Exodus 20

“The Law of Moses,” which spans several chapters of Scripture, begins with the Ten Commandments. These commandments simultaneously reveal the heart of God and the sinfulness of man. For the Israelites, who were just beginning to learn how to be free, it revealed the kind of lifestyle and behavior that God would bless.

The arrangement of the Ten Commandments is important: the first four deal with our relationship with God, while the last six deal with our relationships with other people.

Commandments 1-4 required that the Israelites worship the Lord exclusively, that they not worship idols, that they use the name of God carefully, and that they rest on the Sabbath day.

Commandments 5-10 required that the Israelites honor their parents, respect the sanctity of human life, maintain sexual and marital integrity, respect the property of others, tell the truth, and guard their hearts against destructive desires.

If the people of Israel would live by these laws, according to 19:5 they would be upholding their part of their national covenant with God. If not, they could be sure that God would judge them.

The Ten Commandments are not for Israel alone, but they apply trans-culturally and trans-generationally — to every person and every culture in every age. In my personal (and I stress personal) opinion, I believe the one exception is the fourth (Sabbath) command, the only one of the ten that is not reaffirmed in the New Testament. It appears to be a ceremonial law that was fulfilled in Christ (like the laws for blood sacrifices, the Passover observance, and the year of Jubilee), and that work is no longer prohibited on Saturday.

Notice that the chapter ends with instructions about building altars, the places where sacrifices would be made. The placement of verses 22-26 just after the Ten Commandments is a reminder that the Law exposes sinfulness, but God graciously provided a way to atone for sins through the sacrificial system.

I thank God today that the Ultimate Sacrifice, Jesus Christ, shed His blood to cover my sins. Amen?

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Exodus 19

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Three months had passed since God delivered His people from slavery in Egypt. During this time the Israelites had proven to be a nation of whiners, complaining about how they were fed and grumbling about how they were led. Moses had proven to be an able leader, taking the problems to the Lord and delegating his work to trusted aides. And God had proven Himself to be a faithful shepherd, providing bread from heaven’s bakery and water from a rock.

God called His people to meet with Him on Mount Sinai. We don’t know the exact location of this mountain, but most scholars identify it with “Gebel Musa”, a 7,497-ft. mountain on the Sinai Peninsula in modern-day Egypt (about 900 feet higher than Mt. LeConte; see the photo of it above). The important thing is not the exact location of the mountain, but the fact that God was there.

In preparation for the giving of the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law, God instructed Moses to bring the Israelites to the foot of Mt. Sinai to meet with Him. Moses was to remind them of their past and their future. They had been slaves in Egypt, but God “bore them on eagles’ wings” to freedom (v.4). Their future was to be God’s special people and His priests to the rest of the world (v.5-6). The people received this message heartily and prepared themselves to hear from God (v.8).

As the people went out to meet the Lord, His majestic glory was on display on the mountain. They heard the ear-splitting trumpet blast and claps of holy thunder. They saw the lightning, the fire, and the smoke of God’s glory. They felt the earthquake of God’s movement, and they trembled in His presence.

This chapter reminds me today that as a child of God, I can enter His presence and hear Him speak. I am His special treasure (v.5), and He calls me near. But I had better maintain a deep sense of respect and awe for Him. He is holy and full of glory; I am a grace-saved sinner, full of self. He is high and lifted up; I am His servant. He is the Law-giver; I am the one whose sin the Law exposes.

Enter God’s presence today — confidently, but carefully.

Exodus 14

The story of the crossing of the Red Sea is one of the most familiar and exciting miracles in Scripture. If you are like me, you can’t read this chapter without thinking of Charlton Heston as Moses in “The Ten Commandments” and the classic scene of the Red Sea parting. At the end of this blog you can click the link to watch that scene — it’s still pretty cool after 57 years!

Hollywood special effects artists reproduced the miracle on film fairly easily, but the magnitude of water displacement in the original miracle and the force required to hold back the “walls of water” (v.22) are mind-blowing. It was a miracle of, well…biblical proportions!

The actual account of this miracle, recorded in verses 21-27, is about more than getting the Israelites from one side of the sea to the other. It tells the story of a number of important changes. For instance…

Pharaoh went from being compliant to defiant to dead. His army went from charging in chariots to stuck in the mud to drowned. Moses went from being a timid shepherd who prayed, “Lord, why did You ever send me?” (5:22) to a great leader who proclaimed, “Fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” (v.13).

