Sin in the Camp

13 “If the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they do any one of the things that by the Lord‘s commandments ought not to be done, and they realize their guilt, 14 when the sin which they have committed becomes known, the assembly shall offer a bull from the herd for a sin offering and bring it in front of the tent of meeting. 15 And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bull before the Lord, and the bull shall be killed before the Lord. 16 Then the anointed priest shall bring some of the blood of the bull into the tent of meeting, 17 and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle it seven times before the Lord in front of the veil. 18 And he shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar that is in the tent of meeting before the Lord, and the rest of the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 19 And all its fat he shall take from it and burn on the altar. 20 Thus shall he do with the bull. As he did with the bull of the sin offering, so shall he do with this. And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. 21 And he shall carry the bull outside the camp and burn it up as he burned the first bull; it is the sin offering for the assembly.” – Leviticus 4:13-21 ESV

The next mandatory blood sacrifice was in the case of the entire community committing an unintentional sin. It seems that it would have been a rare occurrence for the entire nation to be guilty of having committed the same inadvertent sin. How could an entire multitude of people have unknowingly participated in a violation of God’s law without knowing it? It’s difficult to imagine every single Israelite unwittingly or accidentally participating in the very same violation of God’s law.

But the Hebrew word for “congregation” carries a range of meanings that includes a family, crowd, assembly, or gathering. Yet the context of this passage would seem to indicate that God has the entire Israelite community in mind. The actual sin committed might be the work of a few within the community, but God would hold the entire nation responsible. Sin is like an infectious disease and has a way of spreading throughout the entire body if left undetected and untreated. So, even if the violation had been committed by only a handful of the Israelites, the entire nation would find itself impacted by their actions. The impurity of a few would leave the whole congregation in a state of impurity and in need of cleansing.

So, God provided a means of receiving atonement. He wanted His people to take seriously any form of sin within the camp, and there is a powerful example of this in the book of Joshua. When the people of Israel eventually entered the land of Canaan, God gave them a miraculous victory over the city of Jericho. But this was followed by an unexpected defeat at the hands of the much-smaller city of Ai. Joshua chapter 7 opens up with the statement: “But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things…” (Joshua 7:1 ESV).

Before they began their siege of Jericho, God had given the people clear instructions concerning their post-victory celebrations.

“Jericho and everything in it must be completely destroyed as an offering to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and the others in her house will be spared, for she protected our spies.

“Do not take any of the things set apart for destruction, or you yourselves will be completely destroyed, and you will bring trouble on the camp of Israel. Everything made from silver, gold, bronze, or iron is sacred to the Lord and must be brought into his treasury.” – Joshua 6:17-20 NLT

But one man decided to ignore God’s command and enrich himself with some of the plunder from the city. And yet, Moses records, “Israel violated the instructions about the things set apart for the Lord” (Joshua 7:1 NLT). God held the entire nation culpable for Achan’s actions. In fact, Moses notes that “the Lord was very angry with the Israelites” (Joshua 7:1 NLT).

Joshua and the rest of the Israelites were completely oblivious to Achan’s sin. So confident of certain victory over the smaller city of Ai, Joshua sent a contingent made up of 3,000 Israelite soldiers, but their mission ended in defeat. And Moses records that “the Israelites were paralyzed with fear at this turn of events, and their courage melted away” (Joshua 7:5 NLT). Joshua, shaken by this unexpected turn of events, called out to God for an explanation. He couldn’t understand why God had failed to intervene on their behalf against the Amorites living in Ai. But what Joshua didn’t know was that sin had entered the camp of Israel. Achan’s violation of God’s command had left the entire community contaminated and worthy of God’s judgment, and God pulled no punches in declaring the seriousness of the situation.

Israel has sinned and broken my covenant! They have stolen some of the things that I commanded must be set apart for me. And they have not only stolen them but have lied about it and hidden the things among their own belongings. That is why the Israelites are running from their enemies in defeat. For now Israel itself has been set apart for destruction. I will not remain with you any longer unless you destroy the things among you that were set apart for destruction. – Joshua 7:11-12 NLT

While Achan’s sin had been anything but accidental, the rest of the nation had been unaware of its occurrence. They were ignorant of Achan’s crime but were just as responsible before God as if they had all taken part. And God made it clear that the entire community would be considered impure and responsible for the crime until the guilty party was sought out and exposed.

