Videos on Exodus – Send my People Back​

Get the book “God’s Book of Instruction” on Amazon.

The first five books of the Old Testament constitute God’s book of instructions for his redeemed people. It reveals the character of God and his good design for life. It bears witness to the beginning of his work of redemption. It equips the believer to live in God’s world, God’s way, as God’s image for God’s glory. What sin and death have broken, God’s people can rebuild by keeping to his instructions by the power of his presence with us.

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Notes from the video series

Video 1. Introduction to Exodus

The Book of Exodus is Moses’s account of God’s actions to save a people for himself. In the original language Exodus 1:1 starts with the word “and.” It is part of the one great plan of God which he put together before he created the world.

From the start we need to remember that God does what he does for his own glory. He acts for his name’s sake. This is a revelation of who God is. As one old catechism puts it – “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” As we read Exodus our focus should be on knowing God, before we think about how this works for me.

Throughout Moses’s account, right from Genesis 1, the gods of Egypt are shown to be fake products of human imagination. As we get to know the Creator God, he is going to take apart our ideas of how things work. We will have to let go of some of our deeply held assumptions and values. For Egypt this was a process of catastrophic proportions. For the people God saved, it was a process that took two generations. They saw only the beginnings of God’s saving work. Moses himself looked forward in hope. We look back on the completion through Jesus.

Jesus’s half-brother, Jude, wrote a letter to oppose some false teachers who were misleading God’s people. They denied that God could become a man, let alone die on a cross to pay for our sins. With a touch of sarcasm, Jude wrote

5 But I want to remind you, you knowing everything once and for all time, that Jesus, having saved a people out of Egypt, the next time, destroyed those who did not believe.

When people came to copy Jude’s letter, they thought it strange that Jesus could have “saved a people out of Egypt,” so they changed the text to “the Lord” or “God.” Our earliest copies are clear that Jesus did this.

Paul told the Corinthians that as the people of Israel travelled through the wilderness “they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:4). There was no literal rock rolling along behind Israel. God is called our rock many times in the Old Testament. This is a reference to a place of refuge and safety. Paul was saying that Christ had Israel’s back.

Jude and Paul could speak of Jesus, the Christ, leading Israel out of Egypt because Jesus is God. We forget this sometimes. We need to remember that when God saves his people it is the work of all three persons of the Trinity. Each one is all of God not a part of God. This is as much a revelation of the character of Jesus as it is of the Father or the Holy Spirit.

To appreciate what God did in these events we have to go back to Genesis 1:28

And God blessed them and God said to them, “Bear fruit and be numerous and fill the land and subdue it, and rule the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and every living thing that creeps on the land.”

As we open the book of Exodus we read:

And the sons of Israel were fruitful and they teemed and multiplied and were exceedingly numerous and the land was filled with them. (Exodus 1:7)

When Adam sinned God cursed the woman’s ability to have children and he cursed the man’s labour. But before he did that, he announced his plan to save his people.

The woman’s offspring would crush the head of the serpent’s offspring. The serpent’s offspring would strike his heel. The offspring of Satan, the snake, are the kings of this world who think they are gods. The pharaohs of Egypt claimed to be the offspring of their gods. By contrast God declared Israel to be his son. The true children of God are his people. In the events of the Exodus God reveals who is the real God and who are his children. In the process he also reveals who has the power to judge, to rule, and to save.

God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a nation, and that God would give him the land of Canaan. Abraham’s descendants formed the line of the woman’s promised offspring. They would be a blessing to the world. And God would bless those who treated them well and curse those who didn’t.

He also told Abraham that his descendants would

13 be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and they will serve and be humbled by them for four hundred years.

14 and then I will be judging the nation which they serve and after that they will go out with a great amount of goods.

(Genesis 15:13 – 14).

As we come to Exodus 1 we have come to the point where the offspring of the woman are as numerous as a nation, but not yet separated as God’s people. They live under the rule of the serpent’s offspring. His goal is the destruction of everything and everyone who belongs to God.

This is God saving a people for himself. This is part of the gospel story.

This Actually Happened.

When we talk about these events it is easy to give people wrong ideas. There is a long history of what is called “Re-written Scripture.” Hollywood has turned it into an industry. In the process we domesticate the Bible. That is to say, we turn it into our story, not God’s.

At the beginning of MGM’s 1956 film, “The Ten Commandments,” Cecil B DeMille emerges from the curtains to proclaim what he sees to be the central message of the book. It is “The story of the birth of freedom.” He poses the question, “Are men the property of the state, or are they free souls under God?” Released early in the Cold War, MGM used the Book of Exodus to affirm the American fight against the rise of communist totalitarian states.

In the DreamWorks 1998 version, “Prince of Egypt,” this message was updated to a more radical focus on me. According to the theme song, we can all get what we want, and make miracles happen, “if we believe.” It doesn’t seem to matter what “we believe,” just as long as we do.

Both films present the salvation depicted in the Book of Exodus as the product of human determination to rise up and claim what is rightfully ours. It is a motivational drama. The real message of Exodus is the very opposite. We cannot save ourselves.

