Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Holy People

Exodus 22:28-23:9

“Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.” (Exodus 22:28)

Israel was not to worship any other gods. Exodus 23:13 commands that they were to “…make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.” They were not to even to dignify them by using their name to curse or make fun. At the same time, they were not to denigrate their leaders, but to respect the office no matter how undeserving the man holding it might be.

Romans 13:1-4 Describes the ruler as the servant of God. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”
In effect, cursing the ruler was cursing God.

“Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me. Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep: seven days it shall be with his dam; on the eighth day thou shalt give it me.” (Exodus 22:29-30)

In modern English, we usually use the word liquor to refer to alcoholic beverages, but in fact the English word refers to any liquid or juice. The Hebrew word translated liquor means literally “a tear”, or “something squeezed out.” It was commonly used to refer to juices and liquids. Fresh squeezed grape juice was stored in animal skin bags known as bottles. As time passed the juice fermented becoming alcoholic. The porous skin bottles allowed the escape of the alcohol, making the resulting liquid very low in alcoholic content, and as fermentation continued the juice eventually turned to vinegar. Diluted with water and mixed with honey, vinegar could be used as a drink similar to lemonade. Honey was often stored in a similar fashion as the comb could be used for a lot of other purposes, and olives were squeezed to produce olive oil. In addition, milk would be separated from the cream and allowed to turn to cheese or yogurt, depending on how it was processed and the cream allowed to sour and used as sour cream or churned to make butter. All the liquids could be referred to as liquors because they were squeezed out.

There was to be no delay in offering the first fruits, the first produced of their fruits or liquids, even in hopes of getting better to give to the Lord. There would be no time for fermentation. The very first part was to be given to the Lord, depending on him to make the rest worthwhile. In the same way, the firstborn son or first born animal was to be given to the Lord, as soon as they were eight days old. As we’ve seen, this was a reminder and a way of thanking God for how he had spared their firstborn in Egypt when he led them out.

“And ye shall be holy men unto me: neither shall ye eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field; ye shall cast it to the dogs.” (Exodus 22:31)

The word translated holy refers to something that was consecrated or set apart for God. Just as one would not normally use a rag that had been used for cleaning toilets for washing dishes, something consecrated to God should not be contaminated. Animals usually kill the sickly and weak, and eating an animal they had killed could well expose one to what ever diseases the dead animal had. Truly carnivorous animals are better equipped to deal with such diseases. As God promised, obeying these laws would protect them from the diseases other people had. They were not to deliberately expose themselves to diseases because they were holy to God.

“Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment: Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause.” (Exodus 23:1-3)

Several years ago, my mom served on a jury regarding a multi-car accident. The third or fourth vehicle was a brand new truck driven by a teenage boy. The family had very high coverage on the vehicle. Lawyers for the other drivers all sued the young man for causing the accident, because his insurance would cover the repairs to all the vehicles while several did not have collision insurance and would not be able to get their cars fixed if they were found liable. The young man admitted he had hit the car ahead of him, but the Jury decided he had not caused the entire accident, and his insurance company should not have to pay for other people’s guilt. Even the judge seemed upset by the jury’s decision, pointing out that it would only raise the family’s premiums a little and they could afford it. God forbade any distortion of facts no matter how sorry one might feel for one of the parties. They were not to go along with wrong or let themselves be intimidated by a crowd. The jury above clearly made a proper decision, although it was not the one the lawyers expected.

“If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.” (Exodus 23:4-5)

In an emergency situation, one is not to consider one’s feelings toward another person, but only their need. In fact the more one wants to walk away and let them suffer, the more important it is for our own spiritual well being to help them. God would later give instructions for non emergency situations. “Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause. Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked. And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous.” (Exodus 23:6-8)

In no case were they to consider anything but the right or wrong of the case in making a judgment. The verdict was not to be distorted by any favoritism. They were to have no part in anything that was not on the up and up, and were to make sure the innocent were not punished or killed for their inability to defend themselves. With that in mind, they were to refuse to take any gift, because even the most innocent and insignificant gift affects our attitude toward the giver. It could well lead to unintentionally favoring one party over the other. Campaign contributions and wining and dining by lobbyists have perverted the American political process. God intended to prevent it in Israel.

“Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

As a holy people they were to be aware of the feelings of those outsiders because they were familiar with them. It reiterates the command in Exodus 22:21. In all these things the focus is on maintaining a proper attitude, focused on what is pleasing to God rather than one’s own desires and convenience.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Personal Matters

Exodus 22:16-28

Personal behavior is a source of conflict. People often think their behavior doesn’t affect anyone but themselves, but as Romans 14:7 says, “… none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.” Our actions and attitudes affect those around us. God gave Israel specific laws to prevent the conflict and to resolve it resolve it when it occurred.

“And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.” (Exodus 22:16-17)

When I was a teenager, it was generally accepted that if a boy got a girl pregnant he had to marry her, but otherwise he was free to mess around. After the Supreme Court approved abortion, in Rowe V Wade, even that standard was dropped, and illicit sex mushroomed. God’s standard was that if they had sex, whether pregnancy occurred or not, they had no option but to marry. Even if the girl’s parents refused to allow them to live together, they were to be considered married, because as I Corinthians 6:16 tells us, the sex bonds them together as husband and wife. “What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.” The marriage ceremony or paying of dowry is a formal acknowledgment of the responsibility.

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” (Exodus 22:18)

The word translated witch meant “to whisper(a spell)” and could refer to magicians, sorcerers and conjurers. It always involves invoking the power of some being besides God to accomplish something. Like the Pharaoh’s magicians, the practice always stands against God, glorifying some one besides him. The practice was punishable by death. The Salem witch trials were a deliberate perversion of this law.

“Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 22:19)

Bestiality or sexual relations with an animal required execution. It was a perversion of the sex act, which was intended for reproduction and for bonding between husband and wife, and it exposed people to various diseases. Most venereal diseases including Gonorrhea and AIDS can be traced to people having sex with animals. Executing the person ensured that the disease would not be spread, and that others would not be encouraged to copy the behavior, making a mockery of God‘s intention.

“He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed.” (Exodus 22:20)

Like witchcraft, sacrifices to other gods implied that the God who had delivered them from Egypt was not powerful enough. Anyone insulting God by such behavior was to be completely destroyed. There was to be nothing left that would encourage others to copy his example.

“Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)

Israel had spent four hundred thirty years in Egypt. For four hundred of those years, they had been increasingly discriminated oppressed. Knowing what it was like to be treated that way, they were not to treat outsiders among them that way. At the time it was a nearly unheard of concept. It’s still not prevalent.

“Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” (Exodus 22:22-24)

Throughout history, the more powerful have preyed on the weak. Some of the weakest are widows and orphans. God forbade such behavior, promising that he would intervene, causing the death of the oppressor, and reducing his own family to the same state as those who were oppressed. It was one of the sins Jesus repeatedly rebuked the Pharisees for almost seventeen hundred years later, about thirty years before Jerusalem was destroyed.