“Get up! Command the people to purify themselves in preparation for tomorrow. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Hidden among you, O Israel, are things set apart for the Lord. You will never defeat your enemies until you remove these things from among you. – Joshua 7:13 NLT

Purification was part of the process. The entire community needed to purge itself of the sin that had left them contaminated and worthy of God’s judgment. The next day, God revealed the identity of the guilty party and ordered his execution.

“The one who has stolen what was set apart for destruction will himself be burned with fire, along with everything he has, for he has broken the covenant of the Lord and has done a horrible thing in Israel.” – Joshua 7:15 NLT

In this case, Achan and his entire family were stoned to death and then burned with fire. The sin was purged from their midst and the nation was spared God’s judgment. But the atonement came at a high price.

And all the Israelites stoned Achan and his family and burned their bodies. They piled a great heap of stones over Achan, which remains to this day. That is why the place has been called the Valley of Trouble ever since. So the Lord was no longer angry. – Joshua 7:25-26 NLT

When it came to the sin/purification offering, God provided a means by which the nation could receive a different form of atonement for inadvertent or unintentional sins committed among them. When someone violated one of God’s laws and it ended up impacting the entire community, there was a way to restore fellowship and receive forgiveness. But it involved a blood sacrifice. A life had to be given so that the guilty might be spared. In this case, it was to be “a bull from the herd” (Leviticus 4:14 ESV). This animal must be free from defects and in perfect health. It represented a payment of high value and illustrated the gravity of the crime committed. Atonement could not be achieved without considerable cost to the guilty party.

As representatives of the people, the elders were to lay their hands on the sacrificial animal, symbolizing its role as their substitute or stand-in. The guilt of the people was symbolically transferred to the bull, then the life of the animal was taken. Its blood was shed so that the Israelites could live and enjoy God’s forgiveness. But before atonement from sin could be enjoyed, the blood of the animal had to be taken by the priest and sprinkled on the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The people’s access to God had been impacted by their sin. The entrance into God’s presence, represented by the veil, had been contaminated by sin, and needed to be purified by the blood of the sacrificial animal. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

Having purified the veil, the priest was to take the remainder of the blood and purify the bronze altar as well as the altar of incense. This ritual cleansing of the two altars of sacrifice was intended to restore their holiness and reestablish their use for worshiping God. And by following all the details of this pre-established ceremony “the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven” (Leviticus 4:20 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 Joy of Forgiveness

1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the Lord for a sin offering. He shall bring the bull to the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord and lay his hand on the head of the bull and kill the bull before the Lord. And the anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it into the tent of meeting, and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle part of the blood seven times before the Lord in front of the veil of the sanctuary. And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the Lord that is in the tent of meeting, and all the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And all the fat of the bull of the sin offering he shall remove from it, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins and the long lobe of the liver that he shall remove with the kidneys 10 (just as these are taken from the ox of the sacrifice of the peace offerings); and the priest shall burn them on the altar of burnt offering. 11 But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, with its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung— 12 all the rest of the bull—he shall carry outside the camp to a clean place, to the ash heap, and shall burn it up on a fire of wood. On the ash heap it shall be burned up.” – Leviticus 4:1-12 ESV

Having covered the burnt, grain, and peace offerings, God now addresses two distinctively different sacrifices dealing with unintentional violations of His commands. The Hebrew phrase is בִּשְׁגָגָה (bishgagah) and it refers to a sin committed in ignorance and without premeditation. This could involve a case of someone violating one of God’s commands unknowingly or accidentally. Unlike the first three kinds of offerings, these two offerings place emphasis on the status of the sinner and not the sacrifice itself. It’s not that the type of sacrifice or the manner in which it is given is unimportant but that the specific type of sin is the higher priority.

