It’s What’s Inside That Counts

10 “If his gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, he shall bring a male without blemish, 11 and he shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar. 12 And he shall cut it into pieces, with its head and its fat, and the priest shall arrange them on the wood that is on the fire on the altar, 13 but the entrails and the legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall offer all of it and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

14 “If his offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of birds, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves or pigeons. 15 And the priest shall bring it to the altar and wring off its head and burn it on the altar. Its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. 16 He shall remove its crop with its contents and cast it beside the altar on the east side, in the place for ashes. 17 He shall tear it open by its wings, but shall not sever it completely. And the priest shall burn it on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. – Leviticus 1:10-17 ESV

The book of Leviticus begins with God outlining the details concerning three different burnt offerings that the Israelites were to present as gifts or sacrifices before Him. As with the plans for the Tabernacle and the laws found in the Book of the Covenant, the instructions concerning the offerings are very specific and allow no room for experimentation or personal customization. The kinds of offerings that would be acceptable to God were not up for debate or negotiation, and the manner in which the offerings were to be made had to follow divine protocol.

This set of strict standards was meant to ensure that the Israelites worshiped God in an acceptable manner. After their four-century-long exposure to the Egyptian culture and its pantheon of false gods, the Egyptians had the predisposition to adopt and adapt the worship styles of their former captors. Their cult-like display of unbridled feasting and dancing to celebrate the creation of the golden calf was evidence of their tendency to imitate and assimilate the ways of their pagan neighbors. And God knew that, once they arrived in the land of Canaan, they would find additional sources of pagan religious practices that would tempt them to worship Yahweh in unacceptable ways.

As God’s chosen people, they were expected to follow His exacting standards for proper worship. This included the kinds of offerings He would accept and the manner in which those gifts were to be presented. The first three sacrifices God prescribed were all burnt offerings. The first involved a bull from the herd, while the second detailed the use of a sheep or goat from the flock, and the final one covered the sacrifice of a turtledove or pigeon. By including these various animal groups, God was making provision for the economic disparity among His people. Within the diverse community of the Israelites, there would have been a wide range of classes. Some had become relatively wealthy during their stay in Egypt, while others had been forced to serve as indentured servants to the Egyptians, and had been part of an impoverished class when they crossed the Red Sea.

So, God made provision for this discrepancy in resources by allowing for a range of different offerings. Those who could afford to give a bull from the herd were expected to do so. But those with financial limitations could give a less-expensive sheep or even a turtledove. Each offering would be acceptable to God if given appropriately and in accordance with His strict instructions. In all three cases, the end result is the same. When any of the offerings were presented on the altar in the proper fashion, they would become “a pleasing aroma to the Lord” (vs 9, 13, 17). The right gift given in the right way would produce the right result. God would be pleased. 

The burnt offerings were the most common sacrifices the Israelites were to make. Each and every day of the year, the priests were to present a burnt offering, once in the morning and once in the evening. And these offerings were visible expressions of the giver’s complete consecration to Yahweh and served as a sign of His acceptance of them. The death of the animal and the burning of its body produced a pleasing aroma before the Lord, indicating that atonement or satisfaction had been achieved. God was pleased and the sinner was accepted by God.

It was essential that no matter the nature of the gift given, it had to be without blemish. God would not accept a sick or less-than-perfect animal. The one presenting the offering was expected to choose the best of what he had. This gift was to involve cost and commitment because the offering was being made to God. And since the giver was hoping for atonement for his sin, the price for such an unmerited and undeserved blessing was high.

The process for making these offerings was quite specific. The one presenting the burnt offering was expected to bring his chosen animal to the Tabernacle. Under the guidance of the priests, the individual was to slaughter his own animal, then the priests were to sprinkle some of its blood on the sides of the bronze altar. All of this took place within the courtyard of the Tabernacle. The freshly killed animal was then skinned and cut into pieces, with the entrails carefully washed with water in order to purify them. Then the entire carcass was placed on the bronze altar by the priests, where it was consumed by flames and produced “a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” The hide of the animal was the only thing not to be placed on the alter. This became the property of the priests.

And the priest who offers any man’s burnt offering shall have for himself the skin of the burnt offering that he has offered. – Leviticus 7:8 ESV

It may be that the hide of the animal was not consumed in order to stress God’s focus on the eternal nature of man’s sin problem. Man tends to look on the external, measuring another person’s value or worth based on his outer appearance. But God looks at the heart. As God told the prophet, Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For 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).

Jesus told the Pharisees of His day, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15 ESV). These men were obsessed with their outer appearance and how they were perceived by others. But Jesus later compared them to “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27 ESV).

It’s what is inside that really counts. God looks beneath the surface and sees the true nature of a person’s character. While others may be impressed by our outer appearance, God sees into our hearts and knows the truth about our sinful condition. In offering up the entire animal as a burnt offering, the Israelite was vicariously offering up himself as a sacrificial gift to Yahweh. He was submitting his entire life to God in a dramatic display that demonstrated his admission of guilt and his desire for forgiveness. His costly sacrifice was proof that he took his sinful state seriously, and it gave visual evidence of his desire to be restored to a right relationship with God.

“The burnt offering was the commonest of all the OT sacrifices. Its main function was to atone for man’s sin by propitiating God’s wrath. In the immolation [burning] of the animal, most commonly a lamb, God’s judgment against human sin was symbolized and the animal suffered in man’s place. The worshiper acknowledged his guilt and responsibility for his sins by pressing his hand on the animal’s head and confessing his sin. The lamb was accepted as the ransom price for the guilty man [cf. Mark 10:45; Eph. 2:5; Heb. 7:27; 1 Pet. 1:18-19]. The daily use of the sacrifice in the worship of the temple and tabernacle was a constant reminder of man’s sinfulness and God’s holiness.” – Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus

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.

Proof Positive

1 Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. Now Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had taken Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her home, along with her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land”), and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”). Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness where he was encamped at the mountain of God. And when he sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her,” Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. And they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent. Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the Lord had delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians.

10 Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.” 12 And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God. – Exodus 18:1-12 ESV

Years earlier, Moses had been forced to flee Egypt after news of his murder of an Egyptian became known to Pharaoh. With a bounty on his head, Moses sought refuge in the land of Midian, located on the easter side of the Red Sea or Gulf of Aqaba. There, he met the daughter of a man who is described as “the priest of Midian” (Exodus 2:16 ESV). This man’s name was Jethro and we know very little about him, other than what we are told in chapter 18 of Exodus. His designation as a “priest” doesn’t necessarily mean that he was a follower of Yahweh.

According to the book of Genesis, the Midianites were descendants of Abraham.

Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. – Genesis 25:1-2 ESV

Abraham married Keturah after the death of Sarah. So, Jethro would have been from the line of Abraham. As such, he could have been a Yahweh worshiper, but the text does not clearly state his religious allegiance. He could just as easily have been serving as a priest to one of the many foreign deities worshiped among the nations that populated that region of the world. According to Numbers 22, the Midianites later joined forces with the Moabites in an attempt to prevent the advancement of the Israelites into their territories.

During the period of the judges, “marauders from Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east would attack Israel, camping in the land and destroying crops as far away as Gaza. They left the Israelites with nothing to eat, taking all the sheep, goats, cattle, and donkeys” (Judges 6:3-4 NLT). So, it would seem that there was no love affair between the Israelites and the Midianites, and it appears unlikely that they shared a common belief in Yahweh.

Yet, Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses received word above all that the God of Israel had been doing on behalf of His people. This priest was blown away by all that he heard and was anxious to see for himself if any of the rumors were true.