“If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.” (Exodus 22:25)

The people most desperate for loans are those who have an insufficient income. Loans to people who would have difficulty repaying them were to be interest free, in order to make it as easy as possible to repay them. It is the opposite approach of modern loan programs who usually charge more for those with a poorer credit rating. The next one also applies to treatment of the poor people.

“If thou at all take thy neighbour's raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down: For that is his covering only, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? and it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto me, that I will hear; for I am gracious.” (Exodus 22:26-27)

When security was required to ensure repayment of a loan, it it entailed essential items such as clothing, it was to be returned to the borrower the same day so he did not suffer for it’s absence. Please understand that clothing in that day was far more expensive than we are used to, as each piece of material was hand made from hand spun fibers, requiring several days labor to produce even a simple garment. In today’s money even the cheapest would cost several hundred dollars. Poor people could not afford more than one or two garments.  Pawning his clothes was like a mechanic or carpenter pawning his tools.  He had no way to survive without them. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Other People’s Property

Exodus 22:5-15

One source of frequent conflict is over individual property rights. A person who has paid for something naturally and justifiably resents having the property used or damaged by someone who has nothing invested. He didn’t have the building painted to give taggers a place to write, for example. God gave specific guidelines as to how these matters should be handled.

“If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man's field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution.” (Exodus 22:5)

For years, San Juan County was considered a free range area. What that means is that instead of the owners being required to keep their livestock on their property, it is the responsibility of their neighbors to keep them out of their own yards. If they damage your garden or property, the owner is not liable. As a result, many farmers did not bother to maintain their fences. Frequently, drunks would run into homeowners fences and knock them down allowing cattle to get in and destroy peoples yards. It caused a lot of conflict between home owners and cattle owners. This law was established to prevent such conflict. If the owner of the cattle allowed them to get in, he was responsible for replacement of what they destroyed, and with the best replacement available. If a drunk tore down the fence or a fisherman or hunter left the gate open they were responsible for replacement in the same manner.

“If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed therewith; he that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.” (Exodus 22:6)

If a person started a fire that got out of control and damaged other people’s property, he was responsible for paying for all the damage. That it was an accident was no excuse. His actions caused the other person's loss and it was up to him to make it good.

“If a man shall deliver unto his neighbour money or stuff to keep, and it be stolen out of the man's house; if the thief be found, let him pay double. If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbour's goods.” (Exodus 22:7-8)

Whether there was a formal contract or not, if a person agreed to keep things for someone else, there was a responsibility to that person. If it turned up missing they were to try to find out who took it. If the thief was caught , he was to pay double, but if he were not they were to check on the person who was supposed to keep it to see if he had taken it. The same laws regarding theft would apply to him if he had.

  “For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbour.” (Exodus 22:9)

Questions about the ownership of disputed items were to be decided by independent judges reviewing the facts of the case, with the invalid claim paying double the price of the item to the rightful owner, who also got to keep the animal. Frivolous lawsuits were effectively discouraged.

“If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: Then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour's goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good. And if it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution unto the owner thereof. If it be torn in pieces, then let him bring it for witness, and he shall not make good that which was torn.” (Exodus 22:10-13)

In agreeing to keep livestock for another person, there is an element of risk that is not true for other things. Living things can get hurt, die or run away with no warning or way of preventing it. Unless there was proof to the contrary, it was to be assumed that such events were unavoidable and the owner was to just accept the loss. Part of the responsibility was to prevent theft however, and if the livestock were stolen he had failed to perform his duty and was liable. If evidence was found to show what happened it was to be made available.

“And if a man borrow ought of his neighbour, and it be hurt, or die, the owner thereof being not with it, he shall surely make it good. But if the owner thereof be with it, he shall not make it good: if it be an hired thing, it came for his hire.” (Exodus 22:14-15)

It is amazing how many people feel no sense of responsibility to return things they borrow. If a person borrowed something, he was responsible to return it in the same state as when he received it or repair or replace it. If the owner went along to operate it, it was the owner’s responsibility, rather than the borrower’s. Think how many lawsuits would be eliminated if our laws were as straight forward and clear as these. Lawyers need complex and confusing laws to prosper, and the more the better. In the future, the Jews would greatly amplify God’s initial laws, giving rise to legal profession. By Jesus' day, their additions to the law would require a book more than twice the size of the entire Bible to accomplish what God had done with these few simple laws.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Exodus 22:1-5

The Ten Commandments said, “Thou shalt not steal.” The commandment did not prevent people from stealing, but it did define it as wrong. By taking something from a person one deprives him of the benefits of having that item. Justice requires that the victim be compensated for his loss. God gave specific guidelines as to how compensation was to be made.

“If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.” (Exodus 22:1) 

The thief was required to pay both for the item stolen and any benefits that might accrue due to it’s loss. A sheep would produce wool and other lambs for several years, so the thief would be assessed a debt of four times the cost of a sheep for having deprived the owner of those things. An ox was used for pulling a cart or plowing and the loss was greater, so the thief needed to pay back five times the cost of an ox. Compare the justice of such a system with the American system where a thief can steal a car, wreck it, spend a few months in prison or pay a fine and be set free while the owner has to buy theft insurance, and will never be reimbursed for lost earnings or wasted time looking for a replacement. It is system where Bernie Madoff can steal billions of dollars that would have provided people with an ongoing income, pay a fine and go to prison, but his wife and children get to keep part of the money he stole to live on. Under God’s system, it was much cheaper to buy your own sheep than to steal them. Under the American system crime appears to pay rather well, despite the old saying that “Crime doesn’t pay.” No wonder we never seem to reduce the amount of crime.

“If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double.” (Exodus 22:2-4)

Killing a thief in self defense, when he was breaking in during the night entailed no penalty. However if the attempt was during the day when one could see to avoid killing the intruder, the death penalty was to be imposed. In other words, killing was to be avoided if possible, even in stopping a crime. If the thief were unable to pay the specified restitution, he was to be sold as a slave for enough to pay his debt. If the item was found and restored immediately, he still had to pay double for having stolen it.

In the United States, we constantly hear that a person who has served his sentence for a crime has paid his debt to society. I suspect that this attitude is a major factor in our present level of crime. Criminals, courts and political leaders view crime as being against some faceless and impersonal society, rather than against a specific person. As a result, in our criminal “justice” system, the victim is largely ignored. Defense attorneys fight to keep it that way as it increases their chances of winning a case. Politicians love it because the judgments and fines can be funneled to government coffers rather than needing to be given to the victims. 