These sacrifices involve accidental sins or sins of omission. If someone inadvertently committed a sin of which they were ignorant or unaware, there was a way for them to be restored to a right relationship with God. Their ignorance did not excuse or absolve them from guilt or condemnation. Simply claiming, “I didn’t know” would not alleviate their guilty standing before a holy God. Failing to observe one of God’s commands was a violation worthy of judgment whether the individual did so knowingly or not. And, like all other violations of God’s commands, these sins of ignorance required atonement.

So, God provided a gracious and very specific remedy for these unique situations. He knew that not all sins would be blatant displays of willful rebellion against His law. Some would innocently and unknowingly break His commands and find themselves under His righteous judgment. What were they to do? How were they supposed to remedy the situation in a way that God would find acceptable?

First of all, God addressed the priesthood. Even this select group of men would find themselves in the awkward and dangerous spot of having violated one of God’s commands unknowingly. Yet, it seems that these kinds of cases would have been rare since the priests were to be the experts when it came to God’s laws. But God knew that even Aaron and his sons were fully capable of making a mistake and unwittingly violating one of God’s many laws. And, when that unlikely occasion arose, there was a way for them to restore their broken relationship with God.

One of the important things to note in this passage is that God took all forms of sin seriously. It didn’t matter whether the individual intended to sin or not. Once the sin had been committed, it created a barrier between the individual and God. It left the violator impure and unworthy to enter God’s presence. This posed a real problem for those men who had been set apart to minister as mediators between God and His people. If Aaron or one of his sons committed an unintentional sin, their very presence in the Tabernacle and their interactions with the altars and utensils would invalidate any offerings they made. They would end up contaminating God’s house and rendering any of their actions as priests to be unacceptable.

“Purification is the main element in the purification [sin] sacrifice. Sin not only angers God and deprives him of his due, it also makes his sanctuary unclean. A holy God cannot dwell amid uncleanness. The purification offering purifies the place of worship, so that God may be present among his people.” – Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus

These men played a vital role in the spiritual well-being of the people of Israel, and if their personal sins, whether willing or unwilling, remained unatoned for, the people will suffer the loss of God’s presence and power in their lives. Not only that, any sacrifices they offered would be deemed unacceptable to God. So, it was essential that the priests had a way to appease God for any and all sins they committed – even those that were the result of ignorance.

These inadvertent sins included such things as failing to keep one’s word or simply neglecting to do the right thing. Living in a sin-stained world could leave someone contaminated without them even knowing it. The key to these kinds of sins is awareness. Once someone became aware that they had unknowingly broken one of God’s commands, they were expected to confess their sin and make atonement for it. The former ignorance would not absolve them from responsibility or assuage their guilt. If they had unknowingly touched something that was unclean, that action would have rendered them unclean. Once they became aware of their unclean status, they were expected to do the right thing and offer the proper sacrifice. And God was quite specific as to the nature of that sacrifice.

While these sin offerings bear similarities to the burnt, grain, and peace offerings, there were slight differences. These offerings were not meant to be a soothing aroma to God. Instead, they were intended to expiate or make amends for the sin committed. As with all the other offerings, the animal that was to be sacrificed had to be without defect. There was a cost involved, even if the sin was accidental. The manner in which the sin was committed did not lessen the penalty or the cost of atonement. A perfect sacrifice was required to restore the sinner’s broken relationship with God.

When it comes to sin, ignorance is not bliss. A misguided sense of innocence did not render one right in the eyes of a holy, all-knowing God. That is why all sin should be taken seriously and it is a sober awareness of sin’s capacity for hiddenness that led David to cry out to God, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT).

David knew that sin was insidious in its ability to hide in plain sight. There was no way that he could know the true condition of his own heart, so he asked God to reveal any hidden sin that needed to be confessed and atoned for. And God reminded the prophet, Jeremiah, that the key to unlocking the secrets of the human heart lies with God and not man.

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?
But I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT

Even sins committed in ignorance carry weight and require atonement. They cannot be overlooked, should not be underestimated, or treated apathetically. God wanted His people to live in perfect fellowship with Him, but He knew that sin would create an impenetrable barrier. The presence of sin in the individual’s life rendered them unacceptable and made God inaccessible. But God graciously provided a solution – in the form of a blood sacrifice because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

And once the atoning sacrifice was offered and the blood was sprinkled on the altar, the remaining portion of the slain animal was carried outside the camp and burned.

