The Ark, the Tabernacle, and the Temple

Note: I made a powerpoint to accompany this lesson, so I could show the class what some of these things looked like. Instead of uploading the powerpoint, I will link to the images I used in this. 

Last week we talked about the Law. Today I want to discuss something that goes hand-in-hand with that and you guys had a lot of questions about last week. That is, the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, and the Temple.

These three things basically all represent the same thing: God’s presence among the people of Israel. Basically physical facilities that could remind the people of their covenant with God and also be a way for people to worship God. To fully explore that we’re going to have to talk about what each of these things is, starting with the Ark of the Covenant.

So what is the Ark of the Covenant? Get your Bibles and let’s turn to Exodus 25:10-22.

10 They shall make an ark of acacia wood; it shall be two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. 11 You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside you shall overlay it, and you shall make a molding of gold upon it all around. 12 You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, by which to carry the ark. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 You shall put into the ark the covenant that I shall give you.

17 Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its width. 18 You shall make two cherubim of gold; you shall make them of hammered work, at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other; of one piece with the mercy seat you shall make the cherubim at its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat[e] with their wings. They shall face one to another; the faces of the cherubim shall be turned toward the mercy seat. 21 You shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the covenant that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the covenant, I will deliver to you all my commands for the Israelites.

These are God’s instructions to the Israelites on how to build the Ark of the Covenant. Also if you’re wondering what a mercy seat is, it’s basically the lid. I don’t really know why they call it that.This may be hard to follow and imagine so fortunately for you I brought a visual! [Slide 2] I know some of you have seen this movie. This is Raiders of the Lost Ark. In that movie, the lost ark they are looking for is the Ark of the Covenant. And we’ll talk about later why it’s a lost ark, and not something we still have. For this movie, they actually made a fairly accurate replica based on that section we just read. 

So this is what it looks like but what is the Ark of the Covenant? It’s basically like a big chest or piece of luggage. Except that in those verses we just read God said he will appear above the angels in the ark and from their deliver his commandments to Israel. So God is going to appear above this Ark! That’s pretty cool.

The other thing is implied in it’s name: the Ark of the Covenant. It’s a visible and physical reminder of the covenant yes, but it also contains the covenant. Can someone read Exodus 40:20?

20 He took the covenant and put it into the ark, and put the poles on the ark, and set the mercy seat above the ark;

Basically the stone tablets on which Moses wrote God’s words and brought down from the mountain? They put those in the ark of the covenant. So the actual words, the physical contract more-or-less, is in the Ark of the Covenant.

But it’s not the only thing in there.

Can someone read Exodus 16:33-34?

33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations.” 34 As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping.

They place a jar of manna in with the covenant. An “omer” is just a Hebrew unit of measurement. Why did they put it in there? I think because God wanted them to have a physical reminder of how he cared for them for their time in the desert, how God literally fed them. So when they doubted God’s power or love, they could see that and think “Oh yeah, remember that time God literally fed us with manna from heaven?”

The last item in the Ark of the Covenant is described in Numbers 17. As you flip there, some context. Basically, one of the Hebrews had enough of Moses and Aaron’s leadership. He was like “Why do these old dudes get to lead us? Aren’t we all equal before God? Why do we have to listen to them? They just want to control us!”

And basically Moses was like “Well, we’ll let God decide who should lead.”

So God told Moses to have each tribe elect someone they wanted to lead them. Then they would present a staff—like a wooden walking staff—with that man’s name carved in it. For the Levites that was Aaron. And God said he would one of them bud—so basically one of these dead staffs of wood would suddenly start having stuff grow on it, something only God could do. Whoever’s staff budded would get to lead.

Can someone read Numbers 17:8-11?

8 When Moses went into the tent of the covenant on the next day, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted. It put forth buds, produced blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. 9 Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the Lord to all the Israelites; and they looked, and each man took his staff. 10 And the Lord said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the covenant, to be kept as a warning to rebels, so that you may make an end of their complaints against me, or else they will die.” 11 Moses did so; just as the Lord commanded him, so he did.

So it was Aaron’s staff that sprouted, Aaron that God chose. And to remind them of that, God instructed Moses to place the budded staff in the Ark of the Covenant, to remind them that God chose Aaron to be the leader.

This section also mentions the tent of the covenant. What is that? Well, remember during this time the Hebrews are wandering through the desert. They have no place to call home. They have no unmoving temple or church they can go to. The Ark was basically the heart of their mobile church, and that mobile church—which those verses called the tent of the covenant—is usually referred to as the Tabernacle.

The Tabernacle is basically a church tent. [Slide 3 ]. Remember the Hebrews are nomads at this point. They do get to the Promised Land, but because they were scared to go inside, they have to wander for 40 years. So for 40 years they’re wandering in the desert. During that time they have this portable temple they can use where they can go worship God and make sacrifices.

The Tabernacle is described in detailed in Exodus 25-31. This includes descriptions of the Ark of the Covenant, which is placed in the tabernacle when it’s set up, to the dimensions of the tent, to what exactly the priests had to wear. [Slide 4]

You can see here that the Ark of the Covenant is placed inside the Tabernacle behind a veil in the “Most Holy Place.” So imagine this set up like a tent that’s gated in. If you go through the gate you see an alter and a tent. If you go in the tent, you’re still separated from the most holy place by a veil. And behind that veil God would come in the form of smoke. Only certain people were allowed in these different parts. While some priests could enter the courtyard, they couldn’t enter the tent. Some could enter the tent, but most would not be allowed to enter the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest would be allowed to do that.

I want to be very clear on something here. The Tabernacle was more than a church. I’m sure you hear in church service and maybe from adults that a church is just a building. A church itself is no more or less holy than anything else. But the Tabernacle was different. The Tabernacle was where God dwelled.

And the same was true of the Temple.

You see the Tabernacle was basically a temporary measure while the people wandered and had no permanent home, while they were outside the Promised Land. Eventually—much later—when the Hebrews settled in Canaan and were established there, they built a Temple. [Slide 5: Image 1Image 2 and Image 3] We will get to this story much later, because it’s not built until King Solomon is King of Israel and we’re still pretty far away from that happening in our study.

You’ll hear this Temple referred to most often as Solomon’s Temple, but it can also be referred to as the First Temple or just the Temple. The temple had a very similar internal set up to the Tabernacle in that they were still varying levels of who was allowed well and in the innermost part was still the holy of holies behind a veil where the Ark of the Covenant was (Slide 6). This Temple was literally viewed as the place on earth where God lived.

Of course God was not just limited to the temple. God could and did speak to people outside of the Tabernacle and Temple. For one example of that let’s turn to an interesting story in Numbers.

In this story in Numbers, the context is basically that the Israelites have not yet entered the Promised Land but are wandering around in the area just east of the Jordan. They keep running into other people groups and for various reasons having to fight them. Basically to those other tribes, the Israelites look like a scary invading army who might try to take all their land. So they just kept having all these battles and because God was with them and on their side, they kept living.

There was this one guy named Balak who is basically the leader of a specific people group, and he is terrified of the Israelites coming in and destroying his people. So he decides his best bet is to call to the number one sorcerer in the land, a guy named Balaam.

Now Balaam actually thinks God is super powerful. Now when I say he believed in God I don’t want you to confuse him with someone who worshipped or loved God. Basically Balaam was a sorcerer who believed in many gods, and that they were all real, and that includes our God—the God of the Israelites. He also thought the God of the Israelites was super powerful, could defeat them all, and therefore didn’t want to go against him,

However, in the end his leader Balak pressures Balaam into coming to him anyway. God is not very happy about this situation. Alright can someone read Numbers 22:22-27?

22 God’s anger was kindled because he was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 The donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; so the donkey turned off the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road. 24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it scraped against the wall, and scraped Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck it again. 26 Then the angel of the Lord went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 

So Balaam is heading out and riding his donkey. And because God wants his anger at Balaam and his king to be known—because his king basically wants Balaam to curse God’s chosen people—God puts an angel in his way three times. Each time the donkey sees the angel but Balaam doesn’t. So the donkey turns off the road, or runs into a wall, or finally just cowers where she is so that they don’t run into what must be a terrifying angel.

Balaam doesn’t see the angel. He just thinks his donkey is being willful and disobedient. So he just keeps beating her trying to make her move on.

Can someone read Numbers 22:28-31?

28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!” 30 But the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?” And he said, “No.”

31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed down, falling on his face.

God makes it so the donkey can speak! That’s pretty miraculous! And she’s like “Why do you keep beating me?” And instead of dying of shock like I would of, Balaam instead says, “Because you keep messing up! And I’m so angry I might kill you.” And then the donkey is basically like “When have I ever failed you before?” And Balaam is forced to concede the point that—well—she’s been a good donkey.

Then God opens Balaam’s eyes and he sees the angel! And he’s terrified and falls to the ground before this angel.

Now can someone read Numbers 22:32-35?

32 The angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? I have come out as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me, and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let it live.” 34 Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now therefore, if it is displeasing to you, I will return home.” 35 The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men; but speak only what I tell you to speak.” So Balaam went on with the officials of Balak.

The Angel is basically like “if your donkey hadn’t stopped you I would have killed you. So your donkey saved your life.” And Balaam realizes that God must really not want him to go. But really God could’ve killed Balaam at any moment. He didn’t have to let the donkey see the angel to stop him from running into it. He didn’t have to let the donkey talk. And he certainly didn’t have to let the angel explain himself. But God chooses to do these things because he’s trying to teach this foreign sorcerer about him so when Balaam goes before his king he’ll refuse to raise a hand against the Israelites.

In the end Balaam goes to his king and he speaks God’s words to the king.

So why are we talking about in this story? Well because in this story God uses a donkey to speak to a foreign sorcerer. He then uses that foreign sorcerer to speak to his king. God can and does use anything and anyone to speak to people. He did then during the time of Moses and he does now. So why all this business with the Tabernacle and Temple where only certain people were allowed to go in to see God?

Because they were different. They meant something different. The Tabernacle and Temple were like God’s home on Earth, a place he would always be and where you could visit him. They were physical reminders of God and his constant presence on this earth.  

In the end, Solomon’s temple was eventually destroyed by the Babylonians. During this event, it seems the Ark of the Covenant was lost. Possibly the Babylonians took it because we know from many verses in the Bible that they basically ransacked the Temple and took anything gold or worth money, and that would certainly include the ark. The ark is not explicitly mentioned as something the Babylonians took, however, so some people think that it might have been hidden away before the Babylonians reached the Temple. We may never know. This is why the Ark is referred to as the Lost Ark. Literally no one knows what happened to it or where it is.

