TO THE PROMISED LAND: OUT OF EGYPT
&Read Exodus 1-4
The Bible does not give a precise date for the exodus from Egypt. The text never names any of the pharaohs involved. Biblical scholars are divided between two possible dates. The early date would place the exodus about 1446 BC, based on 1 Kings 6:1, which says the dedication of the temple (966 BC) occurred 480 years after the exodus. However, the number 480 may be symbolic, as Hebrews thought certain numbers have special significance, especially 40 and 12 (which multiplied gives 480). It may refer more loosely to 12 generations rather than a precise time. The late date falls during the reign of Rameses II after 1279 BC; one of the cities the Israelites helped to build was named Rameses (Ex. 1:11). Also the people of Moab and Edom, which Numbers 20 says opposed Israel, did not exist as nations until the 13th century. We have found no archeological remains to settle the question. For more discussion of the date of the Exodus, see this article (optional reading).
Pictured here is the stele (historical marker) of Pharaoh Merneptah, son of Rameses the Great, who ruled over Egypt in the late 13th century BC. The Merneptah Stele is significant to biblical archaeologists because it is the earliest extra-biblical reference to the nation of Israel yet to be discovered. The mention of Israel in the land of Canaan is very short; it simply says, “Israel is laid waste, its seed is not.” Nevertheless, despite its brevity, the reference is very telling. It indicates that at the time the inscription was engraved, the nation of Israel was significant enough to be included by name among the other major city-states which were defeated by Merneptah in the late 13th century BC. From the Cairo Museum.
Exodus picks up the story of Israel several centuries after the end of Genesis. The text says that this Pharaoh did not remember Joseph or what he did for Egypt. Jacob’s descendants are now a large population whom the Egyptians fear might revolt against them, so they have enslaved them to build great cities.
The Hebrew midwives stand up to Pharaoh in an act of civil disobedience, obeying the laws of God rather than man. Note that the midwives are named in the text, but not Pharaoh. God honors those who serve Him, rather than the powerful in the eyes of the world.
God provides a deliverer with the birth of Moses. His Egyptian name means “drawn from the water” as a reminder of his rescue in the basket. The text does not indicate that God led Pharaoh’s daughter to this spot, but God can use even unbelievers to fulfill His purposes. "Pharaoh thus unwittingly protects and nurtures the very agent through whom God will deliver his people from Pharaoh's oppression. Egypt may have forgotten Joseph, but despite the outward appearances, God has not forgotten his covenant with his people" (Briley).
Moses’ sister Miriam is not named until 15:20.
As an adult, Moses kills an Egyptian and flees to Midian in the Sinai peninsula east of Egypt. God hears the cries of his people and tells Moses that he is the one to confront Pharaoh, telling him to let the people go.
Mt. Horeb, “the mountain of God,” is the same as Mt. Sinai (Deut. 4:10). The precise location of the mountain on which Moses met God is unknown, but the general region possibly lies in the south of the Sinai peninsula (modern day Saudi Arabia).
When he nears the bush that burns but isn’t consumed, Moses hears a voice, saying he must take off his sandals for this is holy ground. The word holy means sanctified or set apart by God for special use or service. A Jewish family would set aside special candlesticks for the Sabbath. Christians are called holy, not in the sense that we are morally perfect (“holier than thou”), but that God has set us apart from the world for a special purpose (1 Corinthians 1:2). God’s calling makes us holy, not our own actions.
God tells Moses to explain to the people that “I am” has sent him. The name Yahweh, which God reveals to Moses in 3:15 and 6:3, is a form of the Hebrew verb “to be.” God is the one who exists and gives life to everything. Only He exists within Himself, depending on no other source of power. In many English Bibles, Yahweh is translated as LORD (all caps).
Almighty God calls a weak man to do an extraordinary thing. Moses is full of excuses, but God ultimately says – “Moses, this isn’t about you. It is about me! I am the great I AM.” God permits Moses to have his brother Aaron speak for him.
God gives Moses miraculous signs to prove that he is from God. Two of these signs he later demonstrates before Pharaoh: the staff becoming a serpent, and the water turning to blood. The text never says if he used the sign of leprosy.