“…the skin of the bull and all its flesh, with its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung— all the rest of the bull—he shall carry outside the camp to a clean place, to the ash heap, and shall burn it up on a fire of wood. On the ash heap it shall be burned up.” – Leviticus 4:11-12 NLT

In a sense, these unacceptable portions of the animal represented the unacceptable nature of the individual’s sin. Unworthy for use as an offering to the Lord, these leftovers were to be taken outside the camp and burned. It was David who wrote of the amazing reality of God’s forgiveness.

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
    and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
    And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. – Psalm 32:5 NLT

And it was God who assured His stubborn and rebellious people of His willingness to faithfully forgive their repeated acts of sin against Him.

“I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake
    and will never think of them again. – Isaiah 43:25 NLT

Sin was inevitable. Accidental sins were unavoidable. But forgiveness was always available. And the key to restoration was confession and atonement. God would later remind His covenant people of His willingness to forgive if they would only confess.

“…if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT

Men sin but God forgives. This requires that men confess so that God can restore them. And, thankfully, God provided His people with the means to be restored to a right relationship with Himself, even when they had violated His law by mistake.

The great news is, that “if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9 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.

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.

Cost and Commitment

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” – Leviticus 1:3-9 ESV

In his book, Holiness to the Lord, Allan P. Ross stated, “Sacrifice is at the heart of all true worship.” The book of Leviticus deals with the fine art of sacrifice that God ordained so that the Israelites might be able to enjoy His presence. This compilation of regulations regarding sacrifice was meant to dictate how the Israelites should express their gratitude for God’s goodness and their reverence for His holiness.

Yahweh was not some mindless, man-made idol that would accept any and all sacrifices offered on His behalf.  He was holy and righteous and entrance into His divine presence required purification and proper protocol. Sin had long separated humanity from God. Ever since Adam and Eve had violated God’s command not to eat the fruit of the one prohibited tree in the garden, mankind had been on a downward moral trajectory, away from God deeper into a lifestyle marked by independence from Him. Once sin entered the world, Adam and Eve lost their direct access to God. They would no longer enjoy unbroken fellowship with God in the garden. Instead, they were ejected from the former home they shared with the Almighty and were forced to live outside the garden and apart from His presence. Yet, God didn’t destroy Adam and Eve for their disobedience. Instead, He covered their spiritual “nakedness” with garments of skin. As they stood before God, literally exposed by their sin, He showered them with grace, offering the first blood sacrifice by taking the life of an innocent animal in order to properly atone for their sins.

Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. – Genesis 3:21 ESV

The Hebrew word for atonement is kāp̄ar and it means “to cover over.” Adam and Eve stood before God exposed by their sin and worthy of His condemnation. But rather than facing the penalty of death, they were spared and given a new lease on life. Yet, blood was spilled so that they might live.

Generations would come and go, and the sinful bent of humanity would display itself through a deepening love affair with sin and rebellion against God. While Adam and Eve had enjoyed God’s undeserved forgiveness, they went on to populate the earth with more of their kind – sin-prone human beings who chose to live in open rebellion to the will of their Creator. Things became so bad, that at one point, God looked down on the earth and determined to put an end to the rampant wickedness that had enveloped humankind, the apex of His creation.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” – Genesis 6:5-7 ESV

Things had gotten so bad that God prepared to destroy all that He had created and deemed to be good. Yet, there was one man who found favor with God. Genesis reveals that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV). In all the unrighteousness that marked the world of his day, Noah stood out as a man who had remained faithful to God. He wasn’t perfect or sinless, but his life was characterized by obedience to God. Therefore, God determined to spare Noah’s life. But in doing so, God sacrificed the lives of the rest of humanity as well as all living creatures that did not end up on the ark. Once again, lives were sacrificed so that Noah and his family could live.

