Lecture 3: Exodus
Course: Understanding the Old Testament
The next portion of our study is devoted to the book of Exodus and the book of Leviticus. You recall that as we ended the book of Genesis, God has been keeping His promises to Abraham. He has given Abraham descendants who are becoming a great nation. He is giving Abraham a special relationship with Himself, and He is giving Abraham the opportunity to grow in a new place. However we note that God has promised Abraham the land of Canaan and his people reside currently in Egypt.
We also know that God has promised Abraham that his people will be a blessing to all nations. This promise is made so that God can deal decisively with the problem of sin in the world. But we have yet to see these promises come to fulfillment. Exodus and Leviticus take us farther down the road to God keeping His promises to Abraham. In Exodus and Leviticus God gives His covenant to Israel. He’s already given His covenant with Abraham and He has already made His covenant to Noah. Now He will make a special covenant with Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites.
So let’s take a look at Exodus and note a few things about an introduction to Exodus. So a few words of introduction to the book of Exodus. Let’s remind ourselves again of the setting. Exodus begins with Israel living securely in Egypt. They are guests of the Pharaoh who protects them because of Joseph’s service to Egypt. Yet by the end of the book Israel resides outside of Egypt. They have escaped slavery in Egypt and they have moved toward the land God promised Abraham. Moses has become their leader so much happens between the beginning of the book and the end of the book. The setting is when we begin Israel is in Egypt.
What about the time period? As you recall, Abraham lived about 2,000 B.C. When we get to chapters 1 and 2 of Exodus we meet the character Moses. And as we find out through comparing biblical texts to texts written by other nations, by archeological excavation, we find that Moses probably lived about 1,450 years before Christ. So Moses lives more than 500 years after Abraham. The Exodus, that is, Israel’s leaving of Egypt, takes place in about 1446 B.C. We know this because in 1 Kings 6:1 says that King Solomon, the third king of Israel built a temple 480 years after Israel left Egypt. Because of what we know from the Bible and because of what we know from other ancient texts and because of what we know about archeology, we know that Solomon completed the temple about 966 or 960 B.C. So if we add the 480 years we get about 1446 to 1440 B.C. for the Exodus.
During this time period Egypt was a very strong nation. They had gone through a period of weakness right before this era, but at the time of the Exodus, Egypt was undergoing a flowering of culture, their writing was impressive, their science, technology was growing, their religious scope was expanding and their military might exceeded the past. So it was a great time in their history. And in the British Museum in London you can still find artwork from that period that shows the Pharaoh of the time and the people of the time being great and powerful.
So when God chooses to deliver the Israelites from Egypt during this time period, we see that God does not deliver them when Egypt is weak but when Egypt is strong. So God is showing that He is more powerful than a great, powerful nation of the day. So to summarize, these events happen about 1,440 years before Christ, they happen during a time in which Egypt is a very strong nation. And they happen because God has made promises to Abraham to bless his people, to make them numerous, to give them a homeland and to make them a blessing to the nations.
So we see a bit about the setting and about the historical background to the book let’s now move on to an outline of the book. There are a lot of ways scholars have divided the book of Exodus for studying purposes. But I want to give you an outline that has 5 parts.
The Theme of Exodus:
God Delivers His People
The theme of the book as a whole is that God delivers His people. He sets them free, He redeems them from physical and spiritual slavery, oppression, and bondage. This message unfolds, as I said, in 5 parts.
The first part is Exodus chapter 1 to chapter 18. And the main emphasis here is God delivering the Israelites through the Exodus from Egypt. So Exodus 1 to 18 God delivers His people through the Exodus.
The second section of the book is Exodus chapter 19 to 24. That section emphasizes that God delivers them so that they may be a holy people, a kingdom of priests, a people for God’s special passion.
Next, the third section of the book is Exodus 25 to 31. Having redeemed the people, and given them the 10 commandments, and given them the understanding of being a holy people, He then describes a holy tribe. He describes priests who will serve the people so that they might know God. Again that is Exodus 25 to 31.
The fourth section of the book is Exodus 32 to 34. In some ways it is a very sad episode. It is an interlude between very exciting passages. In Exodus 32 to 34 we have an incident in which Israel worships another god and puts their entire relationship with God at risk. Moses prays for the people, however, and God forgives them. And after forgiving them, God reveals who He is in a very clear way.
And finally the fifth section of the book is Exodus 35 to 40. And this portion of the book describes a holy place. It describes where Israel will worship as they go through their journeys in the desert on their way to the land God has promised Abraham.