A second temple was later built—and that is the temple that Jesus visited during his time on earth. [Slide 7] This temple was built during Old Testament times, lasted through Jesus’s time, and then was destroyed by the Romans in around 70 AD. This temple was built to be identical to the first, because the temples weren’t just built to be aesthetically pleasing. Like the ark and the Tabernacle, the instructions for the Temple are in the Bible and were required to be built in a specific way. The major difference between the first Temple and the second was that the Ark of the Covenant was not in the second temple.

The Wailing Wall (slide 8) is one of the few remaining bits of the Temple that still exists today. The Wailing Wall was the Western Wall of the Temple courtyard.

So why is there no new Temple? You would think that after World War II, when Israel was given back to the Jewish people—as a safe place they could go after the Holocaust, the first thing they would want to do is rebuild the temple, right? After all, without the temple they can’t make the sacrifices that are Biblically required of them. If you ever wonder why Jewish people don’t still make sacrifices, that is why. They must make sacrifices on the alter in the temple, and there is no temple today. Therefore, they can’t do this important act of their faith. So why don’t they rebuild the temple?

Well, because nothing is ever that simple. There are many Biblical requirements that must be followed to rebuild the Temple—many of which we can’t meet today. Such as the high priest being a descendant of Aaron. The alter must also be placed in the exact same physical location it was before, and we know longer know that to the same accuracy. But another big issue is the Dome of the Rock.

Do you guys see the gold dome in that picture? That is the Dome of the Rock. It is one of the holy sites of Islam. Many people believe that the Dome of the Rock is built where the Temple originally was. So to rebuild the Temple in the exact same place would require it being moved, and that would be an act of war. (Note: Emphasize that this is NOT because of any stereotypical view they may have of Muslims, but rather because knocking down someone's holy site is just really really not cool. That site is holy in Islam and therefore must be treated as such. And to knock it down would be the equivalent of walking up to someone and punching them in the face and stabbing them in the back at the same time.)

Now some Jewish people believe that there will be a Third Temple. That a Messiah will come who will be able to negotiate all the political differences, sniff out the true location of the alter, and who is of the bloodline of Aaron. This Messiah might be Elijah come back or Moses or some other such thing. Not all Jewish people believe this, because Judaism is a diverse faith where people interpret things differently.

And this idea of a Third Temple and the Messiah coming is not all that far off from what Christians believe. We believe Jesus is the Messiah, but when Jesus first came the Temple still existed. Islam didn’t yet exist as a religion. There was no dispute to be settled. However, the book of Revelations points to a second coming of Jesus. Is it possible that when Jesus comes back the temple will be rebuilt? It’s definitely possible. There are things in the Bible that point to the presence of a third temple to come.

However, it’s not something we as Christians often think about or dwell on. Why? Why don’t we care about this place where God literally lived. You would think we’d want to rebuild God’s house? Right???

But when Jesus came to this earth and died and was resurrected everything changed.  I want you guys to turn to Mark 15:33-38. Remember Mark is in the New Testament and it’s the second Gospel.

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

When Jesus died the veil was torn. (Turn back to slide 6). The veil, the thing that separated the part of the temple where God literally was from the rest of the temple, the rest of the world. Yes high priests could go back there, but even then, they didn’t do it very often. Just once a year to offer the highest sacrifices. Now that veil was torn.

Obviously God could move on either side of the veil if he wanted to, so what does this mean? It’s a symbol, a symbol of what Jesus just did. He brought down the separation between God and man. He was God among us, God made incarnate who walked among us and experienced everything we did. Now because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit we all have access to God all the time.

Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before “your body is a temple.” And I’m sure you’ve heard it in a glib way, that is basically just like “respect yourself and your body, your body is a temple.” But have you ever thought about that? Thought about what that means? Your body is a temple. The temple is the place where God lives. God lives in you. The Holy Spirit resides in all Christians. We don’t need to go to a special place to see God, we have God with us all the time. Each one of us is part of the Temple. God resides in each one of us. That’s why we need to respect our bodies and not defile them, because when you do that you are disrespecting God’s house.

We are the Body of Christ. We are God’s house. And that’s why to Christians the church is just the building. We are the church.

What is the Law?

For the past two months, we’ve been studying Moses. Over the last two weeks, we watched The Prince of Egypt, to help catch up the rising sixth graders, on the story of Moses. But that movie ends at a critical part. It ends with Moses coming down the mountain carrying down some tablets.

When Moses went up on that mountain—as we studied—he spoke to God for a long extended period of time—so long that the Israelites actually thought he might have died. But during that time God told him a lot of stuff. One of the most important things God gave him was the Law, which he wrote down on tablets to bring to his people.

When we studied Moses we kind of skipped over what exactly was on those tablets, what it was, and what it meant, because that’s actually a huge topic. So today that is what we’re talking about. What is the “Law?” This is something referenced all over the place in the Bible—not just the Old Testament, but Jesus is constantly talking about the Law. The apostles also argued constantly about the law, who should obey it, who shouldn’t. Jewish people today even have long discussions and disagreements about to what extent they are required to follow the law: which one of the big divisions between Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed Jews. So this discussion of “What is the Law and who must follow it” is something that has been debated since Moses all the way until today. For over three thousand years people have been discussing this very topic.

So today we’re going to talk about it. Obviously we can’t get through all the nuances in an hour, but I want to give you guys a decent understanding of what the Law is and why we as Christians don’t follow it today.

Please go get your Bibles.

Before we open to anything who can remind us what God’s covenant with Abraham is? [Let them answer.]

That’s right, God made a covenant with Abraham to be his God and the God of his people and to make him the father of many people. At this point we’ve seen how Abraham’s descendants have become many people. You have Ishmael whose descendants formed their own people group. You have Esau, whose descendants became the Edomites. We didn’t study this—but after Sarah died, Abraham remarried and had more children who went on to become different people’s. Also now we have the Israelites who are descended from Jacob, Abraham’s grandson.

God made the initial covenant with Abraham—to be his God—and then renewed it with Isaac, Abraham’s son, and then Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. After all those years in Egypt—over four hundred—it’s possible the Israelites may have worried that the covenant no longer held. But obviously, God went to great lengths and performed many miraculous acts to free them from Egypt. In case that wasn’t enough, God also re-established the covenant in words. Please turn in your Bibles to Exodus 19:3-6.

3 Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”

God reiterates that the Israelites are his people—that they are the children of the covenant. And that he will make them a “priestly kingdom,” they are to be the example of God in the world. For their end of the deal? They just have to obey his voice and keep the covenant. So the men must be circumcised, and all of them must listen to God.

For Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God basically had a one-on-one relationship with them. God could tell them what they should do or what they were doing wrong, and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob needed to listen to that voice. But now we’re talking about thousands of Israelites. God could talk to each of them individually, he certainly has that power, but instead he is choosing to make himself known through a single prophet—in this case Moses. That’s a set up we’re going to see go on for a while in the history of Israel. There is one single prophet who talks to God and relays God’s thoughts to the people. This prophet is then the leader of the people—in both a religious and government sense. Israel is the definition of a theocracy at this time—it is both a nation and a religion. The idea of separation of church and state is completely foreign to them.

To underscore this, we have the Law. God gives Moses Laws which are both religious and civil laws. These are the laws of the nation of Israel. And it covers everything from their relationship with God, to what do you do if an animal you own accidentally hurts another person, to what sort of crimes merit the death penalty. So for the Israelites to keep the covenant, in addition to circumcision they must obey the law.

The initial revelation of the law is also the most famous: The ten commandments. Let’s turn to Exodus 20:1-17.

20 Then God spoke all these words:

2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.

4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 You shall not murder.

14 You shall not commit adultery.

15 You shall not steal.

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

We can already see from these laws alone that God is concerned not just by our relationship with him but by our relationships with others. The first four are God laws. Don’t have any other gods. Don’t make any other idols. Don’t use God’s name in vein. Remember the Sabbath.

The others are people to people laws. Honor your parents. Don’t murder. Don’t have an affair. Don’t steal. Don’t lie or gossip about your neighbor. Don’t covet other people’s stuff.

These all seem pretty basic how to lead a good life while following God rules. But God also gives Moses more law later. The entire book of Leviticus is basically nothing but laws. Someone read Leviticus 2:11.

11 No grain offering that you bring to the Lord shall be made with leaven, for you must not turn any leaven or honey into smoke as an offering by fire to the Lord.

This is one verse from a whole section on offering grain to God. And it basically says that any bread offering made to God can’t have yeast in it. It needs to be flatbread. That’s super specific right? And definitely a religious law—a law dictating an appropriate sacrifice to God.

Someone read Leviticus 13:3-4

3 The priest shall examine the disease on the skin of his body, and if the hair in the diseased area has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous disease; after the priest has examined him he shall pronounce him ceremonially unclean. 4 But if the spot is white in the skin of his body, and appears no deeper than the skin, and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest shall confine the diseased person for seven days.

This section? This is a leprosy test. Leprosy is a skin disease that could be very contagious and detrimental. So this section basically tells people that if they think they have leprosy to go before a priest. It then tells the priest what to do to determine if it is or is not leprosy and then what to do with the person in either case.

Someone read Leviticus 19:23.

23 When you come into the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall regard their fruit as forbidden; three years it shall be forbidden to you, it must not be eaten.

This is a law about when it’s cool to eat the fruit from a tree after you plant it.

What I’m getting at here is these are a lot of laws that cover a lot of topics. Laws on how exactly to celebrate specific holidays. Not just like “Christmas is cool, you should celebrate it.” But like “here are the very exact things you must do to celebrate Passover.” There are laws on who you are and are not allowed to marry. There are laws about how to treat a poor man and laws about how to treat strangers. There are laws about what they’re allowed to eat and what they’re allowed to wear. The Israelites couldn’t eat—still don’t eat—pig, and they couldn’t wear mixed material clothes. And there are very specific laws on how to treat and worship God. These are a lot of laws.

There were even laws on who is allowed to be a priest. And I don’t just mean like now how we have church bi-laws about how to select a pastor and what sort of education one does or does not need to be a pastor and whether or not women are allowed to be pastors. I mean only people of the house of Levi where allowed to be priests at all, and of those, there were a few very critical things that only people directly descended from Aaron were allowed to do as like High Priest.

And if you went against these laws, there were punishments, and some of those punishments were you would die. If the wrong person touched the wrong holy object? They would be struck down dead instantly.

Now some of these laws it might be easy to see why we don’t follow anymore. God was giving them laws for running a nation, something they had never done before. So some of these civil laws are all about maintaining law and order. We live in different countries now. We have different civil laws, that makes sense.

Some of the laws, like the tree one about not picking fruit for three years, that’s just some basic agriculture sense that God was trying to give them because they didn’t necessarily understand agriculture yet. So that also makes sense.

