Sufficient for the Task

30 Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; 31 and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, 32 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, 33 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. 34 And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. 35 He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer.

1 “Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whom the Lord has put skill and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded.”

And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the Lord had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more. – Exodus 35:30-36:7 ESV

While living in Egypt, the Israelites had been used by Pharaoh as forced labor to construct a wide range of building projects. From the manufacturing of bricks and site excavation to actual construction methods, the Israelites learned a variety of useful skills from their Egyptian overlords. But none of that had adequately prepared them for the task that God had for them to do. This time, the Israelites would be building a structure designed by God and intended to function as His earthly dwelling place. There would be no bricks and mortar, scaffolding, cranes, or heavy stones to move. The materials for building God’s house would be donated by His people and crafted by men who had been divinely commissioned and gifted by God Himself.

Bezalel had been filled with the Spirit of God and equipped with all the skills he would need to oversee the construction of the Tabernacle. He and his assistant, Oholiab, were to manage a special task force of skilled craftsmen whose giftings were divinely ordained and specifically suited for the task at hand. God had not only devised the plans for the Tabernacle but had also sovereignly supplied the talents and skill sets required to bring that plan to fruition. Even those who volunteered to be trained by Bezalel and Oholiab were motivated by the Spirit of God. This building would be unique in every way, from the details concerning its design to the actual fabrication of its building materials and the final assembly of all the parts to form the completed structure. God left nothing to chance. 

And God’s Spirit-empowered workforce had no shortage of building materials to begin their construction project. The Spirit had also inspired the people of Israel to give generously in response to God’s call for donations.

Moses gave them the materials donated by the people of Israel as sacred offerings for the completion of the sanctuary. But the people continued to bring additional gifts each morning. – Exodus 36:3 NLT

The workmen eventually became overwhelmed by the sheer volume of donations that began to pile up. They had more gems, precious metals, fabric, and lumber than they could use. This unexpected problem led them to ask Moses to declare the fund-raising effort officially over.

“The people have given more than enough materials to complete the job the Lord has commanded us to do!” – Exodus 36:5 NLT

God had miraculously supplied everything necessary for the completion of His earthly dwelling place. Yes, the Israelites had donated precious metals, gemstones, fabric, oil, leather, yarn, and a variety of other elements needed to build the Tabernacle, but they had done so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Their hearts had been moved to give generously and willingly; so much so that they had to be ordered to stop giving. And God had supplied the skill sets required to carry out the design of this one-of-a-kind structure.

Bezalel had been filled with “great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts” (Exodus 35:31 NLT). He was “a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze” and “skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood” (Exodus 35:32-33 NLT). In short, he was a master at every craft. And he and Oholiab had been divinely equipped to train others so that they could carry out the various tasks required to complete the Tabernacle on time and according to God’s detailed plan. 

This entire endeavor had God’s seal of approval and divine enablement. No one could take personal credit for any aspect of the Tabernacle’s construction. Even the gifts donated by the people of Israel had been provided for them by God. During Israel’s exit from Egypt, God orchestrated a massive transfer of wealth from the Egyptians to His chosen people.

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

Little did the Israelites know at the time that this financial windfall would be the source of their largess when it came time to build the Tabernacle. They would actually construct God’s house with resources plundered from their former overlords and oppressors. Egyptian cloth, jewels, gold, and silver would be used to create God’s sacred dwelling place among the people of Israel.

Well in advance of the need, God had provided everything the Israelites would need to obey His command. Even the talents and skills required to build the Tabernacle had been bestowed by God long before the need arose. The money, materials, and manpower were sovereignly provided for in advance. The Tabernacle had been fully funded and the talent pool for its construction had been fully filled even before God had shared the plans with Moses on Mount Sinai. Nothing stood in the way of the Israelites obeying God’s command and completing the construction of His house. God had done His part; now it was up to the people to fulfill their God-ordained role.

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.

Integrity and Personal Responsibility

  If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the stolen beast is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double.

“If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard.

“If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution.

“If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man’s house, then, if the thief is found, he shall pay double. If the thief is not found, the owner of the house shall come near to God to show whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property. For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor.

10 “If a man gives to his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep safe, and it dies or is injured or is driven away, without anyone seeing it, 11 an oath by the Lord shall be between them both to see whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property. The owner shall accept the oath, and he shall not make restitution. 12 But if it is stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. 13 If it is torn by beasts, let him bring it as evidence. He shall not make restitution for what has been torn.

14 “If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it, he shall make full restitution. 15 If the owner was with it, he shall not make restitution; if it was hired, it came for its hiring fee.” – Exodus 22:2-15 ESV

These laws could be summed up with the simple adage: Honesty is the best policy. When it comes to human relationships, God puts a high priority on integrity and morality. He expects His people to do the right thing and, when they don’t, He demands that they make amends. God created human beings to live in a communal environment that requires close interaction and a sense of interdependency. The behavior of one affects all. So, when crafting the code of conduct that would regulate life within His covenant community, God included laws that would encourage honesty and mutual accountability. In His covenant community, no man was to be an island. Everyone’s individual behavior had corporate implications.

In giving the Decalogue, God covered the moral law concerning theft.

“You shall not steal. – Exodus 20:15 ESV

This eighth commandment prohibited theft. Even within the communal context of the nation of Israel, people were allowed to own private property. It was not a collective, where everyone shared all things in common. Instead, individuals could own their own homes, possess flocks and herds, and enjoy the benefits and rights of ownership. But God knew this arrangement, in conjunction with the effects of the fall, would result in inequities that produced coveteousness and jealousy. The have-nots would become envious of the haves and be tempted to resort to theft to balance the playing field.

So, these commands are examples of the moral law (Don’t steal) applied as civil law. What were the people of Israel to do when someone was caught in the act of stealing? How were they supposed to respond when an individual damaged property belonging to someone else? The prohibition against stealing had to be nuanced and parsed out so that it made sense in a variety of different scenarios because human beings have an uncanny ability to justify their actions – even the bad ones.