When Moses had answered God’s call and departed Midian to return to Egypt, he had begun the journey with Zipporah and the boys in tow. But somewhere along the way, he made the decision to send them back to live with Jethro.

Earlier, Moses had sent his wife, Zipporah, and his two sons back to Jethro, who had taken them in.  – Exodus 18:2 NLT

Now, as Jethro made his plans to join Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, he decided to bring Zipporah, Gershom, and Eliezer with him. The small family made the trek from Midian to “the mountain of God” (Exodus 18:5 ESV). This is a reference to Mount Sinai, where Moses would later receive the Ten Commandments from God. After their victory over the Amalekites, Moses and the Israelites had made their way from Rephidim to the valley below Mount Sinai. And it was there that Jethro, Zipporah, and her sons were reunited with Moses.

Jethro was anxious to hear all about the events that had taken place in Egypt, so he sat down and listed as Moses regaled him with all the details concerning the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the manna, the quail, the water-producing rock, and the victory over the Amalekites. And Jethro was blown away.

Jethro was delighted when he heard about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel as he rescued them from the hand of the Egyptians. – Exodus 18:9 NLT

Once again, it is unclear whether Jethro served as a priest of Yawheh or of a false god. But as he hears Moses recount the miraculous acts of God, he cannot help but acknowledge and honor the name of Yahweh. He even discloses his belief in the superiority of Yahweh over any other gods.

“Praise the Lord,” Jethro said, “for he has rescued you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. Yes, he has rescued Israel from the powerful hand of Egypt! I know now that the Lord is greater than all other gods, because he rescued his people from the oppression of the proud Egyptians.” – Exodus 18:10-11 NLT

Notice that Jethro discloses his new outlook on the God of the Israelites. It was after hearing the report from Moses that his perspective on Yahweh was radically changed. Before hearing all that happened in Egypt, Jethro seems to have believed that Yahweh was just another God among many gods. But his view of Yahweh’s superiority and sovereignty had been radically altered by the testimony of Moses.

At this point, Jethro the priest was so moved by what he heard, that he determined to present an offering to the God of Israel.

Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God. Aaron and all the elders of Israel came out and joined him in a sacrificial meal in God’s presence. – Exodus 18:12 NLT

It is important to note that Jethro has been repeatedly referred to as “the priest of Midian,” and not “the priest of Yahweh.” It is only after hearing from Moses the “good news” concerning the actions of Yahweh, the all-powerful God of Israel, that Jethro is moved to present an offering to this far superior deity.

It seems likely that Jethro, as a descendant of Abraham, had a working understanding about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But he had no reason to believe that this God was any better than the gods of the Midianites, Amoriites, or Canaanites. Yet now, he had been persuaded to change his opinion. The God of Israel was the bigger, better God. He had no equal. And He deserved to be worshiped.

At this offertory meal, a Midianite joined an Israelite in the worship of Yahweh, the one true God. A man who represented one of the future enemies of Israel had heard the good news concerning Israel’s God and presented an offering of praise and worship. And this scene echoes the words that God has repeated throughout the opening chapters of Exodus.

“By this you shall know that I am the Lord… – Exodus 17:7 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 Lord Is My Banner

Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, 16 saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” – Exodus 17:8-16 ESV

After miraculously providing water for His disgruntled and dissatisfied people at Rephidim, God followed that gracious act with a much more dangerous and deadly demonstration of His power that also served to validate Moses’ role as His chosen leader. To quench their thirst and assuage their anger, God ordered Moses to use his staff to strike “the rock” so that it gushed forth water. This blatant demonstration of divine authority, accomplished through God’s official spokesman, was intended to bolster Moses’ credibility and credentials among the people.

“Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” – Exodus 17:5-6 ESV

God allowed Moses to play a significant role in meeting the people’s need for water. It would have been just as easy for God to cause water to spring up from the dry ground, but He chose to deliver this miracle through Moses. And one of the lessons God wanted the Israelites to learn was that Moses was His personal representative. Moses spoke and acted on behalf of God. And by questioning the quality of Moses’ leadership, they were actually raising doubts about the reliability of Yahweh Himself. In a sense, their anger-filled rants against Moses were really a vocalization of their lack of faith in God.

the people of Israel argued with Moses and tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord here with us or not?” – Exodus 17:7 NLT

So, with the people’s thirst temporarily satisfied, God brought a new and even more demanding trial for the people to endure. This time, the problem wouldn’t be a lack of water or meat, but it would be an overabundance of enemies.

While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. – Exodus 17:8 NLT

The timing of this attack is impeccable and thoroughly ordained by God. The people had just satisfied their thirst with water from the rock when suddenly and as if out of nowhere, a force of Amalckite warriors descended upon them.

The Amalekites were a nomadic people who had descended from Esau, the son of Isaac and the twin brother of Jacob.

These are the descendants of Esau who became the leaders of various clans:

The descendants of Esau’s oldest son, Eliphaz, became the leaders of the clans of Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz, Korah, Gatam, and Amalek. – Genesis 36:15-16 NLT

These descendants of Esau were close relatives of Israelites who had settled in the southern region of Canaan, between the border of Egypt and Mount Sinai. During the Israelites’ 400-year sojourn in Egypt, the Amalekites had grown in number and considered the wilderness of Sin as their homeland. The scene of millions of Hebrew refugees setting up camp on their home turf must have alarmed the Amalekites. Water rights and pasture land would have been of great value in that arid part of the world. So, the Amalekites decided to give the Israelites ample reason to move on.  But rather than ordering the Israelites to run, Moses put together a battle plan, formed a makeshift army, and assigned a young man named Joshua to serve as commander. Then he gave this new general his strange-sounding strategy for achieving victory.

“Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.” – Exodus 17:9 NLT

The Israelites were shepherds, not warriors. None of them had any military training or battle experience. Yet, Moses was ordering them to go up against an Amalekite force comprised of seasoned and well-equipped warriors.

So, the next day, as Joshua led his rag-tag group of citizen soldiers into battle, Moses ascended a nearby hill in the company of Aaron and Hur. There on the mountaintop, Moses took the very same staff he had used to strike the rock and raised it above his head with both arms. The text states that, as long as he held the staff aloft, the Israelites were able to get the upper hand in the battle taking place in the valley below. But as time wore on, Moses’ arms grew weary, and as he lowered them to rest, the battle went in favor of the Amalekites. The key to victory over the Amalekites was directly tied to God’s chosen leader raising his staff over the enemies of Israel.

In the heat of the battle taking place in the valley, Joshua had no way of knowing what was happening on the mountaintop. One minute his forces gained the advantage, only to find themselves retreating in apparent defeat. It was a touch-and-go affair that could go either way.

But Moses’ two companions could see exactly what was going on and knew that they were going to have to intervene or the battle would end in tragedy. Moses was insufficient for the task. He had the heart and possessed the staff through which the power of God was displayed, but he lacked the stamina necessary to stay the course.

Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. – Exodus 17:12 NLT

The power of God was more than sufficient to meet the need. What was lacking was Moses’ ability to serve as the unwavering conduit through whom God’s power could flow unchecked. God’s chosen leader was well into his 80s when this battle took place and the physical demands on his elderly body proved to be too much. He understood that victory hinged on his ability to keep the staff aloft but he lacked the personal strength to do his part. That’s when Aaron and Hur stepped in. These two men immediately understood the role they were there to play.

First, they provided a stone on which Moses could rest. The exhausted octogenarian was completely worn out from the physical exertion and the emotional toll he suffered every time he lowered his arms and watched the battle turn against Joshua and his troops.