But what about the other laws? The ones that are moral, or seem to be. And who decides what’s a moral verses civil law anyway? Because it’s not like they had any separation of church and state! They were all tied up in each other! Who are we to tell the ancient Hebrews that eating fruit in the second year isn’t immoral?

So why? Why don’t modern Christians follow the law?

This is actually something that the first Christians actually argued bitterly about. Like there were factions, and it was one of the first major divisions of the early church. Were people who were not Jewish required to follow Jewish law, once they became followers of Jesus? And even ahead of that, some people were concerned that Gentiles shouldn’t be allowed to be Christians at all! The Jewish people were God’s people after all. Jesus came for them first, the Gentile second. So why waste time on Gentiles when there were still Jewish people to be saved?

Please turn to Acts. Acts is the history of the early church and chronicles a lot of these debates and discussions. In Acts there is a story about a Roman man named Cornelius and Peter.

Cornelius was a Roman centurion, so basically an officer in the Roman army. Despite that he believed in God and basically deeply respected the Jewish people. One day he’s going about his business when he has a vision and in the vision God tells him to send for Peter—who was on of Jesus’s disciples and now one of the early leaders of the Christian church. So Cornelius dispatches some trusted servants to go get Peter.

Meanwhile Peter has a vision of his own. Can someone read Acts 10:9-16?

9 About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

Peter has a vision where he sees a large sheet covered in all sorts of animals, specifically the sorts of animals he’s supposed to eat. In the vision God tells him to kill and eat the animals, and Peter is like “no way God, I’d never do anything that would make me unclean.” Because remember it would have been against Jewish law to eat some of these animals. And doing so would make you basically dirty in the eyes of God. There was a long drawn out process to get clean again.

But then the voice said “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

It happens three times and Peter is confused by this. He has no idea what it means. Then Cornelius’s servants show up to get Peter.

Now a Jewish guy hanging out with some Romans? Not cool back then. But Peter goes with them because he realizes what the vision means. He says it in Acts 10:28.

28 and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.

The vision wasn’t about a food. I mean it is okay to eat whatever. God isn’t going to call you unclean because you ate bacon this morning, even though eating pig is against the Jewish law. But this vision wasn’t about the food. It was about the Gentiles. God told Peter not to call unclean what God has made clean. And that’s the Gentiles. Before this, Peter would have doubted any Gentile could really follow Jesus.

The Jews were God’s chosen people, but through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, God made a way for Gentiles to come to God.

Peter later had to declare this decision in front of the whole Christian council. Because there was a huge argument on whether Christians had to follow Jewish law to be saved. Turn to Acts 15.

Some context. This is a council that is being held in Jerusalem where basically the argument boiled down to whether or not Gentiles had to be circumcised. Remember circumcision was the mark of the covenant God made with Abraham, the only thing God required of Abraham. Circumcision was a painful medical procedure—remember these are not people with modern medicine and ways to numb skin. This medical procedure basically requires removing a large area of skin. Painful.

Needless to say most of the Gentiles didn’t want to do it. However, many of the Jewish people were adamant. If this was the sign of the covenant, didn’t Gentiles have to do it to? Didn’t God require it of them too?

Alright let’s read Acts 15:6-11.

6 The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. 8 And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9 and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10 Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Peter is basically like “You guys know God sent me amongst the Gentiles to preach to them.” The Cornelius story was the start of that. And he’s like God made them clean. This is the whole let no one say is unclean what God made clean. And Peter is like “No one was able to ever fulfil the whole law anyway, we all always messed it up. So why put this burden on these people when we weren’t even able to handle the burden? And last point: we’re saved by grace alone.” Mic drop. Walk off the stage.

We’re saved by grace alone might be a phrase you hear a lot and you might be uncertain what it means. It basically means that Jesus’s actions covered us, and it’s not our actions of keeping the law or doing the right things that work our way into heaven or being Jesus’ followers.

We are not part of the Old Covenant that covered the Jewish people. We are part of the New Covenant.

This can all be rather confusing. It can seem like God changed the rules. In the beginning people had to do all these things and actions to be right with God. Now we’re just covered, free and clear because we believe in Jesus! It seems a lot easier, and it seems a lot different. And the answer—as with most things in the Bible—is both yes and no.

Let’s look back at what Jesus says. Turn to Matthew 5:17-20

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus says he didn’t come to abolish the law but fulfil it. And he also says whoever breaks the commandments will be the least in the kingdom of heaven and whoever holds them will be great. But also that it’s basically impossible to uphold them. That’s what he’s seeing with that last part. Your righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees who are the most righteous among us!

That’s also what Peter was referring to when he said that no one was able to keep the law. It was always impossible. That’s why in the law there are requirements of sacrifice—to cover the sin and breaking of the law that people did. Without those sacrifices to cover people’s sins, without that loophole, people would be separated from God because of even one breaking of the law, one sin.

And then Jesus came and he was the ultimate sacrifice who covered all of us. That’s why we don’t need to do animal sacrifices anymore. We’re covered by the ultimate sacrifice. Of God’s own son.

And if that is all still confusing to you and you’re still befuddled over whether or not we should follow the law, let’s go back to a section we’ve studied before. Matthew 22:34-40.

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

The whole law boils down into two laws, as we saw in the Ten Commandments. The first four are about loving God and the last four are about loving your neighbor. Because in the end that is what we’re called to do, love.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

If we keep those commands, we are keeping the intent of the law. But your salvation, your covering by Jesus is not requisite on you doing that. Jesus loves us no matter what we do. We are saved by grace, a gift we can’t and haven’t earned. But if you want to keep the heart of the law, the heart of what God was trying to do by giving the people of Israel these laws: then love God and love your neighbor.

Simple but not easy. And it is something we should always strive to do.

Jesus even says this again later in his farewell address to his disciples. It’s the night before he’ll be betrayed and he’s giving a farewell speech—though they don’t know it. In John 13:34-35, Jesus says “34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Most of us (all I think) in this room are not Jewish. We are not descended from Jewish people and no one in our family is Jewish. We are by definition Gentiles. The law is the Jewish law for the ancient Jewish nation of Israel. But we are followers of Jesus and therefore we are called to do this new commandment Jesus has given us. We are to love another. It is our love and kindness and gentleness and grace with each other that should mark us as followers of Jesus to the world.

It’s the hardest thing to do. To be kind to that annoying kid in your class. To practice grace and gentleness with the bully who picks on you. Sometimes it’s impossible. But it is what we are called to, and that and loving God are the only two laws that for us ultimately matter.

 

Moses and the Promised Land (Moses Part 7)

Last week we talked about the Israelites, and how they seemed to be trusting Moses more than they trusted God. God was working all these miracles for them, and yet as soon as Moses left them to go up a Mountain to talk to God they freaked out and made a new God to worship. Today we’re going to talk about what Moses did on that mountain, what happened when he came back down and saw that the Israelites were worshiping a false god, and what happens after.

We’re going to pick up right before Moses goes up the mountain. Can someone read Exodus 19:18-20?

18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. 19 As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. 20 When the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

God descends on this mountain in way that I imagine almost makes it seem like the mountain is about to turn into a volcano! There is smoke, the earth is shaking, there is fire. There is even a heavenly trumpet blasting! God’s presence is big and obvious here. So Moses goes up the mountain to talk to God.

While up on the Mountain God basically gives Moses the Law. If you’ve ever flipped through these first couple of books in the Bible before you’ll notice a ton of Law. We’re going to do a whole Sunday on what is the law and what it means. But basically, it’s the rule set God is giving to Moses and saying, “These are the rules I expect the Israelites to live by.” These rules would be everything from how to worship God to what sort of fine you have to pay if an animal you own accidently hurts someone else. Basically ancient Israel does not believe in separation of church and state. The church and state are one. The word for this you may hear in your government classes is “theocracy.” So while in our society if you blaspheme against God, God is disappointed in you but you won’t go to jail, in their society God will both be disappointed in you and you’re going to jail.

Like I said we’re going to spend a whole Sunday on this alone, but basically there are a lot of rules, which is partly why it takes so long for Moses to come down the mountains. He’s got to write it all down!

So God is on the mountain with Moses, right? But God can be everywhere and see everything. So even though he’s talking to Moses, he sees what’s going on with the Israelites. Do you think God is happy about how the Israelites have decided to make themselves a false god? [Let them answer.]

Well let’s see. Can someone read Exodus 32:7-10?

7 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

God is very angry with the Israelites. He has given them everything and as we talked about last week, maybe they were never really trusting in God in the first place. Now they’re worshiping an idol that they made, a golden calf they made from their own jewelry. Rather than worshiping God, they are worshiping something they know is fake! So yeah God is mad.

But then God says “Leave me alone, Moses, so I might destroy them all and then I’ll just start over again with you. You’ll be the new Abraham.”

Woah. God’s going to destroy all the Israelites and start over again with Moses? What do you guys think Moses might think of this plan? Is he going to be like “Okay God, cool. Get rid of these people who are an absolutely burden to me.”—because let’s be honest, Moses doesn’t love his job as their leader. Or is Moses going to be like “Woah, God. That seems a little extreme. Maybe we should give them another chance.” What would you guys say if you were Moses? [Let them answer.]

I think I would be tempted to let God just start over again. Be like “Okay, cool, I’ll be the new start. Get rid of these dolts!” But let’s see what Moses says.

11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Moses is basically like “But these are your people who you saved from Egypt! You don’t want to destroy them!” And he gives God a 2 point argument. (1) What would the Egyptians think, if God saves the Hebrews just to destroy the Hebrews himself? (2) Don’t forget you swore an oath God.

And then it says God changed his mind.

Let’s talk about this. Did Moses convince God to change his mind? Sure, seems that way. And this is not the only time in the Bible for something like this to happen. In fact, this is the first of several times, where God tells a prophet he’s going to do something crazy wrathful, which then forces the prophet to either make an argument against God doing the wrathful thing or causes the prophet to take action. This sort of story is usually taken a couple of ways.

(1)    God’s mind can’t be changed. God always knew what he was going to do, but was trying to teach the prophet a lesson, or basically test the prophet to see what he would do. In this case, would Moses—the weary, put upon leader of the Israelites actually stand up for them? Or would he just be like “Sure, God. Do what you want.”

(2)    God’s mind can be changed, and stories like this demonstrate the power of prayer. Moses interceded and begged on behalf of his people, and only through Moses prayer did God decide not to take the action he was going to take.

There are of course shades of gray between these interpretations where they overlap. I’m not going to tell you which interpretation is right because I’m not sure we really know. And it’s possible the situation may chance in each case. Which camp you fall into generally lines up with your denomination sort of beliefs. In our case, as Presbyterians who generally believe in pre-destination, we would probably fall into Camp 1. This was always God’s plan, and God wanted Moses to fight on behalf of the Hebrews, to teach Moses that he really did care about them. People who fall into a more free will camp, might be inclined to see more of the second option, and see Moses as truly having changed God’s mind on this account.