So again five sections: Exodus 1 to 18, which talks about God’s delivering the people from Egypt. Exodus 19 to 24, that God delivers them so that they may be a holy people, blessing other nations. Exodus 25 to 31, talks about a holy tribe who will be priests for the people. Exodus 32 to 34, which is a sad interlude in which the people sin against God by worshipping another god. He forgives them at the end of this section. And then Exodus 35 to 40, which describes a holy place that the Lord will choose so that the people might worship Him.
God Delivers Israel Out of Egypt (1–18)
Let’s look at the different portions of the book and I will try to emphasize just a few important things. First, Exodus 1 to 18. In the first four chapters of Exodus 1 to 18, we see an emphasis on Israel’s enslavement and Moses’ call to be their leader. We read in chapter one of Exodus that after Jacob and Joseph die Abraham’s heirs multiply in Egypt. In fact they become so numerous that it seems to the Egyptians that the land is filled with them. Their growth makes Egypt nervous so according to 1:8-11 Pharaoh the leader of Egypt decides to enslave the descendants of Abraham. Israel is forced to build store cities for Pharaoh. They no longer have freedom that they had as honored guests during the time of Joseph. They still increase in number despite their horrible situation according to chapter 1:12-14. In other words despite the suffering they are undergoing, God keeps His promise to Abraham to give him descendants.
Feeling threatened however, Pharaoh attempts to kill all the Jewish male babies. But God defeats this plan as well. Abraham will have the descendants he has been promised. But we have to admit that mere survival in Egypt does not fulfill the promise of land. Israel must leave Egypt and return to Canaan. To do this they will need someone to lead them and Exodus 2 introduces this person.
Exodus 2 introduces us to Moses. Frustrated with the continued increase of the Jewish population Pharaoh commands that all Israelite male babies be drowned. Moses’ parents hide their son as long as they can but they eventually give up hope. His mother takes a basket, daubs it with tar, puts Moses in this crude little boat and leaves him in the Nile River according to Exodus 2. Miriam, his sister, stands at a distance to see what will happen. At this point an apparently disastrous thing happens; Pharaoh’s own daughter discovers the basket. And of course we expect this woman to kill the baby, but instead she feels sorry for Moses and decides to adopt him. Miriam, who has been watching, is a quick-thinking girl and she offers her mother as a nurse for Moses. When he grows up Moses lives with his adoptive mother according to chapter 2 and verse 10. But this unusual beginning gives us the indication that Moses is marked for greatness.
By the time he is an adult Moses appreciates his heritage. According to chapter 2 verses 11 and 12 he sees an Egyptian beating a Jew and impulsively kills the aggressor. Later on though when he tries to admonish two of his fellow Jews for fighting each other they reject his authority and expose his earlier murder. So afraid for his life, Moses flees to a desert area called Midian, according to Exodus 2:15-7. There he does what most normal people do: he settles down, he has children, he finds work.
But meanwhile Israel remains in slavery and according to 2:23 which I now read “During those many days the king of Egypt died and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God and God heard their groaning and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel and God knew.” God knew their pain, God knew their sorrow and because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God is about to move on Israel’s behalf.
Despite Moses past mistakes God decides to use him to deliver the slaves. According to Exodus 3, Moses is minding his own business, tending sheep in the desert when he notices a bush on fire that does not burn up. When he turns to observe this strange phenomena, God tells him to take off his shoes because the place where he is standing is holy ground, a place where God has appeared. The Lord then informs Moses that Israel’s slavery has lasted long enough, Moses must demand that Pharaoh release the Jews. This command seems pretty ridiculous to Moses, he protests and offers reasons why he should not confront Pharaoh.
First he reminds God that he has no qualifications for the job. He asks in 3:11, “How can I bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” In response, in verse 12, God promises to be with him at all times. And even pledges to bring the people to the place where He and Moses is talking. This doesn’t satisfy Moses.
Second Moses claims he doesn’t know Gods name. He asks “Who shall I say has sent you” and God says “I Am what I Am” and then identifies Himself as the covenant God that revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Let me read this passage to you, Exodus 3:13: “Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them the God of your fathers has sent me and they ask me what is His name, what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses ‘I Am who I Am’ and He said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: “I Am has sent me to you.”’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me to you. This is My name forever and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” Go gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob has appeared to me saying I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt and I promise I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites.”’”
