As the last words of Genesis fade out and the opening of Exodus fades in, we quickly realize that we are no longer in the same Egypt that Joseph ruled. 400 years have passed and the children of Israel have changed in two significant ways. First, they have multiplied immensely. When they came to the country they were a small clan of 70 people. Now they were a vast nation of so many people that the Pharoah had to take notice of them as a potential threat to Egyptian national security. This leads to the second major change. The people had become overpowered and enslaved by the Egyptians.
It is important to grasp the climate of the Israelites at the opening of this story. It had been over 400 years since their ancient ancestor Abraham had claimed that God made a promise to him. God had promised that He would make Abraham’s descendents into a great nation and that all nations would be blessed through them. Yeah, right. Here they were, slopping around in the mud of the Nile river, making bricks for a pagan king. Everywhere they looked they saw the idols of the gods of Egypt. The Egyptians did not know Abraham’s god. They didn’t even care. And yet, those pagans were living in the lap of luxury. They were at the apex of human civilization while the “chosen people” were little more than cattle. The Israelites must have been skeptical at best that the God of Abraham even existed. They were enslaved, disillusioned, and without any hope of ever being more than what they were.
This video is my presentation in Bible Mania that walks through the Exodus
The process of the next fourteen hundred years of Israeli history is the process of watching God slowly, lovingly, sometimes forcefully, demonstrating His nature and His desire for His people. It often takes a long time for people to unlearn bad theology before they are ready to learn the truth about God. As 21st century Christians it is easy for us to sit in judgment on the Israelites and mock them for their whining and narrow-minded attitude. But, we must remember that, as a nation, they were merely infants. They were thrust out of the womb and spent the next 40 years learning how to crawl.
Moses’ job was to lead this infantile nation through a journey of discovery and discipline. They were discovering who God was through His direct revelation to Moses. They were discovering how to be a civil nation through the very detailed list of laws given to Moses. And, as any loving father would do, God took the nation through a narrow funnel of tight discipline and swift judgment in order to burn into their collective consciousness a framework for the concepts of right and wrong.
Exodus has two parts.
Exodus 1-18 The story of Moses leading the people out of Egypt and to Mt. Sinai where God gave the Law to Moses.
Exodus 19-40 This half of the book is the Law itself, specifically looking the Tabernacle.
About the Law
Christians have been debating, since the day Jesus stepped onto the scene, about how we should understand and apply the Law to our lives. On one end the spectrum, some Christians have said that the Law has absolutely no relevance to being a follower of Jesus. The Law was for the Old Testament and its only purpose was to show Israel how evil they really were. Jesus brought a new order and the Law was completely thrown out. These extremists even tried to cleanse the New Testament of any Jewish-sounding language. (Sorry guys, but Jesus was a Jew…do we need to throw Him out, too?)
Christians have swung to the other extreme of the spectrum as well. In the early days of the church, the Apostle Paul wrestled with a group known as the Judaizers. They said that a person could not become a Christian until they completely submitted themselves to the Law of Moses, were circumcised, and became fully Jewish. After all, Jesus was a Jewish rabbi who said that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill the Law. (Well guys…you’re going to have to explain why the Holy Spirit told Peter to eat “unclean” animals and to not call anything unclean that God has called clean). Even today there are Christian groups who follow the Old Testament Law very strictly and believe that you cannot be in true fellowship with God unless you do so.
Read Posts about Law and Gospel So where is the truth? How should we interpret this Law for our own lives?
First, we must set that question aside and make sure that we fully understand what the Law was in its original context. Who wrote it? Why was it written? Was it intended to be followed for eternity, or was it a temporary set-up? How did it impact the lives of its original recipients? As with all good Bible Study, we cannot ask the question, “How am I supposed to apply it to my life?,” until we have a really good handle on the question,” What did this mean in its original intention?” There are many great resources available if you are interested in delving into this fascinating subject on your own. Check out your church library.
Here are a couple things to keep in mind when reading the Law of Moses:
- One major purpose of the Law was to create order out of chaos. The Israelites had never been a nation before. They had known nothing but slavery for 400 years and had never self-governed. The majority of the Law has to do with very practical issues of how people should get along with each other and how people should stay healthy through good sanitation.
- Remember that this was a real document that was created for real people. For example, as an American it may be a dry experience to read the text of the U.S. Constitution. In and of itself the Constitution may be dry, but when you read it in the context of the men and women who were forging brave new territory in the arena of human society, who were sacrificing their lives for the ideals of the document, then the reading takes on a whole new dimension. In the same way, the Law of Moses may be a dry text, but it was the foundational document that gave purpose and meaning to this rag-tag group of newly-freed slaves.
- Even though we may be free from the “letter of the Law” in our current Christian experience, the “Spirit” of the Law is still alive and well. Through the Law God revealed the character of His heart to His people. As you read the Law, ask yourself, “What does this Law tell me about the nature of God?”
About the Funnel
The chart at the top of the page demonstrates what I believe is the heart of the matter when it comes to how we should understand the nature and purpose of the Law. There was a stark contrast between the relationship that Moses had with God and the relationship that the people had with God. On the top of the chart, reading from left to right, you will notice the sequence of events in the book of Exodus. Notice how God initially invited the people to come into His presence, but they rejected Him. While Moses was in the very presence of God the people were constructing an idol to worship. At the end of the story we find that only Moses was able to experience the true presence of God while the rest of the nation had to use the Tabernacle, Priests, and Sacrifices in order to approach God. And even then, they were never allowed into God’s true presence.
On the bottom of the chart you will notice what we call the Funnel of Spiritual Formation. Every believer must pass through this funnel, moving from the left to the right. On the left hand side you see that the follower of God begins the journey as a servant to God. In these early phases of spiritual growth the relationship between man and God is comprised of rules, laws, black and white justice, ritual, and spiritual disciplines. The best analogy to understand this process is that of the parent and child. When a child is very young she is not able to govern her own conscience and is not aware of the parent as a person. The parent’s role is to lovingly, yet firmly, establish clear boundaries of right and wrong, enforcing the boundaries through reward and punishment. As the child grows her heart matures and she is able to handle the subtleties of life and the parent can ease off of the strictness, allowing the child to experiment with making her own decisions. As the maturation process progresses the child begins to realize that her parent is actually a person who can be loved as more than “the enforcer”. By the time the child is an adult, assuming good parenting took place, the child can move all the way to the right of the chart and become a true friend of the parent.
Notice the right side of the funnel. Moses had a friendship with God. That is the ultimate goal of spiritual formation. God desires for us to know Him. We should not need a law to govern us if our heart is so in tune with our Father that we behave like He does. In friendship there is freedom. That is where we are going with our spiritual growth…freedom in the friendship of God.
Unfortunately, most of us are infants like the Israelites. We are selfish and stubborn. We need rules. We need tangible items to touch, taste, and smell because we cannot handle the abstract, infinite, unpredictable nature of God. So, God gives us laws and disciplines us as any loving Father would do. Yet He desires the day when we will grow up and move beyond the rules and regulations and get into the business of really living in His presence and knowing Him intimately.
Here’s the point: Following the rules is not the point of being a Christian! The rules are a vehicle to 1) demonstrate the existence of right and wrong, 2) communicate the holy and just nature of God, and 3) move us through the funnel so that our heart can be transformed and we can move beyond the external rules into an authentic love relationship with our Heavenly Father where we are not focused on ourselves but on bringing glory and honor to Him out of a deep love for Him.