L M Grant.
This book begins with a nation being virtually born within a nation. From a beginning of only 70 people, Israel developed into a nation of between two and three million. It is this nation that God has chosen to be an object lesson for all mankind, not because they are the best of people, but because they are simply a sample of all humanity. Gentiles should see in Israel precisely what they are like themselves.
Life is the prominent theme in Genesis, though it ends in the contrary condition of “a coffin in Egypt.” Therefore, because sin and death have invaded creation, the subject of Exodus becomes most necessary, the subject of redemption. This redemption involves the very meaning of the word, Exodus — a “going out” from the condition of a corrupted creation, which is symbolized in the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. it was necessary first that they should be redeemed to God by the blood of the Passover lamb, typical of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus (Ex. 12), and then redeemed from the power of the enemy by the superior power of God in opening the Red Sea (Ex. 14) and bringing them safely through to a place that speaks of resurrection.
The latter part of Exodus, however (Ex. 19 to 40), deals with the giving of the law and the complete tabernacle service. These things emphasize the authority of God over a redeemed people and His provision of grace to meet the needs that arise through all their wilderness journey. Neither the law nor the tabernacle ritual are intended for the church of God in our present dispensation of grace, but they are typical of God's authority established over His people today and of His gracious provision for our preservation, protection and guidance through all our history on earth. Thus they will teach us spiritual lessons of a most profitable kind when interpreted rightly.
ISRAEL MULTIPLIED (vv. 1-7)
The first five verses of Exodus indicate its continuity with the book of Genesis, for they confirm what is written in more detail in Genesis 46:8-27. This small number of 70 persons, however, rather than integrating with the Egyptian nation, which would be normally expected, maintained an identity totally distinct from them. Since that time too, even though Israel has been scattered for centuries among other nations, God has preserved a clear distinction between them and all Gentile nations, even giving them their land back in 1948. After the death of Joseph and all his generation, the number of Jacob's descendants multiplied tremendously, so that “the land was filled with them” (v. 7).
PERSECUTION RAISED BY EGYPT (vv. 8-22)
Joseph's influence in Egypt was forgotten after his death, and with the rise of a new king Israel could only expect to be discriminated against. The king perceived that the Israelites were becoming more numerous and strong than the Egyptians, and was alarmed that if ever war took place, Israel might become allies of their enemies (vv. 9-10). He did not want them to leave Egypt, for their presence had actually made Egypt prosperous.
Therefore, his proposal was to reduce all Israelites to the status of slaves, putting them under slave-drivers to keep them continually under pressure of work so they could have no opportunity to organize and no strength to resist. They were forced to build two store cities, which were cities of provision for Pharaoh's troops, and in this way they were continuing to forge the chains of their bondage (v. 11).
However, God's wisdom and power are infinitely greater than all the scheming artifice of the world. He used the affliction in such a way as to make Israel multiply greatly in number, which caused vexation and alarm among the Egyptians (v. 12). They could imagine no other answer to this than to increase the rigor of Israel's bondage. As to the three areas of labor mentioned in verse 14, “mortar” would speak of their being made to work in order to help Egypt's unity, for it is mortar that unites. The “brick” speaks of Egypt's progress; and “all manner of service,” of Egypt's prosperity. The world is determined to have believers bow to its authority for the sake of its own selfish ends.
In all the afflictions of Israel God was working in sovereign power and wisdom to make Israel a striking object lesson for all mankind. For Pharaoh, king of Egypt, is the picture of sin personified, and Egypt a type of the world in its willingly serving sin (John 8:34). But there are others, typified by Israel, in whom God is working, who find themselves helpless to resist the state of bondage into which sin has brought them. God in His wisdom allows the affliction to increase to such a point that the people virtually cry out in distress for deliverance.
The king then conceived the wicked plan of demanding that Hebrew midwives must kill every boy at the time of birth and keep the girls alive (vv. 15-16). But the midwives, because their fear of God was greater than their fear of the king, did not obey the king's cruel commandment (v. 17). The king called the midwives to account for this disobedience, for which they have a good answer to the effect that Hebrew children were already born before the parents called a midwife: therefore the mother knew the child was alive. (vv. 18-19).
Because of the faith of the midwives in thus putting the fear of God first, God further increased the population of Israel by providing households for the midwives (v. 21), that is, giving them children.
Frustrated in his efforts, the king of Egypt takes more drastic action, commanding all his people (the Egyptians) that they should interfere in the Hebrews' households, to throw into the river every Hebrew boy who was born, allowing the girls to live. This reminds us of Herod's decree that all the boys under two years of age in the area of Bethlehem were to be put to death (Matt. 2:16). Satanic hatred was behind this in both cases, working by means of men's jealous lust for power and authority, but neither succeeded in destroying the child that God had destined as Israel's deliverer.
THE BIRTH AND PROTECTION OF MOSES (vv. 1-10)
God's hand of overruling power and grace is seen beautifully in this chapter. There is nothing spectacular, but an incident takes place that would be normally unnoticed. A man of the tribe of Levi, Amram by name, married a woman (Jochebed) of the same tribe, who gave birth to a son. However, not being afraid of the king's commandment, and being specially encouraged by the beauty of the child, she hid him for three months. Hebrews 11:23 tells us that it was the reality of faith that moved the parents in their hiding him.
But the hiding could not continue. Jochebed then did an unusually strange thing which proved to be the leading of God. Making an ark of bulrushes, which we would consider a basket, she covered it with asphalt and pitch, put the child in it and laid it among the reeds in the water near the bank of the river. Thus, in one respect, she obeyed the king's orders by putting her son in the river, but with the ark around him. What a lesson for every Christian mother! Every parent should realize every child born is really under sentence of death from its birth because of the curse of sin. It is wise therefore for the believer by faith to virtually put the child into the place of death, but committing it to the Lord and to the value of His own death, by which alone the child can ever be saved.
The mother, in calmness of faith, returned home, but left his sister to watch from a distance to see what would happen (v. 4). Likely Jochebed knew of the habits of Pharaoh's daughter, and anticipated in some measure what would transpire, for she must have instructed her daughter to do just what she did.
She had chosen the best spot in which to leave the ark, for Pharaoh's daughter came there to bathe, bringing her female attendants with her. Seeing the ark among the reeds, she sent a maid to bring it to her. Her woman's heart was tenderly affected in seeing the beautiful child and hearing him weep. She knew immediately that he was a Hebrew child, but how could she obey her father's decree that the child must be drowned? In fact, before she had time to consider what she should do, the child's sister appeared immediately and asked her if she should go and get a Hebrew woman who could nurse the child for her (v. 7).
Pharaoh's daughter would not be acquainted with Hebrew women, and the suggestion of Moses' sister was to her a providential opportunity of possessing a child of her own, with a more natural mother to nurse the child. The immediate suggestion of his sister also averted the alternative that Pharaoh's daughter might have considered, in having the child put to death.
The child's sister brought her own mother to Pharaoh's daughter, who asked her to take the child and nurse it for her with promise of payment for this (v. 9). Thus, not only was her child preserved alive, but she was privileged to nurse her own child and receive payment for so doing! Very likely she would hear a voice higher than that of Pharaoh's daughter, saying “Take this child away and nurse him for me.” Since she had faith in the living God, she would certainly rear the child for His glory rather than for the pleasure of Pharaoh's daughter.
Those first few formative years would have an inerasable effect on the boy who was to become great among the Egyptians. But the day came when his mother had to give him up to be recognized as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. This would certainly be traumatic for the mother.
MOSES LEAVING EGYPT, RECEIVED IN MIDIAN (vv. 11-25)
The history here passes over many years, but Acts 7:22 tells us, “Moses was learned in all the wisdom of Egypt, and was mighty in words and deeds.” Then it is added that he was forty years old (v. 27) when Exodus 2:11 took place. At this time the Lord was moving him to remember seriously his relationship to the suffering nation Israel. No doubt the training of his early years had eventual effect in awakening a long dormant exercise of heart. His first action was to go out to observe how his people were treated by the Egyptians. This was apparently shocking to him, and when he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite, this stirred his anger. He looked both ways, however, to see that there were no witnesses before he killed the Egyptian and covered him with sand.
The following day he again went out, and this time saw two Israelites fighting. Seeking to remonstrate with the aggressor, he was repulsed by the man as being a meddler, as though he were a prince or a judge appointed over them (v. 14). Further still, he asked, “Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Thus Moses found that his killing of the Egyptian was not concealed. In championing the cause of Israel he expected some recognition of this on their part (Acts 7:25), but they did not think that he might deliver them from bondage. At this time they were not ready, and in fact Moses himself was not ready to be the deliverer. God had work to do in his heart as well as in theirs.
This work of God involved the change of attitude of Pharaoh toward him. Though Pharaoh had highly honored him, now he turned against him with the intention of killing him. It was impossible for Moses to be half on Pharaoh's side and half on the side of Israel. God showed him, by means of Pharaoh's opposition, that he could not serve two masters.
What could he do but escape from Egypt entirely? He took a long journey to Midian, possibly nearly one hundred miles, thus being separated altogether from his own people Israel as well as from Egypt. How intense must have been his loneliness! But it was God who had led him there. Sitting down to rest by a well, he witnessed a scene that again stirred his concern for those who were oppressed. Seven daughters of one man, the priest of Midian, came to water their father's flock of sheep, but other shepherds came to drive them away. Moses took up the cause of the weak, helping the young women and watering their flock (v. 17).
When they told their father, Reuel, of the Egyptian who had helped them, he answered them, “And where is he? Why is it that you have left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread” (v. 20). This hospitality developed into an arrangement pleasing to Moses, that he might make his home with Reuel. From Reuel's family Moses then received his wife, Zipporah, who bore him a son, to whom he gave the name Gershom, meaning “a stranger here.”
PHARAOH DIES, BUT BONDAGE CONTINUES (vv. 23-25)
Moses remained forty years in Midian (Acts 7:30), and in the meanwhile the king of Egypt died. Yet the bondage of Israel was not relieved. We are not told they prayed to God for relief, but their groaning and crying out nevertheless was heard by God. The length of time may seem to us too great, but God's wisdom is greater than ours. In fact, though He took account of their groaning, remembering His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, yet the time would be still lengthened out before their deliverance. It was necessary that they should be made to most deeply feel the oppression and bondage under which they suffered, so that they might later appreciate the greatness of God's grace in delivering them. Thus today also God deals with awakened sinners to put them through experiences that will make them realize that bondage to sin is a dreadful thing, so that, when He delivers them, they will have so learned the abhorrence of sin that they will never desire to go back to such a state as that which they had left, and also that they should become thankful worshipers, giving glory undividedly to God the Father and to His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
Moses had become a shepherd, just as David later was a shepherd before becoming king of Israel. If Moses was to be a true deliverer, he must learn to have a heart of kindness toward those weak and dependent, therefore to treat Israel with shepherd care rather than with a scepter of authority. Thus too, the Lord Jesus was prepared by lowly suffering and kind concern for mankind in all His path on earth, in view of His eventually being exalted as Supreme Ruler over all. His life of devoted obedience to God has proven Him to be qualified to rule, not only in righteousness, but in tender grace. Believers today must have the same character if they are to be of true blessing to others. Peter, a natural leader, who might therefore desire a place for himself, had to endure a sad fall before he was properly fitted to feed God's sheep (John 21:15-17).
THE BURNING BUSH: MOSES CALLED TO EGYPT
In tending Jethro's sheep Moses came to Mount Horeb, called “the mountain of God,” because it signified Israel's relationship with God as under law. It is also called Sinai. Only after Moses' long years of desert experience does God finally reveal Himself to him, attracting him by the amazing sight of fire raging in a bush without consuming it (vv. 2-3). As he goes closer to observe this miraculous sight, God calls him by name, warning him not to come near, but rather to remove his sandals, for He says, “The place where you stand is holy ground (v. 5).
The bush speaks of Israel, and the fire is significant of the persecution they suffered at the hand of the Egyptians. But God in His sovereign power would not allow Israel to be consumed by all the opposition of their enemies. He would allow the fire, but would limit its power. But the fact of this being holy ground intimates a much deeper lesson than this, for it is a reminder of the cross of Christ, where all the awesome fire of God's judgment fell upon the Lord Jesus because of our sins. But that fire did not consume Him. Animal sacrifices were consumed by fire, but in great contrast, the Lord Jesus bore and consumed all the fire of God's judgment and has come forth victorious in resurrection. This is truly “holy ground.”
God's revelation to Moses then is full and real. He speaks of Himself as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (v. 6). This is significant of the tri-unity of the Godhead. For Abraham is typical of God the Father, Isaac, of God the Son, and Jacob is significant of the work of God the Holy Spirit in a believer. The Old Testament characteristically uses the expression continually, “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” The New Testament is rather characterized by the lovely name “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:3).
When God spoke to him, Moses hid his face, being afraid to think of looking at God. Now God speaks to him of His people Israel, and that He had observed their oppression by cruel masters. Moses had seen this forty years before, and God knew it well, but the time has only now arrived when God has decided to deliver them out of the bondage of Egypt and to bring them to a good and large land, “flowing with milk and honey,” — a land at the time inhabited by others (v. 8). The reason that the six nations mentioned here were to be dispossessed is intimated in Genesis 15:16, where it is said at the time of Abraham, “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” However, Deuteronomy 7:1-6 shows that, at the time of Israel's entrance into the land, the iniquity of the Amorites was complete. Along with this, the cry of the children of Israel in Egypt had come into the ears of God, and He was about to act.
God had used various circumstances to prepare Moses for this time when He tells him He is sending him to Egypt to deliver Israel from their bondage (v. 10). Perhaps by this time he thought he was past the age of being usable by God at all, for he was 80 years (Acts 7:30). But God knew that at 40 he was not ready, and 80 is just the right time, for God does not use one because of his strength, but more likely because of his weakness.
Moses feels himself totally incapable of this great work. He says, “Who am I?” Forty years before he had been ready to act: now he does not feel ready at all. For he has had to learn that human strength is nothing, and only when this has been learned is one really ready for the Lord's service. Therefore, the one sufficient answer to his question is the Lord's assurance, “I will certainly be with you” (v. 12). Without Him all would be hopeless: with Him all is perfectly certain.
However, God adds as a sign that He has actually sent Moses that he and the nation Israel would serve God on this very mountain (Mt. Horeb) when God brought them out of Egypt. No doubt Moses would have desired a previous sign, but God sought to encourage faith in His own Word that would act in view of the future.
Moses was filled with trepidation, as God's servants usually are when called to do His work. He asks that, when he tells the Israelites that the God of their fathers has sent him, what will he say when they ask as to God's name. However, the weakness of Moses' faith does give occasion for God to reveal one great aspect of His name which should encourage every believer. He tells Moses, “I am I who am” (v. 14 — Numerical Bible). Therefore Moses was to declare, “I Am has sent me to you.” In this name is implied the fact that God is the self-existent, eternally existent One. With Him there is no question of past and future, as there is with us. He is the omnipresent One, infinite and eternal. this name is equally applied to the Lord Jesus, who uses the expression many times in the Gospel of John, and seals the matter with the declaration, “Most assuredly I say to you, Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). Wonderful name to fill a believer's heart with adoration!
God has told Moses that Israel is to know that God's name is “I Am”, the eternal, self-existent Creator; but they must know also that He is a God who draws near to Israel as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” This is His name forever, and His memorial to all generations (v. 15). We have seen that this emphasizes the truth of God's eternal tri-unity. Thus He is made known to mankind, and He assures Israel of His unchanging love and care toward that nation.
Moses is therefore told to gather the elders of Israel together and give them this message, that the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob had appeared to him, to declare His knowledge of the sufferings of Israel under the hand of the Egyptians, and that He will bring them back from this bondage to the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey (v. 17).
After years of prolonged suffering, Israel would now be ready to listen to Moses, God tells him (v. 18). Then he must bring the elders of Israel with him to the king of Egypt and tell him that the Lord God of the Hebrews had met with them, and at His direction they were to ask that Israel might take a three days journey into the wilderness with the object of sacrificing to Him. Such a journey involves a complete separation from Egypt (the world), for the three days symbolizes the truth of death and resurrection, because the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the only basis of worship that God can allow.
Yet Moses was forewarned that the king of Egypt would not allow them to go unless he is compelled by a mighty hand. For this reason God would gradually increase the pressure upon Pharaoh, not at first showing the power of His might, but bringing miraculous signs to bear upon Egypt in such a way that their conscience ought to be awakened to seriously listen and obey the living God. Finally the affliction from God's hand would be so dreadful that Pharaoh would be forced to let them go (v. 20).
More than this, God would dispose the people of Egypt to give the Israelites many necessities for their journey. They were to ask (not “borrow”) these from the Egyptians (v. 22). Of course in their years of slavery they had fully earned all of this, and God would impress on them also that the silver and gold were His: they could therefore receive these things as from His own hand. Compare 1 Corinthians 3:21, written to believers, “all things are yours.”
God's message to Moses has been so clear that it cannot be mistaken. He has made no secret of the opposition of Pharaoh, but has declared positively that He would enable Israel to triumph over this and to gain greatly through the experience. But still apprehensive, Moses asks, “Suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice?” (v. 1). But God had told him they would listen (Ex. 3:18). Why not believe Him?
God compassionately responds, however, telling him to make use of what was in his hand, a rod, which he threw on the ground. Miraculously, it became a serpent of which Moses was afraid. Then God told him to take it up again by the tail (v. 4). Immediately it became a rod. The serpent is typical of Satan, who has power that is dreaded by mankind. But where does he get his power? He is virtually only a rod in the hand of God. God uses him as He will. But God does give him freedom, up to a certain point, to act according to his own will, and he becomes a dangerous enemy to man. Still, God is in perfect control. As He desires He may turn the serpent into a rod as quickly as He turned the rod into a serpent. Therefore Moses should realize that however strong Satan's opposition may be, God was in sovereign control, and could put power into the hand of Moses to overcome all the power of Satan. How clear a witness that the God of his fathers had appeared to Moses (v. 5)!
To corroborate this God gives a second sign, this time to affect only Moses personally. Obeying God's word to put his hand in his bosom, he found it totally covered with leprosy (v. 6), then doing the same a second time, he found his hand fully restored (v. 7). Leprosy is typical of sin, and in this way God was showing His ability to expose the sin of our own hearts by showing it in the works of our hands. But more miraculously still, God shows His healing power in a heart changed by faith in the Son of God. He has power over sin as well as over Satan.
If Israel would not believe the first sign, they ought to at least believe the second (v. 8). But if they were still unbelieving, then Moses was to take water from the river and pour it on the ground, and God would turn it into blood (v. 9). In water is life, but blood (outside of a body) is the sign of death. God had power also to turn Egypt's sources of refreshment into the corruption of death. Therefore the three great enemies of man, - Satan, sin and death - are seen to be subject to the great power of God, power God was graciously giving into the hand of His servant Moses.
In spite of the miraculous signs Moses was given, he tried hard to excuse himself from a task for which he did not feel himself qualified. He protested that he was not eloquent, but was slow of speech (v. 10). This does not sound convincing in view of Acts 7:22, which tells us Moses “was mighty in words and deeds.” God's answer to him was sharp and penetrating, “Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing or the blind? Have not I, the Lord?” God had made Moses just as he was, and had made him for the specific purpose of delivering Israel. Did God not know what He was doing? Were the thoughts of Moses more correct than God's thoughts? God allowed Moses no excuse. He tells him peremptorily, “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth, and teach you what you shall say” (v. 12). This was a clear, absolute command of God.
But though all of Moses' objections were answered, he still resisted. He simply does not want to obey, and pleads with the Lord to send someone else instead of him (v. 13). In this he certainly went too far, and stirred the anger of the Lord against him. Could He excuse Moses? Not at all: Moses must go. Yet the Lord's compassion is again seen in His telling Moses that Aaron his brother was already on his way to meet Moses, and would be glad for their reunion (v. 14). Aaron could speak well, and God would allow Moses to speak the words of God to Aaron, so that Aaron might repeat them to the people and to Pharaoh (vv. 14-16). Aaron's mouth would be the instrument by which Moses would speak to the people, and Moses would be the instrument by which God would speak to Aaron. Moses must also take the rod by which to perform the signs God would order.
THE RETURN OF MOSES TO EGYPT
To clear the way with Jethro, Moses tells him simply that he desires to return to Egypt to contact his relatives there if they were still alive (v. 18). He does not even mention God's appearing to him with the message that he was to deliver Israel from their bondage. Certainly it was wise for him to wait to find out what would transpire. Jethro was perfectly agreeable, and also he had further word from the Lord that all those who had wanted Moses put to death had by this time died themselves, so that the Lord had opened the way for him to return to Egypt (v. 19).
He took his wife and sons, using a donkey for transportation, so that he evidently did not have a large amount of provisions for the long journey. However, the Lord again speaks to him in advance of his arrival in Egypt, telling him to do all the wonders before Pharaoh that God had given him to do, but that God would harden Pharaoh's heart in determination not to let the people go. This was a preparation Moses needed. In the face of Pharaoh's opposition, he was to insist that the Lord has declared, “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, I will kill your son, your firstborn (vv. 22-23).
However, at a place of lodging on the way an incident took place that may seem to us unusually strange. The Lord met Moses and sought to kill him. Of course, if the Lord intended to kill Moses He could have done it without any preliminaries. Also, it is clear that He had no intention of killing him, for He had already told Moses that he would deliver Israel from Egypt. However, it is implied that the sentence of death was against Moses because he had not carried out that sentence in his own household. Zipporah may have objected to the circumcision of her son, for she realized that this must be done so as to preserve Moses from death. God had told Moses, “Israel is My son,” and Moses is to be reminded that God's son Israel too must learn the truth of circumcision - the cutting off of the flesh - which is typical of death itself. For there is no proper relationship with God apart from death to the flesh.
Zipporah's task of performing circumcision on her son was evidently unpleasant, and she tells Moses he is a husband of blood to her. But it is never a pleasant task to press home upon our children's hearts and consciences the lesson of death to all that is of the flesh. We may shrink from the sight of blood being shed, but we must be reminded that “without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). Only when Zipporah had circumcised her son did the Lord let Moses go.
The Lord was sovereignly, yet only gradually, marshaling His forces to implement the deliverance of Israel. He tells Aaron to go to the wilderness to meet Moses (v. 27). Before this time, since Moses was only a little boy, they must have had almost no contact. Now Moses was 80 years of age, and Aaron 83. This was a long journey for Aaron, both to meet Moses at the mountain of God - evidently Horeb - and to return with him to Egypt.
The meeting of Moses and Aaron was most cordial, and Moses had time to inform Aaron, on their journey toward Egypt, of all God's words to him and of the signs commanded by the Lord (v. 28). Thus they would be prepared together to speak to the people and to Pharaoh.
Arriving in Egypt, they gathered together all the elders of Israel, and Aaron spoke to them what Moses had dictated, and showed them the signs the Lord had told them to (vv. 29-30). As God had told Moses, the people of Israel believed their message that the Lord was visiting His people and taking full account of their sufferings under the bondage of Egypt. They bowed their heads and worshiped. God had waited until such a time that Israel was ready to receive His messengers. It was He who opened the way.
THE FIRST APPEAL TO PHARAOH AND THE RESULTS (vv. 1-23)
Moses and Aaron then gain an audience with Pharaoh, and simply tell him the message that the Lord God of Israel has for him, “Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.” But Pharaoh's response was both contemptuous and defiant: “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.” In spite of this decisive refusal, Moses and Aaron pled with Pharaoh, telling him that the God of the Hebrews had met with them, and it was He whom they represented in asking that Israel might go three days' journey into the desert, to sacrifice to Him. His Word was authoritative, and He could bring serious repercussions upon them if they did not go.
This only irritated Pharaoh, however, who told them they were hindering the Israelites from the work of slaving for Pharaoh, and told them to get back to their work. Not content with this, however, he commanded his servants to increase the labor put on the shoulders of the Israelites, requiring them to not only make brick, but to gather the straw to put into the bricks. They must not reduce the quota of bricks required, but gather the straw for them also (vv. 8-11). There is a spiritual lesson here too. The world's building is like bricks of Nile mud with no straw, no cohesion. Now Israel is to be forced to supply the cohesion. What bondage it is to a child of God to have to labor for the unity of a world that rejects his Lord!
As well as this increasing their labor, it resulted in the Israelites being scattered throughout the land to find straw (v. 12). This was a cunning way of destroying unity among Israelites and to keep them weak. The officers of the children of Israel appealed to Pharaoh because of the increased pressure on them making their work intolerable, and because they were beaten when they failed to produce as much as when they were given straw (vv. 15-16). But Pharaoh was adamant, telling them they were idle and that for this reason they were talking about going to sacrifice to the Lord (v. 17).
The wisdom of God was behind all this in a way that Israel was not prepared to understand. God would not deliver them until it came to a point that they felt the oppression so deeply as to cry out to God for deliverance, rather than to look at second causes. So it is for us today too. It is always man's way to look for someone to blame for the misery that his own sins have caused him. God has to therefore deepen such exercise in our hearts that we realize that is is only our pride that blames others for our sins, so that when deliverance comes, we are the more deeply thankful, and delivered from a state of complaining.
Feeling the situation to be intolerable, the officers of Israel were ready to blame Moses and Aaron for it as they came out from Pharaoh's presence, telling them it was they who made Israel abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh, simply because they had given the Word of God to Pharaoh.
They said “the Lord look on you and judge” (v. 21). Did they expect the Lord to pass judgment on Moses and Aaron because they had obeyed the Lord? But this is only one of the tribulations a servant of the Lord is often called upon to bear. Thus they are in the middle, having to suffer both from Pharaoh and from Israel. But by such afflictions the Lord sees fit to educate His own, to develop spiritual strength.
Moses therefore could appeal only to the Lord (v. 22). but not as pleading for help, rather in complaining and questioning as to why the Lord had brought further trouble to Israel, and why He had sent Moses. Did he not remember that God had forewarned him of Pharaoh's refusal to listen, and that Israel's sorrows would be increased before their deliverance? But he complains that since he had spoken to Pharaoh, God had not delivered the people, but that Pharaoh had only harmed them. Thus, though God had sought faithfully to prepare Moses for what would happen, Moses has not been prepared. How like our own perplexity when hard things happen that God has before warned us of in His Word!
GOD'S FURTHER PATIENT PREPARATION (vv. 1-13)
The impatience of Moses and of the children of Israel could not hasten God to act out of impatience. He accomplished matters in His own wise way. He tells Moses, however, that he will see what God would do to Pharaoh, for not only would Pharaoh grudgingly let Israel go, but would use his power to drive them out of his land.
Moses needs reassuring, and God speaks to him of what He had repeated before, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but as Lord (Jehovah) I was not known to them.” He is the same God who had proven faithful to the fathers of Israel, though they were not acquainted with the significance of His name “Lord” or “Jehovah.” This is His name, not only in His great power and dignity, but in covenant relationship with His people, a God of goodness and compassion in dealing with the needs of Israel.
Connected with His name “Jehovah” therefore, He makes three assertions as to what He has done: (1) “I have also established My covenant;” (2) “I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel;” (3) “I have remembered My covenant” (vv. 3-5). This is followed by seven “I wills.” Because He is Jehovah, He says, (1) “I will bring you out;” (2) “I will rescue you;” (3) I will redeem you;” (4) “I will take you to Me;” (5) I will be to you a God;” (6) “I will bring you in;” ( 7)”I will give it (the land) to you” (vv. 6-8). He concludes as He had begun, “I am the Lord.”
When Moses brought this message to Israel, however, they were so burdened with anguish that they were not disposed to listen (v. 12). Thus also, when one is brought down with a painful conviction of his own guilt before God, he may feel there is really no hope for him in spite of the gospel being told him.
But God was not defeated. He gives Moses and Aaron a charge both for the children of Israel and for Pharaoh as to Israel's being brought out of Egypt (v. 13).
LEVI CHOSEN FOR PRIESTHOOD (vv. 14-30)
Intervening at this place is a partial genealogy of the first three sons of Jacob. Reuben and Simeon are dismissed with only one verse dealing with each (vv. 14-15). For Reuben speaks of the strength of the flesh (Gen. 49:3) which can have no place in the true service of God. Simeon stands for the cruelty and divisiveness of nature, which was shared by Levi also (Gen. 49:5-7), but Levi's name (meaning joined) seems to imply that in him evil was exposed and judged, specially since he had three sons, reminding us of resurrection, which is the only true basis of the fulfillment of God's covenant. These sons were Gershon, Kohath and Merari.
The first son of Kohath was Amram, who married Jochebed (vv. 18-20), of whom Aaron and Moses were born. Others of the line of Levi are mentioned, then Aaron's wife and four sons (v. 24), then his one grandson Phinehas also. The rest of the tribes of Israel are not considered here for God is focusing on the two chosen leaders of Israel, Moses and Aaron (vv. 26-27). Verses 28-30 refer back to verses 10-12, so that the question of Moses there is answered in the beginning of Chapter 7.
GOD'S ANSWER TO MOSES (vv. 1-7)
Though Moses had protested that he was of uncircumcised lips, God assured him that He was making Moses a god to Pharaoh, therefore that Pharaoh would not be able to totally ignore Moses. Aaron was to be Moses' prophet and would speak all that Moses communicated to him as the command of God, the only object being to demand that Pharaoh release the children of Israel. Again He tells Moses that He will harden Pharaoh's heart and will use Pharaoh's stubbornness as a cause of multiplying His signs and wonders in Egypt (v. 3). There was no reason for Moses and Aaron to be discouraged by Pharaoh's refusals, for God was in perfect control of this. Egypt would only incur the greater judgment by their defiance, and would find by painful experience that God is absolutely Lord (v. 5).