It’s important for us to notice that God says, “This is My name forever ‘I Am.’” Scholars of course have discussed what this odd phrase means, but I think it’s important for us to realize that at the very least it means God is forever. He has existence in and of Himself. He has no ending. He has no beginning. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The God who endures through all generations. The God who keeps promises because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And we know from reading Genesis He is the only God. He is the God who has created the world. He is the God who sustains the world. He is the Person who judges sin. He is the Person who offers redemption. This is the God that Moses is to serve, this is who God is.
Despite this revelation Moses remains unwilling. He has a third excuse or a third question. In 4:1 he asks “What if they don’t believe me?” In response God gives him three miracles to perform, here they are: turning a stick into a snake, making his skin leprous, and changing water into blood, according to 4:1-9. Still unconvinced Moses next says he is a poor speaker in 4:10. The Lord tells Moses He will tell him what to say. Finally Moses simply asks God to send someone else in 4:13. At this plea the Lord explodes. God promises that Aaron, Moses’ brother, will help him speak. And He angrily sends Moses off to his task.
So a reluctant Moses goes to the elders of Israel. And much to his surprise they believe and are ready to follow his leadership. But God says something very important and very difficult. He says in chapter 4 and verse 21, “When you go back to Egypt see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I will put in your power. But I will harden his heart so he will not let the people go.” Moses learns that his task will be a difficult one. That he will have many trials and troubles as he attempts to lead the people. Pharaoh will not willingly let these slaves go.
So at the end of chapter 4 Israel has a leader however uncertain and untested. And they have God’s promise that they will be set free, still they lack the means to gain their freedom. God has said Pharaoh will be stubborn. It remains unclear how they will be redeemed. How the Exodus will occur and thus how Abraham’s heirs will receive their covenant and secure their land.
In chapters 5 to 18 we find out how God does lead the people out. Things don’t start very well. In chapter 5 armed with the peoples support, Moses and Aaron meet Pharaoh. They confront him with the news that Yahweh, their God, commands him to let My people go so they may celebrate a festival to Me in the desert (5:1). Pharaoh’s response set the stage for chapters 5 to 15. He asks “Who is Yahweh?”
Let me stop and say Yahweh is the biblical name for God. In the past people have pronounced it ‘Jehovah’ or some other variation. But I will use the word Yahweh as the name, this is God’s personal name, His covenant name when He revealed Himself to Israel.
And Pharaoh says “Who is Yahweh that I should obey His commands to let Israel go?” He has heard of many gods. In fact there are dozens and dozens of gods in Egypt. But he didn’t know Yahweh. He has not heard of the Lord. Pharaoh declares in 5:2, “I do not know Yahweh and I most certainly will not let Israel go.” This thinly veiled challenge gives Yahweh the chance to introduce Himself to Pharaoh. It also allows the Lord to demonstrate His power and His love for Israel. Soon enough Pharaoh will know all about Yahweh. He will know Yahweh’s name. So for now he is free to oppress the Jews even more. So like his predecessor he makes life harder. Prior to this time the Israelites were making bricks and he would give them the straw that they needed to make the bricks. Now he tells them he will not even do that for them, but that they must produce the same number of bricks.
The Israelites then are angry with Moses and he protests to God at the end of chapter 5. But though things have not gone well so far, God is hardly discouraged. He instructs Moses to tell the people again that they will be set free (6:1-8). The people are so discouraged that they hardly hear Moses. So, since Pharaoh has refused to release Israel and the people are very discouraged, Moses offers further persuasion. God sends him to begin a series of miracles and plagues. These calamities will show Pharaoh, slowly and painfully, that he will learn who Yahweh is and he will do what Yahweh says.
Each plague that follows reveals a little more of God’s authority and each one also pushes Pharaoh closer to freeing Israel. But sadly, only death on a large scale will finally convince him to release them. At first Pharaoh’s magicians can duplicate Moses’ signs. He turns the Nile into blood which kills fish and makes the water impossible to drink. But the magicians can do the same, according to chapter 7. Thus despite the hardship of the water turned to blood, Pharaoh refuses to let Israel go. A week later, according to chapter 8, the Lord causes frogs to cover the land, but the sorcerers can do the same. Next God sends huge swarms of gnats. This time the magicians cannot repeat the sign. They tell Pharaoh in 8:16-19 the plague is from God, but he refuses to listen, so the inflictions intensify. Flies fill the land, except where the Jews live. So through this means Yahweh shows the disasters are not quirks of nature. He is distinguishing between Israel and their oppressors.
