THE GIVING OF THE LAW

EXODUS 19 - 40

 

            In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. (Exodus 19:1).

 

Three months after the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai.  It would be here that they would enter into a covenant with the Lord.  This entire section can be arranged in a large chiasm which begins and ends with Israel's rebellion.

 

Israel rebels (14-18).

 

 

Covenant Laws & Commands (19-24).

 

Tabernacle (25-31).

Israel rebels (32-34).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE PROMISE OF THE COVENANT

 

            And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel:

            "`You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles wings, and brought you to Myself.

            "`Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'  These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel." (Exodus 19:3-6).

 

There are three parts to this passage.  They are seen in past, present and future.

 

What God has done

 

What Israel is to do.

 

What God will do.

(Past)

 

(Present)

 

(Future)

 

God's plan for Israel is threefold.  Israel is to fill three roles in this plan.  Israel is to be a possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.

 

1.         A Possession.

 

Israel is to be a possession belonging to the Lord.  She will be valued above all of the other nations of the earth, even though they also belong to the Lord ("for all the earth is mine").

 

2.         A Kingdom of Priests.

 

This is the first time that the Bible uses the word "kingdom" where the idea is directly associated with the rule of God.

 

Israel is to be a kingdom of priests.  A priest is one who acts as an intermediary between man and God.  The one way of access to God will now be through Israel.  There will be no access to God apart from the priesthood of God's special nation.  Thus, it is through Israel that the Abrahamic Covenant is to be fulfilled and all the world is to be blessed.

 

3.         A Holy Nation.

 

Israel will be a nation completely set apart from the other nations of the world as a holy nation to the Lord.

 

It is toward these three goals that all of the rest of the commands of the Law will be directed.  These three goals are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ and in His church.  All of these qualities are ascribed both to Jesus and to His body, the united assembly of covenant believers.

 

The coming of the Lord is pictured in dramatic terms in this chapter.

 

            "I come to you in a thick cloud" (19:9).

            "The people may hear... and believe" (19:9).

            "Wash their garments" (19:10).

Exodus 19:13 gives the reason that stoning was used as a means of execution.  It was so that the hands would not touch the sinner and become defiled with his sin.

            "Be ready for the third day" (19:11).

            "Do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it (19:12).

            "Thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud and a very loud trumpet sound" (19:16).

 

What was the purpose for all of this?  The answer is seen in Exodus 20:22.  It is so that the people will have seen for themselves that God spoke from heaven.

 

 

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

 

These Ten Commandments formed the basis for the moral law of God.  The rest of the commands given in the law shall be an explanation of these ten foundational commands.  They are all given in the singular in number — not "you all shall not" but rather "you SINGULAR shall not" - addressing each individual (THOU versus YE).

 

1.         No Other Gods.

 

Israel was to be different from the other nations in the area of worship - she was to be MONOTHEISTIC, worshipping only the one true God.

 

2.         No Idols.

 

The Jews interpreted the language of this passage to prohibit all paintings and sculptures — anything that depicted the image of a person.  Even in the days of Jesus, the Herodian rulers avoided having their own faces placed upon coins because of this prohibition.

 

3.         God's Name.

 

It is declared sinful to use the name of the Lord irresponsibly or in profane speech.  Later Jews went to the extreme of avoiding any use of the name of the Lord.

 

4.         The Sabbath.

 

The keeping of the Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 31:13-17).

 

The sign of the Noahic Covenant was the rainbow.  The sign of the Abrahamic Covenant was circumcision.  The signs of the New Covenant are the Lord's Supper and Baptism.

 

By working six days and resting on the seventh, Israel gave outward symbolic testimony that she had entered into a covenant relationship with the Creator who had originally worked six days and rested on the seventh.

 

The observance of the Sabbath had already begun at the time of the giving of the manna - a double portion was given on the day prior to the Sabbath so that the gathering would not take place on the day of rest.

 

The first four commandments are directed toward GOD.  The last six are directed toward MAN.

5.         Respect for Parents.

 

This command contains with it a promise - a prolonged life as the reward for obedience.  That is not to say that this will always be the result of respect or parents or that a person who dies in his youth has necessarily been disrespectful toward his parents.  It means that this is a general rule of life.  Respect of parents tends to help you to live longer.

 

6.         No Murder.

 

This is a command that is based upon the image of God in man.  Human life is very precious because each human being is made in the image of God.  To take a human life is to take the life of God’s image.

 

7.         No Adultery.

 

This is a command which protects the sanctity of the family.  God ordained the family and He ordained the sexual union to be enjoyed within the bounds of a husband-wife relationship.