Next, they each stood alongside Moses, lifting his arms into the air and using their combined strength to serve as conduits of the power of God. The staff remained aloft, the power of God flowed, and the army of Israel won the day.

Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle. – Exodus 17:13 NLT

In the aftermath of this great victory, God ordered Moses to make a permanent record of this victory, along with a promise regarding the eventual destruction of the Amalekites.

“Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” – Exodus 17:14 NLT

God specifically told Moses to deliver this divine promise to Joshua. It was as if God was letting Joshua know that this battle was far from over. They had not destroyed the Amalekites but had simply defeated them in battle. That meant they would live to fight another day. But God wanted Joshua to know that he would lead one more battle against these enemies of Israel and, when that day came, Joshua would have the pleasure of wiping them off the face of the earth.

This promise would not take place until long after the Israelites had entered the land of Canaan and made it their own. Some forty years later, Moses would pull out his written record of God’s promise and read it to Joshua again.

Therefore, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies in the land he is giving you as a special possession, you must destroy the Amalekites and erase their memory from under heaven. Never forget this! – Deuteronomy 25:19 NLT

And at the scene of the battle, Moses erected another record of their decisive victory. He erected an altar and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the Lord is my banner”). This memorial or tribute to God’s faithfulness celebrated His sovereign role in Israel’s victory. Moses, Aaron, and Hur were simply instruments in God’s hands. Joshua and the men who fought alongside him, each served under the banner of the King of kings. They were the army of God Almighty. But the victory was God’s alone.

And Moses recognized that the Amalekites would pay dearly for their decision to stand against the God of the universe. Their assault on the Israelites was a direct attack on the sovereignty of Yahweh, the ruler of heaven and earth. And God would hold the Amalekites accountable for their actions.

“They have raised their fist against the Lord’s throne, so now the Lord will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.” – Exodus 17:16 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.

Against All Odds

15 The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. 16 Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. 17 And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

19 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, 20 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.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24 And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 25 clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. 29 But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses. – Exodus 14:15-31 ESV

The victory parade that Moses led out of Egypt had quickly turned into a nasty mob scene when the Israelites realized that Pharaoh and his army were bearing down on them. All hope of leaving Egypt had faded as soon as they caught sight of 600 chariots headed their way. Now all they could think about was certain death at the hands of their former captors.

“…it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness. – Exodus 14:12 ESV

The people were in full-blown panic, and Moses put up an impressive show of confidence in the face of a very difficult situation. He encouraged the people to “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13 ESV). But he must have had reservations about exactly how God was going to get them out of this precarious situation. While the people screamed their questions at Moses, he must have issued a quick call for help to the Lord, because Yahweh responded to Moses with a question of His own.

“Why do you cry to me? – Exodus 14:15 ESV

This inquiry was directed at Moses and was accompanied by a set of instructions that the beleaguered spokesman was to carry out. Rather than stand around waiting for God to do something, Moses was to get busy and do his part in bringing about the very salvation he had assured the Israelites was coming.

Tell the people to get moving! Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground. – Exodus 14:15-16 ESV

These instructions must have hit Moses like a brick to the forehead. While he and Aaron had been a part of some spectacular signs in Egypt, this was taking things to another level. God was demanding that Moses use his staff to divide the Red Sea so that the people could pass through it on dry ground. And all the while, the people continued to voice their disapproval of his leadership.

But before Moses could play his part in God’s divine drama of deliverance, the Egyptians had to be stopped. So, God had His guiding angel move to the rear of the Israelite camp, closest to the Egyptian forces. Then the pillar of cloud, the symbol of God’s presence, repositioned itself between the Israelites and their enemy.

Then the angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp. The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them. The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night. But the Egyptians and Israelites did not approach each other all night.  Exodus 14:19-20 NLT

At the sight of this cosmic apparition, the Egyptians were stopped in their tracks. They could see the Israelite camp but were afraid to advance against them. Their most recent encounters with the power of the Israelites’ God had left them reluctant to take any chances. So, as dusk turned to dark, the pillar of cloud transformed into a pillar of fire that lit up the night sky.

And as God held off the Egyptians, Moses “raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind” (Exodus 14:21 NLT). Yahweh, the God of creation, sent a powerful wind that caused the waters of the sea to stand up like transparent walls, exposing the sea bed underneath. And this wind blew throughout the night, simultaneously holding back the walls of water and drying out the sea bed so that it would provide firm footing for the Israelites. Then at just the right moment, God ordered Moses to lead the people across.

So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side! – Exodus 14:22 NLT

Stunned by what they witnessed, but motivated by a strong desire to distance themselves from the Egyptians, the Israelites formed into ranks and began their journey across the perfectly dry sea floor. And while they made their way through this divine detour, the angel of God and the pillar of fire kept the Egyptians at bay. Pharoah and his soldiers could only stand back and watch in stupefied wonder as the Israelites escaped across this massive causeway that had suddenly appeared in the middle of the sea.

But when the last Israelite’s sandal had cleared the path and was standing firm on the eastern bank of the sea, the barrier provided by the angel and the pillar of fire was removed. And within minutes, Pharaoh ordered his troops to pursue the fleeing Israelites. But God was not yet done.

…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. – Exodus 14:24 NLT

As Pharoah’s troops entered the pathway the Israelites had just vacated, the Lord of Hosts got in on the action. Somehow, these seasoned charioteers became confused and unable to make their way to the other shore. Perhaps their horses became frightened by the sound of the wind and the sight of the walls of water standing up on either side of them. It seems that the dry sea bed was suddenly transformed into a muddy morass in which the chariot wheels became stuck. Before long the entire Egyptian force found itself logjammed between the walls of water. Sensing the hand of Yahweh, they cried out, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians” (Exodus 14:25 ESV).

But they never made it out. As the sun began to rise in the eastern sky, “Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the water rushed back into its usual place” (Exodus 14:27 NLT). Within minutes, every single Egyptian who had entered the pathway had been drowned by the sudden deluge as the walls of water collapsed.

And the Israelites, standing high and dry on the eastern shore, watched the whole thing take place right before their eyes. Not a single chariot made it across and the only Egyptians the Israelites saw on the eastern shore were lifeless and powerless to do them any harm. And Moses chronicles the impact this spectacular event had on the people of God.

When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses. – Exodus 14:31 NLT

When the odds were stacked against them and all seemed lost, the Israelites were delivered by their all-powerful, promise-keeping God. He had stepped into their reality and provided a one-of-a-kind miracle. And as the water of the Red Sea slowly settled back into its normal state, it was as if God had closed a door behind His people. There would be no turning back. That pathway was closed forever and the only way left for them to go was forward. With the enemy defeated, the angel of the Lord and the pillar of cloud took their places at the head of the column once again, and the people set out for their final destination: the land of promise.

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.

Redemption Comes With a Price

1 The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”

Then Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten. Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out. And when the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this service in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory. You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt. 10 You shall therefore keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year.

11 “When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, 12 you shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the Lord’s. 13 Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. 14 And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. 15 For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ 16 It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.” – Exodus 13:1-16 ESV

As the people of Israel prepared to make their long-awaited exit from Egypt, God reminded them that their escape from death during the tenth plague was going to come with a cost. When the death angel had passed over their homes on that fateful night, their firstborn sons had been spared. They had obeyed His command and sprinkled the blood of the unblemished lambs on the doorpost and lintels of their homes and, as a result, God redeemed the firstborn males “both of man and of beast” (Exodus 13:1 ESV). But the Egyptians experienced no such deliverance from the hand of God.