Now Pharaoh agrees to let the peoples go to take a holiday to sacrifice to Yahweh only to break his promise when the plague ends. In chapter 9, Yahweh sends a plague on Egypt’s livestock yet keeps Israel’s livestock safe. Pharaoh remains stubborn even when God afflicts Egypt with boils and with hail, according to chapter 9. Sensing that he is losing this battle, Pharaoh begins to bargain with Moses when he hears that locusts will eat what the hail did not ruin. He first says that only Israel’s men may celebrate the festival (10:10-11).
Moses rejects this compromise so the locusts eat everything in the land. After this, darkness covers Egypt except again where Israel lives. And again Pharaoh says that the Jews can leave but this time says you cannot take your animals. Since Israel wants to offer sacrifices to Yahweh Moses again refuses to agree. Totally frustrated, in chapter 10 verses 27 to 28 Pharaoh warns Moses that he will kill Moses if he ever approaches Pharaoh again. So every compromise has failed and one awful plague remains and it will free Israel.
According to chapter 11, every first born male will die causing Egypt to demand that Israel leave. In one horrible night God will demonstrate His authority over Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s magicians and all of Pharaoh’s gods. According to chapter 12, Israel’s children will be spared death because their parents will sacrifice a lamb and put some of its blood on the front of their home. Because of this blood, God will pass over or spare Israel. And to remember this deliverance forever the nation is commanded to celebrate a Passover ceremony every year as a permanent rule (12:14).
During this annual observance they will eat unleavened bread to remember their hurried departure from Egypt. They will eat bitter herbs to recall how bitter the bondage was that they suffered. Because the Passover begins Israel’s national life, its celebration begins each New Year. This observance allows parents to share their faith with their children and to teach them what God has done. So this great holy day is intended to remind Israel of God’s love for them and to do so on a year by year, permanent basis.
And the great day of death comes. Egypt’s firstborn sons and all their firstborn cattle die. And the nation falls into great grief. Pharaoh orders Israel away. And in chapters 12 and 13 they leave the land. God tells them He will take them along the desert road towards the Red Sea so they won’t have to fight any battles so soon after deliverance according to chapter 13. Chapter 14 states Pharaoh chases the people with 600 chariots and traps them at the Red Sea. The Lord commands Moses to stretch out his hands over the waters, see chapter 14 verse 21. When Moses stretches out his hand God parts the sea and His people go through on dry land. Finally, God allows the Egyptians to pursue Israel and God drowns them as the waters go back to their normal place.
God has delivered His people and they celebrate this deliverance with a song in chapter 15 verses 1 to 21. To just highlight a couple of the verses 15:11 says, “Who is like You O Lord among the gods? Who is like You, majestic in holiness. Awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders. You stretched out Your right hand, the earth swallowed them. You have led in Your covenant love the people who You have redeemed. You guided them by Your strength to Your holy abode. The peoples have heard, they trembled. There is no one like the Lord. There is no other God. He is the one who has delivered His people.”
His people will need to be sustained in the desert, though, because they are living in a very arid place. So in chapter 16 the Bible tells us that God provides bread for them every day through a special means. He gives them manna from heaven that they may eat it every day. In chapter 17 He provides water for the people in a miraculous fashion. They also defeat armies that come out against them. And by the end of chapter 18, the people have gone out into the desert area to the Mount Sinai region which is where God first appeared to Moses. God has kept His promise to Moses. He has brought Moses back to the place where He first called him. He has done everything that He said He would do.
God delivers Israel so they can be a holy people (19–24)
Why has God done these things? What is His purpose in calling the people out? We come to a very important section in chapters 19 to 24, the second major segment of the book. Chapter 19 in verse 1 says that the people have come to the wilderness of Sinai and there the people encamped by the mountain while Moses went up to God. Here are the words of chapter 19 verse 3 and following, “The Lord called him out of the mountain saying thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the people of Israel you yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant you shall be My treasured possessions among all people. For all the earth is Mine and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priest and a holy nation. These are the words you shall speak to the people of Israel.” These verses are very, very important for understanding the whole Bible.
You recall that God holds the whole world accountable to Himself through the covenant with Noah. You noted through the covenant with Abraham that God has promised to bless all nations through this family. We have already learned that God is the creator in Genesis 1 and 2 and so it shouldn’t surprise us in 19:3 that the Lord says to the people “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You have seen how I delivered you. You have seen how I bore you on eagles wings, brought you to Myself. You see the relationship we have. You see all that I have done. Now I am about to give you a covenant. I am about to give you the standards of our relationship. These standards will have blessings for keeping them. There will be consequences for breaking them. But you Israel are supposed to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. You are supposed to be a priest for all the other nations. Your land will be in the middle of the earth so that you might minister to the whole earth.”
