March 3: Exodus 1,2
The story of Israel as a nation picks up in Exodus with a reminder that the sons of Jacob had come and settled in Egypt. After the death of Joseph they remained in the land for at least 400 years, according to the prophecy of Genesis 15:13,14. During this time there arose a new dynasty that no longer considered Joseph highly, and instead, considered his the growth of the people of Israel to be a great risk to the stability of Egypt.
For the first time in their history the descendants of Abraham became slaves. But despite the severity of their slavery, and the direct attempts of the rulers to limit their growth, Israel continued to grow in numbers and strength. The story is written in such a way that the real power is that of God who continued to care for his people, even in the midst of adverse circumstances.
As will be the case so often in the unfolding drama of redemption through the Bible, God’s answer to the problem was the right man in the right place. And, in what must be recognized as a dramatic preview of Messiah’s entrance into history, God brings his deliverer – Moses – into the world with a sense of the supernatural.
Against the commands of the rulers, Moses’ mother hid him after his birth. And when he was too old to conceal, she built a floating crib and secreted him away to the Nile river to be watched over by his sister. As only God could have planned it, Moses was eventually “saved” by the very family that had ordered the death of all Israelite sons. God was intimately in charge of this little boy’s life.
Moses, the eventual deliverer of his people, was raised in the home of Pharaoh, benefitting from the best in Egyptian education and culture. But he never forgot his ancestry or his people. His zeal led him to kill an Egyptian guard, which forced him to flee to the deserts of Midian. There he first defended, and then befriended the daughters of a Midianite priest named Jethro, and later married his daughter Zipporah.
The chronology of Moses is instructive. We will see that he lived for 120 years, and his resume can be broken evenly into sections of 40 years each. He lived for 40 years in Egypt as a son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Then he spent 40 years in the Midianite desert as a goat herder before being sent by God back to Egypt to lead the people out of Egypt, only to wander for 40 years before he died. The moral? God often takes longer to prepare us for his work than we would want. And let’s never forget that God can use an 80 year old who is focused on serving him!
Prayer: Father, I thank you for the story of Moses. Too often I wonder if you’ll use me, and now I realize that every stage of my life is in your hands, and being used by you to prepare me to testify to your grace and glory. Thank you for knowing me, and for promising to use me as I walk closely with you, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
March 4: Exodus 3,4
These two chapters are all about the call and preparation of Moses to re-enter Egypt as God’s deliverer. It must be recognized that Moses is a reluctant deliverer, and also has not been an obedient follower of God. Nevertheless, God first drafts him, and then crafts him, despite his many protests, to be his man in bringing Israel out of Egypt.
Moses first encounters God through the burning bush. The invisible God allows himself to be experienced in the form of fire. But the fire is no ordinary fire! It burns, but does not need any fuel. The bush is not consumed! This depicts the fact that God is not dependent upon anything outside himself.
The call of God to Moses brings about 5 different protests from him (vs. 11, 13, 4:1, 4:10, and 4:13). Moses is clearly not excited about returning to Egypt. But in each case, God has the answer. He will go with Moses, revealing himself as the “I Am” or ever- being One. When Moses protests that the people will never believe this, God initiates a supernatural gift that will go on through biblical history to show God’s messengers as valid spokesmen for him. This is the first place where God allows a human to perform a miracle, and as we can see, its purpose was to validate the man as God’s messenger. Again Moses persists in refusal. After all, he is not eloquent. But God reminds him that his mouth and ability to speak are God’s to make and improve. Lastly Moses just blurts out that someone else would be better. This brings about the wrath of God for it shows that, at the bottom of Moses’ hesitancy is his doubt that God knows what is best.
In the end, Moses sets out for Egypt. As he travels God explains that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that, despite the miraculous signs, he will not let the people leave. As we will see, each of the 10 plagues was a slap in the face of an Egyptian god, and God intended to destroy the Egyptian pantheon in order to demonstrate the fullness of his sovereignty before rescuing the people.
But, while Moses is now willing, and equipped with the power to perform miraculous signs, one area remains to be reformed by God: his heart. The confusing paragraph of 4:24-26 is best understood against the backdrop of God’s command to Abraham that all his male descendants be circumcised. It is apparent that Moses had disregarded this essential covenant obligation to God. As he traveled God’s wrath was kindled against him, and he came to judge Moses for his neglect. Zipporah, recognizing the situation, circumcises her son – apparently against her own wishes! – but this causes God to relent, and Moses’ life is saved.
Prayer: Father, I thank you that, because of Jesus’ completed work on the cross, I no longer fear you, or the just punishment of sin that I so deserved. Your forgiveness of me is not because of me, but only because Jesus is my Savior. Thank you for loving me, and for taking me into your family forever, because of Jesus, Amen.
March 5: Exodus 5,6
It is clear that at first, Moses’ entrance into Egypt as a deliverer did not go so well. While the people welcome him, and resonate with his declaration that their covenant-keeping God has come now in power to rescue them, Pharaoh is unmoved by Moses’ announcement. He doesn’t recognize either Moses or his God. Instead, Pharaoh moves to make the lives of the people even harder. This turned the hearts of the people against Moses. What kind of deliverer makes things harder? And where is the power of God?
Moses turned to God, and asks some of the same questions. Once again, we see that God has not chosen a man of great strength, great character, or great abilities. Certainly, by the time God is done with him he will be among the most outstanding men ever to live. But it was not always so.
Chapter 6 begins with God once again showing that everything is going according to plan. Both Pharaoh and the people will see the greatness of God! He instructs Moses to go again before Pharaoh and declare the command of God to let the people leave the land. Once again we see Moses involved in protest. The people haven’t listened, and neither will Pharaoh. As before, God does not give any credence to the objections. Moses and Aaron are to go before Pharaoh and represent the commands of God. Their only concern must be obedience to God. They must not determine how they will act on the basis of anything else.
The genealogy that follows at first seems to interrupt the narrative. But if we follow it carefully we see that it gives the “standing” of both Moses and Aaron. They are descendants of Levi, yet it is not their priestly lineage that is important here. Vs. 26 gives the reason for the genealogy: it simply shows that neither Aaron nor Moses was really anything! They had no credentials, no standing in Israel. They were not important or famous or men of great strength or accomplishment. The author here – Moses late in life – intends to show that these men who dared talk back to God. These were the men, however, that would be used mightily by God.