In 4:21 God says that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart against letting the people go. This raises a difficult question: did Pharaoh never have a chance to accept God’s message and obey Him? Did God condemn Pharaoh beforehand in an act of predestination?
Notice that the text says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart several times (8:15, 32; 9:34). Perhaps an illustration will help to explain. If Tom says, “Bill makes me so mad!” we understand that Bill isn’t manipulating Tom’s emotions in some mysterious way, so that Tom’s anger is beyond his control. Something Bill does causes Tom to react in a negative way.
In a similar way, God’s command to let his people go challenged Pharaoh’s authority, which the Egyptians believed derived from their gods. Egyptians believed that Pharaoh represented a god on earth. The presence of the one true God and His mighty power caused Pharaoh to harden his heart in stubborn refusal to admit a Being greater than himself. In this sense, God’s actions hardened Pharaoh’s heart by opposing him, without assuming that God had taken away Pharaoh’s free will. God merely affirmed in Pharaoh what Pharaoh had already decided to do. There is no one whom God rejects who has not rejected him first.
Throughout the Bible, God gives men and women a choice to follow Him: “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live, and that you may love the Lord your God” (Deut 30:19-20). “Choose this day whom you will serve … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). “They hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord” (Proverb 21:9). “If any man chooses to do God’s will, he will know of my teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak for myself” (John 7:17).
The Statue of Moses is by Michelangelo
& Read Exodus 5-13
Moses initially requests that the people be allowed to leave temporarily to worship in the desert. Pharaoh fears they will not return. He thinks they are lazy and makes their work even harder by ordering them to collect their own straw for bricks. The people complain that Moses has made their lives worse, not better, and in turn, Moses complains to God: "You have not rescued your people at all." But God confirms his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give their descendants the land of Canaan.
Pharaoh’s magicians could duplicate the serpent from the staff and the two plagues of blood and frogs, but not the gnats (one wonders where the magicians got their water, as the text says that all the water, even in buckets and jars, had turned to blood). Perhaps these were mere tricks, or perhaps power from Satan to confront God; the text does not say. They could duplicate the plagues but not reverse them -- which would have been more helpful to Pharaoh; they didn’t need more frogs! Usually frogs were a good sign, as it meant that harvest time had come. But in this case they were too much of a good thing.
As the plagues grow worse, Pharaoh tries to negotiate with God. He will allow the men to leave but not their families, to ensure that they will return. Then he says that they must leave their livestock. But unlike the time when God allowed Abraham to negotiate the rescue of Sodom, God is in no mood to bargain with Pharaoh.
Ex. 12:12 says that God sent the plagues to “bring judgement against all the gods of Egypt.” Several of the plagues appear to strike at specific gods and question their power. The Nile was the lifeblood of Egypt, sometimes called the blood of Osiris, god of the underworld; thus it is fitting that the Nile turned to blood. Heqt was a frog-headed goddess, but could not control the second plague. Sehkmet (lion) protected her followers from epidemics, but she could not stop the death of the livestock, nor could Hathor (cow). The ninth plague, darkness, blotted out the sun, worshipped as Ra or Amun-Ra. The jackal-headed Anubis, lord of embalming, did not prevent the death of the first born.
Osiris Sehkmet Hathor
Amun-Ra Ra Anubis
Note that God protected his people from the plagues. Even darkness did not cover the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived, indicating that this was not a natural phenomenon such as an eclipse.
You should learn the ten plagues in order for the exam.
The Passover bread was unleavened for two reasons; they were in a hurry to leave, and leaven was a symbol of impurity to the Jews.
Lamb's blood on the doorposts was a sign for the angel of death to pass over the house. In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul describes Jesus as our Passover lamb, whose blood causes God to overlook our sins. Just as Israelites remembered their salvation from Egypt by eating the Passover, Christians today eat the Lord's supper in memory of Jesus' sacrifice. The original Last Supper given by Jesus for his disciples was in fact a Passover meal.
The month of Aviv (Abib) falls around the end of March or first of April.
& Read Exodus 14-17, 19-20
The Greek translation of the OT called the place of crossing the Red Sea, but the Hebrew actually says, “sea of reeds,” possibly one of the fresh water lakes above the Gulf of Suez. In any event it was deep enough to drown the Egyptian army.