When we retell these events we simplify them. It is hard to make something simple without distorting it. The worst examples are in children’s Bible story books and children’s talks in church. There are three big traps.

This is not a nice bed-time story. It isn’t another Mother Goose tale. Thousands of real people died. A greater challenge is to avoid traumatising children with the reality of the suffering and slaughter that happened here. Minimising it on the other hand turns this into fantasy or a computer game. We need to communicate this as something that really happened to real people.

This isn’t a morality story. This isn’t God’s version of Aesop’s fables. The point of the Exodus isn’t that good boys go to heaven and bad girls go to Amsterdam – a T-shirt popular in the red light district of that city. If people aren’t seeing God’s grace in saving a wicked people, then we have salvation by good works.

This isn’t a long motivational exercise either. God didn’t do this to whomp up our enthusiasm for worship, or get us to sing louder, or get more involved in ministry. He did this to save a people for himself so that they would live with him rather than spend eternity in hell. Our response is to be a choice, not just a feeling. The right choice is to repent, believe, obey, and trust him. That is a long learning process that involves practice. It starts with a commitment to Christ.

So before engaging in any discussion or teaching the kids etc. try to empty your head of what you think you know about Exodus, and just read the text carefully. Here is a quick self-test. When you have had a go at these questions check out the relevant scenes in the movies or any children’s Bible story book.

  1. Where did Moses’s mother put the box with the baby in it? Did she put the box in the water? Was the tar on the inside or outside of the box? Was the box more like a wicker basket or a cardboard box? Check out Exodus 2:3, 5.
  2. How old was Moses when he was taken into Pharaoh’s palace?
  3. How many pharaohs were there between the one who wanted to kill the Hebrew boys and the one Moses told to let my people go?
  4. How old was Moses when he met God at the burning bush? (Genesis 3). Clue: how old was he when he died? How many years did he wander in the wilderness?

Try these out and come back and join us for the next part of our series on Exodus when we look at what happened in Exodus 1 – 4.

Video 2. Exodus 1 – 4 Training God’s Ambassador

Between Exodus 1:7 and verse 8 some 250 years had passed. During that time lots had happened.

Jacob and his family weren’t the only people to come to Egypt during the famine.

Like Jacob’s family, most stayed. After those events the family that ruled Egypt lost power. Egypt as a country fell apart. For a significant period foreigners from the east took over the northern part of Egypt and ruled as pharaohs. Eventually an Egyptian general took the throne back into the hands of the Egyptians. His name was Ahmose and he lived around 1550 BC. By the way, the pyramids had been there for a thousand years by that time.

While Egypt was in chaos, the descendants of Jacob grew in number as God promised. Massive numbers of foreigners might be good for the economy but in Egypt at this time they were a real threat to the throne. So steps had to be taken. The next pharaoh, Amenhotep I, imposed compulsory labour for the state. Then he took to culling the male population.

According to Egyptian religion, Egyptians were the only people who could have a life after death. Everyone else was a non-person.

God promised Abraham that he would curse anyone who harmed his people. When God does that, he does it in style.

The Hebrew midwives feared God more than Pharaoh. Notice here that God’s work of salvation starts with five women. The two midwives, Moses’s mother, Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses’s quick witted big sister. They save lives.

The midwives’ answer to Pharaoh was confronting. His response was an attempt at genocide. God’s response was to make him look a fool.

The baby in the box reminds us of Noah’s family in another box. These are the only two places where the Hebrew word for a box occurs in the Old Testament. God wants the reader to notice the pattern. Those in the box survive. Those outside the box don’t.

Note that Moses’s mother put the box among the reeds. Unlike Noah’s box she didn’t float it on the water. It was a box not a wicker basket. Papyrus was used to make the earliest forms of paper. This would have looked like a carboard box covered outside in tar. You wouldn’t put a newborn inside a box with tar all over the inside of the box. The fumes would be terrible.

We find the royal family taking an early morning bath in the Nile as a regular practice. It was a religious ritual.

God used his enemy to take down his enemy. He also used a little girl with very quick wits to do it. Moses would have been around four or five years old when his mother handed him over to Pharaoh’s daughter.

Moses was around forty years old when he fled Egypt. A foreigner raised as a member of the royal family would always be a threat to the throne. Moses’s killing of the Egyptian for beating a Hebrew looked like he might start a slave revolt. He was wealthy and well educated, and able to travel.

We don’t know when he met and married Zipporah during that time. He was in Midian for another forty years. By the time he left to return to Egypt they had two sons who look to be still children.

The focus of the text is on God’s covenant promises and his covenant faithfulness. Genesis 2:24 – 25: “And God heard their groaning and God remembered his covenant with Abraham with Isaac and with Jacob And God saw the sons of Israel and God knew.”

In Genesis 3 Moses began to learn a lesson we are still learning. There is only one God. He is way more complex and way bigger than we think he is.

J.B. Phillips served as an Anglican minister in London throughout the horrors of World War 2. He discovered that most adults thought of God in terms that didn’t develop beyond their childhood. The god they believed in was not adequate to deal with the harsh realities of their experience. After the war, in 1952, he produced a cheeky little book entitled Your God is Too Small.[1] On the cover was a picture of things from a child’s nursery. It is easy for a child to assume that God is just some sort of imaginary friend.