Prayer: Lord, I confess that sometimes I am jealous of others who seem to have more ability, more opportunity, and more success than I do. Thank you for reminding me through the story of Moses and Aaron that it is not so much ability as availability that you use. May you use me Lord, in whatever way you deem best, by your grace and for your glory, Amen.
March 6: Exodus 7,8
Once again Moses and Aaron stand before Pharaoh and declare the demands of God. To prove their standing as God’s messengers, Moses throws down his staff and it becomes a snake. Shockingly, the sorcerers of Egypt did the same. Even when Moses’ snake ate up the others, Pharaoh’s heart was not moved. What we learn here is that not every “supernatural” event is from God. This is very important to understand in our day as well.
At this point God begins to inflict plagues on the land of Egypt. As mentioned before, each plague was directed at a particular god within the Egyptian religious system. They believed in various gods who ruled over the water, the Nile, the weather, the bugs, and even the frogs and other creatures. The greatest god was represented by Pharaoh himself, who was the incarnation of Ra, the Sun God. When, in the end, the angel of God takes the life of Pharaoh’s son, it will be the final demonstration of the sovereignty of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The first plague centered on the Nile River. The Nile was literally the life blood of Egypt. Its water brought life, and consequently, it was treated as a god. The staff Moses carried was the symbol of God’s authority and power that had been invested in him as God’s deliverer. With it he struck the Nile and it turned to blood, killing everything in it, and making the water unfit for any use. For seven days the Nile was toxic. Yet, Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened. God had hardened it for his purposes, and it remained so, according to God’s plan.
The second, third, and fourth plagues all made use of animal pests. The Egyptians worshipped many gods, and among them were those represented by the frog, the fly, and the gnat. The land was overwhelmed by these pests, one at a time, demonstrating that the God of Israel was not restrained by any of the Egyptian gods. The gods of the Egyptians were powerless. There is only one God, and he was on Israel’s side.
After the second and fourth plagues Pharaoh relented and promised to let Israel leave. Yet, each time Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to keep his word.
The story of the plagues is important in that it demonstrates a crucial principle regarding God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. While it is evident that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it is also apparent that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Both things are true. God was in complete charge of all things, including the fact that he wanted to carry out all 10 plagues, leading up to Passover, in order to fulfill his plan to deliver Israel from Egypt. Yet, it is also apparent that Pharaoh is held responsible for his hardness of heart, his duplicity, and his harsh treatment of God’s people. God’s sovereignty in no way dismisses human responsibility.
Prayer: Gracious God and Heavenly Father, it is humbling to realize that you are in charge of all things, and you work all things for your glory. I don’t understand just how that all works out, but I know that whatever you have for me as I walk in righteousness is always best and right. Help me to trust you. Help me to obey you. And use my life for your glory, through Jesus Christ my Savior, Amen.
March 7: Exodus 9,10
The fifth, sixth, and seventh plagues descend on Egpyt and increase the adversity on the people. Pharaoh must have begun to wonder just how bad it was going to be. The fifth plague probably was related to the second. The piles of rotting frogs would have created a huge amount of the bacterial cause of hoof and mouth disease, which probably took the lives of most of Egypt’s cattle
The sixth plague, coming unannounced, was the first to directly affect humans. This foreshadows the final plague as well, the death of the firstborn sons. The connection between the soot from the kilns – symbolic of Israel’s slavery – and the skin of the Egyptians is also evident.
Once again we see the Lord being responsible for hardening Pharaoh’s heart. The interchange between Pharaoh hardening his heart, and God doing it is purposeful. It demonstrates the necessary, if unexplainable, truth that God’s sovereignty in no way overrules human responsibility.
The first six plagues formed 2 cycles of 3 plagues each. After the third plague, Moses went again before Pharaoh and delivered God’s command to free the people. Now, after the second cycle of plagues, Moses again approaches Pharaoh. His lecture to the King includes a pronouncement of even greater plagues if the King does not relent. God declares that he has actually “raised Pharaoh up” for the express purpose of show off his power, that the name of God may be proclaimed in all the earth. It is evident that God’s agenda is greater than just the rescue of his people. He intends that the news of his mighty works in Egypt will flow out to the surrounding countries.
The seventh plague comes on the country with great effect. The hail and thunder devastated the crops and trees. God’s protection of Israel is seen in that no hail fell in the land of Goshen. Pharaoh, again, appears to relent and give in to Moses’ demands only to “sin yet again” and harden his heart in refusal to obey God.
The third cycle continues with the eighth and ninth plagues. With each one the devastation is heightened. Moses declares that the locusts will come through the land and devour what the hail has left. The prospect of complete destruction of the remaining food supply causes the servants of Pharaoh to plead for his to give in to Moses’ demands, but in the end he refuses once again.
The ninth plague completes the third cycle and brings about a darkness that is meant to illustrate the complete spiritual corruption of Egypt. The people who love the darkness will now be brought to bear the consequences of it. Pharaoh’s failure to obey God will bring the direst of results upon the people in the tenth plague.
Prayer: Father, the power you have displayed in creating and sustaining the world, and in judging unrighteousness leaves me humbled and in awe. It also reminds me that you are not a God to be ignored, or trifled with. Father, increase my awe of you today. May I tremble at your Word, and then be comforted in knowing that you are on my side, forever, holding me in your eternal arms of love, because of Jesus. Amen.
March 10: Exodus 11, 12
At first reading this chapter seems a bit disjointed. But if we follow the original grammar here’s what we find. The last few verses of chapter 10 start a conversation between Moses and Pharaoh. The text of 11:1-3 is a parenthesis, and gives the reader an understanding of what the Lord had previously told Moses, concerning the final plague. It is on the basis of this message from God that Moses had concurred with Pharaoh that they would not ever be face to face again (10:29). 11:4 continues Moses’ declaration to Pharaoh that began in 10:29 which makes sense when we see “your servants” in 11:8, which must refer to Pharaoh’s servants. (Sorry if this is confusing! Your problem is with Moses, not me!). Vs. 8 also shows that Moses had been speaking to Pharaoh, and left in anger. The last verse reminds the reader that the entire event of the plagues and the hardheartedness of Pharaoh had been God’s doing all along, that his “wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.”