Egyptian chariots held two people, the driver and an archer and were very deadly on the battlefield. No wonder the Israelites panicked when they saw six hundred of them coming after them.
An Egyptian chariot from the Museum of Cairo
Even after God rescues them by a spectacular miracle (one of my all-time favorite movie scenes from The Ten Commandments), the people begin complaining almost immediately. Despite their ingratitude, God continues to provide them what they need. He provides fresh water from bitter, and sends quail and manna. Manna sounds like the Hebrew words "man hu" meaning "What is this?" (16:15). Notice that they were not to hoard the food, as any leftovers would spoil. Perhaps this is a lesson for us today, on how we should not seek to keep more possessions than we need. Our lives should not focus on accumulating things.
The Amalekites were descendants of Esau and continued to be an adversary of Israel.
First mention of Joshua in 17:14.
For the exam you should learn the Ten Commandments in correct order.
& Read Exodus 32-33
When God tells Moses about the people's idolatry, he says, "Let me alone so that I may destroy them and start over." Similar to Abraham pleading to save Sodom, Moses asks God to spare them, not based on the people's innocence but on God's reputation among the other nations and his faithfulness to his promise to Abraham.
In this story notice how Aaron refuses to take responsibility for his actions; he claims that once he threw the gold into the fire, a golden calf simply "came out." This shifting of responsibility for sin resembles the excuses that Adam and Even made: "The woman gave it to me" ... "The serpent told me to do it."
The shameful episode of the Golden Calf represents the theme we see throughout Exodus: the contrast between God’s faithfulness and Israel’s faithlessness. After reading about God's performing numerous wonders on behalf of his people, we may shake our heads in disbelief at their willingness to abandon the living God for a dead idol. However, the Bible tells us that idols do not have to be physical objects, that any thing or attitude that takes priority over God becomes an idol for us.
Today many of us worship at the altar of materialism, as our culture tells us that we can never have enough. We must buy the latest gadgets or clothes or fads, even as our closets and shelves are already full of things we don't use. In Colossians 3:5, Paul calls greed idolatry. Individualism has become an idol in our society. We insist on our right to do what we want, our right to protest, to smoke, to own a gun, to have an abortion, to sue anyone who offends us. Christianity stands in sharp contrast to this attitude, calling us to consider our responsibilities toward others more important than fighting for our own rights. Until we rid our lives of these idols, we should not criticize the Israelites for theirs.
"After dealing with Israel's sin, God reassures Moses that he still intends to drive out the current inhabitants of Canaan and give Israel the land he had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet God also speaks of distancing himself from Israel out of concern that the people will sin again, leading him to follow through with his threat to destroy them (33:3-5). This strong statement by God reveals just how challenging it is for God in his holiness to dwell in the midst of an unclean people. In addition, it may represent another test for Moses. If so, Moses once again passes the test, as he says, 'If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?' Moses realizes that even though God's presence poses a danger if Israel does not respect his holiness, without God's presence Israel possesses no distinctiveness and cannot fulfill God's purpose.
"In keeping with Moses' recognition of the critical need for God's presence, he boldly asks to see God's glory (33:18). Although the great disparity between God's holiness and human sinfulness makes it impossible for a person to see the fullness of God's glory, Moses receives a partial fulfillment of his request. The language in this passage represents another concession to human limitations in understanding God and the nature of a relationship with him. Rather than suggesting that God has a physical body, it conveys the sense that Moses sees as much of God's glory as a human being can. In verse 11 of this same chapter, the text says that God would speak to Moses 'face to face' in the tent of meeting. In this context 'face to face' is an idiomatic expression that conveys how God speaks to Moses directly in contrast to the way he typically speaks to the rest of the people through Moses.
"In ch. 34, God also reveals himself to Moses in one of the great summary statements of his nature in Scripture: 'the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.' The emphasis in this statement falls upon God's patience and graciousness without denying his punishment of those who are hardened in rebellion. These are the very qualities God has demonstrated in his restrained response to the sin with the golden calf. Israel has suffered significant losses but has not received the fate the nation deserves." (Briley)
The remaining chapters of Exodus describe the design and building of the Tabernacle. This was not a place where people gather to worship like a church. Only priests could enter the Tabernacle itself, and only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant rested. A veil separated this inner sanctuary from the rest of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was primarily a physical sign of the presence of God, dwelling in the midst of His people.
