February 28, 2015

Scripture and Commentary, March 1-7

March 1

Numbers 11:1-23,  Mark 10:32-52
Num. 11:24- 35 ,  Eph. 6

It has been a full year since Israel left Egypt.  In the third month of their travels they came to Mount Sinai.  They have remained there until now.  Moses has been called to the Mountain top several times, but it seems that in Numbers 1:1 and 2 God speaks to Moses in the camp.   He commands Moses to “take the sum of the children of Israel.”  It is from this counting, or, numbering of the people that our English version names this fourth book of Moses, “Numbers.”  The numbering will enable the children of Israel to become more organised for the journey to Canaan.  It will facilitate the march, and make it easier to deploy soldiers in case of attack.

Chapter 9 chronicles Israel’s second observance of the Passover.  The first Passover happened in Egypt, so in chapter 9 they are obeying the command to observe it annually in remembrance of their mighty deliverance from Egypt, and the great cost of that deliverance.  In chapter 10, after months of preparation, the Pillar of cloud and fire leads Israel to depart from Sinai.  The march to the Promised Land has begun.

It must be a euphoric day for Israel to leave Sinai and move toward Canaan, but in chapter 11, euphoria soon gives way to murmuring.  Verses 1 and 2 show God’s weariness of this complaining.  He sends the fire of the Lord to consume the complainers.  It is not known whether it came down from Heaven, out of the fire of the altar, or from the Pillar.  It is known that it was deadly and thorough.

The “mixt multitude” of verse 4 suggests that other enslaved people came out of Egypt with Israel.  They “fell a lusting” meaning they want meat to eat in addition to the manna.  They speak longingly of the food they enjoyed in Egypt.  Since they were slaves in Egypt, their food was probably much less glorious than they picture it here.  Moses is displeased, and the anger of the Lord is kindled greatly.

God promises meat, and Moses fears it will be the flocks and herds of the people.  But in verse 31 a wind brings quail from the sea (coast) which land in and around the camp.  But God brings a plague again to the camp, and all of those who lusted die.  Thus they named the place, Kibroth hattaavah, the graves of greed.

Also in this chapter, a small measure of the prophetic mission of Moses is given to the seventy elders. These men are probably  upper level judges appointed at Jethro’s suggestion.

March 2

Num. 12,  Mk 11
Num. 13,  Philippians 1


Numbers 12

The sin of Mariam and Aaron is not their rebuke of Moses for marrying an Ethiopian, for   polygyny is clearly contrary to the will and intent of God.  Moses’ marriage to Zipporah seems to be less than ideal, for she seems to have resisted his calling from the start.  But when Moses eventually takes another wife, his sister and brother are angry.  How can this man who speaks with God do something so obviously out of character with the heart and soul of God’s Law?  Even minsters sin, and such a rebuke would have been fitting.

Their sin is two-fold.  First, it is envy of Moses’ position as leader of Israel and prophet of God.  Second, it is a desire for power and recognition.  After all, doesn’t God speak through  Miriam the prophetess and Aaron the priest too?  Why should Moses get all the glory?  Even their rebuke seems to motivated more by envy than a concern for the Law of God or Moses’ sin.  It is this envy which God punishes.  God orders them to come to the Tabernacle.  How they must tremble in fear as they remember God’s punishment of others for murmuring against God’s prophet.  God strikes Mariam with leprosy, making her unable to go into the camp or the Tabernacle.  Aaron, who seems to be penitent, receives a fearful rebuke from God.  Moses intercedes for Mariam, and God restores her to health, and to the congregation.

Numbers 13

God is ready to move Israel again.  Hasarath is northeast of Mount Sinai on the Sinai Peninsula. The wilderness of Paran is in eastern Sinai, near the southern shore of the Dead Sea.  The spies  move into Canaan as far as Hebron, about 25 miles southwest of modern Jerusalem.  As we might expect from these murmurers, their report says the Canaanites are unconquerable.  Their cities are walled.  The people are giants. The land “eateth up the inhabitants thereof.”  Only Joshua and Caleb believe Israel can possess the land.

March 3

Num 14:1-25,  Mk. 12:1-27
Num 14:26-45,  Phil. 2


Numbers 14

The children of Israel are camped in Paran, about 150 miles north east of Mount Sinai.  How long did it take them to get here from Mount Sinai?  We can only make a rough estimate. Since they are families with children and flocks and herds, assume they move about 10 miles a day.  That means the journey would take at least 15 days.  Add two Sabbaths, in which they did not travel, and two weeks for the events at Kibroth hataavah and Hazaroth.  Now add forty days for the spies to enter Canaan and return with their report.  The total time since leaving Sinai, then, is about 71 days.  Why is this important?  Because it means that less than three months ago the people heard the promise that God will give them the land of Canaan. They heard the word of God say He will supernaturally give them victory over the Canaanites.  “Ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.  And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall by the sword” (Lev. 26:7,8).  In less than three months, the people went from bold affirmation of God’s word to total unbelief and rejection of it.  Rather than going on to Canaan, they actually want to depose Moses, and elect a leader to take them back to Egypt (vs. 4).

God will not allow them to return to Egypt.  Nor will He allow them to enter Canaan, now that they have refused. They will dwell in the wilderness forty years, until every person who refused to enter Canaan has died. Hearing this, some decide to try to take Canaan. Moses warns against it, but they charge into the land. The result; Amalekites and Canaanites discomfit (slaughter) them in battle (vs. 45).

Israel’s refusal to enter Canaan is nothing short of deliberate disobedience.  Why do they openly and flagrantly disobey God?

One reason is that they do not trust God.  Men, like themselves, weak and limited in knowledge and wisdom, told them they cannot defeat the Canaanites.  In spite of the mighty and daily miracles of God, the people believe the men instead of God.  They simply do not trust God to keep His promise. The very first requirement of God is faith, and the very heart of faith is trust in God.  Believe God.  Believe Him in morality.  Believe Him in doctrine.  Believe that obeying His word is good for you.  Without faith, obedience is impossible.

A second reason for their sin is that they don’t like what God requires.  They would be glad to take the land if it were empty of people and waiting for them to settle it in peace.  But they don’t want to have to fight, man to man and hand to hand, or to trust God to bring them through the battles.  They also don’t want to have to give up sin to follow God.  They don’t really want to live holy and Godly lives as God requires.  They want to indulge their whims and fleshly desires.  A simple, but relevant, contemporary example is a person who refuses to be an active part of a Biblical church.  He cannot make himself sacrifice an hour a week to worship God, in obedience to His will.

Third, they don’t like what God gives.  When God gives manna, they want meat.  When God gives freedom, they want Egypt.  When God gives the opportunity for self-discipline, they want self-indulgence.