In the New Testament, in the book of 1 Peter, Peter notes for his own audience over 1,400 years later that Christians have the same responsibility. He writes to his people, a persecuted people redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus, chapter 2 verse 9, “But you are chosen race. A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession.” And Peter goes on then to explain what Israel is always supposed to be, “that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” God is calling Israel here to be light to the nations, to be a kingdom of priests.
What are the standards they are to keep? The most famous of these we find in chapter 20. God is making a covenant with them and He gives them some very basic commands. The most famous of these we find in chapter 20 verses 1 to 17, these are the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments can be divided into two broad categories. Each of the first four statements governs Israel’s relationship to God. While the last 6 focus on societal issues. Both emphases are vital for the new nation’s survival.
The basis of the covenant also has two parts: the identity of the Lord and His past action on Israel’s behalf. Because Yahweh is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob He has ended their slavery. So God’s faithfulness and love are foundational to the standards the covenant professes. His relationship with them leads to the standards. The standards do not create the relationship. In other words, they will live for Him by faith they do not come into a relationship with Him through works.
To have a proper relationship with God, Israel must abide by four logical principles. Because the Lord delivered them, they must have no God by Yahweh (20:3). There is only one living God so worshipping anyone or anything else is simply foolish.
Second, God prohibits the making of any image of Himself. No part of creation can be used as a picture of the Lord. Other nations used idols as a way of manipulating their deities. But the living God is too great to be captured by any form or figure. He is too powerful to be manipulated so they shouldn’t even try this.
Third, Yahweh’s name, His reputation must be honored. No misuse of God’s name such as through cursing or false teaching or falsely claimed authority can be tolerated.
Fourth, a special day is set aside for rest and honoring God. This Sabbath, this Shabbat, is a day of ceasing labor. We recall that God established a day of rest in the creation account itself. Now He reminds them to have a day to renew covenant commitments free of daily concerns.
So, if Israel obeys God then they will treat one another with respect. They will respect their parents (20:12). They will respect life, they will not commit murder (20:13). They will respect marriage, so they will avoid adultery (20:14). They will respect property so they will not steal (20:15). They will respect their neighbors and their neighbor’s reputation so they will not bear false witness against them (20:16). And finally, they will respect God’s rights to rule them, so they will not covet what their neighbor has, they will not covet what God has. A desire to have someone else’s spouse, servants or possessions will be avoided. The people will not covet (20:17).
After the Ten Commandments, the Lord then explains to the people several case laws. God prohibits idols to be worshipped in chapter 20. God explains how people maybe indentured servants in chapter 21. God explains how stolen and abused property requires restitution by the party wronging others in chapter 22. We can list several others but you can read them at your leisure and see that each of these are connected in some way with the Ten Commandments.
They in some way help the people to see what the Ten Commandments mean in daily living. We come to chapter 24 and the Lord asks the people to decide will they accept His offer of a covenant. Will they accept the principles of fairness to God and fairness to one another? Will they believe in God and follow His word? In 24:3 the people say everything the Lord has said we will do. Moses writes down the commands and the case laws to make a permanent record. So we do see Moses writing as I said in the introduction to the first five books of the Bible. Israel plans to obey God and a covenant is established.
Priests that Will Serve God and Lead in Keeping the Covenant (25–31)
In Exodus 25 to 31, the third major section of the book, the Lord sets apart Aaron, Moses’ brother, to be the high priest of Israel. And Aaron’s sons are to follow their father in this work. The priests of Israel are to take care of the worship site, they are to teach the people the word of God, they are to help the people with the sacrifices they will make, they are to pray for the people, and in general help the people in their relationship with God. And as we will talk about as we study the book of Leviticus, they are to make sacrifices to help the people be right with God. So chapters 25 through 31 are really about having priests to lead the new people of God in their keeping of their covenant with God that was introduced in chapters 19 to 24.
Covenant Breaking and Covenant Renewal (32–34)
In the fourth major section of the book of Exodus, chapters 32 to 34, we see covenant breaking and covenant renewal. The Lord calls Moses to Mount Sinai to give him further information to share with the people. And Moses is gone for several days.
Meanwhile, on Mount Sinai, the people wonder what has happened to Moses and they decide to worship another god. The people encourage Aaron who is supposed to be their priest to help them understand the Lord, they ask him to make gods who will go before them (32:1). Without arguing Aaron, who Moses told will be the people’s main priestly leader, makes an idol for them. He collects gold from the group and fashions an idol casts in the shape of a calf (32:4).