Unfortunately, for the victim, and his family, it is a very personal matter. It was their family member who was killed or their car that was stolen. Most habitual criminals do not consider the victim at all except as a target. Serial killers and mass murderers often view their victims as inferior people who need to be destroyed. Only when we begin to recognize crime as a personal matter will crime levels begin to be significantly reduced.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Property Owners Liability

Exodus 21:28-36

The commandments against stealing or coveting another mans belongings make it clear that there is to be a respect for the property rights of others. As an old saying goes, every right depends on an underlying responsibility. The right to own property entails taking responsibility for it.

“If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit. But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death. If there be laid on him a sum of money, then he shall give for the ransom of his life whatsoever is laid upon him. Whether he have gored a son, or have gored a daughter, according to this judgment shall it be done unto him. ” (Exodus 21:28-31)

If a domestic animal killed some one but had never shown aggressive tendencies before, the animal was to be destroyed and not eaten, but the owner should not be charged wiuth a crime. On the other hand, the animal had shown aggressive tendencies and the owner had not taken precautions, he was considered to have deliberately put others at risk and guilty of voluntary manslaughter and should be executed. If he’d taken precautions but for some reason they’d failed, they could assess damages against him as an alternative. His choice was to pay the assessment or be executed.

“If the ox shall push a manservant or a maidservant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.” (Exodus 21:32) 

Any animal which attacked a person was to be killed and the owner held accountable for damages. The principle is the same as that described in Genesis 9:5-6. “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” While justice demands that life be given for taking life, execution ensures that the guilty will not repeat the behavior, thus preventing future killings. Competency to stand trial was not relevant.

“And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein; The owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his.” (Exodus 21:33-34)

A person had a responsibility to take precautions to protect the public from obvious dangers on his property. Failure to do so required payment of actual damages but no punitive damages were to be assessed. When he paid for the replacement, the original became his property.

“And if one man's ox hurt another's, that he die; then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the money of it; and the dead ox also they shall divide. Or if it be known that the ox hath used to push in time past, and his owner hath not kept him in; he shall surely pay ox for ox; and the dead shall be his own.” (Exodus 21:35-36)

By their very nature, animals are quite competitive and may fight. In such cases the responsibility for damages were to be shared. If one died, the owners were to sell both animals and split the money evenly. If there was a history of aggressiveness by one however, and there had been no effort to restrain such behavior, they were to exchange animals, because the one had been willing to take the risk.    

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Assaults and Personal Injuries

Exodus 21:12-26

Humans became susceptible to death as a result of Adam’s sin, as Romans 5:12 tells us. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” A few years later, Cain murdered Abel in rebellion against God for not ignoring his standards. Since that time, murder and violence has been a constant problem. The commandment was “Thou shalt not kill,” but because people are killed as a result of different events, God gave specific instructions as to what conditions required what penalty.

“He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.” (Exodus 21:12)

As a general prionciple, causing another person’s death required the death penalty. It is exactly the same principle that was stated to Noah in Genesis 9:6 and has generally been accepted by most cultures since.

“Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” 

Since humans were created in the image of God, killing one is an act of rebellion in striking out against God. In essence one sets himself up as God, claiming the power of life and death for himself.

“And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee.” (Exodus 21:13)

Sometimes a person is killed as a result of carelessness or in an effort to protect one’s life or property, with no initial intention of killing anyone. In cases of manslaughter, God would provide cities of refuge where the guilty party could go for protection, If he was judged innocent of deliberate intent to kill, he would be protected as long as he remained in the city. In essence it was a life sentence. It was up to the guilty party to stay inside the city. A life had been taken and could not be restored, and justice requires that a life be given in return. The person’s life was forfeit if he left the city except for certain special situations. Numbers 35 explains the details in depth. Use of a weapon intended for killing things such as a spear or knife made it voluntary manslaughter and was to be treated as murder.

“But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die. And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.” (Exodus 21:14-15)

Any deliberate assault or entrapment which led to a person’s death was to be considered as murder. Domestic violence that resulted in death was murder. They had taken advantage of other people’s trust to kill them. There was to be no place where they were protected from the consequences of their sin.

“And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:16)

Kidnapping required execution, even if the victim was recovered alive. In essence, the kidnapper has stolen the victims life and justice requires that he give his life in return.

“And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:17)

 Exodus 20:12 states the principle. “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” God placed the parents in authority to raise and teach children. Rebellion and cursing of one’s parents is a deliberate challenge to God’s authority. It called for execution, just as did a physical assault.

“And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed: If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed.” (Exodus 21:18-19)

If a person was seriously injured in a fight, regardless who caused the fight, the one who hurt him was responsible for his medical bills and lost wages until he recovered.

“And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.” (Exodus 21:20-21)

The same laws applied whether the injured party was a free person or an employee or slave. For an employee or slave, the owner was already obligated to pay their wages as agreed.

“If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Exodus 21:22-25) 

If a woman was injured in a fight and lost a child but nothing else developed, the husband was to sue for recompense for the loss of the child and the judges were to determine an appropriate figure. If permanent injury occurred to the woman, a similar injury was to be inflicted on the one causing it. Again justice requires giving what one has taken away, even itf it doesn‘t replace what was taken..

“And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye's sake. And if he smite out his manservant's tooth, or his maidservant's tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth's sake.” (Exodus 21:26-27)

Slaves and employees were protected from abuse. Any permanent injury, even as minor as a chipped or broken tooth required setting the servant free and the loss of the wages agreed upon. It is obvious that God takes human life far more seriously than our courts do. Most states no longer allow the death penalty, and it is seldom administered even in those where it is still legal. Rather than making the prisoner pay his own way, taxpayers are forced to pay more than twice an average annual family’s income each year to keep individual criminals in prison, in effect penalizing the victims of the crimes. Murderers are routinely released long before their sentence is completed, and seldom receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole, implying that the victim was less important than the murderer.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Responsibilities toward Servants

Exodus 21:1-11

For two months God had led Israel, delivering them from Egypt, providing daily food and water, and obviously giving victory over both the Egyptian and the Amalekite armies. They had clearly seen it was God’s actions, not their own. Then God made a covenant or agreement with them. If they would keep all his commandments, they would be protected from the diseases and catastrophes other nations experienced.

“Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them.” (Exodus 21:1)

While the Ten Commandments gave the General principles as to what God expects, their very generality left a great deal of room for interpretation. To avoid confusion God gave specific instructions for common situations that might arise. Because special situations arise, he gave specific guidelines as to when the rules should be ignored as well. In the process he established penalties to be assessed for breaking those commandments, that justice might be preserved. The judgments were guidelines as to how the law was to be applied, and the penalties to be assessed for violations. There are potential conflicts in any human interaction and employer employee relations is a major source of conflict. It was one of the first areas God addressed. Over the centuries, Various systems of employment and compensation have developed. Initially all people were free and dependent on their own efforts. Some were less successful than others, and when they would get into financial difficulties, they might sell themselves or their children into servitude in exchange for food or money or to pay off a debt. In today’s terms, an indentured servant was a contract employee. Hired servants were hourly employees. Though our terminology and philosophy are different the problems in labor relations were the same, and these first judgments address them. The biggest single difference regarding today’s labor laws is the system of compensation.