At this time (v.6) we are told that Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded them, and no mention is made of any further complaints on their part. Their age is told us, - Moses 80 years and Aaron 83. We may wonder at their physical energy at that age, but even when Moses was 120 years “his eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished” (Dt. 34:7). It is Moses who wrote Psalm 90, which tells us “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow, for it is soon cut off and we fly away” (v. 10). But God made Moses himself a striking exception!
AARON'S ROD BECOMES A SERPENT (vv. 8-13)
The first sign with which Pharaoh was to be faced was that of Aaron's rod being thrown on the ground and turning into a serpent (vv. 9-10). This is typical of God's using even Satan as a rod of His authority to accomplish His purposes in this way. It would tell Pharaoh that even his power (moved by Satan) was under the control of God. However, Pharaoh had seen apparent miracles wrought by magicians, and he brings such men in to imitate what Aaron had done. Using magic arts, they were able to have their rods turned to serpents when thrown down. In this way falsehood always resists the truth (2 Tim. 3:8). But Aaron's rod swallowed up the rods of the magicians. Yet Pharaoh remained obdurate: he would not give in.
PLAGUE # 1: WATERS TURNED TO BLOOD (vv. 14-25)
The first plague God sent was announced beforehand to Pharaoh. God told Moses that Pharaoh would go out in the morning to the river. Moses was told to stand there with the rod that had before become a serpent, and repeat God's message demanding that Pharaoh let Israel go. Then he announced to Pharaoh that he would strike the waters of the river that they might become blood (v. 17), that the fish would die, the river would stink, and the people would find it loathsome to try to drink of the river. The announcement evidently had no effect on Pharaoh, and the Lord commanded Moses to do just what he had warned (v. 19). When he did this, the result was just as he had said (v. 21).
The magicians used their enchantments to do the same thing. God had sent the trouble; and Satan shows he can bring trouble too, but he cannot take it away. Pharaoh regards the whole matter as if it was only a matter of magic, and with no apparent concern, went back into his house (v. 23). Yet he ought to have realized that this was a most significant matter. The Nile was Egypt's god: they gave it the name “Osiris,” which represented all that was good. Another god, “Typhon,” represented all that was evil, and was regarded as blood-red. All Egypt would recognize that to turn water to blood was to make evil triumph over good.
The Egyptians were thus given the work of digging wells in the vicinity of the river so as to find water to drink. This continued for seven days (v. 25), evidently being relaxed at the end of this.
PLAGUE # 2: FROGS (vv. 1-15)
Again God gives the opportunity to Pharaoh to respond to His demand to let Israel go (v. 1). But Moses was to accompany this with the warning that, if Pharaoh refused, their land would be inundated with a plague of frogs which would not remain outside, but would come into their homes, into their bedrooms and beds, into their food and kitchen utensils (vv. 2-3).
Since Pharaoh did not heed the warning, the Lord gave the order to Moses that Aaron was to stretch out his hand with his rod over the streams, rivers and ponds, with the result that frogs came up to cover the land of Egypt. The first plague taught the serious lesson of death, now the second signifies uncleanness (Rev. 16:13-14). It is a picture of the the far more revolting moral and spiritual pollution that infects all levels of society when the Word of God is refused. Unclean spirits take advantage of this refusal, and God allows them to work their evil designs, just as today every area of life is badly affected and corrupted by the uncleanness that people choose in preference to the Word of God. The magicians too could introduce such uncleanness, but could not reverse it. God had done this in discipline toward Egypt, to expose to them the actual condition of moral uncleanness that permeated their nation. The magicians did it to show off their magic skills, but they only increased the scourge, just as cunning impostors, trying to imitate spiritual power, only add their own uncleanness to the wickedness in the world. Pharaoh may have seen through this, for he did not appeal to the magicians to take the frogs away.
He did call for Moses and Aaron and asked them to entreat the Lord that the frogs should be taken away, and promised to let the Israelites go in return for this favor. Moses responded by asking Pharaoh to decide for him what time he should ask that the frogs should be banished (v. 9). Pharaoh told him, “Tomorrow.” (Perhaps he thought that God could not be expected to do it so quickly as “today”!) Moses let him know immediately that his prayer will be answered at the precise time so that Pharaoh may have the clear evidence that there is no other like the Lord God of Israel (v. 10).
As it was declared, in answer to Moses' prayer, the Lord reduced the frogs to nothing. They died and were gathered in heaps so that their stench only remained, a reminder of the bad odor of Egypt's uncleanness. But when Pharaoh was relieved of this scourge, he only hardened his heart in determination to keep Israel in captivity (v. 15).
PLAGUE NO. 3 - DUST TURNED TO LICE (vv. 16-19)
The third plague was not announced beforehand. Aaron was told by Moses to stretch out his rod and strike the dust of the land, so that it might become lice throughout all the land of Egypt. The lice however did not remain on the ground, but in accordance with the character of dust, it settled on people and animals. This was a personal contamination that would be virtually intolerable. The magicians attempted to imitate this with their enchantments, but could not do so. They had to admit that “this is the finger of God” (v. 19). They had before brought up frogs, but the frogs were already there to bring up. Now when dust was actually turned to lice, they recognize that this was bringing life from a lifeless source. They could not do this, even in the case of the lowest form of life. But in spite of this, Pharaoh blindly hardened his heart, as so many do today in spite of being faced with God's clear testimony to the gospel of His Son.
PLAGUE #4 - FLIES (vv. 20-32)
On this occasion Moses is to again give warning to Pharaoh. He repeats God's previous command to let His people go, and warns that otherwise God will send swarms of flies to fill the houses of the Egyptians and to plague the people themselves, as well as covering the ground. The word “swarms” is evidently properly translated “a mixture,” indicating a mixture of small insects. In this case it is announced that the Israelites would be entirely free from the plague: only Egypt would suffer (vv. 22-23).
The warning again meant nothing to Pharaoh, so the land was devastated by the swarms of insects. Then Pharaoh was worried enough to call Moses and Aaron, telling them they could go and sacrifice to God, but within Egypt (v. 25). But Moses could not accept this. God's order was that they should go three days' journey before sacrificing. More than that, the Egyptians considered the sacrifice of sheep and oxen as an abomination, and would respond violently if done in Egypt (v. 26). The world does not understand the true worship of the people of God, and it is not be be mixed with worldly principles. The three days' journey is typical of the fact that true Christian worship is on the ground of the death and resurrection of Christ.
Pharaoh agrees that he will let them go, but with some reservation, saying they should not go very far, and asking that they supplicate the Lord to take away this scourge. Moses was plainly skeptical of Pharaoh's sincerity, but told him nevertheless that he would pray for this release, which he did (vv. 29-30). The answer was given immediately, but Pharaoh deceitfully returned to his state of stubborn resistance (vv. 31-32).
PLAGUE # 5 - LIVESTOCK DISEASED (vv. 1-7).
Again the Lord requires Moses to repeat his demand to Pharaoh to let the people go. This time He warns that if Pharaoh refuses, He will send a very severe pestilence on all the livestock of Egypt, a disease that would issue in death, and that Israel would be immune from it. There is a pointed lesson in this that the selfish greed of man eventually destroys those things that are necessary to serve his interests. For instance, men resort to strikes, civil rights riots, etc. in demanding what they call their own rights, but they always become the losers.
Verse 6 tells us that “all the livestock of Egypt died.” Yet verse 19 indicates there were cattle in Egypt at the time of the seventh plague. The answer may be that the word “all” in verse 6 is not intended to be absolute, but used in a general sense, or else other livestock could have been brought in after the fifth plague. Pharaoh sent an inquiry to find that none of the livestock of the Israelites were affected, but in spite of this he hardened his heart against the Lord.
PLAGUE # 6 - BOILS (vv. 8-12)
In this case there was no previous warning. The Lord told Moses to take ashes from a furnace in his hands and in the sight of Pharaoh to scatter them toward the heavens, evidently tossing them upward so that the wind would disperse them every direction. As he did this, the ashes became a fine dust, bringing with it such infection as to inflict boils on people and animals.
The magicians made no attempt to imitate this miracle because they were themselves stricken with boils, and likely were not anxious to have more of them! This plague is typical of the personal moral corruption that results from resistance to the truth of the Word of God. But even this did not persuade Pharaoh to repent of his state of stubbornness in refusing God's Word to let His people go.
PLAGUE # 7 - HAIL (vv. 13-35)
Once again the Lord commanded Moses to repeat the same message to Pharaoh (v. 13), adding that He will continue to send plagues on Pharaoh, on his servants and on his people, until at last Pharaoh would be cut off from the earth (vv. 13-15). More than this, Pharaoh is told that God Himself had raised Pharaoh up for the purpose of displaying in Pharaoh the superior power of God, and that through all this history God's name would be declared through the entire earth (v. 16). For matters like this would certainly be reported worldwide.
Since Pharaoh continued to exalt himself against God' people, and therefore against God Himself, he is told that the next day God would sent an extremely heavy hail such as Egypt had never before experienced (v. 18). But he is graciously warned that animals left outside would be killed. Some among Pharaoh's servants feared the Word of the Lord and heeded the warning, and of course their animals were safe, but others had no respect for God's Word and suffered the consequences. (vv. 20-21).
When Moses acted on God's Word, stretching forth his hand toward heaven, the hail was accompanied by thunder and lightning, the fire running along on the ground, an infliction that affected the land of Egypt more severely than anything previously known, damaging all vegetation and breaking trees as well as killing livestock and people who remained outside. Again the land of Goshen was spared, so that Israel did not suffer at all from the hail.
This awesome affliction was so alarming to Pharaoh that he called for Moses and Aaron (v. 27), telling them, “I have sinned this time,” and admitting that the Lord is righteous and he and his people wicked. He need not have said this at all, though it was true, but he should certainly have meant it when he promised to let Israel go if the plague were stopped (v. 28).
On the basis of his promise, however, Moses agreed to ask the Lord to remove the plague, and it would cease immediately Moses left the city, giving witness to the fact that the earth is the Lord's (v. 29). Yet Moses adds that he knew that Pharaoh and his servants would continue to prove rebellious (v. 30). It is added here that only the early crops (flax and barley) were ruined, not the later crops (wheat and spelt).
As Moses had said, the Lord gave respite from the hail, and again Pharaoh fulfilled Moses prediction by hardening his heart in refusing to let Israel go.
PLAGUE # 8 - LOCUSTS (vv. 1-20)
Again the Lord reminds Moses that He Himself had hardened Pharaoh's heart and the hearts of his servants in order that He might publicly show His signs before them, as well as that God's great works of power might have very real effect on Israel's present generation and on generations to come, that they might realize that it was indeed the living Lord of glory who was dealing with them (vv. 1-2).
Moses and Aaron again stand before Pharaoh to repeat God's demand that he should humble himself before the Lord and let Israel go. They leave him with the warning that if he still refuses, God would bring a tremendous swarm of locusts into the land of Egypt such as would cover the face of the earth, and that they would consume every green thing that was left in Egypt. They would also fill the houses, causing distress such as had never been known (vv. 3-6).
The warning was alarming enough to Pharaoh's servants that they themselves appealed to Pharaoh that he would let Israel go rather than continue to suffer from God's severe inflictions (v. 7). They asked him if he does not know yet that Egypt is destroyed. Therefore Pharaoh had Moses and Aaron brought back, telling them that Israel may go, but with definite reservations. Who are those who would go? Moses answered, “We will go with our young and our old; with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we will go, for we must hold a feast to the Lord” (v. 7). There is to be no compromise. The believer is to be for the Lord, his household is also for the Lord, and all that he possesses. Let every child of God have the same purpose of heart in this as did Moses.
But Pharaoh would not accede to this. He tried to intimidate Moses by warning him that if they all left they would run into serious trouble, and sarcastically implying that they could not depend on any real help from the Lord being with them (v. 10). He would give permission only for the men to go, knowing that they would soon return when they did not have their families with them. So Moses and Aaron were driven out from Pharaoh's presence (v. 11). Such is the obdurate pride of an ungodly man of the world, influenced by Satan!
At the command of the Lord Moses stretched out the rod in his hand over the land of Egypt, and the east wind blew that day and night, bringing with it a tremendous swarm of locusts such as had never been before, and of which we are told there would never again be such a scourge (v. 14). All the land of Egypt suffered from this, with all their green vegetation completely eaten up (v. 15).
The shock to Pharaoh was so great that he called hastily for Moses and Aaron, telling them again that he had sinned against the Lord and against Israel, pleading that they might forgive his sin this one time and pray to the Lord to take away this frightful infliction.
Through the intercession of Moses God again gave relief to Egypt, sending an exceptionally strong west wind that carried all the locusts with it to drown them in the Red Sea (v. 19). However, in His sovereign government God hardened Pharaoh's heart so that he still refused to allow Israel to leave.
PLAGUE # 9 - DARKNESS
The ninth plague was not announced beforehand. The Lord simply tells Moses to stretch out his hand toward heaven, and a thick darkness falls over all the land of Egypt, continuing for three days, a “darkness which may be felt.” It is symbolical of the spiritual darkness that unbelief prefers (John 3:19), but which men find not so pleasant when darkness is never relieved by the slightest ray of light. They deliberately choose darkness rather than light, and later find it is not what they thought it to be. The Israelites were not affected, however. At least they had light in their homes, while the Egyptians were totally confined in darkness. Of course this was miraculous, but Christians today have spiritual light while all around the world is in pathetic darkness.
Again Pharaoh called for Moses with another compromising offer. He will allow even their little children to leave with Israel, but on condition they leave their flocks and herds. Such temptations also come to us through the sinful desires of our own hearts, but we must remember that our possessions too belong to the Lord and are to be used only for Him. Moses refuses any such compromise. Sacrifices to God must be made of the animals they possessed. He insists, “Not a hoof shall be left behind” (vv. 25-26).
Refusing to submit to God, Pharaoh on this occasion allows his temper to flare in bitter anger against Moses. He tells Moses to get out of his presence and not to again even see Pharaoh's face, threatening him that if he does see his face he will die. Moses answers him however with words of solemn portent, “You have spoken well, I will never see your face again!” (v. 29). But it was not Moses who died: it was Pharaoh! - a victim of his own folly.
It must be observed that Exodus 11:8 refers to the same time as Exodus 10:28-29, so that Exodus 11:1 to the middle of Exodus 11:8 took place before Exodus 10:28-29.
THE WARNING AS TO PLAGUE # 10 (vv. 1-8)
This warning was given before Pharaoh gave his final threat to Moses. Verses 1-3 form a parenthesis, and verse 1 should read, “And the Lord had said to Moses' (Numerical Bible). These three verses then deal with the Lord's words to Moses before He assures Moses that He will bring only one more plague on Egypt, then Pharaoh would not only let them go, but would drive them out. In view of this Moses was told to advise the Israelites to ask (not borrow) from the neighboring Egyptians jewels of silver and of gold. There is no doubt that Israel had fully earned this by their long service of slavery; and the Lord disposed the hearts of the Egyptians to willingly respond to the Jews' request. Added to this, the Lord had made Moses to be highly respected among Pharaoh's servants and the people generally (v. 3).
From verse 4 to 8 Moses gives Pharaoh his final warning, as directly from the Lord's lips. God had spoken, saying that at about midnight He would intervene in the midst of Egypt's family life, and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt would die, the firstborn of Pharaoh included, together with the firstborn of the lowest of the people, and also the firstborn of beasts. Why the firstborn? Because they are those who ought to be devoted to the Lord, since He is the Creator and the best is rightly His (Ex. 13:1-2). But Egypt had persistently rejected God's claims as regards Israel, whom He called His “firstborn” (Ex. 4:22-23). Now it was true that Pharaoh's firstborn would be taken from him.
There would be a great cry of anguish throughout all the land of Egypt, such as had never before been heard there, nor would ever follow (v. 6). As to Israel, however, they would be unaffected. Not even a dog would move its tongue. For it is well known that when even one death takes place, dogs will howl, so that Egypt would be full of howling dogs.
Moses further tells Pharaoh that when the plague of the death of the firstborn took place, all Pharaoh's servants would come to Moses, humbling themselves to urge him and all Israel to leave the land (v. 8). After the many plagues God had sent, showing clearly that His Word was always carried out, it would seem that so dreadful a warning would surely have made Pharaoh stop and seriously consider the danger to both Egypt and to himself. But it was evidently at this point that Pharaoh told Moses, in the words of Exodus 10:28, to get out of his presence and never to see Pharaoh's face again, adding the threat of death to Moses if this did occur. At this time Moses told Pharaoh he had spoken well: Moses would not see his face again (Ex. 10:20). Pharaoh was bitterly angry, but Moses “went out from Pharaoh in great anger” (v. 8). This is the occasion of which Hebrews 11:27 speaks, “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king.” Moses had sought the willing cooperation of Egypt, which was now fully refused. He will no longer labor with them, but will give them up to their chosen destruction.
Again, in verse 9, the Lord gives to Moses the encouragement that, behind the defiant stubbornness of Pharaoh, God Himself was working in order that His wonders should be multiplied in Egypt. Then verse 10 summarizes the results of all the former plagues, in telling us that the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart in determination not to let Israel go. But this is the last time this is said!
THE PASSOVER FEAST (vv. 1-28)
The time finally arrives for the Lord to accomplish a work of amazing power in Egypt in the deliverance of a nation numbering over two million, from the bondage of Egypt. Speaking to Moses and Aaron, the Lord tells them that this month was to be to Israel the beginning of months, the first month of their year. A new beginning was to take place at this time, a beginning based on the value of the blood of the lamb of sacrifice (v. 2). Clearly this is typical of the new beginning for any person today who recognizes the value of the blood of Christ as cleansing him from his sins. In receiving Christ he becomes “a new creation,” with old things passing away and all things becoming new (2 Cor. 5:17).
On the tenth day of the month every man was to take a lamb, at least a lamb for a house. Yet if the house was too small to use the meat of a lamb, then it might be shared with a neighboring house (vv. 2-3). Notice in this three matters of spiritual importance, first, every individual requires the lamb; secondly, every house requires the lamb; and thirdly, the lamb is large enough for others to share. Though many lambs would be sacrificed that night in Israel, yet scripture does not use the plural, “lambs,” but only the singular, “the lamb” or “your lamb” (vv. 4-5). For the lamb preeminently speaks of Christ.
The lamb must be, first, “without blemish,” that is, the sacrifice must be pure enough to atone for sins. Only the Lord Jesus is pure enough to bear the sins of those exposed to the judgment of God. Secondly, it must be a male, the stronger of the sexes. The sacrifice must be strong enough. It is impossible that one mere creature, even if he had not sinned, could atone for the sins of countless numbers. But Christ is the eternal Son of God, in person infinite. Therefore He is strong enough to be a perfect sacrifice for any number of people. His sacrifice has infinite value. Thirdly, the lamb must be “of the first year.” This tells us of its tenderness. So indeed the Lord Jesus is tender enough to be the perfect sacrifice of God, willing to take the sinner's place in bearing the judgment of God. Who else but the Lord Jesus is filled with such love?
The lamb was to be kept for four days before being sacrificed (v. 6). The four days speak of testing. Thus, the life of the Lord Jesus on earth was a time of proving Him perfectly qualified to be the acceptable sacrifice. The whole assembly was to kill the lamb in the evening. This reminds us that all believers are responsible for the death of Christ, for it was our sins that caused Him His suffering and death. Blood from the lamb was to be put on the two side posts of their doors and on the cross bar above the doors, on the outside (v. 7). Inside they were told to eat of the flesh of the lamb roasted with fire, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (v. 8). “Roasted with fire” speaks of the Lord Jesus being exposed to the direct heat of the unmitigated judgment of God in bearing our sins. The lamb was killed before it was roasted, but the Lord Jesus was roasted with the dreadful judgment of God before He died. Leaven is typical of sin, therefore the unleavened bread pictures sin being fully judged and put away by the cross. “Bitter herbs” indicate the response of our hearts in recognizing that it was our own sins for which He was sacrificed. Therefore the roasting speaks of Christ judged for us; the unleavened bread, of sin judged; and the bitter herbs, of self judged. How well for us to meditate on these in contemplating the cross of Christ!
Verse 9 emphasizes the lamb was not be be boiled, but roasted with fire; and they were to eat even “its head, with its legs and its entrails.” These three are mentioned also because of their spiritual significance. The head speaks of intelligence, and reminds us concerning the Lord Jesus that He “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). The legs speak of His walk, of which we are told, He “committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22). The entrails symbolize His inward motives, and of this 1 John 3:5 tells us, “in Him there is no sin.” Thus, the eating of the head, legs and entrails implies our assimilating into our hearts these three vital truths concerning our Lord. How much indeed they should mean to us!
Nothing of the lamb was to remain until the morning. There were to be no “left overs.” If they could not eat it all, they were to burn the remainder with fire (v. 10). God is glad to give us all that we can digest of Christ, but if any remains it must be offered by fire to God. If we do not appropriate everything concerning Christ, God does.
Now three points are added as regards the attitude with which Israel was to eat the Passover (v. 11): (1) with their loins girded, (2) with their sandals on, and (3) with a staff in their hand. They must be fully prepared for a journey. Just so for believers today. Immediately we have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and are privileged to feed upon Him, we find ourselves to be no longer “of this world:” we are leaving it in order to journey to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Our citizenship is now in heaven, so that we have renounced any mere earthly citizenship.
1 Peter tells us, “Gird up the loins of your mind.” Israelites with long robes must gird them up in order to have no loose ends trailing to hinder their walk. For us this speaks of having an untrammeled mind. Sandals were for protection against thorns, thistles, sharp rocks, etc., for the soles of the feet can be very sensitive. We need some protection from the pain of sensitive feelings. The staff was for support. In ourselves there is not sufficient strength for the path: we need the support of the grace of God.
Now God announces that He (not an angel) would pass through the land that night (v. 12), striking dead all the firstborn in Egypt, both of people and animals, executing solemn judgment on all the idols of Egypt, for they would find their idols helpless to protect them.
However, there was to be one mark of distinction between Israel and Egypt in order that Israel would be protected. For if God judges, His judgment must be absolutely impartial. Israelites were sinners, just as were the Egyptians, and deserved judgment for their sins. But if the blood of the lamb was on their door posts and lintels, this symbolized the fact that the judgment of death had already taken place, so that God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (v. 13). Just so, the believer in the Lord Jesus is already sheltered by the blood of Christ shed on Calvary's cross. His sin has been judged already and his sins forgiven by virtue of that blood.
THE FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD INSTITUTED (vv. 14-28)
This day was to be memorialized forever in Israel (v. 14) by a yearly feast. The importance of it is emphasized by various designations: (1) “the Lord's Passover” (v. 11); (2) “a memorial” (v. 14); (3) “a feast” (v. 14); (4) “an ordinance” (v. 24); (5) “a service” (v. 25); and (6) “the sacrifice” (v. 27).
The feast was to continue for seven days. During that time there was to be no leaven eaten (v. 15). Typically this implies the thorough judgment of sin in the attitude of the people. Any infraction of this called for the death penalty. The first day and the last day were to be marked by “holy convocations,” the people assembled together to give glory to the God of Israel. No work must be done except what was necessary in preparing the feast (v. 16).
It is significant that God gave full instructions as regards this Feast of Unleavened Bread on the very day when the Passover was to be killed. If this were merely man's celebration, he would institute it after the occasion of the celebration had taken place. From that day onwards the Passover feast remained a testimony to the reality of Israel's deliverance from Egypt (v. 17). The precise time of this is declared in verse 18, from the 14th day to the 21st day of the first month. Again it is insisted that at that time leaven (or yeast) was not to be found in their houses, for the eating of leaven would incur the death penalty.
Moses then gave instructions (no doubt four days before the Passover) to the elders of Israel to oversee the picking out of lambs on the part of every family, to have the lamb killed, and to take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood of the lamb and strike it on the lintel and the two sideposts of their doors. This being done, no one was to leave the house that night (v. 22).
Moses now tells Israel what was to take place. The Lord would pass through the land to bring judgment on the Egyptians, and would pass over those houses where blood was on the lintel and door posts, and the destroyer (death) would not be allowed to touch them (v. 23). He tells them at the same time that they are to observe the Passover as an ordinance “forever.” When they came to their land and their children enquired why they kept such a feast, they were to fully inform them of this history of God's judging the Egyptians and passing over the houses of the Israelites because of the blood of the Passover lamb. The children were not to forget that momentous event, just as children today should be constantly reminded of the great sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.
On hearing this the children of Israel believed, and bowed their heads in worship, then did as God had commanded as to the lamb.
PLAGUE # 10 — DEATH OF EGYPT'S FIRSTBORN (vv. 29-30)
At midnight the dreadful judgment of God fell as He had warned (v. 29). In Egypt there was not a house where there was not at least one dead. Every firstborn in Egypt was taken, except of course those in houses where the blood was sprinkled. Evidently the Egyptians were not sleeping soundly that night, for they and Pharaoh and his servants rose up in the night in terrible alarm. Likely they had been fearful of what would happen, though they had refused Moses' warning. The bitter agony of the land must have been indescribable.
ISRAEL EXPELLED FROM EGYPT (vv. 31-42)
Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron. No doubt he did not actually see them (Ex. 10:29), but gave them the urgent message that Israel was to get out of Egypt. This was not only permission given, but a command that would allow no delay. Their flocks and herds were to be included, as Moses had demanded. This tenth plague was enough to shock Pharaoh into action with the fear that something worse could happen. But he curiously adds, “and bless me also.” Yet he does not include the people of Egypt in this request.
There was no difficulty now for Israel in preparing to leave, for the Egyptians joined in urging them to go immediately. They “took their dough before it was leavened” (v. 34). Evidently they intended to leaven it in spite of God's command that leaven was to be put away. Sometimes God in grace sovereignly stops us from our disobedient purposes.
The Israelites had already done what the Lord commanded in asking from the Egyptians articles of silver and gold and of clothing. The Lord Himself had disposed the Egyptians to willingly give them these things. It was not “borrowing,” but asking, for Israel was entitled to this for their long years of service to the Egyptians. Thus they did not by any means go out empty.
The sight of six hundred thousand men besides women and children springing into action to leave the country must have been astounding! There has been nothing else in all history resembling this. The responsibility for leading this company of over two million rested squarely on the shoulders of Moses. Did he feel himself capable for this? Not at all: he felt himself helpless, but he knew that God's power was sufficient, and God had spoken clearly: He would deliver Israel.
They journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, a little over 30 miles. Perhaps in starting out on the journey they were fresh and vigorous enough to do this in one day, though it may be doubtful for a crowd that large. “A mixed multitude” went with them, evidently those not actually Israelites, but possibly Egyptians who had married Israelites or in some other way were identified with them.
They apparently stopped long enough at Succoth to bake unleavened cakes of the dough that was previously prepared (v. 39). Also at this time it seems the Lord gave Moses and Aaron instructions as to the ordinance of the Passover (vv. 43-49) and concerning the sanctifying of all the firstborn to the Lord (Ex. 13:1-16).
The length of time that Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt is now recorded as 430 years (vv. 40-41). Of course this embraced a number of generations, but Israel's dispersion among the Gentiles since their rejection of Christ has continued now for almost 2000 years! Yet God will bring them back in His appointed time.
The announcement was made at the time that the night of the Passover was to be particularly observed by all the children of Israel throughout their generations. But since Israel has been scattered from their land after rejecting Christ, the temple being destroyed, the Passover can no longer be kept in God's appointed way. It lacks the shedding of the blood of the lamb, which was the very heart of the matter. But from God's sovereign point of view, this is of great value, for it tells us that the one sacrifice of Christ is the sufficient answer to all that the Passover signified. “Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7).
THE ORDINANCE OF THE PASSOVER (vv. 43-51)
Before Israel journeyed further, while the facts of the Passover were still fresh in the minds of the people, the Lord lays down to Moses and Aaron the essential regulations concerning the Feast of the Passover. This being immediately done emphasizes its importance. These regulations have a distinct bearing on the New Testament observance of the Lord's supper, which the Lord introduced when He celebrated His last Passover with His disciples. In Luke 22:24-18 they kept the Passover, but He set the Passover aside in verse 18, intimating that He would have no joy (eating the fruit of the vine) in Israel until the kingdom of God should come. Then He introduced the Lord's supper in verses 19-20. The Passover had been the prime observance of Israel in anticipation of the sacrifice of Christ. Now the Lord's supper is the prime observance in remembrance of Him and His sacrifice.
The first regulation given is that no stranger should eat of the Passover. A stranger is one not known. The New Testament tells us “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people's sins: keep yourself pure” (1 Tim. 5:22). To lay hands on one is to express fellowship with him. If we do not know the person, we must be careful not to do this until we know him. On the other hand, if one comes with a letter of commendation from another assembly with whom we express fellowship, there is no difficulty.
A servant who had been bought for money, after being circumcised, was allowed to eat the Passover. But a hired servant was not permitted. The most important lesson here is that which applies today spiritually. The hired servant serves for wages, so that he is a picture of one who professes to keep the law as a basis of his relationship with God. He is therefore one who is not saved by the grace of God. On the other hand, the slave has been bought for money: he therefore belongs to his master, and is a picture of a believer who is owned by the Lord Jesus. Yet he was to be circumcised before eating the Passover. Philippians 3:3 explains what circumcision means for us: “We are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” A true worshiper worships God by the Spirit and rejoices in Christ Jesus, but the negative side of this is deeply important too, for it is this to which circumcision particularly applies. Circumcision is the cutting off of the flesh, so that the flesh is given no place. One who shows a self-confident attitude is not in any condition to partake of the Lord's supper. Some say they have “a right” to do so, but no! This is rather a privilege for those who realize they have no rights, for all their confidence is in the living God.
A foreigner or sojourner (one not of Israel, therefore typically not of the church of God) was banned from eating the Passover, just as was the hired servant (v. 45). The foreigner speaks simply of an unbeliever, the hired servant, of one under law, and both are alike in God's sight.
