Thursday, November 23, 2006

Exodus 25

Exodus 25: The Tabernacle: Offerings, the Ark, the table, the lampstand


A lot of the chapters we’ve been reading lately have been concerned with “the law”. God has been giving His people the rules, regulations, and bylaws, by which they should live their lives as a new nation. For the next few chapters, He is going to give instructions on how they should construct the Tabernacle.

Think of the Tabernacle as a big tent, which will be a mobile temple for the nation of Israel, until they are permanently situated in their own country, where they can build a “real” temple. The Bible devotes a lot of time to outlining God’s instructions to the Israelites on how it should be built.

But this chapter starts off with a prologue; the Israelites are to donate the materials, with which to build the tabernacle:

The LORD said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.

“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.

(verses 1–9)

I like that the Israelites are to give as their hearts prompt them—there is no set amount for each person to give, they’re just to give whatever they want.

The rest of the chapter is given to specific instructions, on how they are to build certain things:
  • The Ark
    • It’s to be made of acacia wood, overlayed in gold, with a gold molding
    • It is to be 1.1 metres long, 0.7 metres wide, and 0.7 metres high
    • It doesn’t specify it in this passage, but the Israelites are not ever to touch the ark, after it’s been built. Therefore, they are to build poles, with which to carry it. The poles are also to be built out of acacia wood, and overlayed with gold. There are to be rings built into the side of the ark, where the poles will be inserted.
    • They are to put into the ark the Testimony—which is, I think, the book of the law. (I believe the stone tablets that God is going to give Moses are also to go into the ark, but I think that’s in addition to “the Testimony”. I could be way off.)
    • The cover for the ark is to be pure gold, 1.1 metres long and 0.7 metres wide.
    • Built onto the cover are to be two cherubim, facing each other, with their wings spread out upward, overshadowing the cover.
    • The ark is where God is going to meet with Moses, and give him His commands for the Israelites. He will meet with Moses “above the cover, between the two cherubim” (verse 22). In fact, symbolically, the ark is where God dwelled with the Israelites. They were to treat the ark as if the LORD God Himself was inside it. So you can see why they weren’t allowed to touch it!
  • The Table
    • They are to make a table, also out of acacia wood, overlayed with gold, with a gold molding. It is also to have a rim, about 8 centimetres wide, with a gold molding.
    • It is to be 0.9 metres long, 0.5 metres wide, and 0.7 metres high.
    • The table is also to have poles, for carrying it, made out of acacia wood and overlayed with gold. And, therefore, there are to be four rings built into the table for the poles, made out of gold.
    • There are also to be made plates, dishes, pitchers, and bowls, all out of gold.
    • When put into service, the table was where the Israelites were to put “the bread of the Presence”, and it was to be there “at all times” (verse 30).
  • The Lampstand
    • They were to make a lampstand, out of gold. It is to have “flowerlike” cups, buds, and blossoms, which are all to be of one piece with the lampstand.
    • It is to have six “branches”, three on each side. Each branch is to have three cups, shaped like almond flowers (with buds and blossoms).
    • There are also to be four cups on the lampstand itself—meaning not on the branches. They are also to be of one piece with the lampstand, and they’re to be shaped like almond flowers (with buds and blossoms). There is to be one cup placed under each place where the branches meet at the trunk, which would be three cups—I’m not sure where the fourth cup was to go. Maybe at the top of the lampstand; that’s where some of the images I found on the net are putting it (see below).
    • They were to make seven lamps for the lampstand. The wick trimmers and trays for the lamps were also to be pure gold.
    • All in all, they were to use 34 kilograms of gold, for the lampstand and its implements.


In modern, North American culture, we don’t have a lot of rigid formality in our worship. Perhaps a bit more in the Roman Catholic church than in the Protestant church, but even in the Catholic church, not as much rigidity as we see in the Old Testament. So it may seem strange to see such minute details being outlined for the Israelites, on how all of this was to be built.

However, what the Israelites would never be able to forget is how Holy God is, and that they were never to take Him lightly. Did they believe that He actually lived inside the ark, like a little tiny man? No, I don’t think so. But whenever they got four people to pick up the ark, using the poles because they weren’t allowed to touch it—the offense being punishable by death—they certainly remembered that they were dealing with a powerful God.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Exodus 24

Exodus 24: God confirms His covenant with Moses; Moses and the elders of Israel see God


For the last few chapters, God has been giving His people various commandments, rules, and regulations, on how to run their new nation. In this chapter, there are no rules given, but the LORD is going to meet with the elders of Israel.