March 4

Num 16:1-35,  Mk. 12:28-44
Num. 16:31-50,  Phil. 3


Numbers 16

This chapter records a rebellion led by a Levite named Korah, and two other men of the tribe of Reuben.  They are joined by 250 princes of Israel, men of renown.  The reason for their rebellion is two-fold.  First, they claim Moses and Aaron have monopolised the priestly and prophetic offices, which, they believe, should be shared by the whole nation.  They want all people, especially them, to be allowed to offer the sacrifices as priests in the services of the Tabernacle, and to speak for God as prophets.  Second, they claim Moses’ leadership is a failure because he has not taken Israel into Canaan.  This claim probably refers to Moses not going with the men who entered Canaan after being warned not to go (Num. 14:42-45).

The issue at stake here is whether the ministry in the Church of God will be ordered by the directives of God or the innovations of men.   This is similar to Leviticus 10:1-3, where the issue was whether the worship of God is to be ordered by the innovations of people or the directives of God.  In Leviticus, God called human innovation “strange fire,” for which the worshipers died.

Moses calls the dissenters to come before God with their censers, meaning, they gather at the Tabernacle and perform the service to which God has called and ordained the priests. When this is finished all the people are commanded to go to their own tents, where they are to stand in the door to see what God will do.  If God does nothing, their service is accepted.  But God does something.  He opens the earth in a great and fearful rift which literally swallows the dissenters, along with their families and all their belongings.  The sight of the rift and the cries of the dying are so horrendous that everyone who sees and hears them flees in desperate panic.  Now the Lord has the priests make the censors of the dead into plates to cover the Altar, and no one dares to add or detract from the directives of God for the Tabernacle.

Still the people murmur, and God again threatens to destroy them all.  He causes a plague to fall upon them, and fourteen thousand and seven hundred of them die in it.  As though to further reinforce the lesson, Aaron offers incense in the Tabernacle according to the directives of God.  He makes the offering as an intercession for the people according to his priestly function as a mediator between man and God.  Now God stays the plague.  It is a costly, costly lesson.

March 5

Num. 17,  Mk. 13
Num. 20,  Phil. 4


Numbers 17

The blossoming rod of Aaron is yet another confirmation of God’s election of the Levites to serve before His altar.  Israel is beginning to understand, but not fully.  They fear that anyone who comes near the Tabernacle will be killed.  In reality, those who come in faith, serving and worshiping according to God’s directives are received and welcomed by God.  The great lessons here are, first, that the worship and services of God are to be done as He directs, not according to human desires and preferences.  Second, those who minister in the organised services of God are those who are dully called and ordained to the ministry.  Third, no person may come into the Sanctuary, which symbolises the immediate presence of God, except through a mediator who serves as a peacemaker between man and God.  The contemporary Church would do well to mark these important points.

Numbers 20

The events in chapters 18 and 19 occur during the wilderness wanderings.    Chapter 20 finds Israel headed toward Canaan and encamped in Kadesh, less than forty miles from the Dead Sea.  Here Miriam, so greatly used by God, dies.  She, like all people, was a sinner, and had glaring faults.  Yet few among us would claim to be as faithful and obedient as she.

There is no water in the place, and the foolish Hebrews complain to Moses and Aaron that it would have been better for them to die with their brethren in the wilderness.  It appears they blame Moses and Aaron for the death of their brethren, instead of blaming their brethren’s sin and accepting their just punishment.  But in Kadesh Moses and Aaron are told their sin will keep them out of Canaan.  What is it about the actions of Moses and Aaron that is so sinful God tells them they will not enter the Promised Land?

After all they have been through,  Moses and Aaron doubt God.  God tells Moses to speak to the rock (vs. 8).  Instead, Moses strikes the rock with his rod, twice.   Why does he strike the rock?  According to verse 12, he does not believe God will send out the water if he merely speaks to it.  He doubts God.  We may think that a very small lapse after nearly forty years of faithful service under extremely trying conditions.  But God wants us to know that His directives are meant to be followed to the very smallest detail by everyone, no exceptions.  Moses is no exception. I am no exception. You are no exception.

To the immediate east of the Hebrew camp is the kingdom of Edom.  Descended from Esau, the Edomites are close relatives of the Hebrews, and Moses, sending messengers to their king, tells them to tell the king they are of “thy brother Israel” (vs. 14).  The messengers are to recite a summary of the release from Egypt, and to ask for safe passage through Edom, south and west of the Dead Sea.  The request shows that Moses hopes to take Israel up the east side of the Jordan, probably intending to start the invasion of Canaan there.  The existence of a large, well kept road which parallels the river will make their travels easy.  But the forty years are not over.  The Edomites refuse to allow the Hebrews into their land, and God moves Israel to Mount Hor on the northern coast of the Gulf of Aqabah.  Here Aaron dies, and Israel is forced to continue her wilderness exile.

March 6

Num 21,  Mk. 14:1-25
Num. 22,  Colossians 1


Numbers 21

The presence and movements of the children of Israel in the Sinai desert were known and feared by the Canaanite tribes.  When the king of Arad learns the Hebrews are camped in Kadesh, less than sixty miles away, and that they have sent spies into Canaan, he fears they are going to attack him.  Like most of the Canaanite tribes, Arad is more of a city state than a kingdom.  Its location, about twenty miles south of Hebron and ten miles east of Beersheba on the south western border of Canaan, make it a natural target for an army invading from the desert.  But the king does not wait to be invaded.  He strikes first, and delivers a very successful defeat to the Hebrew people.  The Hebrews are taken by complete surprise and suffer heavy losses.  Many of them are even taken prisoner, which means some are tortured to death and others are put into slavery so bitter it made Egypt seem gentle.  The king probably thinks the defeat will dishearten Israel, and send her running back to the desert in fear.

It should have.  Israel is inexperienced in war, morally weak, and cowardly.  Her people are much more inclined toward appeasement than battle.  But this time, instead of running, the Hebrews plan a counter-attack, which completely annihilates the kingdom of Arad.

God enables Israel to defeat Arad, This victory opens a way for the Hebrews to move deeper into Canaan and conquer the city states one by one.  But the forty years of wandering are not completed yet, so, instead of leading them to easy victories, God sends them back into the desert.  Verse 4 finds them encamped at Mount Hor again, by the Gulf of Aqabah.

Israel has just delivered a crushing blow to a formidable enemy.  Now she lies at rest beside a scenic sea.  Her people have food, water, and everything they need to sustain life.  Most of all, they have God, in all His grace and mercy.  But the Hebrews are not satisfied.  They are unhappy because God did not allow them to pass through Edom and conquer the west bank of the Jordan.  So they begin to murmur.  Instead of giving thanks for their victory and sustenance, they speak against God and against Moses (vs.5).  They loath the manna, which God is still providing for them every day.