The Passover was to be eaten “in one house.” This is typical of the house of God today. God see His house as one: therefore independency has no place. This reminds us of 1 Corinthians 10:16-17: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” In breaking bread, we express fellowship with the entire body of Christ, the Church, though it is clear we cannot actually break bread with all the members of that body, and there are various reasons for this. Also, in breaking bread, we must never ignore the order of the house of God.
“Nor shall you break one of its bones” (v. 46). The bones are the framework of the body. There must be no violation of the lamb of sacrifice. This speaks of the basic character of the Lord Jesus. If one dares to deny His deity, this is virtually breaking a bone of the lamb, and this is true also if one denies His absolute sinless Manhood or denies that He is the Son of God from eternity. People who are guilty of denials such as this, must be totally excluded from the Lord's supper, for the Lord's supper is intended to be an occasion of honoring the Lord Jesus, and it is a gross dishonor to Him if one should hold false doctrine concerning His blessed person and work.
“All the congregation of Israel shall keep it” (v. 47). This observance was to express the unity of the nation Israel. Ideally, it was a feast for all, though Numbers 9:9 shows that there were exceptions in cases of those in a journey or those who were defiled by contact with a dead body, and who could not therefore eat the Passover until they were cleansed from this defilement. Similarly, today one whose associations are defiling is not to be allowed to break bread until he is free from such associations.
A stranger is again mentioned in verse 48, but one who comes to dwell among the Israelites. Thus he would no longer be unknown, and when circumcised he would be permitted to keep the Passover. This would take time, of course, with proper care to see that the honor of the Lord was maintained. Certainly there must be no less care exercised in the assembly of God, as regards receiving to the breaking of bread, for it is the Lord's supper, and His honor must be paramount.
Finally, verse 49 insists that there was to be no “double standard:” whether one was a native or a stranger coming in, the same principles and the same care must be applied. This is as fully true in reception to the Lord's supper today.
While this completes “the ordinance of the Passover,” we must in chapter 13 observe also the facts as to the prohibition of leaven for the seven days, and the spiritual significance of this is vitally important too. Meanwhile we are told in verse 50 that all the children of Israel were obedient to the instructions given by Moses. Then verse 51 emphasizes that on the very day of the Passover the Lord brought Israel out from under the bondage of Egypt, by His wisdom ordering this project for all the hosts of the nation. This could not have been done by human arrangement or energy.
GOD'S CLAIMS ON THE FIRSTBORN (vv. 1-2)
Rather than God's allowing the people to rush to get out of the borders of Egypt, He calmly insists first on His own claims over Israel. Only in verse 20 of this chapter do we see them leaving Succoth. The Lord calls upon Moses to “sanctify” or “set apart” all the firstborn of Israel and all the firstborn of their domestic animals. It was of course the firstborn who had been preserved by virtue of the blood of the lamb. God claimed these, for even by creation He has rights as regards the first, and this is all the more emphasized by redemption.
THE FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD (vv. 3-10)
When Moses speaks to the people, he introduces the subject of the setting apart of the firstborn by first giving instructions as to the feast of unleavened bread. Israel was to remember this day in which they were redeemed from the bondage of Egypt by the power of the hand of God. Then he first of all strongly forbids them to eat leaven (or yeast) during the seven days of the feast (v. 3). This seven days is symbolical of our complete Christian life. For leaven is corrupting, a little of it leavening the whole lump (Gal. 5:9), so that it symbolizes sin. In the sacrifice of Christ (typified by the Passover) sin has been fully judged, and we today are to recognize this by honestly judging any sin in our own lives, keeping the feast “not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:7-8). This keeping the feast refers to our whole life, but has special significance in regard to the Lord's supper.
On this day they were going out in the month Abib (v. 4), and when eventually the Lord would bring them into the land He had promised, they were to keep this service of the Passover in the same month every year. In verses 6 and 7 it is doubly insisted again that leaven must be excluded from their homes during the seven days of the Passover observance. On the seventh day there was to be a feast to the Lord. This is written for our admonition. On the negative side, sin is to be excluded; on the positive side, the Lord is to be honored.
This was also to be passed on from generation to generation, the children being well informed of the power and grace of God in bringing Israel out of Egypt's bondage (v. 8), just as children of believers today should be taught diligently of the grace and power of God in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, by which we have been delivered from all the bondage of the enemy.
The feast of unleavened bread was to be a sign to them also (v. 9). which would (1) affect their hands, that is, it would have an influence over their works; (2) would be a memorial between their eyes, influencing all their thoughts; and (3) that the Lord's law should be in their mouth, influencing their words to be consistent with the Word of God. How true all this is also when we rightly regard the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus! For in this we see the strength of the hand of God. For this reason we too are to keep a feast of remembrance to the Lord at its proper time (v. 10).
THE FIRSTBORN SET APART (vv. 11-16)
Not only, as in verses 1 and 2, were the firstborn in Israel to be set apart at the time of Israel's liberation from Egypt, but when the Lord brought them into Canaan the same sanctification was required. Animals are mentioned first: every firstborn male was to be the Lord's. The clean animals would be offered in sacrifice to Him but not so the unclean animals. They could be redeemed by the sacrifice of a clean animal.
A donkey is specifically mentioned in verse 13. It could be redeemed by the sacrifice of a lamb, but if its owner would not redeem it, he must break its neck. What a striking picture of the need of man's redemption! For man is unclean by reason of sin, and is likened to the colt of a wild donkey in Job 11:12. If he is not redeemed, then his neck (speaking of his stubborn resistance) must be broken. Therefore in this same verse (13) it is insisted, “All the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.”
Again (v. 14-15) it is to be impressed upon the people that their children are to be informed fully of the strength of the Lord's hand in delivering Israel out of Egypt, and that in this deliverance the firstborn in Egypt had been killed, both of men and animals. “Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all males that open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.” They were not merely to tell their sons about God's deliverance, but in the constant observance of sacrifice to impress upon them the reality and importance of this deliverance.
This redemption of the firstborn was to be a sign, first, upon their hand, that is, having an effect upon the works of their hands; and secondly, as frontlets between their eyes, that is, always kept before their minds. Thus too, our redemption by the sacrifice of Christ is to always affect the way we act and the way we think.
GOD'S SOVEREIGN LEADING OF ISRAEL (vv. 17-22)
When God begins a work He will finish it. This was true for Israel, as it is in the case of every person who is born anew. He would not leave Israel to their own resources as to finding their way to the land of Canaan. He will always lead in the right way. Naturally Israel might have taken the shortest and easiest route to Canaan, but God knew that they would have to encounter enemies, and if seeing war too soon, they might only think of retreating to Egypt (v. 17). Just as with Israel, there is another type of enemy we must face before we face the enmity of the world's opposition. Israel must face this enemy at the Red Sea, that is, the enmity of sin in their own hearts. Therefore God led them directly to the banks of the Red Sea, where they would never have gone if He had left them to their own wisdom. Also, with God leading their ranks were kept in order (v. 18).
The bones of Joseph were also taken with them, as he had long before commanded. As a sufferer before reigning, he was a type of Christ, and the reminder of Joseph and his history was to remain with Israel for all their wilderness journey. The significance of this for us is explained in 2 Corinthians 4:10: “Always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
Leaving Succoth, they are led by a supernatural manifestation of God's presence, a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night. They would not see beyond the cloud nor beyond the pillar of fire, but they were simply called upon to follow. Thus faith is to realize that we do not need to know what may await us even at the end of a day, but to simply follow the evident leading of the Lord at the present time. He will take care of all that may be future. How good if we remain at peace in the confidence of His leading us rightly. Both of these pillars ought to have filled the people with joy in knowing God's perfect care for them.
THE OBSTACLE OF THE RED SEA (vv. 1-12)
By the Word of the Lord Israel was brought now to a spot from which there was no natural way of escape. The Red Sea was before them, three mountains surrounded them except to their rearward. But they could not go back, for God informed them that Pharaoh was having his heart hardened by God so as to pursue them (v. 4).
He tells Moses to command the children of Israel to encamp before Pihahiroth. This means “the mouth of wrath kindlings” (v. 2). They are not simply to avoid the anger of the enemy: they are to face it. The enemy of our souls wants to put us in fear. If we are afraid, it is no use pretending not to be. How much better to take to heart the words of Psalm 56:3, “When I am afraid I will put my trust in Thee” (NASB).
A second mountain is Migdol, which means “tower.” The towers of Egypt, standing out above the common level, are symbolical of the pride of man. This is another enemy within our own hearts that God makes us face. If we think we can do something to save ourselves, this is pride that must be brought down.
Baal-Zephon is the third mountain. It means “lord of the north.” The north tells us of the cold winds of unbelief, which is determined to take the place of lordship, thus undermining the authority of God. These three evils, fear, pride and unbelief are enemies within our own hearts. We must face them as enemies if we are to gain any victory whatever.
The fear, pride and unbelief of the human heart are enemies that are most imposing, but the Red Sea was an enemy totally impossible for Israel to conquer. The sea speaks of death, called “the last enemy that will be destroyed” (1 Cor. 15:26). We must face the fact that all are under sentence of death because all have sinned (Rom. 5:12). People try to avoid even thinking of the possibility of their own death, but as God made Israel face the Red Sea, so He faces mankind with the stark reality of death. How much better to face it before it suddenly overtakes us, so that when it comes, its sting will not affect us at all.
God knew that Pharaoh would say that Israel had been overtaken by confusion and were “shut in” by the wilderness (v. 3). It is true they were shut in, but it was God who had shut them in. Pharaoh seems to have reduced himself to a state of inability to reason sensibly, for after having been so devastated as to demand Israel's expulsion, his mind was changed to consider it a mistake to let them go. Yet God was behind this hardening of Pharaoh's heart, in order to display His own superior power.
Pharaoh mustered an imposing army with which he intended to re-capture Israel to bring them back into bondage. Sin, the bitter enemy of our souls, is determined to hinder our being liberated to serve the living God, and the world is sin's army that seems too formidable for us to oppose. Just as Israel had no organized army, so we have in ourselves no protection against the horrible power of sin. Such protection can come only from the living God. He had brought Israel out of Egypt, and He would not fail them.
However, God does not act until Israel sees the Egyptians marching after them. He will put them through the deep distress they need in order to learn His faithfulness. In seeing the Egyptians they were very afraid (v. 10). This reminds us of Pihahiroth and its lesson of fear (v. 2). They also complained against Moses, telling him that he had brought them out of Egypt only to die in the wilderness. Here was the pride that inferred they were wiser than God if only they had chosen their own way, just as Migdol teaches its lesson of pride (v. 2). Coupled with this is their unbelief (Baal-zephon — v. 2) that suggests it would be better to die in the wilderness, the only alternative their doubting hearts could conceive.
Finally Moses speaks (v. 13). The man of God has words totally in contrast to theirs. “Do not be afraid.” This takes care of their fear. “Stand still.” What a message to bring down the pride of man! For pride has confidence in its own doings, even if those doings are nothing but complaints! There was nothing they could do: then let them be sensible and “stand still.” Thirdly, “see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today.” When we see the salvation of God, how this melts away our unbelief! Israel is assured they will not see the Egyptians again forever.
Israel had “cried out to the Lord,” but in unbelief. Moses had done so too (v. 15), but with true confidence in God's answer. The Lord then tells him to lift up his rod, stretch his hand over the sea and divide it, assuring him that Israel would pass through the sea on dry ground. Then God would harden the hearts of the Egyptians, so that in haughty self-confidence they would follow Israel into the sea (v. 17) in order that God would be honored in a way that Egypt would not anticipate.
However, God keeps Israel in suspense for another night, yet encouraging them by having the angel of God and the cloudy pillar removed from before them to behind them, leaving the Egyptians in darkness, but being light to Israel (vv. 19-20). Thus God encourages believers even when in a state of apprehension, but their prolonged apprehension was necessary to make them all the more appreciative of the deliverance when it comes.
Moses stretched out his hand with his rod over the sea (v. 21). Then the Lord caused the sea to divide by means of a strong east wind blowing all night. He could have done this more quickly, but He did not, for Israel needed the delay. The sea bottom did not remain muddy, but became dry land. The children of Israel did not linger to marvel over the wonder of this great miracle taking place before their eyes, but marched forward between the two vertical walls of water that had been formed altogether by the power of God.
The Egyptians also did not stop to consider the fact of the amazing miracle of water standing up, but marched in with the confident intention of recapturing Israel (v. 23). But unbelief cannot succeed in imitating faith. The Lord slowed them down by taking off their chariot wheels (v. 25), so that Israel was given time to get safely to the other side. The Egyptians realized that it must be the Lord fighting for Israel that caused their chariot wheels to come off, and decided that they ought to retreat. But it would be as difficult to retreat as to advance with no wheels!
The Egyptians' decision to retreat was too late. The Lord told Moses to again stretch out his hand over the sea, and when he did this the waters of the sea returned with vehement force into the channel through which Israel had passed, and engulfed the army of Egypt (v. 27). Not even a strong swimmer could escape from death in the inundation. Not one remained alive (v. 28). In case we might think that Pharaoh himself might not have been with his army, Psalm 136:15 tells us that God “overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea.”
Verse 29 emphasizes that the children of Israel walked on dry land through the sea, with the waters being a wall on either side. Thus, in type believers have “died with Christ.” They have passed through death without the waters of death touching them. Christ has borne the agonies of death for us on Calvary's cross, therefore we pass through death without being touched by it. “For ye have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). When Israel reached the other side, this pictures the believer having been raised with Christ (Col. 3:1), now safe on the other side of death. He is given resurrection life because he is identified with Christ both in His death and His resurrection.
This is not only the salvation of souls by virtue of the blood of Christ shed for our sins (as the Passover typifies), but salvation from the power of the enemy by the superior power of God, — salvation from the power of indwelling sin, with its fear, pride and unbelief. Israel saw their enemies dead on the seashore. Though actually this great work was no more wonderful than the shedding of the blood of Christ for our sins, yet it was salvation by power that so affected Israel to fear and believe the Lord, and His servant Moses.
THE SONG OF SALVATION (vv. 1-19)
This is the first song found in scripture, and a most fitting response to the greatness of God's victory in delivering His people. It is an expression of joy in the Lord and “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). They needed such strength as they began their wilderness journey, just as we too need it for our Christian path with its many trials. Thank God that He can supply such fullness of joy at the contemplation of our eternal redemption in Christ that there is no reason remaining for our ever complaining again. If we do so, it is our own failure in remembering the fullness of His delivering grace and power.
(1) GOD SUPREME (vv. 1-2)
The first section of the song emphasizes the greatness of the Lord, who is declared to be “my God.” It is the Lord Jesus who has accomplished redemption for us. He has triumphed gloriously over all the power of the enemy by virtue of His death and resurrection. Horse and rider are cast into the sea, they being swallowed up by death, while He came through it in majestic triumph. Therefore Israel may say, “He is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation.” Believers today may echo these words in a higher way still, for theirs is an eternal salvation. More than that, we may say of the Lord Jesus, “He is my God,” just as Thomas acknowledged after His resurrection (John 20:28), and as Israel will fully believe when He returns in great power and glory (Zech. 14:5).
(2) THE VICTORY IS THE LORD'S (vv. 3-10)
This second section deals with the power of the Lord in accomplishing the great victory over the enemy. “The Lord is a man of war: the Lord (Jehovah) is His name” (v. 3) “Jehovah” implies His eternal self-existence and self-sufficiency, and yet in gracious covenant relationship to His people. He alone gains the victory, but His people are blessed by it.
All the resources of the enemy, Pharaoh's chariots and his army, including his choicest officers, were totally vanquished, covered by the sea, sinking as a stone, to be never more a threat (vv. 4-5). By faith today believers realize that the Lord Jesus has totally vanquished the power of sin, just as is true of our sins also: “Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19).
His right hand, the hand of positive power, has dashed in pieces the enemy. Christ is virtually the right hand of God, as He is indeed “the Man of Thy right hand” (Ps. 80:17). He is the One who carries out the work of God.
His great excellence overpowers and overthrows all who dare to rise against Him. In His anger they are consumed like stubble set on fire. The “strong east wind” that blew the sea back is likened to the blast of God's nostrils, causing the waters to gather together and stand upright (v. 8). What power there is simply in the breath of God! We should never naturally associate breath with power, but what appears to be of little significance is tremendously great where God is involved.
“The depths congealed in the heart of the sea.” The water of the Red Sea was certainly not changed to ice, but for the time being the liquid congealed, or became a solid by miraculous power.
In verse 9 the enemy is quoted in his proud boast of what he will do, saying he will overtake, divide the spoil and satisfy his vengeful lust, destroying them by the sword. How simply was this arrogant defiance met! God merely blew with His wind, the sea covered them and they sank as lead in the mighty waters (v. 10). The noise of the horses and chariots, the shouting and the rattle of arms was suddenly and utterly silenced. What a sight for Israel to behold!
GLORIOUS IN HOLINESS (vv. 11-13)
This third section of the song is the Leviticus section, which emphasizes the sublime holiness of God. Who can possibly be like Him? His holiness involves His love of what is good and His hatred of evil. He acts from the purity of His sanctuary on this basis of holiness, not in any mere selfish use of superior power, but using power in perfect truth, so that He does amazing wonders.
On the one hand, He stretched out His hand in holy judgment, for He hates evil: the earth swallowed the enemy (v. 12). On the other hand, in tender mercy He led forth the people He had redeemed (v. 13), for He loves to do good. More than this, the song looks forward to the end in view with fullest confidence, as though it were already accomplished: “You have guided them in Your strength to Your holy habitation.” He has desired His own to be identified with Him in sharing His own habitation. Of course unbelievers would not want the blessing of residing in His presence, but to a believer nothing can be sweeter than this.
(4) ENEMIES BROUGHT LOW (vv. 14-16)
THE WHOLE EARTH VIRTUALLY SUBDUED
This fourth section does not speak only of Egypt being vanquished, but of other nations also destined to being subdued by the greatness of the power of the Lord. Hearing of Israel's deliverance, they would be afraid (v. 14). The inhabitants of Palestine would experience anguish, for this was the land that God had promised to Israel. The dukes of Edom (self-important men) would be dismayed, and Moab's rulers would tremble for fear. Edom speaks of the self-importance of the flesh. Moab rather illustrates the self-indulgence and self-satisfaction of easy-going religion. Both of these will be disturbed by the true testimony of God. All the inhabitants of Canaan would “melt away,” finding no strength to resist God's army. Canaan means “trader,” symbolizing those who make merchandise of the things of God. The greatness of God's arm would render all these enemies “as still as a stone” through fear and dread, so that God's people would have no difficulty in passing over to take possession of their land. They were God's special people whom He had purchased.
(5) GOD'S END IN VIEW (vv. 17-18)
The fifth section assures us that there was no doubt of the accomplishment of God's ends. He would plant them in the mountain of His inheritance, which would be a virtual “sanctuary” of refuge and peace, established by God for His purchased people. But this looks on prophetically to the coming day of Israel's eventually being unchangeably blessed in the millennium in their own land, when in truth “the Lord shall reign for ever and ever.”
(6) HIS VICTORY (v. 19)
The sixth section celebrates God's great victory over all the united power of the enemy, on behalf of His people Israel, whom, we are specially reminded, went on dry land in the midst of the sea.
(7) FULLNESS OF PRAISE (vv. 20-21)
The women too join in the praise of the Lord as fully as the rest of Israel. Miriam, the sister of Moses, leads them in this, taking a timbrel, as did others, dancing before the Lord with overflowing adoration. She echoes the song of Moses, “Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! the horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!” This is the seventh section, which completes the chorus of praise to the Lord.
DESERT TESTING AND GOD'S GRACE (vv. 22-27)
Having been so wonderfully redeemed, would Israel ever again have reason to complain? No more than Christians have, who possess eternal redemption by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ. But in only three days the murmuring begins because at Marah they find the waters to be bitter. Similarly, Christians soon after being redeemed, find experiences of bitterness. Everything is not as pleasant as they expected. But this is designed by God as a test of faith. Since the Lord has proven Himself faithful in the past, can they not therefore endure the test by bringing these trying matter to Him in confident prayer that He will answer in the right way? How much more sensible is this than complaining!
When the people complained against Moses, he did what they ought to have done. He cried to the Lord. Without delay the Lord showed him the remedy that was near at hand, a certain tree that needed only to be thrown into the water, by which the water was made sweet (v. 25). For us too every bitter experience has a remedy very near to be found. We need only to apply the truth concerning the cross of Christ (the tree) to our present circumstances, and we shall find our trials turned to sweetness. In comparison to the bitter agony of the cross of Christ in His bearing our sins, surely the most bitter experience of a Christian is sweet. Just to think of His sufferings there will make a wonderful difference in our own attitude toward our trials.
“There He made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there He tested them.” The test had found them sadly lacking in faith, but their testing of Him had proven Him abundantly faithful and gracious.
In showing such grace, however, He rightly put them under responsibility, making a statute to the effect that they they should listen to His voice and do what was right in God's estimation. This was accompanied by a definite condition: if they were obedient to His commandments, He would preserve them from the diseases that He inflicted upon Egypt. For the government of God must always be observed, and certainly specially so by those whom He has blessed with the knowledge of redemption. Israel would have been preserved from suffering such physical diseases if they were simply obedient to the Lord, for He is the Lord who heals. In our present dispensation of grace we are not promised exemption from physical diseases on the ground of obedience, but obedience will certainly preserve us from spiritual diseases, and give us spiritual health and strength.
As an encouragement from God, Israel is now brought to Elim (meaning “trees”) where were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees. Here was abundant supply of refreshment for the twelve tribes of Israel, with the palm trees furnishing shade from the desert sun. They may have been fruit palms, but we are not told this. But it was a place of rest and refreshment which was intended by God to give them fresh incentive to continue their journey. Believers today too are given such occasions for the stimulating of faith in the path of God.
BREAD FROM HEAVEN FOR THE WILDERNESS (vv. 1-36)
Just one month following the Passover in Egypt, Israel, leaving the refreshment of Elim's oasis, came into “the wilderness of sin” (v. 1). Sin means “thorn,” and a thorn is an aborted attempt to bear fruit, which issues rather in that which is harmful and painful. In our Christian history too we find that the world through which we pass is a wilderness full of thorns, or in other words, “the sin which so easily ensnares us” (Heb. 12:1).
Israel's reaction to this barrenness and lack of food was to give way to their sinful nature and complain against Moses and Aaron (v. 2). How sadly we resemble Israel! Certainly this selfish murmuring would not produce food or any other good result. But the trials of the wilderness bring out such foolish workings of sin in our own hearts. They say they wish they had died in the land of Egypt while they sat by the fleshpots and had plenty to eat. But they forgot the rigorous bondage under which they had suffered with bitter complaints! They accuse Moses and Aaron of bringing them out of Egypt, though only recently they had sung in triumph to the Lord, thanking Him for His great deliverance. How is it possible that their eyes had become so dim, and in so short a time? Just recently too God had told Moses to throw a tree into the bitter waters of Marah and they became sweet. Why did they not simply appeal in faith to God on this fresh occasion of need? Complaining is not trusting God.
Yet immediately God graciously intervenes to tell Moses He will rain bread from heaven for Israel, that they might go out each day and gather what was necessary for them (v. 4). This was marvelous grace, yet at the same time it would be a test, for such grace should produce a real response of thankful obedience to the Lord. There was provision made for all, as well as occupation for their hands.
On the sixth day they were to gather twice as much as on other days, in order to provide for the sabbath, when they were not to gather at all (v. 5). Typically this teaches there will be no labor of gathering in eternity, but such labor increases as eternity nears.
Moses and Aaron speak to the children of Israel, to subdue them before the Lord, telling them that at evening they will have a fresh reminder that the Lord (not Moses and Aaron) has brought them out of Egypt, then the next morning they would discern the glory of the Lord in a way they had not imagined.
God had heard the murmurings of the children of Israel against Him: they may say they were complaining only against Moses and Aaron, but what were they but mere representatives of God? Therefore Moses insists that their murmurings were not against Moses and Aaron, but against the Lord (v.8).
Now Moses tells Aaron to call all the congregation to come near before the Lord (v. 9). As they did so, they looked toward the wilderness and saw a vivid manifestation of the glory of the Lord in the cloud. Would this not immediately stop their complaining?
The Lord now speaks (vv. 12-13). He has heard their murmurings, and will give them flesh to eat at evening, and in the morning abundance of bread. Such miracles would surely persuade Israel that the living God was among them. Indeed, why had they not learned this before?
That evening the camp was covered by a tremendous number of quails. Israel could have as much flesh as they desired. What a rebuke to their unbelief!
The next morning dew covered the ground, and when it had evaporated there remained on the ground a small round object that resembled hoar-frost. This was totally new to Israel, and they questioned among themselves, “What is it?” (v. 15). Moses answered that this was the bread the Lord had given them from heaven. From that time it was called “manna” which means “what is it?”
The dew is a wonderful picture of the refreshing ministry of the Spirit of God, leaving behind the provision of the Lord Jesus in all the pure details of His lowly Humanity as the food we need to sustain us on our wilderness journey. The four Gospels portray beautifully the many details of His lowly, devoted character, and we shall find them too in many other books of scripture.
But they must gather the manna “according to each one's need” (v. 16). This would take time, and also would require bending down. It is first said “an omer for each person.” Each individual would be provided for individually. But it is also specifically said that each man should gather for all who were in his tent. The head of the household is responsible to share with his whole house the preciousness of the Lord Jesus.
When the children of Israel gathered the manna, some gathered more than others (v. 17), but there was no difficulty: the larger amount was not too much and the smaller was not too little, for they had gathered just what they could eat. One may have a larger capacity to enjoy Christ, another a smaller capacity, but no stigma is attached to either.
Moses charged them that nothing of the day's gathering was to be left until the following morning. Some, however, ignored this command, and kept some over. In that short time it bred worms and stank (v. 20). What a lesson for us today! We cannot depend on yesterday's enjoyment of Christ. We need fresh communion with Him every day, gathering what we can of Himself to nourish our hearts for the day's needs. If we neglect this, our own testimony is likely to stink. Our laziness can rapidly turn goodness into corruption. Moses was angry with those who disobeyed his command. Let us not be guilty of incurring the Lord's displeasure by seeking to live from our previous enjoyment of Him.
When the sun became hot, the manna on the ground melted. Therefore, the time to gather was in the morning, as indeed is true for us today spiritually. The Lord Jesus Himself sought the blessing and guidance of the Father “morning by morning” (Isa. 50:4). If we are lax at the beginning of the day, this will affect us for the rest of the day, but diligence to begin with will make the whole day brighter.
THE SABBATH SET APART (vv. 22-36)
In obedience to the Lord's instructions (v. 5) the Israelites gathered twice as much on the sixth day as on other days (v. 22), and Moses informed the leaders that the Lord intended this because the seventh day (the sabbath) was holy, and they were not to gather on that day, but what was left over from the sixth day was to be used on the sabbath. They did so and found that in this case the manna was not corrupted (v. 24).
As God had told them, no manna was given on the sabbath. God's day of rest was not to be interfered with by the labor of gathering. In spite of this, some of the people went out with the intention of gathering (v. 27) and God placed the blame for this on Moses, the representative of the people (v. 28), stressing that the people were to strictly observe the sabbath by remaining in their own places.
The manna's taste was like wafers made with honey (v. 31), and a pot of manna was laid up in the tabernacle for the observance of future generations (vv. 32-34). Then we are told Israel continued to eat manna forty years, until they came to the borders of the land of Canaan.
WATER FROM THE ROCK (vv. 1-7)
Bread has been provided for the people. Can God provide water also? Why did they not simply appeal to Him in fullest confidence that He would answer just as fully as He had done in the case of their need of food? But when thirsting for water they again complained against Moses (v. 2). He firmly responded that in talking this way they were actually tempting the Lord. How sad it is to see this contentious spirit among the people of God!
But Moses again, in his interceding for them (v. 4), reminds us of the Lord Jesus, the great Intercessor on behalf of His people. Though they are almost ready to stone Moses, yet he pleads for them, and the Lord answers without delay. He tells Moses to take with him some of the elders of the people, take his rod in his hand, and lead the people to a rock in Horeb (v. 6). A rock is the most unlikely place to find water, and specially in Horeb, which means “the dry place.”
However, Moses obediently struck the rock with his rod, and water came out of the rock in such abundance that all the people could drink. The giving of the manna was a miraculous act of God, and the water from the rock was no less a miracle.
The manna speaks of Christ in His lowly Humanity, but the rock is typical of Christ as the Son of God (Dt. 32:3-4). The smiting of the rock speaks of Christ suffering the judgment of the cross for us in order that the water, the living Spirit of God (John 7:38-39) might flow forth to believers, as is seen at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Thus the manna speaks of human ministry, the water from the rock, divine ministry. Wonderful is such provision for the wilderness journey! The name of the place was called Massah (meaning “temptation”) and Meribah (“chiding”), a painful reminder of Israel's having faithlessly insulted the God who had never ceased to care for them. Have there been places like this in our own lives that bring us regretful memories?
THE ATTACK OF AMALEK (vv. 8-16)
God did not allow the attack of the Amalekites until after Israel had been refreshed by the water from the rock. As we have seen, the water is symbolical of the Spirit of God given by the Son of God as a result of His being smitten at Calvary. But though the Spirit now dwells in every believer, we quickly learn that there is another nature within us that is against the Spirit. “The flesh lusts against the Spirit” (Gal. 5:17). Amalek speaks therefore of the lusts of the flesh. Its name means “licking up,” for such lusts lick up all that is beneficial and necessary for our soul's welfare. This is not Satan's attack, but an attack from within us, fed by the desire to get what we want when we want it.
Where is the power to overcome this? First, Moses tells Joshua to take men and fight against Amalek (v. 9). Joshua is a type of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). He alone is able, by the power of the Spirit of God, to overcome evil. Yet we cannot rightly use such subjective power unless we have a proper object before our eyes.