Either way we learn from this that God gets deeply angry and hurt when we go against him, when despite all he has given us, we turn to false idols and turn our backs on him. We also learn that God is not quick to make wrathful decisions. He could have struck down the Hebrews instantly and mentioned nothing to Moses. He didn’t need Moses’ permission to do his actions. Instead he told Moses and gave Moses the opportunity to speak on his people’s behalf. I think this shows that God just doesn’t care about the relationship between him and us alone, but rather he also cares about how we as a community care about each other. Did he even want Moses in charge if Moses really didn’t care about the Israelites? But here Moses proves he does care. Just as our leaders should honestly care about us. Just as I honestly care about you.

So no smiting happens. God allows the Hebrews to live. And Moses finally heads down the mountain. Can someone read Exodus 32:15-16?

15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, tablets that were written on both sides, written on the front and on the back. 16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets.

The tablets referred to in here are the tablets on which the law is written. Most people when they imagine these tablets, imagine them with only the ten commandments written on them. But it says the tablets were covered on both the front and back. So I imagine it was more than just the ten commandments, but probably all of the law. And I imagine they were also probably rather large tablets.

Can someone read Exodus 32:19-24?

19 As soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

21 Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” 22 And Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are bent on evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off’; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

Even though Moses knew the people had started worshiping an idol, he hadn’t seen it for himself. So he comes down the mountain and he sees it, and he is furious. He literally throws the tablets he’s holding—the tablets covered in God’s word, God’s own hand writing according to the previous section—and breaks them. Because remember these are stone tablets so they would be breakable.

I think it’s safe to say Moses has a little bit of an anger management problem.

When Moses went up the mountain he left his brother Aaron in charge. So naturally he goes to Aaron and is like “WHAT THE HECK, AARON?” And Aaron tries to explain himself, tries to be like “they asked me to do it.” But is Aaron’s excuse really viable? [Let them answer.]

Yeah, no. Aaron should have been like “this is not okay.” He was put in charge. He could have stopped it. In a lot of ways, I think Aaron just gave into the pressure. He wasn’t as confident in his relationship with God as Moses was, God didn’t talk to Aaron in the same way. So he just sort of caved when the people asked him to something he probably knew was wrong. Sometimes we do this too. It’s called peer pressure. We know we’re not supposed to do something, but we do it anyway. And that doesn’t excuse us. What Aaron did was wrong.

And there is a punishment. God sends a plague down on them, a plague like a sickness. Some people die from it. Our actions have consequences.  In this case, they thought God would do everything for them, and they could just do whatever they wanted, scot free. But that wasn’t the case.

Eventually God lifts the plague, and the people are able to continue on their journey to the promised land.

Before they set off again, Moses goes back up the mountain to talk to God some more. At the very least, he has to make new tablets, since he destroyed the last ones in his anger. So Moses goes up the Mountain to talk to God. In Exodus 33:11 it says “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” That’s kind of an amazing image. Sort of like how in the beginning of Genesis, God literally walked with Adam and Eve. But despite the fact that is says “face to face” it doesn’t mean actual face to face. It means that more metaphorically, as in like personal discussions in private. In French there is a similar phrase “tête-à-tête.” Tête alone means “head” but all that phrase really means is private, personal conversations. That’s what it means here. How do we know it’s not face to face? As in actual faces. Well because a little later Moses has a conversation with God about wanting to see God’s face. Can someone read Exodus 33:18-23?

18 Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” 21 And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

If these verses seem familiar to you, it’s because we’ve talked about them before, when we talked about Jacob wrestling with God. But in the context here, we see that Moses has been serving and talking to God for a long time now. Since he saw that burning bush in the desert and God told him his name was “I am who I am.” But in all that time, Moses has never seen God.

I think it’s a very human thing to want to see someone we’re talking to. I know I’ve had several friends that were basically pen pals for a long time before I saw them face to face, and when I finally did it brought my heart such joy. I think it’s a human desire that we want to see those we love face to face. And Moses loves God, so it makes sense.

But God says no one can see his face and live. However, he tells Moses to stand behind a rock, and then God will basically cover Moses while he walks by and Moses can see God’s “back” or basically like afterglow, the glory that trails behind him. But not his face. And even that has a tremendous impact on Moses. Can someone read Exodus 34:29-35?

29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34 but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Moses finally comes down the mountain, with new tablets in hand, and his face is literally shining. Not like metaphorically glowing like people might say about a pregnant woman. No, his face is so bright that he has to put a veil over his face. And Moses only saw God’s like back and it has that sort of physical effect on him. Because God’s glory is so great, it physically affects Moses. It’s amazing.

Eventually they do leave Mount Sinai and continue on their journey to the promises land. Before they go they construct a couple of things that we’ll talk about in more detail when we talk about the law, but the most important is the Tabernacle, which is basically like a portable tent church, so Moses has a place to talk to God on the journey.

Eventually they do make it all the way to the promised land of Canaan. We’re going to skip ahead to the book of Numbers now. So skip past Leviticus, which is pretty much a whole book of the law, and to Numbers, the fourth book of the Bible. Can someone read Numbers 13:1-3?

 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites; from each of their ancestral tribes you shall send a man, every one a leader among them.” 3 So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them leading men among the Israelites.

God tells Moses not just to barge into the promised land. But rather to send spies ahead—one from each tribe—so twelve spies—to go figure out the lay of the land. Now can someone read Numbers 13:25-29?

25 At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. 26 And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the land of the Negeb; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live by the sea, and along the Jordan.”

The spies spend 40 days in the promised land and then come back and give a report. Basically, they’re like “The land is so beautiful, omg, here is even some sample fruit. BUT the people there are super scary and there are even GIANTS.” The descendants of Anak would be the giants. Most of the spies are basically like “So let’s not go there.”

But then one spy says something else. Can someone read Numbers 13:30-32?

30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” 31 Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we.” 32 So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size.

Caleb is one of the spies. He’s like “Who cares if they’re strong? We’ve got God so we’re stronger, so let’s go.” But the other spies are still just like “NOPE. Not gonna happen. They are giants.”

Needless to say when the Israelites here this report, they freak out. They don’t want to go to the promised land. They are scared and basically are like “I can’t believe God brought us out of Egypt all the way over here to just kill us now. We should go back to Egypt.”

Caleb tries to convince the people otherwise, that they should go and take the promised land. That God has got their back and everything will be fine. Moses I think is mostly just exasperated at this point and can’t believe they are having this same argument again. The most important reaction to all of this is, of course, God’s. Can someone read Numbers 14:20-24?

20 Then the Lord said, “I do forgive, just as you have asked; 21 nevertheless—as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord— 22 none of the people who have seen my glory and the signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tested me these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their ancestors; none of those who despised me shall see it. 24 But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me wholeheartedly, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.

The Hebrews have basically shown they don’t believe in God again. They don’t believe God has their back if they enter the Promised Land. And God’s reaction is basically “fine, you don’t believe? You don’t get to go.” There punishment is the people who did not believe will not get to step foot in the promised land. Caleb, however, who believed, will get to. Because of this, the Israelites are sent to wander in the desert for 40 years.

Now Moses—he believes God—he’s just trying to lead the people. So that should mean he gets to enter the Promised Land—assuming he lives that long. However, we’re going to see that eventually Moses’s own struggle with his temper catches up to him.

Here we have another case of the people not having water, and complaining about it. They want Moses to give them some water. So Moses goes to God and asks for water. Now Can someone read Numbers 20:7-12?

7 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 8 Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.

9 So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he had commanded him. 10 Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. 12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

God gives Moses very specific instructions. He is to speak to the rock and it will provide water. Moses goes out to his people and you can just tell from how he talks to them that he’s frustrated. He calls them rebels, he’s a little snarky “Shall I get you water from this rock?” And then instead of speaking to the rock, he strikes it with his staff twice.

The water comes, but is that what God told Moses to do? No. He told him very specifically, he was to speak to the rock. This is just one in a line of examples of Moses’ temper getting the better of him, like breaking the stone tablets. So Moses is to be punished too, for disobeying God.

God tells Moses that Moses will not be the one who leads the Israelites in the Promised Land. Moses too will die before the Hebrews reach that place.

In the end, however, God does let Moses look at the Promised Land, just not enter. I need everyone to skip ahead another book of the Bible to Deuteronomy. We’re going to skip to the very last chapter, chapter 34. And I want us to read the whole chapter, so I’ll read it.

34 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. 4 The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” 5 Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. 6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.

9 Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

Moses eventually got everyone to the Promised Land, but he himself never got to enter. Moses, who was once a baby in a basket who floated down the Nile, then became Prince of Egypt, then a shepherd, and finally the reluctant leader of Israel. He succeeded in his task, and God let him look upon the land that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had once lived in.

But then it was the next generation’s turn to lead, and Joshua—the new leader of Israel—lead them into Canaan.

And that is the story of Moses.

Moses and the Israelites (Moses Part 6)

Last week we talked about the last plague God sent to Egypt, the death of the firstborns, and we talked about Passover--the Jewish holiday that commemorates this event. After this tenth plague, Pharaoh finally relented and finally let the Hebrews leave Egypt. So today we're going to start with that. Can someone read Exodus 12:37-41?

37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. 38 A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds. 39 They baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt; it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

40 The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. 41 At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.

The Israelites had been in Egypt for 430 years according to these verses. I want us to think about that for a moment. 430 years. How long ago was 430 years from now? 1587. Do you guys know anything about 1587? What the world was like then? Where your ancestors were?

Well let's see,  in 1587 Queen Elizabeth the First was queen of England. In 1587, Shakespear was alive but had not yet written his first play. In 1587 the Pilgrims had not even come to America yet. The Spanish had, I believe. So if you're of Spanish or obviously Native American descent, your ancestors may have been in America. Otherwise, your family hadn't come here yet. They were all living in some other country and probably didn't know America even existed.

Do you guys know the names of any of your ancestors who were alive in 1587? [Let them answer.] Yeah, most people don't unless you're descended from some big name person like the Queen of England. So your family wasn't likely here in 1587. Do you consider yourself American? [Let them answer.]

Why do I bring this up? Because the Hebrews had been in Egypt longer than your families have been here. And yet they didn't consider themselves Egyptian. They never assimilated. Yet it had been the only land they had ever known. The only land their parents, grandparents, great great grandparents and farther back than most of us can remember. And suddenly they are leaving.

So they're greateful to leave this oppression, to not be slaves anymore, but do you think this leaving of the only land they had ever known for generations was maybe a little scary? [Let them answer.]