Learning to desire what God gives is one of life’s most challenging lessons.  Frankly, we want God to give us what we want, instead of what He wants us to have.  That is why our prayers have long lists of requests, and short lists of thanksgiving.  We need to learn to pray more prayers like the Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter in the 1948 Book of Common Prayer. It asks God to enable us to “love the things which Thou commandest, and desire that which Thou dost promise.

The result of Israel’s resentment is the well known plague of fiery serpents.  The healing for their bite is an image of a serpent placed on a pole and raised up in the camp.  All who look upon the serpent are healed.  Jesus said He is like that serpent in the sense that when He is raised up on the cross He will heal the sins of all who look upon Him.  Let us look to Jesus.

Now Israel is led north again.  Moving through the desert, well clear of Moab, they camp in a desolate place south east of Moab before moving northward to camp on the Moabite border in the Zared Valley.  Still skirting Moab, they move to the north side of the Arnon River, which forms the border between Moab and the Ammorites.

Verse 14 hints that God provided a miraculous passage across the Arnon, and verse 15 continues to report Israel’s travels. Consulting a map reveals that they are traveling in a seemingly haphazard way on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, just outside of the territories of the Moabites and the Ammorites.  While their travels may appear haphazard, they are learning the territory and finding weak spots in the local defenses.

Like the Moabites, the Amorites do not allow Israel to pass through their land.  They even come out in force to fight Israel.  God gives Israel the victory, and, this time, He does not lead them back into the desert.  This time He allows them to stay in the new land, to possess it as their own.  The conquest of Canaan has begun.

Numbers 22

The plains of Moab are not located in the land of the Moabites.  They are in the area that formerly belonged to the Amorites.  Moab is south of them.  Jericho is west of them, on the other side of the Jordan River.  Learning of Israel’s complete victory over the Amorites, the king of Moab fearfully seeks divine help to protect his land and people from Israel.  Since he refused to give Israel safe passage through his land, he is sure Israel will attack him.

Desperate, the king of Moab attempts to get Balaam to curse the Hebrews.  Balaam is a puzzle.  He is not of the house of Israel, yet he calls the God of Israel, “my God” and fully expects Him to reveal His will to him.  At the same time, he is a soothsayer (Josh 13:22), which, by definition is a sorcerer, which the Law of God condemns.  We cannot consider him “saved” at this point.  He is like the Magi in the New Testament before they came to Christ: able to recognise the revelation of God, though not yet a child of God.  The curse Balak wants Balaam to place on Israel is a magic spell.  It is what Numbers 23:23 calls an enchantment.  The point of the chapter is that Balaam, realising God has blessed Israel, does not curse Israel.  There is no enchantment to counter the will of God.  There is no spell that can bind Him or prevent Him from accomplishing His sovereign will.

March 7

Num. 23,  Mk. 14:26-72
Num. 24, Col. 2

Commentary, Numbers 23 and 24,

The climax of the story of Balaam is the prophecy given to the Canaanites through him in 24:14-24.  The prophecy says a star will come out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.  Both the star and the sceptre refer to a person who will defeat the enemies of Israel.

In its first sense this person is probably Joshua.  At this time he is an obscure servant of Moses, but he is destined to lead Israel in a victorious campaign that subdues her enemies and secures the Promised Land.  In a second sense this person is David, who extends the borders of Israel and ushers in a golden age of peace and prosperity. Still further in the future the prophecy sees turmoil among the nations; wars and disasters. Yet it points even further into the future.  It looks for One who is greater than Joshua or David.  It looks for One who will defeat all enemies of God until the whole earth resounds with His praise.  It looks for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Balaam, then, instead of cursing the Church of God, curses her enemies, both Old Testament and New Testament, and foretells the One who will bring all enemies to their knees. 

February 24, 2015

Scripture and Commentary, February 22-28

February 22

Ex. 23:20-33,  Mk. 6:20-56
Ex. 24,  Gal. 5


Exodus 23:20-33

Many have noticed that God’s Covenant with Israel is similar to one a king might make with a smaller and weaker nation.  The greater king demands tribute, soldiers, and obedience to his laws.  In return he promises to rule wisely, that his laws will promote the safety and well-being of the people, and to grant them the rights and privileges of citizens of his empire.  God is like the Great King.  Israel is like the weaker nation.  God demands tribute in the form of sacrifices and offerings, obedience to His laws, and the faithful love of the people.  Beginning in verse 20 of chapter 23, God delineates what He will do for Israel.

He promises to “send an Angel before thee” (vss. 20-23).  This Angel is nothing less than the presence of God the Son, who is with His people, even in His pre-incarnation state.  He will be an enemy to Israel’s enemies (vss. 22-28).  He will defend Israel from attack, and will drive her enemies out of Canaan.  Verse 31 promises to give all of Canaan to Israel as a land for them to dwell in peace as they love and worship God.

Verses 32 and 33 tell why Israel is to make no covenant or peace with the pagan Canaanites.  They also reveal why God will not allow idolaters and fornicators to dwell in Israel: “They shall not dwell in thy land lest they make thee sin against me: for to serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee.”

Exodus 24

Having received the terms of the Covenant, the people give their  bold and resounding assent (vss. 1-3).  This is an event of tremendous historic importance, for it is Israel’s acceptance of the duties and the graces of belonging to God. Moses records all the words of the Lord in a book (vs.4), and this is also an event of great historical and theological significance.  It  is historically important because it means Moses kept a record of the events of the Exodus and travels of Israel.  Some historians have asserted that the events in Exodus are myths written to unify a diverse coalition of Canaanite tribes, and to justify the military conquest of their neighbors.  But here we see Moses carefully recording what he hears from God. This book naturally includes the words of the Lord in Egypt and during the travels of Israel, for he wrote “all the words of the Lord.”

The event is theologically important. If Moses recorded events, which were known and experienced by the entire nation, then the events are true, and the God who directs them is real.  In other words, this means Moses recorded God’s revelation of His being, will, and commandments. This means the book is more than just literature or history; it is Scripture.

Israel’s verbal ratification of the Covenant is followed by a solemn ceremony of commitment.    Moses commands that an altar be built on a level place near the foot of the hill (Mt. Sinai).  Twelve pillars are built, representing the twelve tribes of Israel.  They are probably very large and very tall, and placed in a line or semi-circle around the altar.  The altar itself is large enough to bear twelve sacrificial animals.  