…that night at midnight, the Lord struck down all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, to the firstborn son of the prisoner in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed. – Exodus 12:29 NLT

Now, God reminded the Israelites that His sparing of their firstborns would have long-term implications.

“Dedicate to me every firstborn among the Israelites. The first offspring to be born, of both humans and animals, belongs to me.” – Exodus 13:1 NLT

Like the newly inaugurated Passover meal and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the dedication of the firstborn was to be a perpetual rite among the Israelites. Every spring, when God’s people found themselves surrounded by the signs of new life, they were to remember His deliverance of the firstborn and dedicate all those born into their homes over the last year.

Evidently, this dedication ceremony would not go into effect until the people of Israel reached the promised land and took possession of it. It was to be implemented once God fulfilled His end of the covenant commitment and had them safely ensconced in their new homeland.

“This is what you must do when the Lord fulfills the promise he swore to you and to your ancestors. When he gives you the land where the Canaanites now live, you must present all firstborn sons and firstborn male animals to the Lord, for they belong to him. – Exodus 13:11-12 NLT

God had redeemed them. The Hebrew word for redeem is פָּדָה (pāḏâ) and it carries the idea of paying a ransom for something or someone. This redemption came with a cost – a life for a life. God had spared the lives of the firstborn, so they now belonged to Him. But the Israelites could redeem them back – for a price.

“A firstborn donkey may be bought back from the Lord by presenting a lamb or young goat in its place. But if you do not buy it back, you must break its neck. However, you must buy back every firstborn son.” – Exodus 13:13 NLT

The firstborn among their flocks and herds were no longer theirs to use at their discretion. They belonged to God. But He provided a way for the Israelites to redeem back their firstborn animals by allowing them to offer a substitute. To redeem back a donkey, the price was a lamb or young goat. An offering was required to buy back a firstborn male animal. Until this sacrifice was made, the animal was off-limits to the Israelites and unavailable for their use. And God would later reiterate His command regarding the dedication of the firstborn.

“You shall not delay to offer from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me. – Exodus 22:29-30 ESV

But the terms of this agreement would later change. When the people of Israel reached Mount Sinai, Moses went to the top of the mountain where he received the Ten Commandments from God. But meanwhile, down in the valley, the people had coerced Aaron to make for them an idol in the form of a golden calf. They had grown impatient waiting on Moses to return and decided to return to their worship of the false gods of Egypt.

…they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 32:1 NLT

Aaron caved into their demands and crafted a calf out of the gold that the Egyptians had given them before they left Egypt.

When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” – Exodus 32:4 NLT

But this blatant abandonment of Yahweh would cost them dearly. When Moses returned from the mountaintop, he “saw the calf and the dancing, and he burned with anger. He threw the stone tablets to the ground, smashing them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf they had made and burned it. Then he ground it into powder, threw it into the water, and forced the people to drink it” (Exodus 32:19-20 NLT). Then Moses stood at the entrance of the camp and called for any who remained committed to Yahweh and “all the Levites gathered around him” (Exodus 32:26 NLT).

Moses ordered the men of the tribe of Levi to take their swords and join him in cleansing the camp of all those who had joined in the decadent display of debauchery and apostasy.

“Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone—even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day. – Exodus 32:27-28 NLT

As a result of their efforts, the Levites were rewarded for their service and faithfulness.

“Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.” – Exodus 32:29 NLT

God would eventually reward the Levites with the honor of serving Him as priests and caretakers of the tabernacle. Their role at Sinai earned them the right to become substitutes for all the firstborn males born to the rest of the tribes.

“Look, I have chosen the Levites from among the Israelites to serve as substitutes for all the firstborn sons of the people of Israel. The Levites belong to me, for all the firstborn males are mine. On the day I struck down all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, I set apart for myself all the firstborn in Israel, both of people and of animals. They are mine; I am the Lord.” – Numbers 3:12-13 NLT

But because there were not enough Levites to serve as substitutes for every male son among the rest of the tribes, God came up with another form of redemption.

“Take the Levites as substitutes for the firstborn sons of the people of Israel. And take the livestock of the Levites as substitutes for the firstborn livestock of the people of Israel. The Levites belong to me; I am the Lord. There are 273 more firstborn sons of Israel than there are Levites. To redeem these extra firstborn sons, collect five pieces of silver for each of them (each piece weighing the same as the sanctuary shekel, which equals twenty gerahs). Give the silver to Aaron and his sons as the redemption price for the extra firstborn sons.” – Numbers 3:45-48 NLT

The Israelites would be required to pay five pieces of silver as a redemption price for their sons. So, even when the firstborns were no longer required to serve out their dedication to God, they were expected to pay the redemption price. Their lives belonged to God.

This dedication of the firstborn was to be an annual rite among the Hebrews. Performed alongside Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it was intended to serve as a perpetual reminder of God’s gracious deliverance. He had provided a way of salvation so that the firstborn among the Israelites might be spared from death. And the apostle Peter would remind Christ-followers that God sent His Son as the ultimate form of redemption for rebellious mankind.

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake. – 1 Peter 1:18-20 NLT

God had redeemed the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. The sacrifice of the innocent lambs was a foreshadowing of the consummate sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God. He would be the ultimate ransom paid so that men might be set free from slavery to sin and death. Like the Levites who remained unstained by the sins of their brothers and were able to appease the wrath of God, so Christ became the sinless one who defeated sin and death by offering Himself as the sacrificial substitute.

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 Divine Exit Plan

3The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. 35 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. 36 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.

37 And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. 38 A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

40 The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. 42 It was a night of watching by the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the Lord by all the people of Israel throughout their generations. – Exodus 12:33-42 ESV

Everything was happening according to God’s meticulous and well-timed plan. Every plague had come at just the right moment bringing with it the exact measure of God’s judgment upon the people of Egypt. Their cumulative effect finally brought Pharaoh to his knees when the final plague brought death to his doorstep. Having lost his firstborn son, Pharaoh hastily agreed to all the Israelites to temporarily leave the borders of Egypt to worship their all-powerful and death-delivering God. He was taking no more chances. This battle with Israel’s God had gotten personal and he had been on the losing end. So, he acquiesced and gave his permission for Moses to take the Israelites on their three-day journey into the wilderness to worship their God.

And his decision was met with the full approval of his citizens because they had also suffered great loss during the final plague. Moses states that “there was not a house where someone was not dead” (Exodus 12:30 ESV). This was a national disaster of epic proportions. With the dead bodies of their loved ones still lying in their homes, the Egyptians begged the Israelites to leave, lest there be more casualties in this battle of the wills between Pharaoh and Yahweh.

And the Israelites, having followed God’s instructions, were prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.

The Israelites took their bread dough before yeast was added. They wrapped their kneading boards in their cloaks and carried them on their shoulders. – Exodus 12:34 ESV

The night before, God had instituted the Passover meal, instructing His people to prepare the unblemished lamb and to consume it “with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover” (Exodus 12:11 ESV). Now, the meal having been eaten, and the blood of the lamb having been sprinkled on the doorways of their homes, the Israelites celebrated while the Egyptians mourned. The firstborns were alive and well in Goshen. The death angel had “passed over” their homes. Now, they were prepared to leave. So, they grabbed their kneading bowls and the unleavened dough they had prepared in advance, and they got ready to leave Egypt. But there was one last thing they had to do.

God had told Moses that the day would come when the people would be able to ask their Egyptian overlords for a handout and they would receive it.