 

8.         No Stealing.

 

This command protects the individual's personal property.  All things ultimately belong to God, yet He has seen fit to entrust people with property as a part of their stewardship.  What God has given to one person is not to be illegitimately stolen by another.

 

9.         No False Witnessing.

 

This command protects the individual's reputation.  It is a call for TRUTH.  God is a God of truth and He calls for His people to be truth-tellers.  That means we ought to be sure of a message before we pass it on to others.

 

10.       No Coveting.

 

All of the previous commands deal with outward actions.  This one deals with an inward attitude.  We are to keep all of the commandments, not merely with our outward actions, but from our hearts.

 

Even a cursory look at Exodus 20 will reveal that a greater emphasis is placed upon the first four commandments.

 

The First 4 Commands

The Last 6 Commands

Deals with Israel's relationship with the Lord.

Deals with men's relationship with one another.

Reasons given for each command.

No reasons needed.

Completely unique to this constitution.  No other society in the ancient world had similar laws.

These laws are common to most of the ancient cultures of that day.

 

The giving of these Ten Commandments is punctuated by a repetition of the thunder, lightning, trumpet, and smoke from the holy mountain (20:18).  As a result, the people ask that Moses serve as a mediator between themselves and God.

 

Israel

Moses

God

 

Finally, this first stage of the covenant is to be ratified by a sacrifice of offerings during which the Lord will come to the people and bless them.

 

    •       It is to be an altar of earth (20:24).

 

    •       If stones are used, then they must be uncut stones existing in their natural form, for if the Israelites use tools on these stones, then they will be profaned (20:25).

 

The altar does not reflect the work of men, but the work of God.  It points to the need for God to provide the way and means by which His justice will be satisfied.

 

 

THE ORDINANCES

 

The ordinances were an amplification of the Moral Law summed up in the Ten Commandments.

 

1.         Civil Laws.

 

 

Laws requiring Death (21:12-17).

Laws not requiring death (21:18-25).

 

/

 

 

 

 

Laws of Slavery (21:1-11).

 

Laws of Slavery (21:26-27).

 

 

 

 

Laws of Restitution (21:28 - 22:17)

 

 

   

 

General Laws (22:18 - 23:9).

 

2.         Feast Observances.

 

In  Exodus 23:14-16 the Israelites were mandated to observe three feasts each year.  These were to be ongoing memorials of how God had provided in the past.  They were also promissory of how God would provide in the future.

 

a.         The Feast of Unleavened Bread.  This Feast began with Passover and lasted a total of seven days.  It was a reminder that the people of God were to put their sinful ways behind them.

 

b.         The Feast of the Harvest.  This feast took place 50 days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread - for this reason, it later became known by its Greek name of Pentecost.

 

c.         The Feast of Ingathering.  This Feast was to become known as the Feast of Booths.  It was a reminder of how the Israelites had come out of Egypt to live a nomadic life before coming into the Promised Land.

 

3.         Angelic Promises.

 

            "Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared." (Exodus 23:20).

 

The Lord goes on to tell the Israelites that the Promised Land would be taken gradually from the Canaanites (23:29-30).

 

The Israelites, for their part, were to make no covenants or treaties with the people of the land (23:32-33).

 

 

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE TABERNACLE

 

            "And let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them." (Exodus 25:8).

 

The purpose for the Tabernacle was that God might have a dwelling-place among His people.  This was ultimately fulfilled in the person of Jesus who "tabernacled" among us (John 1:14).

 

1.         The Internal Furnishings (25:10-40).

 

a.         The Ark.

 

The first thing to be mentioned in the construction of the Tabernacle is that Ark of the Covenant.  This was a wooden box overlaid with gold.  It is referred to as the "ark of testimony" (Exodus 25:16).

 

            "And you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat." (Exodus 25:17-18).

 

In 1922, the British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamen, a relatively unimportant ruler who sat upon the throne of Egypt a hundred years after the Exodus.

 

Among the treasures found within the tomb were a wooden chest carried by two long poles and upon which sat the figure of a long-eared jackal.  The tomb itself was constructed with both an inner and an outer chamber - a holy place and a holy of holies.

 

The Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle in part seem to be fashioned after the familiar Egyptian designs - yet with some important exceptions.

 

Gone are any images of false gods.  Instead, there are the images of two angels which serve as an honor guard over the Ark of the Covenant.

 

            "And the cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. 21 And you shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I shall give to you.  22 And there I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel." (Exodus 25:20-22).

 

The Ark is covered by a "mercy seat."  The Hebrew for this is HaKaporeth.  It seems to come from the Hebrew verb kaphar, "to cover or atone."  It would be here that yearly atonement would be made on behalf of the sins of the people.

 

The Ark served a dual role.  On the one hand, it was a chest which held physical reminders of the covenant between God and Israel.  On the other hand, it served as the throne of God upon earth.