Now the young men bring the bullocks and oxen to sacrifice to God, one for each of the twelve tribes. The Bible makes a point of saying these sacrifices are peace offerings from the people to God.  A peace offering expresses a recognition of sin and unworthiness of the calling and blessings God is bestowing upon them.  It expresses shame over sin, as well as repentance and turning away from sin.  A peace offering expresses faith in the grace of God.  It recognises that He forgives sin and bestows His blessings because He is gracious, not because they are worthy.
In solemn silence the people watch the young men place the animals on the altar, where Moses ceremonially kills them and lights the fire to burn their bodies.  With burning altar and the pillars behind him, and the Mountain of God in the background, Moses addresses the people by reading Exodus 19:1-23:19, the Book of the Covenant (vs. 7).   Now they respond again, this time in a very reverent and thoughtful tone, “All that the Lord hath said will we do and be obedient” (vs. 7).

The blood of the animals was collected; half of it has been sprinkled on the altar.  ow the other half is sprinkled on the people, saying, “Behold, the blood of the Covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.”

A Covenant sealed in blood carries the implication that blood will be required of those who break it.  This Covenant carries hints of the Saviour , who will shed His blood in the place of those who break the Covenant.  All have broken the Covenant of God, but Christ seals a New Covenant for us by His blood.
Moses is called to the top of the Mountain again.  Here, covered by a thick cloud, God instructs Moses for forty days and nights.

February 23

Ex. 32:1-14,  Mk.7:1-23
Ex. 32:15-35,  Gal. 6

Commentary, Exodus 32

Our Lectionary passes over chapters 25-31, but reading them is highly recommended and profitable.  They primarily give directions for the worship of God, and construction of the Tabernacle in which Israel will worship Him.  We note in these chapters that the worship of God is too great a task to be conducted according to the whims and tastes of people.  God Himself directs how His people shall come before Him, and how and what they shall do in His Tent.

Immediately following their pledge of acceptance of the Covenant, and even as God is in the very act of giving the directions about His worship, the people of Israel abandon God and demand that Aaron “make us gods, which shall go before us” (vs.1).

Verse 4 shows why idolatry is such a heinous sin.  God has poured out His grace on Israel.  He brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand.  He brought them through the sea.  He provided food and water in the wilderness.  He gave them victory over an enemy army. But they make idols, and tell themselves the idols have done these things for them.  They do this only forty days after vowing to God that they will be His people and worship Him alone, forever.  Verse 6 refers to a prolonged, drunken orgy, like those of the Canaanite pagans (see.vs. 25).  They have completely abandoned God.  They have fully turned to paganism.

The party ends when Moses appears, but many of the Hebrews’ desire to remain in idolatry.  We can imagine much murmuring against Moses for stopping their revelry.  God sends the Levites into the camp to slay the impenitent.  He must be true to His own Law, and He must show that the wages of sin is death.

The prayer of Moses in verse 32 shows his great patience and love for Israel.  He would rather be blotted out of God’s book, meaning the Covenant, than see Israel destroyed.

  February 24, Feast of Saint Matthias the Apostle

Acts 1:15-26,  Mk. 7:24-37 
Matthew 11:25-30,  Ephesians 1

Matthias was called to the Apostolate to replace the infamous Judas.  The other Apostles elected him by lot.  We would not call a man to the ministry by that method today.  We would evaluate his knowledge of Scripture and ability to communicate it to others, and his holiness of life, but these things were apparently well known to the Apostles, since Matthias had been with Christ for most of His earthly ministry.  According to early Church historians, Matthias traveled to the area of modern day Georgia, where he established and shepherded churches until his martyrdom around A.D. 80.

Unlike some of the other Apostles,  we have no sermons or letters from Matthias.  His legacy is his life of faithful service, even unto death.  His life reminds us first that we, too are called to serve Christ faithfully, as Matthias served.  It also reminds us that only true and faithful men are to serve in the ministry of Christ’s Church. 

“O Almighty God, who into the place of the traitor Judas didst choose thy faith servant Matthias to be of the number of the Apostles; Grant that thy Church, being alway preserved from false Apostles, may be ordered and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”  
1928 Book of Common Prayer

February 25

Ex. 33,  Mk. 8:1-36
Ex. 34:1-26,  Eph. 2


Exodus 33 

In their idolatry, the people have nullified the Covenant and left God.   Therefore, God is under no obligation to them.  This is a very important fact, for it explains both the wrath and the grace of God in His actions toward Israel.  He owes them nothing; no protection, no provision in the wilderness, and no Angel to go before them into Canaan.  He is perfectly justified if He leaves them to die in the desert.  He is perfectly justified if He abandons their souls to hell.  They themselves agreed to this when they said that if they break the Covenant their blood is on their own hands.  In other words, if God punishes them, it is their fault and their due.

In chapter 33, God has threatened to let them go.  If He does this He removes all the blessings and graces He has given them thus far.  The fact that He allows many to live, and that He continues with them is due to His grace.  This chapter is about His continuing grace.

The same is true of Christians.  We have been called into salvation by grace, yet we rebel and repudiate our faith every day.  If God averts His wrath, and if He continues to bless and keep us in His salvation, it is due to His grace alone.

Exodus 34:1-26

God returns to Israel in mercy.  The people have completely rejected Him and nullified the Covenant He made with them.  They are completely unworthy of Him.  This is an important point.  Many wonder how God could be so cruel to them for their tiny lapse of faith.  We ought to wonder why He is so gracious to them when they have completely rejected Him.  If we think back to Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Esau, and the sons of Jacob, we are reminded that none of them were worthy of God’s blessings, and that His calling and blessing them is due to His grace alone.  Likewise, His continuing blessing of Israel is due to His grace alone.  He could leave them to die in the wilderness, and abandon their souls to hell.  Instead He comes to them in continuing grace, and gives them blessings they have forfeited by their own choice.   The theme of Exodus 34 is God’s continuing grace.  He restates the Covenant, showing that it means no compromise with the Canaanites when they enter the Promised Land.  He recalls them to keep the Passover, which God makes foundational to their identity and calling as His people.

The Passover reminds them what God has done for them.  This reminder calls them to greater love and service to God, and strengthens them for the life and journey of faith.  In this sense, it is very similar to the Lord’s Supper.  In it God reminds us of His great work of salvation by the cross of Christ.  In it He calls us to greater love and service to God, and strengthens us for the life and journey of faith.  It would have been a grievous and serious sin for an Israelite to absent himself from the Passover.  It is likewise a grievous and serious sin for a Christian to be absent from the Communion Table.

February 26

Ex. 34:27-35,  Mk. 8:27
Ex. 40, Eph. 3


Exodus 34:27-35

Moses has been filled with incredible power.  He has also carried incredible burdens.  In spite of his days with God “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Ex. 33:11), Moses is weary and needs to be nourished in his soul.  There may also be a  lapse of faith in his request to see the glory of God.  Like the Jews in the days of Christ’s flesh, he may want a sign from God before he will believe God is going to have mercy on Israel.  God could point back to the burning bush, the plagues, parting the sea, and His miraculous provision during the journey from Egypt.  He could tell Moses those were signs enough, go in faith and obey His commandments.  But God grants Moses’ request, and the radiance from his face afterward assures him and Israel that God is still with them.