At the not-burning bush that was on fire, Moses got a surprise. The bush spoke to him. This was an appearance of “the messenger of Yahweh” (angel of the LORD) (vs. 2). God spoke to Moses from the midst of the bush (vs. 4). He identified himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (vs. 6). He is named Yahweh (vs. 7). And his name means “I am who I am.” He alone exists without being dependent on anyone or any thing else. He is nothing like the imaginary gods of Egypt or anywhere else. And he has left his place outside the creation to come down and save his people. He keeps his promises.

The midwives feared God and stood their ground with Pharaoh. Moses offered God every excuse he could think of to avoid facing Pharaoh.

God gave Moses three signs to perform “that they might believe that Yahweh had appeared to Moses.” Moses was as worried about the response of the people of Israel as he was concerning Pharaoh.

Signs assure those who believe. For those who are not born again, Jesus said it would not make any difference even if someone were to rise from the dead. The challenge now was faith and Moses didn’t have much. God’s reassuring sign for Moses was a rebuke. “And he said “For I will be with you and this is the sign for you that I have sent you: when you bring the people out from Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain.”

In other words, “when you have done as you’re told, I’ll meet you back here.” Faith grows by obedience not by motivational talks. Like our muscles, it takes exercise and practice.

Moses was not a faithful Israelite up to this point. He was about to challenge the most powerful enemy of God to obey God but he hadn’t obeyed God himself. His boys weren’t circumcised. Judging by the reaction of Zipporah, it looks like she was not in favour of this act of obedience at all. Following her tantrum, Moses sent her home with the boys and he continued.

After forty years his older brother comes looking for him to tell him it’s safe to come home.

Moses goes first to the Israelites whose first response was to believe his words.

So some things to think about:

  1. We live in a world where the offspring of Satan claim the right to determine who is a person and who is not. We live in a culture of fear and anxiety. Hopes of a life beyond death are mostly nothing more than wishful thinking. The loudest voices tell us that we are just more complex animals and at death we cease to exist. What other similarities can you find between our culture and that of the Egyptians of Moses’s day?
  2. Fear versus faith. The answer to fear is to know who to fear.
  3. God exiled humanity from his presence so that we would not die. And then he comes to us to save his people. The goal of the exodus is reached when God takes up residence with his people. Think about how that pattern works throughout the whole history of God’s saving work through Jesus.

Video 3. Exodus 5 – 11 Taking Down the Fake Gods

The command is “Send my people.” In other words, “Give them back to me.” See Exodus 3:10.

Moses’s message to Pharaoh wasn’t so much “Let my people go” as it was “Send them to me.” The Hebrew word means to send. God was ordering the offspring of Satan to send his people to serve Yahweh. He was reclaiming his family. He was also summoning the people who would form the nation that would be the people of his kingdom.

The Bible will treat this whole process as akin to a bridegroom taking his bride and entering into a marriage covenant with her. The first step was to rescue her from a position of slavery. There are similarities here with Jacob’s marriage to Rachel (and Leah), and Hosea’s marriage to Gomer.

God is a jealous God. This is righteous jealousy. He is offended by one who violates a relationship that is between God and his people.

Pharaohs claimed to be offspring of the gods. God’s offspring is the people he redeems and who are made in his image.

The Egyptians believed in hundreds of gods and had multiple stories that sought to explain how life works. God sent Moses to take these gods down and to teach people who the real God is.

Each sign and plague targeted the gods and their myths. Some of the scenes were intended to make us laugh because to not believe in Yahweh is to be a fool.

The first three signs were shocking.

In the temples and monuments of Egypt it is easy to pick out the gods. They carry a stick called a was sceptre. Pharaoh had one. The priests who served these gods had their own sticks that were supposed to convey the powers of the gods. Moses and Aaron walked into Pharaoh’s court looking like a couple of shepherds with their sticks for poking and guiding sheep. Nothing magical there.

Pharaoh believed that the god Wadjet protected him. He wore a symbol of Wadjet on his headdress. Wadjet was a cobra.

In 2010 I visited the tomb of Thutmosis III who is the most likely pharaoh of the exodus. To get to his sarcophagus you go down a tunnel a hundred metres long. On both side of that tunnel is a painting of an enormous snake. The walls of his tomb are full of images of snakes, some with multiple heads. They are guardians for his journey to the afterlife. Yahweh demolished that lie.

Egyptian priests were famous for their medical skills. These were linked to other gods such as the goddess Sekhmet believed to have the power of healing. Yahweh demonstrated his power to strike down with illness or to heal.

Egyptians believed the Nile was the bloodstream of Osiris the god of the underworld. So God turned the Nile to blood.

My personal favourite was the plague of frogs. Egyptians were falling behind the foreigners when it came to having children. The Egyptian god Heqt was one of their gods of fertility. She was depicted as a frog. God provided lots of frogs. And so it went.

The plagues came in three cycles of three. At first Moses would go to Pharaoh, call for Pharaoh to send God’s people out to worship him. Pharaoh would refuse and the first plague would follow. Then Moses and Aaron would turn up unannounced at Pharaoh’s morning bath in the Nile and the second plague would follow his refusal. Finally Moses and Aaron would stand outside his window, perform some short piece of wordless theatre and another plague would follow. This cycle took place three times.