Secondly, therefore, Moses stood on the top of a hill with the rod of God in his hand. This is typical of Christ in glory, the great Intercessor for His people. This is not Christ in us, but Christ above us, interceding for us before God. It was only when Moses held up his hand, however, that Israel prevailed in warfare. This is typical of Christ actually interceding with God. But Moses was unable to keep his hands up (v. 12), so that he failed in fully typifying Christ.
However, his failure gave occasion to add to the typical significance of all this, for Aaron and Hur were enlisted to hold Moses' hands up, one on either side. Aaron, the high priest, is typical of Christ also, as the High Priest who intercedes for us in order to preserve us from the sin and failure by which we may be tempted (Heb. 2:17-18). Hur, meaning “white” is typical of “Jesus Christ the Righteous,” who is our Advocate with the Father if we have sinned (1 John 2:1). Thus it takes the four men, all typical of Christ in some way, to give at least a faint picture of His wondrous work on our behalf in the facing of the enemy within our hearts, the lusts of the flesh. Therefore we may fully count on the perfect sufficiency of the :Lord Jesus to enable us to overcome this wretched enemy within ourselves. The victory then will be His, not ours.
Joshua gained the victory over Amalek and his people. Then the Lord instructed Moses to write in a book as a memorial, and impress upon Joshua the fact that God would utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven (v. 14). Many times after this Israel had trouble from Amalek, just as the saints of God today suffer from attacks by the lusts of the flesh. Thank God this obnoxious enemy will eventually be totally banished by God, its remembrance blotted out. The place was called “Jehovah-nissi” meaning “the Lord my banner.” Attention is focused, not on the enemy, but on the One who overcomes the enemy.
MOSES RECEIVING JETHRO (vv. 1-12)
Apparently Moses took his wife Zipporah and Gershom, his son, to Egypt when he returned there at God's call (Ex. 4:24-26). Likely his second son Eliezer, was born in Egypt, for we are told in this chapter (v. 2) that “he (Moses) had sent her (Zipporah) back,” evidently to stay with her parents until God set Israel free. Now Jethro, her father, hears of all that has taken place (v. 1), and he comes with Zipporah and her two sons to meet Moses (vv. 2-5). The meaning of the name of Eliezer (“my God is a help”) seems to indicate that he was born during the time of Moses' contention with Pharaoh, for Moses said then that God had been his help in delivering him from the sword of Pharaoh (v. 4).
Moses shows all due respect for his father in law, who was a priest of Midian (v. 7). There is no suggestion of his being an idolatrous priest, and it may well be that he was more like Melchisedec, who was priest of the Most High God” (Gen. 14:18). For God is able to preserve some true reverence for Himself, even outside of Israel.
When Moses told Jethro all that God had done in the judging of Pharaoh and Egypt in order to deliver Israel, and all the affliction through which Israel had been preserved (v. 8), Jethro's response was one of ungrudging thankfulness and rejoicing. He gives every honor for this to the Lord. As Melchisedec said to Abram, “Blessed be Abram” and “Blessed be the Most High God” (Gen. 14:19-20), so Jethro says to Moses, “Blessed be the Lord” (v. 16). He adds that he now knows that “Jehovah is greater than all gods” (v. 11). Jethro also at this time offered a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, in which Aaron also and the elders of Israel showed evident fellowship in eating before the Lord with Jethro. Though Aaron was the high priest of Israel, yet he did not begrudge the fact that Jethro acted as priest in this case, but expressed fellowship with him in doing so.
JETHRO'S ADVICE TO DELEGATE AUTHORITY (vv. 13-27)
The following day Moses spent the entire time in judging causes that had arisen among the people. There is no doubt that this was a wearing occupation, and Jethro immediately discerned this, questioning why Moses was called upon to sit “from morning till evening” in doing such work. Moses told him that this was necessary because the people desired answers from God in regard to their problems.
Jethro had a simple solution which had not evidently occurred to Moses. He tells Moses that this continual labor would wear him out, and the people too. Why not concentrate on representing God by publicly teaching God's statutes, while at the same time delegating authority to “able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain,” who could judge minor disputes among the people, and bring matters of major importance to Moses? (v. 22).
Moses no doubt considered this logical and wise, and acted on Jethro's advice. However, let us carefully consider this whole matter. Jethro said, “I will give you counsel, and God will be with you” (v. 19). Would it not be better to say, “God will give you counsel, and I will be with you?” He was so sure of his own counsel that he did not advise Moses to ask counsel of God. Moreover, Moses himself ought to have had concern to first ask God's counsel. If God intended Moses to do all the work himself, He would certainly give him strength for it. Another principle is seen here also. By this division of authority the people would have a less direct contact with the supreme ruler. Do we today not need to take all of our trying matters directly to the Lord Jesus? To introduce intermediate authority is the very principle of legality, which allows people to be content to remain at a distance from the Lord. This provides a moral reason for the introduction of law, beginning with Exodus 19.
However, shining above any failure on Moses' part is the typical significance of this occurrence. For here is the typically heavenly priest (Christ) giving counsel as to the administration of the earthly kingdom. His joy, and that of Zipporah (picturing the Church) would suggest also Gentile recognition of Israel's deliverance from the tribulation of the last days. How striking a history this is to illustrate God's great sovereignty in using even man's failure in responsibility to bring greater glory to His name!
Jethro remained only long enough to see his advice followed with the appointment of able men as rulers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens (vv. 26-27). This organization surely seems plausible and convenient; and no doubt Jethro left with the persuasion that he had done a valuable service to Moses. He had not before suffered along with Israel, and had no intention of remaining with them to share their future sufferings. How different is the priestly work of the Lord Jesus, who remains with His own in all their trials and afflictions!
A CONDITIONAL PROMISE (vv. 1-6)
Chapter 19 begins the second great division of the book of Exodus. God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt has been fully accomplished though they are still in the wilderness. He had carried out His unconditional promise in this great deliverance. But now He makes a promise that is conditional on their obedience. This did not infringe on His first promise, but it is typical of God's authority being established among a redeemed people. Since they are redeemed to Him, they are responsible to Him, just as is true of believers today. Not that we today are put under law: we are not. Law has no authority over us, but nevertheless, the Lord Jesus does have authority over us, and if we ignore His authority we can expect present serious consequences, though our eternal salvation is not affected by this.
In the third month after leaving Egypt, Israel came to Mount Sinai. Moses went up into the mountain, where God called to him (v. 3), giving him a message for Israel. This began with a reminder that Israel had witnessed God's judgment of the Egyptians and His bringing Israel by miraculous power (symbolized by eagles' wings) to Himself (v. 4).
Being the recipients of such marvelous grace from God, Israel was surely responsible to Him. God therefore addresses them on the basis of their responsibility. If they would obey God's voice and would keep the covenant that God was now establishing with them, then they would be His special treasure above all the nations (v. 5) and “a kingdom of priests,” a holy nation, that is, sanctified above all others.
A THICK CLOUD, THUNDER AND LIGHTNING (vv. 7-25)
When Moses brought God's message to the children of Israel, then “all the people answered and said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (v. 8). They made this promise before having heard what God required of them. How little they knew their own hearts! Moses returned their answer to the Lord (v. 8).
What was the result of this? Did God express His approval and appreciation of their promise? Far from it! Rather, He told Moses, “Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever” (v. 9). Rather than the people speaking (making a promise) and God believing them, God would speak, and the people had better believe Moses, who would convey God's word to them. Thus, they were to believe God.
Apparently Moses told the people's words to the Lord a second time (v. 9), probably to remind Him that the people did believe because they had made such a strong promise. But Moses needed to be taught also that God was not seeking a promise from them, but submission of heart. A promise by sinners really indicates confidence in the flesh, and is always soon broken: a heart humbled before God indicates that the flesh is judged.
Therefore the Lord tells Moses to go to the people and consecrate (or sanctify) them for two days and let them wash their clothes (v. 10). In other words, in their natural condition they were not fit to meet a God of absolute holiness. Sanctifying is setting them apart from the evil natural to them. Also, their clothes, speaking of their habits, were defiled, just as we too require washing from defiling habits. On the third day God Himself would come down on Mount Sinai to manifest Himself in a certain way. That manifestation was not in grace, however, as it is today in the person of Christ, “God manifest in flesh.”
In fact, this manifestation of God in Christ is most wonderful in the fact that God comes near and brings us near to Himself. But the manifestation of Exodus 19 keeps the people at a distance. Bounds were to be set around the mountain (v. 12) with the solemn threat of death to anyone who dared to even touch the base of the mountain. Even beasts were included in this prohibition (v. 13). When the trumpet sounded long, they were to come near to the mountain, but no further, just near enough to be filled with awe and apprehension.
Moses brought this word to the people, so that they were sanctified and washed their clothes (v. 14), and he told them to be ready for the third day, maintaining a sanctification even from a sexual relationship with their wives. Yet even these preparations did not take the edge off the stern, forbidding character of the manifestation of God in awe inspiring justice.
For on the third day there were thunderings and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain, then a trumpet sounding extremely loud, causing the people to tremble (v. 16). Yet Moses did not allow them to draw back, but brought them near to the foot of the mountain, to meet with a God who was really hidden behind the forbidding cloud. Added to the thunder and lightning and the thick cloud, was fire and smoke and a great earthquake (v. 18). Thus God met their promise to obey Him!
Along with other awe-inspiring manifestations, the blast of the trumpet not only continued long, but became louder and louder. This simply implies that God was speaking to Israel so loudly as to totally silence any speaking on Israel' part, whether in promise or whatever else. The trumpet was intended as an announcement to be heard by everyone. In this case God was announcing the giving of the law, that which was to be placed as a stern exaction on the nation Israel. From the very outset God was indicating that He knew the law was a yoke of bondage that Israel would not be able to bear. Yet in spite of these awesome tokens, Israel still did not understand this lesson of their inability to keep the law.
Moses spoke and God answered by a voice, calling him to come to the top of the mountain to which God had come down. In what way His presence was manifest there we do not know, but immediately again the Lord sent Moses back down to solemnly charge the people not to dare to break through the bounds around the mountain, to see what they could, and therefore die (v. 21). Also, as to the priests, who evidently were allowed to come closer, they must sanctify themselves from all defilement, or suffer judgment from the Lord.
Moses protested to the Lord that the people were not able to come up to the mountain because he had obeyed the Lord in setting bounds around the mountain beyond which the people were not allowed to go. But God knew the people better than Moses did. Setting bounds for them was no guarantee that they would observe those bounds, just as the law of God sets definite restrictions, but man's boldly rebellious nature does not hesitate to break over every such barrier.
Therefore God speaks sharply to Moses, “Away! Get down.” He must give an extra solemn warning to Israel to restrain their fleshly impatience which they were told would issue in their own death. Moses and Aaron were then told to come up, where they heard from God the ten commandments (ch. 20) and many attendant regulations and ordinances given in Exodus 21-23. After that Moses went down to the people (Ex. 24:3), and later returned, not with Aaron, but Joshua (Ex. 24:12-13), and was there forty days, until the history recounted in Exodus 32.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (vv. 1-17)
Before God gives the ten commandments, He makes is abundantly clear that Israel's obedience to law had nothing to do with God's previous grace toward them in delivering them from the bondage of Egypt, just as today obedience to law has no part in the salvation of souls out from the bondage of sin. Yet Israel must not regard these laws as merely abstract principles, but laws of “the Lord thy God,” indicating another relationship to God on the basis of their obedience. Solemn consideration!
The language of these laws is absolute and peremptory. “You shall” or “you shall not.” No allowance is made for any deviation. First, no other god could be allowed to take God's place. Nothing must in any way be used even to represent God, no image, no likeness of anything in creation must have any place of spiritual honor in people's minds. This is idolatry. Even pictures of this kind were forbidden (Num. 33:52)
Secondly, such things, wherever they existed, were not to be bowed down to or served, for the Lord God is rightly a jealous God (the only One who has a right to be jealous). This is so serious that people's iniquity would inflict suffering on their children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate God, those who despise His commandments. On the other hand, His character is such as to show mercy to those who love Him and keep His commandments. Thus, though God is perfectly holy and righteous, yet He is not harsh and cruel, but compassionate.
The third commandment forbids the taking of God's name in vain. An oath invoking God's name is a most serious matter. Elijah made such an oath to Obadiah, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand” (1 Kings 18:15), and that oath was kept. But men would dare to use God's name often when not even intending to keep their word, thus totally in vain, which is gross evil. We know that people today swear by God with no concern about what they are doing. In fact, the Lord Jesus goes further than the law, by telling us “do not swear at all” (Matt. 5:33-37). For man had been proven by the time the Lord Jesus came, to be so untrustworthy that his promises concerning what he would do in the future were of no value. It would be different to swear to the truth of something that has already taken place, when one knows the facts.
The fourth commandment was to remember the sabbath day (v. 8), the last day of the week (Saturday) to keep it holy, that is, sanctified from all other days for the purpose of being devoted to God. Israel had six days to labor, but the seventh was a day of rest.
The sabbath was a day of rest: work was strictly forbidden on that day, that is, work of any servile character (Lev. 23:7-8). The Pharisees extended this sternly to include the grace of the Lord Jesus in healing, but He showed up their folly by reminding them that they themselves watered their livestock on the sabbath day (Luke 13:14-15). God certainly did not forbid this care for the need of His creatures. But when the nobles of Judah were allowing the sale of all kinds of merchandise on the Sabbath day, when people were treading winepresses, bringing in sheaves, loading donkeys with merchandise to sell, Nehemiah rightly took stern action against this (Neh. 13:15-19).
Any head of a household was responsible to see that none of his household, including servants, would work on the Sabbath (v. 10). This was based on the Lord's working for six days to make the heavens and the earth (from what He had first created), and His resting the seventh day (v. 11).
In Exodus 31:13-17 God emphasizes that the Sabbath was a sign between Him and Israel, and that the children of Israel were to keep the Sabbath. This was not given to Gentiles, and it is not given to the church in the present age (Compare Colossians 2:16-17). The Lord Jesus was in the grave on the Sabbath day, and was raised “the first day of the week.” From that time scripture emphasizes the first day of the week, mentioning for instance that on that day the disciples came together to break bread (Acts 20:7). Yet no law is made at all of this matter, for we are not under law, but under grace. We should regard the first day of the week as “the Lord's Day,” and therefore be glad for the privilege of using it solely for the Lord's pleasure, without attaching any legal bondage to it.
The first four commandments clearly refer to Israel's responsibility toward God. The following six (vv. 12-17) are toward people. The fifth, therefore (v. 12), requires honor toward parents. This respect for proper authority would result in (normally speaking) prolonging one's life on earth, for it would involve respect for God's authority too. One of the sad marks of the last days, even in professing Christendom, is “disobedience to parents' (2 Tim. 3:1-2). Actually, no-one should need a law to lead them to respect their parents, and certainly Christians need no such law, for such things are written in their hearts. On the other hand, unbelievers in Israel constantly disregarded such laws (Matt. 15:3-6).
The sixth law, “You shall not kill” finds an echo in everyone's conscience, for he knows this is wrong without being told. Cain, though he had no law, knew he was doing evil in killing his brother, for he lied about it afterward (Gen. 4:8-9).
The same is true of the seventh, eighth and ninth laws. For in spite of men's knowing these things (adultery, stealing and lying) to be evil, God knew that Israel needed specific prohibitions in order to face them with the fact of their wrong-doing when they disobeyed. Of course the law did not keep them from doing wrong, but it made them, not only sinners, but transgressors. At least, now they could not say, “there is no law against it.” When they disobeyed, they were breaking over a plainly declared prohibition.
The tenth law strikes, not only at outward actions, but at the motives of the heart. Who can stand before a prohibition like this, “You shall not covet”? One who honestly tries to keep this law will find himself in a conflict such as Romans 7 describes, beginning with verse 7 of that chapter, — a struggle with his own determined sinful nature. Just the very desire to have what someone else has is here shown to be sin. How clearly therefore does the law teach people that they are desperately in need of One who can deliver them from this bondage of sin! But Israel has been slow to learn such a lesson.
MOSES NEAR: THE PEOPLE FAR OFF (vv. 18-21)
No wonder that the giving of such a law was accompanied by “the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of a trumpet, and the mountain smoking” (v. 18). The trembling fear of the people moved them to keep some distance away. They agree to listen to Moses, but ask that God Himself may not speak to them for fear they may die. It is true that if God speaks in absolute law, no one can live. However, Moses was a mediator, therefore typical of Christ as the one Mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5).
Moses quiets the people's fears, telling them that God has come in order to test them and to impress on them a true fear of His great glory (v. 20), so that the fear of God might keep them from sinning. If any outward thing could do this, surely this great manifestation of God's holiness was that thing. But we know that the effects of this in Israel wore off very soon, and they fell into sin quickly. From the very time it was evident that Israel was in dire need of a Savior to deliver them, not merely from Egypt, but from the bondage of their sins.
ALTARS: EARTH AND STONE (vv. 21-26)
While the people stood afar off, Moses was privileged to draw near to God (v. 21) This is because he was the mediator, typical of the Lord Jesus, who alone, on the basis of law, can stand before God. However, God desires others also to draw near to Him. He tells Moses that He has spoken to him from heaven, a place of great distance, and reminds him of the commandment that forbids the making of any image, yet now He tells Moses they are to make an altar of earth on which to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings (v. 24).
Little is said of this altar afterwards, though no doubt this is what is involved in Naaman's asking Elisha that he might take two mule's loads of earth from Israel because he wanted to sacrifice to the Lord in the land of Syria (2 Kings 5:17). The altar speaks of the person of Christ, as Hebrews 13:10 implies, and He Himself shows in Matthew 23:19-20 that the altar is greater than the gift placed on it. In other words, the person of Christ is greater than His wonderful work of redemption. But this altar of earth reminds us of the lowliness of the Manhood of the Lord Jesus in His earthly path of sorrow. It was imperative that Israel should have this altar of earth. For to be acceptable to God, the sacrifice must be that of a sinless, perfect Man. The perfection of His person gives its influence of perfection to His work.
On the other hand, Israel could voluntarily build an altar of stone. This speaks of Christ as the eternal Son of God, as stone is solid and unyielding in contrast to the crumbling, yielding character of earth. This stone indicated a stronger, more mature faith on the part of the offerer. But it must be built with whole stones, not hewn, for this would be man's work, which would pollute the altar. Whole stones indicate God's work, therefore a true perception of the eternal Godhead of the Lord Jesus.
In going up to the altar, no steps were to be allowed.Two principles are involved in this. First, there was to be no gradual ascent into God's presence by human effort. Secondly, we cannot ascend to a higher level of worship than the level on which we live daily. This would be hypocrisy, and God would expose the nakedness of our deceit.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF MASTERS (vv. 1-11)
Moses is now given an expanded view of the law in chapters 21-23. Special duties of masters are first considered. They may think they have full authority over their slaves, but they must first remember God's authority over themselves. For God decidedly limits their authority over slaves. It was permissible to buy a Hebrew slave. Sometimes one would become so poor as to sell himself to another (Lev. 25:39), but his master was to strictly observe God's orders in this matter. After six years the slave was to be fully freed, and the master was required to “furnish him liberally out of the flock” and out of all the provisions he had (Dt. 15:14). This was a gracious provision of God so that people would not just be driven out on the street when they became poor.
If he was alone in becoming a slave, he should be freed alone: it his wife was with him, then both should be freed (v. 3). However, if the master had given him a wife, then both the wife and any children she bore would still belong to the master, while he could be freed alone. This does not correspond to the grace of God today, but it illustrates the hardness of law alone.
However, what follows is a beautiful contrast. If the slave plainly says that he loves his master, his wife and his children, and does not want to go out free, then the master should present him to God, then bring him to the door or doorpost, and pierce his ear, which would indicate that the man was his servant for life (vv. 5-6). The typical significance of this is by all means the most wonderful consideration. The servant is the Lord Jesus, who has willingly taken this place in coming into the world (Phil. 2:7). Now He has willingly decided to be a servant forever because He loves His Master (God the Father), He loves his wife (the church of God, the assembly), He loves His children (every individual who has been born again). The ear being bored is instructive too. A hearing ear is the major characteristic of a true servant, and its being bored in this case reminds us of the death of the Lord Jesus in obedience to His Father's will, that death confirming the fact that He is a servant forever.
The law did not forbid the sale of one's daughter to another man as a female slave (v.7). She would not however be set free in the year of jubilee, for she might actually be her purchaser's wife before that time, or the wife of his son (vv. 8-9). Yet the law did protect her. If the buyer was not pleased with her, he should allow her to be redeemed by her father or other relative. But he must not sell her to a foreigner.
VIOLENCE AMONG PEOPLE (vv. 12-27)
One guilty of murder was himself to be put to death. Whatever people may say in opposing the death penalty today, in cases of proven murder, at least they cannot say it is unjust. However, if the case was not that of deliberate murder, but of manslaughter, there was a provision made for a guilty man to go to a city of refuge for his protection. As to this, see Deuteronomy 19:1-3. But in a case of premeditated murder, the penalty was death (v. 14).
The law's exactions were most stern, as verse 15 shows. The death penalty was to be pronounced against one who struck his father or his mother. This is solemn guilt in the eyes of God. A kidnapper also was to be put to death, whether he had sold his victim or whether he held him as a captive (v. 16). Again, death was the penalty for one who cursed his father or his mother (v. 17). This of course is a great contrast to honoring one's parents.
Verses 18 and 19 deal with the question of a physical quarrel and one striking another with his fist or other weapon, so that he is injured. If death did not ensue, then there was not a death penalty, but the injurer must pay for the loss of time suffered by the injured party and also any medical expenses that might arise from this, till the person was fully healed.
One striking his servant and causing death would incur the death penalty himself, yet if the servant continued even only a day or two before dying, the penalty would not be effective. The only explanation given for this is, “for he is his money” (v. 21).
If through physical striving a woman is caused an abortion, the person responsible must pay some recompense, as the woman's husband demands, or as was to be determined by a judge. If however there were bad results for the woman, the guilty party would be held responsible for this, and the judgment would be commensurate with the injury, — “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (vv. 24-25). Of course, to literally pluck out one's eye because he had blinded another's eye, would not help the injured party. But he is entitled to a fair recompense.
This is intimated in verse 26. If a man blinded the eye of his slave, he must let him go free for his eye's sake, and similarly, if he knocked out his tooth (v. 27).
An ox that gored anyone to death was to be stoned to death, and the meat of the ox not eaten. The owner of the ox would not be held responsible unless he had been warned that his ox was dangerous. In this case, if he had not kept the ox penned in and the ox killed anyone, the owner as well as the ox was to be put to death (v. 29). This penalty could however be relaxed if the nearest relative of the victim would agree to accept ransom money instead (vv. 30-31). If it were a matter of the ox only pushing a servant, the owner of the ox must pay thirty shekels of silver to the owner, and the ox must be stoned.
LAWS AS REGARDS PROPERTY (vv. 1-15)
While one rightly has control over his own property, yet he is also responsible as to how he uses it. If one were to dig a pit, even on his own property, and leave it uncovered, he would be responsible for an animal falling into it. If the animal died, the owner of the pit must pay the value of the animal, and could therefore keep the dead beast (v. 34).
In the case of one man's ox killing one belonging to another person, then half the value of the live ox should belong to each owner, and also they should divide the dead ox. On the other hand, if an owner had been warned that his ox was dangerous and had not kept him in, then he should trade his live ox to the other owner, for the dead ox.
This chapter continues the subject begun in Exodus 21:33. Verse 1 is plain, though we are not told why the stealing of an ox would require five oxen in return, while for a sheep only four sheep were required.
If a thief was caught breaking in and was killed, this would not be considered murder if it took place in the darkness of night. If in daylight, the one who killed him was guilty of bloodshed (vv. 2-3) If one had stolen an animal and had it in his possession, he must restore double, — a much lesser penalty than verse 1. Verse 5 shows that an owner's animal was to be kept on his own property or the owner suffered the consequences. If one kindled a fire and it spread to the property of others, then the one who had kindled the fire was responsible to make full restoration.
If one was entrusted with his neighbor's goods and they were stolen from him, he would not be held responsible unless on investigation it was found that he himself had stolen them. Judges would decide such matters. In all such cases, the guilty party would have to pay double (vv. 7-9).
Verses 10-13 show a difference in the case of an animal being left in the care of a neighbor. If the animal died or was hurt or had wandered away, there was to be “an oath of the Lord” between the owner and the caretaker that the caretaker had not been guilty of misappropriation. But if the animal was stolen from him, then he would have to pay the owner for the animal (v. 12). Yet if the animal was mauled and killed by a beast, the owner would bear the loss. If something was borrowed, then died or was injured in the hands of the borrower, the borrower must reimburse the lender for it (v. 15). If however the owner was with the animal or other article, the owner must bear the loss of any damage.
CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY (vv. 10-31)
A man seducing a woman who was not engaged or married, was responsible to marry her. If the father of the girl refused this, the guilty man must pay money to the father (v. 17). A witch must be put to death, whether she called herself a black witch or a white witch. Death was the penalty also for one who dared to abuse himself with a beast, and the same for one who sacrificed to idols (vv. 18-20).
No precise penalty was prescribed for mistreating or oppressing a stranger or widow or fatherless child, though this was strongly forbidden (vv. 21-24); but God warns that if those who were oppressed cried to Him, He would Himself intervene to kill the oppressor through the instrumentality of an enemy with a sword, leaving their wives as widows and their children fatherless.
If one loaned money to another Israelite who was poor, no interest was to be charged (v. 25). If there were no question of poverty involved, the situation would be different, of course, for one may borrow money in order to promote a business venture, though he himself is not in need at all.
If a borrower were to give his garment as security, the lender must not keep it even overnight. My righteous demands must in no way take precedence over proper compassion (vv. 26-27).
No words of disrespect toward God were to be permitted to pass one's lips, nor any such words against rulers (v. 28). In contrast to such words, there was to be no delay in offering to God the firstfruits of their produce, and also their firstborn sons, as well as the firstborn of their oxen and sheep (vv. 29-30). The sons would of course be redeemed by the sacrifice of a lamb (Ex. 13:13). But such recognition of God's rights is just as important today as it was under law. The chapter closes with the prohibition of eating meat from animals killed by other animals. For the killing of an animal for food was to be under the holy eye of God.
INSISTENCE ON HONESTY (vv. 1-9).
Consistently with the language of law, the question of honesty is looked at from a negative viewpoint, that is, emphasizing what one should not do. How easily one may circulate a false report without realizing it is false because he did not carefully check its source. May the Lord keep us from this. To circulate this is bad, and also to associate with others who do so. Both of these are seen in verse 1. Again, a crowd may be carried away by an evil report. We must not dare to follow the crowd. Nor must we speak in such a way as to advocate any perversion of justice. Verse 2 speaks of these two points. Even if we relax justice in favor of a person because he is poor, this is wrong, though we may think we are being kind (v. 3). This would be approving evil, which we must never do at any time.
Verse 4 is again intended to try our honesty. Even if one is an enemy and we see his animal straying, the honest thing is to return it to him. Or if we know another person hates us and that person's donkey has too heavy a load, we are responsible to give what help we can (v. 5), though it would be a natural inclination to ignore it. It is the same principle as found in Romans 12:20: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him: if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
Verse 6 gives the other side of the matter raised in verse 3. We must not dare to take advantage of a poor person to make him suffer wrongly. This is a common evil, of which James speaks in strongest terms (James 5:4). We must be on our guard always to avoid the slightest involvement in a false matter or in condemning the innocent or righteous (v. 7). It is just as dishonest also to receive a bribe, for whatever cause it may be: if a righteous man does this, it will lead him to pervert his words (v. 8). Finally, oppressing a stranger is also dishonesty, for we were once strangers and have been shown kindness by God. Honesty therefore would show similar kindness to strangers (v. 9). All of these things, while written from the viewpoint of law, are still of real value in challenging us as to how honest we really are.
POSITIVE LAWS AS TO GOD'S SET TIMES (vv. 10-19)
In contrast to the negative laws of the first nine verses, verses 10-19 speak positively as regards the attitude Israel was to show toward God. Just as there were six days of the week in which people were told to work, so they are told to sow their crops six years out of seven, and let the land lie fallow during the seventh year. Not only was this good for the land, but it would show consideration for the poor, who could come into another's property and take any volunteer produce that came up in spite of the land not being worked. This was to include vineyards and olive yards. All could be left without working them during the seventh year (vv. 10-11). If the poor did not take what came up, it was still left for animals.
Again it is insisted that they were to work for six days only and rest the seventh day, — Saturday, — and this rest included their servants and their animals (v. 12). This was a gracious provision of God for their own benefit, not by any means a law that would oppress them. Yet obedience would show respect for God's authority, a matter insisted on in verse 13. They were not even to speak the names of idols, for such easy speaking may lead to an easy recognition of these things (v. 13).
It was imperative that Israel keep a feast to the Lord three times in the year. There were more feasts (or set times) than these ordered for Israel (Lev. 23), but the feast of unleavened bread (or the Passover) which was in the Spring, the feast of firstfruits, in the summer, and the feast of ingathering, in the fall, were times when all the males in Israel were required to appear before God (vv. 14-17). Exodus 34:24 assured Israel that at those times, when the men were obedient to the Word of God, no one would desire their land, so that their wives and children would be in no danger. These feasts were kept at Jerusalem, where God chose to place His name (Deut. 16:5-16).
This section ends with some serious stipulations. The blood of God's sacrifice was not be be offered with leavened bread, for leaven speaks of sin, and the sacrifice of Christ allows not the least toleration of sin, but is itself the total condemnation of sin (Rom. 8:3). Also the fat of the sacrifice must not be left overnight: it must be burned as devoted entirely to God, for Christ's sacrifice is decisive: no question must be left as to its perfection and finality.