The chapter begins with the LORD commanding Moses and the elders to approach Him. However, there’s approaching, and then there’s approaching. Only Moses is allowed to come near to the LORD; the elders are to come closer, but not too close, and the rest of the people are not to approach Him at all.

Before they go, however, Moses has a talk with the people:

When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said.

He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.”

Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

(verses 3–8)

After this, Moses and the elders approach God, and actually get to see Him. But He doesn’t destroy them; in fact, not only do they get to see God, they actually eat and drink with Him (verse 11).

Moses—and Joshua, his aide—then set out to meet with God. He is going to give them tablets, on which He has written “the law and commands”, for the Israelites (verse 12). Before he leaves, Moses instructs the elders that while he is gone, anyone with a dispute can go to Aaron or Hur. (Whenever I read this little parting message from Moses to the elders, it almost sounds like he’s saying “now be good while I’m gone, and don’t get into any trouble!” But maybe I’m just over thinking it, since I know that they will get into trouble.)

Moses and Joshua then go up onto the mountain, and the glory of the LORD covers it. They wait six days, and on the seventh day the LORD calls to them, and they enter the cloud. The glory of the LORD on the mountain looks like a consuming fire (verse 17).

The passage tells us that, altogether, Moses and Joshua stay in the cloud for 40 days and 40 nights.


There is one sentence in this chapter that makes me cringe, every time I read it. And, with a slight variation, it’s repeated twice by the Israelites:

When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” (verse 3)

Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” (verse 7)

I cringe because they seem to say it without giving it too much thought. “Yeah, yeah, we’ll do what He says.” But, of course, we know that they won’t do what He says. I don’t mean to foreshadow, but they don’t even last 40 days—when Moses comes down from the mountain, he’ll find them cavorting at the base of it, with their golden calves! (That in itself blows my mind; they’re at the foot of a mountain where they can see the glory of the LORD right there in front of them, covering the mountain, and yet they build false idols! But that’s a story for another chapter…)

I find it interesting that the LORD tells Moses, over and over again, that only he is to approach the mountain, and enter the glory of the LORD, and yet Joshua joins Moses when he goes. I don’t read this as disobedience to God’s word, especially because He doesn’t say anything to them about it; it seems, to me, to just be assumed that Joshua will be able to come with Moses, since he’s Moses’ aide.

In the next few chapters, God will give Moses instructions on how to build the tabernacle, including various implements to go inside it, to be used for worship.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Exodus 23

Exodus 23: Various laws; God promises to send His angel


This chapter starts out with some more laws, continuing the set of laws that the LORD has been handing down for the last few chapters.

  • Don’t “spread false reports”, and don’t be a malicious witness.
    • Similarly, people are not to follow the crowd in doing wrong. Specifically, it’s mentioned that when people are giving witness in a lawsuit, they should not go with the crowd to pervert justice.
      • Interestingly, it also mentions that they should not show favouratism to a poor man, in his lawsuit.
  • If you come across the ox or donkey of someone who hates you, bring it back to them.
    • Or, if you see their donkey falling down under its heavy load, help it.
  • Do not deny justice to the poor, in their lawsuits. Don’t have anything to do with false charges, and don’t put innocent people to death.
  • Don’t accept bribes, “for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous” (verse 8).
  • The Israelites were not to oppress aliens, since they know what it was like to be an alien in a foreign land.
As we’ve seen in previous laws, we see again here that God has concern for the poor. They are not to be denied justice, just because they’re poor. However, we also see that God cares for justice even more than He cares for the poor—the Israelites were not to show favouratism to the poor in a lawsuit, just because they were poor! The upshot of these rules is that the Israelites were to ensure that everyone in their society got justice; if a man is being sued, the judge(s) should do their best to determine whether he’s really guilty, regardless of whether he’s rich or poor. And, similarly, the Israelite citizens who might be testifying were to be sure they were telling the truth.

You may also have noticed, as I did, that the Israelites were commanded to help out the animals of their enemies. (Not just help their enemies, but help out the animals of their enemies.)