On the last round God took out their top god, the sun known as Ra’ or Amun. This was no natural eclipse, which would have frightened the Egyptians anyway. It lasted for three days. By the way things that happen over three days in the Bible always end with some mighty act of God.

God made this Pharaoh stubborn so that he could perform all of these signs and teach his people all of these lessons. The plagues took place over a period of about two years striking down successive crops.

The tenth plague struck at the heart of who is a child of God. Pharaohs thought they were superior beings because they thought that a god had mated with their mother to conceive them. They were half god half human beings. Lots of rulers have made that claim including the last emperor of China and the current Emperor of Japan. Even modern-day presidents and rulers who don’t believe in any god assume themselves to have the right to exercise the powers only God has a right to use.

We fear what we see. We take action to keep ourselves safe from what we see and fear. God made sure that Pharaoh, the Egyptians, the Hebrews and the surrounding nations would know that Yahweh alone is God. And he saves a people for himself. And no power on earth or in heaven can stop him.

Our assurance of salvation starts with the word of God and his promises and invitation to commit to him as lord and saviour. Our faith is based on the things he has done in history to save his people and reveal himself to us. We come to know about these things because he had people like Moses write down what happened and what he said as they saw and heard these things. God made sure they wrote down the truth accurately. These are God’s personal words to us as well as being the words of the eye and ear witnesses.

Unlike the Egyptians, our faith is not in our own fantasies or imagination. Our salvation is not a matter of wishful thinking.

As we present this to first time readers of the Bible, we need to make sure they understand that this really happened the way it is described in the text. Before we come to Christ we have to let go of all other gods, commitments, assumptions and values. Saving faith is abandoning ourselves to Jesus/Yahweh alone for salvation and serving him as lord of all.

Video 4. Exodus 12 – 15 From Lockdown to Triumph

The firstborn son was the primary heir in the family. Normally he inherited some level of authority over the wider family and control of the family’s property. In the history of the patriarchs, we discover that God decides who the primary heir is and he tends to pick the rejects.

The primary heir in God’s family should have been Adam. He had that privilege but threw it away to serve Satan. His heirs are then usurpers who have taken power over God’s world while rebelling against God. God come into the world in person as a man and as the primary heir of God’s world. He was God’s firstborn not because he was the first child born to God, but because he was the primary and rightful heir of God’s creation. When Jesus confronted Satan in the wilderness Satan offered him all the kingdoms of the world because they were his and he could give them to whomever he pleased. The only condition was that Jesus would be a vassal king serving under Satan. When Jesus told Satan to get lost, he asserted his right to replace Satan. So began the advance of the Kingdom of God.

Pharaoh was the offspring of the usurper, Satan. His heir was his son. God identified the people of Israel as his primary heir. They were the ones descended from Abraham, Noah and back to the woman, Eve. They were the line that carried the promise of a return of the world to God’s king. Jacob’s son Judah, was to have the status of God’s primary heir in trust. He was to pass this position on until the rightful king was born.

So the battle was on for whose firstborn son would rule. This was also a battle of the names.

Pharaohs of this period had multiple names – personal names, throne names etc. his throne name was “Lasting is the manifestation of Ra.” His birth name was “Thoth is born” or “offspring of Thoth.”

The Egyptian word for “is born” or “offspring” is the word Ms-s as we would say, Moses. He was Thoth Moses. Later there would be kings called “Ra-moses” being offspring of the sun god, Ra.

Moses spent his first forty years as a member of the Egyptian royal household. The Hebrew name Moses means something that has been pulled up or out. Moses was pulled out of the reeds on the bank of the Nile. He is not an offspring of any Egyptian god. But he was an Israelite and so a member of Yahweh’s family.

God is just. He wipes out anyone who would rebel against him. Everyone has. So in order for any to be saved from death, someone would have to die in their place. On the night of the last plague in Egypt, God taught the people of Israel, and us, this concept.

Like Noah’s family in their box and Moses in his box, those who stayed inside the home of an Israelite, and who marked the door posts and lintel with the blood of the lamb, would be safe.

It’s worth pausing and thinking about who in your family is a firstborn son. After nine plagues over two years it isn’t surprising that many Egyptians wanted their sons to be safe. That meant committing to become a member of the covenant people of God. Their men and boys had to be circumcised. But the door was open and the knives were ready to welcome all comers.

When Israel left Egypt, a mixed multitude went with them. They were not the only people who got the message. Israel may be God’s firstborn son but Israel isn’t limited to physical descendants of Jacob. Israel includes all who commit to Yahweh as lord, then and now.

The word translated Passover can mean either to skip over something or to stand over it to protect it. Either way, those who followed God’s instructions were safe. The rest were not.

Finally Pharaoh relented but not for long. Israel had to put as much distance as possible between themselves and Pharaoh’s army. God had a plan. He visibly appeared in the pillar of fire (remember the burning bush) and led them to where he wanted them. It wasn’t a place any responsible leader would have chosen. They didn’t realise but they were the bait in Yahweh’s trap. It isn’t a lot of fun being the bait in a trap with the most powerful army the world had seen coming at you.