“I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 3:19-22 ESV

What makes this prophecy so compelling is that its fulfillment came after the Egyptians had suffered the catastrophic losses of their loved ones. Even as the Egyptians were reeling from the devastating consequences of the last plague, they still were willing to turn over their valuables to the Israelites. In another demonstration of God’s sovereign will, the Israelites “asked the Egyptians for clothing and articles of silver and gold” (Exodus 12:35 NLT).

After all that had happened to them, it seems that the Egyptians would have been in no mood to play along with this seemingly ill-timed and ludicrous request. But Moses matter-of-factly states, “The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth!” (Exodus 12:36 NLT).  It was all part of His divine plan.

Moses then states that the number of Israelites who prepared to leave Egypt was “about 600,000 men, plus all the women and children.” (Exodus 12:37 NLT). Scholars have long attempted to calculate the total number of Israelites who exited Egypt on that fateful day. Assuming that many of the 600,000 men were married with children, some have speculated that the total number of Israelites was well over 1 million. And if you add in the “rabble of non-Israelites” (Exodus 12:38 NLT) who went with them, the number could have been as high as 2 million. But when considering the logistical problems associated with a group of this size, many scholars have tried to come up with ways to arrive at a much lower and more reasonable number.

For many, the idea of one to two million Israelites trying to navigate their way from Egypt to Canaan is not only improbable but simply impossible. How would Moses feed so many people? Imagine how long it would take for that many people to pass through the Red Sea when Moses parted its waters. Because of the difficulty posed in trying to reconcile such a staggering number of people, many scholars have come up with novel ways to determine a more manageable and believable interpretation of this passage. But, this entire story has been full of improbable and impossible scenarios that defy explanation.

When Jacob had begun his journey from Canaan to Egypt in order to escape the famine and reunite with his long-lost son, Joseph, God visited him at Beersheba and gave him the following promise:

“I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.” – Genesis 46:3 ESV

More than 400 years later, Jacob’s descendants were preparing to leave Egypt and they had greatly increased in number, just as God had promised. In fact, the book of Exodus opened with the statement, “the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7 ESV).

And their fruitfulness had gotten the attention of the Pharaoh. He couldn’t help but notice that this motley group of 70 Hebrews who had entered the land four centuries earlier, had greatly increased in number; to the degree that he was forced to admit, “the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us” (Exodus 1:9 ESV).

While we may balk at the idea of 1 million or more Israelites marching out of Egypt under the direction of Moses, it is readily apparent that God had done something miraculous with His chosen people. He had greatly blessed them and fulfilled His original promise to Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation” (Genesis 12:2 ESV).

And now, this mighty host was making its grand exit from the land of Egypt. Moses puts it this way:

At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. – Exodus 12:41 ESV

This raises a second point of contention among many commentators and biblical scholars. Just exactly how long were the Israelites in Egypt? Was it 400 years or 430 years? Some believe that the Bible contradicts itself in regard to this matter.

Centuries earlier, God had told Abraham that his descendants would find themselves living in a foreign land for a period of 400 years.

“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.” – Genesis 15:13 ESV

But Moses clearly indicates that the people left Egypt after 430 years. In fact, he states that their exit took place “on that very day” (Exodus 12:41 ESV). This 430-year period is probably calculated from the day that Jacob and the 70 members of his family first entered Egypt.

All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own descendants, not including Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all. And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy. – Genesis 46:26-27 NLT

The rag-tag group that entered the land was only 70 in number, but 430 years later, when they left, they had grown into a great host. In the book of Acts, Luke records that God eventually delivered this great host into the land of Canaan, some 450 years after Jacob and his small clan had first arrived.

And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years. – Acts 13:19 ESV

His calculation would seem to include the 40-plus years the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness. But however the calculations are made, whether dealing with the number of Israelites or the total number of years they spent in Egypt, it is clear that God performed a great miracle for His chosen people. More than four centuries earlier, Joseph had told his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (Genesis 45:7 ESV). Now, those “many survivors” were lined up with their kneading bowls, unleavened dough, gold, and silver, ready to begin the long journey to the land of promise.

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.

Plague Number Ten

29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead. 31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as you have said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!” – Exodus 12:29-32 ESV

God had warned His chosen people about the tenth and final plague that would befall the land of Egypt and, this time, Goshen would not be spared the devastating consequences of His judgment. When the death angel passed through the land, he would enact God’s divine order to take the lives of all the firstborn within the land, including those of the livestock.

I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord.” – Exodus 12:12 ESV

This plague would indiscriminate in its effect. There would be no protective barrier placed over the land of Goshen, where the Israelites lived. Their flocks and herds would not be set apart and spared from the death angel’s dark designs. Death was coming to all the firstborns in the land of Egypt, including those of the Israelites – unless they believed God’s warning, obeyed His command, and fulfilled every part of His plan for their salvation.

“Go, pick out a lamb or young goat for each of your families, and slaughter the Passover animal. Drain the blood into a basin. Then take a bundle of hyssop branches and dip it into the blood. Brush the hyssop across the top and sides of the doorframes of your houses. And no one may go out through the door until morning. For the Lord will pass through the land to strike down the Egyptians. But when he sees the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe, the Lord will pass over your home. He will not permit his death angel to enter your house and strike you down. – Exodus 12:21-24 NLT

These instructions make it quite clear that obedience must accompany belief. To accept the reality of the coming judgment but to do nothing to prepare for it would result in certain death. Any Israelite who refused to follow God’s detailed plan of salvation would expose all the firstborns in his home to the judgment of God. Their Hebrew heritage would not save them. Being a Jew would not immunize them from God’s wrath. The death angel would visit any and all homes where the sign of the blood was missing. Living in Goshen would not be enough. Being a descendant of Abraham would not provide built-in protection. And refusing to sacrifice their unblemished lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorpost and lintel of their home would leave any Israelite exposed to the wrath of their own righteous and just God.

And that very evening, at the stroke of midnight, the death angel passed through the land and meted out the justice of God.

…that night at midnight, the Lord struck down all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, to the firstborn son of the prisoner in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed. – Exodus 12:29 NLT

Moses reveals that “There was not a single house where someone had not died” (Exodus 12:30 NLT). This plague was widespread and left no home unaffected by its gruesome consequences. It all happened just as God had predicted to Moses.

“All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, to the oldest son of his lowliest servant girl who grinds the flour. Even the firstborn of all the livestock will die.” – Exodus 11:5 NLT

As the Egyptians slept soundly in their beds, their firstborn sons took their last breaths and died. Sometime during the early hours of the morning, the grim reality of what had just happened became apparent. An audible sound of mourning emanated from all over the land of Egypt, including from the halls of the royal palace, where Pharaoh had awoken to find the lifeless body of his own firstborn son, the rightful heir to his kingly dynasty.

This latest plague accomplished its objective. Pharoah, distraught with grief, ordered Moses and Aaron to the royal palace, where he issued the following long-delayed order:

“Get out!” he ordered. “Leave my people—and take the rest of the Israelites with you! Go and worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you said, and be gone. Go, but bless me as you leave.” – Exodus 12:31-32 NLT

Long before Moses left Midian for Egypt, God had told him exactly what was going to happen. The Lord had given him a preview of coming attractions, including the death of Pharaoh’s own son.

“When you arrive back in Egypt, go to Pharaoh and perform all the miracles I have empowered you to do. But I will harden his heart so he will refuse to let the people go. Then you will tell him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son. I commanded you, “Let my son go, so he can worship me.” But since you have refused, I will now kill your firstborn son!’” – Exodus 4:21-23 NLT

Now, God had Pharaoh’s full and undivided attention. The lifeless body of the heir to his throne was lying in his royal bed chamber. The most powerful man in all of Egypt had suffered a devastating and irreversible blow, and he had been powerless to do anything to prevent it.