The first case involves someone who breaks into a house with the intent to steal. But if the homeowner catches the intruder in the act and kills him, it is to be considered an act of self-defense. He will be considered innocent of murder. But the outcome is quite different if the homeowner kills the thief in broad daylight. In that case, the claim of self-defense is waived and replaced with a conviction of murder. There is no explanation given for this variance in outcomes, but it would appear that the difference has to do with the threat of bodily harm. A homeowner who catches someone breaking and entering in the middle of the night has no way of knowing the intentions of the intruder. Fearing the threat of personal harm, the homeowner has the right to defend himself, his family, and his property. But with the rising of the sun, a different light is shed on the very same scenario. It becomes easier to discern the perpetrator’s intentions. Theft does not justify murder. The threat of stolen property does not give the homeowner the right to take another man’s life.

Another way of interpreting this law is that if a man is killed in the act of breaking and entering, he will not be found guilty of theft. And there will be no restitution required because he has paid with his life. But if the thief accomplishes his mission and lives to see the next day, he will be held accountable. He will be required to pay for his crime. If he is unable to make restitution, he is to be sold and the proceeds used to reimburse his victim. If he is caught with the stolen property in hand, he will be required to compensate the aggrieved party at double its value.

Verses 5 and 6 deal with cases of criminal negligence. These two scenarios cover inadvertent and unintentional damage done to someone else’s property. In the first case, an individual is guilty of allowing his flocks or herds to damage another individual’s property. They have overgrazed the land of a neighbor. Since there were no fences in those days, it was easy for these kinds of accidents to happen. But this did not excuse one man from respecting the rights of another. If damage was done, the guilty party was expected to make restitution.

If a man started a fire to clear his own land, but it spread to a neighbor’s field, destroying his harvested and stacked grain, he was to be held accountable.

“…he who started the fire shall make full restitution. – Exodus 22:6 ESV

An apology would not suffice. An admission of guilt was to be accompanied by an exchange of compensation. Harm was done and payment must be made.

The commands that follow have to do with cases of personal liability and responsibility. In a day when banks were non-existent, people were forced to depend upon others for the safekeeping of their valuables. So, if a man placed his personal property in the care of a friend and those goods were stolen, what was the proper protocol to follow? Who was responsible? There was no FDIC to cover the loss. So, what was the aggrieved party to do?

If the thief who stole the goods was caught, he was to make restitution. But if there was no one to pin the crime on, the matter was to be brought before God. In a case like this, it would only be natural for suspicion to arise concerning the trustworthiness of the one who had been entrusted with the goods. If the valuables disappeared while under his watch, should he be held responsible for the victim’s compensation?

In these kinds of cases, the matter was to be brought before God.

“…the owner of the house shall come near to God to show whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property.” – Exodus 22:8 ESV

The Hebrew word used here is ha’elohim and it can be translated as “the gods.” It is most likely a reference to the elders within the community who were assigned the task of judging these kinds of situations. This was the protocol established by Moses on the advice of Jethro, his father-in-law.

“…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. 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.” – Exodus 18:21-22 ESV

These trustworthy men were to assess the situation and determine the guilt or innocence of the one from whose home the goods were taken. If the judges arrive at a guilty verdict, the neighbor was to make restitution, paying the victim double the value of the stolen property.

If the missing property happened to be an ox, sheep, or goat, the same criteria were to be applied. If the judges deemed the neighbor did nothing wrong, the owner of the property was to accept their verdict as final and binding. But if they determined the neighbor to be guilty of theft, he was expected to make full restitution.

The final case involves responsibility for borrowed goods. If a man borrows anything of value from a neighbor, he will be held responsible for its care and ultimate return. If it is stolen, he will compensate his neighbor for its value. If it is damaged, he will make restitution. But God provides an important caveat. If the owner of the object is present when the item is damaged, the borrower is not to be held accountable. If it involves the case of an animal being rented out and the animal is injured or killed, the owner will receive compensation from the rental price he charged. Any loss he suffers is to be written off as the cost of doing business.

These laws, while quite specific, are not intended to be exhaustive in nature. They provide practical principles for dealing with the myriad of scenarios that might come up in daily life. Communal living can be difficult. Living in close proximity to others can lead to all kinds of conflicts and create a perfect storm of controversies that can do damage to the community and bring dishonor to the name of God. So, the Almighty went out of His way to establish clear criteria for how to live with integrity in the midst of community.

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.


Take Ownership

33 “When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34 the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his.

35 “When one man’s ox butts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share. 36 Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall repay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his.

1 “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.” – Exodus 21:33-22:1 ESV

In these verses, the focus of the commandments shifts to the topic of restitution but particularly in cases involving domesticated animals. In an agrarian culture, animals were a daily part of life. They were a source of food and labor but were also prone to unpredictable behavior. Tens of thousands of goats, sheep, and oxen accompanied the Israelite community as they made their way from Egypt to Canaan and, as personal property, the responsibility for these animals fell to their rightful owners. While domesticated, these creatures could still cause property damage or personal injuries.

God has already dealt with the rare case of an ox goring someone to death. At first glance, this seems like such an unlikely scenario, but it provides a principle regarding the need for personal responsibility. The owner of the ox must take ownership of its actions. In this case, the ox is to be stoned to death. This supports the overall legal principle known as lex talionis.

“…if there is further injury, the punishment must match the injury: a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise.” – Exodus 21:23-25 NLT

In Latin, lex talionis means “law of retaliation.” Essentially, it was a law designed to regulate retaliation. Its primary goal was to ensure that the punishment fit the crime and to prevent an unbalanced response in the form of revenge. People were not to take matters into their own hands and mete out a disproportionate degree of justice. God’s law demanded that all penalties for crimes committed be equitable rather than excessive.

God even provided details concerning an ox that was a repeat offender. If an ox was prone to violent behavior, it was the responsibility of the owner to protect his neighbors from any harm. If he failed to do so and the ox ended up killing again, both the ox and the owner would be condemned to death. But God provided a way for the owner to escape death by redeeming himself through the payment of a ransom.

However, the dead person’s relatives may accept payment to compensate for the loss of life. The owner of the ox may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded. – Exodus 21:30 NLT

To our modern sensibilities, these cases seem strange and unnecessary. But to the Israelites, these kinds of scenarios were a regular part of daily life. These laws made sense and provided much-needed guidelines for how to deal with the inevitable conflicts that accompanied life in a fallen world.