But the greatest changes recorded in this chapter were in the hearts of the Israelites. When they crossed over the sea on dry ground, they crossed over from fearing the Egyptians (v.10) to fearing the Lord (v.31). They crossed over from blaming God’s man (v.11) to believing in the ministry of God’s man (v.31). And they crossed over from doubting God (v.12) to trusting God (v.31).

How about you? Do you need to join me in crossing over? Let’s take some steps of faith today, moving from doubt to trust.

Exodus 13

This is a transitional chapter, functioning as a wrap-up of the Passover and a set-up for the great Red Sea escape, but it serves four important purposes.

First, the section in verses 1-16 reports the same phrase four times: “By a strong hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt” (v.3, 9, 14, 16). This was to be given as the reason for both the observance of the feast of unleavened bread and the dedication of the firstborn. In other words, God wanted His people to be constantly reminded of how He had rescued them from slavery. They must not forget.

The night of the exodus from Egypt they had eaten unleavened bread, so when they ate it once a year in the month of Abib, it would prompt an annual re-telling of the Passover story. Our observance of the Lord’s Supper is like that. It begs questions from our children, prompting gospel conversations as we share the meaning.

Whenever a first birth occurred (human or livestock), that male child or animal would be specially dedicated to the Lord. This would remind the Israelites that God “passed over” their firstborn sons while those of Egypt died.

You may have seen an Orthodox Jew wearing a little box (called a phylactery, a.k.a. tefillin) strapped to his arm or forehead. Taking verses 9 and 16 literally, they wear these boxes containing tiny scrolls of Scripture portions. Exodus 13:1-16 is one of the four passages written on the scrolls.

The second purpose for this chapter is that it tells us the first leg of the Exodus route. When you read tomorrow’s chapter, remember that God led the Israelites to a dead-end at the Red Sea on purpose (v.17-18). God had a miracle waiting there.

The third purpose is to tell how God led the people (v.21-22). The “pillar of cloud” and the “pillar of fire” directed the people and assured them of God’s presence with them.

Last, this chapter includes the fact that Moses took the mummy of Joseph with him on the exodus from Egypt. This was the fulfillment of a prophetic statement Joseph had made before he died (Genesis 50:25). He knew that God had promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan, and he wanted to be buried there. He finally was many years later (see Joshua 24:32).

Let me offer a blessing based on this interesting chapter:

May you always remember what God saved you from. May you trust His leading even when you don’t understand it. May you be assured of His presence and His guidance at every moment. And may you have the faith of Joseph, who believed God’s promise.

Exodus 12

Without a doubt, this is one of the most important chapters in the Bible. It not only tells of the long-awaited release of the Israelites from Egypt (after 430 years of captivity), but it also sets the stage for the Bible’s great metaphor of salvation: the death of the Passover Lamb.

John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Paul called Him “Christ, our Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7).

The comparisons of the lamb called for in this chapter and the Lamb of God are striking:

The Israelites were to choose an unblemished male lamb in the prime of life. Jesus was a perfectly sinless man in the prime of life when He died on the cross.

The Israelites were to kill the lamb at twilight, shedding its blood and applying it to the wood door frames of their homes. Jesus was killed at about twilight, His blood wetting the wood of the cross.

Once applied by the Israelites, the lamb’s blood would be a sign to God to “pass over” their homes, sparing them from judgment and death. When the blood of Jesus is applied to a person’s life, their sins are covered, they are spared from judgment, and death can never touch them! No wonder the shout of heaven is, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!” (Revelation 5:12)

The rest of the Passover meal was highly symbolic. The bitter herbs would be an annual reminder to Israel of the bitterness of their slavery in Egypt. The unleavened bread contained no yeast, a symbol of impurity and sin. Eating it would remind Israel that God expected them to live in a state of repentance. He expected them to be holy and free from the “leaven” of sin (see 1 Corinthians 5:7 again).

The actual tenth plague is recorded matter-of-factly in verses 29-32. The death was widespread and horrible. The mourning could be heard from every house, cries and prayers to false gods who could neither hear nor help. They had ignored and disregarded Jehovah God, and they had paid an awful price.