The first of their firstfruits were to be brought to the house of God, in acknowledgement that all was rightly His. Interestingly, however, when God's rights are first established, then our attitude toward others is immediately inferred in the injunction not to boil a kid in its mother's milk. For the spiritual significance of this is the most important. Mother's milk is intended to nourish the kid, not to boil it. Thus the milk of the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2) is to be used to nourish young believers, not to boil them, or punish them. Let us be careful to use God's Word rightly, in kind concern for others, not as a whip for them.
IN VIEW OF FUTURE BLESSING IN THE LAND (vv. 20-33)
The goodness of God is again seen in His promise in verse 20. He would send an angel before them, both to guard them and to guide them to the place He had ordained for them, the land of promise. For the Lord does not leave us to make our own way to heaven as best we can!
Yet Israel is warned that it would be no light matter for them to provoke the angel: they must have a spirit of submission and obedience, for they could not expect any pardon for their transgressions. This is of course the language of law, for they had promised to keep the law. If they did obey, then the Lord would be an enemy to their enemies and an adversary to their adversaries. Satan will not gain any advantage over us while we obey the Word of the Lord. The six nations mentioned in verse 23 are symbolical of different forms of spiritual evil that seek to seduce the saints of God from a path of true obedience to the Lord. If obedient, Israel could expect God's angel to cut off their enemies.
Israel was to give absolutely no recognition to the idols of these nations, nor compromise by following their example in anything (v. 24), but rather reject and break down the pillars thy considered sacred. This was essential if they were to really serve the Lord, and He would bless them in their daily life, preserving them too from sickness. Their women would not suffer miscarriages, nor be barren (v. 26).
These conditional promises were given to Israel under law, not to the church of God today, for our blessings are spiritual, and connected with heavenly places (Eph. 1:3). Godly people today may suffer illness and other afflictions such as this, as Epaphroditus was “sick almost unto death,” not for disobedience, but for the sake of the work of Christ (Phil. 2:25-30). One reason for this is that the knowledge of Christ brings with it the living power to endure such things in a spirit of genuine faith and cheerfulness.
As Israel advanced toward their land, the fear of God would be imprinted on the hearts of their enemies, to cause them to retreat in confusion (v. 27). Figuratively God would send hornets before them, small, insignificant things which yet cause people consternation. The Lord can use the smallest thing to scatter His enemies, just as He did in the case of defiant atheist who challenged God to meet him at a certain time and place to have a fight. When God did not appear, he went home to boast that he had proven God did not exist. But a tiny insect had bitten him at that place: he was poisoned and died soon after in acute pain.
Yet God would not drive out the enemies of Israel rapidly, for the land would become desolate if Israel took too long to take possession, and wild animals would increase in number (v. 29). Wisely therefore God would gradually drive the enemies out until Israel was able to take full possession of their land. This reminds us that we do not learn all the truth of God suddenly. Rather, gradually, little by little, we enter into the value of the great blessings we inherit “in Christ.” Though “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” are the property of all true believers (Eph. 1:3), yet it takes time to “possess our possessions.”
The boundaries of Israel's land mentioned in verse 31 have never yet been possessed by Israel, but will be in the millennium. However, even though some of the enemies had not been driven out, Israel was to make no covenant with those remaining, nor to allow any to remain living in the land. The danger of adopting their customs was strongly warned against (v. 33).
THE COVENANT WRITTEN AND READ TO THE PEOPLE (vv. 1-8)
Having finished declaring the rules and regulations connected with the law, the Lord tells Moses to come up to Him in the mountain, and to take with him Aaron, Nadab and Abihu (Aaron's sons) as well as seventy of the elders of Israel (v. 1). A group therefore was selected to have a place above the people, which is consistent with the character of law, but having no place whatever in the church of God today, for all believers are seen as priests in God's dealings now (1 Peter 2:5). Yet Moses alone was allowed to come near to God (v. 2). In this he is typical of Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant (Heb. 12:24).
Before going up, however, Moses told the people all that the Lord had spoken, His ordinances and judgments (v. 3). The people unitedly answered that they would obey all that the Lord had commanded. Before they had heard these things they promised to obey (Ex. 19:8). Now in hearing, they speak the same.
Then Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. He built an altar along with twelve pillars which represented the twelve tribes of Israel. Then young men (not elders nor priests) of the children of Israel were sent to offer burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord (v. 5). The very fact of these offerings intimates that Israel's promise was not going to be kept: they would require the shedding of blood because of their disobedience. Yet this blood could not take away sins (Heb. 10:4).
Moses sprinkled half of the blood on the altar, then read the book of the covenant to all the people. For the third time they made the self-confident promise that they would do all that the Lord commanded. How little they knew their own hearts! But Moses then sprinkled the remainder of the blood on the people, declaring to them that this was the blood of the covenant that the Lord had made with them. Typically this warned them that disobedience would require the shedding of blood - and not just the blood of an animal. Hebrews 9:18-22 comments on this occasion, insisting also that “without shedding of blood there is no remission.”
A SELECT GROUP IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD (vv. 9-18)
In obedience to verses 1-2 Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, together with 70 of the elders of Israel went up into the mountain (v. 9). This large group of witnesses took away any suspicion of the people that Moses might be in any way deceiving them. These men must be impressed with the greatness of the glory of the Lord. We are told, “they saw the God of Israel” (v. 10).
The meaning of this must be considered in the light of John 1:18: “No one has seen God at any time,” and 1 Timothy 6:16; “whom no man has seen or can see.” Therefore it was not God personally whom they saw, but evidently some partial manifestation of His nature or character, for the language is symbolical that tells us, “there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity” (v. 10). This appears to be a vision that would inspire awe in all who were observers, realizing that it was indeed the great God of creation who was dealing with them. Compare the vision of Ezekiel 1, which ends with the words, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (v. 28).
MOSES AND JOSHUA GOING FURTHER (vv. 12-18)
Moses now is to be separated from Aaron, his sons and the 70 nobles, as the Lord calls him up into the mountain in order to give him the tables of stone on which the ten commandments would be written by God. Joshua had not been mentioned before, but had evidently also come with the group as the personal attendant of Moses. Now he goes with Moses (v. 13), and was evidently with him during the whole time in the mount. Moses leaves instructions that Aaron and Hur can be consulted as to any problems that might arise (v. 14).
As Moses went up a cloud covered the mountain, evidently the shekinah glory cloud (vv. 15-16), and on the seventh day of this obscurity the Lord called to Moses out of the cloud. To the children of Israel below the sight of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire (v. 17). Moses then remained in the mountain altogether forty days and forty nights. Forty is the number of testing: this was a test not only for Moses, but for all Israel, - a test which issued in Israel's failure.
WILLING OFFERINGS FOR GOD'S SANCTUARY (vv. 1-9)
The law has been declared to Israel, with its stern ordinances and regulations. Now the Lord instructs Moses in a matter that is in striking contrast to the principle of law, for all here speaks of grace and blessing rather than law and cursing. Thus, even when God put Israel under law, the grace of His own heart could not refrain from shining through in a remarkable measure.
In this case, God makes no peremptory demand, but tells Moses to speak to the people to the effect that they should willingly with their heart bring an offering to the Lord. There was no question as to how much each should give, nor if they should give at all if their heart was not in it. This must be a fully voluntary offering. The principle here corresponds fully with the principle laid down for the assembly of God today in their giving. 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 deal extensively with this question. Exodus 9:7 is most plain, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver.” Therefore this offering of Exodus 25 shows that even in the giving of the law God looked beyond the law to the grace that would yet be revealed.
The offering however was of specific materials for the building of the tabernacle. God designated these. There was no place for sackcloth or for people's personal household furniture. Gold is mentioned first, for this symbolizes the glory of God. Then silver pictures the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Copper is typical of the holiness of God, which is an outstanding characteristic of His sanctuary.
Blue material speaks of the heavenly glory of the Lord Jesus, the eternal Son of God, as is seen specially in the Gospel of John (See John 6:32, 37, 50, 51, 58). Purple is the royal color, and reminds us of Matthew, which presents Christ as the King of Israel. Scarlet is the color of attraction, which is seen in the lowly, faithful service of the Lord Jesus in Mark's Gospel. Fine linen pictures the beautifully intertwined moral perfection of the Lord Jesus as the unique Man of God's appointment, which is seen in the Gospel of Luke.
Goat's hair (v. 4) calls to mind the sacrifice of Christ as our Substitute, while ram's skins dyed red speak of the same sacrifice in its submission and devotion to God, the red calling special attention to this. Badger skins (or possibly porpoise skins) are of a drab, unattractive color, and they formed the outside covering of the tabernacle, emphasizing the fact that to the natural eye of Israel and the world there appeared to be “no beauty” in the Lord Jesus (Isa. 53:2).
Acacia wood is from a hardwood desert tree, speaking of the enduring humanity of the Lord Jesus as “a root out of a dry ground” (Isa. 53:2). Oil for the light is typical of the Holy Spirit. Spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense are the varied fragrances of the Lord Jesus united with the energy of the Holy Spirit (v. 6). Onyx stones and other precious stones to adorn the special dress of the high priest symbolize the bright reflections of the many beauties of the Lord Jesus.
All of these things were for the purpose of making a sanctuary for God to dwell in among the children of Israel (v. 8). This was temporary in view of the eventual building of the temple by Solomon (1 Kings 6). In regard to this tabernacle, however, nothing was left to the discretion of Moses. Verse 9 is clear that God Himself decreed the entire pattern of the tabernacle and its furniture, just as God today has laid down the full truth concerning the church of God and all its arrangements. Nothing is left to the wisdom or discretion of any of His saints or servants.
THE ARK OF THE COVENANT (vv. 10-16)
Before instructions are given for the building of the tabernacle itself, God lays down the plans for the ark, the table of showbread and the lampstand. The ark has the place of most prominent importance, for it speaks of Christ as the Sustainer of the throne of God, just as the ark sustained the mercy seat, All the authority of God is therefore seen to be centered in the person of the Lord Jesus.
The ark was made of acacia wood, speaking of the humanity of Christ as a Root out of dry ground. But it was overlaid with gold, which emphasizes His deity, for He is God over all. Its length was two and a half cubits. Two speaks of testimony, for God's throne bears testimony always to what is true. The added one-half is interesting, however. It reminds us of the Queen of Sheba's words to Solomon, “the half was not told me” (1 Kings 10:7). Therefore this indicates that the glory of Christ is beyond human apprehension. The height and width of the ark were each one a half cubits. Therefore in every dimension the glory of Christ exceeds our understanding. The one cubit however speaks of unity. In the authority of God there can be no inconsistency, but one perfect standard of judgment for all.
The ark was a chest overlaid with gold both inside and out. A crown of gold was on the top, crowning the entire circumference. This speaks of the glory the Lord Jesus has now acquired by reason of His sacrifice and His resurrection, that is, He is now “crowned with glory and honor” (Heb. 2:9) in answer to His willing humiliation.
Because the ark was to be carried by means of staves, there were two rings of gold attached to the ark on each side. The staves were made of acacia wood overlaid with gold, and those were slipped through the rings in order for the ark to be carried. The priests did not touch the ark, but carried it by the staves (vv. 12-15). Thus believers have the place of priests in order to carry the Lord Jesus as a testimony before the world. The staves were to remain always in their place. This continued until the temple was built, when we read that “they drew out the staves” (1 Kings 8:8) because the ark was then in its proper restingplace.
The testimony God would give Israel (the law written on tables of stone) was to be put into the ark (v. 16). This reminds us that in contrast to all others, the Lord Jesus could say, “I delight to do your will, O my God, and your law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:8).
THE MERCY SEAT (vv. 17-22)
The mercy seat was made the same length and width as the ark (v. 17), but this was pure gold, for it symbolized the throne of God, of which Christ is the capable Sustainer. The same truth applies to its dimensions as is true of the ark. No form was ever seen on the mercy seat, for God is invisible (1 Tim. 1:17). As the throne of God, this represents absolute dominion, authority righteousness, truth, yet amazingly it is called, not the justice seat, but “the mercy seat.” Thus from the throne of absolute righteousness God is able to dispense mercy. This is marvelous, but only possible because of the truth emphasized on the great day of atonement. For no one could ever enter into the holiest of all where the ark was except the high priest only once a year, when he sprinkled blood seven times before and on the mercy seat (Lev. 16:1-19). This is typical of the Lord Jesus having made propitiation for our sins on Calvary, having been raised from the dead and entering into heaven itself for us (Heb. 10:11-12, 24).
On each end of the mercy seat was a cherubim facing inwards with their wings spread above each one, so that evidently their faces would look downward toward the mercy seat with their wings overshadowing all (v. 20). The cherubim were one piece with the mercy seat, all hammered from one piece of gold (vv. 18-19).
Since the cherubim form a part of the throne itself, it is plain they are not angels, or created beings, but purely divine principles of judicial righteousness. Looking down upon the mercy seat would indicate the vital interest that God's righteousness takes in the value of the blood sprinkled on the mercy seat.
The mercy seat formed a covering for the ark, and in the ark was the testimony, the law of God on tables of stone. This was the only seat in the tabernacle, the place where God would meet with Israel, though none of Israel except the high priest once a year, could enter there. From that place God would communicate His mind and will to Moses for the children of Israel (v. 22).
Thus, the ark and the mercy seat are seen to be found in beautiful consistency with the character of what is emphasized in the building of the tabernacle. For here we see the heart of God made known in some lovely measure, even in a dispensation which in itself does not make known the heart of God, that is, the law.
THE TABLE OF SHOWBREAD (vv. 23-30)
The table was inside the holy place, on the right side as one entered the tabernacle, but not in the most holy, as the ark was. The twelve loaves that were put on the table (Lev. 24:59) speak of communion or fellowship involving the twelve tribes of Israel in their fellowship with the Lord and with one another. Therefore the table is symbolical of the Lord Jesus as the Sustainer of fellowship. This was in the holy place, speaking of heaven itself, Christ therefore glorified in heaven sustaining His saints today in fellowship with the Father and with one another.
Again the Manhood of the Lord Jesus is emphasized by the acacia wood, and His deity by the complete overlaying of gold. Its height was the same as the ark, two and one half cubits. For the upward (Godward) blessing of fellowship is precious beyond our understanding (the one-half), while the two speaks of the value of this as a testimony before God. But both the length and width have no extra half cubit, for our fellowship is limited in both these directions. The two cubits and the one cubit speak similarly of those dimensions in the ark, however.
A molding of gold was to surround the entire circumference of the table, and a frame of a handbreadth (about four inches) was evidently inside the molding (v. 25), then another molding on the inside of the frame. The frame likely extended over the legs, and two gold rings were put close to the frame at each end of the table, that is, underneath the frame, so that it could be carried by staves. The staves (or poles) were again made of acacia wood overlaid with gold (v. 28).
Dishes, pans, pitchers and bowls used in connection with the table were all made of pure gold, for the fellowship of the saints of God is to be on a divine level, that is, “fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
THE GOLDEN LAMPSTAND (vv. 31-40)
The lampstand was placed on the left side of the sanctuary as one entered. This was made of one piece of beaten gold (v. 31). The lampstand is distinct from the light, for it is really the light-bearer, and speaks of Christ as the Sustainer of all testimony for God. Light is the very nature of God: “God is light” (1 John 1:5), therefore the humanity of Christ (the acacia wood) is not involved in this at all, but only pure gold. As the eternal Son of God He sustains all testimony for God.
There was a central stem in this stand, and six branches proceeding from that stem, three on either side (v. 32), for seven is the number of completeness or perfection.
On each of the six branches there were three cups or bowl shaped ornaments, like almond blossoms, each one evidently nesting a knob (possibly a bud) and a flower (v. 33). It is thought likely that this compares with Aaron's rod that “put forth buds, had produced blossoms and yielded ripe almonds” (Num. 17:8). The language is not that plain here in Exodus 25, but the lesson of resurrection is unmistakable. The almond is the first tree in Israel to blossom, speaking of Christ as “the firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:20-23).
Although, as we have seen, the pure gold of the lampstand speaks strictly of the deity of Christ, yet His Manhood is inferred when we think of Him in resurrection, for He must be Man in order to die and rise again. We must always remember that the Lord Jesus is one blessed person: though His deity is distinct from His Manhood, yet this same One who is exalted as God over all is the One who died and rose again.
On the central stem there were four of these sets of almond ornaments (v. 34). While the number three speaks of the Trinity and also of resurrection, four is the number of earth, and may imply that the testimony of God is intended for all the world.
The seven lamps, one at the top of the stem and those at the ends of the six branches, were to be arranged in such a way as to give light that would draw attention to the lampstand itself. It would also shed light on the table of showbread and on the golden incense altar. Thus the light of God shines primarily upon Christ Himself, whether as the Sustainer of the Light, whether as the Sustainer of fellowship, or as the Sustainer of worship, of which the golden altar speaks. He is revealed in all His beauty. Besides this, however, He is the Revealer: He shines for the blessing of others.
The lampstand then portrays Christ as the Sustainer of testimony, of which the light speaks. This testimony must necessarily have its basis in the truth of the Word of God, just as is plainly stated in the words of the Lord Jesus, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). Also today, any true testimony for God that is carried on by believers, is not sustained by their own energy, but by the Lord Jesus.
Connected with the lampstand were the “wick-trimmers” and trays of pure gold. This is the only indication that believers have any part in connection with the lampstand. They are the wicks, though the wicks themselves are not mentioned, but only the necessity of trimming them. The oil in the lamps speaks of the Holy Spirit of God, without whom we could never continue to burn. But a burned wick must be trimmed in order to burn brightly. The trimmings, put in the trays, could not burn again. Thus we need to judge ourselves constantly, and never depend on former experiences of burning in testimony for the Lord. Those things are to be left behind. The Lord as it were puts them into the trays. He will not forget, but we must burn freshly for Him every day.
The lampstand was formed in one piece out of one talent of gold. At present-day prices, the cost of this would be over $700,000. The measurements of it are not given. As to the pattern, God had shown this to Moses on the mountain, and he was to follow it precisely.
THE INNER COVERING OF THE TABERNACLE (vv. 1-6)
The tabernacle itself had four coverings; the lower one, which would be visible from inside, being made of fine woven linen with blue, purple and scarlet material woven into this, as well as ornamental cherubim. Since one would have to be inside to see the beauty of all of this, we are reminded that only believers coming into the presence of the Lord, are able to discern the glory and beauty of His person. Though the white fine linen speaks of His perfect moral character, which is a delight to a believer's heart, the world sees no beauty in Him: their eyes are blinded (John 12:37). Similarly as regards the blue, a reminder of His heavenly character, which Israel could not discern (John 6:42). The royal purple color tells us He is King, which Israel strongly denied (John 19:15). These three portray what is seen of Christ in the three Gospels, Luke, John and Matthew, in that order, while the scarlet is the color of attraction, just as the Lord's service in Mark's Gospel drew the attention of great numbers (Mark 1:33, 37; Mark 2:2; Mark 2:7 etc.) How much better it would have been if people had been drawn by the perfection of the Lord's moral character or the beauty of His heavenly glory, rather than by His miracles through which they might be benefited. Yet sometimes, while the miracles first draw them, people are further drawn by the perfection and beauty of the person of the Lord Jesus. But all are seen in the sanctuary of His presence.
There were ten curtains, the number of human responsibility (as seen in the ten commandments), for these colors all connect with the Lord's humanity, a humanity absolutely perfect, for the length of each curtain was 28 cubits, that is, 7x4. The seven speaks of perfection, while four is the number of weakness and dependence, which is just as true of Christ's humanity, though it is perfect. This is further emphasized by the four cubit width of each curtain. Christ's human weakness is seen in His “being wearied with His journey” (John 4:6), and in the words of 2 Corinthians 13:4, “For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God.” This weakness did not in any way imply failure, but dependence on God.
Five of the curtains were to be coupled together and the other five the same (possibly sewn). Then the two sets of five were to be joined by means of 50 loops of blue material attached to the selvedge of each set (v. 4), with golden clasps to attach the loops together. Thus a covering would be formed to extend from near the ground on either side right over the frame of the tabernacle. The loops and clasps would be in the middle. In this way the ten curtains were divided into five times two, the number five indicating the reality of the Lord's responsibility to God and the number two speaking of the witness to this in the world. The clasps of gold tell us that it is a work of divine power that unites together every aspect of the humanity of Christ.
THE CURTAIN OF GOATS' HAIR (vv. 7-13)
Above the curtains of fine linen those of goats' hair were placed. There were eleven of these instead of ten, and they were two cubits longer, though the same width. These of course would be more weather resistant, and would reach to the ground, as the fine linen curtains did not. Five of these were coupled together and the six others also coupled together, but the sixth curtain was to be doubled at the front of the tabernacle (v. 9). The fifty loops of blue in each set and the copper clasps speak similarly to the same in the linen curtains, except that the copper speaks of God's holiness in uniting these sets together. For the goats' hair symbolizes, not the person of Christ, but His work as the substitutionary sacrifice for His people. This must be a perfectly holy sacrifice, typical of that of Calvary.
While the sixth curtain of goats' hair was doubled at the front of the tent, this evidently meant that half of the curtain was doubled back, for verse 12 speaks of a remaining half curtain, which was to hang over the back of the tabernacle. Verse 13 then indicates that the extra two cubits of the length of the curtains (since these were 30 rather than 28) were to extend on either side one cubit lower than the inner curtain, so that the inner curtain was well covered, not to be seen from the outside.
THE CURTAINS OF RAMS' SKINS AND BADGER SKINS (v. 14)
The size of these two coverings is not mentioned, nor how they were made, but they no doubt covered the others over completely. The covering of rams' skins dyed red speaks of the sacrifice of Christ, not from the viewpoint of substitution, but from that of redemption. For Christ's sacrifice was not only for the sake of substituting for us, but for the glory of God. The ram speaks of His willing devotion to God in His sacrifice, and being dyed red reminds us that the shedding of His blood was absolutely essential to satisfy the righteous claims of God against our sins. By that sacrifice we are redeemed to God (Rev. 5:9).
But the covering of badger skins, or possibly sealskins, as some commentators consider likely, does not speak of sacrifice. This covering would necessarily be waterproof, and whether badger skins or sealskins the color would be drab and unattractive to the eye. Yet this covering speaks of Christ also, as the others do. It reminds us of Isaiah 53:2: “And when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.” This was true of Israel's response when the Messiah came to them, and it is true of all classes of people everywhere. In their first view of the Lord Jesus they see nothing to attract them. There must be a work of the Spirit of God to open their eyes to see far more in Him than appears at first sight.
THE BOARDS AND SOCKETS (vv. 15-30)
Boards were made for walls on the two sides and on the back of the tabernacle, but not for the front, where a curtain was used. We have seen that all four coverings speak of Christ, but in regard to the boards another interesting feature is added. First, they stood upright, the length of each being ten cubits and the width one and a half cubits. These were made of acacia wood, so the tree must be large to provide such width (at least 27 inches). Verse 29 gives instructions that these were to be overlaid with gold. At first sight we might therefore think back to the ark and the table of showbread, both of which speak of Christ in His pure Manhood overlaid by His deity. But this does not fit, for the boards are standing on sockets of silver (v. 19, etc.). Silver always speaks of redemption (see Numbers 4:45-51), and Christ certainly does not stand on redemption: it is only believers who stand on this ground. While the acacia wood speaks of our humanity, the gold covering can only symbolize the divine nature with which every believer is invested through being born of God. Thus the boards are not seen, but the gold. Speaking of all those who are truly born again, 1 John 2:24 tells us, “you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” This does not mean that we become God, but we are covered by the nature of God, being no longer seen as “in the flesh,” but “in Christ,” or “in the Spirit.” This is marvelous grace.
The boards were standing, for the tenons and sockets were designed to keep them upright. Romans 14:4 reminds us concerning every true believer, “he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” The ten cubit length however speaks of responsibility, for the believer does not stand merely as a lifeless robot, but with the exercise of willing, devoted faith that gladly bears a responsibility of testimony for God. The width of each board was one and one half cubits, the one speaking of unity as being joined with the other boards, but the extra half cubit seems to indicate that the full perfection of our place in Christ and the full perfection of our unity with all other believers will not be apprehended so long as we are in this wilderness world, but awaits the day of full manifestation.
On each side of the tabernacle (south and north) there were twenty boards (10x2), again emphasizing responsibility in witness, that is, our responsibility to bear a witness to what we are “in Christ.” In this the flesh has no place whatever. On the west end (the back) of the tabernacle were six boards, besides a board for each corner at the back (v. 23). These may have been set at an angle. The number 6 perhaps tells us that our present testimony falls short of perfection, just as six falls short of seven. The corners required extra strength, for whenever God makes changes of direction in His ways, or his dispensations, He gives special grace or strength to His people. Various occasions in the book of Acts illustrate this (Acts 2; Acts 7; Acts 8, Acts 10). By means of the sockets of silver the boards were joined together at the bottom, and at the top by one ring (v. 24). Exactly how this was done does not seem too clear, but we are sure the building was stable, resisting the winds of the wilderness.
Bars were made for the sides and back of the tabernacle, five for each side and five for the back (vv. 26-27). Four of the bars in each case were long enough only to reach half way, so that two met in the middle above the one long bar that reached from end to end, and the other two met in the middle below that long bar. These bars also were made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. The number five again speaks of responsibility and the bars indicate the unity of the saints of God as being held together by the gracious hand of God. Thus we are told in Ephesians 4:1-3 to “walk worthy of the calling with which you are called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Rings of gold were attached to the boards, through which the bars were inserted (v. 29). We are not told the number of the rings. This may be one of the details that Moses was shown on the mountain (v. 30), for he is told that the tabernacle was to be raised up in accordance with what the Lord had shown him there, so that no-one today can duplicate the plan of the tabernacle, even though we have the plans that scripture furnishes.
THE VEIL (vv. 31-35)
The veil was to be hung between the holy place and the most holy. It was to be made of blue, purple, scarlet and fine woven linen, with cherubim woven into it, though we are not told how many cherubim.
The significance of the veil is clearly announced in Hebrews 10:20: “the veil, that is to say, His flesh.” It is the Lord Jesus, not in His eternal Godhead glory, but in Manhood. “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15). The beauty of the Lord's Manhood is seen in various ways. First, the blue speaks of Him as being a unique Man, coming down from heaven (John 6:51). In this verse He insists that He is the living bread and that bread is His flesh. He is true Man, yet a Man uniquely different than all the children of Adam.
Purple is the royal color, and speaks of the Lord Jesus as King of Israel, as Matthew presents Him, yet more than that, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” As King His Manhood is essential, as Matthew 1:21 infers, “you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” This King saves His people by virtue of His own suffering and death, for in Matthew He is the trespass offering.
Scarlet is the attracting color, reminding us of the blood of Christ by which guilty sinners are attracted to Him to have their sins put away. This connects with Christ as the sin-offering, a prominent feature of Mark's Gospel, which also presents the Lord Jesus as the perfect Servant of God accomplishing God's will in fully meeting the sin question.
Finally the fine woven linen emphasizes the Lord's Manhood in every detail of His character and conduct. These threads were extremely fine yet strong, and woven together. So all the moral character and conduct of the Lord Jesus was perfect in every detail and all woven together to form a pattern of exquisite beauty. Woven into the veil was an artistic design of cherubim. How many we do not know, but they speak of governmental control. Wonderful it is to know that the Lord Jesus was always perfect in governing Himself, perfect in self-control.
The veil separated the holy place from the most holy. Just so, the perfect flesh of the Lord Jesus forbids our entry into the holy presence of God. For it shows us the only kind of a man who has any title whatever to enter God's presence. Once a year the high priest was allowed to enter, not without blood, for the high priest is a type of the Lord Jesus, who entered heaven once, having accomplished eternal redemption by the shedding of His blood (Heb. 9:11-12).
In order for believers to enter, however, it was necessary that the veil should be torn from the top to the bottom (Matt. 27:51). This typifies the rending of the flesh of the Lord Jesus in sacrifice for us, so that the way is open for us to be welcomed into the presence of God. Thus Hebrews 10:19-22 tells us, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh, and having a high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”
The veil was to be hung upon four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold. These rested on silver sockets. Since standing on silver, they speak of believers as they are “in Christ,” dependent on His redemption. It may seem strange that believers in any sense “hold up” Christ. But we are reminded in Revelation 3:12, “Him that overcomes will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out.” It will be our eternal joy to hold up the perfections of the blessed Man Christ Jesus.
Though we shall hold up the perfections of the Man Christ Jesus for eternity, yet the tabernacle does not speak of eternity, but of our passing through a wilderness world. So that these pillars supporting the veil speak of our holding up Christ as a testimony in the world. In fact, the number four is the world number (its four directions), so that this emphasizes a present lifting up of the Lord Jesus as the One worthy of the adoration of all the world. The hooks on the pillars were of gold.
Inside the veil, in the Holiest of all, the ark with its covering mercy seat was to be the one article of furniture (vv. 33-34), for it is symbolic of the throne of God, and Christ the upholder of that throne. The table was outside the veil on the right side as one entered, and the lampstand opposite it on the left side (v. 35). Not mentioned as yet is the altar of incense, which we shall see later was just outside the veil (Ex. 30:1-10).
THE ENTRANCE CURTAIN (vv. 36-37)
The entrance to the tabernacle was covered by a large curtain. It was made of the same materials as the veil except that no cherubim were interwoven into it. Of course it speaks also of the pure Manhood of the Lord Jesus, the only One by whom there is any entrance into even the outer sanctuary, as the Lord Jesus says, “If anyone enters in by Me, he will be saved” (John 10:9). Typically, entering into the first room is salvation, while entering through the veil is for worship.
Five pillars held up the entrance curtain, and they stood on sockets of brass (or copper), not silver. Brass speaks of the holiness of God, the brazen altar being a prime example of this. In this altar is seen God's holiness in connection with the sacrifice of Christ, where the burning judgment of God was borne by Him in suffering for sins. How appropriate it is that the reminder of His sacrifice is seen in connection with the entrance, for only on this basis can one enter in by Christ, the living way.