God wanted His people to take personal responsibility for their actions. Their behavior was important and there was no excuse for negligence. Sins of commission and omission were equally wrong and had to be dealt with properly. If a man dug a pit and someone else’s ox or donkey fell into it, he was responsible for the outcome.

“The owner of the pit must pay full compensation to the owner of the animal, but then he gets to keep the dead animal.” – Exodus 21:34 NLT

He couldn’t just write it off as bad luck. He was not free to excuse his liability by saying, “Accidents will happen.” Justice must be served. Compensation must be made. Legal liability is a biblical principle that is intended to regulate human behavior. In a world where everyone wants to dismiss their culpability and avoid any and all liability for their actions, God inserted a non-negotiable principle of personal responsibility. We are to own our actions. If the tree I planted falls on my neighbor’s house, I am to take responsibility for it and make restitution. If my dog bites a child, I am not free to excuse its actions by saying, “Dogs will be dogs.” God expects me to do the right thing.

All of these laws are intended to help God’s people reflect God’s character. He is a God of justice, mercy, and grace. He always does what is right and good, and He expects His covenant people to mirror His ways. But because sin has infected our world and heavily influenced our hearts, He has given us His law to show us how to do the good and right thing. Left to our own devices, we would naturally deflect blame and deny responsibility, but God will not allow us to do so.

In a sense, God is stating that personal property is an extension of the individual. An ox that kills is the responsibility of its owner. A man who steals a sheep or goat is actually committing a crime against the animal’s owner. He is dishonoring and devaluing that individual by his actions, and God expects him to make restitution.

“…the thief must pay back five oxen for each ox stolen, and four sheep for each sheep stolen. – Exodus 22:1 NLT

No excuses accepted. No justification allowed. Each individual was expected to make things right; to do the right thing. God was attempting to create a community where justice prevailed and love permeated every interaction. God expected His people to live holy, set-apart lives that were distinctively different than their neighbors. They were to be a light to the world, living together in an atmosphere of unity and mutual accountability. As the psalmist said, “How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!” (Psalm 133:1 NLT).

And that was God’s desire for His people.

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.

A Different Kind of Freedom

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. 10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. 11 And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money. – Exodus 21:7-11 ESV

As the Israelites stood at the base of Mount Sinai in the middle of the wilderness, they were in a kind of no man’s land between Egypt and Canaan. They were no longer living as the slaves of the descendants of Ham, but they were also far from their future homeland. Their exit from Egypt had been relatively easy but their first few months of travel to the land of promise had been marked by difficulties. They had encountered shortages of water and food, which God miraculously remedied. The days had been long and they had begun to grow weary of the monotonous and unpleasant nature of their journey. But God was preparing them for what lie ahead. He was teaching them to trust Him and to understand that He would provide for all their needs. The conquest of Canaan was not going to be a cakewalk.

The land God promised to Abraham as the homeland for his descendants was heavily occupied and the current residents would not give up their property willingly or easily. Their removal from the land was going to be a non-negotiable requirement for the Israelites because God knew that their pagan practices would have a negative influence on His chosen people. And Moses would later give the people an explanation for God’s extermination policy regarding the land of Canaan.

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-4 ESV

And Moses went on to remind the Israelites of their unique status as God’s chosen people.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. – Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV

The giving of the Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant was intended to provide the Israelites with clear guidelines to govern their behavior. God had Canaan in mind when He gave them His legal code of conduct and many of these laws have direct application to the circumstances they will encounter when they enter the land. The greatest temptation they will face will be that of compromise and cultural assimilation. Rather than stand out as God’s treasured possession and live like a holy nation and a royal priesthood, they will be tempted to blend in with the pagan cultures around, adopting their ways and acclimating to their laws and lifestyles.

That is why many of the laws found in Exodus 21-23 sound so foreign to those of us living in the more “enlightened” 21st century. We struggle with God’s commands concerning slavery. We reel at the idea of God condoning a father selling his daughter or son for profit. In these opening verses of chapter 21, people seem to be treated like property rather than those made in the image of God.

The world in which the Israelites lived was far different from the one we occupy. In a way, they lived in a day and age that was similar to the American wild west. Canaan was a place filled with a diverse group of nations that practiced a variety of different religions and lived according to their own set of moral codes. There was no shared “law of the land” and no “sheriff” to help enforce it. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. People were treated like property. Women had no rights or value, except for their child-bearing abilities.

When the Israelites finally entered the land of Canaan, they would find themselves surrounded by people who lived according to their own set of rules. So, long before the people of God arrived at their final destination, God gave them His criteria for navigating life in a fallen and broken world. And the fact that He started with the difficult topic of slavery was intentional. His people knew what it was like to be enslaved. Four generations of Israelites had experienced the devastating reality of this degrading and demoralizing institution. Of all people, they should have had a strong aversion to participating in such a reprehensible practice. But in their world, indentured servanthood was almost unavoidable. In an age when social welfare programs were non-existent, many who found themselves in debt had no other recourse but to use their bodies as collateral, entering into indentured servanthood to escape poverty or possible death.

The Israelites had lived through this sad reality during their days in Egypt. When the seven-year famine that ravaged the land reached its peak, the Egyptians became desperate for food. Having used all their money to purchase grain from the Egyptian government, they were forced to sell their property and possessions. When those things ran out, they were left with nothing else to offer but themselves.

…when that year was ended, they came to him the following year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.” – Genesis 47:18-19 ESV

As difficult as it is for us to believe or accept, this was the welfare system Joseph implemented that kept the people of Egypt alive. And rather than seeing Joseph’s actions as punitive or abusive, they expressed their gratefulness.

“You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.” – Genesis 47:25 ESV

Yet, as we consider these first few laws, it’s difficult to understand how they could be the work of a holy, righteous, and just God. How could God condone a man selling his daughter as a slave? Why would God make provisions for one man to purchase another man and force him to act as his servant for six years? Our modern sensibilities make it almost impossible to grasp the significance of what was taking place in those days.

