BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR EXODUS 13-32
Exodus Chapter 13
Jehovah had delivered the firstborn of Israel from death when he killed every firstborn of Egypt. Therefore Jehovah said this to Israel: “Sanctify to me every male firstborn that opens each womb among the son of Israel, among men and beasts, It is mine.” The firstborn of men and beast would be dedicated to Jehovah. When the Israelites settled in Canaan they were to redeem the firstborn male child (females were exempt) with a sheep as well as the firstborn of the asses. The ass was considered unclean hence unfit for sacrifice. If the ass was not redeemed, his neck was to be broken. This would keep the Israelite from attempting to sidestep God’s command. The redeeming of the firstborn would become a part of the seven-day celebration of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The nation was to memorialize their deliverance as a reminder of what Jehovah had done for them. They must teach it to their children. It must serve as a "sign upon your hand and as a memorial between your eyes [reminder on your forehead, NRSV], in order that Jehovah’s law may prove to be in your mouth; because by a strong hand Jehovah brought you out of Egypt." The obligations pertaining to being firstborn were later given to the tribe of Levi.
Jehovah led Israel by means of a "pillar of cloud" during the day and a "pillar of fire" by night. Initially, He did not take them to Canaan by the most direct route as they would have encountered the Philistines who would most likely have warred with them and they would have become disheartened and returned to Egypt. He would first lead them toward Mount Horeb where he had given Moses the assignment as deliverer or "christ." (Hebrews 11:26) We recall that Jehovah told Moses as recorded at Exodus 3:12 this: “He said, “I will be with you; and this will be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, You shall worship God on this mountain.” (NRSV) Jehovah kept his word. They went towards the wilderness of the Red Sea. Moses is carrying the bones of Joseph that are to be buried in Canaan. It is believed that Stephen’s statement at Acts 7:15, 16 indicates that he also took the bones of the other sons of Jacob with him.
Exodus Chapter 14
“The Egyptians will certainly know that I am Jehovah.” Jehovah knows that Pharaoh still has not learned his lesson. He will cause Pharaoh’s heart to again become obstinate so that he will try to catch up with the Israelites and force them back into slavery. He has the nation turn back towards the direction that they had come. They were to encamp by the sea. Pharaoh would begin to think that “the Israelites are wandering in confusion in the land. The wilderness has closed in upon them.” Pharaoh still did not believe that Israel had divine guidance. So he chased after them with his army. Jehovah said: “I will get glory for myself by means of Pharaoh and all his military forces.”
When the people saw Pharaoh and his army, they became very fearful. They showed that they had no faith in Jehovah in spite of Moses’ reassurance that Jehovah would deliver them from the Egyptians. They said, “Is this not the word we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, "Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than for us to die in the wilderness.” This was the first of their many complaints against Moses and Jehovah. Yet Jehovah would deliver them. He told Moses “to stretch out your staff over the sea and split it apart that the sons of Israel may go through on dry land.”
Jehovah’s angel moved from the front of the nation to its rear to keep the two camps apart until the Israelites crossed the dry bed of the sea. When Pharaoh followed after them, Jehovah began "throwing the camp of the Egyptians into confusion." The wheels came off their chariots making them difficult to drive. They finally began to recognize that Jehovah certainly was fighting for the Israelites. That declaration came a little too late. Jehovah had Moses stretch his staff out over the sea and the waters began to return to their normal condition, drowning Pharaoh and his military forces. (Psalms 136:14, 15) As a result of this action, the Israelites finally began "to fear Jehovah and to put faith in Him and in Moses."
Exodus Chapter 15
Psalms 66:6 makes this observation: “He has changed the sea into dry land; through the river they went crossing over on foot. There we began to rejoice in him.” Moses and the sons of Israel then composed a song to Jehovah’s glory and honor. Jehovah’s name is mentioned ten times in this song. This song exalts Jehovah for his mighty victory over the Egyptians. There is no god like Jehovah, a manly person of war. Peoples would hear about this great victory and become agitated. Jehovah would "plant his people in the mountain His inheritance" a place that he has made ready where He would rule as king forever. (vs. 18) Their rejoicing would not last very long.
Miriam is first mentioned in this chapter as a prophetess who took the lead among the women in song and dance in response to the refrain of the men. Miriam at this time may have been close to ninety years in age as she was a young girl when Moses was born.