Priests offered daily sacrifices on behalf of the people. Later, when Israel had a king, he would perform certain rites on their behalf. On festival days such as Passover, the people would gather around the Tabernacle, but not inside it.
From the illustrations below, be familiar with the major items inside the Tabernacle.
The Ark of the Covenant contained the Ten Commandments, a jar of manna (Ex. 16:33), and Aaron’s rod that miraculously budded (Numbers 17:10; Hebrews 9:4). The lid on the Ark was decorated with two cherubim with wings outspread. No one could touch the Ark because of its holiness. Priests carried it by poles inserted in rings on the side. Because the Ark was probably destroyed by the Babylonians when they sacked Jerusalem in 586 BC, no one knows exactly what it looked like, but here is one artist's conception: http://dwellingintheword.wordpress.com/2010/12/page/3/.
On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the high priest would first sacrifice a bull for his own sins, then choose one of two goats to sacrifice; the other (called the scapegoat) he would let go free in the desert, symbolically carrying away the sins of the people. Then he would enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle blood from the sacrifice onto the lid of the Ark (Lev. 16). Unlike our images of a shiny gold ark, after years of this sprinkling the Ark would have been covered with layers of blood, a gory symbol of the people's sins (remember, no one could touch the Ark so it never was cleaned).
In the NT, the Greek word for this lid, hilasterion, became the word used for atonement, as Jesus’ blood washes away our sins today. An early translator of the Bible into English, William Tyndale first used the term atonement, “at-one-ment” to mean being reconciled to God, being "at one with God."
In the NT, Hebrews 10:4 says that "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." These sacrifices for Israel were temporary, having to be repeated every year, but they foreshadowed the ultimate and eternal Day of Atonement in the death of Christ for us, after which no other sacrifices are necessary: "We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (10:10). Unlike the high priests of the past, Christ had no sin himself. He served as high priest and the sacrificial victim, dying not for his sins but the sins of the world.
Why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn't God simply forgive us without this terrible sacrifice?
God cannot be just and uphold the laws He has made if He simply says “Your sins do not matter to Me; there is no price to pay for breaking My commands.” That wouldn't be justice in a human court, so how could it be justice for God, who represents ultimate justice? What if God told Adolf Hitler, “It doesn't matter what you did, you're free to go” ? That would be an outrage against justice, even in a human court. God does not treat sin lightly, as if it were a minor thing without significance, something He could simply overlook. Sin must be punished one way or another for justice to exist.
As a perfect being, God represents both perfect mercy and perfect justice. If God merely dismissed our sin, then He would be merciful but not just. In Romans 3:25-6 Paul argues that in order for God to be both just and the justifier of the faithful, the price of sin had to be paid by someone. Jesus willingly took our sins and our punishment upon himself; he "became sin for us" (2 Cor 5:21).
We see the background for this concept of suffering in the place of someone else in Isa 53:4-6: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The amazing thing is that God in His mercy decided to place the punishment on His Son, rather than on us. That's the meaning of forgiveness, the “amazing” part of grace. Simply saying “I forgive you” wouldn't have cost God anything. That kind of forgiveness is easy, with no consequences for anyone. The gospel says that forgiveness cost God His only beloved son, making grace priceless.
NEARING THE PROMISE LAND
& Read Numbers 13-14
The Hebrew title of this book, Bamidbar, means "In the Wilderness." The book of Numbers gets its English title from the census of the tribes of Israel. Numbers 1:46 gives a total of over six hundred thousand men of fighting age. Many commentators consider this number to be unrealistic, as it would indicate a total population of two or three million people staying together as they moved through the desert. The Bible describes the Israelite camp as no larger than the distance covered by the sound of two trumpets (Numbers 10:1).
With an army this size it seems unlikely that Israel would have feared the Canaanites, as they express in ch. 13. Archeology indicates that there were no more than three million Canaanites in the land at this time. Furthermore, Deuteronomy 7:7 says, "The Lord did not choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples."