Knowledge is information plus experience. Israel had the information. Now they needed the experience. Their first reaction was panic.

This generation of Israelites saw all of God’s mighty actions and still didn’t believe his words. When they are faced with any challenge, they speak and act as if God didn’t exist. They speak to Moses as if this was all his idea and doing. Yahweh is visible present right there and they ignore him.

The trap was sprung. Yahweh visibly took the people across to the other side of the sea. The place where this happened was probably somewhere along what is now the Suez Canal zone. We know that this area silted up not long after the exodus. The storage cities on the coast had to be moved because the sea had receded. Wherever it was the water was deep enough to drown horses and their riders. It was wide enough to fit Pharaoh’s army on the far side of the crossing and still drown them. And the crossing took most of the night.

Moses’s shepherds stick is called Yahweh’s staff as a counter symbol to the was sceptres of the Egyptian gods.

Thutmosis III was famed as a military commander. His chariots were superior to any other design. He used his army to maintain Egyptian unity and to take out the surrounding nations who threatened Egypt. His victories took him to modern Iraq, the Sudan and Libya. He was the greatest warrior the world had seen. God raised him up to make a point. As the people of Israel saw the bodies of Pharaoh’s army washing up on the shore that morning, they got the message. At least for the time being.

When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate he told him that he could call down an army of hundreds of millions of angels on the spot. Pontius Pilate could not touch Jesus unless Jesus chose to let him. And he chose to let him. He suffered in the place of all who would put their faith in him.

The safe place for Noah was in his box. The safe place for the baby Moses was in his box. The safe place for the firstborn sons on Passover night was inside an Israelite’s house that had the blood of the lamb around the door. The ultimate safe place is “in Christ.” We enter that place when we put turn away from our past subjection to other powers and commitments and commit to serve Jesus/Yahweh as Lord and saviour.

One has to experience the fear to experience the relief. For many firstborn sons there would be and should be a sense of survivor’s guilt.

Jesus turned the Passover meal into the memorial sign of the New Covenant when he instituted the Lord’s Supper. On that night he broke the rule and went out of the house and was killed. He calls his people to celebrate that feast and look around and discern the body of Christ. The body of Christ are those who have committed to him in repentance and faith. Together we sit at table with God as his forever family on the other side of his judgement. It is finished. Jesus paid it all. Israel sang and danced and celebrated. So can we.

Video 5. Exodus 16 – 19, 32 – 34 The Wedding Celebrated, Broken, and Renewed

We have all heard of sex trafficking. Every year a hundred million women go missing. In countries like Thailand and South Korea, Christians are actively working to get women out of sex slavery. My lecturer in Christian Missions was Harvey Conn. He trained pastors in South Korea for twelve years. He was concerned that his students saw themselves as privileged and entitled professionals. So he took them on a practicum. He set them up in pairs to go into the brothels along the demilitarised zone in the north. Running beside the military bases were brothels that held women in sex slavery.

The girls would come from poor families thinking they had a job in the city. Their employer would set them up in an apartment with new clothes and everything they needed. Then the girls would be raped and their possessions taken. The employer would require repayment for the money they spent. Prostitution was the only option to avoid a terrifying alternative.

Many of the girls were converted through the ministry of Harvie’s students. The problem was that if they left the brothers without paying their debts they would be brutally murdered. So Harvie went to the next General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in South Korea and asked for a large budget to purchase prostitutes.

Then came the shock. Like so many long-term prisoners, the girls had no idea how to handle their freedom. Many went back.

It’s one thing to be saved. But the next challenge is what to do with a life restored. Israel had some big choices to make. God presented these choices to Israel as a man might seek to convince a woman to be his wife.

Israel was free but in a place without food or water. They blamed Moses. Moses spoke to Yahweh. Yahweh rebuked the people’s lack of faith and provided the food and water. This was phase one of God’s training of his people to trust him.

The he brought them to Mt Sinai. We don’t know where this site is. There are several possibilities but we can’t be sure.

Moses was eighty years old. He went up and down that mountain seven times. God’s people assembled and Yahweh visible appeared at the top of the mountain where every eye could see him. God promised Moses that when he had done as he was told he would serve Yahweh back at this site. And so he did.

God then sent Moses down to the people with his proposal. This whole event followed the pattern of a marriage covenant. God gave Israel the choice:

“And Moses went up to God and Yahweh called to him from the mountain saying. “Thus you will say to the house of Jacob and declare to the sons of Israel 4 you yourselves saw what i did to Egypt and I carried you on wings of eagles and brought you to myself. 5 Now, will you obey my voice, and keep my covenant, and be my own out of all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you will be my kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:3 – 6.)

Jesus made a similar promise during that last Passover night:

“Do not let your heart be upset; trust God, trust Me too. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places. I would have told you if it wasn’t so. Because I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am too.” (John 14:1 – 3).

Moses summoned the elders and presented God’s proposal and they accepted (vs. 8). Moses took their answer back to the LORD and the preparations for the wedding commenced. The bride had two days to get ready. The wedding would take place on the third day. Until then the people of Israel had to keep well back away from Yahweh.