Chapter 12 chronicles the origin of the Passover. God knew that the final plague that would secure Israel’s rescue would also be an ongoing preview of his eventual rescue of humanity from bondage to sin. The Passover lamb would be a symbolic preview of the Lamb of God that would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). In a preview of the laws that would follow, God is very specific about how the Passover was to be celebrated. God cares about the details.
Passover was to be a feast followed by seven days during which no leaven (yeast) was to be allowed in the homes or eaten. The symbolism was related to the fact that Israel was called upon to leave Egypt in a hurry, and did not even have time to grab the yeast as they left. It was also true that leaven was often a symbol of impurity or corruption, and the cleaning out of the house was meant to remind the people that those who harbored sin were unable to worship God with clean hands and devoted hearts.
But the primary use of the Passover was the sacrifice of the lamb, and the putting of blood on the door posts of the home. God had declared that the Lord would pass through and strike down the firstborn of each home. But, if he saw the blood on the door posts he would “Passover” that home and leave it alone. Moses explained this to his people who obeyed his words, and not one Israelite home fell under the judgment of God.
For a second time in the Bible (the Flood was the first) we see an awful and sobering judgment from the hand of God. All those who died that night received the just reward of their sinful hearts. All those who were spared received mercy, but only because they were “under the blood.”
Prayer: Father, I am so thankful for the Lamb of God – Jesus my Savior – whose sacrificial death means that you will always shower me with mercy and never judgment. I know that I don’t deserve your grace, but you have promised forgiveness to those who cry out in faith, and that is my only hope, all because of Jesus my Passover Lamb, Amen.
March 11: Exodus 13, 14
The final plague brought the final demonstration of God’s power, and Israel fled from Egypt in a hurry. They had entered as a small clan of brothers, but now are leaving as a nation (see: 12:37). Estimates range upwards from 1 million people when you include women and children.
Chapter 13 once again describes just how important the Passover feast and the days of Unleavened Bread will be in the history of the people. When they enter into the promised land of Canaan, they must not forget the power of God in delivering them.
God intended that his people always rely on him and not their own strength or family. He instituted the law that every firstborn be consecrated to the Lord. That means every firstborn animal or child belonged to God. It could be redeemed back, but only with the payment of a price. This was God’s way of constantly reminding the people that their deliverance and their ongoing wellbeing was tied, not to their possessions or family, but to God who had “brought them out of slavery with a strong arm.”
As they left Egypt God led them in the way they should go. Once again the invisible, omnipresent God allowed himself to be experienced as visibly present. This time it was through a pillar of smoke by day, and a pillar of fire by night. This visible representation of God’s presence never left them. God was with his people.
But in following God’s direction, Israel found themselves in a cul-de-sac, with the sea before them, and the chariots of Pharaoh’s army behind them. Again we are told that this was exactly as God had planned it. He had determined to once again demonstrate his power and glory in a single event through which both his judgment of the wicked, and the deliverance of his people would be shown.
Again we see the staff of Moses in action. God once again validates Moses as his leader and spokesman through the performance of a magnificent and miraculous sign. This would further cement his position as God’s leader before the people.
The story of the deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea is another in what will be a long line of events that accomplish two things: judgment and deliverance. The flood was the first, judging the world while delivering Noah and his family from the corruption of human society. Here we see it again. The Red Sea miracle delivered Israel even as it brought judgment on the Egyptians. Certainly as we read these stories we are being primed to understand the Cross where sin and Satan were defeated while sinners were delivered through the grace of God.
Prayer: Father, once again I am forced to marvel at your ways. Part of me doesn’t understand your acts of judgment, but I do realize that it must remind me just how sinful sin really is, and how much it deserves your just wrath. But I am also reminded that you have saved me from your wrath, parting the waters of the sentence I deserved, in order that I might walk safely into a new life in Christ, my Savior, in whose Name I pray, Amen.
March 12: Exodus 15, 16
Moses had proven himself to be a quick learner, and he was fast becoming a great leader. But turns out he was also a writer of songs! Chapter 15 gives us one of 3 songs he wrote that have been preserved (see: Deut 31:22; Ps. 90). Someone has dubbed this one “Victory at Sea” which will help us remember its contents.
That this song has been preserved shows us that God intends for us to use the arts in worship. We are to remember and be able to reflect deeply on the mighty works of God, and artistic representations of God’s attributes and actions can play a large part in keeping our hearts soft to the greatness of God.
We also glimpse here the benefit Moses gained from being educated in Egyptian culture. His 40 years in the house of Pharaoh prepared him in so many ways to write, lead, and sing for God.
Having crossed the Sea, and now free from the threat of Egyptian forces, Moses leads the people out into the wilderness. The lack of water brings the people to the point of grumbling. As we read the following chapters we will find that they people grumbled at least 10 times!
This time the Lord responded to their need by turning the bitter water of Marah (“bitter” in Hebrew) into sweet, drinkable water by means of a log thrown into the pool. But the point God made was simply that, if they would obey God’s commands, and walk obediently before him, he would always provide for them. This was their first test, and as we will see, the people had very short memories. Every time they faced adversity, they grumbled rather than remind themselves of God’s faithfulness.
Chapter 16 brings us the second “grumbling” episode. While they had water, food was in short supply. Rather than wait patiently for the Lord (who had already parted the sea, and given them water!) they suggested that it would have been better to stay in Egypt!
But once again God is patient with his people, and “rains” bread out of heaven, called manna. But even this is meant to bring with it a spiritual lesson. They are not go gather more than they need for one day. If they are greedy, all they gather will spoil. This keeps them dependent upon God for their “daily” bread. But, on the day before Sabbath, they are to gather enough for 2 days, and when they do, it will not spoil!
