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.