Exodus 40
Chapters 35-39 record more work on the Tabernacle.  It is noteworthy that the Hebrews now dedicate themselves to worshiping God, and to building a symbolic dwelling for God.  Yes, they know God dwells in eternity, not in anything made by man.  But God has them build the Tabernacle, and later the Temple as the great symbol of His abiding presence.  God dwells with Israel.

Chapter 40 closes Exodus with the Pillar, which is the Angel of the Lord, and which has led Israel from the day she left Egypt, moving over and descending into the completed Tabernacle.  “The glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (vs. 34).  So powerful is His presence that even Moses is not able to enter the tent, “because the cloud abode thereon and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (vs. 35).

February 27

Leviticus 19:1-18,  Mk 9:1-29
Lev. 19:19-37, Eph. 4


Leviticus 19

Leviticus has one main subject, holiness; especially in the worship and sanctuary of God, but also in personal relationships.  It is a clear teaching of Scripture that keeping the laws of the sanctuary without also keeping the laws of social interaction is meaningless.  It is also true; that keeping the laws of social interaction while ignoring the house of God is meaningless.  Leviticus can be summarised thus: chapters 1-7 are about the sacrifices.  8-10 are about the priests.  Chapters 11-22 are about moral and ceremonial clean and unclean.  Holy days and seasons are given in chapters 23-25, and an exhortation to keep the law is given in chapter 26.

We begin our reading with chapter 19, in the section dealing with clean and unclean.  Verse 2 immediately and clearly summarises cleanness; “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.”  In truth, these words express the intent of all the Law, and even the entire Bible.  To call God holy is to assert that He is entirely different from us.  We are creatures; He is Creator.  We are sinful; He is moral perfection.  Our knowledge is very limited; His is infinite.  We are weak; He is omnipotent.  Most of all, we are absolutely dependent on Him; He is absolute independence.

To say we must be holy also says we are to be different from others in the world.  Their desire is to be free of God, or, at best, to accept Him only on their own terms. Our desire is to be completely devoted Him and fully obey His will.  We allow no other gods into our hearts.  We serve no idols (vs. 4). We intend to bring every thought and action into conformity with His will.  This is the essence of the Law.

Holiness is expressed in two dimensions.  First is the Heavenly dimension, or, our duty to, and relationship with God.  In this chapter God shows how this is expressed in worship through the sacrifices (5-9).  The summation of all the laws of the Sanctuary is given in verse 30; “Ye shall keep my sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.”

Just as being holy includes certain thoughts and actions, it also excludes others.  Verses 26-29 are pagan and, or, occult practices.  Their votives drank blood and attempted to use magic spells and incantations. To “observe times” is to practice astrology and attempt to determine lucky or unlucky times and seasons by means of horoscopes and occultism.  Cuttings, in verse 28 can be ritualistic or decorative scars, self-inflicted cuts to express grief, or attempts to appease pagan idols through self-mutilation and pain (1 Kings 18:26-28).  Modern piercings fall under this also.  Markings are tattoos and scars made as body ornaments.  The Canaanite religions included temple prostitution, and families, thinking they were doing themselves and their daughters good, often sold daughters to the pagan temples to become prostitutes. Such things are forbidden to God’s people.

Even adopting the fashions and styles of pagans is forbidden.  This indicates a complete and intentional refusal to identify with the culture, religion, and values of unbelievers.  That is the essence of verse 27.

The second, or, earthly dimension of the Law is about our relationships with the land, and with one another.  God seems to be very concerned about the way we treat His earth.  In other places He tells Israel that even the land is to have a sabbath, a rest.  In verses 23-25 Canaan is profaned because of the sins of the Canaanites, and must be cleansed by not eating the fruit of its trees.  For three years the fruit is left un-gathered.  In the fourth year it is offered to the Lord, and in the fifth year the people may eat of it.  Certain parts of the grain and vine crops are to be left unharvested.  They belong to God for the use of the poor.  Other verses in the chapter deal with justice in the courts, and a general good will toward all people.  Verse 34 means to love the stranger as you love yourself.  The verse seems to encapsulate all the law and the prophets, the entire message of God in our interpersonal dealings.

February 28

Lev. 24,  Mk. 9:30-
Lev. 25, Eph. 5


Leviticus 24

The daily offerings of bread of fine flour, and pure oil for lamps in the Sanctuary signify Israel’s daily consecration to the Covenant of God.  As Moses is writing about these things, he is interrupted to judge an offense.  We are not told if the fight or the blasphemy happened first.  We are told that the blasphemy was open and public, and apparently vehemently angry.  We are told that the penalty is death.  Thus sin is punished, Israel sees again the seriousness of sin, and the evil is put out of God’s people.

Leviticus 25  

The Lord gives sabbaths and rests to His land and animals as well as to His people.  The seventh year is a sabbath year for the land, during which it may no be tilled, or harvested.  The people are to plan for this, and store food and provisions accordingly.

Beside the obvious meaning of rest for the land is also the meaning of rest for the people.  It is a sabbath, a time to rest from the pursuit of wealth, and to devote to seeking and worshiping God.  It is a time for self-examination and repentance.  It is a time for family and recreation.  It also carries the meaning of trust in God for the sustenance of life (see verses 20 and 21).  The year of jubilee has similar significance, with broader scope.

The real meaning behind the sabbath year and the jubilee is that the land belongs to God.  Israel dwells in it because of the grace of God, but He owns it.  Furthermore, He is the true blessing of Israel.  The land is given so they may have a place to dwell in as they love and serve God.  But God, not the land, is the real substance of the Covenant.

February 21, 2015

Scripture and Commentary, February 15-21

February 15

Ex. 13,  Mark 2
Ex 14:1-14,  2 Cor. 11


Exodus 13

Chapter 13 reiterates and explains God’s commandment to keep the Passover as an annual remembrance of the deliverance from slavery.  The remembrance will be like a sign on the hand and a frontlet between the eyes of the Hebrew people.  The sign on the hand is a ring, which some people wear as a sign or commemoration of an important event or association in life.  Wedding rings, class rings, and fraternity/sorority rings are examples.  A frontlet is attached to the front of a person’s head covering so it hangs just above and between the eyes.  It can also signify membership in an orgainsation, or commemorate an event.  God is saying the Passover, is like a sign and a frontlet for Israel because it commemorates the deliverance from Egypt, and identifies the Hebrew people as continuing participants in, and recipients of, the calling and grace of God. (13:9, 16).