What followed was a covenant commitment in words that would be repeated many times, “I will be your God and you will be my people.”

God then set out his instructions for their new life. He was giving them back everything that sin, death and Pharaoh had taken away, damaged or destroyed. They were going to become a people whose attitudes and lifestyle would reflect God’s character. They were going to learn to live in God’s world, God’s way, for God’s glory as God’s image. They had a lot to learn.

Their next challenge was to build a residence so that the bridegroom could move in and travel with them. Meanwhile Moses went back up the mountain.

While he was gone the people forgot about Yahweh. If they couldn’t see or hear Moses they felt lost. So they tried to bring Yahweh back in the only form of worship that they had known. The Egyptians worshipped one of their gods in the form of a bull. So they talked Aaron into making a golden bull calf and naming it Yahweh.

This was a fertility god and fertility gods were worshipped in the form of sex orgies. Moses returned to find Yahweh’s bride having it off with another god.

What is remarkable is not that so many people died. What is remarkable is God’s persevering grace that not everyone died. Those who repented and recommitted to Yahweh survived.

Our salvation is not an on again off again affair that depends on our behaviour. It is finished, complete and cannot be undone. God will not lose any who are “in Christ.” He will forgive and he will restore.

It’s hard to learn to be free of sin and the power of Satan and his offspring. But Yahweh is with us as we do. And his grace never fails.

Video 6. Exodus 20 – 24 Learning to Live a Redeemed Life

This is a revelation of the character of God. It equips his people, freed from the bondage of sin, to rebuild the life that sin demolished.

The five Books of Moses (Genesis–Exodus) are often called “The Law.”[2] The Hebrew word (torah) means “instruction.”

My grandson was given a bicycle for his third birthday. It came in a box with a set of instructions. His dad had to put it together. It was also an opportunity to teach a boy to follow instructions: lessons for life.

Life is a lot more complicated than a flat pack of furniture, a car engine, or even the human body. “Freedom” is not about “life without limits.” True freedom is the ability to live in God’s world the way God designed it to work.

Pride tells us to work it out for ourselves. We don’t need the instructions. The strong person pushes the boundaries. Life is more exciting if we break the rules. These slogans often come with an accompanying cartoon of a woman watching a man make a fool of himself.

Life is messy, complicated, and damaged. If we are freed from sin, we have a lot to unlearn and relearn. We need to study God’s instructions. Those instructions are found in the whole Bible, not just the NT. Paul spoke of the OT when he wrote:

Every text in the Bible is God-breathed, and beneficial for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, and for training in righteousness; so that God’s person would be competent, thoroughly prepared for every good work.[3]

These aren’t random rules, like a dress code. It isn’t about ticking boxes.[4]

We live in different circumstances at a different point in the history of salvation. Circumstances change, but God doesn’t. God’s instructions reveal His character. They teach us how to respond to any set of circumstances in ways that will honour him, and put life back together.

He began by giving his people a summary of the main issues. We call this summary the Ten Commandments.[5] In the Hebrew they are “The Ten Words” or “The Ten Things.” They are summary statements about the ten things we need to deal with in order to live a life that is faithful to God’s character.

The Ten Things as Ten Perspectives on Life

James 2:10 tells us that to break any commandment of God is to break all of them. This is because to refuse God on any issue is to refuse God. It is personal.

The Ten Commandments work in two directions. If an action is going to offend God, then we need to do the opposite. If an action will please God, then failing to do it will offend him. For every commandment, there is a challenge to do, and an offence to avoid.

Learning to Love God and Others

We like to play rules off against each other. This allows us to choose what we like, and explain away what we don’t. Jesus didn’t give us permission to do that. He pointed us back to the character of God. He used Scriptures to explain Scripture, not neutralise it.

Some of these texts are difficult. We need to approach God’s instructions and commands with a new heart. What pleases our heavenly Father? How does this portion of God’s word help me do that? As we read the difficult passages, we should be excited to be learning how to do life better. We should not be trying to reconcile God’s character with the values of our culture. Christians are sent into the world to change the culture.[6] Jesus said “If you love Me, you will keep My commands.”[7] He also said “I came so that they might have life, and have an extraordinary life.”[8]

Jesus didn’t come to throw all of these instructions away. He came to fulfil/ complete them, and transform our lives. He called us to obedience[9] and affirmed the OT Torah:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to complete them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke[10] shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”[11]

The smallest letter was a yodh. Some letters looked almost the same. The differences came about through the direction or number of the strokes (tittles) of the pen. Jesus called for attention to detail.

The Pharisees thought obedience to rules was a way of saying “I belong to God’s chosen people. I am better than you.” They thought that by keeping the rules they could persuade God to restore Jewish independence, and bring in the messianic age. They searched the Torah and counted six hundred and thirteen commands. Three hundred and sixty-five said “don’t,” and two hundred and forty-eight said “do.” They argued about how these rules applied in all the possible situations they could imagine.