Israel left the Red Sea and traveled for three days but found no water. When they arrived at a place that they called Marah because the water there was bitter, they began to complain again and to murmur against Moses. Jehovah provided a tree that Moses threw into the water and it became sweet. (2 Kings 2:19-22) Here Jehovah tested them by saying to them that if they would obey him exclusively that He “would not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptian; for I am the LORD [Jehovah] who heals you.”
Exodus Chapter 16
After their arrival in the wilderness of Sin, the entire assembly again began to murmur against Moses and Aaron. This time there was not enough food to eat. The supply of food that they brought with them when they left Egypt had run out. They were sure they were going to die by famine in the wilderness. This is the third time in a month that they’ve said that they should have stayed in Egypt where they had "pots of meat and sufficient bread to eat." Jehovah would now begin to supply them with "bread from heaven." But first He would give them meat to eat. That evening quail came and covered the camp. The next morning there was "a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost upon the ground." The people asked among themselves, "What is it?" Moses told them: “It is the bread from heaven that Jehovah has given you for food." The Israelites called this bread "manna" meaning "What is it."
Jehovah gave specific instruction about the gathering of this food. Each morning they would gather an omer or two dry quarts for each person in the household. They would do this for five days, but on the sixth day they would need to gather enough to last for two days as there would be nothing on the seventh day for them to gather. Each day’s amount was to be eaten that day, nothing was to be left over until the next day except the extra amount gathered on the sixth day. “But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them.” The seventh day was to be a special day, a sabbath to Jehovah. No work was to be done on this day. They were not to go out into the fields to look for the manna. “On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none.”
The Psalmist wrote accurately concerning them. At Psalms 78:22 we read: “They had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power.”
Moses was now commanded to take an omer of manna and put in it in a jar to be kept as a memorial throughout their generations. It would serve as a reminder of how Jehovah had fed them in the wilderness. The jar of manna would be put into the ark of the testimony after it had been constructed later on.
Exodus Chapter 17
For the fourth time, the Israelites begin to quarrel with Moses. This time it was about the lack of water. They are now camped at Rephidim. They demanded that Moses should give them water to drink. Moses recognized this quarreling as putting Jehovah to the test. In fact, Moses believed that the people were about to stone him. When he went to Jehovah, he was told to strike on the rock where the cloud had moved to and water would come out of it. They had not arrived at Mount Horeb at that time but were near a formation of rocks that were a part of that mountain range. Moses named that place Massah which means "test" and Meribah which means "strife" or "argument." A warning is given at Psalms 95: 8, 9 that refer to this situation. It reads: “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.”
The Israelites will now be faced with war. The Amalekites have descended upon them to fight them. They began to attack the rear of the Israelite rank, which included the sick, aged, and the tired. At Moses’ order Joshua chose the men that were to go into battle and he would lead them. Moses, along with Aaron and Hur, stationed themselves on top of a hill with the staff of Jehovah in Moses' hand. As long as Moses held the staff up, the Israelites would win, but if he let his hand drop down, the Amalekites would win. Eventually Aaron and Hur had to hold Moses hand up until the Amalekites were defeated.
According to the NIV Bible Commentary, Volume I, page 95, the Amalekites were distant relatives of the Israelites through Esau. It states this:
“Amalek was the son of Eliphaz (Esau’s oldest son) by a concubine names Timma (Ge 36:12) and became a "clan" or "chief" in the tribe of Esau (Ge 36:15). Thus the Amalekites were distant cousins to the Israelites."
Jehovah then decreed: “I shall completely wipe out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens.” This message was to be propounded in Joshua’s ears. (See Deuteronomy 25:17-19) Amalek proved to be one of the nations that is described at Psalms 83:4. It reads: “They have said: Come and let us efface them from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more.” Jehovah would then cause the very thing that they wanted to happen to Israel to come upon them.
After the defeat of Amalek, Moses built an altar and called its name, Jehovah My Banner. And he said, "A hand is on the throne of Jehovah; war is to Jehovah with Amalek from generation to generation." (TIB)
The NIV Commentary, page 96 says this concerning the name of this altar:
“Whether “The LORD is my Banner” is the name of the altar or a title for God himself cannot be known for certain. The result is the same in either case. The Hebrew word for ‘banner’ reflects the root “to be high,” “raised,” or “conspicuous.” The allusion is to lifting up the staff as a standard and a testimony to his power. The victory, then, was the Lord’s, just as the war had been his.” They also conclude for verse 16 this: “An alternate rendering is ‘because a hand is against the throne of the LORD.’ This latter reading fit’s the context of v. 14 better.”