“If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself.” (Exodus 21:2-4)

A labor contract was limited to a term of six years. The initial servitude was often the result of parents or creditors hiring out the person to pay off a debt or raise money. It could not commit the man to lifetime of servitude. After six years the contract automatically expired and the employer had no claim to the things he had before he came in. By the same token, the expiration of his contract did not automatically entitle him to the tools and things his employer had provided. The property rights of both parties were protected, even to the giving of another servant to be the first’s wife. The expiration of the husband’s contract did not nullify that of the wife. Though they were married, she still had to fulfill her contract.

“And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for ever.” (Exodus 21:5-6)

If the employee chose to retain his position rather than exercising his freedom he could establish a permanent contract, certified by having his ear pierced. A pierce ear was a symbol of voluntary enslavement. He might choose to do so either because of a liking for his position or to maintain his relationship with his wife and family. A man could not be held in slavery without his consent.

“And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.” (Exodus 21:7-8)

Sexual discrimination and harassment are major concerns in the modern workplace. A man could not hire a woman in order to seduce her. He had to make a long term commitment. She did not just become a slave to him. After six years she did not automatically go free, and he couldn’t just sell her off or fire her if she didn’t suit him. Her family or husband could buy back her contract, but it could not be sold to someone else. Not keeping her on was viewed as a breach of contract by the employer. He couldn’t just fire her because a younger woman caught his eye.

“And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.” (Exodus 21:9-11)

If his own son had an affair with a female employee she was to be treated as his own daughter. If he married a different woman, he was not allowed to toss her aside but still had to treat her as his wife in every way. Having money or power did not free one from responsibility. God understands human nature and provided the necessary protections from the first. He didn’t have to wait and see what would be needed like our lawmakers do. While it is totally foreign to our modern way of thinking, such a program is more fair and less prone to abuse than many modern systems.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Setting God First

Exodus 20:18-26

“And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:18-19)

In arid areas such as the Arab peninsula, it is not uncommon for severe thunderstorms to ignite a number of brush and forest fires. New Mexico and Arizona experience a lot of lightening caused fires. A natural thunderstorm would have caused little concern beyond moving down off the mountain. That the smoke was not several small columns, but involved most of the top of the mountain, the dense cloud, extreme lightening and thunder, and the very loud sound of a trumpet combined to make it obvious this was no ordinary thunderstorm. Fearing for their lives, the people asked Moses serve as their mediator and not to speak directly to God themselves. Sadly a lot of Christians today have a similar attitude.

“And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.” (Exodus 20:20)

There was no reason to be afraid. God had no intention of doing anything but making them aware of his power so they would have respect for his commands. Godly fear is only fear of the consequences if we deliberately ignore God. The picture is again of a loving father, capable of administering swift and severe discipline, but will only do so when it is called for.

“And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.” (Exodus 20:21) 

Despite Moses reassurances, the people withdrew to what they thought was a safer distance. Moses, on the other hand drew nearer to the thick darkness where God was. Each person made their choice how close they wanted to be to God. It hasn’t changed.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.” (Exodus 20:22-23) 

God then gave Moses greater detail about what was involved in keeping the Ten Commandments. Many of the religions around them worshipped an array of various gods of different powers and positions. Israel was not to set up any other gods alongside God himself, not even as lesser deities.

“An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.” (Exodus 20:24-25)

Sacrifices were to be offered on a designated altar, not just burned on the ground. The altar could be comprised of a mound of dirt, or of stones, but it was to be of completely natural material. Any efforts to make the stones fit together better or look better would polute the altar making it unsuitable for use and any offering on unacceptable. The focus was to be wholly on God rather than on man.

“Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.” (Exodus 20:26)

The altar was not to be built so tall as to require steps to get up to it. Since the men wore robes similar to the Arab robes of today, steps created the possibility seeing enough to distract from worship of God. Later, when the Tabernacle was built, underclothes were prescribed for the priests to further decrease the likelihood of exposing oneself in a way that drew attention away from God.

These guidelines raise serious questions about teachings and practices in modern churches. Many have pictures or statues of saints or famous preachers of the past. Others place a great deal of emphasis on the beautiful music or sermons and ornate buildings.  Such emphasis may well detract from worshiping God, drawing attention to other things.  For example, far more stress is focused on Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel that on the God those paintings are supposed to portray.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Principles Of The Law

Exodus 20:1-17

A Pharisee lawyer asked Jesus, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Matthew 22:37-40 gives Jesus’ answer. “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” The entire law can be summed up in two commands. The most important is to Love God with all our heart. The second is to love other people. All of the laws and teachings of the prophets are about demonstrating that love. God started out with the outline of the law, known as the Ten Commandments. The first group relate to loving God.

“And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:1-3)

God had delivered Israel from Egypt and from slavery in a miraculous way. Based on what he had done for them they were to acknowledge no other gods. Romans 1:23 and 25 describes the sin of other groups. “And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things…. Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator…” Israel was not to idolize any person, animal or created thing, including the sun, the earth, or anything else.

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6)

Not only were they not to consider anything else as a god, they were not to make any picture or figure of anything in heaven, on earth or under the earth to be worshipped. They were not forbidden to make such things, as we see later in the descriptions of the tabernacle but they were forbidden to bow to or obey or worship them. As Acts 17:29 advises, “… we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s devices.” The best picture or statue is only a poor caricature of what God is really like.

“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)

Word translated vain means uselessly or in a evil or destructive manner. His name is never to be used frivolously. Neither is it to be used as a curse word or to make fun of people.

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

The Sabbath day was set aside as a time for celebrating and enjoying what God has done. It was instituted on completion of creation. It should not be wasted on everyday chores. Speaking specifically to Israel, Isaiah 54:5 declares, “For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.” Perhaps this gives us the clearest understanding of why these commandments so relate so completely to loving God. Just as a wife who truly loves her husband is not going to be involved or even flirting with or kissing other men, people who truly love God are not going to be involved with other gods. Nothing is more indicative of a lack of love than being involved with someone else.

Guys who hang pictures of some actress or model imply they are not satisfied with their wives and would like to mess around with someone else. Just as a wife has every right to be jealous if her husband is keeping pictures of other women, and especially pornographic pictures, God has every right to be jealous when people are focusing on and worshipping other beings. Real love will keep people from wanting to focus on another lover to the point that as Abimelech told Sarai, in Genesis 20:16, “…behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other…”

Taking God’s name in vain is much the same as running down your mate to other people or calling them derogatory names. Such disrespect is just as offensive to God as it is to one’s mate. It clearly shows one has no concern for their feelings, no real love. Finally, real love is demonstrated by a desire to spend time together. The person who is so caught up with his work, earning a degree, spending time with their friends or at a hobby that they won’t put it aside for their mate has said their mate is less important to them than those other things, and it really doesn’t matter what the other thing is. While we don’t need to drop everything every time we see our mate, there ought to be a time when we put aside daily things to spend time with our mate. If we love the Lord we will be willing to put aside daily chores to spend time with him.