The five pillars in this case do not represent believers, but the Lord Himself, who bears full responsibility (the number five) for the witness to His own sufficiency as the entrance for man into the blessing of salvation. Though believers stand upon redemption (silver), only the Lord Jesus stands upon a ground of pure holiness (brass), as seen in His sufferings, and only through Him and His sufferings can anyone enter in.
THE BRAZEN (OR COPPER) ALTAR (vv. 1-8)
On entering the courtyard, one would stand immediately before the brazen altar. Then the laver stood between the altar and the tabernacle entrance. This altar (of acacia wood), again speaks of Christ in His pure Humanity. But it was overlaid with brass, or most likely copper, the fiery colored metal, which speaks of Christ also as the perfect expression of the holiness of God. “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29).
The altar was square, five cubits long and five wide. The number five emphasizes that Christ has willingly taken the responsibility of resolving the great problem of man's sin and of sins before God, The four fingers of one's hand are typical of human weakness, while the opposing thumb reminds us of God with man giving strength to carry out responsibility; therefore in this altar we are reminded that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). The height was three cubits, which adds the wonderful truth of Christ's resurrection. In fact, His resurrection is the proof of the great value of His sacrifice.
The four horns of the altar were to be “of one piece with it,” also overlaid with copper. The four horns, pointing outward, tell us that the value of the sacrifice of Christ is for all the world. By these the sacrifice was bound with cords on the altar. We read too of Adonijah, who for fear of judgment, went and caught hold of the horns of the altar (1 Kings 2:50) and was spared at the time. Later Joab attempted the same thing, but having proved himself treacherous, was killed (1 Kings 2:13-28). For it was not faith that moved him, but fear.
Various utensils were used in connection with the altar, pans for ashes, shovels and basins, forks and firepans. These were all made of copper. Every detail connected with the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus stresses the holiness of God. Holiness differs from righteousness in this, that holiness implies feeling, that is, love of what is good and hatred of what is evil. A human judge is not required to be holy, but simply righteous. But God is both.
The grate (v. 4) was evidently inside the altar, halfway between the top and bottom. This was for the fire that burned the offerings, and was also of copper. In each of the four corners was a ring. These are considered to have extended far enough to reach through holes in the corners, so that the rings would actually be on the outside in order for the poles (of acacia wood overlaid with copper) to be inserted in them for carrying (vv. 6-7).
The altar was hollow, so as to receive the fire into itself. We have seen that the altar pictures the Lord Jesus. He Himself asked the Pharisees, “Which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?” (Matt. 23:19). How clearly this tells us that the Lord Jesus personally is greater than the marvelous sacrifice He made. The gift (His sacrifice) is wonderful only because He Himself is so great. But at the cross He received into His own soul the burning fire of God's judgment on behalf of those for whose sins He died (Isa. 53:10). The value of His person gives wonderful value to His sacrifice.
HANGINGS FOR THE COURT (vv. 9-19)
The court surrounding the tabernacle was 50 cubits wide and 100 cubits long. The numbers are multiples of 5 and 10 (or 2x5), which again emphasizes the fact of responsibility (number 5) in bearing witness (number 2). But though the hangings were of fine woven linen, which speaks of pure moral character in humanity, they are not typical of Christ personally, for they were hung by hooks of silver, that is, dependent on redemption. This can only speak of believers as in dependence on the Lord Jesus and His work on Calvary. These were held up by 20 pillars of brass with brass sockets on the south side, the same on the north side, but on the west side 10 pillars. The pillars speak of the Lord Jesus in His character of absolute holiness, by whose strength the testimony of believers is upheld. For the hangings had no strength to hold themselves up, just as we do not.
The beauties of the gold, blue, purple and scarlet were not to be seen from the outside, but only the plain white of the fine linen. “The fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints “ (Rev. 19:8). This character of moral purity is what ought to be evident to all on the outside. Indeed, only as we depend on the Lord Jesus as the hangings depended on the pillars, will this practical righteousness be seen by the world around.
The east side was the front, and the gate was twenty cubits wide, leaving fifteen cubits on either side of the gate for hangings similar to the rest of the court. Three pillars with their sockets upheld the hangings on each side of the gate. Three (the resurrection number) would surely add the truth here that believers bear witness to their having been raised with Christ, so that their moral righteousness is the result of His work.
The hangings for the gate differed from the rest of the hangings. Its size was 20 cubits wide and of course 5 cubits high. 20 is 2x2x5, so that again a responsible witness is emphasized. But into the fine linen was woven blue, purple and scarlet colored threads. This hanging was held up also by four pillars of copper with sockets of copper and hooks of silver (Ex. 38:18-19).
The gate hanging is therefore typical of believers as they are “in Christ,” dependent on His redemption and reflecting in their measure the truth of His heavenly character (blue), His royalty (purple) and His perfect Servant character (scarlet) as well as His moral purity (fine linen). The court itself was simply white, not so attractive to the uninterested observer, but if one were interested enough to come to the gate, he would find it more attractive, just as truly concerned people will see more in believers than only a righteous life. They will realize that the believer has something more vital and valuable than appears at first sight. For he is bearing witness to the Lord Jesus.
Thus the gate teaches us that believers are to express a welcoming attitude toward the outside world, an attitude that welcomes others to come to Christ. Coming in by this gate is not typically salvation, for one must then meet the altar of burnt offering, picturing the sacrifice of Christ for him, finding there the knowledge of forgiveness of sins. For people are not told to enter by those who represent Christ in order to be saved, but to enter by Christ Himself (John 10:90). So that the gate here is only the testimony of believers to the grace and truth that is in Christ Jesus. This may attract people as the men of Samaria were attracted by the testimony of the woman who met the Lord Jesus at the well (John 4:28-30). But only in meeting the Lord Jesus Himself were they truly brought to God, as we see in their words to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him, and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (v. 42).
We have seen before that the utensils used inside the tabernacle were made of gold (Ex. 25:29, 38), now in Exodus 27:19 the utensils for the outside are designated as copper, including the pegs to which the coverings of the tabernacle were attached at the bottom, and the pegs for the court. Thus the holiness of God is more prominent on the outside, while inside the splendor of His glory is seen. The first surely is intended to impress us with a wholesome fear of God, while the latter should draw forth the adoring worship of every believer.
OIL FOR THE LIGHT (vv. 20-21)
We have read of the lampstand in Exodus 25:31-40. Now added is the instruction for the children of Israel to bring oil, pressed from olives, as fuel for the seven lamps to burn continually. Compare Zechariah 4:2-6, where lamps are fed from two olive trees, and the Lord makes clear that this speaks of His Spirit. Thus the Spirit of God is the oil by which the light of His testimony to Christ is sustained. This light was never to go out. Aaron and his sons were responsible to care for it, trimming the wicks, etc. So it is priestly work to see that the Spirit of God is allowed His full, unhindered freedom to make the light of testimony shine brightly. The trimming of the wicks speaks of judging the flesh (the negative side of the truth), so that the Spirit has liberty to do His positive work of shining testimony. The work of caring for the lamp, put into the hands of Aaron and his sons, was never to be neglected. We are never given a vacation from godly exercise.
GARMENTS FOR THE PRIESTS (vv. 1-4)
Aaron and his four sons were the priestly family, thus separated from the rest of Israel for this sacred purpose. This select priesthood is a contrast to the New Testament order, for today all true believers are included in the priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). But Aaron, the high priest, is typical of Christ, our Great High Priest, and his sons are typical of believers today in their priestly character.
All the garments of the priests were “holy garments,” and Aaron's official garments were “for glory and for beauty” (vv. 2-4). The garments of Aaron are first considered at length before those of his sons are spoken of. Gifted artisans whom God had filled with the spirit of wisdom were enlisted to make these garments. Those for Aaron are listed in verse 4, “a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a skillfully woven tunic, a turban and a sash,” Notice that Aaron was to minister to God as priest (v. 3). Certainly his priesthood involved that “he can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray” (Heb. 5:2), but this is actually a part of his ministering to God.
THE EPHOD (vv. 5-14)
The ephod was a garment that covered the upper body, and apparently made of two pieces, joined at the shoulders by straps (v. 7), and held by a belt (or “band”) that is called “the curious girdle of the ephod.” Its first component is gold, telling us that our Great High Priest, the Lord
Jesus, must Himself be God, just as Hebrews 1 establishes the fact that He is the eternal God before Chapter 2 speaks of His partaking of flesh and blood, becoming true Man in order to carry out the functions of His priesthood (Heb. 2:14-18). Blue, purple and scarlet and finely woven linen all connect with His Manhood, but indicate a unique Manhood, standing out above His brethren. For He is the Man from heaven (as the blue indicates); He is King, as purple shows; and the One perfect Servant of God, denoted by the scarlet.
The fine woven linen speaks of His moral purity, and this was also used for the garments of the other priests. However, Exodus 39:29 tells us they had sashes of blue, purple and scarlet interwoven with the fine linen. These sashes indicated their identification with the high priest, just as all believers are identified with Christ in the beauties of His perfect Manhood, though in person we are far short of Him.
The ephod was the particularly characteristic garment of the high priest. It was specially used whenever authorities inquired of God on behalf of the people. The high priest was the true intermediary between God and the people, just as Christ is the one Mediator between God and men. He represents God before the people, and He represents the people before God. The joining together of the two parts of the ephod may have some reference to this linking together of the people with God.
Then two onyx stones were taken and each one engraved with six names of the tribes of Israel, in order of the birth of the fathers (vv. 9-10). These were to be set in settings of gold and placed one on each shoulder of the ephod. They are called “memorial stones” (v. 12), indicating that all Israel was to be kept in memory as being upheld on the shoulders of the high priest, just as today all believers are established in Christ, the Son of God (the gold settings) and sustained on His capable shoulders at all times. Wonderful grace! Wonderful strength! Compare Isaiah 9:6, “The government will be upon His shoulder.” The strength of one of His shoulders is sufficient to govern all the nations, but believers are sustained on both of His shoulders!
Chains of pure gold were to be attached to each of the two gold settings for the onyx stones (v. 14). Nothing more is said of them here, but from verses 24-25 it seems likely that the other end of each chain was fastened to the breastplate.
THE BREASTPLATE (vv. 15-30)
The breastplate, called “the breastplate of judgment,” was particularly connected with decision making. It was of course at the forefront of the ephod and woven of the same materials, gold, blue, purple and fine linen. It speaks therefore of Christ Himself in all the glories of His deity and His Manhood. It was doubled into a square (v. 2), no doubt for more firmness in order to hold the twelve settings of gold with the precious stones that were set into it. Its size was one span square (v. 16), that is, three handbreadths, about twelve inches.
Verse 20 shows that the settings of the stones were gold, and verses 17-20 list the names of the stones, which were set in four rows. The top row was a sardius, a topaz and an emerald; the second row a turquoise, a sapphire and a diamond; the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst; and the fourth row a beryl, an onyx and a jasper. In each one of these was engraved a name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, so that all Israel was again represented as borne upon the heart of the high priest, just as all were represented as borne on his shoulders (v. 12).
In the onyx stones, however, no difference is seen in any of the tribes: all were the same. This indicates that all Israel was on the same basis of acceptance, typically that all believers have been accepted in Christ, all given the same position as sustained on His shoulders. The twelve stones of the breastplate, however, show diversity among the tribes, picturing the diversity there is among believers. Though all are established in the breastplate, that is, all believers are one “in Christ,” yet each believer is the workmanship of God created to function in a distinct way. In the church there is this true unity in diversity.
The name “urim and thummim” given to the stones means “lights and perfections.” For the stones reflect the light, as believers reflect the light that is in Christ. Each stone also signifies a beautiful perfection of the Lord Jesus shining in a believer. One believer cannot reflect all these glories: it requires all of them to do this. For instance, one stone, the sardius (first mentioned) is red, the warm attracting color of love. Some believers are specially characterized by this. The blue sapphire is a contrast to this, for it is a cool color, therefore one may reflect the calm,. cool, collected character of the Lord Jesus. Yellow is the bright color of candid truth, and other believers may emphasize this specially in their reflection of the Lord Jesus. Green is the fruitful, restful color, symbolizing the grace of God seen so perfectly in the Lord Jesus. How good to see in some believers a gracious spirit of faithful consideration of others, and thus also a lovely reflection of Christ.
Two rings of gold were put on the upper edge of the breastplate, one on either end and braided chains of gold put into the rings (vv. 23-24). The other ends of the chains were fastened in two settings attached on either side to the two shoulder pieces of the ephod (v. 25). This was where the onyx stones were set, so it seems these were the same chains mentioned in verse 14.
This illustrates the close connection between the great power of the Lord Jesus and His love. For the shoulders speak of His strength or power in upholding every believer, just as the shepherd carried the previously lost sheep on his shoulders. But the breastplate indicates that “Aaron shall bear the names of the the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart” (v. 29), therefore speaking of Christ bearing all believers on His heart of love. Thus power and love are seen in wonderful unity in the person of the Lord Jesus.
Two more rings of gold were put on the lower edge of the breastplate, but on the inside, to match with two rings of gold also attached to the ephod. Then these rings were bound with a blue lace, thus attaching the breastplate to the ephod on the lower side. The blue lace would remind us of the heavenly character of this testimony, and it is added that the breastplate thus would not come loose from the ephod.
The Urim and Thummim (the precious stones) being set in “the breastplate of judgment” indicated that Aaron would bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart continually. So Christ bears on His heart the administrative government of all His saints. Is is He who discerns between one and another, who cares for the need of His saints with absolute impartiality, judging rightly in every case. This reminder is needed at all times when decisions must be made concerning problems amongst God's saints. We too need a true recognition of the lights and perfections of Christ in His saints if we are to have proper discernment to judge as to any problems of importance that may arise, dealing with governmental administration, specially in cases that affect the assembly.
THE ROBE OF THE EPHOD (vv. 31-35)
This robe covered the body of the high priest from his neck to his feet. The ephod was necessarily on the outside of the robe. The robe however was all blue, so that it speaks of Christ as the heavenly Priest. In fact, while on earth, though in moral character He certainly was a priest, He could have no official place as Priest, for He was not of the line of Aaron (Heb. 8:4). But He is a Priest “become higher than the heavens” (Heb. 7:26), saluted of God in resurrection power, the heavenly Intercessor in God's presence. He is the One therefore who lifts us above the level of earthly circumstances that we may enjoy the pure atmosphere of His heavenly glory.
The opening for the head was to have a collar of woven work, like that of a coat of armor, therefore having special strength so that there would be no damage or tearing. Compare Leviticus 21:10, which forbids the high priest to ever tear his clothes. For these garments were holy, speaking of the perfection of unity in the person of the Lord Jesus, which must not be violated. In total disobedience to this, Caiaphas, the high priest, tore his clothes in the very presence of the Lord Jesus, and dreadfully violated the truth which he ought to have firmly defended, that is, that Christ is indeed the Son of God (Matt. 26:63-66).
On the lower edge of the robe there were to be simulated pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet all around the hem, alternating with golden bells. The sound of the bells was to be heard when he went in and when he came out, in order that “he may not die.” The pomegranates particularly speak of fruitfulness, being full of seeds with their promise of abundant fruit. Thus, the fruitfulness of the ministry of the Lord Jesus in His High Priestly work is far above our computation. Fruitfulness is seen in His character and in His works (John 10:25). On the other hand, His sound is wonderfully sweet music, for His words are the words of His Father (John 12:48-50). His words therefore are absolutely essential to His High Priesthood. Any high priest lacking in this would die if he went into the sanctuary, for he would not be rightly representing the Lord Jesus.
THE TURBAN (vv. 36-38)
More important than the turban itself was the plate of pure gold with its engraved inscription, “Holiness to the Lord.” This is therefore mentioned before the turban, and was set in the front of the turban over the forehead of the high priest, fastened there by a blue cord. Thus the gold of the divine glory of the Lord Jesus and the holiness of His character shines from His forehead, indicating that all His thoughts were always for the glory of God, the blue cord implying that those thoughts are as high as the heavens above the earth in comparison to ours (Isa. 55:9).
The turban covered the head, and reminds us of 1 Corinthians 11:5-15, where the woman today is instructed to have her head covered when praying or prophesying, as a sign of her subjection to authority. The turban then signified the subjection of the Lord Jesus to the supreme authority of God. So, in the Old Testament, the male priest was to have his head covered when in the presence of God (the tabernacle), while the New Testament makes it clear that the man is not to have his head covered, but the woman is told to do so.
The golden plate on the turban signified also that Aaron was “to bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts.” Whatever we may devote to God as a holy gift or sacrifice, there remains in it some element of iniquity because of our own selfish, sinful nature. Thank God the pure holiness of the Lord Jesus is able to sanctify such gifts so that they are acceptable to God.
THE TUNIC (vv. 39-41)
The tunic (or “coat” — KJV) was an undergarment, and woven of fine linen (v. 39). After the priests had been washed, this was the first garment put on them (Lev. 8:6-7). It speaks therefore of the inward moral purity o the Lord Jesus, which was perfectly consistent with all the outward manifestations of His glory and beauty. Not only was it true that :He did no sin” (1 Peter 2:22), but also “in Him is no sin” (1 John 3:5). The sash for the tunic was also woven of fine linen and used for binding the tunic in place. It would remind us that all the inner thoughts and motives of the Lord Jesus were always kept in perfect control.
GARMENTS FOR BOTH AARON AND HIS SONS (vv. 42-43)
Verse 40 shows that the sons of Aaron also had tunics made for them. While Aaron's outer garments were spoken of first, when his sons are considered, the inner garments come first. For Christ being the Object of our adoration, we know that all His outward glories are proof of His inward character. As to ourselves, however, we must begin with our inward thoughts, to have those judged and disciplined according to the will of God. The sash too reminds us of stern self-discipline.
Turbans also were made for Aaron's sons, coverings for the head, indicating that their minds were to be in subjection to God. They were to be anointed (v. 41), which is typical of all believers today being anointed by the Spirit of God to enable them for priestly service (1 John 2:20). Also they were consecrated, indicating their being entirely devoted to God's interests; and were sanctified, that is, set apart from others for the sacred purpose of glorifying God. How good it is for believers to keep these things in mind as regards their great dignity of being priests of God.
For both Aaron and his sons trousers were also made of linen (v. 42). These were evidently undershorts, for they reached only from the waist to the thighs. Moral purity is again emphasized in these. They all must have these under garments on when entering the tabernacle, for they must rightly represent the purity of the Lord Jesus as before the eye of God. The penalty for disobedience would be death (v. 43).
CONSECRATION OF THE PRIESTS (vv. 1-10)
The consecration of the priests, that is, the inducting them into their priestly office, involved much detail. First, because most important, Moses was to take one young bull and two rams, all without blemish (v. 1). Also unleavened bread and cakes mixed with oil and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, made of wheat flour, were to be put in one basket and presented with the bull and rams. These things emphasize what is basic to priesthood, all being presented as offerings to God, though the actual sacrifice of the animals is only seen as offered in verses 10 and 11. The bull was for a sin offering (v. 14), one ram was for a burnt offering (v. 18) and the other ram was for a peace offering (v. 28). All these are typical of the sacrifice of Christ in three distinct aspects. His official priesthood in glory today stems from the wonderful value of His perfect sacrifice on Calvary and in virtue of this the whole priestly family (all believers) is identified in pure grace with Him
The unleavened bread and cakes mixed with oil are typical of Christ personally as the meal offering (Lev. 2:1-16). Not being a blood sacrifice, these were offered always together with an animal sacrifice, but they speak of the purity of Christ's person in lowly Manhood; yet being mixed with oil symbolizes the fact of the Spirit of God permeating Him in all His life (Luke 1:35). The wafers anointed with oil speak of His being anointed by the Holy Spirit when baptized by John (Matt. 3:13-16) at the beginning of His public service. Thus the perfection of the person of the Lord Jesus and the great value of His sacrificial work are vitally involved in His own High Priesthood and in the priesthood of all believers.
Aaron and his sons were then to be washed with water at the door of the tabernacle. This compares with Ephesians 5:25-26, “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” This washing of the priests was done by others only once, though the priests themselves washed their hands and feet in doing the service of the tabernacle (Ex. 30:18-21). In John 13 the Lord Jesus insists on only one bath (v. 10), telling the disciples they had already had this (except Judas) and only feet washing was afterward necessary whenever the feet were defiled. This bath is distinct from our cleansing by blood (1 John 1:9). For the blood cleanses in God's eyes from the guilt of our sins, while the bath in the water is the new birth which cleanses away moral defilement. It is the Word of God applied to our souls which does this.
We know this cleansing has nothing to do with Christ personally, but Aaron's bath symbolized that Christ identified Himself with His own in their being washed. This is wonderful grace.
Aaron was then clothed before his sons. The tunic was first put on, though we do not read of the trousers at this time. Yet they must have been put on also, for without these they could not minister in the tabernacle (Ex. 28:42-43). Then the robe of the ephod, the ephod with the breastplate and the band (or belt) of the ephod were added, and finally the turban with the golden plate or “crown.”
SACRIFICES OFFERED (vv. 10-37)
The bull was next offered, which was a sin offering (v. 14). Before killing it, Aaron and his sons were to lay their hands on the head of the bull, indicating their identification with the offering. In other words, it was for themselves, a personal, vital matter. The high priest was involved in this too, to show his identification with the other priests, just as Christ has identified Himself with us in taking responsibility for our sins, though He Himself is without sin.
When the bull was slaughtered, some of its blood was to be put on the horns of the altar by Moses' finger and the rest poured out at the base of the altar. Then the fat that covered the inwards and the two kidneys were to be burned on the altar.
The fat speaks of the inward energy of the Lord's devotion to the Father's will, and the kidneys (which filter and purify the blood) symbolize the inner motives of the Lord Jesus in all His ways, always perfectly pure. These were offered on the altar to God, for they are for His own pleasure.
But the rest of the animal was taken outside the camp and all burned. It reminds us that, as the sin offering, the Lord Jesus suffered “outside the gate” (Heb. 13:12) as under the curse of God, bearing alone the great burden of sin.
Then one of the rams was taken (v. 15) and again Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram before it was killed. Its blood was sprinkled all around on the altar, that is, the copper altar of burnt offering. Then the ram was cut in pieces, its inwards and its legs washed with water and all the pieces put together, including the head. In contrast to the bull, however, the ram was then totally burned on the altar, not outside the camp. For it was not a sin offering, but a burnt offering, that is, all went up as a sweet smelling offering to God. The sin offering tells us of the fact of the Lord's suffering under the curse of God. But in wonderful contrast to this, the burnt offering speaks of Christ's suffering and death being of infinitely precious value to God. Both facts are true at the same time, though they may seem to us a paradox difficult to understand. Both of these offerings and also the trespass offering and peace offering are necessary to give some full picture of the great wonder of the sacrifice of Christ.
The second ram therefore (v. 19) was next taken, and again Aaron and his sons were to lay their hands on its head before it was killed. In this case, however, some of the blood was to be put on the tip of Aaron's right ear and on the tip of the right ear of his sons, also on the big toe of their right foot, as well as sprinkling the blood all around on the altar. This was a peace offering (v. 28) in which not only God received honor, but believers too receive blessing. The blood of Christ sanctifies our hearing (the ear), our works (the thumb) and our walk (the toe). Being saved by virtue of His blood, we are set apart from the world in what we hear, what we do and how we walk.
Besides this, some of the blood was to be taken and with it some of the anointing oil, and this was sprinkled on Aaron and his garments and on his sons and their garments (v. 21). This was to consecrate them in their priestly office.
The significance of this is vitally important. In verse 7 we have been told that Aaron alone was first anointed with oil before the sacrifice was offered. This symbolizes the anointing of the Lord Jesus by the Spirit of God at the river Jordan after His baptism by John the Baptist (Matt. 3:16). Only the Lord Jesus could be anointed by the Spirit of God before His blood was shed. Believers had to wait until after the cross and His resurrection to be anointed by the Spirit of God at Pentecost (Acts 2). For the guilt of our sins must first be cleansed away by the shedding of the blood of Christ before we could possibly receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
However, for the second time Aaron was anointed with oil, and this time together with blood. By the shedding of His blood on Calvary the Lord Jesus has identified Himself with all those who have trusted Him as Savior (the priestly family), and Acts 2:33 shows that for a second time Christ has received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, and has poured the Spirit out on believers. Thus, the priestly family, in fellowship with the Great High Priest, has been anointed with blood and oil. Being cleansed by the blood of Christ, we are free to receive the Spirit of God.
Now all of the fat of the ram, the two kidneys and the right thigh were to be set aside, together with one loaf of bread, one cake made with oil and one wafer from the basket of unleavened bread. These were to be placed in the hands of Aaron and his sons and waved as a wave offering before the Lord (vv. 22-23). This was the Lord's portion of the peace offering. Being waved symbolizes the resurrection glory of the Lord Jesus in His ascension to heaven. Then all of this was burned on the altar as a burnt offering to the Lord. Only these parts were a burnt offering, however, so that the entire sacrifice was not a burnt offering. What was burned was entirely for the Lord.
However, the breast of the ram was then taken and also waved before the Lord and it was the portion of the offerer - in this case Moses. Typically he was to enter into the value of the sacrifice and into the faith of the resurrection glory of Christ. In this case Moses is not typical of Christ objectively, but of Christ in His saints, that is, each believer is to feed upon the affections of Christ as the breast implies, worshiping Him. This is confirmed in Numbers 18:8-11.
The breast of the wave offering and the shoulder of the heave offering were to be “sanctified,” and are spoken of in verse 27 as being for Aaron and his sons. Feeding upon the shoulder would speak of our entering into the reality of the strength of the Lord Jesus on our behalf, such as is seen in Ephesians 1:18-21. The difference between a wave offering and a heave offering seems to be that the heave offering emphasizes the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from among the dead, while the wave offering indicates His ascension into heaven.
Though the breast and the shoulder are given a special place here, yet it appears in verse 32 and in Leviticus 7:11-21 that all of the peace offering that was not burned on the altar was to be the portion of the priests and the offerer. Thus, in the peace offering God has His share, Christ (the High Priest) has His share, the individual offerer has his share, and the family of priests (all believers) have their share. Fellowship in the enjoyment of the sacrifice of Christ is therefore an outstanding feature of the peace offering.
No outsider was to eat of this offering, for no unbeliever has any part in its value (v. 33). Also, if the priests were not able to eat their share that same day, then whatever remained was not to be kept over, but burned (v. 34). We may not be able to appropriate or appreciate the fullness of what we are given of Christ, but God does appreciate it, as the burning pictures the offering being given to Him.
This sanctification of the priests continued for seven days (the number of completeness), and every day a bull was offered as a sin offering (vv. 35-37). Involved in this was not only the sanctification of the priests, but also of the altar, so that the altar was said to be “most holy,” and whatever touched the altar was rendered “holy.” A contrast to this is seen in Haggai 2:12. Holy meat (that which had touched the altar) did not make anything else holy by touching it. The altar speaks of the person of Christ, the “most holy.” Direct contact with Him renders one holy, but a secondary contact does not do so. Just so, one who has personal faith in the Lord Jesus Himself is saved, but no one is saved by contact with a believer. The sanctifying of the altar involves the recognition of the absolutely unique place the Lord Jesus has by right, and this reminds us of 1 Peter 3:15, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.”
THE CONTINUAL BURNT OFFERING (vv. 38-46)
The sanctifying of the priests is seen as complete. Now we are told of the offering of two lambs, one in the morning and one in the evening of every day without cessation. The lambs must be of the first year. The morning lamb was to be accompanied by one tenth of an ephah of flour mixed with one fourth of a hin of pressed oil, besides one fourth of a hin of wine as a drink offering. Then the same is said of the evening offering. These were to be as a “sweet aroma” (as all burnt offerings were), ascending in fire to the Lord.
The spiritual meaning of this should be obvious. It speaks of a consistent personal communion with the Lord Jesus in thankful adoration of Him as the constantly fresh sacrifice that delights the heart of the Father. Involved in this is both His blood sacrifice (emphasized in the lamb) and the perfection of His lowly Humanity (the fine flour), mixed with oil (the permeating presence of the Holy Spirit). Added to this, the drink offering speaks of the joy of the offerer in contemplating the perfections of the Lord Jesus and His sacrifice. Thus, this surely ought to be true of every Christian life. Can we allow a morning or an evening to pass without some fresh, admiring thoughts of the Lord Jesus and His sacrifice?
This was offered before the door of the tabernacle, all being burned on the copper altar. There the Lord met with Israel and spoke to them. If His presence was to be enjoyed, then the continual burn offering must be offered. Thus too God would sanctify the tabernacle, the altar and Aaron and his sons. All of these things were fundamental in regard to having God dwell among the sons of Israel (v. 45). Thus, they would have clearest evidence to persuade them that Jehovah was indeed their God, He who had brought them out of Egypt, not simply to set them free, but in order that He might dwell among them. Today too, God saves sinners from the bondage of sin, not only for their relief from a condition so miserable, but for a purpose of far greater blessing for them and of far greater glory to Him than any of us at first sight imagines. For each of these redeemed sinners becomes a living stone in the present house of God, the Church, forming a dwelling place for God Himself in the midst of a world that has cast out His Son. This is present blessing higher far than we generally stop to consider, and in this God Himself receives present honor and glory. But still to be revealed is the glory God will receive for eternity and the eternal blessing of His saints. May we learn to appreciate this far more than we do!
THE GOLDEN ALTAR OF INCENSE (vv. 1-10)
Before this chapter the Lord has given instructions concerning the tabernacle, its court and all the furniture both outside and inside, except the altar of incense and the laver. Two full chapters intervene before these are considered. The reason for this may be that, as regards the altar of incense, true worship (of which it speaks) comes after the sacrifices being made and the priests consecrated (that is, believers put in their place as priests). As to the laver, it is mentioned too only after the priests are consecrated, for it was used for the daily washing of their hands and feet.