“In Israel servitude was voluntary (at least for Israelites). People hired themselves into the service of others. Usually this was because they were poor, and they recognized that the best way to meet their needs while at the same time paying off their debts was to become someone’s servant. Servant is the proper word for it. They were not slaves, as we usually think of the term, but something more like apprentices, hired hands, or indentured laborers. They lived in their master’s home, where they worked hard in exchange for room, board, and an honest wage.” – Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory

When reading these chapters, it’s essential that we factor in the cultural conditions of the time period in which God’s laws were given. The Israelites were living in a day that was very dissimilar to the one in which we live. Cultural mores were distinctively different than those with which we are familiar. And God was giving His people laws that would make sense within their immediate context.

It is difficult for us to imagine any slave making the statement: “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free” (Exodus 21:5 ESV). But the emphasis of the passage seems to be on the importance of the family unit. Even an Israelite in Moses’ day might have second-guessed the decision to exchange freedom for maintaining family unity. But God wants them to know that freedom is not the end-all. Within God’s economy, there are certain things that are of greater value than freedom itself. For God’s people, love for Him and love for others are to trump everything else. Even a slave can love his family well. But a man who sacrifices his family to achieve personal freedom has given up that which God has deemed of greater value.

God knew that the people of Israel were going to view their status as His treasured possession as some kind of exemption from pain and suffering. They were expecting to enjoy all the perks that come with being the chosen people of God Almighty. But centuries later, the apostle Paul would remind his readers that there are some things more important than status and significance.

Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 7:20-22 NLT

These laws were meant to regulate relationships, including those between men and those between men and God. That is why, when Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, He replied:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40 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.

Things Are About to Get Serious

1 On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” – Exodus 19:1-9 ESV

Three months after leaving the land of Egypt, the people of Israel arrived at “the mountain of God” in the wilderness of Sinai. This event marks a major turning point in the story of God’s people. For them, it was just another trip from one obscure place in the wilderness to another. As they continued their long journey from Egypt to Canaan they made several stops along the way, and each had been marked by its own unique and memorable moment of divine intervention.

Three days into their journey, the people became anxious because their provision of water was running low. At Marah, in the middle of the wilderness of Shur, they discovered a water source, but it was unfit for consumption. So, frustrated by this unacceptable situation, they turned their anger on Moses. But God intervened and miraculously transformed the bitter water at Marah into a refreshing, life-giving source of sustenance. And it was there that God gave them a command:

“If you will diligently obey the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and pay attention to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, then all the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians I will not bring on you, for I, the Lord, am your healer.” – Exodus 15:26 NLT

At this point in their relationship with Yahweh, He had given them no written commands to obey. They had simply been instructed to follow His lead as the pillar of cloud guided them through the wilderness. But the bitter water at Marah had been a test to see if they would trust God. Their fear and frustration at finding the water to be undrinkable gave evidence that they didn’t trust God to provide for all their needs.

And their tendency to doubt God’s capacity to provide continued as they entered the wilderness of Sin. There they angrily vocalized their concern over their diminishing bread supply, and God had responded by providing “bread from heaven” (Exodus 16:4 ESV) along with a daily diet of quail. And that miracle was accompanied by a strict set of rules from God.

“This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’” And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. – Exodus 16:16-17 ESV

And the people were forbidden from hoarding any of the bread. God would provide exactly what they needed for each day – nothing more, nothing less. But on the sixth day, they were commanded to gather twice as much so that they would have enough for the seventh day, a day that God had deemed as “a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord” (Exodus 16:23 ESV).  But when that seventh day arrived, some of the people disobeyed God’s command and went out in search of manna, only to find that none was available. And God expressed His anger in no uncertain terms.

“How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” – Exodus 16:28-29 ESV

Not long after this, at a place called Rephidim, the people’s lack of faith got exposed again. Unable to find a source of water in this arid region, the Israelites expressed their dissatisfaction with Moses, even accusing him of trying to kill them. But God graciously intervened again, providing them with life-giving water from a rock.

Now, the people find themselves encamped at the base of a mountain in the middle of the Sinai wilderness. To them, this was just another mountain in the middle of nowhere. But for Moses, it was a return to a very familiar place and a reminder of the promise he had received from God. It was at this very spot that Moses had seen the burning bush and heard the voice of God. That divine encounter had been a game-changer for Moses, transforming him from a reclusive shepherd of sheep to God’s divine agent of deliverance. There, at Mount Sinai, Moses had received his commission to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt and lead them to the land of promise. And God had assured Moses that he would one day return to that very spot with the people of Israel in tow.

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

Now that promise was being fulfilled. Upon their arrival at Sinai, the people set up camp at the base of the mountain, while Moses made his way to the top. He somehow knew that he had another divine appointment with God Almighty. And, as before, Moses heard the voice of God calling to him.

“Thus you will tell the house of Jacob, and declare to the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites.” – Exodus 19:3-6 NLT

God gave Moses a message for the people of Israel. He wanted them to understand the significance of what He had done for them. It was essential that they grasp the greatness of the gift they had received. Their deliverance had not been their own doing. The plagues that had come upon their captors were manifestations of God’s divine judgment. The people of Israel were now free people but they owed that freedom to God. And they also owed Him their allegiance and obedience.

God was preparing to set them apart as His kingdom of priests and a holy nation. But that lofty position came with conditions. Any hope they had of enjoying status as His special possession was tied directly to their willingness to live according to His will. This entire message from God is a conditional statement that communicates God’s uncompromising expectation of the people of Israel. The if-then nature of God’s message is meant to communicate that their special status as His chosen people will come with non-negotiable conditions.

God was setting the people of Israel apart. From this point forward, they would be distinctively different than all the other nations of the earth. They were to become God’s people, living according to God’s will and in keeping with His commands. God refers to them as “a holy nation.”

The word “holy” is קָדוֹשׁ (qāḏôš) in Hebrew, and it can mean “sacred, separate, or set apart.” God was letting the Israelites know that their deliverance from Egypt had a purpose. There was a reason why God had set them free and its significance was far greater than they currently realized. God had great things in store for them, but it was going to require that they embrace their distinctiveness and readily adopt God’s standards of behavior. Moral purity and conformity to His will would be mandatory.