The stage was set. The time for Israel’s departure had finally come. The ten successive plagues had primed the pump and prepared the hearts of the Egyptians to abide by God’s demand. Even the recalcitrant and headstrong Pharaoh had been broken by this latest outpouring of God’s divine judgment. This time, he demanded that Israelites leave, and as soon as possible. But before they left, he asked Moses and Aaron to pray a blessing over him.

It seems that Pharaoh wanted some kind of reward from the Israelite God for having graciously allowed His people to leave. Pharaoh wanted credit for doing what God had forced him to do. And, as the story unfolds, it will become clear that Pharaoh still expected the Israelites to return from their brief religious pilgrimage into the adjoining wilderness. After all, Moses and Aaron had always stated that their desire was to travel three days journey into the wilderness so that they might worship their God. And, as far as Pharaoh understood, that was still the case. So he boldly requested that they put in a good word for him when they worshiped their God.

But little did Pharaoh know that Moses and Aaron had no intentions of coming back. s

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.

Delivered to Be a Deliverer

1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” – Exodus 2:1-10 ESV

It’s interesting to consider the fact that, Moses, the author of the book of Exodus, is actually writing his autobiography. In the opening verses of chapter 2, he chronicles the earliest days of his life, as most likely told to him by his mother and sister, Miriam. The timing of his birth and its close proximity to Pharaoh’s edict that ordered the deaths of all the Hebrew male babies (Exodus 1:22), would not have escaped Moses. Over time, his mother and sister would have shared the events surrounding his birth and their efforts to preserve his life.

Moses’ recollections of his own birth narrative would have been a constant reminder of his own preordained role in the salvation of God’s people. There would have been plenty of times when he was forced to consider the sovereign will of God in his life. His very existence was God-ordained and sovereignly orchestrated.

Despite Pharaoh’s zealous attempts to liquidate the male infant population of the Hebrews, Moses had been born. No midwife terminated his life at birth. And no Egyptian citizen did their civic duty by throwing him into the Nile as a kind of sacrifice to one of their many false gods. No, Moses had lived because his God had ordained it and Jochebed, Moses’ mother had played her part in bringing it about.

We know very little about Moses’ parents, except that they were both from the tribe of Levi. Exodus 6 provides some of the only details we have regarding this couple whom God used to birth the eventual deliverer of the people of Israel.

Amram took as his wife Jochebed his father’s sister, and she bore him Aaron and Moses…  – Exodus 6:20 ESV

Exodus 6::18 tells us that Amram was one of the four sons of Kohath. According to the book of Numbers, which Moses also wrote, Kohath was the chief of one of the Levitical clans.

This is the record of the Levites who were counted according to their clans:

The Gershonite clan, named after their ancestor Gershon.
The Kohathite clan, named after their ancestor Kohath.
The Merarite clan, named after their ancestor Merari.

The Libnites, the Hebronites, the Mahlites, the Mushites, and the Korahites were all subclans of the Levites. – Numbers 26:56-57 NLT

For some undisclosed reason, Moses chose to leave out the names of his parents as he penned the details surrounding his birth. It’s almost as if he wants to use their anonymity to emphasize God’s sovereignty. Who they were was immaterial. What was important was what God accomplished through them. Together, this unidentified couple gave birth to an unnamed Hebrew child. They are simply listed as “a man” and “his wife.”

When Moses wrote, “the woman conceived and bore a son” (Exodus 2:2 ESV), he meant for it to create an uncomfortable dissonance within the hearts and minds of his original audience. With the birth of their son, this couple, like so many others, was immediately confronted with the very real possibility that their little boy may not live to celebrate his first birthday. The proverbial deck was stacked against him. The forces of evil, in the form of Pharaoh and his all-pervasive power, were aligned against their newborn baby boy. And to make matters worse, “she saw that he was a fine child” (Hebrews 2:2 ESV).

Moses was born healthy and whole. He suffered from no physical flaws or disabilities. There is nothing in the text that would suggest that Amram and Jochebed had been informed by God of the role their son was to play in Israel’s deliverance. But the book of Hebrews records that they greatly desired that their son might live, so they placed their faith in God and implemented a plan to save his life.

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. – Hebrews 11:23 ESV

It was not Moses’ faith that saved him. It was the faith of his mom and dad, revealed by their loving determination to do whatever was necessary to protect their boy from Pharaoh’s edict. They knew that if they did nothing, the infant in their care would become yet another innocent victim of Pharaoh’s barbaric pogrom of infanticide.

Imagine the anxiety and stress this couple must have endured as they attempted to keep the birth of their baby a secret. They couldn’t let anyone know he existed. So, every time he cried, they must have shuddered with fear. They were unable to display their pride and joy by introducing their friends and neighbors to their newborn son. No one could know. And, according to Moses’ recollection, the time came when Jochebed realized that she could no longer keep their secret hidden. So, she took drastic measures. Moses reveals that his mother fabricated a waterproof floating bassinet, “put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank” (Exodus 2:3 ESV).

Moses does not indicate how his mother came up with this ingenious, but somewhat risky, idea. There is nothing in the text that indicates she received a divine visit from an angel or experienced a dream or vision from God with instructions to build a “baby boat” to rescue her at-risk child. No, it appears that Jochebed came up with this outlandish solution on her own, but in full compliance with God’s sovereign will.

Hidden in the reeds along the shore of the Nile, little Moses remained under the watchful eye of his older sister, Miriam. She “stood at a distance to know what would be done to him” (Exodus 2:4 ESV). As the book of Hebrews indicates, Jochebed and Amram exhibited faith by doing what they did. By placing Moses in that basket and setting it afloat on the waters of the Nile, they were putting their baby in the hands of God. Only Yahweh could protect their child now. Miriam could watch, but she was incapable of delivering her little brother from certain death by exposure or from being eaten by a crocodile. She was forced into the uncomfortable and unenviable position of having to wait and see.

But she didn’t wait long.

Soon Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, and her attendants walked along the riverbank. When the princess saw the basket among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it for her. When the princess opened it, she saw the baby. – Exodus 5:6 NLT

It just so happened that the basket holding the baby, Moses, floated down the Nile and came to rest in the very place where the daughter of Pharaoh took her daily bath. Was this Jochebed’s hope all along? Had she intended for the basket to pass by this very spot? It would seem odd for the mother of this newborn infant to see his discovery by any Egyptian, let alone Pharaoh’s daughter, to be a good thing. After all, “Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile’” (Exodus 1:22 NLT).

But as “fate” would have it, as the princess waded into the water to take her bath, she spied the basket and ordered one of her servants to retrieve it. Upon removing the lid, she was startled to find a crying baby boy, whom she immediately recognized as a Hebrew.

“This must be one of the Hebrew children,” she said. – Exodus 2:6 NLT

Rather than exhibiting a loathing for this Hebrew infant, the princess showed pity. It may be that the sight of this innocent little baby tugged at her heartstrings. Finding him relegated to a handmade wicker basket and cast afloat in the Nile must have informed her of the desperate mother’s last-ditch effort to save her son’s life. This helpless mother had been willing to abandon her son to the fate of the Nile rather than see him suffer at the hands of the sadistic Pharaoh.

As the princess battled with her emotions, struggling to decide what to do, Miriam appeared seemingly out of nowhere. She carefully approached the princess and her royal retinue, offering to provide assistance.