It will also serve as a time for instructing the young.  They need to know what God has done for them, so they can continue the faith and practice given to them by God.

According to verse 17, God did not take Israel along the northern coast of the Sinai Peninsula, which would have been the shortest and easiest route to Canaan.  He took them much farther south to the western coast of the Red Sea.  He did this to keep them from coming into contact with the warrior tribes along the Mediterranean coast and the area southwest of the Dead Sea.  A miraculous cloud led them.  During the daylight it was like a pillar of smoke.  At night it was a tower of fire.  It symbolised God’s presence with His people, and it led them on their journey. 

Exodus 14:1-14

God intentionally leads Israel into a trap.  At least it appears so to the Hebrew people, and the Egyptians.  Their way is blocked by the Red Sea on the east.  To their south is the desert, where they cannot survive.  If the Egyptians attack them from the north and west, the Hebrew people will have to surrender, or be exterminated.  This is what the pharaoh thinks, and he resolves to recapture Israel and bring the people back to rebuild Egypt.  He gathers the chariots and soldiers, and traps the Hebrews.

The people of Israel are sure they will be captured and returned to a more terrible and crushing slavery, or they will be exterminated here in the desert.  They turn to Moses.  Before the Egyptians appear, Moses is the nation’s greatest hero.  Now he is hated.  “For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness,” they cry reproachfully (14:12).  Moses’ reply is a statement of faith.  He knows one more miracle of deliverance is going to be accomplished on the Egyptians.  The Hebrews are helpless, but God is mighty.  He will fight for them.  Thus, He will give them yet another reason to trust and love Him.  He has led them into this trap to deliver them.

How helpless we are in this world.  We are trapped and surrounded, and unable to deliver ourselves.  Our only hope is the help of God.  We are even more helpless in the realm of spiritual things.  We cannot deliver ourselves from the world, the flesh, and the devil.  We cannot save ourselves from the certain fires of hell.  But, once God allows us to understand this, we are ready to see His great deliverance of us.  As He crushed the Egyptians by the Red Sea, He conquers death and hell for us.  He does this by the cross of Christ.

February 16

Ex. 14:15-31,  Mk. 3
Ex. 15,  2 Cor. 12


Exodus 14:15-31

The children of Israel, or Hebrews, leave Egypt by way of Succoth in southeastern Egypt.  Their travels are difficult to trace from there.  Most historians believe they traveled east on a well known trade route, then turned south into the desert, crossing the Red Sea near the mouth of the Gulf of Suez.

God holds the Egyptians away from the Israelites by moving the Pillar from the front of the camp to a place between the Israelites and the Egyptians (vs. 20).  The Pillar must have terrified the Egyptians, for it seemed to hide Israel in a wall of deep darkness.  But to Israel it was a tower of light and comfort.

Again God command Moses to raise his staff.  He sends a “strong east wind.”  It is a mighty wind, and probably caused great fear in the camp of Israel, in spite of the inspiring presence of the Pillar of Fire.  The Hebrews got very little rest that night.  Fear of the Egyptians, and the constant, powerful wind kept them awake, and, we would think, in prayer. 

The Lord dries the sea, making the water as walls on either side as the Israelites pass through.  The Egyptians, still intent on taking the Hebrews back to Egypt, plunge ahead, disregarding the lessons of the plagues, and the fearful and dangerous appearance of the water.  They should have listened to their fears.  They should have turned back, or joined with Israel and gone on to Canaan.  But they listened to their pride and anger, and they died.

Exodus 15

The Hebrews must have been awed and terrified at the power and fury of the Lord.  The timbrel and dance in verse 21 are part of a somber procession through the camp telling the story of their redemption and expressing faith that God will deliver them from their enemies when they  enter Canaan. 

Their faith does not last long.  Finding water, they are angry to find it bitter.  We do not know the cause of the water’s bitterness, but we see the bitterness in the people, who “murmured against Moses,” an angry outcry against him similar to their reproaches in Ex. 14:13.

There is both promise and threat in verse 26.  The threat is that, if Israel proves to be a disobedient people, constantly murmuring and doubting in spite of their miraculous deliverance and protection, God will bring the Egyptian diseases upon them. If they do what is right in His sight, according to His word and statutes, He will continue to be “the Lord that healeth thee.”  

February 17

Ex. 16,  Mk. 4:1-25
Ex. 17,  2 Cor. 13


Exodus 16

We have seen God’s deliverance of His people several times in Exodus.  He has delivered them from the plagues, from the death of the first-born, from bondage, from Pharaoh’s army, and from thirst.  Now He delivers them from hunger.  At every step God has been faithful, and, at every step, Israel has murmured.  They murmured in Egypt when their burdens were increased.  They murmured at the Red Sea, at the bitter water, and now they murmur in the wilderness.

After leaving Egypt, they crossed the Red Sea onto the Sinai Peninsula.  Since then they have been traveling along the coast of what we call the Gulf of Suez.  It has been about forty-five days since they left Egypt, and their food supplies are running low.  In the wilderness there is very little grass for their animals, and the situation is starting to look bleak. They stop to camp. Tired, hungry, and worried, they murmur (16:2).    Has God brought them out of Egypt to die in the desert?

Many today think they would have had more faith than the children of Israel had.  Seeing the plagues, the parting of the sea, and other miracles, they would have trusted God completely.  They forget how weak their faith is, and how often they fail, in spite of having the Bible, the knowledge of Christ, the Church, and all the means of grace.

The children of Israel are camped somewhere in the central highlands of Sinai.  They will have to cross these mountains to get to Canaan, and that will be difficult.  Somewhere to the east, hidden by other hills, is Mount Sinai, where God will come to them and give the Law and the Covenant.  But they don’t know that.  They only know they are tired and hungry.

We know how God graciously supplies their food.  We know about the manna from Heaven.  We also know it as a symbol of Christ, the true bread of Heaven, the “food” of the hungry soul.  God fed the children of Israel with manna for forty years, until they finally entered Canaan.

Exodus 17

The children of Israel have been led deeper into the mountains.  They are drawing near to the Mountain of God, and also drawing near to the home of Moses’ father in law.  Jethro’s identification as a priest of Midian in Exodus 3:1, has confused many people about the location of Mount Sinai.  Assuming Jethro lives in the land of Midian, which is modern Saudi Arabia, they conclude that Mount Sinai is also in Saudi Arabia.  But Jethro lives in southern Sinai,  where Mount Sinai is also located.   He is a Midianite, but he does not live in Midian.

The highlands are rugged and dry, and the children of Israel are thirsty again.  This is a serious problem, for it seems to them they will all die of thirst, and they wonder, again, if they would be better off going back to Egypt.