Once again, God had provided for his grumbling people. And once again he had provided an ongoing lesson for them, that he could be trusted with their very lives. But, as we will see, the human heart is prone to selfishness, independence, and a critical spirit. Unless God changes the heart, even his best gifts will go unappreciated.
Prayer: Father, I confess that I too often don’t appreciate the fullness of the blessings you have given me. I am too preoccupied with what I don’t have, and not nearly thankful enough for what you’ve given me. Today, let me live with a grateful heart, thankful for your presence in my life, thankful for the eternal forgiveness I enjoy, and ready to give you the glory, honor and praise through the way I live, through Jesus, Amen.
March 13: Exodus 17, 18
The story of the water from the rock comes on the heels of the people’s grumbling once again. This time it is clear that their attitude is really a “testing” of the Lord. The text describes the fact that they are putting God on trial, and finding him guilty of failing them. Moses is exasperated and asks “what shall I do with this people?”
The Lord turns it into a teaching situation that will have far reaching effects on the people, and on Moses. The chapter narrates the arrangement of a court setting (vs. 5,6). Moses convenes the court with the elders of the people. God “stands” before them as the defendant, and makes himself synonymous with the rock. The people believe God is “guilty” when it is them that bear the guilt of rebellion against their God. Nevertheless, God symbolically tells Moses to “strike” him (the rock). It is clear that the symbolism shows God taking the punishment that justly should have fallen on the people. Yet, his substitution for them provides a benefit to them. Moses strikes the rock and the water flows from it. (When we get to Numbers 20, remember this story!)
For the first time we see Israel facing the opposition of another nation. The Amaleks have noticed the Israelites traveling through their land. It must have been apparent that they were not men of war, and seemed to the Amaleks to be an easy prey. Moses is determined to meet the opposition in the power of the Lord.
The staff of Moses again comes into play. In this very first battle, it will be the power of God that gains the victory, symbolized by the raised staff of Moses. For the first time we also meet Joshua, who serves as Moses’ military leader. Little is said of the battle except that the Israelites were victorious because they were fighting under the “banner” of the Lord.
At some point Moses had sent his wife and two sons back to her father’s house. Now Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brings Moses’ family back to him. The news of God’s triumph over the gods of Egypt has reached him as well, and now he is convinced that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is greater than all others.
Up to this time, Moses was the only leader in Israel with the authority to settle disputes among the people. It becomes evident to Jethro that the situation will soon exhaust Moses, and frustrate the people. He suggests that Moses share the burden of deciding judicial matters with “able men from all the people, who fear God.” This is the origin of the elders of Israel who share leadership authority, a model that will eventually find its way into the synagogue, and eventually into the New Testament church. Leadership under God is best handled by a plurality of godly men.
Prayer: Gracious God, today I thank you for the “water of life” that is mine because of Jesus Christ my Savior. I thank you that he took my place, enduring the punishment my sin deserved, and bringing me into your arms as a beloved child. Help me today to live as your child, no longer focused on my selfish desires, but only on your glory, for the sake of Christ Jesus, Amen.
March 14: Exodus 19, 20
When Moses first encountered God in the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-12) God promised him that, once the people had been delivered from Egypt, he would “serve” God on Mount Horeb.
Chapter 19 refers to the mountain as Sinai, but Deuteronomy 1 makes it clear that it is the same location as Horeb. God has kept his promise, has brought Moses and the people to the mountain, and he intends to meet with them there in order to given them the laws that will set them apart as belonging to him.
Moses ascends the mountain and God gives him a short, but extremely important speech. Often referred to as “the Eagles’ Wings” speech, vss. 3-6 show God’s heart of love to Israel, and a rich renewal of the covenant promises made to Abraham. God has delivered them “on eagles’ wings” and promises that they will be his “treasured possession” among all peoples for all the earth belongs to him. Here we see that God’s intention is for Israel to obey him, and shine as a light among the peoples as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Later, Peter will offer these same blessings to those who are in Christ (see: 1 Peter 2:9).
Moses relates God’s promises to the people, calls them to consecrate themselves, and be prepared for the Lord to come down on the mountain. His presence will be experienced again by means of a cloud.
Moses ascended the mountain, and the Lord descended in a thick cloud and thunder. The presence of God filled everyone with great fear reminding us all that the presence of God is not something to be considered lightly. The people were warned not to get too close lest they be consumed by the presence of God.
Exodus 20 contains the summary of the Law known as the Ten Commandments. The purpose of the Law was manifold. First, it would provide a standard that displayed God’s demands for mankind. Second, it would demonstrate that no man could live up to that standard, and that a mediator would be necessary. Lastly, it would identify Israel as a peculiar nation, dedicated to God, and unlike any other culture or society in the world. The Law would be a hedge around Israel, separating it from everyone else, and unto God.
The Ten Commandments were both positive and negative in their prescription. For example, the commandment not to murder also prescribed that life be considered valuable in the eyes of God. While it prohibited murder, it also prescribed all that would protect and promote life. Each of the commandments was meant to operate in the same way.
Prayer: Father, the story of the giving of the Law reminds me that you are holy, and majestic and awesome in power. Forgive me Lord, for sometimes thinking too lowly of you, as though you were just one of my peers. Forgive me Lord for being frivolous in my worship, and lax in my appreciation of your greatness and position as Lord of All. Thank
you for reminding me today that your glory fills the heavens, and that you have graciously called me to be your child, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
March 17: Exodus 21,22
If the Ten Commandments give the foundational moral principles that were to define Israel as a people, the rest of the Law was given to explain more specifically how God intended his people to live and distinguish themselves as belonging to him. This section, extending from 20:22-23:33 is known as the “Book of the Covenant” (see: 24:7)and was a detailed description of God’s covenant expectations place on these people with whom he had entered into an intimate, personal relationship.
Chapter 21 takes up the idea of slavery. While the very idea of slavery is contemptuous to us today, in the ancient world it was a common and even useful element in society. Slavery was most often entered into voluntarily in Israel, in order to pay off debt or simply to exchange servitude for food, clothing and lodging. Poverty made slavery a popular alternative to destitution in the ancient world. The important thing to recognize is the care God demanded be extended to slaves by their masters. This idea is carried on in the New Testament as well (see: Ephesians 6:5-9).