One possible solution to this problem recognizes that the Hebrew word eleph, translated “thousand,” can also mean a family clan (Numbers 1:16; Judges 6:15) or a military unit (1 Samuel 17:18), in which case the actual number would be much smaller. English translations do us a disservice by not making this distinction. A better translation might be "six hundred units" of indeterminate size. So the total number of Israelites at this time was probably less than a literal reading of the census suggests; some commentaries suggest 100,000 or less, but we cannot know for certain.
Numbers 10:11 picks up where Exodus left off, as the Israelites prepare to leave Mt. Sinai for Canaan. They had camped at this place for about a year.
In ch. 13 the people have reached the outlying borders of Canaan. Moses chooses 12 men to spy out the land before they attempt to enter. Ten of the men report that the people there are too powerful for them to conquer. Only Caleb and Joshua believe that God can lead them to victory. Unfortunately, the people follow the majority view, and begin complaining to God once more, at the very moment of their potential success.
When God becomes angry with the Israelites and threatens to destroy them, Moses argues not on behalf of the people (who have no excuse) but for the sake of God’s reputation. If He were to abandon his people now, the nations would scoff at Him for failing to provide for them after their escape from Egypt (14:13-16). God does not destroy the people but condemns their generation to wander in the desert for 40 more years (a round number; Deut. 2:14 says 38 years). Ironically, this was an answer to their prayers: "Would that we had died in the wilderness!" (Num. 14:2)
Upon hearing God's judgement, the people change their minds and try to enter the land by their own strength, but are beaten by the Amalekites and Canaanites. They cannot take the promised land by their own efforts, but only with God's help. For their unbelief, this generation must die out before any of Israel will receive the inheritance promised to Abraham.
In the NT, the unknown author of Hebrews uses the unbelief of the Israelites to warn Christians:
"So, as the Holy Spirit says: Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, 'Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.' So I declared an oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.' See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. ... So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief (Heb. 3:7-12, 19).
& Read Numbers 17, 20:1-13
The miraculous budding of Aaron's staff was a sign from God demonstrating his priestly authority, which some had challenged (ch. 16). The role of priests were very important as they were the only ones who could enter the tabernacle and offer up sacrifices for the people (Num. 18:1-7). This ritual had to be performed exactly as God commanded. Num. 3:4 says that Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu died because they offered "strange fire" to the Lord and did not follow the commands about proper sacrifices.
Once again the people complain to God about having no water. He tells Moses to speak to a rock and God will provide a fountain of fresh water. However, Moses, in anger at the people, strikes the rock instead. The text does not clearly say, but this act of disobedience seems to be the reason that Moses is prohibited from entering the promised land. Some commentaries suggest rather that his sin was aligning himself too closely with God, as he tells the people, "Shall we bring forth water out of this rock?" Moses was claiming power which only God has.
"Moses striking the Rock" by Tintoretto (1577)
& Read Numbers 21:4-9, 22-23:1-12
The story of the bronze serpent as a cure for snake bite becomes an interesting symbol in the NT. In John 3:14-15 Jesus says, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
In 2 Kings 18:4, King Hezekiah destroys this bronze serpent which some Israelites had begun to worship as an idol, taking God's blessing and turning it to evil.
Tintoretto's painting of this scene
After a generation has passed away, God tells Israel to prepare to enter Canaan once again. But he prohibits them from attacking Edom because they are descendants of Esau (Deuteronomy 2:4-6) and from fighting the Moabites and Ammonites because Abraham's nephew Lot is the ancestor of these two nations (Deuteronomy 2:9, 19). God remains faithful to the promises made to Abraham's larger family.
The Moabite king Balak, however, fears the Israelites and plots against them. The tale of Balaam and the talking donkey adds a humorous element to an otherwise serious theme, that God can use even his enemies to bring about his will. Rather than curses, Balaam eventually delivers four blessings on Israel.
However, despite God's protection, Israel's encounter with Moab turns tragic. Balaam later advises the pagan women of the land to tempt the Israelites into worshipping Baal and participating in sexual immorality (Numbers 31:16), and God punishes them with a plague (Numbers 25). Balaam is killed during one of the battles (31:8).