Any one wandering in the wilderness of Sin (17:1) spiritually speaking, is going to think it is better to go to “Egypt” than the “Promised Land.”  Most people cannot make up their mind whether to return to Egypt, or follow God.  So they do neither.  They just wander in the wilderness of sin for the rest of their lives.  Leaving Egypt is not the same as entering the Promised Land.  Half way to Heaven is nothing but the pit of hell.

Moses fears the people are going to stone him.  How prone we are to blame others for problems caused by our own lack of faith and obedience.  But God comforts him, and has mercy upon His murmuring people, and gives them water.

Now a greater test awaits Israel.   An Amalekite army confronts them.  The Israelites are former slaves.  They are not trained in arms and war.  The Amlekites are probably raiders who fight and kill for profit.  They have probably heard of the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt, and the gold and wealth they brought out of the land.  They are sure the slaves will easily fall to their fighting power.

But God is with Israel.  To show that He, not their fighting skill, gives the victory, He instructs Moses to stand on a hill and hold his arms out to the Lord.  When his arms are up, Israel wins the battle. When his weary arms fall, Amelek wins.  Aaron and Hur hold up Moses’ arms, and Israel wins the battle.

It is a costly lesson.  Many Hebrew men are dead.  Others are wounded.  There is sure great sorrow in the camp, in spite of the victory.  But Israel has to learn to trust God.  The people must learn that He is the Deliverer, else they will turn away from Him and become no different from the Canaanites or the Egyptians.

February 18

Ex. 18,  Mk. 4:26-41
Ex. 19,  Galatians 1


Exodus 18

It is now three months since the children of Israel left Egypt.  They are camped in a broad valley at the foot of  the Mountain of God. Here they will receive an intense time of revelation of, and instruction in, the Covenant God has made with them.  Before God comes down to the mountain to give the Law, Jethro comes to Moses.  At some point after the incident in Ex. 4:24-26, Zipporah returned to her father’s house.  We do not know when or why she did this.  We only know she arrives at the Hebrew camp with Jethro, and remains with Moses.

Jethro makes a profound statement in verse 11.  He recognises that the plagues of Egypt were not just a contest between the Egyptians and the Hebrews.  They were a contest between the gods of Egypt and the God of Israel.  Who is God?  Who is worthy of the love and obedience of the children of Israel?  Only the God who is greater than all the gods.  We should not see Jethro’s statement as an admission of the existence of other gods, nor of a belief in other gods by Jethro.  He is saying the other gods are non-existent.  God is greater than all others because He is the true and living God.

Verses 13-25 record Jethro’s sage advice to Moses.  Yet he cautions Moses only to do it if God commands it (vs. 23).  The captains suggested will be a combination of judges and leaders.  They will probably lead their respective companies in battle and on the march, organise and oversee them in camp, and judge between them in disputes.  They will not be able to judge without a standard, a rule of law.  Such judgments would be subject to emotions and feelings rather than truth and justice.  As yet, Israel does not possess a codified system of law based on the will of God.  This will change soon.

Exodus 19

As in chapter 18, Israel is camped at the foot of Mount Sinai.  It has been three months since they left Egypt.  Jethro has met Moses, and given sound advice about organising Israel, which the people will need if they are to function as an independent nation instead of a nation of slaves. Soon after Jethro’s departure, Moses is called to the mountain top by God.  Here he is given a message from God to Israel.

Moses is to remind Israel of all that God did to free them from the bitter slavery of Egypt.  He is to remind them of the way God provided for them in their journey, and the way He has brought them unto Himself, meaning the Mountain of God and into a faith relationship with God.

Next Moses is to invite the people, in God’s Name, to ratify the Covenant God has made with His people.  This is an opportunity for Israel to say, “God is my God.  His will is my Law.  His service is my joy.  I will believe His truth.  I will obey His commandment.  He is not just the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  He is my God, and I am His child.”

God is saying He has called them to be His people, and He will bless them in ways they do not yet understand.  But, if they will be His people they must live and act like His people, in ways that are in accordance with His nature and goodness.

The people quickly agree.  “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (vs. 8).

In verse 9 Moses  has climbed the mountain again and “returned the words of the people unto the Lord” (vs.8).  God speaks to Him again.  This message is about preparation to receive the formal conditions of the Covenant.  The people are to set bounds around the mountain so no man or beast can touch it.  This probably is a fence, and it signifies that no person can come to God apart from grace.  To attempt to come to Him apart from grace is death.

Preparation includes three days of somber reflection.  They are to wash their clothes and sanctify themselves. This is probably a time of much prayer and fasting, as the people continually dedicate themselves to meet the God of all the Earth.  Their preparation shows that meeting God requires inward and outward preparation.  The tradition of wearing our “Sunday best” to church grows out of this passage, and expresses an attitude of coming before God reverently and prepared to meet Him.

The Lord appears in a cloud of smoke.  The earth quakes at His presence.  This is no glib “Christian Happy Hour.”  The Lord reveals Himself in a way that inspires holy fear in His people.

February 19

Ex. 20,  Mk. 5:1-21
Ex. 21:1-17,  Gal. 2


Exodus 20

The revelation of the moral law, known as the Ten Commandments, is one of the monumental events in human history.  It is necessary to understand that the Law is not given to enable man to make himself acceptable to God by keeping commandments.  That would require absolute, 100% conformity to the letter and spirit of the whole Law.  The Law is given that the people of God may know the standard by which God calls us to live.  This is what God requires of those who would have fellowship with Him.  This is what Israel is committing to.  With the Law comes knowledge of sin.  Seeing what requires reveals how very far we fall short of the Standard.  The Law, then, also reveals God’s grace, for He continues to bless and use Israel in spite of her moral and spiritual failures.  God forgives the penitent.

The commandments are divided into two Tables.  The first consists of commandments 1-4 and deals with our relationship with God.  The second consists of commandments 5-10 and deals with our relationships with one another.  The order of the Tables is also significant.  Our relationship with God is first.  Out of it grows our relationship with others.  Many have noted that the Commandments forbid certain things, and that this very prohibition demands other things.  The following gives a brief hint of what the Commandments demand.

The first commandment, put God first.
The second commandment, worship only God.
The third commandment, be sincere in faith; reverence God’s name.
The fourth commandment, keep the Lord’s Day.
The fifth commandment, honour thy father and thy mother.  No comment needed.
The sixth commandment, reverence all life.
The seventh commandment, keep yourself sexually pure.
The eighth commandment, enjoy the fruit of your labours, and let others enjoy the fruit of theirs.
The ninth commandment, speak the truth.
The tenth commandment, enjoy what God gives you.

Exodus 21:1-17

The “judgements” in verse 1 apply the moral law of chapter 20 to every day life.  They also show the judges, appointed in Ex. 18:13-26, how to apply the moral law to disputes among the people.  We could say they apply the moral law to the civil courts.  These judgements continue through chapter 23.