After the flood that destroyed all living things, God started over with Noah and his three sons. But even though Noah was a righteous man, it didn’t take long before mankind’s love affair with sin raised its ugly head again. Things picked up right where they left off. Humanity continued to move away from God and toward independence. Noah’s three sons produced offspring and filled the earth with more of their kind. Their progeny spread over the earth, producing nations that propagated further rebellion against God. And from one of these nations, God chose another man from which to begin again. This time, He chose Abram, a pagan idol-worshiper from the faraway land of Ur. God designated this undeserving Chaldean as the one through whom He would create a brand-new nation that would become a model of righteousness in a sea of sinfulness.

God revealed Himself to this undeserving and unsuspecting man from distant Ur and proffered the following command and promise.

“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1-3 NLT

And Abram obeyed. His first encounter with Yahweh produced in him a willingness to take God at His word and step out in faith. Moses records that “Abram departed as the Lord had instructed” (Genesis 12:4 NLT). And this tendency toward willful obedience would show up repeatedly in Abram’s life over the years. He would continue to live in obedience submission to the will of God, regardless of the circumstances. From this one man, God would produce an entire nation, the people of Israel. And it was the descendants of Abram whom God redeemed out of slavery in Egypt and led to the valley beneath Mount Sinai. He had spared their lives through the sacrifice of blood.

“Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.” – Exodus 12:3-6 NLT

Each Israelite household was instructed to take the blood of the lamb and spread it on the doorpost and lintel of the door to their home.

“The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 12:13 NLT

The blood became a covering or source of atonement, causing the death angel to pass over those homes and sparing all the firstborns found inside. Once again, God used blood to produce life. The Israelites had been undeserving of God’s grace and mercy. They had done nothing to earn His favor or merit His salvation. But by obeying His command, they received His protection and enjoyed His unmerited favor in the form of life and freedom.

It was those same Israelites who stood outside the newly constructed Tabernacle and listened to the voice of God as He declared His rules and regulations concerning the sacrificial system. If they wanted to dwell in His holy presence and continue to enjoy His favor, they would have to make sacrifices. Obedience was a non-negotiable requirement if they wanted to enjoy their status as His chosen people.

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

Their status as His chosen people would require sacrifice. It would involve cost and commitment. And God provided them with exacting details concerning the nature of the investment He expected them to make. The first involved the offering of cattle, and God made it clear that He would not accept any animal as a sacrifice.

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord.– Leviticus 1:3 ESV

The animal must be free from flaw or injury. God would not accept damaged goods. If an Israelite expected his offering to be accepted, it had to have come with a cost. He could not offer an injured or diseased animal and expect God to be pleased with his offering. This animal was intended to serve as a substitute for the sins of the individual and, therefore, it must be healthy and whole. The blood of the animal would serve as atonement, covering the sins of the one offering the sacrifice.

He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. – Leviticus 1:4 ESV

The goal behind all the sacrifices was a restored relationship with Yahweh. Sin caused a break in the relationship between God and His people, and sacrifice was required to atone for those sins. For the sinner to be accepted as “a pleasing aroma to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:9 ESV), a payment had to be made. The author of Hebrews reminds us that blood sacrifice was essential if the sinner expected to receive forgiveness from God.

…under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. – Hebrews 9:22 ESV

Sin was inevitable and unavoidable for God’s people. They were chosen, yet still fallen and predisposed to disobedience. So, God provided the sacrificial systen as a means by which they might be restored to a right relationship with Him. Their sinfulness separated them from God. But sacrifice was the God-ordained means for being made right with Him. And it came with a cost and required total commitment.