Jesus called their conclusions “the traditions of the elders.”[12] Somewhere around AD 200 the rabbis recorded these arguments in a book known as The Mishnah. It runs to over a thousand pages in English. Later they wrote commentaries on these rulings called The Talmuds.[13]

My mother-in-law used to say that making rules was like making nets; the finer the netting, the more holes. The rabbis were good at finding holes through which to escape the requirements of God’s commands.[14] By contrast Jesus said that Christians should search the Scriptures and work out the details of obedience.[15] He wanted them to do this out of love in response to God’s grace.

The Pharisees treated God as if he were a vending machine. They thought you could put in good works, and God would deliver the blessings. People who are saved by grace can make the opposite mistake.[16] We have God’s blessings already, so we have a tendency to ignore God’s instructions. Real love would have us search the Torah to learn how to return love for love. We should delight in knowing what God’s instructions are, so that we can better honour and glorify him.

God’s Instructions and the New Covenant

Christians traditionally divide the Old Covenant laws into the categories of sacrificial, civil, and moral. The sacrificial and civil laws are thought to no longer apply. The focus turns to laws of morality or personal lifestyle.

The New Covenant Church is not a geo-political state like Old Covenant Israel. Jesus sent his people into all the world, to live under whatever government is in place, in order to call people to Christ. God’s instructions for Israel’s political governance, and the conduct of her courts, teach us about righteousness and justice. Within the church we are called upon to settle disputes, call believers to repentance, and treat people justly. The church’s final sanction is exclusion.[17] This is done through the ministry of the word of God within the church. That means that we need to study the Old Covenant as well as the New to faithfully call people to live according to the character of God.[18]

Jesus showed us how to express God’s character under the New Covenant. He rebuked and corrected the Pharisees’ understanding of God’s instructions. He also showed us new applications for them.

Video 7. Exodus 25 – 40 The Bridegroom Moves In

“I am Yahweh who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; and you will be holy, because I am holy.”[19]

“So you will be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[20]

The Climax of Commitment

The narrative from Genesis 1 to Exodus 20 is introduction. Now comes the climax. Yahweh takes up residence with his redeemed people. This will change the lifestyle of God’s people and model the character of God for the nations to see.

Before God expelled mankind from the Garden, he promised to bring his people back to himself.[21] To make that happen, God came to where his people were. He rescued Israel from Pharaoh, the offspring of the snake. Then God set up his tent and travelled with his people.

God’s instructions were a blueprint designed to teach us about our relationship with God through Jesus. In these instructions Christians discover what it means to be the Holy of Holies, the place where the Spirit of God dwells.

God said “you will be My kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”[22] The Jews of Jesus’s day took this to mean that they did not need Jesus. They thought they were born holy, and had to maintain it. This meant obeying the rules, keeping away from people who didn’t, taking baths, and performing rituals. Even the apostle Peter struggled to let go of this culture.[23]

Quarantining Places and Objects

In October AD 1347, twelve ships arrived in the port of Messina, Italy. On board were rats carrying the bubonic plague. Between AD 1347 and 1351 this disease killed half of Europe. The rulers of Ragusa (modern Dubrovnik) required all ships arriving in port to be isolated for a period of forty days (in Italian quaranta giorni). Other states quickly adopted this practice. It came to be known as “quarantine.”

When God sent Adam and Eve out of the Garden, he set up his cherubim, with a flaming sword to prevent their return. God put humanity into quarantine to protect them from his holiness. Holiness is about purity. It involves separation from sin and rottenness.

At Mt Sinai Israel became the covenant people of God. The time had come for God to dwell with his people. They had to build a mobile dwelling for Yahweh. It would be surrounded by fences.

We call it “the tabernacle,” which is just an old word for a big tent. The Hebrew word means “dwelling.” Since Israel was on the move, God’s dwelling had to be portable.[24] The account of its construction is in chapters 35–40. Some of these details are a bit hard to work out, but we can visualise the main features.

Many people find this part of the Bible weird. It seems irrelevant. It is there to help us understand the depth and the complexity of our relationship with God. Jesus took down the fences when he took away our sin. That means that we have received a profound and complex gift. Without this part of the Bible, we cannot appreciate it.

The focus of the whole construction was a room inside the tent called the Holy of Holies. It was a quarantine, inside a quarantine, inside a quarantine. The priests kept the box (ark) containing the covenant document in there.

The outer room in the tent was called “the Holy Place.” Only priests were allowed in the Holy Place. It was a large room, completely enclosed and protected from the elements. Its furniture and art represented various aspects of what mankind once enjoyed with God in the Garden.

Inside the Holy Place was an altar on which incense was constantly burning.[25] Sin leads to death. Death stinks. Sin stinks. The burning incense was like a deodorant covering the smell. God was appeased by this fragrance. The rising smoke was also s symbol of the prayers of God’s people.[26]

The table of bread[27] held twelve slabs of unleavened bread, representing each of the twelve tribes. This was a reminder for the twelve tribes that God would never forget them.[28] These loaves were roughly 45cm square, set out in two piles of six. Each loaf contained 4.4 litres of flour, so they were thick and hard.

Under the New Covenant, these twelve loaves were replaced by one loaf.[29] When Christians share this one loaf, they are reminded that all believers in Christ are united in Him.