The altar for the burning of incense stood in the holy place (not the holiest) just in front of the veil. It was made of acacia wood and overlaid, not with copper (as was the altar of burnt offering) but with gold. No animal offerings or grain offerings were put on this altar, but only incense which was burned on it to produce a sweet odor. This speaks only of worship, the worship arising spontaneously in hearts renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit of God.
Its measurements were one cubit square and two cubits high. We have noted that the ark had one-half cubit involved in all three of its dimensions (Ex. 25:10), indicating that the throne of God is beyond our understanding in every way. The table of showbread had the one-half cubit involved only in its height (Ex. 25:23), implying that our fellowship is limited in regard to others all around us, but toward God it is to be precious beyond our understanding. But the altar of incense had no one-half involved in its dimensions, for this speaks of worship which believers give, and this is definitely limited . Worship has its sweet influence on those around us (one cubit in each direction), but twice that upward toward God.
The golden altar itself speaks of Christ as the Sustainer of our worship, His perfect Manhood indicated in the acacia wood, His eternal deity in the gold. The border at the top is called “a crown” in the KJV (v. 3), and rightly so, as Strong's Concordance confirms. It reminds us of the Lord Jesus at present “crowned with glory and honor” (Heb. 2:9), worthy of the profound worship of all His own.
Two gold rings were to be placed, one on either side, under the border. It was not necessary to have four rings, as in the ark, because of its smaller size. The poles for carrying it were also made of acacia wood overlaid with gold.
The altar was close to the veil, its back toward the veil. Thus in the outer sanctuary there was the table of showbread on the right side as one entered, the lampstand on the left and the altar of incense straight ahead. Emphasis is therefore placed on communion (the table), testimony (the lampstand) and worship (the altar). We see these three in Lazarus, Martha and Mary in John 12:2-3. Lazarus sat at the table with the Lord (communion), Martha served (testimony) and Mary anointed His feet (worship).
Just as there was to be a continual burnt offering, so incense was to be burned on the altar both morning and evening, therefore called “perpetual incense” (v. 8). This was to be done along with the trimming of the lamps. The connection of these is important too. Our lamps of testimony must be trimmed by self-judgment continually, so as to burn always with fresh brightness, and our worship is to be continually new and fresh.
Warning is given as to not offering “strange fire” on the altar, or burnt offering, meal offering or libation (drink offering) (v. 9). The only incense allowed to be offered was what God prescribed (Ex. 30:34-36). One might like the smell of something else, just as people are often influenced greatly by the sight of lovely ornaments, vestments, stained glass windows, sounds of beautiful music, with feelings of subdued awe and wonder, and they feel they have been transported into a state of inspired worship. But such things can be totally misleading, for we should stop to realize that people's thoughts are not in this way centered on the beauty of the person of the Lord Jesus. God knows what is true worship, and human feelings and opinions have no place. God showed His thoughts of this when Nadab and Abihu (Aaron's sons) offered strange fire (Lev. 10:1-2). They were themselves immediately consumed by fire. The incense speaks of the fragrances of the Lord Jesus: nothing can substitute for this before God.
However, once a year Aaron was to put blood on the horns of this altar. This was the blood of the sin offering shed on the great day of atonement (Lev. 16), with its blood brought in by Aaron to be sprinkled before and on the mercy seat, then also on the horns of the golden altar and on the altar (vv. 18-19). Thus, atonement was made on the altar (Ex. 30:10). In this way there was a continual reminder that worship is based on the value of the blood of Christ shed on Calvary.
THE SILVER RANSOM MONEY (vv. 11-16)
When the children of Israel were numbered in a census, then each individual was required to pay to the Lord one half shekel as a ransom for himself (vv. 12-13). It is called “atonement money” in verse 16. We may wonder as to why atonement was made by the blood of the sacrifice offered, yet besides this atonement money was required. This special individual requirement was to press home upon every person that atonement costs something. Of course a half shekel is nothing in comparison to the price the Lord Jesus paid in giving Himself. But the rich were not to give more, nor the poor to give less than a half shekel. All are on precisely the same basis in the matter of atonement.
This included only those who were twenty years of age and older. No doubt this was in consideration of the fact that those younger, not yet employed, would lack the means of paying. The money would however be used to pay the expenses of the service of the tabernacle.
Spiritually, this had only a typical meaning, for 1 Peter 1:18 tells us, “you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver and gold.” Yet this requirement of the half shekel of silver establishes the fact that silver is symbolical of atonement. This was “a memorial,” therefore a reminder of the cost of redemption. We know today that redemption costs us nothing, but the cost to the Lord Jesus was beyond our understanding, as the one half shekel implies, — “the half was not told me” (2 Kings 10:7).
THE COPPER LAVER (vv. 17-21).
We have before seen that on entering the courtyard, one immediately faced the altar of burnt offering, just as we must first come face to face with the cross of Christ. There the question of our sins is met, God is glorified and believing sinners forgiven by virtue of the one sacrifice of Christ.
But the copper laver stood between the altar of burn offering and the entrance to the tabernacle. It did not signify cleansing by blood: this was seen in the altar of burnt offering. Cleansing by blood takes place once and for all, as is emphasized in the one offering of the Lord Jesus (Heb. 10:12-18). The laver was the place of many washings by water, washings of the hands and feet of the priests.
Of course, under law there were many sacrifices on the burnt offering altar, all of these typical of the one sacrifice of Christ, so that Hebrews 10 shows the great contrast now as regards the value of Christ's one offering in comparison to the many Old Testament offerings. This is cleansing judicially by blood from the guilt of our sins.
However, the laver speaks of moral cleansing by the water of the Word of God ((Eph. 5:26). Each time a priest entered the tabernacle he was required first to wash his hands and feet. Previously, when the priests were consecrated, their bodies were washed with water (Ex. 29:4). This speaks of the washing of new birth, done only once (Heb. 10:22), a general washing that makes a moral difference in the individual. Yet a believer, though in principle thoroughly cleansed, is in circumstances where his feet become defiled through contact with the evil around him, and therefore often needs his feet washed (John 13:5-10). Hands are not mentioned in the New Testament, but if believers wash one another's feet (symbolically) their hands will be cleansed by the water (John 13:14).
The laver was made of copper, but no dimensions are given. Exodus 38:8 informs us that it was made from the mirrors of serving women. Thus the condition of the priests' feet would be reflected as they came near. So the holiness of God (of which copper speaks) faithfully reveals our true condition, and the water of the Word cleanses away the defilement that holiness has exposed.
This washing was imperative, whether a priest was going in to do service in the tabernacle or whether he was offering a sacrifice on the copper altar (v. 20). Attempting to do such service without washing would be punishable by death (v. 21). How careful we should be to give due respect to the holiness of God in all matters of worship and service.
THE ANOINTING OIL (vv. 22-23)
The oil symbolizes the Spirit of God (Zech. 4:2-6, 12), He by whom the Lord Jesus was anointed at the River Jordan (Matt. 3:16), and by whom all believers of this present age are anointed (1 John 2:20, 27). This anointing oil, however, was not confined to olive oil, but was compounded of special spices mixed with olive oil. These fragrant spices speak of the fragrances of the Lord Jesus, of which the Spirit of God bears beautiful witness. We must fully believe that all of them are deeply important, whether or not we understand their significance. Myrrh, the first ingredient, is obtained by an incision in the tree, and it exudes in drops, like drops of blood or teardrops. It is sweet-smelling, but bitter to the taste. Therefore it symbolizes the sufferings of Christ, He enduring the bitterness of the cross, and we reaping the sweetness of its results.
As well as myrrh, there were included in the making of the anointing oil sweet smelling cinnamon, sweet smelling cane and cassia. These are all typical of other fragrances that are found in the Lord Jesus, to which the Spirit of God bears witness. Likely involved in these are the eternal deity of His person, His perfect Manhood and His walk of pure devotion to God, though we may not be able to distinguish which spice speaks of what virtue in this all-glorious Son of God.
The anointing oil was to be used to anoint the tabernacle itself, the ark, the table, the lampstand and its utensils, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and its utensils, and the laver and its base (vv. 26-28). Also the same oil was used to anoint Aaron and his sons (v. 30). Thus, everything connected with the things of God was consecrated and set apart for the one purpose of glorifying the God of glory. Today too, the Church, together with all it bears witness to, is consecrated to God. Also, the priests were anointed, as is every believer today - anointed by the Spirit of God, to be God's sole possession. This anointing originally took place at Pentecost (Acts 2), but it remains true for every child of God at present.
The oil was not to be poured upon man's flesh (v. 32) because there is a total contrast between “the flesh” and 'the Spirit.” The Spirit of God is not given to improve the flesh. In fact it is by the Spirit that the believer is enabled to totally judge the flesh. Also, nothing was to be made even similar to this anointing oil. Men may conceive limitations of the work of the Spirit of God that seem plausible, but there is no substitute for Him. Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 2 are very clear in this matter.
If one compounded anything like it, he was to be cut off in death (v. 33), or if one put the anointing oil on a stranger, he was to suffer the same fate. For “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).
THE INCENSE (vv. 34-38)
Appropriately, following the anointing oil (the unction of the Spirit) is the instruction concerning the incense, which speaks of worship. The ingredients of this again draw attention to the Lord Jesus. The first spice is stacte, which means “to drop,” as words drop from the lips, reminding us of “the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth” (Luke 4:22) - words that flowed out from His heart. The second spice, onycha, means “fingernail,” telling us of the very details of the work of the Lord's hands, another reason for our adoring worship. Galbanum has a double meaning, “fatness” and “lamentation.” The fat of the offerings was always devoted to God, and speaks of the devotedness of the Lord Jesus to His God and Father. Along with this, “lamentation” speaks of His sorrow, for as One who was totally devoted to God, He suffered the cruel reproaches of men. “Frankincense” means “white,” and speaks of the purity of the Lord Jesus in His lovely separation to God.
Such fragrances seen in the Lord Jesus cannot but draw out the worship of believing hearts: indeed this is the true material for worship. It was also to be salted (v. 35), for salt, crystallizing at right angles, speaks of righteousness, another indispensable ingredient.
Some of the incense was to be beaten very fine (for the finest details of the fragrance of Christ are valuable to God), and put before the ark of the testimony in the most holy place, where God would meet with Israel (v. 36). It was “most holy,” for God finds pure, real delight in the worship of His saints who present to Him that which speaks of His Son.
This incense was for God, therefore no one was to make for themselves anything like it. This would be the principle of seeking worship for ourselves, as many false christs do. Anyone in Israel guilty of such perversion of the incense should be cut off from his people in death. This incense was to be burned on the altar of incense (Ex. 30:1).
GOD'S CHOICE OF WORKMEN (vv. 1-11)
God now announces whom He Himself has called to do the work in building the tabernacle, men who could be depended on to fully follow God's instructions. No one was allowed to take this honor on himself, but he must receive it directly from God (Heb. 5:4). How important it is that God's work should be done by God's workmen. All human credentials are nothing in the work of God. Only God's credentials count.
This is true too in the building of the Church of God. Paul was a wise master builder who laid the foundation of that building fully according to God's instructions (1 Cor. 3:10). The foundation is Christ (v. 11), and Paul has laid down the full truth concerning Christ in all His relationships, in the Word of God which lives and abides forever. The truth therefore is complete in the Word of God, and we must take it as it stands, not daring to add to it or depreciate from it.
Bezaleel was the chief artisan, whom God had filled with His Spirit, giving him “wisdom in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, silver and copper, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship” (vv. 3-4). This was not merely a man who could be called “a jack of all trades,” but rather a master of all trades. Such an unusual man could only be the result of God's special working, as was certainly true of Paul the apostle.
God had also appointed with Bezaleel another able man, Aholiab (v. 6). While we may not be sure that Bezaleel is typical of Paul and Aholiab typical of Peter, yet there is an interesting analogy. Paul and Peter were specially chosen by God, Paul as an apostle to the Gentiles, Peter to Jews. Both of these speak of the house of God, Paul being, as we have seen, “a wise masterbuilder,” Peter pressing upon Jewish believers that they are “living stones,” built up as a spiritual house in contrast to the material house of the Old Testament (1 Peter 2:65). Both of these worked together in godly cooperation, for God intended Jewish and Gentile believers to form one house, the Church of God, in vital unity.
But also God worked in the hearts of others in Israel, unnamed, giving skill for all the various aspects of the work. How good to know today that, not only to prominent men, but to every believer grace is given from God “according to the measure of Christ's gift” (Eph. 4:7). Paul had various remarkable gifts which we cannot expect for everyone, but the smallest gift is yet valuable in its place, and is to be used for God in the blessing of others, the building up of the Church of God. Can we not be content to be little if we are in the place God has put us in and are doing only what He has given us ability to do? Do we have to be named so as to get some recognition from others?
Some would have work to do in the making of the tent itself, others in making the ark and the mercy seat, others in making the table with its utensils, others the lampstand and its utensils, others the altar of incense, others the altar of burnt offering and its utensils, others the laver and its base, others the garments for Aaron and his sons, and others the anointing oil and the incense. So the work was diversified. One could not say his work was more important than another's, nor could anyone consider his work as of no account. Consider what 1 Corinthians 12 has to say about the diversity of the members in the body of Christ, the Church, and the unity with which they are called upon to function.
It is not human appointment to a certain work that empowers the gifts to do their individual work in unity with the rest of the body. This can only be accomplished by the vital operation of the Spirit of God. But as the individuals were required to do their work precisely as God commanded Moses, so we too are to fully obey the Word of God in the way our work is done in connection with the Church of God. For the Spirit of God always acts in concert with the truth of the Word of God.
THE SABBATH: A SIGN BETWEEN GOD AND ISRAEL (vv. 12-18)
In this place God's insistence on the keeping of the Sabbath is most appropriate. When work has been given us to do, there may be a danger of our getting carried away because of the work we are doing. One day in the week the work was therefore to cease. Even a matter so important as the building of the tabernacle was to give place to the rest that is necessary both physically and spiritually. “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27), for God has true consideration for the need of physical rest, but as well as this, in man's ceasing one day a week from his work, he is intended to realize that he is not to depend on his own work, but on the grace of God. This last day of the week was therefore set aside that man might have his soul specially encouraged and strengthened in the Lord.
The sabbaths were to be kept for the Lord, as a sign between God and Israel. This was not told to Gentiles, just as the law was given only to Israel, not to other nations. The sabbath therefore was a special witness to the relationship that existed between God and Israel, to be kept throughout all their generations, for the purpose of keeping Israel reminded of the greatness of the living God, who sanctified them, or set them apart for Himself.
Anyone who defiled the Sabbath was immediately under sentence of death. Whoever did any work on that day was to be cut off in death. Does this seem cruel? The answer is that any Israelite guilty of breaking the Sabbath was showing contempt for God. Whether people think lightly of this or not, this is enormous wickedness. Israel was guilty of disobeying this consistently, and rulers did not carry out God's sentence of death. Certainly people today are no less guilty when they coldly disobey the Word of God, but God deals in patient grace, not judging yet, but giving opportunity to sinners to repent and be saved.
Today believers are not under law, but under grace. We are not told to keep the Sabbath (Col. 2:16), but by grace the first day of the week is provided by God as a day in which believers may willingly rest from their usual employment and devote the time to pleasing the Lord. No law is attached to this at all, but willing hearts will respond thankfully to such scriptures as Acts 20:7: “on the first day of the week - the disciples came together to break bread.”
Verses 16 and 17 emphasize again that it is the children of Israel who were told to keep the Sabbath as a sign between God and them, “for,” it is added, “in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.” Thus the Lord's working and the Lord's resting provide a basis for Israel's obedience.
God's instructions to Moses being complete, He then gave to him two tables of stone on which were written with the finger of God the ten commandments for Israel.
THE GOLDEN CALF (vv. 1-6)
Moses' forty days in the mount (the number of testing) was too much for the impatient children of Israel. They gathered to Aaron in united determination to have some substitute for the leading of the God of Israel. They say they don't know what has become of Moses, and ask for “gods” that they may follow. How sadly lacking was faith in the living God! It has always been men's downfall to prefer some visible, material idol that they are willing to call “god.” This too was so soon after their being delivered from Egypt by the mighty power of the great unseen God of creation. Every testimony was there that ought to have greatly encouraged their faith, but they were spiritually blinded.
Aaron did not have the energy of faith such as did his brother Moses, to boldly withstand them. He weakly gave in to their foolish clamor, telling them to break off the golden earrings that were evidently common among them, having been taken from the Egyptians. From these he made a molten calf, finishing it by means of an engraving tool (vv. 2-4), and announced to them that this was their god who brought them out of the land of Egypt! Can we imagine such brazen folly as this? There is a serious lesson here, that our idols, whatever they are, take their character from what decorates or pampers the flesh - the golden earrings. Ears are given for hearing, but Israel was not hearing the first commandment God had given them, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3).
Likely they excused their idolatry, as many do today, by saying this was only an image made to represent God, but God forbad any such images (Ex. 20:4). Actually, though things like this are claimed to be only representations, it is very soon that the thing itself becomes the god that people worship.
Besides this Aaron built an altar before the idol, then announced that the next day they would have a feast “to the Lord”! (v. 5). Can we dare to think we can sanctify an idol by attaching the Lord's name to it? This is gross wickedness. But they continue the mockery by offering both burnt offerings and peace offerings on the altar, then sitting down to eat and to drink and rising up to play. They were simply giving themselves over to the lust of self-indulgence while whitewashing this whole thing with a religious appearance! What hollow vanity! and how insulting to the God who had delivered them from Egypt! They betray themselves as to what conception of God they have. They think of Him as one who, as a lowly calf, takes the place of merely serving their selfish desires. God is given no place of authority, but one of subjection to men!
THE LORD'S ANGER AND MOSES' INTERCESSION (vv. 7-14)
On the mountain the Lord abruptly tells Moses to go down, for Moses' people whom he brought out of Egypt had corrupted themselves, making, worshiping and sacrificing to a molten calf, giving it credit for their deliverance from Egypt.
Then God tells Moses to let Him alone that His anger would so burn against Israel because of their stiff-necked rebellion, that He would consume them all (v. 10). Then He would make of Moses a great nation.
Could Moses think of grasping an opportunity like this? How could Moses alone bury over two million people? Also, would a nation fathered by Moses be any better than Israel? God knew all this, and He knew the heart of Moses toward Israel. But He spoke in this way to Moses for our sakes, to draw our attention to the intercession of Moses on behalf of Israel, as being a picture of the intercession of the Lord Jesus on our behalf even when we fail miserably. On the one hand, we must realize how fierce is the anger of God against every evil thing that is put in the place He alone is entitled to. On the other hand, we are to see the great value of the intercession of the one Man, the Lord Jesus Christ.
God had said to Moses, “your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt” (v. 11). He pled with God on this basis. God's mighty hand had done that great work. Was God any less mighty now? Moses asked, would not the Egyptians in this case accuse God of being unable to bring Israel through the wilderness, but had taken them out of Egypt in order to destroy them from the face of the earth? He entreats God to turn from His fierce wrath against them, and to remember His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Israel as to the multiplying of their descendants and giving them the land.
Certainly God knew beforehand that Moses would plead in this way, for it was He Himself who had put this in Moses' heart. Yet for our benefit it is said that God relented of the harm He had threatened. Does this not encourage us to be intercessors for the children of God?
MOSES' RETURN TO THE CAMP IN JUDGMENT (vv. 15-35)
Moses had taken Joshua with him into the mountain (Ex. 24:13). Now they come down together, Moses having the two stone tables on which the law was written on both sides. As they came near the camp Joshua, a warrior, hearing the noise of the people, thought this was the noise of war, but Moses corrected him, for the noise was neither that of conquest nor defeat, but singing (v. 18).
Still outside the camp, they saw the people dancing in honor of the golden calf. In heat of anger Moses threw the tables of stone on the ground and broke them. Thus those tables never came into the camp. If they had, this surely would have meant awesome judgment upon all the idol worshipers. They had broken the law already. Moses was only being honest in thus breaking the tables. From the very beginning of God's giving the law, Israel flagrantly broke the first and second commandments and became idol worshipers. Was it likely in succeeding history that they would obey the commandments of God?
Who could lift a finger against Moses when he burnt the calf and ground it to powder, sprinkling it on the water? Thus their god was demolished in short order. Then he made Israel drink of the water. Yet this was only preliminary.
He faced Aaron with the question as to what the people had done to him that he had brought so great a sin upon them. But Aaron rather made light of the matter, as though Moses' anger was unnecessary. He told Moses that he knew the people and their propensity to do mischief. Thus he blamed everything on the people. Where was his faith to withstand the people's folly? Since they demanded that he make a god for them to follow, he said he cooperated with their wicked demand, took their gold from them and threw it into the fire, and a calf came out! Of course to make a molten calf they had to have a mold of some kind, but Aaron did not mention this, nor the fact that he had finished it with an engraving tool. Certainly he was just as guilty as were the people.
Aaron too was responsible for the people being naked (not nude, but with only scant clothing), and this moved Moses to cry out in the gate of the camp, “Who is on the Lord's side?” The response of the Levites was evidently immediate, as they gathered themselves to Moses. But his instructions to them were strikingly dreadful. Yet he spoke on behalf of the Lord God of Israel, telling them to take their swords and go from gate to gate throughout the camp, killing without discrimination their brothers, their companions and their neighbors. Whether they thought this was excessive punishment or not, they obeyed and put to death about three thousand men (v. 28). This judgment has been contrasted to the marvelous work of God in grace when three thousand were brought to confess the Lord Jesus as a result of Peter's preaching on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41).
However, Moses knew that the killing of three thousand was not a judgment commensurate with the enormity of Israel's sin: it deserved far worse than this. The next day therefore he announced to them that their sin was great, and that he would go up to the Lord to intercede for them and possibly make an atonement for their sin.
When he speaks to the Lord the only solution he proposes is one that shows how deep and real was his love for the people, but it was an impossible solution. He fully confesses the greatness of their guilt, pleading that he might be allowed to be a substitute for them, that is, that he should be blotted out of God's book in order that they might be forgiven (vv. 31-32). How different indeed was Moses' heart toward his people than that of mere religious leaders! Thus he does beautifully represent the love of Christ in his willingness to sacrifice himself. But he could go no further than this in representing Christ, for he was a sinner himself and his sacrifice could atone for no one. Christ, the Son of God, without sin, is the only One who could possibly atone for guilty mankind.
The Lord could not allow Moses to be a substitute for the people. He says that He will blot out of His book whoever has sinned against Him. The New Testament shows a contrast to this, when God says concerning the overcomer, “I will not blot out his name from the Book of life” (Rev. 3:5). No one will be blotted our of the Book of life. The book in Exodus is that connected with the keeping of the law, not the Book of life, though it may be called “the book of the living (Ps. 69:28). So long as one continued to keep the law, he would not be blotted out of the book of the living, but disobedience would require his being blotted out. Then certainly no one could continue in that book. But one is in the Book of life because he has been born again, and this can never be changed, for he has eternal life.
Still, God told Moses to lead the people to the promised land, promising that He will send His angel before them, yet indicating that they might be inflicted with more severe punishment yet for their idolatry. In fact, they were immediately plagued because of this, so all was not cleared by any means (vv. 34-35).
TOLD TO GO WITHOUT THE LORD'S PRESENCE (vv. 1-25)
Again the Lord gives instructions to Moses to depart with the people to go to the land of Canaan, affirming also that He would send His angel before them, who would drive out the nations inhabiting the land (vv. 1-2). However, the Lord added a statement that was absolutely devastating to Moses, “I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people” (v. 3). Could Moses think of leading the people on these terms? If the Lord told us as believers that we must make our way to heaven as best we can without the presence of the Lord, how should we react? If this would be so in our personal circumstances, how much more helpless would Moses feel in having to lead over two million people through the wilderness?
Moses communicated this shocking news to the people, together with the demand that they put off their ornaments, for God was considering what further judgment would be necessary. If there had been serious repentance as regards the horror of the evil of idol worship, surely people would not be adorning themselves with ornaments. The flesh has been guilty of great evil: it should certainly not then be decorated with ornaments! There ought to be some clear sign of self judgment. Let them therefore be shocked into showing some true evidence of this.
THE ACTION AND INTERCESSION OF MOSES (vv. 7-23)
Though the tabernacle had not yet been built, there was evidently a tent that served as the center of Israel's worship. Moses took this and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and everyone who actually sought the Lord went out to that tent called the tent of meeting (v. 7). Why did Moses do this? Surely this was to indicate that, since the Lord could not go with the camp of Israel, therefore they should leave the camp and go with the Lord. The camp had been defiled. Just so, if in personal life we find the Lord cannot go along with our actions, we should give up those actions and go with the Lord. The same is true in assembly life. If a group (even of Christians) will not judge and forsake the evil it has embraced, then individuals must leave that group and go out to the Lord.
The people watched Moses as he went out to the tent of meeting, and when he entered it the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door, and there the Lord spoke with Moses (vv. 8-9). The sight of this so affected the people that they worshiped, whether out of fear or whether in humble sincerity. We are not told what the Lord said to Moses, but He spoke to him as to a friend, face to face (v. 11). This does not mean that Moses saw God's face (Ex. 33:20), but that there was a close intimacy.
Then Moses returned to the camp, but Joshua, a young man, did not return. Why did Moses return? Certainly not to express any fellowship with the camp, but very likely to seek to bring others outside. A man of experience and wisdom may be able thus to do what a younger, less experienced man could not do.
For the third time in connection with this entire occasion, Moses prays in lovely intercession for Israel (v. 12). The Lord had told him, he says, that he was to bring the people up to their land, but that he feels helpless to do this without the Lord's presence. Yet, he insists, the Lord had told him He knew Moses by name and Moses had found grace in His sight (v. 12). Therefore, this being true, God surely had a way that He could show to Moses. For Moses realized that this great God of heaven and earth was not defeated by the worst of evils that Israel committed. So Moses wanted God's way that he might really know God Himself. For it is only in a person's own circumstances that we can rightly know the person. He adds also, “that I might find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people” (v. 13).
How full of grace is the Lord's answer to Moses' prayer, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest (v. 24). This shows the value of the intercession of one righteous man (James 5:16). Yet Moses recognized that God had only spoken of Moses, not the people. Did Moses desire the presence of the Lord only for himself? No, he loved the people and was persistent in his intercession for them, “If your presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us?” He adds another consideration also. Israel's identification with the Lord involved their separation from all the nations. Could the Lord think of ignoring this most significant fact?
Certainly the Lord knew perfectly well how Moses would act in this whole situation, and He gave him this opportunity to prove his faithfulness and love for the people in this intercessory prayer. Above all, the reason for this is that we might be given a picture of the grace of the intercession of the Lord Jesus on behalf of those redeemed by His blood, though overcome by the folly of disobedience, as we too often are.
Moses therefore is given the answer to his insistent prayer, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken” (v. 17). Yet the Lord makes it clear that His reason for a favorable answer is that Moses had found grace in God's sight, just as is predominantly true of the Lord Jesus. He has above all found grace in God's sight, and God knows Him by name.
Two of Moses' prayers have been fully answered, while one was denied (vv. 31-33). Now for a fourth time Moses addresses God in prayer, “Please show me Your glory” (v. 18). When one has learned something of God's faithfulness, His truth, His holiness and His grace, then the heart of such an individual cannot but deeply desire to actually see the beauty of God's glory. In fact, it is God who puts this desire into the heart of a believer.
Yet at this time Moses was denied the full answer to his prayer. Moses could not see God's face, for no one could see Him and live (v. 20). Yet the Lord would encourage him by what we may consider a partial revelation of His nature or character. He tells Moses to stand on a rock, and that God would put Moses in a cleft place in the rock while God passed by. He would cover Moses with His hand, however, so that Moses would only see God's back parts, not His face.
On God's part this was a condescending act of grace. For God's glory is so great that it is impossible for a creature to even imagine what He looks like. How can we ever comprehend a Being like this? But Moses seeing God's back parts is only symbolical of people in the Old Testament seeing the evidence of God's having been there. We too can read the Old Testament and conclude that God has certainly been present there, but not revealed as He is now in Christ.
However, though even today and for eternity God dwells in light unapproachable, never to be seen by the creature (1 Tim. 6:15-16), yet in the person of the Lord Jesus in Manhood form we are privileged to see the face of God. “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). To the believer this is a fully satisfactory revelation of God's glory. Only in Christ will anyone ever see the face of God. Indeed, Moses had the complete answer to his prayer when, after his death, he appeared with Elijah when the Lord Jesus was transfigured on the mount (Matt. 17:1-3), and by faith “we see Jesus” - crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:9), though visibly this honor awaits our being with Him in a day soon to come. The sun presents us with a beautiful illustration of this. It is too bright for us to actually see it with our eyes, yet in seeing the light from the sun we do in this way see the sun. Christ is the light that manifests the glory of God, in whom there is such brilliance that we could only be blinded by it. But Christ is God, and we shall see His face.
THE SECOND GIVING OF THE LAW
Though the first tables of the law had been given to Moses, they never came into the camp. Thus Israel never was under absolute law. This would have meant death for all Israel. But the Lord instructs Moses to cut two more tables of stone and again come up the mountain to meet the Lord who would write the commandments on these stones. Again, however, Moses was to be alone: neither people, herds or flocks were to come near the mountain.
When Moses came with the stone tables, the Lord descended in the cloud, standing with Moses to proclaim the name of the Lord. This was different than the first giving of the law (ch. 20), for the Lord speaks of Himself as “the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (vv. 6-7).
In verse 6 and the first part of verse 7 the Lord is not declaring law at all, but that which is in contrast to law, for it expresses what is actually in the heart of God, and what is now manifested in perfection in the person of the Lord Jesus and in His great sacrifice of Calvary.