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

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

Mission Accomplished

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robed in Righteousness

1 From the blue and purple and scarlet yarns they made finely woven garments, for ministering in the Holy Place. They made the holy garments for Aaron, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

He made the ephod of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. And they hammered out gold leaf, and he cut it into threads to work into the blue and purple and the scarlet yarns, and into the fine twined linen, in skilled design. They made for the ephod attaching shoulder pieces, joined to it at its two edges. And the skillfully woven band on it was of one piece with it and made like it, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

They made the onyx stones, enclosed in settings of gold filigree, and engraved like the engravings of a signet, according to the names of the sons of Israel. And he set them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod to be stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

He made the breastpiece, in skilled work, in the style of the ephod, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. It was square. They made the breastpiece doubled, a span its length and a span its breadth when doubled. 10 And they set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle was the first row; 11 and the second row, an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; 12 and the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; 13 and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They were enclosed in settings of gold filigree. 14 There were twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. They were like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes. 15 And they made on the breastpiece twisted chains like cords, of pure gold. 16 And they made two settings of gold filigree and two gold rings, and put the two rings on the two edges of the breastpiece. 17 And they put the two cords of gold in the two rings at the edges of the breastpiece. 18 They attached the two ends of the two cords to the two settings of filigree. Thus they attached it in front to the shoulder pieces of the ephod. 19 Then they made two rings of gold, and put them at the two ends of the breastpiece, on its inside edge next to the ephod. 20 And they made two rings of gold, and attached them in front to the lower part of the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, at its seam above the skillfully woven band of the ephod. 21 And they bound the breastpiece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, so that it should lie on the skillfully woven band of the ephod, and that the breastpiece should not come loose from the ephod, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

22 He also made the robe of the ephod woven all of blue, 23 and the opening of the robe in it was like the opening in a garment, with a binding around the opening, so that it might not tear. 24 On the hem of the robe they made pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. 25 They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates all around the hem of the robe, between the pomegranates— 26 a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate around the hem of the robe for ministering, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

27 They also made the coats, woven of fine linen, for Aaron and his sons, 28 and the turban of fine linen, and the caps of fine linen, and the linen undergarments of fine twined linen, 29 and the sash of fine twined linen and of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, embroidered with needlework, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

30 They made the plate of the holy crown of pure gold, and wrote on it an inscription, like the engraving of a signet, “Holy to the Lord.” 31 And they tied to it a cord of blue to fasten it on the turban above, as the Lord had commanded Moses. – Exodus 39:1-31 ESV

In this passage, Moses virtually repeats the instructions God had given him for the design of the high priest’s sacred robes. Chapter 28 contains the conversation that took place between God and Moses that set apart Aaron and his sons to serve as priests in God’s house.

“Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood. – Exodus 28:1-3 ESV

Now, in chapter 39, Moses is describing Bezalel’s creation of those “holy garments” for Aaron and his sons. But something significant had taken place between these two chapters. Not long after God had given His blueprints for the Tabernacle and chosen Moses’ brother, Aaron to serve as high priest, the Israelites had chosen to turn their backs on God by demanding that Aaron make them replacements gods.

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, 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.”

So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”

All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. – Exodus 32:1-4 NLT

Rather than rebuke the Israelites for their rash and ungodly demand, Aaron obliged them by taking up an unsanctioned offering. He personally collected gold from the people and then hand-crafted it into an idol fashioned in the form of a calf. This “golden calf” was likely crafted in the likeness of the Egyptian god, Apis. The cult of Apis sanctioned the worship of a living bull that was worshiped during its lifetime and then mummified after death. Upon its death, the search began for a new calf that would take its place. The Egyptians believed the dead Apis bull reincarnated as a new calf and perpetuated its own line. They believed this “god” had been created by a bolt of lightning from heaven and by careful study of its behavior, the priests of the Apis cult could divine omens and declare sacred oracles.

Whether Aaron used this particular Egyptian god as the model for his golden calf idol is unclear. But in fashioning this false god, Aaron led the people into idolatry and away from worshiping Yahweh. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai and discovered what had happened in his absence, he immediately confronted his brother.

“What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?” – Exodus 32:21 NLT

Rather than own up to his role in the matter, Aaron tried to persuade Moses that he had been an unwilling pawn in the hands of the insurgents.

“Don’t get so upset, my lord,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know how evil these people are. They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has gold jewelry, take it off.’ When they brought it to me, I simply threw it into the fire—and out came this calf!” – Exodus 32:22-24 NLT

He attempted to absolve himself from any responsibility in the affair. While 3,000 Israelites died for their roles in the rebellion, Aaron somehow escaped with his life. And when God sent a plague among the people of Israel as punishment for their idolatry, Aaron was spared once again. And amazingly, chapter 39 states that Bezalel and his craftsmen “made the holy garments for Aaron” (Exodus 39:1 ESV).