Notice also that a daughter that was “sold” via a bride price (or dowry) by a Father as a bride was considered a “slave.” This shows us that the idea of “slave” had a more noble sense in Moses’ understanding than the negative connotations we attach to the word and the concept today. In such cases, if the terms of the marriage were not fulfilled (vs. 10) God demanded that the daughter not be “sold” to foreigners, but either be redeemed by her Father, or designated for his son, or allowed her freedom. Again, the focus is on caring well for the one in the position of greatest risk.
Throughout these chapters we see God’s justice at work. There is an overriding priority for those in authority to be treated with honor, for proper restitution when the proper order of things is broken, and a high value placed on rectifying situations in a way that is best for the community. The law of God is best understood not as restrictions place on people by God but as defining the bounds in which a free and productive society may continue to exist despite the brokenness of the human heart and the ongoing presence of sin.
Prayer: Father, thank you for recognizing that my heart needs to be safeguarded by your law. Thank you for the law of Christ that has freed me from the law of death because of sin, and enabled me now to obey you. Help me to live out my belief that what you have for me down the path of obedience is always my best option, and to see my sin and selfish for what it really is: dishonoring to you, and harmful to me, even as I cling to my Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
March 18: Exodus 23,24
Chapter 23 brings us to the end of the Book of the Covenant. The first three verses remind us of Psalm 1, and certainly form the basis of that Psalm’s exhortations. The
way of the righteous always leads away from an abuse of power and toward helping those in need.
The Book of Covenant ends with a reminder about honoring God through the various iterations of the Sabbath principle. We see that it extends beyond a “one day a week observance. The Sabbath principle was an ongoing reminder that human effort could never accomplish what God expected. Rather, true, dependent worship would be demonstrated through the cessation of effort, and reliance upon God alone. This principle finds it fulfillment in the rest we have in the Lord of the Sabbath, our Savior Jesus Christ, in whom we rest from any sense of human achievement. It is his work, not ours, that has secured our right standing before God.
Interestingly, the last part of vs. 19 provides the basis for what Judaism refers to as the laws of kosher. From this enigmatic exhortation a whole host of laws forbidding the mixture of meat and dairy has arisen, when actually the point of the verse is to illustrate the injustice of bringing death to a young goat by means of the very milk that brought him life.
The chapter ends with God’s promise regarding the land that awaits Israel. God will go before them, and when they enter the land, and encounter the inhabitants, they must not join in their idolatrous practices. Rather, they must rid the land of all idolatry for they will be greatly tempted to adopt the religions of the people, and this will be their undoing. Unfortunately, this warning will go unheeded, and Israel will be plagued by their infatuation with idolatry throughout their history.
Chapter 24 picks up the narrative from 20:21, having been interrupted to give the Book of the Covenant. The entrance of Moses into the presence of God is here detailed. Moses and his aides had first consecrated themselves and then they “went up and they saw the God of Israel ... they beheld God and ate and drank.” In a spectacular scene we see that God had rescued his people and brought them to Sinai ... to share a meal with them! In this we see the relational aspects of God’s covenant love. It is clear that “seeing God” meant that they were in the cloud that was symbolic of presence.
In Chapters 19-24 it seems as though Moses was going up and down the mountain several times. While is it difficult to be precise, we can know that, while it is said he “went up” seven times (19:3, 20; 24:9, 13, 15, 18; 34:4) yet he only “went/came down” four times (19:14, 25; 32:15; 34:29) according to Old Testament scholar Walter Kaiser. It is apparent that he made the round trip at least 3 or 4 times, and on two occasions remained with God for 40 days.
Prayer: Father, in reading your Covenant with Israel I am reminded of your great care for those you love, how you are a provider and a protector. Lord, I am so thankful today that I am yours through the New Covenant that Jesus has initiated through his blood, and in which I am forever clean and forgiven before you. Thanks be to Christ! Amen
March 19: Exodus 25,26
Chapters 25-31 chronicle Moses’ second 40 day meeting with God during which he received instructions for building the Tabernacle and initiating proper worship.
We first learn that the purpose of the Tabernacle was that God might once again dwell in the midst of his people. This theme is so important! Eden was originally a place where God lived with man. Yet, sin ruined that arrangement and mankind was banished from the face of God. Now, God intended to re-establish a relationship with his people Israel whereby he would dwell with them by means of a large leather tent that symbolically represented his house, his dwelling place.
The specifics of the Tabernacle once again demonstrate that God cares about details, especially when it comes to the worship and respect he deserves from his people. While the specifics of the Tabernacle at times will seem complex, it will help to think of the Tabernacle simply as God’s dwelling place ... the tent where he is going to live.
The various layers and poles and curtains of the Tabernacle, along with the special furniture, make it clear that the Tabernacle represented the place where God lived, ate, drank, cooked, and entertained guests. It was in every way a home fit for a King in that day. It had a lamp stand for light, a place for bread, and outer court, and inner great room (the Holy Place) and even private quarters for the King (the Holy of Holies). But it also was representative of the grandeur and power of the King, and was not a place to be taken lightly.
The Tabernacle was divided into rooms with a series of curtains, and once again God was very specific about the color, the length, and the fabric of the curtains. He also designed the whole tent to be portable, since the people were not putting down roots, but were journeying to the land God had promised them. In a very real way, their covenant-keeping God, who had now identified them as his peculiar people by means of his law, was joining them on their journey.
Inside the Tabernacle the Holy Place was separated from the Holy of Holies by a thick curtain made of twisted strands of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and linen. Images of Cherubim filled the fabric as well. It surely must have been a magnificent piece of art. Yet, its purpose was to mark and mask the entrance into the very presence of God. While God intended to make his presence dwell among his people, it was also necessary – for their sake! – that he not allow them to get too close for his holiness and justice could not tolerate their sin.
Prayer: Father, I know, and am so thankful, that I can enter into your presence because the veil hiding you has been torn down because of Christ. In him I need not fear your wrath and justice! Yet, I also know that too often I forget that you are holy, holy, holy. Forgive me Lord, for those times when I lose my awe of you, and act in ways that take your grace for granted. Help me be holy, Father, that my life may reflect your glory before a watching world, in Jesus Name, Amen.