However, what follows seems practically contrary to this: “by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation.” This was really a mixture of mercy and law, or in other words, law tempered with mercy. If this had not been the case, Israel could not possibly have continued under law for the years they did. In fact, all the sacrifices they had to make continually were a constant reminder of God's mercy toward them, while at the same time they were told to obey the ten commandments.
Even under law God would forgive cases of sin, transgression and iniquity, which includes badly aggravated cases of sin, but such forgiveness could only be where there was genuine repentance. So long as one took sides with his guilt, he would by no means be cleared. Also, the iniquities of the fathers would have solemn results in their children and children's children to the third and fourth generation. If a man was a thief or an adulterer, his children would suffer for this, on earth. In spite of such governmental results, the children can still be saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus. Yet we know that even when law was tempered by mercy, Israel's failure and disobedience has been total and complete.
This declaration by God moved Moses to bow and worship, also entreating the Lord's grace in going amongst Israel in spite of their obstinacy. God had already promised this (Ex. 33:17), yet no doubt Moses felt it right to add this extra plea.
The Lord tells Moses then that He will make a covenant with Israel. This is still a conditional covenant, though not one of absolute law. In fact, it is not based upon what God had already done (Ex. 19:4), but begins with what God would do, that is, “marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation” (v. 10). Though the covenant was conditional, yet what God would do was not conditional. God would also drive out the inhabitants of Canaan before Israel. While this took place, yet Israel allowed part of some of these nations to remain in the land later (Judges 1:21; 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33). God kept His covenant, but Israel was responsible to make no covenant with any of the inhabitants of the land (v. 12), but rather to destroy their religious altars, their sacred pillars and images.
They were to keep themselves clear of every complicity with those nations and their practices. There was to be no intermarriage (v. 16) and no making of molded idols.
On the positive side, they were to remember each year to keep the feast of unleavened bread at God's appointed time. Also, they were to recognize that the firstborn male child was the Lord's. The firstborn of their livestock also belonged to the Lord, whether ox or sheep (v. 19). Verse 20 raises an interesting point, however. The firstborn of a donkey could be redeemed by the sacrifice of a lamb. If not redeemed, its neck was to be broken. The donkey is an unclean animal, typical of man is his rebellious state, and who therefore needs the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. If he is not redeemed, then violence is necessary to break the strength of his stubbornness: he will fall under the judgment of God. So that it is in the same verse we are told, “all the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem.”
Also, no one could appear in God's presence without something to present to God. Law always required that man should present something to God, but law never provided the only sacrifice that God can possibly accept on man's behalf. The law proves man to be empty, devoid of the righteousness which the law required.
Again, the second covenant of the law still required the keeping of the seventh day Sabbath: people must rest on that day even in the busiest seasons of the year (v. 21). They must also observe the feast of weeks, when the firstfruits were gathered, bringing these to the Lord before they harvested the rest of their crop. Then at the year's end, when crops were harvested, they must observe the feast of ingathering. Three times in the year the men must all appear at Jerusalem, for these two feasts and for the Passover (Ex. 23:14-16). When this was observed, God would take care of their families, as verse 24 implies: they and their land would be safe.
God's claims must be fully recognized by the bringing of the first of the firstfruits to the house of the Lord. Interestingly, a kid was not to be boiled in its mother's milk. Milk symbolizes the elementary truths of the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2), and milk is intended to nourish the little ones, not to kill them. So, while God's rights are of first importance, the proper rights of even the youngest children are to be recognized.
All of those things from verse 13 to verse 26 deal with Israel's side of the covenant, and while they were things to be done or avoided, yet it should be clear that the motives behind these were the most important. Without faith these things could never be properly carried out.
The Lord then told Moses to write these words of the covenant (v. 27). The writing of Moses was not on the tables of stone, for God had said that He would write on these (the ten commandments), but Moses was to write what was told him in verses 10 to 26. For a second time Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights, neither eating or drinking. In not drinking at all, he would have to be miraculously sustained by God. Then God wrote on the tables the ten commandments.
THE LAW INTRODUCED WITH GLORY (vv. 29-35).
In returning now to Israel with the two tables of stone, Moses did not realize that the skin of his face was shining. This was a reflection of the glory of the Lord, not a full manifestation of God's glory, which is seen only in the Lord Jesus. In Matthew 17:2 we read of the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus, and that “His face shone as the sun.” Only the skin of Moses' face shone, for this was a reflection exterior to Moses himself. But the face of the Lord Jesus shines with a brightness that comes from within, not a reflection (2 Cor. 4:6), for He is God.
Still, God's glory is reflected in the giving of the law, as 2 Corinthians 3:7-11 tells us, though this gave only a faint picture of the fact that far greater glory was to be revealed in the person of the Lord Jesus. Aaron and the children of Israel were afraid to come near Moses when they saw this reflected brightness, so that it was necessary for Moses to put a covering over his face while he talked with them. When he went in to speak with the Lord he removed the veil. Even this reflected glory was too much for the people to endure, for it symbolizes only a partial manifestation of God's glory as seen in the giving of the law, which man is proven utterly unable to keep. Only in Christ, now revealed in pure grace, is the veil removed, but Israel, having refused Christ, still has the veil on their heart (2 Cor. 3:14-15).
THE FREE WILL OFFERING (vv. 1-29)
It is only in verses 4 to 29 that God asks and receives a free will offering from Israel, and it may seem strange that verses 2 and 3 previously insist once more on the observance of the Sabbath day. But this has a vital spiritual significance. Only in the spirit of resting from our own works can we really present anything to God. If we come in a spirit of self confidence in what we have done to secure the things we bring to God, this is not acceptable to Him. We must remember that all belongs to Him in the first place, as David says, “of Your own we have given You” (1 Chron. 29:14). In fact, the abundance which the children of Israel possessed was the result of God's working in the hearts of the Egyptians to give Israel such riches as to spoil the Egyptians (Ex. 12:35-36).
The Sabbath was the one day in which no work was to be done. Also no fire was to be kindled that day (v. 3). This would be a cruel law if applied to the inhabitants of an extremely cold climate, but it applied only to Israel. The Sabbath also was to be a day when God's judgment was not kindled, - neither a day of work nor or judgment, but of rest. It looks on therefore to God's eternal day, when He will have accomplished all His work, and judgment has accomplished its ends, so that He may fully rest in His love and rejoice over us with singing.
But we are to consider now that which is not law at all, but in contrast to law. By the word of the Lord, Moses is told to take from the children of Israel an offering to the Lord, but only from those who are of a willing heart (vv. 4-5). The law does not speak in this way, but makes stern demands of everyone under it. But the object of all these offerings is to prepare a dwelling for the Lord among them, and grace is the only principle that is allowed to have part in this.
Only because of God's grace can He ever dwell among His people, and He expects a response awakened only by grace, therefore fully willing hearted. Even in His giving the law, God could not refrain from making clear the fact that law could never provide a cause for His coming to dwell with His people.
Yet any offering to God must be according to God's instructions, not that which is considered convenient by men. Gold is first mentioned, for it symbolizes the glory of God. Silver speaks of redemption, and copper, of the holiness of God. These are all vitally important and basic to our relationship with God. All the other materials also are spiritually significant, as we have seen in earlier chapters - blue, purple, scarlet, fine linen, goats' hair, ram skins dyed red, badger skins (possibly seal skins), acacia wood, oil, spices, onyx stones and other precious stones to be set in the ephod and breastplate.
As well as willing hearted givers, God expected willing hearted artisans to engage in the work of making the tabernacle in its entirety and all of its furniture, both inside and out. These things are all listed from verse 11 to verse 19, and all have been discussed in considering chapters 25 to 30, which the reader may consult again to refresh his memory.
Having received their instructions, the people went out to obey them, at least all whose hearts were stirred to act with a willing spirit (vv. 20-21). Those who appreciated God Himself would be glad to respond in this way. In verse 21 we are told of “a willing spirit;” in verse 22, “a willing heart;” and in verse 29, “whose hearts were willing.”
Both men and women came, bringing “earrings, nose rings, necklaces, all jewelry of gold.” All these things had been used to decorate the flesh. Some might consider it a sacrifice to give them up, but when given in genuine desire for the Lord's honor, then we should certainly have the attitude of the apostle Paul, who wrote, “What things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8). In other words, he did not consider it a sacrifice at all in comparison to what he gained in appreciation of Christ.
So it was also with other materials for this great work of preparing a dwelling for the Lord. Those who possessed blue, purple, scarlet and fine linen, goats hair, ram skins and badger skins brought them, while others brought what they had that would be of service to the Lord. Women who had ability for it spun yarn of various kinds, and goats' hair (v. 25-26). The rulers brought precious stones, spices and oil (v. 27). Thus all was provided by the willing cooperation of the children of Israel. This stands in beautiful contrast to the unwilling attitude produced by imposing law on the people. At first they may say they will obey the law, but it is not long before they become resentful of it and rebellious.
MASTER BUILDERS PUT IN CHARGE (vv. 30 — ch. 36:7)
By God's distinct call Bezaleel of the tribe of Judah was given a place of prominence in the work of building. God had filled him with the Spirit of God, to have wisdom, understanding and knowledge as to all kinds of workmanship. This involved artistic design, whether in gold, silver and copper, in cutting jewels, carving wood etc. Besides this working ability he was also given ability to teach, so that others could follow in similar work. However, another man, Aholiab of the tribe of Dan is to supplement Bezaleel in the work. Dan was the tribe that went first into idolatry and unfaithfulness (Judges 18:30-31), in spite of which, in the end, “Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel” (Gen. 49:16). Bezaleel of Judah symbolizes the government of God in His house, but Aholiab of Dan pictures the grace of God, who can restore even from serious failure.
But in the case of both men, they tell us that it is the Spirit of God who energizes all the work that is done in connection with God's house. Others who labored under these men are mentioned, but not by name, just as it is not necessary that we should be spoken of by name if we are doing the work of the Lord as guided by His Spirit. Are we not satisfied that, whatever we do, He should get the credit for it? - for it is He who actually does the work in us.
In response to the call of God, Bezaleel and Aholiab and other capable artisans presented themselves willingly for this work (vv. 1-2). Then Moses gave into their hand the offerings the children of Israel had brought and were still bringing for some time. But as is always the case when the grace of God works effectively in hearts, the people's sacrifices were much greater than was necessary for the project (vv. 4-5). Moses therefore commanded a proclamation to be made throughout the camp, that the people should give no more (v. 6).
MAKING OF THE CURTAINS (vv. 8-19)
The curtains (or coverings) of the tabernacle are spoken of as being first made. All of these speak of Christ in some way. First the ten curtains of fine linen speak of the purity of His Humanity. The interwoven blue speaks of His heavenly glory, the purple, of His kingly dignity, the scarlet, of His world-wide attracting character. Also cherubim were woven into these, symbolizing governmental authority. This was the first covering, and therefore visible on the inside at the top. Each of the ten curtains was four cubits wide and 28 cubits long. They formed two groups of five, coupled to one another by means of loops of blue, indicating a heavenly unity in the person of the Lord. Clasps of gold were also used to fasten the loops. The gold reminds us of the divine glory of the Lord Jesus.
Above the attractively colored curtains were the curtains of goats' hair (v. 14), not ten, but eleven, which would enable the joined edges to be removed from the edges of the first curtains, which they covered. The length of these curtains was thirty cubits, so that they would extend at the bottom one cubit lower than the first curtains. These curtains were divided into two groups of six and five. Forty loops were made to attach to the edge of each curtain on both sides, and fifty copper clasps were used to secure them together. These curtains of goats' hair speak of Christ as the substitutionary sacrifice for His people, and copper speaks of the holiness of this sacrifice.
Then the covering of rams' skins dyed red was made to be placed above the other two coverings. These red ram skins speak of the redeeming power of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. The details of these are not mentioned, nor of the covering of badger skins (or seal skins) that was seen when the tabernacle was set up. This speaks of Christ as the One in whom, when people first saw Him, “there is no beauty” Isa. 53:2), a contrast indeed to the beauty seen from the inside of the tabernacle, and seen in Christ by those who have been brought near to Him.
THE BOARDS (vv. 20-34)
The boards, to stand upright, were ten cubits long (or high) and one and a half cubits wide. On the sides (both north and south)were twenty boards each, with two sockets of silver underneath to support the boards. On the west end six boards were placed, but added to these were two more at the corners.
The boards were of acacia wood overlaid with gold. The acacia wood symbolizes humanity and the gold, divine glory. But since the boards stood on silver sockets, speaking of redemption, they do not speak of Christ, but of believers who are identified with Christ in His humanity and also partake by grace of His divine nature, as He Himself says to the Father, “the glory which You gave Me I have given them” (John 17:22). Thus we are partakers, not of deity, but of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
Each board had two tenons which were inserted into the sockets. Then five bars were made of acacia wood covered with gold for each side of the tabernacle, north, south and west. The middle bar stretched the full distance of each side, while four bars were only half the length, so that two were placed above the middle long bar, and two beneath it, each of the two being end to end, to cover the whole distance. They passed through gold rings that were in each of the boards. This emphasizes the unity together of believers to form one house.
THE VEIL AND THE ENTRY CURTAIN (vv. 35-37)
The veil that separated the holy and the most holy place was woven of fine linen and blue, purple and scarlet, with a design of cherubim included. The veil does not speak of believers in any way, but of Christ, as Hebrews 10:20 tells us, “the veil, that is to say, His flesh.” This involves the perfections of the Lord's Manhood, not His deity, for no gold was seen in the veil. Thus, when the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom (Matt. 28:51) there was no question of the Lord's deity being involved, but the tearing of the veil signifies the death of the Lord as the Man Christ Jesus, by which alone the way into the holiest is opened for us.
Again, the fine linen speaks of the purity of the Lord's Manhood; the blue speaks of His heavenly character; the purple, of His royal dignity; and scarlet, of its universal attraction. But the four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold, by which the veil was upheld, were set on sockets of silver, therefore signifying believers on the foundation of redemption, but upholding Christ as the only way of access to God. The door curtain was made of the same materials, therefore speaking of Christ, the door of access even into the elementary truths of the Word of God. This was upheld by similar pillars, five in number, but resting on copper sockets, thus emphasizing the holiness of God, so that these pillars do not signify believers, but the principle of holiness which is imperative to be maintained in any approach to God.
THE ARK (vv. 1-9)
The ark was now made according to God's instructions. Acacia wood is typical of the humanity of the Lord Jesus, and His deity is symbolized in its being covered with gold. The ark pictures Christ as the Sustainer of the throne of God, for the mercy seat was placed on it, that is, God's throne from which He sees fit to dispense mercy, for the high priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on it and before it every year. Two cherubim were part of the mercy seat, one at each end, and all was made of one piece of gold (v. 6).
The length of the ark was two and one half cubits, the number two inferring its clear witness for God, while the additional half suggests the truth “the half was not told me” (1 Kings 10:7), therefore indicating that the person of Christ is infinitely greater than our understanding. The width, one and a half cubits, infers the unity of His person (number one), but again having glory above all our knowledge (the half). The height was the same with the same significance.
Two rings were put on each side of the ark, through which the carrying poles (also of acacia wood covered with gold) were inserted, for it was to be carried by priests, not on a vehicle. Today all believers are priests, and are expected to bear the Lord Jesus in testimony before the world.
The mercy seat was typically the throne of God, but called a mercy seat because when the blood of the sin offering was sprinkled on it and before it, the throne became the very place from which God dispensed His mercy to Israel, — thus mercy being beautifully blended with His authority. The cherubim are symbolical of the principle of divine righteousness in government, the two of these indicating its even balance.
THE TABLE OF SHOWBREAD (vv. 10-16)
The table was used for bearing the twelve loaves of showbread, thus speaking of Christ as the Sustainer of fellowship among all His people. This was placed on the right side of the outer holy place, as one entered. Acacia wood again pictures Christ's humanity, while the gold covering implies His deity. Its two cubits length speaks of fellowship being a witness, and its one cubit width indicates the unity of believing fellowship. Its height of one and a half cubits speaks of fellowship in the upward direction, that is, toward God, the one speaking of its unity, and the half reminding us that such fellowship is without limitation, for it is “with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). The length and width, indicating fellowship with believers around us, it limited, but toward God its sweetness is beyond all limitation.
A frame of a handbreadth width (about 4 inches) was put around the perimeter of the table, with a border (or crown) acting as an enclosure to keep the loaves in place, thus excluding all that is not true fellowship, while preserving what is true. The handbreadth width of the frame may speak of the hand of God ordering all fellowship in accordance with His will.
The four gold rings for the staves (or poles) were placed under the table top on the legs, and of course the poles inserted through these for the priests to carry. Again, no vehicle could be used: this was priestly responsibility. Fellowship is not automatic. Utensils connected with the table (dishes, cups, bowls and pitchers) were made of gold, for everything about fellowship is to be ordered for the glory of God, including every detail.
THE GOLDEN LAMPSTAND (vv. 17-24)
The lampstand was made of one piece of pure gold, of a talent weight - about 130 pounds. The lampstand was to bear the light of the seven lamps, therefore is typical of Christ as the Sustainer of the testimony (the light) of God. No wood is found here, for light is altogether divine. “God is light” (1 John1:5). The lampstand stood on the left side as one entered the outer sanctuary.
On the top of the central stem was a lamp, and three branches came from each side of the stem, on which were lamps also, making seven. Seven tells us of completeness of testimony which the Lord Jesus sustains. On each of the branches were three bowls formed like almond blossoms, with a bud and a flower. This ornamentation speaks of Christ in resurrection, not only because of the number three, but because almond trees are the first to blossom in the Spring, signifying “Christ the firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:23). When the light of the gospel was proclaimed in the book of Acts, the testimony to the resurrection of Christ was beautifully prominent.
Believers identified with Christ are also implied in the seven lamps, for there were “wick trimmers,” showing that there were also wicks. The oil for the light is the Holy Spirit, and the wicks picture believers who may by the power of the Spirit shine in witness to the Lord Jesus, but who need to be “trimmed” often to relieve them of the remains of previous witness, and enable a freshly burning witness. Let us be reminded too that the lights were intended to illumine the lampstand itself (Ex. 25:37), as believers are intended to illuminate Christ. The utensils, snuffers and snuff-dishes were of gold also, for it is God's work to trim away any excess from us, yet when this is done, He puts the ash in the dish, that is, He remembers it, though we are not to occupy ourselves with it. Whatever we have done in witness for Christ, He alone can value at its true worth, but if we forget it we shall burn more brightly.
THE GOLDEN ALTAR, THE OIL AND THE INCENSE (vv. 25-29)
This altar stood just in front of the veil in the outer sanctuary. It was made of acacia wood covered with gold, both the humanity and deity of Christ thus illustrated. No animal was offered on this altar, but only incense, though the blood of the sin offering was sprinkled on it on the great day of atonement, once each year (Lev. 16:18-19).
The incense altar speaks of Christ as the Sustainer of the worship of His people, for the incense is typically worship. It was one cubit square and two cubits high, the one cubit speaking of the unity of all worship, the two, of witness, for true worship is plainly a witness of our recognizing the glory of God. No halves are found here, for it is plain that, however real our worship may be, it is always limited, for the Lord Jesus is worthy of far more than all the adoration that His creatures can ever give Him.
Horns are spoken of, likely four, as is the case with the brazen altar. Two rings of gold are mentioned, possibly one on either side, unless two on each side is to be implied. The poles to carry it were to be inserted through these.
Verse 29 adds the making of the anointing oil and of the incense, in accordance with the instructions of Exodus 30:22-38).
THE ALTAR OF BURN OFFERING (vv. 1-7)
This altar was placed outside the tabernacle, being the first object one would meet after entering the court. It was made of acacia wood, covered with copper, thus reminding us of the true humanity of the Lord Jesus (the acacia wood) and of the holiness of His divine glory (the copper)
Its size was five cubits in length and the same in width, and its height three cubits. The number five is that of responsibility, as the human hand with its five fingers teaches. Only four fingers would be weakness, but the thumb gives strength, thus showing that responsibility is met only by God's support in weakness. Three is the number of resurrection, and reminds us that, though atonement for sin is accomplished only by the sacrifice of Christ, yet the outcome of His sacrifice is His promised and certain resurrection.
The utensils for use in connection with this altar were made of copper; pans, shovels, basins, forks and firepans. A grate was made also and set inside the altar, half way between the top and bottom. The four rings were on the four corners of the grate, which no doubt necessitated having four openings in the sides, so that the rings protruded through these, thus securing the grate in its place and providing for the altar being carried with poles of acacia wood overlaid with gold, being inserted through the rings.
The copper altar speaks of Christ as the only One whose person is so great that He is able to sustain the responsibility for being the great sacrifice for our sins, for the altar speaks of His person, while every sacrifice was typical of His work of atonement. When first coming into the court, therefore, one would be faced with that which speaks of Christ and Him crucified, just as anyone coming to God must first face the Lord Jesus as the one great sacrifice for our sins.
THE COPPER LAVER (v. 8)
Only a brief mention is made of the making of the laver, which we are told in Exodus 30:19-21 was for Aaron and his sons to wash their hands and feet when going into the tabernacle or when offering sacrifices. It was totally made of copper, obtained from the mirrors of serving women. Thus it would be highly polished copper in which the feet of the priests would be reflected. If purification by blood is seen at the copper altar, purification by water is emphasized in the laver. For the blood of Christ cleanses believers judicially before God, while the water of the word of God (Eph. 5:26; John 13:8) is the means of moral cleansing, which is also essential in our drawing near to God.
THE COURT ENCLOSURE (vv. 9-20)
The court of the tabernacle was enclosed by hangings of fine linen held up by silver hooks attached to copper pillars, each of which was based on a copper socket. Copper speaks of the holiness of God seen in perfection in Christ. But the silver hooks indicate redemption, so that the hangings can only speak of believers, redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. They hang from, or depend on, the Lord Jesus, the Holy One of God, whose sacrifice has redeemed them.
The pillars were not seen from the outside, but only the fine white linen. This speaks of “the righteous acts of saints” (Rev. 19:8). Thus, the testimony of believers in the purity of devoted obedience to the Lord is that which should draw the attention of those outside. It is not their words so much as their actions.
The south and north sides of the court were 100 cubits long, each with 20 pillars, while the east and west sides were 50 cubits in length, with 10 pillars on the west side. But the east side included the gate, so that there were three pillars on either side of this, and four pillars (v. 19) to hold up the hangings for the gate.
The hanging for the gate was not only fine linen, but woven of blue, purple and scarlet thread intermingled with the fine linen. Therefore the gate speaks of Christ, the only entrance for anyone into the presence of God. But since hanging by silver hooks on the copper pillars, it is intimated that only by His redemption of Calvary can we have any right to enter. The entrance then was much more attractive than the white enclosure. How true of the Lord Jesus!
A SUMMARY OF MATERIALS AND COSTS (vv. 21-31)
All these things that were made in connection with the tabernacle were according to the command of Moses, and all to be cared for by the Levites, under the supervision of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. We must remember that in Christianity all believers are priests (1 Peter 2:5), and all are also servants (as the Levites were), so that we are responsible to guard carefully the truths that are symbolized in all the service of the tabernacle. These are valuable, and must not be stolen from us, or lost. Bezaleel and Aholiab are again mentioned as the master craftsmen of all the work (vv. 22-23).
The total weight of gold is given as 29 talents and 730 shekels, which would amount to nearly 3800 pounds. The silver amounted to 100 talents and 1775 shekels, which would weigh about 11,635 pounds. Verse 26 refers to the one-half shekel of silver that each person of Israel over 20 paid as atonement money, the number of persons being 603,550. The 100 talents of silver were used for the sockets under each of the boards of the sanctuary and under the pillars for the veil. The remaining 175 shekels of silver served for making hooks on the pillars of the court to hold up the hangings.
The weight of the copper was 70 talents and 2400 shekels, which would amount to about 8160 pounds. This was used for sockets for the door of the tabernacle, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the sockets for the pillars of the court and pegs. Whether the weight of the laver is included in this we are not told.
THE EPHOD (vv. 2-7)
Various hangings for the tabernacle and the court were made of blue, purple and scarlet and fine twined linen, and these same materials were employed in making the priest's garments.
However, the ephod also included gold, which was beaten into thin sheets and cut into threads, to be woven into the blue, purple, scarlet and fine linen in an artistic design. Thus, in this most important article of clothing, the Lord Jesus is typified in His divine glory first, as God over all, then His heavenly character (the blue), his royal character (the purple), His universally attractive glory (the scarlet) and His spotless humanity (the fine linen). Shoulder straps coupled the ephod together.
The encircling band of the ephod was made of the same materials, impressing us with the various aspects of the glory of the Lord Jesus, our Great High Priest. Then an onyx stone in a setting of gold was placed on each shoulder of the ephod. These stones were engraved with the names of the sons of Israel, six names on each stone (Ex. 28:10). This speaks of the Lord's sustaining all His saints on the shoulders of His strength. They are “memorial stones,” for Israel is always in His memory.
THE BREASTPLATE (vv. 8-21)
The breastplate was of the same material as the ephod, but doubled to make a more solid background for the precious stones set in it. It would be about 12 inches square. The stones were set in four rows of three stones each, the first row a sardius, a topaz and an emerald; the second row a turquoise, a sapphire and a diamond; the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst; the fourth row a beryl, an onyx and a jasper. These were all placed in settings of gold. Each of these stones was engraved with one of the names of the sons of Israel. Thus, the high priest wore their names on his breast, typical of the Lord Jesus holding His saints constantly in His affections.
Golden rings were placed on the two ends of the breastplate, to be connected by two chains of gold to the settings of the onyx stones on the shoulders of the ephod. Two more gold rings were placed on the lower corners of the breastplate and two rings also in the corresponding places on the ephod, so that these could be bound together by a blue cord. The ephod was vital in the high priest's inquiring of God on behalf of the people, for it denotes the unity of all the tribes of Israel, and none of these was to be ignored when God was asked for His directing will.
OTHER GARMENTS FOR THE PRIESTS (vv. 22-31)
The robe of the ephod was all of blue. It was worn beneath the ephod, forming a heavenly background for the beauty of the ephod. The opening of it that circled the neck was strengthened by a woven binding so that it would not tear. On the lower hem of the robe were pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet and fine twined linen, interspersed with bells of pure gold, thus one bell, one pomegranate in order. This reminds us that God expects true worship when entering His presence, the golden bells indicating what is vocal, “the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15), and the pomegranates speaking of the fruitfulness of a godly life: “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:15).
The tunics both for Aaron and his sons were made of fine linen, and similarly their turbans and their short trousers, all emphasizing moral purity. Their girdles (or sashes) were made of fine linen, blue, purple and scarlet, however. For the high priest a golden plate was made to be set in his headdress, with the inscription, “Holiness to the Lord.” This was fastened by a blue cord to the turban.
COMPLETED, INSPECTED AND APPROVED (vv. 32-43)
Thus all the work was done in accordance with the Lord's instructions. It must be so if God was to dwell in the tabernacle, just as is true today if the Church is be a suitable dwelling place for Him. All of these components of the tabernacle were then brought to Moses, the list of which is given in verses 33 to 41. The fact that these things are spoken of so often indicates how deeply important they are to our God and Father, so that they call for our attention and meditation.
Moses inspected the work, and found it had been done precisely as the Lord had commanded him. Therefore he blessed the people. Ten times in this chapter (39) the expression is found, “as the Lord commanded Moses.” In Chapter 40 the same expression is found eight times.
THE TABERNACLE ERECTED AND ARRANGED (vv. 1-33)
About one year had elapsed after the Passover in Egypt. Now the Lord instructs Moses to set up the tabernacle on the first day of the first month. The first article of furniture then mentioned is the ark (v. 3), to be placed inside the tabernacle, for this speaks of Christ as the Sustainer of the throne of God. Therefore it had a place of real separation, for it had to be separated even from the table, the lampstand and the incense altar, for these three involve something in which believers take part, whereas the throne of God is altogether above any creature participation, It speaks of God solely and absolutely in authority. The veil then was to be a partition between the ark and all that was in the outer sanctuary.
Then the table was to be brought in, the bread arranged in order and its utensils put in their place; and the lampstand set in its place with the lamps lit. Then the altar of incense was to be put before the veil, and the screen (the hanging for the door) fastened up on its pillars (vv. 4-5)
Outside, the altar of burnt offering was to be put before the door of the tabernacle, the laver put between the altar and the door, with water put in it. Then the pillars for the court were to be set up, with hangings of fine linen to encircle the entire court except for the entrance, where other hangings of blue, purple, scarlet and fine linen were put up (vv. 6-8).
The anointing oil was then used for anointing the tabernacle and all that was in it, the burnt offering altar and its utensils, the laver and its base. The priests were to be washed, clothed, anointed and consecrated, as described fully in Leviticus 8.
Verses 1 to 15 declare the instructions of God to Moses, and verse 16 tells us that Moses did simply as the Lord commanded. The details of the raising up of the tabernacle are then repeated in verses 18 to 33. The fact that these things are so often repeated indicates their importance in the eyes of God, so that it is well if we meditate upon all these details. Thus all the work was done, “as God commanded Moses.”
THE CLOUD OF GOD'S PRESENCE (vv. 34-38)
A pillar of cloud had previously gone before Israel (Ex. 13:21) to lead them: now the cloud covers the tabernacle and the glory of God fills it. Not even Moses could enter the tabernacle then. But God was assuring Israel of the reality of His presence with them on the basis of all that the tabernacle signified.
From that time the cloud remained over the tabernacle so long as God decreed it was to stay in one place. When it was time to journey, God took the cloud up and by it led Israel in the way He chose for them. By night, however, a pillar of fire replaced the cloud, whether they traveled or remained stationary. All was to be left in God's hand. How good it would have been for Israel if they had always simply depended on God's direction; and how good it would be for us if we did the same.
L. M. Grant.