Little did they know that God was about to give them His non-negotiable rules of conduct. They loved the idea of becoming a kingdom of priests and a holy nation but had no way of understanding the burden that would accompany that lofty status. So, when Moses returned from the mountaintop and delivered God’s message to the people, they eagerly and enthusiastically replied, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8 ESV).

What would happen next would be a game-changing moment for the people of Israel. Nothing they had witnessed up to this point had prepared them for what they were about to experience at Mount Sinai. The plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, manna, water from a rock, the defeat of the Amalekites – nothing would come close to the spectacle they were about to witness from their vantage point in the valley of Sinai. God was about to reveal Himself in all His terrifying and jaw-dropping glory. The familiar pillar of cloud that had led them through the wilderness was going to transform itself into a dense and foreboding storm cloud, accompanied by flashing lightning and loud thunder. God was about to make Himself known and it would be an unforgettable experience.

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.

We Can Do This the Hard Way

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! Thus says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and the valleys: Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense altars shall be broken, and I will cast down your slain before your idols. And I will lay the dead bodies of the people of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. Wherever you dwell, the cities shall be waste and the high places ruined, so that your altars will be waste and ruined, your idols broken and destroyed, your incense altars cut down, and your works wiped out. And the slain shall fall in your midst, and you shall know that I am the Lord.

“Yet I will leave some of you alive. When you have among the nations some who escape the sword, and when you are scattered through the countries, then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations. 10 And they shall know that I am the Lord. I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them.”

11 Thus says the Lord God: “Clap your hands and stamp your foot and say, Alas, because of all the evil abominations of the house of Israel, for they shall fall by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. 12 He who is far off shall die of pestilence, and he who is near shall fall by the sword, and he who is left and is preserved shall die of famine. Thus I will spend my fury upon them. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when their slain lie among their idols around their altars, on every high hill, on all the mountaintops, under every green tree, and under every leafy oak, wherever they offered pleasing aroma to all their idols. 14 And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land desolate and waste, in all their dwelling places, from the wilderness to Riblah. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 6:1-14 ESV

Four separate times in 14 verses, God insists that when He is done, the rebellious people of Israel “will know that I am the Lord.” God is a relational being and He had chosen the nation of Israel to enjoy a unique relationship with Him. He had set them apart as His own prized possession with the intent of revealing to them His glory and goodness. Even all the way back in Egypt, long before Moses had delivered them from their captivity, God had promised to reveal Himself to them in powerful and highly tangible ways.

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. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.” – Exodus 6:6-8 ESV

Their miraculous deliverance was intended to demonstrate the power, majesty, and sovereignty of God. He was greater than the Egyptians and their plethora of false gods. He was the covenant-keeping God who could be trusted to keep every promise He had made to Abraham, whose descendants would eventually escape captivity in Egypt and find themselves safely ensconced in the promised land of Canaan.

All along their journey from captivity to Canaan, God revealed Himself to His people. After miraculously delivering them across the Red Sea on dry ground and defeating the forces of Egypt, He had led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He had sustained them with manna from heaven and water from a rock. And during their four-decade-long journey through the wilderness of Sinai, He had even kept their clothes from wearing out. He had given them His law to reveal His holy expectations of them and regulate their behavior. And knowing that they would fail to keep His law perfectly, He provided them with the sacrificial system to atone for the sins they would commit so that they might be able to restore their broken relationship with Him.

God had repeatedly proven His greatness, and they should have known that He alone was the one true God. He had no equals. In His deliverance of the Israelites, He had exposed the gods of the Egyptians as frauds and nothing more than the figments of the imaginations of men. And when they began their conquest of the land of Canaan, God was with them, providing them with victories over much larger armies. The Canaanites and their gods proved to be powerless before Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And even before their conquest of the land had begun, God had warned them about adopting the religious practices of the Canaanites. They were not to emulate their pagan ways or worship their gods.

“When the Lord your God goes ahead of you and destroys the nations and you drive them out and live in their land, do not fall into the trap of following their customs and worshiping their gods. Do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations worship their gods? I want to follow their example.’ You must not worship the Lord your God the way the other nations worship their gods, for they perform for their gods every detestable act that the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters as sacrifices to their gods.” – Deuteronomy 12:29-31 NLT

But the people of Israel would fail to keep God’s commands. Over the centuries, they developed an unhealthy love affair with the false gods of the Canaanites. The kings of Israel had a track record of adopting the false gods of their enemies and adulterating their worship of Yahweh with unacceptable practices that He found deplorable.

And all along the way, God had warned His people about the dangers of their rebellious ways. He was a jealous God who would not tolerate their unfaithfulness and spiritual infidelity. By this time, they should have known that He alone was God. But they were still prone to seek the help and favor of any pagan god who might be able to give them a leg up on their enemies. They had become equal-opportunity idolators, willing to cozy up to any god who might provide them with an advantage or satisfy their insatiable lust for power, possessions, and pleasure. For them, Yahweh was not enough. They wanted more. And they were willing to prostitute themselves before the false gods of the Canaanites in order to satisfy what the apostle John described as “a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT).

Their blatant unfaithfulness had resulted in the Babylonian invasion of Judah. God informed the prophet, Jeremiah, that King Nebuchadnezzar had been handpicked by God to serve as His agent of judgment against His rebellious people.

“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.” – Jeremiah 25:9 ESV

And by the time Ezekiel penned his book, King Nebuchadnezzar had already defeated Judah and taken thousands of its citizens captive. But God was not done. The people of Judah remained unrepentant and unwilling to give up their love affair with false gods. That is why God gave Ezekiel a message for the people living back in Judah. He was to declare God’s pending judgment against the “mountains of Israel” (Ezekiel 6:3). This reference most certainly included the most prominent and important mountain range in all of Israel: Mount Moriah. This mountain range included Mount Zion on which Jerusalem sat and within whose walls the temple of God was located.

But God made it clear that His holy mountain was surrounded by altars and shrines to false gods. The land of Judah was literally filled with sacred worship sights dedicated to the gods of the Canaanites, and God was not pleased.