How could God allow this man to serve as the high priest over the nation of Israel? Had he not forfeited the right to wear the sacred garments and enter into the Holy of Holies where the presence of God was to dwell? Aaron had willingly and blatantly violated God’s commands.

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” – Exodus 20:3-5 ESV

And yet, this man would be allowed to wear the exquisitely crafted garments described in chapter 39, including “the ephod of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen” (Exodus 39:2 ESV). On his chest, he would wear the breastplate containing the “stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel” (Exodus 39:7 ESV). He would be adorned in a rich blue robe made from fine linen and hemmed with bells of pure gold and pomegranates made from blue, purple, and scarlet yarns. And on his head would be placed a turban with a golden plate that bore the inscription: “Holy to the Lord.”

Everything about this chapter seems wrong. It appears as if God has made an unwise and unjust decision by letting this man enjoy the privilege and honor of serving as the high priest. But God was not overlooking Aaron’s flaws and failures. He was not making concessions or compromising His holiness by appointing this obviously fallen man to such a lofty and sacred position. In a sense, Aaron was the perfect person for the role. He was a sinner who had been shown grace and mercy from God. He had deserved death for his actions but had been allowed to live so that he might offer atonement for the people of Israel.

As high priest, Aaron would serve on behalf of the people, but he would do so as one who struggled with sin just as they did. And because of his sinful nature, Aaron would be required to go through a ritual of purification before he would stand before God. He would also have to offer sacrifices on his own behalf before he could make atonement for the people. He too would have to experience the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God before he could serve as the people’s mediator. And the author of Hebrews reminds us that Aaron, in his role, was a foreshadowing of the greater high priest to come.

He [Jesus] is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins. The law appointed high priests who were limited by human weakness. But after the law was given, God appointed his Son with an oath, and his Son has been made the perfect High Priest forever. – Hebrews 7:26-28 NLT

Aaron would have to be made holy by God before he could serve. But Jesus was holy because He was God. In his humanity, Jesus was the visible image of the invisible God and His sinlessness made Him the perfect high priest. Jesus needed no purification. He required no robes to make Him holy. He had no sins of His own that demanded atonement. Unlike Aaron, Jesus was robed in perfect righteousness. He was the sinless Son of God who became the perfect high priest.

Aaron’s robes could only symbolize righteousness. But Jesus was righteousness incarnate.

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

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

Sufficient for the Task

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Feint Glow of God’s Glory

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.

34 Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, 35 the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him. – Exodus 34:29-35 ESV

Moses had spent 40 days and nights on the mountaintop in his latest encounter with God. During that time, he had gone without food and water, yet somehow God had sustained him physically. His close proximity to God had supernaturally supplemented his body’s need for physical food. Moses could have easily explained his divine enablement the same way Jesus did to His disciples.

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. – John 4:34 ESV

But the time came for Moses to leave the mountaintop and return to the people. He carried in his hands the new tablets of stone containing the Decalogue, but he was unaware of a physical transformation that had taken place during his time with God.

when he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to approach him. – Exodus 43:29-30 NLT

Moses glowed. His more than month-long encounter with God Almighty had left him physically altered. No explanation is given as to the exact cause of Moses’ glowing countenance, but it came as a direct result of his interaction with God. Somehow, the glory of God “rubbed off” on Moses, causing his face to give off a luminous incandescence that was visible to all those around him. The Hebrew word translated as “shone” is קָרַן (qāran) and literally means “to send out rays” or “to grow horns.” Evidently, his face emanated shafts of light that were visible to Aaron and the rest of the Israelites, but Moses was completely oblivious to this dramatic alteration to his countenance.

In his gospel account, Matthew records a similar experience that Jesus had with His disciples.

after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. – Matthew 17:1-3 ESV

During his time on the mountaintop, Jesus too glowed with the glory of God. And on that occasion, He was visited by Moses himself. These two servants of God had much in common, but while Moses served as the mediator of the old covenant, Jesus provided a new covenant that allowed both Jews and Gentiles to enjoy a restored relationship with God.

…dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are partners with those called to heaven, think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s messenger and High Priest. For he was faithful to God, who appointed him, just as Moses served faithfully when he was entrusted with God’s entire house.

But Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a house deserves more praise than the house itself. For every house has a builder, but the one who built everything is God.

Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ. – Hebrews 3:1-6 NLT

But on that day when Moses descended the mountain, he held in his hands the law of God, and his face shone forth the glory of God. In a sense, the tablets reflected God’s expectations of His people, but Moses’ face reflected their need for God’s power. Their capacity to obey God’s laws would not be self-produced but God-endowed. Laws written on tablets of stone would prove to be ineffective if the hearts of the people remained hardened and their faces failed to reflect the glory of God.

Moses had spent 40 days and nights in God’s presence, going without food and water, and yet he literally radiated an aura of spiritual and physical vitality. But at the sight of Moses’ appearance, the Israelites cowered in fear. It was not what they had expected. Their fearless leader didn’t look the same and his altered appearance left them confused and conflicted. The light that showed from Moses’ face didn’t attract them; it repelled them.

This scene foreshadows another time when the Son of God made His entrance into the world. The apostle John describes the coming of Jesus this way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

And Jesus would later expand on this theme of light in the darkness.

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:19-21 ESV

Moses was bringing the law of God and the light of God, but his own people rejected him. They turned their backs in fear and, in doing so, they demonstrated their love affair with darkness.

But Moses convinced them to return and “he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai” (Exodus 34:32 ESV). His face aglow with the glory of God, Moses imparted to them the commands of God – again. This was not new information, but it was being communicated to them in a new and unforgettable way. Moses was radiating God’s presence and this would have given his words far greater impact than ever before. This wasn’t simply a mortal man imparting legal requirements and moral mandates; it was a divinely ordained messenger from God communicating and reflecting the holiness of God. It was the apostle Paul who wrote “the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good” (Romans 7:12 NLT). 

This time, God was communicating His holy laws through a holy vessel to an unholy people. The glory of God reflected in the face of Moses was meant to emphasize the gravity of the message and the authority of the messenger. Moses had given them the law once before and while they had vowed to obey all that God had said, they ended up violating His commands and replacing Him with a god of their own making.

The law had not changed. What Moses communicated to the people was the same as it had always been, but the deliverer was dramatically altered so that the recipients might take his words more seriously. And evidently, God continued to bestow His messenger with a supernatural outpouring of His glory for some time to come.

When Moses finished speaking with them, he would put a veil on his face. But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil until he came out. Then he would come out and tell the Israelites what he had been commanded. – Exodus 34:33-34 NLT

This pattern would be repeated, all so that the people of Israel might take God’s messenger and message more seriously. But the apostle Paul reminds us that this divine strategy would run its course. The time would come when the glory on Moses’ face would fade, and the people’s reverence for the messenger and the message would dissipate. Sadly, Moses would continue to wear the veil long after God’s glory had faded from his face. And the people would eventually lose their fear of the light, reverting back to their love affair with sin and darkness. The apostle Paul provides commentary and much-needed insight into this fascinating passage,

The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. For his face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away. Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life? If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God! In fact, that first glory was not glorious at all compared with the overwhelming glory of the new way. So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever! – 2 Corinthians 3:7-11 NLT

Moses wore the veil to conceal the glory of God. But Paul reveals that, eventually, that glory faded. He also states that the people’s minds were veiled by sin so they couldn’t comprehend the glory of God contained in His law.

We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away. But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand. – 2 Corinthians 3:13-15 NLT

God had a better way in mind. But for the time being, the law was meant to serve as a foreshadowing of that better way. God revealed His glory through the giving of His perfect, just, and righteous commands. But the people would be required to obey them – completely and fully. And He had given His messenger an aura of His glory to validate the holiness of His message. But time would prove that the people of Israel “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 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 Source of all Sustenance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Key to God’s Blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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