  • The Israelites were only to grow crops for six years in a row; in the seventh year, they were to “let the land lie unplowed and unused” (verse 11).
    • During the seventh year, when the fields were being left unused, the poor were to be allowed to eat from them, and whatever the poor didn’t eat, the wild animals could have.
  • The Israelites were only to work six days in a row, and every seventh day was to be a day of rest, “so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed” (verse 12).
  • The Israelites were not to invoke the names of other gods—their names were not even to be heard from the Israelites’ lips.
I find it fascinating that the Israelites were not only to give their animals and servants a day of rest each week, but were also to give their land a year of rest every seven years. (Later on—I don’t remember if it’s in Exodus, or a subsequent book—we’ll see some laws about the “year of jubilee”, which will sound even stranger, to us.) Of course, as interesting as I may find these laws, I don’t think there’s a record of the Israelites ever giving their land a year of rest, or observing the “year of jubilee”.

Now, whenever I mention the Sabbath, I always mention that it’s not so much about rest, as it is about devoting a day to the LORD. In this passage, it’s specifically mentioning a day of rest—but it’s a day of rest for your animals and servants, so that they may be refreshed. On the Sabbath, the Israelites were to be concerned about the LORD and about the people around them.

  • The Israelites were to celebrate three feasts every year:
    1. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which commemorates the Exodus from Egypt
    2. The Feast of Harvest, which celebrates the firstfruits from their crops
    3. The Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when they were gathering in their crops from the fields
  • During the listing of these feasts, the LORD mentions that “[n]o one is to come before me empty-handed” (verse 15c).
  • Verse 17 says this: “Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD.” I don’t know, however, if this is referring to the three feasts mentioned above, or if this is something separate; i.e. “you have these three feasts, and all men are to appear before me three times a year.”
  • When presenting sacrifices/offerings to the LORD, there are some rules on how it should be handled:
    • the blood of a sacrifice should not be presented along with anything containing yeast
    • any fat left over from festival offerings should not be kept until morning
    • the best of the Israelites’ firstfruits should be brought to the house of the LORD
    • The Israelites were not to boil a young goat in its mother’s milk
For me, the reasoning for some of these rules is obvious, and the reasoning for some of the others is non-obvious. For example, it’s obvious to me why the Israelites were never to come before the LORD empty-handed; among other things, it reminds them that everything they have comes from Him. (It’s also a sign of respect, and you could probably come up with other reasons.) Similarly, they were to bring Him the best of their firstfruits, not keep it for themselves, because He deserves the best.

I think that the reason they were not to mix the blood of a sacrifice with anything containing yeast might have something to do with the fact that yeast is made up of living organisms. The other thing that springs to mind is that the yeast might make it look like there’s more blood than there really is, but I don’t know if that even makes sense. It’s not like any of the sacrifices demanded a certain amount of blood or anything, and that they’d be cheating the LORD out of a proper sacrifice by making it look like there was more blood than there really was. (They definitely might have been tempted to bring Him an inferior animal, and keep the best for themselves.)

I’ve never understood the rule about not boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk. I remember reading that when I was 15 or so, and trying to puzzle it out; any time I think about the fact that there are some things in the Bible that we don’t understand, for some reason this rule always pops into my mind. On the one hand, it seems kind of “ironically cruel” to boil a goat in its mother’s milk, but that’s as far as I get in trying to reason this one out. Maybe it makes more sense to you; in fact, maybe it’s obvious why He gave them this rule, and I just have some kind of a mental block.

After these rules, God tells the Israelites that He is going to send His angel ahead of them, to lead them into the place that God has prepared. The angel will bring them into “the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites” (verse 23), and the LORD will wipe those peoples out. The Israelites are commanded not to worship the gods of these peoples; they are to get rid of all of their implements of worship (the idols and “sacred stones”). God even gives the Israelites a promise:

Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span. (verses 25–26)

However, the LORD is not going to wipe out the people all at once, or else “the land would become desolate and the wild animals too much for [them]” (verse 29).


If it hasn’t been made explicit yet, the Israelites are on their way to “the promised land”, which is pretty much where the current nation of Israel is. (I’m guessing that it didn’t have exactly the same borders as the current nation of Israel has, although geography isn’t my strong suit, and I haven’t looked into it. And, of course, Palestine is a complicating factor in trying to make a comparison…) However, there are people already living in that land. The LORD has decided to wipe these people out, because of their wickedness. For example, remember this passage from Genesis 15:

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

(Genesis 15:12–21, emphasis added)

He’s not just giving the Israelites a new place to live; He’s also getting rid of a sinful people, that He no longer wants to put up with.

So, in the last section of the passage we’re looking at today, the LORD is making it clear that He is the one who will be driving out the peoples who live in the “promised land”, where the Israelites are going to live. He is not commanding them to go in and do it, and then rewarding them with the land; He is going to wipe out the peoples who currently live in the land. The Israelites will be going into battle, yes, but it is the LORD who will be winning those battles; they are never to believe that they’ve won the battles themselves.