Yeah. I think they were both happy and terrified. They had no idea what the world outside of Egypt might be like. And they were going to a promised land their families hadn't been to for hundreds of years. While they would have stories of what it was like--the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that we've read--they would have no idea what it's really like. And places can change a lot in 430 years.

And needless to say, they probably didn't have directions on how to get there. We'll see in the next verses how God is going to take care of that. Can someone read Exodus 13:17-22?

17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. 19 And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” 20 They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. 21 The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

There is a couple of things in this section. (1) God is personally picking the path the Hebrews are going in. So it doesn't matter that they don't have the right directions. He doesn't want them to face war so immentently after leaving Egypt, so he picked a more scenic direction. (2) Moses takes Joseph's bones with them out of Egypt. Remember Joseph was the most trusted man in all of Egypt in his day. So his body was probably fairly well preserved. We still have bones of Egyptians from back then, so it's not crazy that they would have access to his tomb and be able to take his remains with them. By taking Joseph's bones, Moses is fulfilling a promise Joseph made the people make, that they would take his remains back home, to his original homeland, the promise land, one day. (3) God led the Israelites with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. A lot of times this is visualized as like a tornado going ahead of them, leading the way.  Don't you think that would have been amazing to see? The Israelites were literally being led by God. Miraculous.

Alright can someone read Exodus 14:5-9?

5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” 6 So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; 7 he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. 8 The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. 9 The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

So the Israelites leave and suddenly Pharaoh realizes what he's done. Time has passed since the last plague, and he's without the people who they relied on as slaves. Also the plagues devastated Egypt. Egypt has lost everything: it's crops, it's livestock, it's slaves, and it's firstborn. This is probably the moment in the Pharaoh's grief where he is feeling rage, and all of his rage and anger at losing everything is directed at the people who--from his perspective--caused it. The Israelites. So he and his entire army suits up and goes after them.

Can somsone read Exodus 14:10-14?

10 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

So the Israelites see Pharaoh coming--they see this whole army bearing down on them. The Israelites are a lot of people, but they're not an army. They don't have weapons. They have like children in their arms. If Pharaoh comes in on chariots, he will slaughter them.  So they're basically like "OMG WHAT WAS THE POINT? TO FREE US JUST SO WE CAN DIE NOW????" And Moses is like "You guys need to chill. God's got us." And that just might be the understatement of the year. Because what happens next is probably the most famous Biblical miracle. Can someone read Exodus 14:19-22?

19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

The tornado that was leading the Israelites? Suddenly it moves and cuts off the Egyptians from getting to them. They can't get through it, and the Israelites are temporarily safe. But they're backed up to a sea. Moses turns to the sea, stretches out his hand, and God parts the water. He literally parts the water so that they walk on the sea's floor and it is dry, with walls of water around them, like they're walking through a canyon made of water. The Hebrews then walk through this canyon of water to escape the Egyptians.

Now can someone read Exodus 14:23-31?

23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24 At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25 He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

Presumably the tornado separating the Egyptians and Hebrews drops, because now the Egyptians pursue them into the water. But then the tornado of fire comes back and send them all into a panic, but it's kinda hard to turn your chariot around in the bottom of a chasm of water. God basically makes their chariot wheels start getting stuck and the like. Then once all the Hebrews are through the water, God has Moses raise his hand again and the sea returns to normal, flooding the Egyptians. The entire army of Pharaoh is drowned.

The Israelites were terrified of this army, but God showed them no one is more powerful than him. Not even teh most powerful army on the face of the planet. Because remember that is what the Egyptians would have been at that time. The most powerful country with the most powerful army in the world. God is stronger than that.

And these Hebrews who believed in the beginning of this story that God wouldn't really be able to free them from slavery, are finally beginning to really believe that God is on their side.

Now the Hebrews are truly free from Egypt. They are not only seperated from Egypt by the Red Sea, but pharaoh's entire pursuing army is dead. They spend most of the next chapter just singing praises to God. They are amazed and they finally believe, they really are God's chosen people.

But things don't stay all hunky dory because the Hebrews, like us, were only human. Can someone read Exodus 15:22-25?

22 Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 He cried out to the Lord; and the Lord showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he put them to the test.

Three days after they've left the Red Sea, they have not found any water. We've talked about this before: how long can you last without water? [Let them answer.] Three days. So assuming they had canteens and jugs of water they were carrying with them, they are probably still fine but getting worried. Water is something you need easy access to in order to survive. This is why you can get it for free everywhere in America from water fountains in public and most restaurants. No one wants anyone to die from dehydration.

Then they do find water but it's "bitter." That probably means it's salt water, which is not drinkable. If you drink salt water, you will dehydrate faster than you hydrate because of the salt. So the people are worried and they take it to Moses.

And God tells Moses to throw a stick in the water and he makes it drinkable! Yay God is still taking care of them!

Can someone read Exodus 16:2-3?

2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Again we have the same kind of worry as the water. They don't have good and they're afraid they're going to die in the middle of the desert. Do you guys think God is going to take care of this too? [Let them answer.] Well let's see. Can someone read Exodus 16:13-15?

13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat."

God once again provides. In the evenings quails come and cover the camp. Quails are birds, and basically they're kind of like small chickens from a food perspective. So the people would be able to get a quail and cook it, and be satisfied. God also provides them in the morning with a strange substance that the people don't know what it is. Here Moses tells them it is a bread God is providing them. If you look ahead to Exodus 16:31 the Bible says this about this strange food: "The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made of honey."

Manna. If you ever here someone say "Manna from heaven" this is what they mean. Or sometimes it's used a saying to mean something needed God is miraculously giving you. Whatever manna was it was clearly very delicious and filling.

Now can somsone read Exodus 17:1-6?

17 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Once again water is a concern. Remember they're traveling. And where your water comes from depends on where are you--the nearest lakes or springs or wells. They didn't have hotels they could just check themselves into that had running water. The land provided the water to them. So they become concerned again when they have a couple of days with no water. And they came to Moses and are angry with him. "Give us water!"

Moses is angsty about this. He sees all the stuff God has been providing them and is basically like "Don't you know God will provide?" But the people are just like "YOU BROUGHT US OUT HERE TO DIE."

I think when people read these stories they tend to identify a lot with Moses in this situation, seeing these people are ungrateful and not willing to trust in God. But I think we should be a little more generous than that when we read this story. These people had lived in Egypt their entire lives. In Egypt they had food. They had water. They understood how the world worked. Suddenly there life is like an extended camping trip where every day is a new surprise, a new challenge, a new fear. I think they're like a lot of us when we go camping for the first time. We're used to a life of running water and toilets and suddenly, we're in the wilderness without any of those things. It's very scary to be in the wilderness and be uncertain about where you're going or when you'll get there.

And Moses is impatient with them. Remember Moses never really wanted this job in the first place. He kept trying to get out of it. He didn't want this life. He wanted to stay a shephard in Midian with his wife's people. Instead he's leading this group of needy people who are relying on him. The Hebrews look to Moses and they basically see God. Yes it is God who is providing, but what the people see is Moses lifting his staff to part the Red Sea, Moses throwing a stick in the water to make it sweet, Moses bringing quails and manna.

I think the people are idolizing Moses a little bit. And this next story certainly isn't going to make that any better. Can somsone read Exodus 17:8-16?

8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. 13 And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a reminder in a book and recite it in the hearing of Joshua: I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called it, The Lord is my banner. 16 He said, “A hand upon the banner of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”

The Israelites basically run into an army on their travels. And they have to fight them. Here we are introduced to Joshua--who is basically the leader of the Hebrew army, such as it is. Moses tells him to go fight this army and that Moses will watch out for them. And so Joshua does. And when Moses raises his hands, the Hebrews begin to win! When his hands fall because he is tired, they begin to lose. So Aaron and another guy basically prop him up so his hands stay up.

This basically makes it seem like--to the Israelites--that Moses is magical. We know God is just using Moses, but from their perspective, they've never like actually seen God. They've only seen Moses come and promise he would save them. Moses raise his staff to bring about plagues. Moses find them water. Moses get them food. Moses save them from this army. And I think that explains what happens next.

Moses leads the people to a mountain called Sinai, which Moses climbs to go talk to God. We're going to study what goes on between Moses and God on this mountain next week. But basically Moses goes up there and disappears for several days.

Up until this point the people have been wholy relying on Moses. So when he disappears. They don't really take it well. Can someone read Exodus 32:1-6?

32 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

Moses doesn't come down in a timely fashion and people freak out. They basically ask Aaron to make them a new god and he does! Aaron, Moses' own brother, who should know better than anyone. Why? After everything God has done for them! After everything they have seen. Why are they doubting God?

Well I think it's because they didn't really believe, not really. They didn't see it as God providing them, they say it as Moses providing for them. They saw Moses as god. So when Moses went missing, god went missing. And suddenly here they were, in the wilderness, alone, without their god. So they wanted something else to idolize, something else to believe in in the place of Moses. So they made a golden calf, something they knew wasn't really a god. Something they made with their own hands. But they were scared and alone.

I think people do this all the time. I think we think we're believing in God sometimes, but really we're believing in a stand-in for God. That thing can be our pastor, our parents, a teacher, a friend, or any numerous things. We think "God doesn't talk to me. God only talks to them." And so we listen to that person's words more closely, and don't listen for God ourselves. And we make that person sort of like God to us. And when we lose that person, it can be devastating. Suddenly we don't know how to hear God, because that person was the only way we had to connect to God, or so we thought.

But while Moses left the Israelites, did God? [Let them answer.] No! God can be everywhere and with all of us. He can speak to each one of us. There isn't one special perosn that only hears God. There wasn't even back then. Aaron had heard God speak, God had come to him in dreams and spoken to him. And yet he too doubted, putting more faith in Moses.

You don't need someone else to act between you and God. You can go to him directly. And if you lose someone close to you who kept you accountable and near God--whether through that person moving or leaving or dying--that doesn't mean you lose God. You can still stay with God. You can have your own personal relationship with God, and you don't need to rely on anyone--your parents, your pastor, or your teacher--for that.

And we're going to stop here this week. Next week we'll talk about what exactly did happen with Moses on that mountain and how he reacts when he comes down and sees what has happened.

Moses and the Last Plague (Moses Part 5)

Last week we talked about the first nine plagues of Egypt. Remember Moses had come back to Egypt to free the Hebrews, but Pharaoh didn’t want to let them go. But also remember, that at the beginning of this, the Hebrew people were broken. They didn’t believe Moses or God could save them. They just wanted Moses to go away and leave them alone as Pharaoh was punishing the Hebrews for Moses actions.

So God revealed his plan to Moses to show Egypt and the Hebrews many signs and wonders—which translated to plagues. It’s important to remember that the purpose of these plagues was not just to annoy and punish the Egyptians or convince Pharaoh to let them go, but also to remind the Hebrew people that God was their God and he had their backs.