 

b.         The Table.

 

The second article of furniture in the Tabernacle was to be a wooden table overlaid with gold.

 

This table held various platters and pans and bowls which were used in pouring out libations.

 

It also held "the bread of the Presence" (Exodus 25:30) - literally, "the Bread of the Face."

 

What did the bread represent?  When we come to Leviticus 24:5-9, we shall see that there are 12 loaves of bread.  They represent the 12 tribes of Israel.  But that is not all.  I think that they also represent Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life.

 

c.         The Lampstand.

 

The third article of furniture mentioned in this chapter is the Lampstand.  The Lampstand was made into the image of a tree of pure gold.  It had six branches going out from its trunk.  The flowers of this tree were fashioned into cups which held oil.

There were seven such oil lamps upon the tree.  In Revelation 1:12-16 the Apostle John sees a vision of one like the son of man standing in the middle of seven golden lamps.  The man is Jesus.  And the passage goes on to tell us that the seven lamps are seven churches.

 

2.         The Tent (26:1-37).

 

The tent itself is made of a number of varied colored curtains hung upon a portable framework which could be disassembled when it came time to move the camp.  Separating the two sections of the Tent was a great veil of blue and purple and scarlet.

 

            "And you shall hang up the veil under the clasps, and shall bring in the ark of the testimony there within the veil; and the veil shall serve for you as a partition between the holy place and the holy of holies." (Exodus 26:33).

 

Woven into the veil were the images of cherubim which served to guard the entrance to the Holy of Holies.

 

3.         The Altar & the Outer Court (27:1-21).

 

a.         The Altar.

 

Outside the Tent stood a hollow wooden altar overlaid with bronze (it was also portable).

 

            We have an altar, from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. (Hebrews 13:11).

 

b.         The Outer Court.

 

The Tabernacle was surrounded by a high cloth fence made of white linen and hung on 60 pillars.  It served to separate the Tabernacle from the rest of the camp.

 

Throughout this entire passage, there is a continued injunction that the Tabernacle is to be constructed in accordance with the pattern that was shown to Moses upon the holy mountain (Exodus 25:9; 25:40; 26:30; 27:8

 

4.         The Priestly Garments (28:1 - 29:46).

 

The priest was to wear a special set of clothes which set him apart for his ministry.

 

a.         Breastpiece.

 

This was an elaborately decorated square of cloth woven in gold, blue, purple, scarlet and fine linen.  Attached to its front were 12 precious stones, each one of which was inscribed with the names of one of the 12 tribes of Israel.

 

Within the fold of this breastpiece were kept the Urim and Thummim.  These devices were used in the casting of lots to determine the will of the Lord.

 

b.         Ephod.

 

This is a transliteration of the Hebrew word EPHOD.  It describes a close-fitting vest which was worn over the tunic.  It was blue - a color that represented the sky and heaven.

 

Its hem was lined with bells of gold and images of pomegranate fruit.  When the High Priest would walk into the Tabernacle, the bells would chime and be heard outside.

 

c.         Tunic.

 

The tunic was made of checkered work of fine linen (Exodus 28:39).

 

d.         Turban.

 

The turban was made of fine linen.  Mounted on the turban was a golden plate with the words engraved on in which read "Holy to the Lord."

 

e.         Sash.

 

The KJV translates this as "girdle."  The sash was of fine twisted linen.  Threads of blue, purple and scarlet were woven into it.  It was tied around the waist to keep the ephod in place.

 

One article of clothing that is missing from this description is sandals.  The High Priest wore nothing upon his feet when he served within the Tabernacle.  This was because it was holy ground.

 

5.         The Altar of Incense (30:1-10).

Inside the Tabernacle was a second altar.  It was smaller than the first, measuring about 3 feet high and 1.5 feet square.  This altar stood before the veil leading to the Holy of Holies.  Each morning and each evening, incense would be offered upon this altar.

 

Revelation 8:3-5 pictures an angel coming to a heavenly altar and adding incense to the prayers of the saints.  Among the Jews, the time of the offering of incense in the morning and in the evening became times of prayer.

 

6.         The Laver (30:17-21).

 

The Laver was a basin of water used for purifications rites.  It was made of brass.  It contained water.  Before any priest was permitted to enter the Tabernacle, he must first wash and purify himself.

 

 

ISRAEL'S SIN

 

Wedged in between the instructions for the Tabernacle and the actual carrying out of those instructions is the account of Israel's sin in worshipping the golden calf.

 

1.         The Golden Calf.

 

While Moses is up on Mount Sinai receiving the Law from God, the people grow restless.  They appeal to Aaron to lead them in worship to a god of their own making.