“Should I go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” she asked. – Exodus 2:7 NLT

Almost sensing the princess’ indecision, Miriam provided an immediate solution to the problem of what to do with the child. She would find a nursemaid to care for the child while the princess decided what to do next.

Miriam’s quick action played a significant role in the sparing of Moses’ life. With the princess’ permission, Miriam ran home and returned with her mother. What the princess failed to understand was that this “nursemaid” was actually the infant’s own mother.

In a powerful illustration of God’s sovereignty, Jochebed was given the privilege of nursing and eventually weaning her own son. But, eventually, she was forced to give up possession of her child to the princess, “and he became her son” (Exodus 2:10 NLT). In an amazing turn of events, the little boy who had been under a death sentence was adopted into the very family of the man who had issued the call for his death. The princess named her newly adopted son, Môsheh or Moses, which means, ”drawn out of water” or “one born of water.” 

Unbeknownst to the princess, the name she gave to her new son was prophetic in nature. This little child would grow up to be the deliverer of the people of Israel who would “draw out” God’s children and lead them through the waters of the Red Sea. But for now, little Moses would find himself growing up in the pomp and splendor of Pharaoh’s palace. The boy that should have been cast into the Nile and left to die, was saved by a “boat” prepared by the hands of his loving mother. God had sovereignly saved Moses so that he might become the future savior of the children of Israel.

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

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

The Lamb for Sinners Slain

13 “These are the measurements of the altar by cubits (the cubit being a cubit and a handbreadth): its base shall be one cubit high and one cubit broad, with a rim of one span around its edge. And this shall be the height of the altar: 14 from the base on the ground to the lower ledge, two cubits, with a breadth of one cubit; and from the smaller ledge to the larger ledge, four cubits, with a breadth of one cubit; 15 and the altar hearth, four cubits; and from the altar hearth projecting upward, four horns. 16 The altar hearth shall be square, twelve cubits long by twelve broad. 17 The ledge also shall be square, fourteen cubits long by fourteen broad, with a rim around it half a cubit broad, and its base one cubit all around. The steps of the altar shall face east.”

18 And he said to me, “Son of man, thus says the Lord God: These are the ordinances for the altar: On the day when it is erected for offering burnt offerings upon it and for throwing blood against it, 19 you shall give to the Levitical priests of the family of Zadok, who draw near to me to minister to me, declares the Lord God, a bull from the herd for a sin offering. 20 And you shall take some of its blood and put it on the four horns of the altar and on the four corners of the ledge and upon the rim all around. Thus you shall purify the altar and make atonement for it. 21 You shall also take the bull of the sin offering, and it shall be burned in the appointed place belonging to the temple, outside the sacred area. 22 And on the second day you shall offer a male goat without blemish for a sin offering; and the altar shall be purified, as it was purified with the bull. 23 When you have finished purifying it, you shall offer a bull from the herd without blemish and a ram from the flock without blemish. 24 You shall present them before the Lord, and the priests shall sprinkle salt on them and offer them up as a burnt offering to the Lord. 25 For seven days you shall provide daily a male goat for a sin offering; also, a bull from the herd and a ram from the flock, without blemish, shall be provided. 26 Seven days shall they make atonement for the altar and cleanse it, and so consecrate it. 27 And when they have completed these days, then from the eighth day onward the priests shall offer on the altar your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, and I will accept you, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 43:13-27 ESV

It should be no surprise that the focus of everything in the Millennial Kingdom will be holiness. At that moment in human history, everything will be set apart unto God. His Son will rule over all the earth from His throne in Jerusalem, just as the angel had promised to his mother, Mary.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:31-33 NLT

This will be in fulfillment of the promise that God made to King David.

“And I will provide a homeland for my people Israel, planting them in a secure place where they will never be disturbed. Evil nations won’t oppress them as they’ve done in the past, starting from the time I appointed judges to rule my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies.…Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:10-11, 16 NLT

In this future kingdom, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, will be the King of kings and Lord of lords. He will rule supreme and His status as the Holy One of God will allow Him to mete out perfect righteousness as the sovereign head of state. With His sacrificial death and resurrection, Jesus earned the right to sit on David’s throne. Paul speaks of Jesus’ elevation to this highest honor because “he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 NLT).

And because Jesus faithfully fulfilled the will of His Heavenly Father, He was rewarded with a return to His rightful place at His Father’s side.

God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 NLT

But the latter part of this passage has yet to be fulfilled. We live in an age where the majority of people on earth refuse to honor the name of Christ or bow in submission to His will. They do not acknowledge Him as Lord. Yet, God’s redemptive plan includes a day when all that will change. The prophet, Micah, refers to this future restoration of the Kingdom of Israel and Christ’s reign as King.

In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house
    will be the highest of all—
    the most important place on earth.
It will be raised above the other hills,
    and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.
People from many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of Jacob’s God.
There he will teach us his ways,
    and we will walk in his paths.”
For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion;
    his word will go out from Jerusalem.
The Lord will mediate between peoples
    and will settle disputes between strong nations far away. – Micah 4:1-3 NLT

Isaiah prophesied about the future earthly reign of Christ, declaring that “the government will rest on his shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6 NLT), and that government will be marked by peace.

His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity. – Isaiah 9:7 NLT

Justice will rule in the wilderness
    and righteousness in the fertile field.
And this righteousness will bring peace.
    Yes, it will bring quietness and confidence forever.
My people will live in safety, quietly at home.
    They will be at rest. – Isaiah 32:16-18 NLT

So, why does God reveal to Ezekiel that this same Millennial Kingdom will be marked by a reinstitution of the sacrificial system? If Jesus’ paid the final debt for all sins and accomplished what the blood of bulls and goats could never do, why would God bring back the temple, the altar, and the practice of blood sacrifice?

“The existence of the millennial temple and the reinstatement of the sacrificial system [though not necessarily the reinstatement of the Mosaic Covenant] is not only understandable but predictable. Ezekiel’s vision of a restored sacrificial system was really not so amazing after all. The millennium will afford Israel the opportunity for the first time in its history to use the symbols of their covenant with Jesus as Messiah in view. It will be their first time to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation showing forth to the world the redemptive work of Yahweh in the person of Jesus Christ the Messiah (Isa 53:7; 61:1-3; Zech 4:1 [sic 3:10]; John 1:29; Acts 8:32-35; 1 Pet 1:19; Rev 7:13-14; 5:9; 13:8; 15:3).” – L. E. Cooper Sr., Ezekiel

The author of Hebrews reminds us that the old sacrificial system functioned as a symbol or representation of something far greater to come.

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.

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

According to this passage, the main purpose behind the Old Testament sacrificial system was to remind God’s people of their sins. It could never provide full and complete atonement. That’s why the sacrifices were perpetual and never-ending. The people lived in an endless cycle of sin-sacrifice-atonement-forgiveness. With their sins forgiven, they would simply repeat the cycle again, year after year. But Jesus came to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). With His death on the cross, Jesus broke that endless cycle of sacrifice for sins.

So, why bring it back? It seems that the future sacrificial system described in Ezekiel has a distinctly different purpose. Rather than providing atonement for sins, it will point to the ultimate atoning sacrifice: Jesus Christ. The blood offered up on the Millennial Altar will commemorate “the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:19 NLT).

When Christians partake of the elements of the Lord’s Table, they are not literally breaking the body of Christ or spilling His blood. They are practicing a symbolic rite designed to remind them of what Christ has done on their behalf. That’s why, on the night Jesus instituted the Lord’s Table, He told His disciples “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25).