And, in future books—maybe even later in Exodus, I can’t remember for sure—we’ll be seeing some battles which will be clearly won by the LORD, through divine means, on behalf of the Israelites, and not by the might of the Israelites. Of course, that won’t be anything new, because we’ve already seen what He did to the Egyptians, when He was bringing the Israelites out of Egypt.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Exodus 22

Exodus 22: Laws about protection of property, and other laws


This chapter continues the list of laws that God was handing down to the Israelites.

  • If someone steals an animal, and the animal is found in his/her possession, s/he must pay back double. (i.e., if you steal a sheep, and are caught with the sheep, you have to give the original owner back two sheep.)
    • If the thief sells or slaughters the stolen animal, it’s specified that s/he must pay back five head of cattle for an ox, or four sheep for a sheep, instead of just double.
    • If the thief has nothing with which to pay back the theft, s/he is to be sold, to pay for it.
  • If a thief is caught breaking in, and the owner kills the thief, the owner is not to be held guilty of bloodshed.
    • Unless it happens after sunrise—then the owner is to be held guilty of bloodshed.
These laws seem fair, to me. And, as pointed out in the previous chapter, “fair” is the key word: the law is all about “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. People are not to be punished disproportionately for their crimes; if you steal a sheep, you’re not to be executed, you’re simply to pay back the owner, with interest. I also find it interesting that the law makes a distinction between crimes that happen at night, vs. crimes that happen during the day. I assume this implies that there may be other options, besides killing the thief, if the crime is happening during the day.

  • If someone lets their livestock stray, and the livestock eats from someone else’s field, the owner of the livestock is to pay back the owner of the fields. It specifically says that the owner of the animals must pay back the owner of the fields “from the best of his own vineyard” (verse 5).
  • Similarly, if someone starts a fire, and it burns someone else’s field, the one who started the fire must make restitution for whatever has burned. (It doesn’t specifically say “from the best of his vineyard”, though.)
In these rules we see that the Israelites are to respect the property of their neighbours. I find it very interesting that the first rule mentions that the person should be paid back from the best of the guilty party’s vineyard—you can’t just let your flocks eat someone else’s field, and then give them the withered grapes you don’t want from your own!

  • The next law deals with the case where someone gives their neighbour articles to protect, and those articles are stolen, while under the protection of the neighbour:
    • If the thief is caught, then there is no problem. The thief is to pay back double, as was specified in the earlier laws about livestock.
    • If the thief is not found, the neighbour who was entrusted with the goods is to appear before “the judges” (the footnote indicates that this might also be translated “before God”; verse 8), who will determine if the articles were really stolen, or if the neighbour entrusted with the goods stole them. If they (or God) determine that the neighbour actually stole the goods, double must be paid back.
  • Similarly, in all cases where there are more than one party claiming the same property, they’re to appear before the judges (or before God), who will determine to whom the property really belongs. And, in this case, the person to whom the property does not belong will have to pay back double to the person who does own it.
I really like the fact that, when two people are claiming something belongs to them, the person who is lying is treated as if they’d stolen the property. They are, in effect, being found guilty of “attempted theft”, since they’re trying to claim property that doesn’t belong to them.

  • If someone gives an animal to their neighbour, for safekeeping, and it dies (or is injured) while unattended, the person entrusted with the animal is to “take an oath before the LORD” that s/he didn’t kill/injure it. And then: “The owner is to accept this, and no restitution is required” (verse 11b).
    • On the other hand, if the animal was stolen, the person responsible for the animal is to make restitution to the owner.
    • If the animal was killed by a wild animal, the person entrusted with its care is to bring the remains of the animal as evidence, and then s/he won’t be held responsible.
There are some nuances to these rules that I find fascinating. These upshot seems to be that if the person entrusted with the care of the animal was responsible for the loss, then s/he is to pay it back, but if it was something out of his/her control, then s/he is not.

  • If you borrow someone’s animal, and it is injured or dies while in your care, you must pay back the owner for it.
    • However, if the owner is present, when the animal dies or is injured, no restitution is to be given.
    • Also, if the animal was hired, instead of borrowed, there is not be any restitution made; the money paid to hire the animal is supposed to cover the loss.
I don’t actually have much to say about these rules, except that I find it interesting that the owner of the animal is not to be paid back, if s/he is with the animal when it dies. Presumably the owner should look out for his/her own animals, whenever possible.