March 20: Exodus 27,28
The plans for the Tabernacle continue to be given to Moses. The Tabernacle, God’s tent, must have everything the King will need.
First, an altar for cooking, and the pots and pans necessary are commanded, along with all that is necessary to carry them when the nation is on the move. A King also needs a courtyard where his servants can do their work. So a find court is designed, ringed with majestic curtains supported by grand pillars for the privacy of the King.
And speaking of servants, God gives instructions concerning a new class of Israelites who will be taken from among the descendents of Aaron. He, along with his sons and two others will be consecrated to serve the Lord in the Tabernacle.
These servants of the King must be appropriately dressed as befits those in his presence. Their clothes are to be finely made, with specific colors, fabrics, and thread. Again, God cares about the details when it comes to those who will serve him.
It is also apparent that these servants will not only serve God, but will in so doing be representatives of the people. Aaron’s garments will include stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Wherever Aaron goes, the nation will symbolically go with him. He will bear their names, and in so doing, they will be serving the Lord as well.
As you read God’s requirements it might raise the question of just how a recently enslaved people, now nomadic in the desert, could hope to find all the gold, fine fabric, and precious stones and metals necessary to build the Temple and outfit the priests according to God’s specifications. We need only remember that, just before they left Egypt, the people had been told by God to go to their neighbors and ask for gold and jewelry and other valuable items. God had so ordained it that the nation of Israel left Egypt with great wealth, and now we know why. Again, God can be trusted to take care of us, and to provide for us all he will one day require of us.
Prayer: Lord, the instructions about the Tabernacle remind me just how seriously you take this thing called “worship.” Forgive me Lord, for thinking I can offer you anything less than my best. Help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to find in you all that I need to walk the paths of righteousness today, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
March 21: Exodus 29,30
The final piece concerning the Tabernacle is the consecration of the men who will serve the King. Moses is told to follow an elaborate set of instructions that will bring about a ceremony before the people at the “tent of meeting” (vs. 4). This was a temporary tent, first mentioned in Exodus 27:21, where Moses and the people could entreat God. We do not know its origin, but we do know that it never came to be a “dwelling” for God. Until the Tabernacle was constructed, the “tent of meeting” was used for the purposes of calling upon the Lord. In this chapter we see that the consecration of the priests was to take place there as well.
The consecration of the priests included Aaron being dressed in the prescribed garments, with the robe, ephod, apron, coat, turban, and crown in place. It must have
been quite a spectacle as this group of nomadic people watched Aaron set apart for service in representing them before Almighty God.
A second element in the ceremony was the anointing of Aaron’s head with oil. The oil was symbolic of the very blessing of God, and came to be recognized as such throughout Israel’s history (see: Ps. 133). As the oil flowed down, it told the people that God’s blessing would as well “flow down” on them as they consecrated themselves through obedience to him.
Next came the sacrifices. Various animals were sacrificed, some to be burned outside the camp representing the removal of the people’s sins, and some to be offered to God on the altar.
Vs. 45 reiterates the purpose of all these rituals: “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.” The presence of God changes everything! In order for a holy and just God to live among a sinful people, God himself had to consecrate them. Only God could make them fit for his presence; their own righteousness could never attain to his standard. Here we see a preview of the work of Christ on our behalf. We are able to enter the very presence of God only because we have been cleansed by his blood, consecrated to God by his righteousness, and not on the basis of any merit or ability or worth in ourselves.
The chapter ends with instructions for building the furniture the priests will need to carry out their duties before the Lord. The altar, the basin, and the various oils and incense are carefully outlined, along with the necessary tax needed to support the Tabernacle and its servants in the future.
Prayer: Lord, as I have read about the consecration of the priests I am reminded that, in Christ, all your people have become a holy priesthood. That means I can enter your presence, but it also means that I am to serve you, and find as my primary identification the fact that I am your servant, consecrated unto you, to walk in righteousness before you. Father, I so want to be a good servant today. Help me in my weakness, that I may remain faithful to you, through Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior, Amen.
The Well: March 24-28 March 24: Exodus 31, 32
Moses’ time with God on the mountain is drawing to a close. God has given him a wide array of commandments meant to identify Israel as a peculiar people, separated unto God as his own possession (see: 19:5).
The tabernacle was to be a magnificent display of God’s relationship with Israel. He intended to live with them, putting his “dwelling place” in the middle of their encampment as a reminder that their existence as a people, and their position of blessing were the result of God’s choice to take them as his own.
The design of the Tabernacle, with all of its many detailed components, would require expert craftsmanship. The text declares that God chose Bezalel, from the tribe of Judah and “filled him with the spirit of God.” Here we seen an early representation of the way God will accomplish his plans through mankind. His Spirit will enable them to do what God has commanded be accomplished. While we most often think of spiritual giftedness as relating only to ministry related activities, here we see God gifting a man to think up, design, and craft all the furniture and works of art that would form and fill the Tabernacle.
Along with the Tabernacle, God gave Israel the Sabbath as a continual reminder that worship was to be at the center of their lives. And at the center of the Sabbath was rest. The people were to change the pace of their lives on the seventh day for many reasons. It would be good for their health, and their families to take a day away from labor. It would also take them back each time to the creation activity of God, reminding them that he had made them, and as such, they were responsible to him in all things. But primarily, the Sabbath rest was to remind the people that their well-being would never be accomplished through their own efforts or striving, but rather depended completely on the God of their trust, in whom they must rest. Simply put, the Sabbath was a sign- post directing them away from human effort, and into faith and trust in God alone. With the coming of Jesus Christ – our Sabbath – we have found the one to whom the sign was pointing, and no longer are required to observe the day. Now, we rest in Christ.
