in which the Israelites had been immersed for nearly 400 years. There was no shortage of gods in the land of Ham, including the Pharaoh who was believed to be a deity in human form. But for the Israelites, things were to be different. God had chosen them as His own. In fact, He had created them out of nothing, having produced a nation from an elderly man from Ur and his barren wife.

From Abram and Sarai, God had produced the nation of Israel. And now, they stood at the base of Mount Sinai, waiting for their God-appointed leader, Moses, to return from his divine appointment on the summit. And little did they know that Moses was going to return with God’s law in hand. His time on the mountaintop would mark a watershed moment for the people of God. They were His chosen people, and now they were going to learn how God’s chosen people were expected to live their lives. It would begin with the Decalogue, the “ten words” that would encapsulate and summarize all that would follow. God was going to give the people a detailed and lengthy code of conduct that covered virtually every area of human interaction, including their relationship with God and with one another. But the Ten Commandments were intended to provide a memorable and easy-to-follow outline for their behavior as God’s set-apart people.

And it began with their acknowledgment of His one-of-a-kind status as God.

You must not have any other god but me. – Exodus 20:3 NLT

Unlike the Egyptians and every other people group on earth, the Israelites were to worship Yahweh alone. He had created them, redeemed them, and blessed them with the privilege of being His “treasured possession among all peoples” (Exodus 19:5 ESV). As such, they were not to live or behave like any of the other nations. Their conduct was to mirror their unique status as God’s chosen people. And those who worshiped the one true God were prohibited from creating substitutes for Him.

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.” – Exodus 20:4-5 NLT

God put this non-negotiable restriction in place because He knew His people would be prone to emulate the ways of Egypt, where false gods were so plentiful and prevalent, it was impossible to know how many there really were. For the Israelites, one God was to be more than enough. Their God had defeated all the false gods of Egypt and was worthy of their unwavering devotion and honor.

“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” – Exodus 19:4 NLT

The first four commandments focus on the Israelites’ relationship with God. They are God-centric and call for a sold-out commitment to Him and Him alone. Their acknowledgment of God as their one and only God is to be accompanied by a proper respect for His name.

“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name. – Exodus 20:7 NLT

God’s name is an extension of His character or identity. To misuse His name is tantamount to questioning His very nature. To treat His name(s) in a flippant or disrespectful manner would be no less egregious than denying His holiness. But there is more to this command than merely treating God’s name with respect. From this point forward, the name of God would be associated with the people of Israel. In fact, the name Israel can be translated, as “let God rule.” As a people, they bore the name of God, and it was their privilege and responsibility to bear that name well. Everything they did, they did in the name of God. They were the sons and daughters of Yahweh and their behavior would reflect either positively or negatively on their Father.

Centuries later, the prophet Ezekiel would record God’s indictment of Israel for having profaned His name among the Gentiles.

“…they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.’” – Ezekiel 36:20 ESV

The apostle Paul provides a stunning description of what it meant for the Israelites to misuse God’s name.

You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.” – Romans 2:23-24 NLT

To break God’s law is to dishonor God’s name. To live in disobedience to His commands is to denigrate His holiness through your actions. A child of God who refuses to keep the commands of God brings dishonor to the name of God.

And God provided His people with the Sabbath as a tangible way to display their set-apart status and to prove their commitment to His honor and glory.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.” – Exodus 20:8-10 NLT

God was to be sovereign over every area of their lives. By dedicating that one day to Him alone, they would be acknowledging His role as their provider and protector. The God who created the heavens and the earth would meet all their needs as long as they remembered to honor Him for who He was and all that He had done for them.

For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy. – Exodus 20:11 NLT

The Sabbath was not so much a respite from work as it was a reminder of God’s creating and sustaining power. God did not rest on the seventh day because He was weary; he ceased work because His will had been accomplished. He had done all He had planned to do. The creation was complete and perfect. And in a sense, resting on the Sabbath was a way for the people of Israel to recognize the perfection of God’s plan for them. It was a way of honoring His perfect, providential purposes for their lives. They could rest knowing that God had all things under control and operating according to His sovereign plan.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Good Counsel, Well Received

13 The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” 15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; 16 when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. 19 Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, 20 and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”

24 So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 26 And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves. 27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went away to his own country. – Exodus 18:13-27 ESV

Like any father-in-law, Jethro wanted to see how his daughter’s husband performed “on the job.” So, the next morning, he followed Moses as he headed into the “office” – where Moses began a dawn-to-dusk session of judging the affairs and disputes of the people.