“I am about to bring war upon you, and I will smash your pagan shrines. All your altars will be demolished, and your places of worship will be destroyed. I will kill your people in front of your idols. I will lay your corpses in front of your idols and scatter your bones around your altars. Wherever you live there will be desolation, and I will destroy your pagan shrines. Your altars will be demolished, your idols will be smashed, your places of worship will be torn down, and all the religious objects you have made will be destroyed. The place will be littered with corpses, and you will know that I alone am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 6:3-7 NLT

It’s as if God is saying, “We can do this the hard way or we can do this the easy way.” God is a relational God. He chose the people of Israel to have a relationship with Him and to get to know Him – intimately and personally. He chose to dwell among them. He gave them His law to follow. He led them, directed them, protected them, and even spoke to them. He revealed Himself to them through miracles and divine intervention. He won battles for them. He rescued and rewarded them. All so that they might know Him. But the people of Israel decided to reject this personal God for a litany of impersonal, impotent, man-made gods.

Instead of recognizing and appreciating the power and presence of Yahweh, they turned their attention and affections elsewhere. So, God decided to reveal Himself differently. They were going to get to know Him the hard way. They would experience the power of God moving in their midst, but it would bring destruction, not blessing. He was going to smash their pagan shrines, demolish their altars, and destroy the places of worship where they pursued other gods.

When all the dust had settled, they were going to know that God had been in their midst. They were going to know that He had spoken and He always does what he says He will do. They were going to know that God was powerful and deadly serious about His people living lives that were set apart and distinctive from those of the other nations.

“You people have behaved worse than your neighbors and have refused to obey my decrees and regulations. You have not even lived up to the standards of the nations around you.” – Ezekiel 5:7 NLT

One way or the other, the people of God were going to get to know their God. But they were choosing the hard way. They were making it difficult on themselves. God had wanted to reveal Himself through blessing and abundance. He had wanted to have an intimate relationship with them that was characterized by care and compassion. In His grace and mercy, He had chosen them from among all the nations, not because they deserved it, but because He wanted to reveal Himself in a special way to a very specific people. He had intended to use them to showcase His love. They were to be His living illustration to the world.

But they refused to accept His love and obey His commands. He pursued them, but they rejected Him. So now they were going to get to know God the hard way.

But this chapter provides a powerful lesson for every child of God. Why do we make it so hard on ourselves? Why do we force God to reveal Himself through discipline and prove Himself to us by rebuking us? God has given us His Son. He has chosen us for a personal, intimate relationship with Him. He wants us to know Him closely and deeply. But far too often, we choose the hard way over the easy way.

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.

A Life-Changing Look at the Law

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. – 1 Timothy 2:8-11 ESV

Paul has warned Timothy about a certain group of individuals who had infiltrated the church in Ephesus and were declaring themselves to be experts on the Mosaic Law. These self-proclaimed teachers of the law were creating confusion among the converts to Christianity, propagating a range of dangerous doctrines based on their misguided interpretation and application of the Jewish legal code. Yet Paul flatly debunks their expertise.

…they do not understand what they are saying or the things they insist on so confidently. – 1 Timothy 1:7 NET

On Paul’s third missionary journey, he made a stop in the city of Ephesus where he found a small contingent of newly converted believers. Paul took these 12 men under his wing, baptizing them and laying hands on them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit. And Paul also spent time in the local synagogue, witnessing to his fellow Jews.

Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God. Acts 19:8 NLT

But the reception Paul received from the Jews living in Ephesus was far from warm.

…some became stubborn, rejecting his message and publicly speaking against the Way. So Paul left the synagogue and took the believers with him. Then he held daily discussions at the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for the next two years, so that people throughout the province of Asia—both Jews and Greeks—heard the word of the Lord. – Acts 19:9-10 NLT

Paul had been undeterred by the stubbornness of the Jews and continued to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to any who would listen. It is likely that some of the Jewish converts were among those who were trying to use their knowledge of the Mosaic Law to promote a form of legalism among the Gentile members of the congregation. But Paul insisted that these people, while well-intentioned, failed to understand the purpose of the law.

As a former Pharisee, Paul was an expert in the law of Moses. He had studied it extensively and could probably recite much of it from memory. Unlike the wanna-be teachers of the law in Ephesus, Paul had the credentials and curricula vitae to back up his opinions concerning the law.

I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. – Philippians 3:5-6 NLT

But Paul’s understanding of the law had been radically transformed by his encounter with the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus. Since becoming a follower of Christ, Paul had developed a whole new perspective on the law. No longer was the law to be seen as a set of rules to keep in order to have a right relationship with God. That is exactly what he told the believers in Rome.

Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. – Romans 3:19-20 NLT

What these so-called experts in the law were teaching was a form of legalism. There were promoting a need to keep the law in order to be truly saved. In their minds, the idea of faith alone in Christ alone was not enough. As far as they were concerned, the Gentile converts to Christianity were required to keep the laws given to Moses and practice all the rites and rituals associated with Judaism. But Paul knew this to be a dangerous lie that destroyed the whole idea of salvation by faith.

Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. – Romans 3:27-28 NLT

In the letter he wrote to the church in Ephesus, Paul reminded them of the incredible nature of God’s grace.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

This problem of legalism creeping into the church was pervasive. It seems that Paul encountered it in every city where the gospel gained a foothold. As soon as people began to place their faith in Christ, the legalists would appear on the scene, promoting their false doctrine of faith plus works. These Judaizers, as they came to be known, were adamant in their belief that obedience to the Mosaic Law was a non-negotiable requirement for salvation. Yet, Paul vehemently disagreed with their assertion.

…those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, “It is through obeying the law that a person has life.” – Galatians 3:10-12 NLT

Paul went on to explain to the Galatian believers the true purpose of the law.

Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. – Galatians 3:19 NLT

The law was never meant to save anyone. In the law, God revealed the righteous requirements He ordained for His people, but He knew that they would fail to live up to His exacting standards. That’s why He gave them the sacrificial system. Their inability to live up to the stringent moral and ethical code He established would leave them in a constant state of sin. So, the sacrificial system provided a means of receiving atonement and forgiveness.

The author of the book of Hebrews reminds us that the sacrificial system was never intended to permanently irradicate sin and eliminate guilt. In a sense, it was a bandaid approach to a much more serious problem.

The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.