Despite God’s rescue of them, Israel is still a selfish and rebellious people. In Moses’ absence they grow restless. Aaron, afraid of their growing hostility, attempts to appease them by fashioning a physical representation of their God. The golden calf is declared to be “the gods who brought you up out of Egypt.” In start contrast to all Moses has learned and will shortly bring to the people, the golden calf represents the wicked hearts of the people. Even Aaron, the one whom God has chosen to be High Priest, has acted foolishly, fearing man more than God. But this only shows us that God did not choose Israel because they were so good, so worthy, so ready to reflect his glory before the nations. Quite the opposite is true. God chose them and rescued them when they didn’t deserve it, and were helpless to change their plight. We must remember that God is still in that business today.
Prayer: Father, when I think about my heart I must confess that I often grow impatient and turn to the idols of this world. Forgive me Lord, and help me to wait on you today, and every day, through the power of the Spirit you’ve given me, Amen.
March 25: Exodus 33, 34
The golden calf incident had brought God’s judgment upon the people. Many had died by the sword, and others had fallen ill through the plague God had sent. He would not overlook the sin of his people. But God also would not forsake them.
Moses once again meets with God at the tent of meeting and hears the order to break camp, leave Mt. Sinai, and begin their journey to the promised land. But the people’s rebellion has demonstrated that they are still an idolatrous group. They have once again put on the ornaments identifying them as dependent on the gods of Egypt. God will not be associated with them. He will send his angel before them, but will no longer accompany them on their journey.
Moses realizes that, without God’s presence, they are lost. He pleads, and God reassures him that his “presence” will go with Israel and he will bring them to rest. But Moses needs more. He boldly asks for as sign, which reminds us of Abram’s similar request (Genesis 15) for assurance that God would keep his promise. Moses, who has been conversing with God who is unseen, asks now to be shown his glory.
To this God agrees. But he makes two things clear: First, no one can really see God’s face and live. Second, Moses needs to know that the glorious One can never be harnessed or leveraged. God will be gracious and merciful based only on himself. He is not subject to any coercion from outside. He will hide Moses in the space between large rock faces, and as he passes by, will allow the radiance of his glory to be seen.
Once again we gain an understanding of Moses. He is a great man, but still just a man. His faith has been solidified through his time with God, but there is still a sense of doubt. Like the disciples of Jesus many centuries later, he has faith, but asks God to increase his faith.
The event takes place in 34:5-9 and it is extremely significant. Moses is hidden, and God passes by. Notice that God narrates his glory, and the words are important. Of note are the terms “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Literally this phrase is “steadfast love and truth.” God wants to be know as filled with both love and truth. It is significant then, that when John later records his impressions of Jesus, that he tells his readers that he “beheld his glory, as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). John intended his readers to understand that the Savior he knew possessed the same glory as the God who covered Moses, and showed him his glory.
Prayer: Gracious Father, in reading the stories of Moses I must confess that I don’t prize your nearness as I should. Help me today to live mindful of your glory, and of the love you have shown me, bringing me into your family. You are the almighty one, and yet you are my father. Remind me often that, while you are full of grace, you are also a God of truth. May my life reflect you today, through the strength that is mine in Jesus, Amen.
March 26: Exodus 35, 36
As the people prepare to continue their journey they first must build the Tabernacle. As they all have tents that must be mobile, so also the Lord will dwell with them, in a mobile house with all the necessary furniture and trappings.
Moses brought the people together and exhorted them to contribute to the building of the Tabernacle. He called them to be generous (vs. 5) and many had their hearts stirred to partner together to provide all that was necessary (vs. 21). It is important to see that the people were generous with both their treasures and their abilities. Some gave gold and silver, while others provided their time and skills. Both men and women gave and worked. All were needed.
It is also noteworthy that contributing was not demanded but was left to the individual’s will. Verse 21 is especially poignant: “And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used ...” Later, they are described again as “all who were of a willing heart.” The emphasis is on willing participation in a project that was ultimately a partnership with God himself.
The consistent theme in the building of the Tabernacle is that God himself is in charge. He created the design, communicated every detail, chose the workers, and moved in the hearts of the people and workman to bring about his desired ends. He is said to have “put skill” in the minds of those contracted to do the work, even as he moved the hearts of the people to give. In the end, more was contributed than was needed, and the workman set about the task.
It is important to understand what Moses the author is communicating in these chapters. To our modern eyes these chapters are filled with details, many of which seem tedious. Yet, to the people of his day, the finery and attention to detail would have been remarkable, and as such, bring a sense that this was no ordinary project. They were building a house for the omnipotent, omnipresent God who could never be contained in such a dwelling. The structure itself was meant to communicate his magnificence in such a way that all who viewed it would be filled with awe, not at the tent itself, but at the God whose presence it represented. Each stitch, each thread, each panel, board, and decoration was understood to be an offering to God, meant to reflect his perfection, power, and glory. To contribute to the project was actually to engage with God, declaring his worth through a commitment to do whatever was humanly possible to display his transcendent greatness.
Prayer: Almighty God, and Father, as I read about the Tabernacle, and the heart of the people to give their best to display your glory I am moved to consider what in my life reflects how great you are. Lord, may my words, and my thoughts, and the way I go about my tasks testify to the truth that I believe you are everything to me, so that my world may know that you are mine, and I am yours, through Jesus Christ, Amen.
March 27: Exodus 37, 38
Having completed the external structure of the Tabernacle, Bezalel now turns to the furniture that will symbolize the presence of God and the worship the people will offer to him.
The tabernacle itself was made up of two sections. If we think of the Tabernacle as God’s home we see that his private place - where his presence would abide – was the Holy of Holies, where he “met” with the high priest yearly on the day of atonement. In this most holy place were two pieces of furniture, the ark, and the mercy seat, or “atonement cover”.
The ark was the place where sin was atoned for, where the wrath of God would be satisfied. The ark is mentioned 180 times testifying to its importance in the redemptive plan of God for Israel. It was upon the cover or mercy seat that the blood would be applied yearly to “cover” the sins of the people. In the coming of Jesus and his death and resurrection, the true “satisfaction”, of which the mercy seat was a preview, has come (Romans 3:23-25; 1 John 2:2). The cherubim represented the angelic cohort that surrounds the presence of God. Together they declared God’s intention, first mentioned in Ex. 25:22: “There I will meet with you ...”