The second principle of the law is “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The next six commandments lay out the basic principles of loving our neighbor. Later God will go into specific details but for the moment he just lays out the principles.

“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” (Exodus 20:12)

To honour someone is to show them respect. If we love someone, we will show them respect . Our parents are the people we are most closely associated with during our childhood. A failure to learn to love our parents and show them respect will hamper our showing love to others as well. One primary way of showing respect is yielding to the wishes of others. Since the parent ought to be concerned about the child his wishes ought to be centered on what will be best for the child. A simple example is the parent who insists their child stay right beside them walking down the street to prevent their being run over or kidnapped. The child who learns to honor their parents wishes in such matters increases his chances of survival. Simply learning to show respect for others may also keep them from trying to kill you.

“Thou shalt not kill.” (Exodus 20:13)

Love for others is going to be concerned for their well being. It’s not going to intentionally hurt or kill them.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14)

If one is really concerned for the feelings of one’s mate, they are not going to cheat on them, and if they are concerned about other people mate they will not cheat with their mates. Adultery is a clear indication that one is only concerned with their own self.

“Thou shalt not steal.” (Exodus 20:15)

Love of another person will not want to deprive them of their belongings or their pleasure in them. Stealing is a clear indication of selfishness.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” (Exodus 20:16)

Love is not going to want to destroy the other person by telling lies to discredit them or cause trouble.  Gossip is evidence of a lack of real love for the other person.

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.” (Exodus 20:17)

 In Matthew 5:28, Jesus said, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” When we begin to crave what the other person has, whether his wife or his home or his car or his job, and think what it would be like if we had it we have in our minds taken it from him. While he may never know we felt that way, because we never act on the craving, it is in our mind, and if opportunity presents is likely to be a fact. Love will not focus in that manner because it does not want to deprive the other person.

While these are the basic principles of the Old Testament law, most of it will be devoted to specific actions demonstrating that love. The New Testament focuses on the attitude or spirit that motivates a person, rather than the specific actions. Just as a kiss is supposed to denote love, but Judas used a kiss to betray Jesus to death, people can perform the actions of the law without loving God. If the motivation is not right, the actions are basically meaningless. As Paul points out in Galatians, while it is possible to make and enforce laws about actions, it is impossible to make enforceable laws relating to attitudes. The law against covetousness was only enforceable when it was acted upon, by stealing or adultery. As long as it was only in thought mankind cannot enforce it.

Many scholars point out similarities between Hammurabi’s code and the Ten Commandments. Since his code was established about fifty years before Ussher’s proposed date of the Exodus, many believe the Ten Commandments were derived from his code. Using the archaeological and biblical evidence, we find that in fact the Exodus was approximately three hundred years before Hammurabi set up the stele with his code. Hammurabi would have lived during the period of the Judges, about the time of Gideon.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Preparing to Hear God

Exodus 19:1-25

“In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai. For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.” (Exodus 19:1-2)

Israel had departed from Egypt on the fifteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of the third month they came into the wilderness of Sinai, after leaving Rephidim, camping just in front of Mt Sinai, also referred to as Mount Horeb. The meaning of Sinai is unclear. Horeb is used almost exclusively in Deuteronomy, but never in either Leviticus or Numbers, and only three times in Exodus. While the references make it clear they refer to the same mountain, it suggests more than one writer.

“And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:3-6)

It was at Mt. Sinai God had first spoken to Moses, so he probably returned to the same place, and God again spoke to him, directing him to remind how God had destroyed Egypt and making them as free as the soaring eagle to bring them to God. He then gave Moses a conditional offer to Israel. If they would keep his covenant, they would receive special treatment. It was a continuation of the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17, and is almost the same as the statement to Christians in I Peter 2:9. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:”

As Paul pointed out in Galatians, the promises to Abraham in Genesis 15 were not dependent on future keeping of the covenant, but were totally based on Abraham’s belief in God. Abraham’s faith Gave them the promises, but their own actions would determine how they experienced them. In the same way, our faith saves us, but as I Peter 2:1-8 illustrates, our obedience affects our spiritual relationship.

“And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.” (Exodus 19:7-8)

Before going to Pharaoh God had directed Moses to meet with the Israelites and get their approval. Even then, there was resentment when things were not just like they expected. After seeing God’s power over Egypt and two months of experiencing his provision everyday, God had Moses tell the people what the plan was and got approval before continuing. The almighty God could have just imposed his will on Israel, but insisted on enlisting their compliance before giving the law. If God felt it was important to get the people’s approval before taking actions, it seems pretty arrogant that some pastors think they don‘t need to, and especially when God says it is a philosophy he hates. Because of what they had experienced, the people were willing at that moment to commit to what God would ask them to do. Even after such a commitment, there would be numerous times when they had “buyer’s remorse” when problems came up. Imagine how much more trouble there would have been it he hadn’t gotten their approval. I am amazed at the number of Pastor’s who don’t see any need to consult their people.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes, And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai. And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death: There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live: when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.” (Exodus 19:9-13)

When the people agreed to obey his commands. God promised to meet with them, but before they could meet they needed to prepare themselves. They were given two days to clean themselves up and get all the physical things like daily chores out of the way. One reason many people get little benefit from their time in church is because they are not prepared to meet with the Lord. They don’t get the minor sins and distractions out of their life so they can hear the Word of God. God also required that boundaries be marked out and anyone or any thing that touched the mountain be put to death. Spiritually unqualified people were not to be excluded, and even those who went up were to wait until God directed them with the sound of the trumpet.

“And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes. And he said unto the people, Be ready against the third day: come not at your wives.” (Exodus 19:14-15)

Hebrews 13:4 declares, “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” Marital relationships are not sinful, but they can distract from our relationship with God if allowed to. I Corinthians 7:5 stresses that the only time they should be suspended is for a time of drawing close to God, and even then it is to be a temporary suspension. That Moses directed “come not at your wives,” makes it clear how thorough the preparing themselves needed to be.

“And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.” (Exodus 19:16-17)

When the time came there was a huge cloud bank on the mountain with thunder and lightning. Thunder storms on a mountain peak are fairly common but this was far mor intense than any normal storm. In addition, it was accompanied a trumpet sound so loud and unexpected the people were frightened. When he heard the trumpet, Moses led the people to the lower parts of the mountain as God had commanded.