So these plagues—like frogs and flies and hail and locusts—would affect the Egyptians but leave the Hebrews unscathed. If these had been normal events happening all over Egypt—without divine direction—these plagues would have affected everyone. Instead the Hebrews were unscathed. They would have been watching all of this in wonder and being reminded of the covenant that long ago God made with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. That they belong to God, and because of that God is looking out for them and not going to leave them to suffer.

But after nine plagues, plagues that have basically left Egypt destitute, pharaoh still has not relented and let the Israelites leave. Even though pharaoh’s own advisors begged him to just let the Hebrews go so they could get some peace. Pharaoh was still like “no, these people are mine and I will not give in to their demands.”

After the last plague, pharaoh forbid Moses from his presence ever again.

Before all the other plagues, Moses would go to pharaoh and say what’s going to come, but now he can’t. Now pharaoh said he’ll kill Moses if Moses enters his presence. So we’re going to see that for the last plague Moses goes before all the people—Egyptian and Hebrew—and warns them.

So let’s turn to Exodus 11:3-8. Can someone read that?

3 The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, Moses himself was a man of great importance in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s officials and in the sight of the people.

4 Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out through Egypt. 5 Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 6 Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again. 7 But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites—not at people, not at animals—so that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8 Then all these officials of yours shall come down to me, and bow low to me, saying, ‘Leave us, you and all the people who follow you.’ After that I will leave.” And in hot anger he left Pharaoh.

For all the other plagues, Moses has gone before Pharaoh to warn him about it before the plague comes. But this time he can’t, because Pharaoh has forbidden his presence. So Moses goes out to tell the people, and he can and people will listen to him because by this point basically everyone respects him.

Moses is the harbinger of all these plagues. He has come before them and said they will happen, and they have. And people have been paying attention to that. That’s why we saw last week that when Moses warned people about the hail, some Egyptians listened and brought all of their stuff inside, so it wouldn’t be hurt by the hail. They heeded Moses’ warning. This is also why the Egyptian advisors begged Pharaoh to listen to Moses before the plague of locusts, because they knew Moses was telling the truth.

While in the beginning everyone was skeptical of Moses, now when Moses speaks, everyone listens to him, Egyptian and Hebrew alike. So it is to everyone that Moses gives his warning of the last plague.

And this plague is the worst. This time the first born will die, from the highest person—that is the firstborn of pharaoh—to the lowest—a firstborn of a slave. And if any livestock remain their firstborn shall die too. But the Hebrews will be spared.

But Pharaoh doesn’t listen.

Can someone read Exodus 12:21-28?

21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down. 24 You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children. 25 When you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed down and worshiped.

Moses talks to the Hebrew elders and gives them specific instructions. They are to kill a lamb and then paint their doorways with the blood of the launch. When it says the lintel and two doorposts that’s the top of the doorway and the two posts that hold it up. So they took that blood and painted it on their doors.

The implication here is if the Hebrews did not do this, their firstborn too would die. They have to do this so the plague will pass by then.

Moses also instructs them that they are to celebrate this event every year. If you look back over the previous verses of chapter 12 you’ll see Moses gives the people some very specific instructions on how to celebrate this event. And Passover is something that Jesus celebrated in his day, over 1500 years later and that people still celebrate today, over 3500 years later. This is an ancient celebration. A celebration that we call Passover.

Now can someone read Exodus 12:29-30?

29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.

So the plague comes to pass and the first born of the Egyptians die. Remember these people knew it was coming, Moses warned them, so when it says they arose in the night, they probably didn’t sleep at all that night. Worried, anxious, checking on their kids. And then it happened, just as Moses said. A situation that could have been averted if Moses just let the people go.

Can someone read Exodus 12:31-32?

31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!”

So in the middle of this horrible night, Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron to him and says “go away.” He lets them go. The Hebrews win, and it has cost the Egyptians dearly.

Now I want us to pause a minute here and dwell on this, because I know some of you are concerned about and brought up numerous times the morality of Passover. So let’s think about it for a moment. What do you guys think? Here we have a situation where Egyptians have enslaved the Hebrews for generations. Then to make matters worse, the Egyptians kill the sons of all the Hebrews, in fear that the Hebrews might rise up against him. Make no mistake, the Egyptians have completely oppressed and subjugated the Hebrews.

God saves the Hebrews, by using a former-Egyptian prince born of Hebrews to come back as his mouthpiece. Moses tells Pharaoh to let them go, but Pharaoh doesn’t want to. God starts with some rather minor plagues—things that are more annoyances than death sentences. Frogs. Gnats. Flies. These are annoying and disgusting but no one is dying from this. Pharaoh is still stubborn. Then he escalates a little: boils on the skin. Personally annoying and painful, but probably not going to kill you. Pharaoh is still stubborn. Worse, Pharaoh has now gone into this whole “I’m going to lie and say I’ll set you free but not do it” sort of mentality.  So the plagues get worse to the point where they will have longterm detrimental consequences on Egypt. And we see other people get convinced to Moses’s side of things, but not Pharaoh. Pharaoh is still stubborn. So it escalates to this final plague: the death of the firstborns of all of Egypt. Finally Pharaoh lets the Hebrews go.

So what do you guys think about this story? I want to hear your thoughts.

[Let them answer.]

Note to Leader: I would like this to be an honest to goodness discussion as much as possible. So I’ve created a few talking points that you can bring up as the discussion goes this way or allows.

·         Passover Thoughts:

o   I want us to think about that word for a moment. If you’re familiar with this story you know what happens next, pharaoh is going to let them go. So you would think what the Hebrews would celebrate would be Liberation Day! Or Freedom Day! Or “Thank God for saving us from the Egyptians” Day! Instead the Jewish people celebrate Passover, which in Hebrew is Pesach. So what people are celebrating is not that they were liberated, but rather that they were passed over. Basically they’re celebrating that God didn’t kill them too. Because that would have given them the same result, in that pharaoh would have still freed their people. But God pass over them. I find this very interesting.

o   Quote from article you may want to read: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-daniel-brenner/does-passover-celebrate-the-death-of-innocent-egyptians_b_2821971.html “....during the Seder there is a tradition to express sadness at the demise of the Egyptians. The joy of the celebration is diminished at every seder by recalling the impact of each plague on ordinary Egyptians. As every plague is read, a drop of wine is removed from the cup, and at the mention of the final plague—the death of the Egyptian firstborn—our joy is diminished doubly as we removed two drops of wine from our cups.” So Jewish people recognize that their freedom came at great cost to others.

·         Just vs. Fair (a very traditional sort of interpretation)

o   Is the death of common Egyptians when it’s Pharaoh’s stubbornness (not their own) that’s keeping the Hebrews present fair? No. But Fair and Just aren’t the same thing.

o   We tend to think “fair” means equitable. Everyone gets a fair share. Everything is balance and fair.

o   Whereas “justice” has more to do with right and wrong. Is it fair that a child has to lose her father if her father murders someone else? No. But it is just that the father go to jail.

o   God’s law was the ultimate law, not Pharaoh’s. Pharaoh had to pay the price for breaking the ultimate law.

·         This is war.

o   It’s a war that the Egyptian started. The Egyptians and Hebrews were living together peaceable and then the Egyptians escalated everything. They killed the first baby. Not the Hebrews.

·         Counter-arguments:

o   Didn’t God make and love the Egyptians too?

o   What about Jesus’s whole love your enemy thing? Or turning the other cheek?

Conclusion:

I have no easy answer here for you guys. I know the traditional answers, and the pat answers. I can even provide some historical Jewish interpretations. But this isn’t a thing we’re going to find a trite answer to in Sunday School.

The Hebrews were God chosen’s people. They had lost faith. And this whole sequence is part of the story of God wooing the Hebrews back to him. When you think of it in a story context and in the greater context of the whole Bible, that’s the beauty of it. God remembering his people and protecting them, like a mother who defends her young against predators. Even when the Hebrews stray, God still loves them and brings them back home. Just like even when you misbehave, your parents still love you and try to keep you safe.

That can justify your parents killing someone who attacks you—it falls under self-defense. But it doesn’t justify your parents then going and murdering that person’s entire family—even if that person killed you. Or at least it doesn’t according to our modern sensibilities.

And that’s part of the problem, sometimes, when we view these old stories. We’re post-modern people in a post-modern world. Post-modern, post-enlightenment, literate people who have these crazy ideas about morality that probably would have been very foreign to someone like Moses. 

But I think there are a couple of things we can remember and take away here.

First off God is not a human. He is God. He is beyond our comprehension. His ways are foreign to us. There is a verse in Isaiah that says this: I’ll read it. It’s Isaiah 55:8-9

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As Christians we will spend our whole lives trying to understand God and his will for us, but the truth is we cannot comprehend him and we never will until we get to heaven and see him face to face. And maybe not even then! Who knows if at that moment we will have perfect understanding. But at least then we’ll be able to speak with him in a more direct way and sit in his presence.

Secondly, whenever you read a Bible story and you’re not sure how you feel about it or if it disturbs you, remember that is okay. Never forget that Jacob literally wrestled with God, literally fought Him. It is okay to struggle with God. It’s okay to struggle with the Bible. It is okay to doubt. God uses these struggles to teach us something and sometimes to bless us, just like with Jacob. Because after Jacob physically struggled with God, God blessed him and changed his name.

And finally, when you come across a story like this and you’re not sure how it means, I want you to take a step back and ask yourself this question. What does this story tell us about God, in light of Jesus? What do I mean by this? Well remember the Bible is not God, the Bible is simply a tool God has used to reveal himself to us. But Jesus is God. He is the living physical incarnation of our God. And as Christians we should view everything in the old Testament in the light of Jesus.

And when I look at this story, I see how powerful God is. The amazing things he can do. But also how patient he can be. God could have gone immediately to the final plague. He could have been like “DEATH TO EVERYONE” from the beginning. But instead he gave Pharaoh multiple chances to change his mind. God gave the person who had single-handedly been enslaving and subjugating his people a chance. Just as he did when he sent Jesus.

When Jesus came to this earth, the Jewish people were once again oppressed, by this time by the Romans. And the Romans were not innocent in Jesus’s death. They were the law that allowed it, the law that turned their back on him. But God even saved them. From the Roman centurion who realized after he crucified Jesus that Jesus must be the Son of God, to the people of Rome in the church Paul helped found there, the Romans were brought to God. God reconciled them to him.

And remember with Jesus we have become grafted into God’s covenant. We are now a part of God’s chosen people. So in this story of the Exodus we would not be the Egyptians, we would all—anyone of any ethnicity or background—be the ones God works tirelessly and patiently to save.