We would think their recent and bitter slavery would make all manner of servitude abhorrent to the people of Israel.  Yet there are situations in which a person may be reduced to servitude. A man may sell himself into bondage due to poverty, or a son may be sold into an apprenticeship.  It is important for us to know such bondage is an indentured servitude in which the master owns the right of the servant’s labour, but does not own the person as “property.”   In these, and other situations, God gives laws to govern the rights of servants and masters.

Verses 2-6 give laws for male slaves. Kindness of master to slave, and faithful service of slave to master are the heart of these verses.  The servitude lasts for seven years.  During the servitude the slave retains the rights over his own property and family, and the master retains the rights over his.  This is why a slave man who marries a slave woman cannot take her with him if he leaves his master.  He may still live with her as husband and wife, but she cannot leave her master for another city or employment, although, a master is free to allow this if he wants.  The slave is also free to stay with the master.  If so, he receives an ear ring that shows his permanent status as a willing servant. 

Women servants are treated differently to prevent abuse by masters.  A master cannot send a woman servant away, for this would leave her homeless and destitute.  She is the master’s responsibility for life.  Verses 8 and 9 are easily misunderstood and require a few comments.  First let us see that they refer to a woman intended to become the wife of the “master” or one of his sons.  If the marriage does not take place, he is required to return her to her family, and is not entitled to financial compensation, for he has broken the contract.  Under no circumstances is the master allowed to sell her out of Israel the way Joseph’s brothers sold him.  From this we see that these verses do not reduce a woman to mere property.  On the contrary, they protect her rights and security.

Verses 12-14 deal with the death sentence.  Murderers are to be executed.  Accidental death does not require execution.  Striking or cursing a parent, and kidnapping are both capital offenses.

February 20

Ex. 21:18-36,  Mk 5:21-43
Ex. 22:1-16,  Gal. 3

Exodus 21:18-36

Verse 18 and 19 are about what happens “if two men strive together.”  This is a physical assault in which the aggressor harms, but does not kill, the victim.  The assailant owes the victim for the loss of his “time,” meaning financial losses incurred due to the injury (18:19).  The aggressor is also responsible for all medical expenses until the victim is “thoroughly healed” (18:19).

20 and 21 deal with injuries to Gentiles slaves, probably former enemies captured in battle.  The master is permitted to punish such slaves for serious offenses, otherwise they would be as much of a menace to Israel as they were as enemy soldiers and raiders.  Cruelty to, and murder of them, however, are not permitted.  Slaves who are killed while being punished are considered to be murdered, and the master is to be punished accordingly.  If the slave dies after a day of two, it is difficult, given the medical skills of the time, to know if he died as a result of the punishment, or some other cause.  Therefore, the master is not punished.

If a pregnant woman is accidentally injured and her baby dies, the penalty is similar to that of an assault in verses 18 and 19.  If the woman is injured further, it is considered intentional, rather than accidental, and the guilty assailant suffer s“life for life” (22-25).

26 and 27 return to the treatment of Hebrew servants.  The master has authority to enforce his right to their labour. He does not have the right to inflict what we might call “cruel or unusual punishment.”  Doing so breaks the contract, and the servant goes free.

28-36 basically say a person is responsible to ensure that his livestock and property do not harm others.  Failure to do so incurs penalties ranging from financial remuneration to execution.

Exodus 22:1-16

Two of the most precious God given rights are the right to life, and the right of property.  Exodus 21 had much to say about the right to life, and how it is to be protected, even for those in bondage, and the circumstances in which it is forfeited.  Chapter 22 has much to say about the right of property.  We could say chapter 21 deals much with the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”  Chapter 22 deals with the Eighth Commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.”

The penalty for intentional theft is restoration of five times the value of the stolen property.  Killing a thief in the act of theft is not an offense., but killing him after the fact as an act of personal revenge is murder.  Clearly God takes the right of property seriously.  The rest of the chapter lists examples of what is or is not theft, how the judges are to discern between the two, and what penalties to enforce upon the guilty.

February 21

Ex. 22:16-31  Mk. 6:1-29
Ex. 23:1-19,  Gal. 4


Exodus 22:16-31

Verses 16 and 17 apply the Seventh Commandment to every day life.  It’s point is simple, but serious: if you have sex, you marry the person.  The woman’s parents, however, have the right to disallow the marriage.  Several things, such as violence or vice, may make the man unfit as a husband.  In such cases he will pay a heavy dowery to the woman.

Verses 18-20 reveal the mind of God regarding fornication, and its spiritual counter part, idolatry, particularly witchcraft.  It is mentioned together with fornication because idolatry is spiritual fornication as sexual promiscuity is physical fornication.  They are part of the civil ordinances because Israel is not a secular nation, which happens to contain citizens of a certain religious persuasion.  Israel is the Church in the Old Testament.  It is the people of God, and those present at Sinai are hearing and agreeing to the terms and requirements of being the Church.  At this point, anyone disagreeing with the terms is free to leave.  Likewise, in later years, anyone who rejects the terms can easily leave.  What they cannot do is remain in Israel and openly commit and practice these things.

Verses 21-27 are about justice and mercy in interpersonal and business relationships. Verse 28 causes no small stir in the hearts of readers today.  Respected commentators, like Matthew Henry, believe “gods” refers to the judges appointed over the people in Ex. 18:25 and 26.  Others, such as George Rawlinson, in The Pulpit Commentary, Keil and Delitzsch, in their Commentary on the Old Testament, and Jamieson, Fausset and Brown make much ado about the word Elohim not having the article “the” in the Hebrew Bible.  If it had the article it could be translated, “the gods.”  Without the article, it refers to God.  On the basis of the lack of the article alone, it appears that the verse is best translated; “Thou shalt not revile God, nor curse the ruler of thy people.”  Verses 29-31 are about honouring God with His offerings, and being a holy people.

Exodus 23:1-19

God continues to give judgments to those who will hear and settle disputes among the Hebrew people.  Raising a false report (vs.1) means lying in court to pervert justice.  Following a multitude (vs. 2) forbids doing or thinking something is acceptable just because “everyone is doing it.”  Specifically it forbids mob violence instead of going through the courts and judges.    Verses 3 and 6 forbid favouring the poor.  Justice is blind to station, wealth, or persons.  Truth alone decides the verdict.  Verse 8 forbids bribes.  9 forbids injustice to foreigners.  All of these verses apply the Ninth Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” to disputes in court.

Verses 10-12 are about the Fourth Commandment, keeping the Sabbath Holy.  They extend the Sabbath to the land as well as the people.  13-19 deal with purity in worship.