Moses took his seat to hear the people’s disputes against each other. They waited before him from morning till evening. – Exodus 18:13 NLT

This scene must have come as a shock to Jethro, because the last time he had seen Moses, his son-in-law had been herding sheep in Midian. Now, he was managing the affairs of what was essentially a small nation.  Every day, countless people made their way to Moses, where they lined up and waited for their turn to present their cases to the one and only judge qualified to settle their disputes.

Moses was a prophet who had been given the authority to speak on behalf of God Himself. It’s important to remember that at this time in their journey, the people of Israel had no written code of conduct or official compendium of laws to govern life and settle disputes. So, Moses was the only individual within the whole Israelite community who could adjudicate any disagreements and provide godly insights or a possible solution to the interpersonal conflicts taking place. Moses put his role this way:

“…the people come to me to get a ruling from God. When a dispute arises, they come to me, and I am the one who settles the case between the quarreling parties. I inform the people of God’s decrees and give them his instructions.” – Exodus 18:15-16 NLT

Moses wasn’t just dispensing sage wisdom and helpful advice; he was delivering personalized judgments from the throne of God in heaven. Part of what made the length of Moses’ days so long was the sheer number of cases that needed to be heard,  assessed, and litigated. And it must have taken time to hear the oral arguments of each party in the dispute. It could also be that Moses was required to take each matter to the Lord and then wait for a specific answer to be returned. This would have been a time-consuming and highly exhausting process.

So, when Jethro observed how Moses spent his days, he was more than a bit surprised. His initial thought was that this entire scenario was absurd. How could one man possibly hope to handle such a demanding volume of cases? He saw that Moses was headed for a mental or physical meltdown if something didn’t change, and quickly. So, like a good father-in-law, he pulled Moses aside and tried to set him straight.

“What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?” – Exodus 18:14 NLT

None of this made any sense to Jethro. As a priest, he fully understood the concept of one man serving the needs of others, but this was lunacy. The volume of cases Moses was trying to handle on his own was beyond the scope of one man – even with God’s divine assistance. That led Jethro to deliver a no-holds-barred assessment of Moses’ leadership strategy, and it was anything but flattering.

“This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. – Exodus 18:17-18 NLT

In essence, Jethro told Moses, “You’re a train wreck waiting to happen. And it’s not a matter of if, but when.” From Jethro’s perspective, his overly-eager son-in-law was headed for an emotional, mental, or physical breakdown.  This led him to give Moses some unsolicited free advice; counsel was likely motivated more by his concern for his daughter and grandsons than for Moses himself. Jethro had just reunited Zipporah with her husband and he was not anxious to see her become a young widow because of Moses’ refusal to delegate responsibilities to qualified men.

So, he advised Moses to share the load – for his own good.

“You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing their disputes to him. Teach them God’s decrees, and give them his instructions. Show them how to conduct their lives.” – Exodus 18:19-20 NLT

Jethro wasn’t trying to change Moses’ job description, but he simply suggested a reprioritization of his roles. It’s unlikely that every case Moses heard required God’s input. There were probably some that Moses could settle on his own through the use of common sense. So, Jethro suggested that Moses recruit qualified men who could hear and settle the simpler cases while forwarding the more complicated disputes to Moses.

“…select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. They should always be available to solve the people’s common disputes, but have them bring the major cases to you. – Exodus 18:21-22 NLT

Jethro was recommending the time-tested strategy of delegation. As the sole mediator between God and the Israelite community, Moses was too vital to spend his time trying to settle every petty dispute that came up among the people. He needed to focus on the bigger issues and allow others to lighten his load by filtering out the more run-of-the-mill problems that didn’t require divine intervention.

Jethro outlined a detailed conflict resolution strategy involving a tiered network of judges and counselors who serve on behalf of Moses. The whole idea was for Moses to “the leaders decide the smaller matters themselves” (Exodus 18:22 NLT). This wasn’t rocket science. Jethro was recommending a simple organizational restructuring plan that would spread the load and spare Moses from burnout. And Jethro assured Moses that Yahweh would give this new approach His Good Housekeeping  seal of approval

“If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.” – Exodus 18:23 ESV

Moses wisely heeded his father-in-law’s advice and implemented this new conflict resolution strategy, and according to the text, it all worked like a charm. The newly appointed leaders did their jobs and, as a result, Moses got a new lease on life. The valuable bandwidth he had lost was restored and, in the end, ikt proved to be a win-win situation for all involved.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Lord Will Fight For You

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

10 When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:5-14 ESV

At some point, it dawned on Pharaoh that the Israelites had no intentions of returning from their 3-day trek into the wilderness. Verse 5 states that “word reached the king of Egypt that the Israelites had fled.” The Hebrew word translated as “fled” is בָּרַח (bāraḥ), which carries the idea of running away. It seems likely that Pharoah had sent spies to keep an eye on the Israelites and to ensure that they kept their end of the bargain and returned after worshiping their God in the wilderness. Instead, Pharaoh was informed that the Israelites were attempting to make a break for it but had become lost and confused in the process.