And that’s what this story teaches us about God. He’s got our back. And he will never let outside forces take us (as a people) from him. He will do whatever it takes to keep us with him, and let that be a comfort to you. 

Torn by Justin Lee

Statistics:
Title: Torn: Rescuing the Gospel form the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate
Author: Justin Lee
Pages: 272
Genre: Faith, Biblical Living, LGBT issues,
Age Range: Adult
Publication Date: January 1, 2012
Publisher: Jericho Books
Medium: Audiobook

What brought this book to your attention?

I heard about this book from two different fronts: (1) Rachel Held Evans recommended it on her blog, and (2) I stumbled across Justin Lee on the internet. I immediately knew it was a book I wanted to read, since the "Gay vs. Christian" debate is a very real debate in our modern world. I've struggled with wanting to be an "affirming" Christian (i.e. someone who wants to affirm gay relationships) but unsure how I can Biblically take such a position. So I've been trying to seek out books that discuss this issue.

This book is definitely one of those books. In Torn, Justin Lee tells his story as growing up Southern Baptist and discovering he's gay. This book is his testimony, his journey with God and his struggle with his sexuality. This is not a man who lightly made a "choice" to be gay. This is a man who struggled mightily against the sexuality he was born with, who denied it, tried to change it, and struggled with God and His Word before coming to any conclusions. This not a man who takes God's Word lightly, and neither does he ask his reader.

I've never read a book that is so fair to all parties involved. Lee is not condemning the Christians who tried to change or fix him. He understands and loves them, because they are his family, his people, and once upon a time he was them. He just wants to tell his story, so Christians understand his struggle as a gay Christian. He wants to educated and enlighten.

We of the Southern Baptist flavor of Christianity have always put a strong emphasis on personal testimonies, personal stories of how God moved in people's life. This is Justin Lee's testimony. And a very gracious and educational addition to any reading list on the topic. 

Did you learn anything?

Any Biblical arguments Justin Lee made in his book I had already heard; however, for anyone new to the discussion of the Biblical arguments for gay celibacy or gay monogamous relationships in a Christian context this book provides a high level groundwork for that discussion. Justin Lee takes a stance towards the end of where he stands on this discussion, but he is certainly not of the "YOU MUST AGREE WITH ME OR ELSE" variety of person. He's just like "This is what I believe and these are other things other people also believe."

However, I did learn a lot about the ex-gay movement. I didn't know a lot about it, because the ex-gay movement only came on my radar as it was ending. At the time this book was written, the ex-gay movement was still strong and on-going. Now most ex-gay groups have closed doors and admitted that their promise of changing people from gay to straight basically never worked.

It was fascinating and heartbreaking  to hear this personal story of a young man's struggles with trying to change his orientation, his struggles with his faith in the light of the fact he couldn't change it, and trying to figure out what it meant for his life going forward.

Did you disagree with anything?

You can and may disagree with Justin's conclusion that gay married relationships are acceptable in the Christian faith. Personally, I am becoming more convinced every day to the affirming position. However for me, one of the nice things about this book is that he allows for disagreement. He doesn't require you agree with him, because getting you to that solution is not his final point, not the purpose of his book. Justin's main point is to educate the straight Christian community on the struggles of gay Christian, and why some gay Christians get to the solutions they do: whether that's pretending to be straight, celibacy, or a same-sex marriage. Justin is clear in which solution he has chosen, but he's also clear that we should support celibate gay Christians, and that if a gay Christian decides to enter into a straight marriage they are as equally held to those vows as any straight person.

How did you like the book overall?

I loved this book and honestly think every Christian should read this book--whether you're struggling with the debate or not. Even if you think gay people should never be allowed to enter into romantic or sexual relationships and at the end of the book you still think that, the book allows for that and better shows you how to love the gay Christians in your midst. We can not help our brothers and sisters in Christ if we do not understand their struggle. We should not condemn them without listening to them. And that is ultimately Justin's moral. Listen first.

That is advice any Christian can use in any situation, but especially in this one. We jump so quickly to condemnation without even hearing people's stories and trials.

Read this book. Hear the story. You won't regret it.

Moses and the Plagues (Moses Part 4)

Note: When I did this lesson I was pressed for time. Also the teacher of the other hour of Middle School Sunday School was sick, so I taught both hours, so there wasn't as much reason for me to write up a pretty post explaining all my notes. So this post is basically just my notes. Next time I do this set of lessons I will come back and pretty this up, but for now, I present my notes.

Summary of Last Lesson

  • Moses comes to free the Israelites, Pharaoh says no, Israelites lose faith, and no one is happy.

Exodus 7:8-13: Staffs turn to snakes

  • Staff turns to snake.
  • This a sign that literally hurts no one, but pharaoh is unmoved by it. This is basically the warning shot across the bow.

Exodus 7:20-25: WATER TO BLOOD

  • Moses turns the water into blood.
  • Pharaoh’s magicians pull off the same trick
  • Pharaoh is like “meh”
  • People dig wells since they have nothing else to drink
  • God leaves it that way for seven days

Exodus 8:6-15: FROGS EVERYWHERE

  • Frogs are called. It’s super annoying.(Note: I described this to them as "frogs on your bed, frogs in your bathroom, you can't step without stepping on frogs, you're sitting in your seat and frogs in your lap. FROGS EVERYWHERE." And the Middle Schoolers were like O.O )
  • Pharaoh’s magicians pull off the same trick but Pharaoh is super annoyed
  • Pharaoh is basically like “okay okay, I’ll let you go just let it stop”
  • Moses is like “cool. Lemme tell God”
  • God stops it and Pharaoh is like “PSYCHE”
  • The people are not set free

Exodus 8:16-19: GNATS

  • Gnats are called and magicians can not recreate it. Magicians are like “surely this is God.” They beg pharaoh to relent he’s like “nah bro”
  • (Note: Imagine one of those swarms of gnats you occasionally walk into when you're outside are just around your head constantly and you can't get rid of them.)

Exodus 8:25-32: Flies and Pharaoh tries to compromise

  • Plague of flies is very similar to plague of gnats
  • Remember this three day journey to sacrifice is what was originally asked for. Pharaoh finally seems annoyed enough by all these plagues to want to allow it
  • But not TOO far, Pharaoh says. 
  • Moses stops the flies, and Pharaoh is like “PSYCHE” no one gets to go no where

Exodus 9:6-7: Livestock die

  • The moment when plagues go from mere annoyances to having for realz lasting consequences.
  • God kills the Egyptian livestock but not the Hebrew ones
  • If we look back to verse 9:3 we see this includes horses, donkeys, camels, herds, and any flocks. So basically everything.
  • Pharaoh is still like NEWP.

Exodus 9:8-12: plague of boils

  • So is a boil is basically an infected hair follicle or oil gland. It gets all red, turns into a lump, and like gets pus. So it’s a lot like a pimple but imagine it’s everywhere and can be accompanied by a fever and like swollen lymph nodes because it’s basically a staph infection in your hair follicles. Very unpleasant. This could also lead to sores which are also unpleasant and can be like blisters. So basically imagine this is a whole bunch of skin infections all over your body.
  • The magicians in this scenario are like “we can’t even show up because this is so freaking awful and painful”
  • Pharaoh is still like “newp”

Exodus 9:18-35: Hail

  • Hail is something you guys are familiar with, but it can be huge and deadly.
  • This plague is interesting because some Egyptians did listen to God and brought in all their stuff, because by this time they were like “WE GET IT. GOD IS POWERFUL.”
  • But other Egyptians didn’t listen.
  • The hail was so bad anyone who was out in it died and it destroyed the crops, though not all of them. And that’s going to be important for the next plague, because it shows the Egyptians still hav something, they still have something to lose.
  • Pharaoh once again does his whole “if you stop it I’ll let you go.” So Moses stops it and then Pharaoh is like “PSYCHE” once again

Exodus 10:3-11: Locusts

  • Locusts are bugs that come in and eat EVERYTHING. Like swarms of locusts are still something farmers fear.
  • So Moses is like this is going to happen! And you will have nothing left. The food that remains will be gone!!!!
  • Pharaoh is lke “FINE. You can go, but….who are you taking?”
  • Moses: EVERYONE
  • Pharaoh: uh, no. Not gonna happen. Rather have locusts.

Exodus 10:13-20

  • Locusts come, Pharaoh freaks out, asks for them to be removed, Moses does so, Pharaoh doesn’t let nobody go nowhere

Exodus 10:21-29: Darkness

  • Darkness for three days. That is terrifying.
  • Pharaoh is like “okay you can go but leave your livestock”
  • Moses is like “we kinda need it’
  • Pharaoh is like “THEN FINE YOU STAY”

End note: Originally I had intended to go all the way through the final plague in this lesson, but the class discussion was such that we didn't make it that far. So next lesson will be the final plague and passover!

Moses Goes Back to Egypt (Moses Part 3)

Last week we talked about how God gave Moses a mission. Who remembers what that mission was? [Let them answer.]

Right. It’s his job to go back and set all the Israelites free. Now was Moses excited about this task? [Let them answer.]

Yeah he definitely was not excited, and he gave God every excuse in the book to not do his job. In the end he mostly relented, but as we’ll see today, he’s still like “Are you sure God?” almost every step of the way, trying to get someone else to do the task. Because this is not a fun task, and one Moses doesn’t think he’s well suited for.

Now last week in one of the classes there was a little bit of confusion over the pharaohs. So I want to reiterate quickly. The Pharaoh who ordered the death of all the Israelite baby boys is a different Pharaoh from the one we’ll be talking about today. The previous Pharaoh is traditionally considered to be the Pharaoh named Seti, and if you ever watch a movie about Moses like Prince of Egypt or the Ten Commandments that’s the name he’ll have. We don’t know for sure if it was really Seti or not. Now while Moses is out in Midian, that first pharaoh dies and a new pharaoh takes over Egypt. Traditionally this pharaoh is considered to be Rameses and that’s how he’s referred to in most Moses movies. But like the first pharaoh, neither pharaoh is named in the Bible.

Moses was picked up by the first pharaoh’s daughter, making him the first pharaoh’s grandson. We don’t know how Moses was related to this second pharaoh. It could be any number of things. Royal successions are weird. He could be the first pharaoh’s son, but if the first pharaoh had no sons, he could be the first pharaoh’s grandson or his brother’s son, or some other male relation. Most Moses movies will portray them as closely related because that makes for a really good story, a great familial tension, if Moses and Rameses were close in age. But we don’t know that. Rameses could be old enough to be Moses father.

All we really know is that the Pharaoh Moses fled when he left Egypt is not the person who is pharaoh when he returns to Egypt.

Okay, so Moses is headed back to Egypt and this new Pharaoh. But God’s not sending him alone. Can someone read Exodus 4:27-31?