Outside the Holy of Holies was the Holy Place. Think of it as God’s family room. Here the priests would minister according to their regular duties. Three pieces of furniture represented the ways their worship was to be brought before the Lord.
The table that would hold the “bread of presence” reminded them that God was not dependent on anything outside himself. Though offered, the bread was never eaten. The lampstand was to remind the people that the true “light” of life was to be found in God himself, while the altar of incense was a reminder that their worship, through obedience, was a sweet smelling fragrance to their God.
Out in the courtyard surrounding the Tabernacle structure the largest piece of furniture was the altar of burnt offering. On it the priests would offer the daily sacrifices to satisfy the law of God. It’s position just inside the gate made access easy, and its almost continual fire and smoke was a constant reminder that the sin of the people was great, ongoing, and only covered through the mercy of God.
The bronze basin was constructed out of the polished bronze mirrors contributed by the women of Israel. Before a priest could engage in tabernacle service it was necessary to cleanse their hands in a symbolic demonstration that those who would come before a holy God must be holy. It is with this in mind that John would later remind his audience that those who are in Christ through repentance and faith have been “cleansed” by the blood of Christ (1 John 1:9).
Prayer: Father, reading about the Tabernacle shows me just how much you demand that your people worship you in reverence, recognizing your holiness, and our sinfulness. I must admit that it is still a mystery that you would draw me close since I seem to be so easily drawn to sin. Yet, I now realize that it is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the light of the world, that my sins have been atoned for, and I have been
cleansed, and brought, not only into your presence, but into your family forever. Help me to live with joy today, showing the world what it looks like to be a faithful child of the King, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
March 28: Exodus 39, 40
The final part of the Tabernacle project was the design and manufacture of the priestly garments. God’s dwelling had been prepared, but now those who would minister to him on behalf of the people would need to be prepared as well.
As you read the chapter it was evident that God takes little things seriously. His instructions – right down to the color of the yarns and threads – were to be followed precisely, for everything had significance for both priest and people.
The priests were important in the greater scheme of corporate worship. Thus, their garments were spectacular, made with rare linens and dyes, as well as valuable for their gold and precious stones. The ephod and breastplate represented the 12 tribes of Israel showing that, while the priest went about his work, he was standing in for the people, fulfilling their obligations through his obedience. This previews the fact that one day, the Great High Priest – Jesus – would represent his people as he offered the true sacrifice for sin on the cross, and then rose from the dead to present his atoning blood in the true Tabernacle, the very presence of God on high.
When all was completed God instructed Moses to have the workman assemble the Tabernacle, together with the walls around the courtyard and put the furniture in its place. In a very real sense, God’s house was ready. Everything had been completed with great attention to detail and a commitment to excellent craftsmanship.
God instructed Moses to bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting, cleanse them, and dress them in the priestly robes. All was now ready. Everything God had commanded had been done. The Tabernacle stood complete, and all that was lacking was the presence of God. Without him, it was just an ornate tent.
Then the presence of God came down. The cloud that had covered Mt. Sinai now covered the Tabernacle and the glory of the Lord was made visibly present as it filled the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. Miraculously, the invisible omnipresent God was allowing his people to experience him as visibly present. It had taken many centuries since Eden, but once again Almighty God was dwelling among his people.
Prayer: Lord, it must have amazed and humbled the people of Israel to understand that you had chosen to live with them, to be their God, and to draw them into relationship with you. And Lord, I am humbled today to realize afresh that you have come to me, and drawn me to yourself, and made me your child. Like the cloud that filled the Tabernacle, you have sent your Spirit to dwell in me. Today I pray that all I say and do will be a tribute to the life you have given me, and the mission you have called me to, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
March 31: James 1,2
The book of James, written by one of Jesus’ brothers, is written in a style that reminds us more of Proverbs than Ephesians. In many ways, James’ epistle feels like the “wisdom literature of the Old Testament.
James writes to Jews who have been dispersed far and wide due to persecution over the years. Consequently, the themes of persecution and isolation from society are never far from his mind. Out of this comes the primary theme that what you say you are will only be validated through how you live, or as James says: “faith by itself, without works, is dead!”
The readers are encouraged to see trials, not as a sign of God’s leaving them, but as God’s mechanism to produce in them the marks of mature faith. The temptation to be “double-minded” and vacillate from belief to doubt under the pain of trial must be resisted. Rather, humility under the mighty hand of the Almighty will produce steadfastness, and the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. These temptations, while used by God, are not from God, for he cannot tempt us to sin. Rather, sin is birthed from our own hearts as we allow our lusts to run free. And the terrible truth is that, if allowed to go their own way, our lusts will give rise to sin, and the ends of sin are always destructive to the soul.
The blessed one will recognize anger as one way that the control of lusts is lost and will choose rather to be quick to hear, and slow to anger. Those whose minds is focused on pleasing God will strive not only to hear God’s Word, but also to reflect it in their lives. Good works are the fruit, and thus the evidence, of the indwelling power of God.
And just how does this show itself? James suggests two examples. First, compassion toward those who are weak and in need of help (orphans and widows). Second, resistance to the ways of the world that can leave the “stain” of sin on the life.
Of particular note in James’ day was the tendency to follow the way of the world in treating those who were wealthy and powerful. To give preference to the rich was really to overlook the fact that they were primarily responsible for harsh treatment of the poor. Also, the hypocrisy of preferential treatment would make Christ-followers look more like the unbelieving community than like those who, with God, recognized the true character of a person based on their heart for righteousness.
Chapter 2 summarizes James’ primary argument. It is more than profession that demonstrates the state of the soul. A profession of faith that is not the basis of righteous living is just like a body without any spirit. It may look as though it could be alive, but without the animating force of the spirit, it ultimately will be recognized as lifeless. So also is it in the spiritual realm. The profession of faith will be found to be in error if there is no animating spirit of good works. While we are saved by faith alone, saving faith is never alone. It is always connected to an increasing passion for righteousness displayed in works that God has determined as “good.”
Prayer: Father, may my faith in the saving work of Christ produce in and through me acts of compassion and righteousness today, so that the watching world may see that I am yours, and that their very best option is to love and serve you too, through Jesus Christ the Lord, Amen.