The Bible in a Year, Week 4: Exodus 21-40
This is the fourth weekly reading in the plan for reading your Bible in one year. The assignment for this week is Exodus 21-40. It should only take about 10-15 minutes a day or about three chapters a day to complete the assignment.
Here are some comments to help you grow in knowledge and faith as you read Exodus 21-40:
Exodus 21-24: It is important to remember that God chose the people of Israel to be his own for a specific reason–to carry forth the promise of a Savior. God promised first to Adam and Eve that he would send a Savior. He later promised to Abraham that this Savior, a blessing to all nations, would come through his line. In order to separate the Israelites from all the other sinful and heathen nations, God gave them specific laws to make them distinct. These laws were much like a big fence or wall around the Israelites. They were to remind them that they were different and special. Further, these laws were a constant reminder of the holiness and perfection of the Lord. He demands nothing less than that from his people.
As we read about all of these laws and rules for the Israelites, we must be careful in what we apply to ourselves today. In many cases it is not the specific law or punishment that applies to us today, but the principle behind it. For example, many times God states that a person should be put to death for what we would consider sins of less significance–hitting someone, kidnapping, cursing your father or mother. While the penalties are not the same today, the principles of loving our neighbor and not doing those things still remain. Or, while the laws about stealing another’s animals in chapter 22 may not apply to us in the same way, the principle of not stealing another’s possessions surely holds in place.
We recall that at this time the Israelites were in a theocracy–God was their ruler and government. He made the laws for their society and decided the punishments for infractions. Today, God allows for local and national governments to rule and govern. They are now the ones who decide punishments for breaking the laws. Thus, to justify murdering your child for “talking back” by saying “they did it in the Bible” would surely be wrong. Yes, the principle of respecting parents still exists, but the repercussion and punishment have changed because our local governments now rule. Therefore, we are to obey and respect those in authority as long as they do not tell us to sin.
Verses to particularly take careful note of in these chapters are 23:24-25 and 23:32-33. God commands the Israelites to completely destroy the heathens living in the land of Canaan. He commands them not to worship their gods and not to make pacts and agreements with them. Later we will read that the Israelites failed to obey. They didn’t destroy all the people. They intermarried with some. They make agreements and treaties with others. And perhaps the biggest pitfall of the Israelites was their synchretism–mixing idol worship with the worship of the true God.
In chapter 24, the people start off well in this new covenant relationship with the Lord. They respond by saying, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” Sadly, those sentiments barely last a few pages in the Bible! Soon enough they resort to sinful ways. But we surely understand as we also time and time again disobey and defy the will of our holy God.
Finally, Moses goes up onto Mt. Sinai to receive the laws from God. There he remains for an important time period in the Bible–40 days and 40 nights (like the rain of the Flood, like Jesus in the wilderness, and more).
Exodus 25-31: Next God gives instructions for the structure, materials, and furnishing of the tabernacle. The tabernacle was the portable temple of the Israelites. There are many good drawings and models of the tabernacle on the internet. You may want to view some of these to help you picture what you are reading.
The ark of the covenant was very important. It became a symbol of God’s holy presence. Only the High Priest was able to go by it in the Holy of Holy rooms, and that was only once a year! In the ark of the covenant they kept manna from their time in the desert, the staff or Aaron, and the two tables of the 10 commandments. Later, God sent an important message regarding the Holy of Holies room. When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain diving the temple tore in two. God was delivering the message that because of the forgiveness won by Jesus, we now have free and full access to our heavenly Father!
As we read the instructions for the tabernacle, we certainly note the special intricacies and fine materials in the design of the structure and its furnishings. Even though this was a portable and temporary worship location, the very best was to be used for the worship of the Lord. This reminds us that we should strive to design and build churches that give God glory as we show he is most important in our lives. Can we take pride in a mediocre church of small size with “bargain sale” furnishings and hand-me-down altar and pulpit when we have BMWs in our driveway and flat screens in our living room and iPhones in our pockets? The worship space is to be the most grand place on earth, for there the most Holy God dwells. There we sinners fall at the feet of the Almighty God and beg him for mercy and forgiveness. There we lift our greatest thanks and praise to the God of all grace who has had mercy and gave his Son as our substitute and Savior. Surely, the most treasured earthly possession we all own is the worship space in which we praise our God and proclaim what he has done!
Other important parts of Israelite worship were the vestments which the priests wore. Specifically we make note of the ephod which the high priest wore. It had 12 stones on it which represented the 12 tribes of Israel. Later, the Israelites even abused this special garment as some made ephods and worshiped them as false gods (see Judges 8 and Judges 17). Here is an example of the high priest’s garments.
In these chapters God also formally institutes the sacrificial system. These sacrifices delivered a very clear message to the people–where there is sin, there must be blood and death to pay for it. Thus, the Old Testament sacrifices were shadows of what was to come. For Jesus is the once-for-all sacrifice. He shed his own blood and gave his own life to pay for the sins for all. The apostle Paul reminds us of this in Romans 3.
Finally, we read in chapter 31 about the importance of the Sabbath Day. One day every week was to be set aside to worship the Lord, to rest, and to remember all that he had done for them in the past. While we are no longer commanded to worship on Saturday, we are still to “Remember the Sabbath” day by regularly worshiping (on whatever day that might be) and by cherishing and studying his holy Word. For in worship and in his Word we receive true Sabbath (Sabbath means rest) as we hear about our Savior Jesus Christ.
Exodus 32-34: We were told a few chapters before that Moses was on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights. That was all it took for the Israelites to become restless, lose faith, and turn to other gods. Thus, they asked Moses’ brother Aaron to make them gods they could follow. Not only was it horrible that Moses’ own brother consented, but Aaron was the high priest and spiritual leader of the Israelites!
When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai he did what Charleton Heston made so famous in his movie depiction. He smashed the stone tablets with 10 Commandments written on them. Death was the punishment for about 3,000 of these rebelling Israelites–a punishment they were destined for anyways as people who rejected the true God and were on their way to hell.
Moses displays his great leadership here as he pleads with the Lord on their behalf and asks him to forgive the people. God does forgive them, but there would be repercussions for their actions. As Moses continues his conversation with the Lord, he asks to see God’s glory. God allows him to see some of his holiness and glory, but would not show him his face “for no one may see me and live” (33:20). We are certainly reminded how holy and righteous our God is, and how far we have fallen short of his glory! At the same time we give all praise and thanks to God who sent his Son Jesus to wipe away our sin. Now, we have the hope of life eternal in heaven where we will be able to see our God face to face as Adam and Eve once did. The apostle John beautifully reminds us of this.
God’s glory is so great that Moses’ face was glowing when he came down from the mountain! He had to veil his face to shield the Israelites from the brightness. The apostle Paul also reminds us, specifically using this as an example, that through Christ the veil is removed and we can see God for who he is.
Exodus 35-40: In these chapters we read details about the Israelites using the best and finest to build the tabernacle and its furnishings just as God instructed. When they completed all the construction and after Moses inspected everything, God came to dwell in his tabernacle with his glory. The glory of the Lord was so great that Moses could not even enter the tabernacle. Once more, God was with his people and led his people with his glory as a cloud by day and as fire by night.
Next week’s readings (starting 1/31/10): Leviticus
To view or download and print the One Year Bible Reading Schedule, click here.