27 The Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went; and he met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28 Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which he had sent him, and all the signs with which he had charged him. 29 Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the Israelites. 30 Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses, and performed the signs in the sight of the people. 31 The people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had given heed to the Israelites and that he had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.

So God tells Aaron—Moses’s brother—to go meet Moses who’s on his way in. Because remember, Moses thinks he’s not very good at talking, so God was like “Okay, but your brother Aaron is, so he’ll help you out.”

Moses and Aaron meet up and Moses explains everything. Then with Aaron’s help, Moses gathers all the leaders of Israel and then Aaron explains everything. And at this point, the elders are really hopeful! They’re like “God has heard us! He’s going to save us! Thank goodness!”

They may even think it’s going to be easy and fast. Because God is God, he can do whatever he wants. So some of these people may expect that they’ll just go back, grab everyone else and leave, easy peasy. But God doesn’t always do everything the easy way, does he?

Now it’s time for Moses to let Pharaoh in on this whole freedom thing. So can someone read Exodus 5:1-5?

5 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.” 3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labors!” 5 Pharaoh continued, “Now they are more numerous than the people of the land and yet you want them to stop working!”

Moses and Aaron tell Pharaoh that God says he needs to let the Hebrews go. And Pharaoh basically laughs in their face. He doesn’t know this God. And he refuses to give up the Hebrews. The Hebrews’  are Pharaoh’s slaves, to do work for Pharaoh, and he’s not going to let them go. On top of that, we’re about to see he’s going to punish them for even asking.

Can someone read Exodus 5:6-13?

6 That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labor at it and pay no attention to deceptive words.”

10 So the taskmasters and the supervisors of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get straw yourselves, wherever you can find it; but your work will not be lessened in the least.’” 12 So the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt, to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, the same daily assignment as when you were given straw.”

One of the jobs of the Hebrews had to do was make bricks, presumably for construction. These bricks would basically be made with straw and clay. The Egyptians would provide the ingredients and the Hebrews would put it together. But as punishment for asking for their freedom, Pharaoh is basically like “We’re not providing the straw anymore. Go find your own straw. And oh yeah, you need to still produce the same amount of bricks you were making before.”

This is basically impossible.

And the Hebrews are pretty upset. They were told they were going to be freed. Not punished! Someone read Exodus 5:20-23.

20 As they left Pharaoh, they came upon Moses and Aaron who were waiting to meet them. 21 They said to them, “The Lord look upon you and judge! You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

22 Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”

The Hebrews are upset and they basically go to Moses and Aaron and are like “You said you would free us and now our lives our worse! What have you done? You’re going to kill us, not free us.”

The Hebrews lives were already hard. They were already slaves. Then Moses came along and said God wanted to deliver them out of their slavery. They probably thought that meant they would instantly be free. But that’s not the case. Instead their lives got worse. It’s no wonder they were angry. Moses gave them hope and it seemed to be for not.

And Moses instead of calming their fears and smoothing feathers, he takes their concern to God. He’s basically like “What the heck are you doing God?”

Sometimes people like to say it’s not our place to question God, and to a certain extent that’s true. We are not God. We can’t understand why he does the things he does. But right here, Moses is questioning God. He’s not just questioning God. He’s taking God to task. He’s like “Hey God, remember that thing you said you were going to do? Maybe you should freaking do it!”

It takes a lot of gumption to say something like that to God. And it would be within God’s rights to be like “Please, child, I don’t answer to you” and basically smite Moses where he stands. But as we’ve already seen with the story of Jacob and so many others, God is not opposed to us wrestling with him. It is okay to take your concerns to God and sometimes be a little angry about it. God understands your emotions, he wants you tell him what you’re feeling. And sometimes he responds with, “I’m God. I don’t need to explain myself to you. I’ve got it. Chill.” And sometimes he explains himself. Like here he will. Can someone read Exodus 6:1-8?

6 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh: Indeed, by a mighty hand he will let them go; by a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land.”

2 God also spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the Lord. 3 I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name ‘The Lord’ I did not make myself known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they resided as aliens. 5 I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. 6 Say therefore to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’”

God explains himself to Moses. He basically tells him that he’s going to make Pharaoh want to send the Hebrews out of the land, the very same Pharaoh who just basically laughed in Moses face and said he would never give the Hebrews up. God is going to change his mind that much.

Then he reiterates the covenant he made with Abraham to Moses. God has not forgotten his promises. And he says he will take them out of Egypt and back to the promised land, and through this all of the Hebrews will know him as their God.

Can someone read Exodus 6:9?

9 Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.

Moses goes back and tells the Hebrews what God told him. But the Hebrews spirit is broken. They don’t believe. And I think this is very important. We’re about to study and talk about plagues being rained down on Egypt and there will be the question of why God did this. Why did it take so many plagues and miracles to convince Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go?

And I think this is why.

I think it’s less about punishing the Egyptians, and more about making the Hebrews believe again. These are a broken people. They have lost their faith. They do not think God can deliver them. And now God is going to show them just what his might and power can do. And he is going to remind him that this covenant thing is a two-way street. He is theirs, and they are his. The Hebrews belong to God.

Can someone read Exodus 6:10-12?

10 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, 11 “Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his land.” 12 But Moses spoke to the Lord, “The Israelites have not listened to me; how then shall Pharaoh listen to me, poor speaker that I am?” 13 Thus the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, and gave them orders regarding the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, charging them to free the Israelites from the land of Egypt.

God speaks to Moses again, and tells him to go back to Pharaoh. But Moses is like “I couldn’t even get the people I’m supposed to free to listen to me. Why is Pharaoh going to?” Moses is trying to get out of his job again, but this time it’s not just because he hasn’t even tried. He’s talked to Pharaoh once and he’s talked to the Israelites. And neither time has it gone well. Moses is kind of like “I told you so God. I can’t speak well and that’s the downfall of this whole plan of yours.”

God doesn’t even deign Moses’s doubts with a response this time. Instead he’s just like, “Here’s my plan.”

Can someone read Exodus 7:1-7?

7 The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. 2 You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his land. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. 4 When Pharaoh does not listen to you, I will lay my hand upon Egypt and bring my people the Israelites, company by company, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. 5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them.” 6 Moses and Aaron did so; they did just as the Lord commanded them. 7 Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.

God tells Moses he has made him like God to Pharaoh. What does that mean? Well remember, Pharaoh would consider himself a god. Pharaoh was the representative of the Egyptain gods on earth. God is basically sort of elevating Moses to that same status. Moses is God’s representative on the earth. Moses will be speaking God’s words to Pharaoh. Later in the Bible the word prophet will be used for this, for someone whose job it is to talk with God and speak God’s words to his people. Here it says Aaron is Moses’ prophet. That basically relates back to the whole, Moses thinks he’s a bad speaker thing. Moses will tell Aaron what God tells him and Aaron will put it in pretty and clear words for pharaoh to listen to.

God tells them to go back to Pharaoh and ask them to let the Hebrews go, but that God will harden pharaoh’s heart. What does this mean? Well people argue about this. For some people it means God actually kept Pharaoh from realizing he should let the Hebrews go. God purposefully affected the pharaoh so he’d be stubborn. And God’s reason for this is he wants to show all his wonders, to convince not just the Egyptians but also the Hebrews that God is God. Then once God has done all the wonders he intends to do, he changes pharaoh’s mind so that pharaoh releases the Hebrews.

The other interpretation is that God knows what pharaoh is going to do, because God is God and he can see everything—past and present. So he doesn’t have to actively harden pharaoh’s heart, he knows that pharaoh will choose not to let the Hebrews go. And God knows exactly how many signs and wonders it will take to get pharaoh to change his mind.

This is basically a mini predestination vs. free will debate—which we briefly talked about a few weeks ago. Both interpretations are equally valid. Regardless, in both situations God is sovereign. Pharaoh’s stubbornness is used to further God’s plan—whether it was God who made Pharaoh stubborn or Pharaoh who chose to be. Because pharaoh was stubborn, God was able to basically show off his impressive miracles, signs, and wonders, and remind the Hebrews that he is there God and he is capable of more than they can possible imagine. 

We see something similar to this again in the New Testament. I want you guys to flip to the book of John. Remember John is the fourth book of the New Testament. In the Gospels—the books of the Bible known as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—Jesus performs many miracles. He turns water into wine, he heals cripples and blind people, he raises people from the dead. But still people didn’t believe in him. The verses we’re about to read are talking about that. So in the first verse when it refers to “he” it’s referring to Jesus but when it says “they” it’s referring to people who didn’t believe.

Can someone read John 12:37-43?

37 Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

“Lord, who has believed our message,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart and turn—
    and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. 42 Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

So this section is talking about how Jesus did all these miracles, but people still didn’t believe in him. Not just that they didn’t believe he was the Son of God and Messiah, but they thought he was a fraud! They saw these miracles with their own eyes and still tried to discredit them.

The writer of John—which is John—references the book of Isaiah to explain this, saying God hardened the hearts of these people. But then he also talks about people who want to believe but basically they love their power more than they love God, and they know if they follow Jesus they will lose favor with the religious authorities—who hate Jesus.

Those people God didn’t actively harden their hearts. They chose not to follow Jesus. They chose their power over Jesus.

And the religious authorities John is referring to? Did God actively harden their hearts? Maybe. This is the same debate. God certainly has the power to do so, and there are many Christians who believe this is how God operates. He chooses actively who believes or who doesn’t. However, this can also be reconciled with freewill. The Pharisees and religious leaders choose not to believe Jesus because it is a threat to everything they ever believed to be true. And if Jesus is real, they will lose all their power. Because these guys had a lot of power as the religious leaders of Israel. They had wealth, they had the trust of people, and they had to a certain extent the trust of the Roman government. They had a lot to lose by saying that this Jesus guy was the Messiah.

This debate of predestination vs. free will is not one we’re going to solve today. I don’t think anyone on this earth will ever solve it while living. I think in a strange way we can’t understand both are probably simultaneously true, and it’s probably really complicated and has to do with the fact that God sees so much more than we do, and we’re incredibly limited by this three dimensional, time bound earth. Whichever you choose to believe, I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong. As previously discussed, I lean heavily towards free-will but the Presbyterian Church as a denomination accepts predestination as true.

Regardless, of where you fall on the debate, we do know something. Jesus came to save whoever would believe in him. It’s John 3:16.

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

We can argue about who creates that kernel of belief in a believer, but do not doubt that God loves you and this verse applies to you. Because it does. When I memorized this verse in the King James it says “whosoever believeth in him.” There is an old hymn we used to sing when I grew up where the main chorus was “whosoever surely meaneth me.” If you believe it means you, it does. Whosoever can mean everyone in here if you just believe.

And with that we’ll stop. Next week we’ll talk about the plagues of Egypt.