But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. – Hebrews 10:1-4 NLT

And Paul emphasizes that this understanding of the law’s role does not in any way diminish its value.

Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ. – Galatians 3:21-22 NLT

The law was always intended to be a temporary solution to the problem of sin and it was only provided to the people of Israel. God had given His law to His chosen people and it had been meant to be a way of setting them apart from all the other nations on earth. God had given them His code of conduct and demanded that they obey it to the letter. But He had known they would fail. Even as the set-apart people of God and equipped with the law of God, they were unable to live up to His righteous standard. And Paul told the Galatians that the law had always been intended to function as a short-term fix to the eternal problem of sin.

Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. – Galatians 3:23-25 NLT

And Paul wanted Timothy to combat the lies of the legalists who were infiltrating the church in Ephesus. It was essential that Timothy shut down any talk of law-keeping as a requirement for salvation. According to Paul, faith in Christ provides freedom from the requirements of the law.

Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. – Galatians 5:1 NLT

For Paul, the law was for the unbelieving and unrepentant. It was for all those who had not yet been set free from sin by placing their faith in Christ. And he makes that point perfectly clear to Timothy.

The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God. – 1 Timothy 1:10-11 NLT

It was Jesus who predicted the sin-defeating and life-liberating nature of His death, burial, and resurrection. Faith in Christ provides freedom from sin and liberation from a life of legalism and law-keeping.

“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. – John 8:34-36 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.

The Secret Things of God

16 “You know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed. 17 And you have seen their detestable things, their idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold, which were among them. 18 Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, 19 one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. 20 The Lord will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven. 21 And the Lord will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for calamity, in accordance with all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law. 22 And the next generation, your children who rise up after you, and the foreigner who comes from a far land, will say, when they see the afflictions of that land and the sicknesses with which the Lord has made it sick— 23 the whole land burned out with brimstone and salt, nothing sown and nothing growing, where no plant can sprout, an overthrow like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in his anger and wrath— 24 all the nations will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger?’ 25 Then people will say, ‘It is because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt, 26 and went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them. 27 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against this land, bringing upon it all the curses written in this book, 28 and the Lord uprooted them from their land in anger and fury and great wrath, and cast them into another land, as they are this day.’

29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Deuteronomy 29:16-29 ESV

This section is bookended by two phrases that provide us with the context of all that Moses has to say in-between. He begins with the words, “You know…” and then ends by talking about “the secret things…” which belong to the Lord. Moses realized that there were many things that God had left unrevealed to the people of Israel. There were a great many divine truths of which they were ignorant. As God would later say of Himself: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV).

Man in limited in his knowledge. He can’t know the future. He can predict and prognosticate, but it all ends up being little more than speculation or wishful thinking. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, warned against such vain speculation.

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. – Proverbs 27:1 ESV

James provides even greater detail regarding man’s arrogant attempt to plan for the future, basing his decisions on things he cannot know or control.

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil. – James 4:13-16 NLT

The Israelites had no idea what their future would look like. But they did know what God had done in the past and what He had commanded them to do in the present. And Moses had provided them with ample warning regarding what would happen should they choose to disobey what the did know – all that God had told them to do.

The generation to whom Moses was speaking had not grown up in Egypt. They had not experienced the pain and suffering of captivity in a foreign land. But they knew all about the details concerning Israel’s 400-plus years of slavery. They were also very well aware of the idolatry that ran rampant in Egypt because their parents had told them stories of the countless gods the Egyptians worshiped, including the Pharaoh himself.

Even during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites had been exposed to one nation after another where they discovered the names of even more false gods and witnessed new forms of pagan worship. So, by the time the got to Canaan, they were highly familiar with idolatry, which is why Moses warned them to avoid that temptation like a plague.

“Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations.” – Deuteronomy 29:18 ESV

And they were to take this warning seriously, keeping an eye out for anyone who might consider abandoning the one true God for a false god. All it would take was one man or woman to throw a wrench into God’s plans for the entire nation. The covenant God had made with them was communal in nature, and adherence to it was to be a community-wide affair. If even one individual took the attitude, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart” (Deuteronomy 29:19 ESV), the whole nation would suffer the consequences.

They knew better. God had warned them repeatedly that the entire nation would be held accountable. They had seen what had happened when Achan had disobeyed God and taken treasure from the city of Jericho and had buried it in his tent. His hidden sin had resulted in Israel’s unexpected defeat when they attacked the city of Ai. God had held the entire nation culpable until they had dealt with the sin in their midst.

Moses makes sure the people understand the gravity of allowing disobedience in any form or fashion to infect the camp.

“The Lord will never pardon such people. Instead his anger and jealousy will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will come down on them, and the Lord will erase their names from under heaven. The Lord will separate them from all the tribes of Israel, to pour out on them all the curses of the covenant recorded in this Book of Instruction.” – Deuteronomy 29:20-21 NLT

They knew better and couldn’t claim ignorance as an excuse. And they could know for certain that future generations would reap the consequences of their present mistakes.

“Then the generations to come, both your own descendants and the foreigners who come from distant lands, will see the devastation of the land and the diseases the Lord inflicts on it. – Deuteronomy 29:22 NLT

They might not be able to predict the future, but they could certainly influence it by choosing to disobey God in the here-and-now. Their present disobedience would bring future destruction to the land that will leave even the pagan nations scratching their heads in wonder and asking, “Why has the Lord done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger?” (Deuteronomy 29:24 ESV).

And the answer to their questions will be a simple one: “It is because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt, and went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them” (Deuteronomy 29:25-26 ESV).

There was a lot the Israelites didn’t know. As they stood on the edge of the land of Canaan preparing to enter in and conquer the nations who occupied it, their minds were filled with questions of all kinds. How would it go? Would they be successful? How long would it take? Would they die in battle? Would the nations living in the land prove to be too strong?

A million doubts, fears, and concerns had to have crossed their minds. Moses must have seen the apprehension in their eyes, which is why he told them, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…” (Deuteronomy 29:29 ESV). Rather than wasting time worrying about the unknown and the unrevealed, Moses wanted them to focus on what they did know: “the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29 ESV). They knew the law of God. Moses had just gone over it in detail. They knew all about the blessings that would come with obedience and they were more than familiar with the curses that would come upon them if they disobeyed.