Forgetting all that the Lord has done, they declare “These are the gods, O Israel, that brought you out of Egypt.” They’ve already broken the first 2 of the 10 commandments, they made an idol and worshipped it. And this so called worship soon turns into an orgy complete with gluttony, drunkenness and immorality (32:5-6).
God informs Moses what the people are doing and tells Moses that His anger is burning and He is ready to destroy the people. But Moses prays for the people, he intercedes for them, that is he puts himself and his prayers between the Lord and the people. And God decides not to destroy, He responds positively to Moses’ prayer. When Moses gets to the camp in chapters 32 and 33 he is angry at what he sees and he punishes the people and God actually removes some of the people, He kills them.
Moses prays in 33:7-23 that God would give the people another chance and the Lord agrees. Moses renews the covenant on behalf of the people, the covenant that was broken through their sins and God begins again with the people. And as He does so He makes an important revelation about who He is. Moses is wondering what sort of God he is serving. God has delivered the people, He has judged the people, and yet He forgives the people. So he asks the Lord for an explanation of who He is.
And we see this explanation in 34:5 and I read it: “The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him with Moses there and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord (or Yahweh, Yahweh) is a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding is steadfast love and faithfulness. Keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity transgression and sin but who will by no means clear the guilty. Visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.’ And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and he worshipped.”
These verses are quoted and reflected upon in several subsequent biblical books. You will find them reflected on in Numbers, Deuteronomy. You will find them reflected in Jonah, in Joel, in Psalms and in the New Testament book of James. This is God’s great self revelation that will be explained, lived out as the Scriptures unfold. God is merciful and gracious, He is slow to anger. It is not His desire to judge, it is not His first impulse to punish. Rather His first impulse is to wait and to call for repentance and to allow people time to come to Him. He abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness. That means He keeps covenants, He keeps all promises that He makes. And He is keeping steadfast love, covenant love for thousands. And that probably means thousands of generations, forgiving transgression and sin.
But lest we think God is a pushover, that God has no standards He tells Moses He will by no means clear the guilty. God does judge sin and He judges as many generations as it takes visiting the iniquity to the children, the children’s children to the third and fourth generation. Now the Bible has already made it clear that God does not judge people for their parents’ sin but only for their own sin, so this passage is really about how thoroughly God will judge sin but it is not His first impulse. He does not punish us for the sins of others. He does not judge us for what our fathers and mothers do. The passage rather says that if I sin the way my father did, God will indeed not clear the guilty. But never forget God’s main impulse is to be patient and kind and forgiving and loving. It is not His first impulse to judge but He is willing to judge and the guilty will not get away with their sins.
Building the Tabernacle (35–40)
So at the end of chapter 34 God has renewed the covenant with Israel, He has revealed Himself more fully to them. And the people are rather happy about this. Chapters 35 to 40 the book draws to a close with an account of how the Lord directs the people to build what the Bible calls a tabernacle for God. Now what this is is a portable worship center. It is like a great tent with poles that they can take down and set up as they travel.
At the center of their worship were sacrifices that were to be made to the Lord so as you came from the outside of the place you would come into a place where you could offer sacrifices to God that are described in the book of Leviticus. And in the interior of the area there was a closed off place where only the priests could go and the Lords Ark, a box that represented His presence among the people, a place where the priest will drop blood once a year, was kept.
So you had increasing intensity of holiness of importance of reverence as you came in. You came inside the tabernacle area and you could offer a sacrifice. Then there was a little building set up inside the area that only the priest could go and inside that little area there was a place where only the high priest could go and that only once a year as we will see. But the tabernacle was set up in the center of the camp so that they might remember that God is at the heart of everything and that God is present among them.
When they marched out and broke camp the priest would take down the tabernacle, they would pack it up and the tabernacle and its contents particularly the Ark of the Covenant, the box that symbolized God’s presence, led the people out. So they followed the Lord, He dwelt in their midst, and as they gathered all the materials that were needed to make the tabernacle the people gave so much that finally Moses had to tell them they had enough and to stop giving.
And at the end of the book of Exodus in 40:34-38 it tells us that the glory of the Lord, His presence, filled the tabernacle and His presence was so intense Moses and the priest were unable to enter in because the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. God lives in their midst. God is present among them and the people are back on track serving a forgiving God who is compassionate and gracious and forgiving and yet one that they have already learned will not clear the guilty.