In the NIV, the next few laws are under the heading of Social Responsibility, but to me, they don’t all seem to fall under that category.

  • If a man seduces a virgin and sleeps with her, he is to pay the “bride price”, and she will be his wife.
    • If her father refuses to give his daughter to the man in marriage, the man is still to pay the bride price.
Not living in a society that has the concept of a dowry, the concept of a bride price seems a little foreign to me, but other than that, these rules make perfect sense. If the man were to seduce a virgin, and then just leave her, it would quite literally ruin her life, because, in that society, no other man would accept her as his wife.

  • Sorceresses were to be put to death
  • Anyone who had sexual relations with an animal was to be put to death
  • Anyone who sacrificed to any god other than the LORD was to be “destroyed”.
On the surface, these three rules sound unrelated, but they might actually not be. In that day and age, acts like sorcery and bestiality may have been performed as part of the worship of other gods. (I don’t have specific information on this, to know for sure whether this is correct. I do know that acts like child sacrifice and sexual relations with temple prostitutes were performed as part of the worship of other gods, so it’s quite possible that sorcery and bestiality would have been as well.) If that’s correct, then there is a definite reason why these three rules would be grouped together like this.

Also, whenever the Bible uses the term destroy, the footnote in the NIV always says this: “The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the LORD, often by totally destroying them.” In effect, I don’t know how this makes the execution different from the previous two executions mentioned; I’m not sure if this means it was to be carried out differently.

  • The Israelites were not to mistreat aliens. There is even a reason given for this one: “for you were aliens in Egypt” (verse 21).
  • The Israelites were not to take advantage of widows or orphans.
    • This law doesn’t have a punishment set out, because the LORD Himself will carry out the punishment: “If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless” (verses 23–24).
  • If money is lent to a fellow Hebrew who is needy, no interest is to be charged.
    • If the person gives his/her cloak, as a pledge for the money, it is to be returned by sunset, regardless of whether the money has been repaid, “because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate” (verse 27).
This set of laws is trying to teach the Israelites to be compassionate. The three groups listed—aliens, widows & orphans, and the poor—are the ones in the society who were the most defenseless. God is making it clear to the Israelites that He cares for these people, and they were to care for them too.

  • The Israelites were not to blaspheme God
  • They were not to hold back offerings, from the produce of their fields.
    • They were also to give to the LORD their first-born sons, and the first-born of their cattle and sheep.
      • It’s not specifically stated here, but the first-born of the livestock were to be sacrificed, but the first-born sons were not. Somewhere else there are rules laid out for what is to be sacrificed in place of the first-born sons.
      • The first-born animals were to remain with their mothers for seven days, before being sacrificed.
  • The Israelites were not to eat meat from an animal that had been killed by wild beasts. And, again, God gives a reason for this one: “You are to be my holy people” (verse 31).
Some of the laws given in the Old Testament sound strange to our ears, but often the reason for such laws is to set the Israelites apart from their neighbouring nations, as a people Holy to God. This is what I see in these rules—especially the last one.


The first laws mentioned in this chapter deal with livestock, but I’m assuming that this extends to other property as well. That is, if you steal a candlestick from your neighbour, and are caught with it, you have to pay your neighbour back two candlesticks.

When it comes to the law’s concern for the aliens, the widows & orphans, and the poor, I’m not sure how inline this would be with other societies of the day. It’s quite possible that, without these laws, any “rich” Israelites would have simply considered themselves blessed by God—and, therefore, have considered the poor and less fortunate not to be blessed by God. There are many people in the world who would say that this means you don’t have to care for these people. But these rules demonstrate that, although these people may be less fortunate, God really, truly cares for them, and the Israelites were to do so as well. Did this actually happen? Well, it will be a long time from now before we get to it, but time and time again, when the prophets came to criticize the Israelites in later years, the main complaint God levelled at His people was that they were not caring for the poor.

Also, in the NIV version of the Bible that I use, a gendered pronoun is often used. (Is “gendered pronoun” the right phrase I’m looking for here?) I have “un-gendered” the pronouns for this blog; for example, verse 1 says “If a man steals an ox or a sheep…” whereas I would put “If a person steals an ox or a sheep…” I believe the text in the Bible is phrased the way it is because of the society at the time; verse 1 is talking about a man stealing an ox or a sheep because, realistically, who else would be? In my day and age, however, society isn’t as rigidly divided along the male/female lines, and it wouldn’t be as clear-cut that only men would be doing some of the things mentioned. (It is still divided, but not as rigidly.) If you disagree with this, my intent is not to offend.