“And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.” (Exodus 19:18-19)

Hebrews 12:29 states, “For our God is a consuming fire.” God had first appeared to Moses in the burning bush on the same mountain. Now he appeared to the entire nation of Israel as a fire that caused the entire mountain to smoke. As the trumpet continued to sound and get louder, Moses spoke out to the Lord and God answered in an audible voice. There is a huge area on Mount Jebel Al Laws where even the exposed rock looks like it has been burned more than four thousand years later. People who have been there say the rock is not volcanic type rock, implying that the burned appearance is not the result of volcanic action. On the Mount Sinai shown on modern maps, there is no area where more than a few hundred people could have gathered as described here further supporting both our belief that this is the Mount Sinai of the Bible, and that the Bible is historically accurate.

“And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up. And the LORD said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish. And let the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth upon them. 

And Moses said unto the LORD, The people cannot come up to mount Sinai: for thou chargedst us, saying, Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it. 

And the LORD said unto him, Away, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the LORD, lest he break forth upon them. And Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.” (Exodus 19:20-25)

 God revealed his understanding of human nature in insisting on getting a commitment from the people before Moses approached Pharaoh, and again before giving the Law. He reveals it again in his insisting that Moses warn the people again not to come up on the mountain. Moses himself didn’t understand their impatience. The second warning stopped their climbing the mountain but not their getting impatient and going into sin.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jethro Advises Moses

Exodus 18:1-27

Forty years before Moses had fled to Midian to escape the former Pharaoh’s wrath. While there he married Zipporah, daughter of the priest of Midian, and worked for his father-in-law, Jethro. The Midianites were primarily located in the northwest corner of the corner of the Arabian peninsula, along the eastern coast of the Gulf of Aqaba and to the north. They were descended from Abraham’s second wife, Keturah, according to Genesis 25:2 and were closely allied to Ishmael’s descendants. There were few formal boundaries and much of their land was shared with the Edomites and Amalekites, much as the great plains was shared by many Indian tribes in the United states.

“When Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father in law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel his people, and that the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt; Then Jethro, Moses' father in law, took Zipporah, Moses' wife, after he had sent her back, And her two sons; of which the name of the one was Gershom; for he said, I have been an alien in a strange land: And the name of the other was Eliezer; for the God of my father, said he, was mine help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh: And Jethro, Moses' father in law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness, where he encamped at the mount of God: And he said unto Moses, I thy father in law Jethro am come unto thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her.” (Exodus 18:1-6)

Jethro’s home, believed to be the village of El Bad was only a few days walk from where Israel was camped. Moses had sent Zipporah home with his two sons. And Jethro brought her and their two sons back to him at the camp there in the foothills of Mt. Horeb. Both Moses’ son’s names reflect what God had done for Moses.

“And Moses went out to meet his father in law, and did obeisance, and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare; and they came into the tent. And Moses told his father in law all that the LORD had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, and all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the LORD delivered them.” (Exodus 18:7-8)

Unlike Jacob, Moses had built a strong relationship with his father-in-law. Despite the formal sounding greeting, they were glad to spend time together. Moses shared the different things that happened in Egypt with the different plagues and at the crossing of the Red Sea. He also described the way the people blamed him when problems appeared and the stress they had experienced trying to get away before God destroyed the Egyptian army.

“And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. And Jethro said, Blessed be the LORD, who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh, who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them. And Jethro, Moses' father in law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God: and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses' father in law before God.” (Exodus 18:9-12)

As descendants of Abraham, the Midianites had known about God and Jethro had held to that belief. As a priest himself, he was encouraged by what God had done and was again convinced of the one true God. He administered sacrifices to God himself, meeting with all the leaders of Israel. Over the centuries the various Arab tribes drifted farther from the worship of God. When Mohamed formed the religion of Islam, he tried to purge some of the outside influences and get back to a true worship of God. Unfortunately, like Luther, Calvin, Knox, and other reformers, he retained a great deal of the false beliefs that had developed, with very similar results.

“And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening. And when Moses' father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even? And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to inquire of God: When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.” (Exodus 18:13-16)

Any time there is a group of people there will be conflicts. It is why love is such an important aspect of being a Christian, enabling us to forgive and understand. In the almost two months that had passed since leaving Egypt, the people had gotten in the habit of coming to Moses for counseling and resolution of conflict. It was consuming almost all of Moses’ time.

“And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone. Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.” (Exodus 18:17-20)

Jethro recognized that Moses’ approach was counter productive. It would eventually wear down both Moses and the people because they could not get their problems taken care of, and Moses would be dealing with nothing but problems. The advice he gave was very similar to what the apostles said in Acts 6:2-3. “Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”

The apostles were experiencing some of the same problems Jethro anticipated. If Moses would take the time to build his on relationship with God then teach the people Gods laws and how to live their daily lives they would be far less dependent on him. Moses had made the same mistake a great many pastors make, getting so busy getting the people saved he forgot about the first part of Matthew 28:20, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:…” Israel had already been saved, now they needed to be taught. Moses would send the rest of his life teaching them.

“Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee. If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace.” (Exodus 18:21-23)

No amount of teaching will eliminate human nature, so there will still be problems. Just as the apostles told the church to select(ordain) seven deacons to take care of the problems, Jethro advised Moses that by designating people to deal with problems that arose, he could spread the burden out and ensure the people would attain what God wanted for them. He further stressed the need for God’s leadership in doing it.

“So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves.” (Exodus 18:24-26)

Moses was meek enough to consider Jethro’s opinion and decided it was good advice. By allowing others to take responsibility on less important stuff, he built their leaderships skills, and freed himself to deal with more critical decisions. Just a few days later, after Moses had the opportunity to see how much difference it made, God would give him detailed instructions as to how it should be done. While Jethro’s advice was not exactly the way God wanted things, God used it to open Moses’ mind to his plan.

“And Moses let his father in law depart; and he went his way into his own land.” (Exodus 18:27)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Building Their Faith

Exodus 17:1-7

“And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink.” (Exodus 17:1)

Rephidim is believed to be just southeast of Mt. Sinai, about three days journey east of Elim, as led by the pillar of cloud and fire, stopping when needed. When they got there, there was no water, not even the bitter water that had been at Marah.

“Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD?” (Exodus 17:2)

The people demanded that Moses get them some water. Their focus was on Moses rather than on God. They were effectively idolizing Moses, and he recognized it, warning them they were tempting God. It is a trap we need to avoid in our own ministries.

“And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3)

When Moses could not produce water on their demand, the people turned against him, accusing him of just bringing them out to the wilderness to let them die. It reminds us how tenuous adulation can be. They came to point of threatening his life if he didn’t produce their desired results.

“And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.” (Exodus 17:4-6)

God had deliberately brought Israel to the place to increase their trust in him. He instructed Moses to stand in the rock in Horeb and when he struck it, water would come out. Rephidim is in the foothills of Mt. Sinai, also called Mt. Horeb. The surrounding area was known as Horeb, meaning Desolation or drought. The area around Jebel Al Laws is known as Harob by the Arabs even today, again indicating our location is correct.