They knew what God had done to free them from captivity in Egypt. They knew He had promised to give them the land of Canaan as their inheritance and was getting ready to do so. They knew all about idols and the constant threat these false gods would pose, tempting them to abandon God and forget His commands. They knew they had to enter the land and eliminate the nations who lived their, along with all their idols, altars, and shrines. They knew they had to remain faithful if they wanted to be fruitful. They knew that God would not tolerate sin the camp or allow even one case of disobedience to go unpunished.

God had told them all they needed to know. They had no reason to worry about the future, unless they decided to live disobediently in the present. They knew that God expected them to be faithful. And if they did what God wanted, they could know that He would do all that He had promised.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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 Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God Is Faithful. Are You?

1 These are the words of the covenant that the Lord commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb.

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet. You have not eaten bread, and you have not drunk wine or strong drink, that you may know that I am the Lord your God. And when you came to this place, Sihon the king of Heshbon and Og the king of Bashan came out against us to battle, but we defeated them. We took their land and gave it for an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of the Manassites. Therefore keep the words of this covenant and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do.

10 “You are standing today, all of you, before the Lord your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, 11 your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, 12 so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 14 It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, 15 but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today. Deuteronomy 29:1-15 ESV

At this point in his address to the people of Israel, Moses seems to take a break from his recitation of the law, the blessings, and the curses. In a sense, the preceding passages in Deuteronomy have been a recounting of the covenant made by the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. Moses has been reminding them of God’s law and their covenant obligation to keep that law if they expect to enjoy His presence, power, and blessings upon entering the land.

Exodus 19-23 records the event at Mount Sinai in the wilderness when God made His original covenant with the people of Israel. It had been a spectacular occasion, accompanied by fire, smoke, lightning, and thunder, as God descended upon Mount Sinai. He delivered His law to Moses, who then communicated it to the people.

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” – Exodus 24:3 ESV

With that statement, they had ratified the covenant and communicated their willingness to keep their part of the agreement. After offering blood sacrifices to God to seal the covenant, Moses “took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient’” (Exodus 24:7 ESV). So, once again, they expressed their determination to abide by the covenant requirements as outlined by God.

And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” – Exodus 24:8 ESV

In the Hebrew Bible, verse 1 of chapter 29 is actually the last verse of chapter 28. It concludes Moses’ recitation of the covenant and his reminder to the people of the blessings and curses that would accompany either their obedience or disobedience.

Now, Moses appears to present a break in the narrative, providing a historical overview of Israel’s relationship with God. His primary objective is to stress the covenant faithfulness of God. Yahweh had done all that He had promised to do. And they had been eyewitnesses to the mighty acts of God. The truth is, most of the people in the audience that day were too young to have experienced God’s deliverance from Egypt. Their mothers and fathers had been the ones to see all that God had done “to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land” (Deuteronomy 29:2 ESV). They had seen firsthand “the great trials…, the signs, and those great wonders” (Deuteronomy 29:3 ESV).

And, over time, they would have shared the details of their remarkable experience with their children. Moses would have made sure the next generation was fully aware of all that God had done to deliver their people from captivity, lead them through the wilderness, and deliver them to the land of promise. And Moses includes the younger generation when he delivers this stinging indictment:

“But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” – Deuteronomy 29:4 ESV

In spite of all they had heard about God’s past dealings with their ancestors and all they had seen God do in their own lifetimes, they still didn’t get it. They remained clueless when it came to their understanding of God’s covenant faithfulness. He had guided them through the wilderness for 40 years. And during all that time, God had miraculously provided for all their needs. Amazingly, their clothes and sandals never wore out. Evidently, after four decades of wandering through the wilderness, they were still wearing the same garments they had one when they left Egypt.

And God had fed them with manna, quail, and water from the rock. They had no access to bread, wine, or strong drink. Their very existence had been dependent upon God. He had been their sole source of sustenance for nearly half a century.

Then, when they had finally arrived at the borders of Canaan, God had given them victories over Og and Sihon, two kings whose kingdoms were located east of the Jordan and outside the land of promise. God had helped Israel defeat these two nations, providing their land as an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of the Manassites. This had all been the work of God.

“But to this day the Lord has not given you minds that understand, nor eyes that see, nor ears that hear!” – Deuteronomy 29:4 NLT

God had given them everything except the ability to comprehend the significance of His actions on their behalf. In a way, this is a somewhat sarcastic statement meant to reveal just how stubborn the people of Israel had been. It is silly to think that God would have to give them the capacity to understand just how faithful He had been. They had seen it with their own eyes. They had heard all the stories with their own ears. But they remained unimpressed and ungrateful for all that God had done on their behalf.

So, Moses has to make it a point to remind them that, because God had been faithful to keep His end of the covenant agreement, they were going to have to keep the commitment they had made at Mount Sinai: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:7 ESV).

And Moses reminds them that their commitment to keep the covenant would require the participation of every single member of their community, including “the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water” (Deuteronomy 29:10-11 ESV). No one was exempt. No one got a free ride. God had made His covenant with the entire nation of Israel, and every single one of them had personally enjoyed the blessings that came as a result of His covenant faithfulness.

The entire nation was expected to ratify the covenant before they entered the land of promise, and Moses tells them why.

“…that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 29:13 ESV

This covenant stretched back more than 40 years, to the first generation of Israelites who had stood at the base of Mount Sinai and committed themselves to keep the commands of God. But the covenant was to be a timeless document that reached into the future, impacted generations of Israelites to come.

“But you are not the only ones with whom I am making this covenant with its curses. I am making this covenant both with you who stand here today in the presence of the Lord our God, and also with the future generations who are not standing here today.” – Deuteronomy 29:14-15 NLT

God is eternal. He exists outside time and space. And His commitment to the people of Israel was not bound by the limitations of years, decades, or centuries. What He had promised to do, He would do, regardless of how much time passed by or how many generations came and went. Abraham was long gone, but God was keeping the promises He had made to His servant. Moses would soon be gone, but God would remain faithfully committed to doing what He said He would do. Generations of Israelites would come and go, but God would never abandon His covenant commitment. He would be true to His word, but what about them?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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 Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson