Proper Priestly Protocol

 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering. The burnt offering shall be on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it. 10 And the priest shall put on his linen garment and put his linen undergarment on his body, and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and put them beside the altar. 11 Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. 12 The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. 13 Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out.

14 “And this is the law of the grain offering. The sons of Aaron shall offer it before the Lord in front of the altar. 15 And one shall take from it a handful of the fine flour of the grain offering and its oil and all the frankincense that is on the grain offering and burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 16 And the rest of it Aaron and his sons shall eat. It shall be eaten unleavened in a holy place. In the court of the tent of meeting they shall eat it. 17 It shall not be baked with leaven. I have given it as their portion of my food offerings. It is a thing most holy, like the sin offering and the guilt offering. 18 Every male among the children of Aaron may eat of it, as decreed forever throughout your generations, from the Lord’s food offerings. Whatever touches them shall become holy.”

19 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 20 “This is the offering that Aaron and his sons shall offer to the Lord on the day when he is anointed: a tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a regular grain offering, half of it in the morning and half in the evening. 21 It shall be made with oil on a griddle. You shall bring it well mixed, in baked pieces like a grain offering, and offer it for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 22 The priest from among Aaron’s sons, who is anointed to succeed him, shall offer it to the Lord as decreed forever. The whole of it shall be burned. 23 Every grain offering of a priest shall be wholly burned. It shall not be eaten.”

24 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 25 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the Lord; it is most holy. 26 The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. In a holy place it shall be eaten, in the court of the tent of meeting. 27 Whatever touches its flesh shall be holy, and when any of its blood is splashed on a garment, you shall wash that on which it was splashed in a holy place. 28 And the earthenware vessel in which it is boiled shall be broken. But if it is boiled in a bronze vessel, that shall be scoured and rinsed in water. 29 Every male among the priests may eat of it; it is most holy. 30 But no sin offering shall be eaten from which any blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the Holy Place; it shall be burned up with fire.” – Leviticus 6:8-30 ESV

At this point, God turns His attention to Aaron and his sons, focusing on their role as His priests and the mediators for the people of Israel. God outlines the five different offerings once again, but this time from the vantage point of the priestly family. These men had been given the weighty responsibility of making atonement for the sins of the people and God wanted them to take their role seriously. It was one thing for the sinner to offer the proper sacrifice for sin as ordained by God, but it would be of little value without a priest to perform the actual act of atonement. The sinner could bring the required sacrifice but only a priest was qualified to present the offering to God on the sinner’s behalf.

So, God provided Aaron and his sons with very specific instructions regarding the burnt offering, the grain offering, the ordination offering, and the sin offering. Each required a slightly different protocol that was to be observed down to the last detail. The priests were not allowed to improvise or alter the form of the sacrifice in any way.

Every morning, one of Aaron’s sons would put on his official robes, enter the Tabernacle compound and remove the ashes from the previous day’s sacrifices. These “holy” garments were required before he could approach God’s altar. Once the ashes were collected, he was to remove his sanctified garments and replace them with ordinary clothing so that he could leave the compound and place the ashes in a predesignated location that had been ceremonially cleansed and prepared for this purpose. In accomplishing this task, it was essential that the priest ensured that the fire never went out on the bronze altar.

“…the fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must never go out. Each morning the priest will add fresh wood to the fire and arrange the burnt offering on it.” – Leviticus 6:12 NLT

The ashes had to be removed but the embers were to be kept alive and additional wood was to be added in order to maintain a perpetual flame on the altar. As long as the Israelites were encamped and the Tabernacle was open for business, the flame on the bronze altar was to be constantly kindled and perpetually ready for sacrifices to be made. And it was the responsibility of the priests to keep the fire burning at all times.

In chapter 9, Moses records the inauguration of the sacrificial system, when Aaron and his sons offered a series of sacrifices on behalf of themselves and the people. Once Aaron had completed the required offerings, officially opening the Tabernacle for business, God placed His seal of approval on the entire proceedings in a powerful and memorable way.

Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. – Leviticus 9:22-24 NLT

God created the initial fire that consumed those first offerings, and it was up to Aaron and his sons to preserve a remnant of those embers for perpetuity. The flame that God ignited was to never go out.

It was from this very same altar that the priests would remove coals to ignite the incense that was burned on the altar of incense. God was the source and sustainer of the purifying flame that made their sacrifices not only possible but effective. Even the grain offerings that were offered to God were a pleasing aroma to Him due to the flame that He Himself had initiated. And God graciously provided Aaron and his sons with a portion of the grain offering as payment for their services.

I have given it to the priests as their share of the special gifts presented to me. Like the sin offering and the guilt offering, it is most holy. Any of Aaron’s male descendants may eat from the special gifts presented to the Lord. This is their permanent right from generation to generation. – Leviticus 6:17-18 NLT

God provided all that the priests needed, from the robes they wore to the food they ate. They served on His behalf and, in return, He amply sustained and rewarded them for their faithful service.

God notes that if anyone or anything other than one of the priests came into contact with these sanctified offerings, they would be rendered holy. If a commoner happened to touch some of the grain offerings that had been reserved for the priests, he would be considered holy by virtue of transference and expected to maintain his purity in the same way as the priests.

“The layman who touched these most holy things became holy through the contact, so that henceforth he had to guard against defilement in the same manner as the sanctified priests.” – Keil and Delitzsch, Leviticus

It was essential that everything be done according to God’s exacting standards so that holiness might be maintained. Any variation from God’s script would result in the sacrifices being defiled and their atoning purpose thwarted.

Even Aaron and his sons, whom God had set apart for His service, were required to maintain their set-apart status by carefully following God’s commands. This included their twice-daily offering of two quarts of choice flour. These offerings were to be burned in their entirety on the altar as a form of worship to Yahweh. It was not only important that the priests served God on behalf of the people, but they were also to demonstrate their own reverence for God by offering these gifts as a pleasing aroma to Him. It was all to be consumed by fire and offered as a gift to God alone.

Holiness, humility, worship, and obedience. All of these things factored into the proper adherence to God’s sacrificial system. Everything had to be done according to God’s strict requirements and from a proper perspective. The right sacrifice offered in the wrong way or with improper motives would prove fruitless and counterproductive. Obedience was essential but so was obeisance. Seeking God’s forgiveness but without offering Him proper worship from a contrite and reverent heart was to risk incurring His wrath. Atonement was only possible if done in the right way and from a right heart.

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.

When God Speaks…

1 The Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.” – Leviticus 1:1-2 ESV

As part of a five-book set known as the Pentateuch, the book of Leviticus picks up where the book of Exodus left off. The first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures were originally one book that was referred to as the Book of the Law or Torah. The Greek word Pentateuch was eventually used to refer to this five-volume set. It comes from a combination of the Greek word penta, meaning “five” and teuchos, which can be translated as “scroll.” These five individual scrolls were written by Moses sometime between the time when the Israelites left Egypt and when they entered the land of Canaan. When Moses originally penned the words recorded in the Pentateuch, he had one audience in mind: The Israelites whom he had helped deliver from captivity in Egypt.

Like much of what is contained in the book of Exodus, Leviticus is a record of God’s direct revelation to His chosen people. It contains detailed instructions regarding the priesthood and the sacrificial system that would become integral to their worship of Him. The final chapter of Exodus records the completion of the Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary that God had designed and ordered Moses to construct.

“There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” – Exodus 29:43-46 ESV

But in order for God’s glory to dwell within the Tabernacle, the Israelites and the “house” they had constructed would have to remain pure. But God knew this would be impossible because the Israelites had already proven their propensity for sin and their inability to remain faithful to their covenant commitment to Him. Not long after receiving the Ten Commandments and verbally acknowledging their commitment to obey them, the Israelites blatantly violated the first two on the list. God had clearly warned them, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 ESV). Then He followed that prohibition with the additional warning, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them…” (Exodus 20:4-5 ESV).

Yet, Exodus records that the people of Israel willingly broke both of these commandments. While Moses had been up on Mount Sinai receiving God’s plans for the Tabernacle, the people of Israel became worried about his welfare. Fearing that he would never return, they demanded that Aaron take his brother’s place, and then ordered him to provide them with a new god to guide and protect them. Sadly, Aaron obliged their request and crafted an idol out of the gold they donated. Then he ordered an official feast day, complete with sacrifices and marked by a raucous celebration.

But the party was interrupted by Moses’ return and the deaths of the 3,000 Israelite leaders who had instigated the whole affair. And despite this egregious display of open rebellion against Him, Yawheh remained faithful to His people. While a plague took the lives of all those who had participated in the insurrection, God spared the rest of the Israelites and allowed them to complete the construction of the Tabernacle. He would keep His promise to dwell among them. But His presence would come at a cost. The Tabernacle was beautiful in appearance and designed to reflect the glory of God,  it would be a place marked by sacrifice and associated with death and blood. In order for the Israelites to remain ceremonially and ethically pure, they would be required to have their sins atoned for by offering repeated sacrifices within the courtyard of the Tabernacle, and the priests would oversee this ongoing purification process.

Exodus ends with the inaugural assembly of the Tabernacle, and as it stood before the people for the very first time, God sanctioned it by filling the Holy of Holies with His presence.

…the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. – Exodus 40:34-35 ESV

The book of Leviticus picks up at this point. In fact, the very first word in the Hebrew version of Leviticus is the conjunctive: wayyiqra’, which is translated “And He [the Lord] called” (Leviticus 1:1 ESV). This is meant to reflect the ongoing nature of the narrative. The Tabernacle is finished but God is not. He has much more to say. In fact, Leviticus contains more direct quotes from God than any other book of the Bible.

“There is no book in the whole compass of that inspired Volume which the Holy Spirit has given us, that contains more of the very words of God than Leviticus. It is God that is the direct speaker in almost every page; His gracious words are recorded in the form wherein they were uttered.” – Andrew A. Bonar, A Commentary on Leviticus

God had far more to say to His people and the book of Leviticus reveals His thoughts concerning a wide range of topics, all related to the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system that would accompany and regulate their worship of Him.

“Though the covenant arrangement up to this point clearly specified the need for Israel, the vassal, to appear before her Lord on stated occasions and singled out first Moses and then the priesthood as mediators in this encounter, there yet remained the need to describe the nature of the tribute to be presented, the precise meaning and function of the priesthood, the definition of holiness and unholiness, and a more strict clarification of the places and times of pilgrimage to the dwelling place of the great King. This is the purpose of the book of Leviticus.” – Eugene H. Merrill, “A Theology of the Pentateuch,” in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament

The erection of the Tabernacle was to be viewed as a transitional phase of the Israelite’s history and not a point of completion. They would not be staying in Sinai. Their destination was Canaan, and the Tabernacle had been designed for portability because they had many miles to cover before their journey was complete and God’s covenant promise had been fulfilled. He would be traveling with them and, thanks to the completed Tabernacle, dwelling among them as they moved from Sinai to Canaan. But now, He wanted them to understand all the regulatory requirements associated with His new “house” and the Levitical priests who would oversee and maintain it.

And from the inner recesses of the newly built Tabernacle, God called out to Moses with His latest instructions for the people of Israel.

“Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘When someone among you presents an offering to the Lord, you must present your offering from the domesticated animals, either from the herd or from the flock. – Leviticus 1:2 NLT

The Tabernacle was to be a place of sacrifice. The key to enjoying God’s ongoing presence would be the maintenance of their own holiness. Because they were prone to sin, they would need constant atonement for those sins if they wanted to enjoy and benefit from Yahweh’s glory and goodness. Obedience was a non-optional requirement for blessing. But because they lacked the power or resolve to obey, they would inevitably violate God’s commands and require purification so that they might receive forgiveness. And Leviticus records the detailed system of sacrifice that God had designed so that His presence might continue to dwell among His chosen people. And this intricate and sometimes mind-numbing collection of sacrificial laws and regulations has great value because it emphasizes God’s holiness while stressing humanity’s sinfulness. God had chosen the Israelites to be His treasured possession. He had delivered them from captivity. He had providentially led them to Mount Sinai, where He gave them His law, established the priesthood, and provided the plans for His earthly dwelling place. But Leviticus will detail God’s expectations of them. That is why the book opens with God’s direct communication to His chosen people.

“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them…” – Leviticus 1:2 ESV

God was speaking and it was essential that they listen carefully and obey completely.

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.

Mission Accomplished

32 Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished, and the people of Israel did according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses; so they did. 33 Then they brought the tabernacle to Moses, the tent and all its utensils, its hooks, its frames, its bars, its pillars, and its bases; 34 the covering of tanned rams’ skins and goatskins, and the veil of the screen; 35 the ark of the testimony with its poles and the mercy seat; 36 the table with all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 37 the lampstand of pure gold and its lamps with the lamps set and all its utensils, and the oil for the light; 38 the golden altar, the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the screen for the entrance of the tent; 39 the bronze altar, and its grating of bronze, its poles, and all its utensils; the basin and its stand; 40 the hangings of the court, its pillars, and its bases, and the screen for the gate of the court, its cords, and its pegs; and all the utensils for the service of the tabernacle, for the tent of meeting; 41 the finely worked garments for ministering in the Holy Place, the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons for their service as priests. 42 According to all that the Lord had commanded Moses, so the people of Israel had done all the work. 43 And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the Lord had commanded, so had they done it. Then Moses blessed them. – Exodus 39:32-43 ESV

Moses fast-forwards the narrative and compresses the timeline to reflect the completion day of the Tabernacle. He provides no details as to how long it took Bezalel and the other craftsmen to wrap up this massive project, but the day came when their work was done. God’s house was complete.

The next step was to present every single item to Moses for his inspection. While Bezalel had served as the project’s foreman and primary craftsman, Moses had managed the entire process from start to finish, communicating every detail concerning the Tabernacle’s construction that he had received from God on Mount Sinai. With the work completed, it was time to determine whether the finished product met God’s exacting standards. And Moses reflects his satisfaction with their efforts by blessing them. They had done everything according to the plan he had provided. Nothing had been left out, scrimped on, or compromised. Every board, yard of fabric, utensil, or piece of sacred furniture received Moses’ seal of approval.

The Israelites had done everything just as the Lord had commanded Moses. – Exodus 39:32 NLT

This statement conveys the obedience of Bezalel’s team. Regardless of the scope of the project and the pressure to complete it on time and on budget, they did everything according to God’s plan. There were no corners cut and not even the smallest alteration was made to the design. Somehow, without the benefit of CAD drawings and blueprints, these men were able to successfully manufacture a vast array of individual elements that would seamlessly fit together to form the completed Tabernacle.

As Moses stood looking over the stockpile of completed building materials, he must have felt a sense of relief mixed with joy. He understood the importance of this day. No matter how long it took to complete the fabrication of all these elements, he could still vividly recall the day he had come down off the mountain and found the people of Israel worshiping a false God. At that moment, he had feared the worst because God had told him, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation” (Exodus 32:9-10 NLT). God had threatened to destroy the people of Israel for their disobedience and unfaithfulness.

That had been a dark chapter in Moses’ life. He had begged God to forgive the people for their sin, but God had responded, “No, I will erase the name of everyone who has sinned against me. Now go, lead the people to the place I told you about” (Exodus 32:33-34 NLT). God held the guilty responsible for their actions but allowed the majority of the Israelites to live. Then He commanded Moses to complete the task of leading the people of Israel to the promised land. But before they could leave their camp at Mount Sinai, Moses had to oversee the construction of the Tabernacle, the portable structure that would serve as God’s dwelling place among the people.

Now, it was done. And the piles of completed building materials were a reminder to Moses that his God was still with them. Despite what they had done, Yahweh had not abandoned them. And once the pieces of the Tabernacle were painstakingly fitted together, God would keep His promise and take up residence above the Mercy Seat within the Holy of Holies.

Moses must have felt a sense of eager anticipation as he thought about the next step. With everything ready and approved, it was time to begin the assembly of the Tabernacle. All the pieces were there, but now they must be carefully placed in their proper position so that, together, they could form God’s sanctuary.

The apostle Paul used a construction metaphor as a way to remind the Gentile believers in Ephesus of their rightful place in God’s house.

…you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22 NLT

From the smallest golden bell that would adorn the hem of the high priest’s robe to the heaviest beam that would hold up the roof of the Tabernacle itself, every piece was essential to the whole. No part was insignificant or could be left out if the Tabernacle was going to serve as the holy dwelling of Yahweh. Every single part had been designed by God Himself and they each had purpose and meaning. Paul used the analogy of the human body to convey God’s divine plan for His ultimate temple: the Church.

He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. – Ephesians 4:16 NLT

The most exciting part of the entire project was about to begin. Moses and the people of Israel were going to watch as the pieces were placed together, slowly transforming the parts into the whole. And soon, on the barren plains of the Sinai wilderness, the house of God would take form. The dream would become a reality. And once the Tabernacle was complete, the next step in the journey to the promised land could begin again.

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.

God’s Glorious Throne Room

1 Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half was its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. And he overlaid it with pure gold inside and outside, and made a molding of gold around it. And he cast for it four rings of gold for its four feet, two rings on its one side and two rings on its other side. And he made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold and put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark. And he made a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half was its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And he made two cherubim of gold. He made them of hammered work on the two ends of the mercy seat, one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat he made the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat were the faces of the cherubim. – Exodus 37:1-9 ESV

In this chapter. Moses begins his description of Bezalel constructing the various pieces of furniture that God had designed for His house. With the Tabernacle itself well underway, Bezalel turned his attention to these sacred “household items” that would become an important part of the ceremonial role of this sacred structure.

He began with the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat. These two items actually formed the single piece of furniture that was to occupy the Holy of Holies, the innermost and most sacred section of the Tabernacle. This rectangular wooden box was covered with gold filigree and topped off with a matching lid on which were placed two golden images of angelic creatures with their outstretched wings extended toward one another. This removable lid was actually called the Mercy Seat because it was there that God’s presence would dwell. Yahweh had designed the Tabernacle as His earthly dwelling place and had promised to live among His people with the divine manifestation of His presence resting over the Mercy Seat and the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies.

“…let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” – Exodus 25:8-9 ESV

God had provided Moses with detailed instructions for making the Mercy Seat and Ark of the Covenant, and He had assured His servant that, upon their completion, He would fulfill His promise and take up residence in the Holy of Holies.

“…you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.” – Exodus 25:21-22 ESV

Now, Bezalel was putting the finishing touches on these two sacred objects. It seems that the crafting of these two vital pieces of furniture was his responsibility alone. God had specially equipped Bezalel with all the skills and abilities he would need to turn Moses’ instructions into actual objects that met God’s approval.

One fascinating aspect of the Tabernacle and all the pieces of furniture associated with it was their need for portability. This large and complex structure had to be constructed in such a way that allowed for easy disassembly, packing, and transportation. The Tabernacle was not meant to be a permanent structure that remained in one location. As the Israelites made their way from Sinai to the land of Canaan, they would need to be able to carry the Tabernacle with them and erect it at their next campsite. So, it had to be constructed in such a way that allowed for both stability and portability. That would have made Bezalel‘s task all the more difficult. The massive wooden framework had to be designed for easy disassembly and yet sturdy enough to support the Tabernacle’s large and weighty animal skin covering.

Even the Ark of the Covenant featured four gold rings through which two gold-covered poles were placed to facilitate its transport from one place to another. This sacred object was never to be touched by human hands so that its holy status might be preserved at all times. Centuries later, long after the Israelites had occupied the land of promise, King David ordered the Ark of the Covenant to be moved from Baale-judah to the city of Jerusalem. In their attempt to relocate the sacred object, they loaded it onto an ox cart, and somewhere along the way, one of the men in the procession reached out to steady the Ark of the Covenant. What happened next was devastating.

Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. – 2 Samuel 6:6-7 ESV

The Ark of the Covenant was meant to be carried by the Levitical priests. That was the whole purpose of the poles that Bezalel had crafted and placed on either side of the sacred object. God had warned Moses about the danger of treating the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat with disrespect or dishonor.

“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. – Leviticus 16:2 ESV

The Ark of the Covenant was to be a symbol of God’s glory, greatness, and goodness. God had instructed Moses to place certain objects inside it as reminders of His power and provision. One was a sample of the manna He had provided during their journey from Egypt to Sinai.

Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord to be kept throughout your generations.” As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony to be kept. – Exodus 16:32-34 ESV

Somehow, God would miraculously preserve this sample of manna, preventing it from evaporating like all the rest. It was to be a permanent reminder of His providential care.

The second item to be associated with the ark was Aaron’s staff. God had told Moses, “Place Aaron’s staff permanently before the Ark of the Covenant to serve as a warning to rebels” (Numbers 17:10 NLT). This was in response to a rebellion that had arisen among the people. A group of disgruntled Israelites, under the leadership of a man named Korah, had attempted to stage a coup and arrest leadership away from Moses. In response to this organized rebellion, God gave Moses the following instructions:

“Tell the people of Israel to bring you twelve wooden staffs, one from each leader of Israel’s ancestral tribes, and inscribe each leader’s name on his staff. Inscribe Aaron’s name on the staff of the tribe of Levi, for there must be one staff for the leader of each ancestral tribe. Place these staffs in the Tabernacle in front of the Ark containing the tablets of the Covenant, where I meet with you. Buds will sprout on the staff belonging to the man I choose. Then I will finally put an end to the people’s murmuring and complaining against you.” – Numbers 7:2-5 NLT

The next day, Moses entered the Tabernacle of the Covenant and “found that Aaron’s staff, representing the tribe of Levi, had sprouted, budded, blossomed, and produced ripe almonds” (Numbers 17:8 NLT). This miraculous sign confirmed the leadership of Moses and Aaron and put a stop to the insurrection of Korah and his companions. God then ordered Moses to “Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die” (Numbers 17:10 ESV).

It seems that the staff of Aaron was placed before the Ark and not in it. But it served as another vivid reminder of God’s power and provision.

The next item to be placed in the Ark of the Covenant was the second set of the Decalogue. The Ten Commandments served as the official document that sealed the covenant agreement between the people of Israel and Yahweh. Placing the two tablets containing the “testimony” of God inside the ark and under the mercy seat served as a permanent reminder that God expected obedience from His people. As the manna illustrated, He would provide for all their needs. But the law was there to remind them that He expected obedience. And Aaron’s rod was there to remind them that rebellion was an unacceptable response to His divine will. His law was to be obeyed. His appointed leader was to be respected. His providential care was to be trusted at all times.

And on the top of the Mercy Seat, the presence of the two cherubim was to provide a constant reminder that this was a holy place. These two angelic creatures served as symbols of God’s heavenly throne room where He sits “enthroned upon the cherubim” (Psalm 80:1 ESV). Centuries later, the apostle John was given a vision of God’s throne room in heaven, where he saw four cherubim standing before God declaring His glory. and greatness

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come!” – Revelation 4:8 ESV

Bezalel had been tasked with creating the earthly throne for God Almighty, and he took his work seriously, pouring every bit of his Spirit-endowed creative power into his efforts. The results would be “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5 ESV), but they would serve as constant reminders of God’s glory, holiness, mercy, and righteousness. He was a God to be revered, trusted, obeyed, and worshiped – at all times.

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.

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.

The Source of all Sustenance

18 “You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Abib, for in the month Abib you came out from Egypt. 19 All that open the womb are mine, all your male livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep. 20 The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before me empty-handed.

21 “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest. 22 You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end. 23 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel. 24 For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year.

25 “You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover remain until the morning. 26 The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

27 And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. – Exodus 34:18-28 ESV

This portion of Exodus 34 has left scholars scratching their heads in confusion and contradicting one another in their attempts to explain what is going on. In these verses, Moses records the words spoken to him by God when he returned to the top of Mount Sinai. It is clear that God’s emphasis was on the covenant and the law that accompanied it. But why does God seem to give such a strange and disjointed summary of the Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant? He provides Moses with a random list of moral and ceremonial laws that appear to have no rhyme or reason behind them.

Yet, if one considers the context, it all begins to make sense. This entire exchange between God and Moses took place shortly after Israel had committed the sin of apostasy by worshiping the golden calf. In doing so, they had broken God’s laws and violated the covenant commitment they had agreed to keep. God had expressed His anger and judgment with their rejection of Him by having the leaders of the rebellion executed and by sending a plague to punish all those who had joined them in the worship of the false god they had made. But Moses had intervened on behalf of the people of Israel, begging God to extend grace, mercy, and forgiveness. He had also pleaded with Yahweh to remain with His chosen people, rather than abandon them as punishment for their sinfulness. And God had agreed to all of Moses’ requests.

But while God was willing to renew His relationship with His rebellious people, He was going to reiterate and renew His covenant requirements of them.

Observe what I command you this day. – Exodus 34:11 ESV

And what follows is a summary list of the laws He had previously given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Moses had already provided the people of Israel with the complete compilation of the Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant.

Moses came and told the people all the Lord’s words and all the decisions. All the people answered together, “We are willing to do all the words that the Lord has said,” and Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. – Exodus 24:3-4 NLT

God had also given Moses the original set of stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments.

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandments that I have written, so that you may teach them.” – Exodus 24:12 NLT

These tablets had been shattered by Moses when he had come down from the mountaintop and discovered the people of Israel celebrating their new god. But the breaking of the tablets was not the problem; it was the Israelite’s breaking of the laws the tablets contained. They had not acted in ignorance. They had willingly disobeyed their covenant commitment by refusing to keep God’s commandments. So now, God was preparing to provide them with a second copy of the Ten Commandments and He accompanied it with a carefully chosen collection of laws that emphasized their covenant relationship with Him.

A close look at this seemingly random list of rules and regulations reveals that they have much in common. First of all, they were not to repeat the mistake they had just made.

“You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal. – Exodus 34:17 ESV

No more golden calves. And no adoption and adaptation of the false gods of the inhabitants of Canaan. When they finally entered the land of promise, they were to purge it of all remnants of idolatry and pagan worship. No shrines were to be left standing. Not altars to false gods were to remain intact.

Not only that, they were to keep the feast days that God had established for them. There were to be no new feast days or special events associated with false gods or worthless idols. One of the things that infuriated Moses and caused him to destroy the original tablets of stone was to see his fellow Israelites dancing around the golden calf.

When he approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses became extremely angry. He threw the tablets from his hands and broke them to pieces at the bottom of the mountain. – Exodus 32:19 NLT

What Moses had witnessed that day was a man-made festival decreed by his very own brother. Aaron had not only given in to the people’s demand for a new god, but he also set aside the following day as an official feast day.

“Tomorrow will be a feast to the Lord.” So they got up early on the next day and offered up burnt offerings and brought peace offerings, and the people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play. – Exodus 32:5-6 NLT

So, it makes sense that God would remind His people that they were limited to celebrating the feasts that He had established for them, including the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Once a year, they were to celebrate their deliverance from Egypt by holding three closely connected days of remembrance. The first was the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days they were forbidden to eat anything containing yeast, a symbol of sin. Then, on the seventh day, they were to hold a feast, commemorating and celebrating their deliverance from their captivity in Egypt. Notice that the feast was to follow a period of abstinence from and purging of sin – the opposite of the celebration that took place after their sinful worship of the golden calf.

God also reminded them of the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Ingathering. These two feasts were to bookend the annual harvest.

“You must observe the Feast of Weeks—the firstfruits of the harvest of wheat—and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year.” – Exodus 34:22 NLT

They were to recognize God as the faithful provider of all their needs by offering Him the first of all their harvests. There were to be no celebrations of false gods because they were incapable of providing any help or hope. Everything the Israelites had was a gift from God, including their food, shelter, flocks, herds, and children.

“Every firstborn of the womb belongs to me, even every firstborn of your cattle that is a male, whether ox or sheep. – Exodus 34:19 NLT

God was reemphasizing His providential care for His people. The very thought of aligning themselves with another god should have been abhorrent to them. No man-made god could match Yahweh’s generosity and goodness. The Israelites owed all that they had to the gracious benevolence of their God, and they were to regularly celebrate His providential care by keeping His prescribed feasts. Even the weekly celebration of the Sabbath was intended to remind the Israelites that His provision was so generous that they could take the seventh day off. But this day was to be dedicated to Him.

Three times each year, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Ingathering, the men of Israel were required to appear before the Lord. These mandatory festivals were designed to be reminders of God’s covenant faithfulness and to prompt the people of Israel to treat their gracious and generous God with the reverence and gratitude He deserved.

Every law and regulation God gave them was to be faithfully kept, including the rather obscure one that prohibited the boiling of a lamb in its mother’s milk. God seems to reiterate this one for emphasis. There were to be no commandments that were overlooked or ignored. God’s will was serious business and His call to obedience was not to be taken lightly.

For 40 days and nights, Moses communed with God, going without food or water. This reference to Moses’ extended fast is just another reminder that Yahweh was to be the provider and sustainer of all their needs. Moses was energized and fueled by his access to God Almighty. He suffered no hunger, pain, or diminishment of his strength during that time. He feasted on the words of God and was nourished by His presence. And when Moses finished his time along with Yahweh, he descended the mountain one more time with a brand new copy of the Decalogue in his hands.

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 Key to God’s Blessings

10 And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

11 “Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 12 Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. 13 You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim 14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), 15 lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, 16 and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.

17 “You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal. – Exodus 34:10-17 ESV

Moses had gotten what he asked for, and more. He requested to see God’s glory and God had obliged. But God had also given Moses a verbal reminder of His identity.

The Lord passed by before him and proclaimed: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness,  keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” – Exodus 34:6-7 NLT

This divine declaration of God’s nature led Moses to respond, “O Lord, let my Lord go among us, for we are a stiff-necked people; pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance” (Exodus 34:9 NLT). He was more convinced than ever that the Israelites were in desperate need of God’s presence but would need an extra measure of His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. Their sin had separated them from a holy and just God, and only His compassion could restore the relationship they had broken. There was nothing they could do to redeem themselves or earn back God’s favor.

And God responded to Moses’ humble request by agreeing to remain among His people. But it would require a recommitment of the covenant agreement they had broken. In a sense, God was beginning again. He was giving them a second chance to prove their willingness to live according to His laws. And God was recommitting Himself to fulfill His part of the covenant.

“See, I am going to make a covenant before all your people. I will do wonders such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation. All the people among whom you live will see the work of the Lord, for it is a fearful thing that I am doing with you.” – Exodus 34:10 NLT

The God whom they had greatly offended was declaring His intentions to act on their behalf. He would do great wonders and fearful works that proved their status as His chosen people. Just a short time earlier, God had revealed His frustration with His rebellious people by stating, “If I went up among you for a moment, I might destroy you.” (Exodus 33:5 NLT). Now, He was declaring His intentions to bless them by pouring out His power on their behalf. And one of the greatest manifestations of that power would come in the form of His defeat of all the nations that occupied the land of Canaan. 

I am going to drive out before you the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. – Exodus 34:11 NLT

Israel’s takeover of Canaan would not come without a fight, but they would be guaranteed victory because Yahweh was on their side. They had nothing to fear and everything to gain. But this promise of ultimate success came with conditions.

God warns the people of Israel two separate times about making covenants with the inhabitants of Canaan. Their only covenant was to be with Him and, for His part, He would remove their enemies from the land. For their part, they were to refrain from any kind of relationship with those nations.

“Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it become a snare among you. – Exodus 34:12 NLT

God knew His people well. This warning was necessary because the Israelites had proven their propensity for unfaithfulness. God knew that, once the Israelites entered Canaan, they would be tempted to make treaties and alliances with their enemies. It would be easier to compromise than to conquer. But God prohibited His people from making any kind of concessions that might jeopardize their commitment to Him. The Israelites had already demonstrated their propensity for unfaithfulness. Long before they ever stepped foot into Canaan, they had chosen to replace Yahweh with a false god. What would happen when they crossed over the Jordan River and discovered that the land of Canaan was filled with altars and high places dedicated to all kinds of false gods?

God’s greatest concern was that His chosen people would choose to be tolerant and accepting of their Canaanite neighbors. They would be tempted to operate by the old adage, “Live and let live.” But God knew that any fraternizing with the enemy would prove to be disastrous, so He warned them:

“Rather you must destroy their altars, smash their images, and cut down their Asherah poles.  For you must not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” – Exodus 34:13 NLT

Yahweh was not a tolerant and open-minded deity who was willing to share the affections of His covenant people. He would not abide by any sign of unfaithfulness or infidelity among His people. And He knew that the Israelites would find it difficult to refrain from unfaithfulness if they failed to clean house. God had guaranteed the removal of Canaan’s inhabitants, but Israel was responsible for destroying all their idols and places of worship. Not a single shrine or altar was to be left standing because they would prove to be too great a temptation for the fickle people of Israel.

The Israelites should have learned a powerful and permanent lesson about God’s jealous nature when 3,000 of their leaders had been destroyed for their role in the golden calf incident. These men had been put to death for instigating the rejection of Yahweh and His replacement with a false god. And they were not the only ones to suffer God’s wrath. A plague put an end to an undisclosed number of Israelites who had joined in the insurrection.

So, God wanted to spare His people from any further judgment by reminding them of their need to remain faithful at all costs. God’s plan for the removal of the Canaanites involved a slow and methodical process. It would not happen overnight. He had already told Moses, “I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land” (Exodus 23:29-30 ESV). But God knew that this plan for incremental expulsion would present a problem for the people of Israel. The ongoing presence of the Canaanites would tempt the Israelites to make alliances with them, which God completely prohibited, and for good reason.

“Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone invites you, you will eat from his sacrifice, and you then take his daughters for your sons, and when his daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will make your sons prostitute themselves to their gods as well. – Exodus 34:15-16 NLT

Close proximity would encourage moral laxity. The temptation to make alliances with their enemies would prove to be a problem for the Israelites. When they eventually entered the land of Canaan and saw the prosperity and power of their adversaries, the Israelites would find it tempting to take the path of least resistance and simply go along to get along. It would be easier to conform than to face the prospect of armed conflict. But conformity would result in compromise and compromise would lead to an abandonment of their convictions.

God reminds His people of the second of the Ten Commandments when He states, “You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal” (Exodus 34:17 ESV). The Israelites were not free to worship the existing gods of the Canaanites or a god they made with their own hands. This was a direct reference to the golden calf. The Israelites had already proven their ability to fabricate their own gods. So, it was going to get even harder when they entered the land of Canaan and discovered a virtual cafeteria of deities from which to choose. If remaining faithful to Yahweh had proven to be difficult in the wilderness, how were the Israelites supposed to survive the idol-filled landscape of Canaan?

The key to their survival would lie in their willingness to keep God’s commands and to maintain all the commitments that came with His covenant. Faithfulness would be the best defense against unfaithfulness. Living according to God’s law would preserve the set-apart status of God’s people. If the Israelites would only obey, they would experience the blessings of God and discover the joy of living in unbroken fellowship with Him.

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.

Holy to the Lord

31 “You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. 32 It shall have an opening for the head in the middle of it, with a woven binding around the opening, like the opening in a garment, so that it may not tear. 33 On its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, around its hem, with bells of gold between them, 34 a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, around the hem of the robe. 35 And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the Lord, and when he comes out, so that he does not die.

36 “You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the Lord.’ 37 And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. 38 It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.

39 “You shall weave the coat in checker work of fine linen, and you shall make a turban of fine linen, and you shall make a sash embroidered with needlework.

40 “For Aaron’s sons you shall make coats and sashes and caps. You shall make them for glory and beauty. 41 And you shall put them on Aaron your brother, and on his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. 42 You shall make for them linen undergarments to cover their naked flesh. They shall reach from the hips to the thighs; 43 and they shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they go into the tent of meeting or when they come near the altar to minister in the Holy Place, lest they bear guilt and die. This shall be a statute forever for him and for his offspring after him.” – Exodus 28:31-43 ESV

The old proverb, “clothes make the man,” could easily be applied to the high priest and his sacred garments. Aaron was being given a divinely designed wardrobe that would allow him to enter the very presence of God Almighty. When performing his priestly duties, Aaron was to be outfitted from head to toe with a one-of-a-kind vestment that set him apart from every other Israelite. Underneath the richly ornamented garments, Aaron was just another man. He had no righteousness of his own and had done nothing to earn or deserve his status as God’s high priest. Yet God had chosen him to serve in this incomparable role and adorned him with exquisite garments that signified the sacredness of his calling. These garments were to be considered holy because they had been set apart for one purpose only. They were to be used solely for the worship of God. Aaron was not free to use them for any other purpose or leave the grounds of the Tabernacle while wearing them. They were to be his uniform when serving in the sanctuary of the Lord.

In the closing verses of chapter 28, God provides the final piece of the ensemble that Aaron was to wear: A blue robe made from a seamless piece of finely woven linen. It appears that this robe was shaped like a poncho with a hole in the middle for slipping it over the head. The collar was reinforced to prevent it from tearing. Attached to the hem of the robe was a series of alternating ornaments.

“Make pomegranates out of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn, and attach them to the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them. – Exodus 28:33 NLT

The pomegranates most likely symbolized fruitfulness, while the bells were intended to declare the actions of the priest as he ministered on behalf of the people. They could not enter the Tabernacle, so whenever the high priest went inside the compound to serve as their mediator, they could hear the sound of the bells and know that he was acting in their stead. He bore the name of their tribe on his shoulder and before his heart. And as long as the bells sounded, they knew that he had been accepted by God and was serving in their place before the throne of the Lord.

The sound of the bells was essential because it revealed that Aaron was still alive, and death was a distinct possibility every time the high priest entered into God’s presence. God even indicated that the bells would serve as a kind of early warning system, signifying that Aaron was approaching. God would later tell Moses, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20 ESV). So, once a year, when Aaron entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, the bells would announce his intent to enter God’s presence.

And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the Lord, and when he comes out, so that he does not die. – Exodus 28:35 ESV

Perhaps God’s glory departed the Holy of Holies prior to Aaron’s entrance, in order to prevent the high priest from seeing the face of God. The text is not clear. But in the book of Leviticus, Moses includes further details regarding Aaron’s once-a-year entrance into the inner recesses of the Tabernacle on the Day of Atonement.

Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. – Leviticus 16:2-4 NLT

Aaron had to take precautions when serving God because death was a real possibility if he did so in an improper manner. His garments had to be just right. He had to go through the proper purification procedures. And he was never to enter the Holy of Holies on any other day than the one prescribed by God – upon penalty of death.

One of the final elements of Aaron’s priestly outfit was the linen turban. Attached to the turban was a gold plate upon which were engraved the words, “Holy to the Lord” (Exodus 28:37 ESV). This emblem hung above the high priest’s forehead and signified that he belonged to God. In a sense, his garments made him holy. They set the high priest apart as being the sole property of God and dedicated entirely to His use and for His glory. And this was to be true of Aaron’s sons as well. They too were to wear holy garments that signified their status as God’s chosen vessels.

“For Aaron’s sons, make tunics, sashes, and special head coverings that are glorious and beautiful. Clothe your brother, Aaron, and his sons with these garments, and then anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they can serve as my priests. – Exodus 28:40-41 NLT

These men had been given the incredible privilege and responsibility of serving the God of the universe, and they were not to take it lightly. Even their undergarments were meant to set them apart as God’s chosen servants and were designed to protect them from uncovering their nakedness before the Lord.

“These must be worn whenever Aaron and his sons enter the Tabernacle or approach the altar in the Holy Place to perform their priestly duties. Then they will not incur guilt and die.” – Exodus 28:43 NLT

God made provisions for everything. Any form of immodesty would have been unacceptable when serving in the house of God, so God designed holy undergarments to prevent Aaron and his sons from exposing themselves to one another while performing their priestly duties. God took every precaution to ensure that His servants remained “Holy to the Lord” in all that they did.

But there is a story recorded in the book of Leviticus that reveals how Aaron’s sons failed to fully appreciate the holiness of their calling. Despite all of God’s warnings and the precautions He took to ensure their safety when serving in His house, Nadab and Abihu took liberties with their position and chose to do God’s will their own way.

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu put coals of fire in their incense burners and sprinkled incense over them. In this way, they disobeyed the Lord by burning before him the wrong kind of fire, different than he had commanded. So fire blazed forth from the Lord’s presence and burned them up, and they died there before the Lord.

Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord meant when he said,

‘I will display my holiness
    through those who come near me.
I will display my glory
    before all the people.’”

And Aaron was silent. – Leviticus 10:1-3 NLT

There is no explanation given as to what is meant by “the wrong kind of fire.” In Hebrew, it refers to “unauthorized fire.” Evidently, Nadab and Abihu did not follow God’s commands regarding the proper use of the Altar of Incense. There are some scholars who believe that whatever these two men did was done in a state of drunkenness, because immediately after their deaths, God gave Aaron a new prohibition banning the consumption of alcohol while serving in the Tabernacle.

“You and your descendants must never drink wine or any other alcoholic drink before going into the Tabernacle. If you do, you will die. This is a permanent law for you, and it must be observed from generation to generation. You must distinguish between what is sacred and what is common, between what is ceremonially unclean and what is clean. – Leviticus 10:9-10 NLT

But this sad incident reveals that clothes do not make the man. Nadab and Abihu may have been wearing the holy garments, but their hearts remained distant from God. Their outer appearance did nothing to change their inner dispositions. And Jesus would accuse the religious leaders of His day of having the very same problem.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of impurity. In the same way, on the outside you appear to be righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” – Matthew 23:27-28 BSB

Yes, the robes of the high priest and his sons were important. But those sacred garments could not make Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu holy. Priestly robes cannot alter a man’s heart or change his character. Sadly, they can actually serve as camouflage, covering up the reality within, and that was the case for Nadab and Abihu. They looked like priests, set apart for the service of God, but they were actually whitewashed tombs, full of dead men’s bones. To all the people of Israel, Aaron’s sons looked the part, but God had a different perspective.

“…the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7 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.

The Price of God’s Presence

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

With the giving of the Law, God provided His people with clear guidelines for how they were to live their lives before Him. Now, beginning with chapter 25, God will give them His plan that will ensure His ongoing presence among them.

Ever since leaving Egypt, the people of Israel had grown accustomed to God’s presence in the form of the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. These two manifestations of God’s glory had led them from the Red Sea all the way to Mount Sinai. Then, upon their arrival in the wilderness of Sinai, God’s glory had taken up residence at the top of the mountain, in the form of a storm cloud. This atmospheric display of God’s glory, with its crashing thunder and flashes of lightning, had so intimidated the Israelites that they refused to draw near the mountain.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. – Exodus 19:16 ESV

Moses makes it clear that God was in the midst of the cloud.

The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain – Exodus 19:20 ESV

And God had explained to Moses why He had chosen to reveal Himself in this way.

“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 19:9 ESV

And God had Moses place boundaries around the base of the mountain, to prevent them from coming anywhere near His divine presence, upon pain of death.

“…you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’” – Exodus 19:12-13 ESV

It was this holy, majestic, and all-powerful God who had just given them His Law. He was not to be trifled with. Rather, He was to be feared and obeyed. His glory was so great that it caused an entire mountain to tremble. His presence was so awesome that it could only be displayed by flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. Smoke and fire rose from the top of Mount Sinai as if it was an active volcano, but these fear-inducing displays of power were visual manifestations of God’s glorious presence.

The Israelite’s concept of God had been dramatically influenced by these supernatural climatic phenomena. God had been in the mobile pillar of cloud that had led them through the wilderness. He had been in the static storm cloud that for days had darkened the peak of Mount Sinai. But at this point in the narrative, God announces His plan to create a new place for His glory to dwell.

“Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them. You must build this Tabernacle and its furnishings exactly according to the pattern I will show you. – Exodus 19:8-9 NLT

For the next seven chapters, God will His detailed plans for the construction of the Tabernacle. This new structure was to be a “sanctuary” (מִקְדָּשׁmiqdāš), a sacred or holy place, reserved solely for God’s use and to serve as His temporary dwelling place on earth. This unique structure was designed to be transportable so that the people of Israel could move it from place to place as they made their way to Canaan. It was to be the “tabernacle” ( מִשְׁכָּןmiškān) or dwelling place of God. In a sense, it was a large tent designed to accommodate the presence of Yahweh. When the Israelites broke camp, they were to dismantle God’s “tent” and move it to the next location. Once they arrived at their new camp, the first thing they were to do was to erect God’s tent and then place their own tents around it. It would become the focal point of their community.

But for now, God was giving His plans for its construction, and it would begin with each Israelite making a personal sacrifice to see that the Tabernacle became a reality. God was giving the details for its design, but the people would provide the resources for its construction.

“Tell the people of Israel to bring me their sacred offerings. Accept the contributions from all whose hearts are moved to offer them. – Exodus 25:2 NLT

These gifts were to be given voluntarily and not under some sense of obligation. They were to be heartfelt and not guilt-driven. It was important that the gifts reflect the attitude of the giver, demonstrating their willingness to place a higher priority on God’s glory than on their own financial security.

God was asking for a lot. The cost to construct this “tent” for God was going to be high and it would require a great deal of sacrifice on the part of God’s people. They were going to have to dig deep and give away the very best of what they had. Even by today’s standards, the list is staggering.

“…this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting…” – Exodus 25:3-7 ESV

It’s important to remember that these people were former slaves who had left Egypt in a hurry. During their more than 400-year stay in Egypt, the Israelites had not been wealthy landowners and successful merchants, but they had made their living as shepherds. In the latter years of their Egyptian exile, they had been little more than indentured servants, working as an unpaid labor force for the Pharaoh. So, how were they supposed to come up with this formidable list of building materials? Where did God expect them to get these kinds of luxury items in the middle of the wilderness?

The truth is, God had already provided all the resources they would need. Years earlier, at the very same spot in the wilderness of Sinai, God had called Moses to be the deliverer of His people, and He had given His servant the following promise.

“I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 3:21-22 ESV

And God kept that promise. Just before leaving the land of Egypt, Moses passed along God’s instructions to the Israelites.

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

They literally stripped the Egyptians of their wealth – just by asking. And it seems that the Egyptians had been compelled to give up far more than just their silver, gold, and clothing. In their desperation to see the Israelites leave so that the deadly plagues would end, the Egyptians handed over everything of value. And this was all in keeping with the promise that God had made to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

So, when Moses unveiled the list of building materials required to construct God’s tent, the people didn’t panic or express disbelief. They gave – willingly and sacrificially.

All whose hearts were stirred and whose spirits were moved came and brought their sacred offerings to the Lord. They brought all the materials needed for the Tabernacle, for the performance of its rituals, and for the sacred garments. Both men and women came, all whose hearts were willing. They brought to the Lord their offerings of gold—brooches, earrings, rings from their fingers, and necklaces. They presented gold objects of every kind as a special offering to the Lord. All those who owned the following items willingly brought them: blue, purple, and scarlet thread; fine linen and goat hair for cloth; and tanned ram skins and fine goatskin leather. And all who had silver and bronze objects gave them as a sacred offering to the Lord. And those who had acacia wood brought it for use in the project.

All the women who were skilled in sewing and spinning prepared blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine linen cloth. All the women who were willing used their skills to spin the goat hair into yarn. The leaders brought onyx stones and the special gemstones to be set in the ephod and the priest’s chestpiece. They also brought spices and olive oil for the light, the anointing oil, and the fragrant incense. So the people of Israel—every man and woman who was eager to help in the work the Lord had given them through Moses—brought their gifts and gave them freely to the Lord. – Exodus 35:21-29 NLT

The people responded with eagerness and unselfishness. They freely gave up their most valued possessions so that God might dwell in their midst. The very materials they had been transporting through the wilderness in hopes of constructing their own future homes in Canaan, would become the resources for building the dwelling place of Yahweh. And little did they know at the time, that this “temporary” tent would serve as God’s house for nearly 500 years. It would not be until the reign of Solomon that a permanent Temple would be constructed to house the presence of God. Their gracious gifts of gold, silver, cloth, oil, and wood, all plundered from the Egyptians, would be transformed into a sacred structure to house the glory of their sovereign God and ensure His presence among them.

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 Land of Their Own

20 “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. 21 Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.

22 “But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.

23 “When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, 24 you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces. 25 You shall serve the Lord your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. 26 None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. 27 I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. 28 And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. 29 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. 31 And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” – Exodus 23:20-33 ESV

After giving Moses the content of the Book of the Covenant, God assured His chosen leader that he would not be alone. The task of leading the Israelites would not be an easy one and the added responsibility of administering the law of God was going to make Moses’ job even more difficult. So, God informed Moses that he would have divine assistance.

“I am sending an angel before you to protect you on your journey and lead you safely to the place I have prepared for you.” – Exodus 23:20 NLT

The Hebrew word for angel is מַלְאָךְ (malʾakh) which means “messenger” or “angel.” This was not the first time that God had employed an angel to serve as protection for His people. When the Israelites first departed Egypt, they were confronted by Pharaoh and his army at the western shore of the Red Sea. With their backs against the unpassable sea and their eyes looking at the 600 chariots of Pharaoh bearing down on them, the people panicked and began to complain to Moses about their dire predicament. But God responded by placing His angel between the Israelites and the Egyptians.

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. – Exodus 14:19-20 ESV

We are not told whether the angel was visible to the human eye, but his presence held off the Egyptian forces all during the night, giving the Israelites time to cross the parted Red Sea. And in the morning, when the Egyptians attempted to pursue their prey, ‘the waters returned and covered all the chariots and charioteers—the entire army of Pharaoh. Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived” (Exodus 14:28 NLT). And the remaining Egyptians who had not pursued the Israelites watched in horror as their comrades drowned in the waters of the Red Sea, and they responded in fear.

“Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.” – Exodus 14:25 ESV

There are those who believe that this angel was actually the Lord Himself. Moses describes the defeat of the Egyptians as having been the work of Yahweh.

…just before dawn the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw their forces into total confusion. He twisted their chariot wheels, making their chariots difficult to drive. – Exodus 14:24-25 NLT

In the book of Joshua, there is another incident involving a divine being. On this occasion, Joshua encounters what appears to be an armed soldier.

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the Lord‘s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. – Joshua 5:13-15 ESV

Whether these appearances are divine manifestations of God Himself or references to angelic beings is impossible to tell. But God is clearly telling Moses that he will have divine assistance and guidance along the way. He will not be alone in his administration of the law and his leadership of the people of Israel. But this “angel of the Lord” must be obeyed.

Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. – Exodus 23:21 ESV

This angel would serve and act on behalf of God, bearing the full weight of Yahweh’s name. So, Moses and the people were expected to obey the angel as they would the Lord. And if they did, they would enjoy God’s blessings.

“…if you are careful to obey him, following all my instructions, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will oppose those who oppose you. – Exodus 23:22 NLT

The angel would lead the people to Canaan, then provide them with victory over the nations that occupied the land. But God expected His people to completely annihilate the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites. They were to clean house, purging the land of all its former occupants. There was to be no compromise or concessions made. And God gave His reasons for demanding the total extermination of the Canaanite population.  

“You must not worship the gods of these nations or serve them in any way or imitate their evil practices. Instead, you must utterly destroy them and smash their sacred pillars.” – Exodus 23:24 NLT

God knew that if the Canaanites were allowed to live, they would lead the Israelites astray. Their pagan practices would become a temptation to God’s people, causing them to stray from their covenant commitment to Him. God would later reiterate this command as the people prepared to enter the land of Canaan.

“When the LORD your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. This is what you must do. You must break down their pagan altars and shatter their sacred pillars. Cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols. For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” – Deuteronomy 7:22-26 NLT

God demanded undivided allegiance from His people. In return for their faithfulness, He would bless them beyond belief. He would make them fruitful and prosperous in the land.

I will bless you with food and water, and I will protect you from illness. There will be no miscarriages or infertility in your land, and I will give you long, full lives. – Exodus 23:25-26 NLT

And He promised to drive all the inhabitants from the land. Despite their military superiority, the nations of Canaan would prove no match for the Israelites. But God would not eliminate them all at once. The process of conquering and occupying the land would take years. That would prevent the land from becoming desolate and overrun by wild animals. It would take time for the Israelites to acclimate to their new surroundings, so God provided a strategy that would allow their occupation of the land to take place over time.

“I will drive them out a little at a time until your population has increased enough to take possession of the land.” – Exodus 23:30 NLT

But in time, the Israelites would find themselves the proud possessors of the land of promise. God would give them the entire land of Canaan, “from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the eastern wilderness to the Euphrates River” (Exodus 23:31 NLT). But within this vast and fertile territory, God expected His people to serve Him alone. There would be no place for unfaithfulness and no room for the false gods of the Canaanites.

“Make no treaties with them or their gods. They must not live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me. If you serve their gods, you will be caught in the trap of idolatry.” – Exodus 23:32-33 NLT

God promised victory but demanded obedience. He offered to bless His chosen people but they were obligated to remain faithful to Him alone. And since the eradication of the Canaanites would take time, God knew that His people would face a constant temptation to compromise their convictions by assimilating the false gods of their pagan neighbors. Intermarriage with the occupants of the land would sound appealing and profitable. Adopting the ways of the Canaanites would make good sense. And peace treaties would always be more attractive than the prospects of war.  So God laid down the law. He completely prohibited any thought of compromise on the part of His people. They were His chosen people and they were expected to live distinctively different lives from the rest of the nations of the world.

“…you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” – Deuteronomy 7:26 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.