Upon receiving the news of the somewhat circuitous route the Israelites had taken, Pharaoh concluded that they had become lost. He immediately regretted his previous decision to allow them to leave and was determined to do everything in his power to get them back.

So Pharaoh harnessed his chariot and called up his troops. He took with him 600 of Egypt’s best chariots, along with the rest of the chariots of Egypt, each with its commander. – Exodus 14:6-7 NLT

Twice, Moses emphasizes that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Once again, this is meant to emphasize God’s sovereignty over all that was taking place. But it does not absolve Pharaoh of guilt in the matter. He was not being forced to do what he did. This arrogant king was being motivated by the wickedness of his own heart but all according to the divine plan of God.

The very fact that God had ordered Moses to have the Israelites begin their journey out of Egypt headed in one direction and then had them reverse their course, is a clear indication that God had something else He had planned to do. He was not yet done humiliating Pharaoh and was about to enact one more irrefutable demonstration of His superior power and authority.

God had told Moses in advance exactly what He was going to do and why.

“…once again I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after you. I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. After this the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!” – Exodus 14:4 NLT

The Lord of Hosts(Jehovah Sabaoth) was about to do battle with the elite troops of Egypt. One of the most powerful and feared armies in the world was going to find itself going up against God Almighty.

As the Israelites sat in their makeshift camp along the shore of the Red Sea, waiting for directions from Moses, they were unaware that Pharaoh and his troops were headed their way. And Pharaoh was motivated by what he believed to be was a blatant display of arrogance on the part of the Israelites.

he chased after the people of Israel, who had left with fists raised in defiance. – Exodus 14:8 NLT

He had been given time to reconsider his earlier decision and came to the conclusion that the Israelites needed a healthy serving of humble pie. So, mounted in his royal chariot, Pharaoh led his crack troops in hasty pursuit of a fleeing mob of confused and defenseless Israelites. But the Israelites weren’t running; they were sitting quietly by the shores of the Red Sea awaiting instructions from Moses. The pillar of cloud, a manifestation of God’s presence, still hovered nearby, and they had been instructed not to break camp until the cloud began to move. By all indications, they were right where God wanted them to be.

But, in time, the Israelites heard the sound of the approaching army and could see the large sandstorm stirred up by the horses’ hooves and the chariot wheels. And as the Israelites watched in horror, the 600 chariots of the Egyptian army came into view, barrelling toward them with unbridled abandon. And the hearts of the Israelites sank in despair.

Almost as if in unison, the people cried out to God for help. Others directed their fear and anger at Moses, shouting, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt?” (Exodus 14:11 NLT). These questions, among others, poured out in a torrent of rage and abject terror as the people considered their doomed fate. They began to hurl accusations against Moses and Aaron, questioning their leadership an demeaning the failed nature of their strategy. From their perspective, Moses and Aaron had blown it. Their promise of deliverance had turned into a guarantee of certain destruction. And the Israelites began to regret having ever left Egypt in the first place.

It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness! – Exodus 14:12 NLT

As far as they could tell, listening to Moses and Aaron had been a huge mistake. And as they vented their frustration, fears, and anger at these two elderly men, the Israelites failed to notice that the pillar of cloud had never stirred or left their sight. It remained right where it had been all along, signifying that God was still with them.

But Moses must have seen the cloud and gained renewed confidence. He withstood the verbal onslaught and responded with a powerful call to faith.

“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:13-14 ESV

While the eyes of the Israelites were fixated on the 600 chariots headed their way, Moses must have fixed his sight on the pillar of cloud, remembering the words of the Lord.

I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. – Exodus 14:4 NLT

Moses gave the people three simple instructions.

Fear not – he encouraged them to cease fearing because he knew that uncontrolled fear can turn to flight. If they ran, they were as good as dead. They could not outrun chariots.

Stand firm – rather then run, they were to stand their ground because God had them right where He wanted them. He had led them to this very spot, and it would be on this ground that they would see the deliverance of God.

See the salvation of the Lord – whether they realized it or not, they had ringside seats to what would be the greatest show on earth. Moses was inviting them to stand back and watch their God perform a miracle of epic proportions. When they thought all was lost and their lives were in the balance, God was ready to provide them with salvation.

The army bearing down on them looked formidable. The fate awaiting them appeared to be unavoidable. Though they greatly out numbered the Egyptians, they were no match for chariots, swords, and spears. Yet, God wanted them to trust Him. The army they feared would soon be gone. The deadly outcome they expected would not be forthcoming. All because Jehovah Sabaoth was on their side and He was about to display His omnipotence on their behalf.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.