“And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?” (Exodus 17:7) Moses called the place Massah or ‘testing’ and Meribah or ‘conflict’ because of the experiences there. “Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.” (Exodus 17:8)

Moses had warned Israel they were tempting God by their blaming him for what was happening. Now the Amalekites attacked Israel. They are the descendants of one of Esau’s grandsons as we learn from Genesis 36:12. The Amalekites claimed most of the northern Arab Peninsula and Rephidim was on the southern edge of their territory.

“And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.” (Exodus 17:9-10)

Since the Egyptians had never allowed the Israelites to obtain military experience, Moses was the only person with any training in battle. Joshua was a young man, at least compared to Moses, but he had already earned the respect of the people. He was probablyabout forty at the time. Moses placed him in charge of the battle while he went to the top of the hill. In his hand he would carry the rod or walking stick God had used so many times to show his power, from turning into a snake to dividing the waters of the Red Sea and smiting the rock at Rephidim. He was accompanied by Aaron and his nephew Hur.

“And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.” (Exodus 17:11-13)

When Moses held his hand with the symbol of God’s power, Israel had the advantage but when he let it drop, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Holding up the rod quickly became a burden so Aaron and Hur brought a large rock for Moses to sit on while they supported his arms until sundown. As a result, the Amalekites were defeated. It demonstrated the Israelite’s need to depend on God’s power, rather than their own. Many have focused on Moses lifting his hands as a sign of prayer, apparently not realizing that he held the rod in his hand symbolizing the power of God.

May I suggest a slightly different application? Numerous verses point to Christ and his gospel as the power of God. For example, Romans 1:16 declares, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” As Jesus stated in John 12:32, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”

Aaron and Hur supporting Moses arms is symbolic of praying for those who preach, as II Thessalonians 3:1 directs. “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you:” II Corinthians 1:11 furthers the concept. “Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.”

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” (Exodus 17:14)

The Amalekites were distant relatives of Israel and should have known what God had said. God promised that because of their attack they would one day be annihilated. In I Samuel 15:2-3, God commanded Saul to kill all the Amalekites because of this attack, but Saul refused and was later killed by one of those who escaped. Haman the Agagite in the book of Esther was a descendant of Agag, the Amalekite king Saul refused to kill.

“And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi: For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:15-16)

For the first time, Moses took the time to formally build an altar and worship God. He named it Jehovahnissi which means “Jehovah is my banner or standard.” Just as the American flag has great personal meaning as the symbol of the United states, God was the personal representative of the Nation of Israel. God had sworn to forever protect them from their enemies. In effect Moses was pledging allegiance to God.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Learning to Follow The Instructions

Exodus 16:13b-36

“…and in the morning the dew lay round about the host. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was.” (Exodus 16:13b- 14a)

 The manna was unlike anything they had seen, although resembling very small round seeds left behind when the dew evaporated. In modern English they’d have probably called it “what’s it?,” because they didn‘t know what it was.

“And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat. This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating, an omer for every man, according to the number of your persons; take ye every man for them which are in his tents. And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less. And when they did mete it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating.” (Exodus 16:14b-18)

Manna could be used in any of the ways modern grains can be used. It could be boiled and eaten as a cereal like rice or corn, or it could be ground and made into pancakes or bread. Numbers 11:8 says, “And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it:...” Studies indicate that our diet should contain no more than thirty percent grain products, while the modern American diet usually consists of over sixty percent grain products. Modern grains have been genetically modified to increase production volume, resulting in a loss of nutrient value, increasing the need for other food sources. Deficiencies result in tooth decay, weak or malformed bones, lack of energy, susceptibility to disease, and reduced mental function. Manna provided all the necessary nutrients, eliminating these problems.

“And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning. Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them. And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted.” (Exodus 16:19-21)

While the Manna was readily available to every person, it was up to each individual to collect it. God did not just make it appear in their cooking pots, but for those who made the effort, there was always enough. One couldn’t simply wait until he was hungry to get some, nor could he save up for the future. God was teaching Israel what Jesus commanded Christians in Matthew 6:25-34. Unfortunately, some didn’t listen.

“And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, This is that which the LORD hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein.” (Exodus 16:22-24)

In Exodus 16:7, God commanded, “And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.” When the people collected more food on the sixth day and left it for morning, some of the leaders got upset and came to Moses about it. He had to remind them that it was what God had commanded.

“And Moses said, Eat that to day; for to day is a sabbath unto the LORD: to day ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none.” (Exodus 16:25-26)

Those who listened and obeyed would always have enough to meet the needs, even though there would be none given on the Sabbath.

“And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day.” (Exodus 16:27-30)

Some of the people ignored God’s command, either not bothering to save any, or hoping to get extra. God rebuked them for doing so, saying they had refused to obey his instructions. The Sabbath was given to man, and God would provide for it. This is especially applicable to a couple of areas of Christian life.

The Sabbath was set aside to celebrate God’s finished creation. In the New Testament, Christians set aside the first day of the week to celebrate God’s finished salvation, as illustrated in I Corinthians 16:2, and the counsel at Jerusalem didn’t specify that keeping the Sabbath was necessary in Acts 15:28-29. However Hebrews 10:24-26 commands, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.”

 It is clearly implied that we need to meet as Christians for the purpose of encouraging and being encouraged, in order to prevent being drawn away. A lot of Christians today choose to work Sunday in order to make extra money. They seldom gain very much for the effort. In exchange they cause their children to view serving God as having little value, and sacrifice their own spiritual development.

Many Christians ignore Paul’s instructions about giving in II Corinthians 8 and 9, and find themselves in the situation described in Haggai 1:6. “Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.” They’d be wise to heed Malachi 3:8-10. “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”

If we are willing to trust God and demonstrate that trust by obeying him, He will see that we have what is needed. Philippians 4:19 promises, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” David said, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread,” in Psalm 37:25. Churches and Christians who don’t have what they need or are begging are apparently not righteous, not obeying God, just as those Israelites who had no food on the Sabbath were not.

“And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.” (Exodus 16:31)

Numbers 11:8 gives the additional description, “and the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil.”  While it sounds like it would taste good, some people got tired of it and began to complain after a few months, but at first they were really glad to have it. God commanded that a pot of manna should be kept so that future generations could see how God had provided during the forty years in the wilderness. That potful never rotted or melted away.

"And Moses said, This is the thing which the LORD commandeth, Fill an omer of it to be kept for your generations; that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt. And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer full of manna therein, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept for your generations. As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept. And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan. Now an omer is the tenth part of an ephah.” (Exodus 16:32-36)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Providing Their Needs

Exodus 15:22-16:13

For a week, Israel had fled from Egypt, averaging thirty or more miles a day in long forced marches. After the Egyptian army was destroyed, they no longer had to make the forced marches. Caravans in the region usually average about sixteen to twenty two miles per day. In general, smaller caravans are able to move faster than large ones so it is doubtful that Israel would average more than about sixteen miles a day under normal conditions.