 

            Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, "Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." (Exodus 32:1).

 

Aaron bows to the pressure of the people and he fashions the image of a golden calf which they begin to worship.  When Moses comes back down from the mountain, he finds the pagan party in full swing.

 

            And it came about, as soon a Moses came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses' anger burned, and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. (Exodus 32:19).

 

Moses calls those who wish to repent and to align themselves with the Lord to separate themselves from the rest of the people.  His own tribe - the Levites - step forward in response to this invitation.  They become the instruments of God's judgment, attacking their brother Israelites and slaughtering 3000.  Moses then goes before the Lord and intercedes on behalf of the people.

 

            Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, "Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32 But now, if Thou wilt, forgive their sin - and if not, please blot me out from Thy book which Thou hast written." (Exodus 32:31-32).

 

Apparently, Moses was willing to be eternally condemned if it meant saving his people.  In this, he is a type of Christ who suffered the wrath of God that He might save HIS people.

 

2.         Moses and the Glory of God.

 

Moses asks, not only on behalf of the nation, but also puts forth a personal request.  This request is that He might SEE the Lord.

 

            Then Moses said, "I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!"

            And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion."

            But He said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!"

            Then the Lord said, "Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it shall come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.

            "Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen." (Exodus 33:18-23).

 

When Moses sees the "back" of the Lord in verse 23, the word used here is not of a person's back, but rather the after-effects of his passing, like the wake of a ship (the difference is between the noun and the adverb - "You shall see My backing" instead of "You shall see My back").

 

3.         New Tablets and a Renewed Covenant.

 

Moses returns to the mountain and is given a second set of tablets of the Law to replace those which he threw down and shattered.  There, the Lord renews the covenant which Israel had broken in their sinful idolatry.

 

When Moses comes back down from the mountain, the people are astonished to see that the skin of his face shown with the glory of God so that the people would not easily gaze upon his countenance.  Moses took a veil and placed it over his head and face so that the people would not be frightened.  2 Corinthians 3:12-15 speaks of this veil being a type of spiritual blindness which is cured through the message of the Cross.

 

 

THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE TABERNACLE

 

Exodus 35-40 describes the actual work of construction of the Tabernacle and the articles of worship which it accompanied.

 

1.         The Plea Regarding Giving.

 

As the materials for the Tabernacle Building Program came together, Moses issued a call for people to STOP giving because they had too much (Exodus 36:6).

 

When was the last time you heard the chairman of the Finance Committee get up and say, "We're going to ask that people will LOWER their contributions because we have more than enough money to do the job"?

 

2.         The Spirit of Wisdom.

 

The Spirit of God was involved in working through the people in this construction process.

 

Exodus 35:30-31 says that the Lord filled Besalel with the Spirit of God in the areas of wisdom, understanding, and ability in craftsmanship.

 

Another Israelite was filled with the wisdom of engraving and embroidering (See also Exodus 28:3; 31:3; 35:21).

 

We usually think of spiritual gifts as relating only to certain non-physical areas within the church.  But it seems appropriate to speak of men who God has gifted with the spirit of carpentry and of plumbing - these are gifts which CAN be used within the church for the glory of God.

 

3.         The Pattern of the Tabernacle.

 

The pattern of a square holy of holies, an outer holy place, an outer court, and the doors oriented toward the rising sun are familiar to the temples of the ancient world.  And yet, the design of the Tabernacle was given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai.

 

            "According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it." (Exodus 25:9).

 

            "And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain." (Exodus 25:40).

 

The reason that the design of the Tabernacle was so important was because the earthly pattern reflected a heavenly reality.

 

a.         The Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of a "true tabernacle which the Lord pitched" in contrast to the one erected by the Israelites in the Wilderness (Hebrews 8:2).

 

b.         The earthly Tabernacle was merely a copy and a shadow of the heavenly things (Hebrews 8:5).

 

c.         The earthly Tabernacle was a mere temporary symbol (Hebrews 9:8-9).

 

d.         Jesus did not enter into the physical Tabernacle which was a mere copy of the true one, "but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (Hebrews 9:24).

 

When we read of John's vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21, he is told to take a rod and to measure the city.  It is in the shape of a cube which measures 1200 stadia on each side (the NAS translates this as 1500 miles — Revelation 21:16).

 

This is analogous to the dimensions of the Holy of Holies — a perfect cube.  The climax of this section takes place when the Tabernacle is completed and the presence of the Lord fills the Tabernacle and abides within it.

 

            Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

            And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34-35).

 

The presence of the Lord continued to be with the people of Israel throughout their entire sojourn in the Wilderness.

 

            For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel. (Exodus 40:38).

 

About the Author

Return to Stevenson Bible Study Page