The lamp (menorah) was a stand in the shape of a tree.[30] It had seven branches on which sat seven oil lamps, each having seven wicks. It symbolised that God is light.[31] It reminded the priests who entered that our understanding of the world has to come from God’s word,[32] not our own imagination. The lamps were placed “on the front of the lampstand.”[33]

In the Book of Revelation this became a symbol for each of the seven churches to whom John wrote.[34] Every congregation of God’s people, under the New Covenant, is a light to the nations, because they bring God’s word to the world.

Outside the tent was an area surrounded by a fence.[35] Only men were permitted to enter this area. They brought offerings and sacrifices on behalf of their families.

There was a large altar. It was a furnace, made of bronze.[36] Sacrificial animals were killed, butchered, and burned there. This part of the holy area was an abattoir. There was a huge water basin where the priests could wash themselves, and the animal carcasses.[37]

Once the whole structure had been erected,[38] each tribe brought six wagons and twelve oxen so that God’s dwelling could be transported.[39] They also brought dishes, pans and other implements needed to process the sacrifices and offerings.[40] Over twelve days each tribe offered their first sacrifices with feasting. Moses was then able to go into the Most Holy Place where God visibly appeared above the cherubim.[41]

People who violated the quarantine died. When the tabernacle was finally set up and operational Aaron’s sons were acting as priests. They didn’t follow God’s instructions and they died on the spot.

God is holy. In order to enter into his presence, one must be holy too. And so after Jesus had paid for our sin, risen and ascended into heaven, he could then send the Holy Spirit to dwell in and with his people. When that happened the believers heard the roaring sound that was made by the pillar of fire. They saw little pillars of fire sweep in and rest over the heads of each believer.

God calls Christians saints not sinners. “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)

As we stand before God we are without sin. There is no charge that can ever be laid against us ever again. Jesus paid it all. We are holy, righteous and blameless. It’s not what we have done but what Jesus/Yahweh did for us. He then comes to dwell in us and with us. We are now the mobile residence of God on earth. As Jesus promised, where we go, he goes. Every minute of every day those who are committed to Christ stand in the Holy of Holies.

The challenge is now to be in practice what we are in Christ – holy.

Endnotes

[1] (London: Epworth Press). See http://thecommonlife.com/files/books/Your_God_is_Too_Small.pdf accessed 26DEC2014.

[2] Psalm 119:1; Matthew 5:17–18; 12:5.

[3] 2 Timothy 3:16–17.

[4] This cartoon is used with the kind permission of Mike Waters; see http://www.joyfultoons.com.

[5] Exodus 20:1–17

[6] Jeremiah 29:7; Matthew 5:13.

[7] John 14:15.

[8] John 10:10. The idea is that the Christian life will be different to the norm, remarkable, as well as prodigious, abundant, more than sufficient, and beyond the quality and significance of other lifestyles. A standing joke in my household, when the spaghetti hits the fan and life gets intense, is to turn and ask each other “Are we having an abundant life yet?” “abundantly”/ “in abundance” (KJV, NKJV, NRSV, NASV, ESV, CSB), “far more life than before” (JBP), “in (all) its fullness” (NEB, TEV, REB, ICB), “in its fullest” (CEV), “in the fullest possible way” (NIrV), “a rich and satisfying life” (NLT), “have it to the full” (NIV).

[9] Matthew 28:18–20.

[10] The scribes knew that the Scriptures were God’s words. To change God’s words was a great sin (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6). When they copied out a book of the Scriptures, they counted the letters to make sure they hadn’t added or missed any.

[11] Matthew 5:17–18 cf. also Luke 16:17.

[12] Mark 7:3.

[13] The word Talmud means “teaching.” There are two Talmuds. The Jerusalem Talmud was completed in the fourth century AD and the Babylonian Talmud around AD 500.

[14] Mark 7:8–13.

[15] Matthew 23:23.

[16] Romans 6:1; James 2:17, 26; 1 John 3:10.

[17] Matthew 18:15–20; 1 Corinthians 6:1–11.

[18] 2 Timothy 3:16–17.

[19] Leviticus 11:45.

[20] Matthew 5:48.

[21] Genesis 3:15.

[22] Exodus 19:6.

[23] Acts 10:28.

[24] The instructions for its construction are set out in Exodus 26.

[25] Exodus 30:1–10.

[26] Revelation 5:8.

[27] Exodus 25:23–30.

[28] Leviticus 24:5–9.

[29] 1 Corinthians 5:8; 10:17.

[30] Exodus 25:31–40.

[31] John 8:12; 9:5; 1 John 1:5.

[32] Psalm 119:105.

[33] Numbers 8:1–4. These were oil lamps. It is difficult to visualise what the menorah looked like but seven wicks burning in each of seven lamps placed on each of the seven branches of the menorah would produce a lot of light.

[34] Revelation 2:1–7.

[35] Instructions for its construction are set out in Exodus 27:9–21.

[36] Exodus 27:1–8.

[37] Exodus 30:17–21.

[38] Exodus 35–40.

[39] Numbers 7:1–9.

[40] Numbers 7:12–88

[41] Exodus 25:21–22; Numbers 7:89.

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