Pharaoh, whose own firstborn was among the dead, finally relented. Summoning Moses and Aaron, he ordered them to leave, this time with no compromises to offer: “Go…take everything and everyone and be gone!” The Israelites left hurriedly, taking the first few steps on a new journey of freedom. In verse 2, it is clear that God used this event to turn the page on a new era, a new beginning for the people of God.

Have you trusted Jesus, the Lamb of God, for salvation? Have you applied the blood He shed on the cross to your life? If not, why not? Today could be a new beginning for you, the first day of a new journey that will lead to heaven and never end…

Exodus 11

I remember learning about “irony” in high school literature class. That is when there is incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs. Then I learned about “dramatic irony” which happens when the characters in a story do not grasp the irony, but the reader does.

It is hard to miss the dramatic irony in today’s chapter. I see it in three ironic reversals. First, the book of Exodus begins by saying that Egypt had forgotten Joseph, the benevolent Jewish statesman who brought prosperity (1:8). Through the plagues, God arranged it so that Egypt could not forget Moses, the angry Jewish freedom-fighter who brought judgment.

Second, the summary statement in verse 10 of today’s chapter alludes to “all these wonders,” the first nine plagues which devastated crops, herds, fish, and water supplies. In these miracles of judgment the Lord had reduced Egypt to the state it would have been in had He not saved it through the godly wisdom of Joseph.

The third ironic reversal is that the book of Exodus begins with Pharaoh’s plan to destroy Israelite children (1:15-22). Now the God of Israel — the God before whom Pharaoh refused to bow — will destroy Pharaoh’s own child, and many others in Egypt.

Moses went before Pharaoh to deliver the Lord’s warning about one final, deadly plague, the death “every firstborn” (v.5). The wording is interesting: just as the cries of Israel were heard by God (2:23), a great cry of mourning would be heard throughout Egypt, “such as there has never been, nor ever will be again” (11:6). But the Israelites would be protected from judgment; “not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel” (v.7).

The anger of Moses was understandable (v.8), and the wrath of God was justified. The tenth and final plague would not only set the stage for the great Exodus, but it would also foreshadow the coming of the great Passover Lamb, the Lord Jesus.

Brace yourself for tomorrow’s reading. Just as we see on the cross of Christ, the judgment will be fierce, deadly — but the deliverance will be sweet.

Exodus 10

Pharaoh’s heart was hard. Like the hands of a laborer that have become calloused and unfeeling, his heart had been hardened by pride and unbelief.

Throughout this section of Scripture that fact is repeated over and over again. Some verses say that Pharaoh hardened his heart, and other verses say that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Here is how I understand that: each time Pharaoh resisted the Lord, he distanced himself a little farther from the conviction of His presence. Each time Pharaoh turned away from the light of God’s truth, he plunged a little deeper into darkness. Each time he turned a cold shoulder to the Lord, the heat of God’s holiness burned a little hotter. And as the old saying goes, the same fire that melts the wax will harden the clay. It all depends on the substance.

I can’t fully explain why God says in verse 1 that He hardened the man’s heart, but I know this: it was Pharaoh’s own choice to “refuse to humble” himself before the Lord (v.3). If he had, the Bible teaches that humbling oneself before the Lord results in being lifted up to be closer to Him (James 4:10). And if you draw near to God, He will draw near to you (James 4:8). While it was Pharaoh’s choice not to do that, his choice perfectly fit God’s plan to punish Egypt while freeing His people.

Think of how different the story could have been if Pharaoh would have opened his heart. But he resisted again, and the locusts swarmed in to eat what the hail didn’t destroy. Pharaoh pretended to repent (v.16-17) and refused to let the Israelites go.

With Egypt in ruins, God sent a ninth plague: He turned out the lights. It was pitch dark for three days, so dark it could be felt (v.21). God removed the light just as He was about to remove His patience. Pharaoh had sinned away his last chance to respond to God’s mercy. Moses knew how true his words were in verse 28.

I hear a warning here, and it is not just for Pharaoh. The warning is for me to keep my heart tender and open to the Lord. If I don’t stay humble and responsive to Him, I could end up on the outside of God’s blessing and protection…and I don’t want to be there. Ever.