God gives Ezekiel the dimensions for the altar of sacrifice. Then He provides very clear instructions regarding the ritual cleansing of the altar and the preparation of the sacrifices to be offered on it. This entire process is similar to that given by God to Moses when He first instituted the sacrificial system in the Judean wilderness. For the Israelites living in the Millennial Kingdom, this entire process of ceremonial cleansing and purification will be highly familiar, and it will serve as a powerful reminder of their past sins as a nation. But it will point them to the all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus, whose blood has cleansed them from all their sins (1 John 1:7).

“The offerings presented thereon were meant to be memorials, much as the Lord’s Supper is no efficacious sacrifice but a memorial of a blessedly adequate and all-sufficient sacrifice for all time. Thus, whereas the sacrifices of the Old Testament economy were prospective, these are retrospective.” – Charles Lee Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel

The focus of this chapter is holiness – the holiness of God, His people, His Kingdom, and His Son. Everything in the Millennial Kingdom will be set apart for His glory. It will all be dedicated to His name and exist to point all people to Him alone. In a remarkable blending of old and new imagery, God provides Ezekiel a glimpse of a future age when the Old Testament sacrificial system will exist in perfect harmony with the resurrected and enthroned Lamb of God. During His thousand-year reign on earth, there will be believers and unbelievers living under His righteous rule. All those who survived the seven years of the Tribulation will have the pleasure of living as citizens of Christ’s earthly kingdom, but not all will worship Him as Lord. Perhaps this renewed sacrificial system will serve as a means of purification for all those who wish to enter the presence of the King of kings. Holiness will reign supreme in the Millennial Kingdom, and God has ordained a place and purpose for the sacrificial system in that time.

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.

You Won’t, But I Will

11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

17 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

20 “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken. Ezekiel 34:11-24 ESV

God has leveled His indictment against the leaders of Judah. From the priests and prophets to the king and his court, they all stand before God guilty of malfeasance. Not only have they neglected their God-ordained duties, but they have used their roles for personal profit and self-advancement. Personally responsible for the physical and spiritual well-being of God’s flock, these men had left the people of Judah in a weakened and vulnerable state. God describes them as scattered and defenseless. And, repeatedly, God accuses His undershepherds of failing to do anything about it.

“…my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them. – Ezekiel 34:5-6 NLT

“…you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost.” – Ezekiel 34:8 NLT

These men were guilty of abandonment and neglect. They were so self-absorbed with their own well-being that they failed to provide for the ones under their care. And because of their poor job performance, God declares the prophets, priests, and king to be His enemies.

I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

And God emphatically declares His intentions to step in and rectify the problem these men have created.

I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

Four times in verse 10, God states, “I will.” He will not stand back and watch this travesty of leadership any longer. He will get involved intimately and personally. He offers His personal promise to do what the shepherds should have been doing all along.

In the next 14 verses of Ezekiel 34, God continues to use that same phrase, stating 21 more times that He is about to engage His divine powers on behalf of his neglected and disenfranchised sheep.

His use of the sheep metaphor is quite telling. Sheep are not the brightest of animals. They have a herd mentality and rarely think for themselves. They tend to wander, are virtually defenseless, susceptible to disease, easily frightened, injury-prone, and without proper care, can become filthy, matted, and insect-infested. That’s why they need a shepherd.

Throughout the Old Testament, God refers to His people as sheep and their leaders as shepherds. God appoints leaders to shepherd His flock. He expects them to care for and protect His people. But instead, they tended to fend for themselves and take advantage of the people, leading them into sin and causing them to stumble spiritually. Their lousy leadership was devastating to the nation, and it is chronicled in sordid detail in the history of Israel’s kings. Far too many of them proved to be godless men who led the people astray and caused them to seek sustenance and safety from false gods.

Even the spiritual leaders proved to be more harmful than helpful to the well-being of the people. And God was going to hold them all accountable. Ezekiel 34 is God’s indictment against the shepherds of Israel who had failed to do their jobs. He tells them, “You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty” (Ezekiel 34:4 NLT).

They had failed to do their job. They had left the sheep defenseless and helpless. So, God said He would step in and do what the shepherds had failed to do. Over and over again He says, “I will…” He will search, rescue, feed, care for, tend, bandage, judge, and set over them a true shepherd who will care for them properly.

At the point Ezekiel penned these words from God, the northern kingdom of Israel had been non-existent for hundreds of years. It had fallen to the Assyrians centuries earlier. And, just recently, the southern kingdom of Judah had fallen to the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar and his forces had ended their long siege of Jerusalem by breaking through the walls and completely destroying the capital city of Judah. The temple was demolished, the city looted, and the people were taken back to Babylon as captives. Those who didn’t end up as slaves fled for their lives. That is why God describes them as scattered and wandering “through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth” (Ezekiel 34:8 NLT).

But repeatedly declares that He is ready, willing, and able to do something about their plight. In the final verse of this chapter, God emphatically states His relationship with His sheep.

“You are my flock, the sheep of my pasture. You are my people, and I am your God.” – Ezekiel 43:31 NLT

The psalmists understood this unique relationship between God and His people.

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock. – Psalm 80:1 NLT

Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
    He made us, and we are his.
    We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. – Psalm 100:3 NLT

And as their shepherd, God promises to do what all good shepherds do: Care for His flock. They had been scattered to the four winds, but He would search for them until He found them. Then He would oversee their return to the land of promise where they will enjoy peace and prosperity once again.

Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. – Ezekiel 34:14-15 NLT

God is promising a future day when His scattered, skittish, and scarred sheep will find themselves living in the rich pasturelands of Canaan again. It is an image of complete restoration, both physically and spiritually. They will once again be the sheep of His pasture.

The prophet, Micah, echoes this powerful promise from God.

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
    I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
    be filled with noisy crowds! – Micah 2:12 NLT

And Micah takes this powerful prophecy one step further when he writes:

“In that coming day,” says the Lord,
“I will gather together those who are lame,
    those who have been exiles,
    and those whom I have filled with grief.
Those who are weak will survive as a remnant;
    those who were exiles will become a strong nation.
Then I, the Lord, will rule from Jerusalem
    as their king forever.”
As for you, Jerusalem,
    the citadel of God’s people,
your royal might and power
    will come back to you again.
The kingship will be restored
    to my precious Jerusalem. – Micah 4:6-8 NLT

But in the midst of all this good news, God delivered a bit of bad news.

I will judge between one animal of the flock and another, separating the sheep from the goats.” – Ezekiel 34:17 NLT

It’s hard not to see the foreboding nature of this statement. The warning of separation is meant to convey judgment. Jesus Himself used this same imagery when speaking of the final judgment in His Olivette discourse.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. – Matthew 25:31-33 NLT

But in Ezekiel 34, the separation seems to be a statement of judgment against the underperforming shepherds of Israel. He accuses them of having kept the best pastures for themselves. In their zeal for self-promotion and personal gain, they had taken advantage of the people, leaving them in a neglected and weakened state. So, God warns them “I will surely judge between the fat sheep and the scrawny sheep. For you fat sheep pushed and butted and crowded my sick and hungry flock until you scattered them to distant lands” (Ezekiel 34:20-21 NLT).

Then with the sheep restored and the shepherds judged, God promises to give them a new shepherd, a man cut from the same cloth as King David.

“I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 34:23-24 NLT

In the midst of all the turmoil surrounding Judah’s fall, God promises that a day is coming when the people of Israel will be restored and enjoy the protection of a king who, like David, will shepherd them just as David did.

He chose David his servant
    and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
    to shepherd Jacob his people,
    Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
    and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:70-72 ESV

God will make it happen.

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.