“So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?” (Exodus 15:22-24)

After crossing the Red Sea at the Nuweiba beach, Israel turned to the south, into the wilderness of Shur and traveled almost fifty miles without finding water. When they finally arrived at Marah, the water was undrinkable. Since Moses had herded sheep in the area for forty years, they blamed him for being unable to find water, ignoring the fact that they were still being led by the pillar of cloud.

“And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them, And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.” (Exodus 15:25-26)

God had deliberately brought Israel to Marah to test and build their faith. When Moses prayed, God showed him a particular tree that, when thrown into the water, neutralized the chemicals in it, rendering it drinkable. Using the incident, he then stressed the importance of following exactly what God said to lay a foundation for their acceptance of the Mosaic Law, which he would give shortly. If they would keep his commandments, God would prevent their experiencing the plagues he had brought on the Egyptians. The same promises will be repeated at intervals throughout their stay in the wilderness.

“And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters.” (Exodus 15:27)

About a days journey from Marah, they came to the oasis at Elim. The Middianites, sometimes referred to as Ishmelites or descendants of Ishmael had dug twelve wells and planted palm tree sand camped there until the middle of the next month. It was undoubtedly a welcome break from traveling, and any food growing in the area would have been appreciated.. There are indications that some of them may have visited the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba during their stay.

“And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 16:1)

From Elim, the pillar of cloud led them to the northward toward Mt. Sinai, through the wilderness of Sin. This is not the Mt. Sinai shown on modern maps, but the Mountain no known as Jebel El Laws. Explorers during the early eighteen hundreds insisted that present day Mt Sinai could not possibly be the Mt. Sinai described in the Bible, because it did not meet the descriptions but European experts convinced convinced cartographers to label it as Mt. Sinai. Paul, in Galatians 4:25 stated, “For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia...” The mountain known as Mt. Sinai today is not in Arabia. Local people still refer to Jebel El Laws as the mountain of Moses.

"And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger." (Exodus 16:3)

After a month away from Egypt, Israel had exhausted their food supply. The wilderness could not possibly supply enough food for 600,000 men, much less their families. Suddenly, they remembered the “good old days” back in Egypt when their food was given by the Egyptians. Like many people, they focused on the problems rather than on the blessings and opportunities. It always results in dissatisfaction and complaining.

“Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.” (Exodus 16:6-7)

God promised to rain food from heaven every day. They were to gather enough for each person every day, except on the sixth day, Friday, when they were to gather twice as much. It was planned specifically that way to teach Israel to trust God day by day. Their trust would be demonstrated by obeying his commands.

“And Moses and Aaron said unto all the children of Israel, At even, then ye shall know that the LORD hath brought you out from the land of Egypt: And in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of the LORD; for that he heareth your murmurings against the LORD: and what are we, that ye murmur against us? And Moses said, This shall be, when the LORD shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full; for that the LORD heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against him: and what are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against the LORD. 

And Moses spake unto Aaron, Say unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, Come near before the LORD: for he hath heard your murmurings. And it came to pass, as Aaron spake unto the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. 

 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God. And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host. ” (Exodus 16:8-13)

Numbers 11:4-34 makes it clear that in fact, initially the manna came down as promised in verses 6 and 7, but that eight to ten months later, as result of further complaining, God began providing the quail in the evening. That it is included here seems to indicate that the Pentateuch is a compilation of records by several observers and participants. Moses himself would have been unlikely to forget such a distinction. Rather than detracting from the story, such minor inconsistencies reinforce the basic truth, implying that more than one person are sharing their own experiences rather than quoting someone else's story.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Praising God for His Blessings

Exodus 15:1-21

Israel had just seen Egypt lose it’s economic power, through a series of plagues. Then they had seen all the firstborn killed while their own were spared. Seven days later, after being trapped, or so they thought at the Red Sea, they saw the entire Egyptian army drown, freeing them from further need to flee for safety. They had reason for rejoicing and began singing praises to God.. Hebrews 13:15 commands us to constantly praise God. “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” Notice that the author defines praise as giving thanks. Several years ago I heard a song whose only words were “Praise Him“, repeated in different pitches and ways. Essentially it was as meaningless as just saying thank you, thank you, thank you repeatedly without explaining what was appreciated. The Israelites were quite specific and detailed in explaining what God had done and why they are giving thanks.

“Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name. Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone. Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. 

And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble. And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them. Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters. 

 Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them. Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.” (Exodus 15:1-13)

The first part of the song is devoted to what God had done for them. It goes into considerable detail showing how what had been accomplished was God’s doing rather than their efforts and thanking him for what he had done.

"The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina. Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased.” (Exodus 15:14-16)

The second part of the song focused on the effect God’s actions would have on those around, and especially their relatives. Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, would see the power of God on their behalf. The Moabites, Lot’s descendants, would realize what they had given up by putting getting rich before God. The Canaanites, who had deliberately gone into wickedness would be terrified by the potential consequences. They were thanking God that unbelievers would see and understand about God because of what he had done for Israel. Israel would no longer be viewed as dumb for having trusted God instead of trying to build their own Empire and reputation.

“Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established. The LORD shall reign for ever and ever. For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and with his horsemen into the sea, and the LORD brought again the waters of the sea upon them; but the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea.” (Exodus 15:17-19)

The final part of the song focused on the promises that God had made to them and the assurance they received from What he had done. They could be thankful that he was making what he had promised come to pass. Even the greatest world power of their day could not prevent God accomplishing what he had promised.

“And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:20-21)

Moses’ older sister led the women to sing and dance in rejoicing as well. Later, when her focus changed to making people know who she was, she would be stricken with leprosy, but at this time there is no indication God was displeased. The heart attitude and motivation is often more important than the actual actions as to whether God will be pleased, but the attitude will definitely affect the actions. While some would condemn all dancing, God did not, implying we shouldn‘t either. At the same time, a proper attitude will affect both the kind of dancing one does and how one performs it.

Over the years I have observed a number of ceremonial dances by various tribes. Some were to give thanks for success in hunting or victory over their enemies, some were to incite people to war, some were purely for entertainment, and others were geared to produce sexual response. Even in the dances intended to show appreciation, a considerable difference could be detected between dancers. Some were focused on giving thanks, while others were focused on impressing people with their dancing ability. In most modern Indian dance competitions, or “Powwows”, the focus is on impressive dancing rather than on giving thanks, and the meaning is lost. This same tendency is prevalent among churches today, to focus on eloquent messages or musical ability, rather than the motivation and attitude producing it. The most beautiful singing or sermon or the most religious activity may not be pleasing to God. As Jesus said of the Pharisees, it may just be to impress people. We need to regularly reassess our motivation to keep from falling into the same trap Miriam later fell into.