Israel’s battle with Amalek did extend for generations. Jehovah sent Saul to wipe out this nation. (1 Samuel 15:1-3) King David subdued the nation of Amalek in his day. (2 Samuel 8:12) In King Hezekiah’s day, those who were left in Edom were destroyed. (1 Chronicles 4:41-43) There still remained some survivors of these people as is shown by the events recorded in the book of Esther.
Exodus Chapter 18
Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, sent word to him that he was bringing his wife and two sons to him. The Bible does not give a time frame when Moses sent his family back to Midian although there is speculation that it may have been due to the incident recorded at Exodus 4:20-26. Moses told Jethro all that Jehovah had done in bringing Israel out of Egypt. Jethro was very familiar with Moses’ life story and the enslavement of his people in Egypt so that he would have been very interested in how deliverance had been effected. Moses would have also told him much about the God of Israel during the forty years that he lived with him in Midian. Jethro responded to Moses’ recount of Jehovah’s awesome works by saying: “Blessed be the LORD [Jehovah] who has delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. Now I know that the LORD [Jehovah] is greater than all gods, because he delivered the people from the Egyptians, when they dealt arrogantly with them.” (NRSV) They then, along with Aaron and the elders of Israel, sat down to have a meal together.
The next day after watching Moses judge the people from morning till evening, Jethro told Moses that he would wear himself as well as the people out doing this task alone. He recognized that Moses was responsible to represent the people before God to teach them His statutes. But he should look for capable men, men who feared God and who were trustworthy, not looking for unjust gain. These he could appoint over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They would deal with the minor cases but the more difficult cases would be brought to Moses. Jethro showed that he recognized that Jehovah would have to approve this change when he said “If you do this and God so commands you.” This was agreeable to Moses and he did what Jethro suggested. Moses gives more details of this event at Deuteronomy 1:9-18.
Exodus Chapters 19-20:21
The Israelites arrive at the wilderness of Sinai exactly three months after they left Egypt. They camped in front of Mount Sinai. Jehovah is now ready to set forth his purposes for delivering them. Moses goes up the mountain and Jehovah tells him what he is to say to the Israelites. If they will obey His voice and keep His covenant, they will become His ‘treasured possession,’ a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.’ Obedience to Jehovah will be a pre-requisite to their enjoying the blessings of a covenant relationship with God. The people’s response to Moses is that they are willing to do all that Jehovah requires. Jehovah now tells Moses what the people will need to do to prepare themselves to become covenanted to Him. In three days time, Jehovah will speak to Moses from a dense cloud and the people would be listening to His words to Moses. This will prove to them that Moses is Jehovah’s representative and they should put their trust in what he tells them.
The people were to consecrate themselves in preparation for Jehovah to come down to the mountain three days hence. Neither the people, nor any animal, were to touch any part of the mountain on this day lest they die. A loud trumpet sound would signal that they could approach the mountain. Moses returned to the people and had them prepare themselves. On the third day as they stood before the mountain it was clothed in smoke and there was fire and the mountain itself shook violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. Moses was now to ascend the mountain where Jehovah reiterated his warning that the people should keep away from the mountain. Moses is to go down the mountain and bring Aaron back up with him and to repeat God’s warnings to the people. (Deuteronomy 4:10-13; Hebrews 12:18-21)
Jehovah now gives the nation what later becomes known as the Ten Commandments, the first of His laws for them. The first three deals exclusively with their obligation to God; the fourth emphasizes the importance of the sabbath; commandments five through ten describes how they are to treat their fellowman.
After this grand display, the Israelites were very much afraid and they declare that it would be preferable that Moses should speak to them and they will listen. They no longer need to personally hear God’s voice. They would accept God’s word from Moses’ mouth. Moses admonished them not to be fearful of dying but that God had done this to test them and to cause them to learn the fear of God that would keep them from sinning against Him. (Proverbs 1:7; Ecclesiastes 12:13) Moses now returns to the mountain where Jehovah gives him additional laws.
Exodus Chapters 20:22-Chapter 21
According to the NIV Bible Commentary, Volume I, page 102, “the laws (of the covenant) may be arranged into two basic types. The conditional form, where the main condition and additional subheadings are introduced by “if” or “when,” is called casuistic or case law (laws based on actual precedents: “if a person….” or “when a person….” formulations. The second type takes a categorical, unconditional form and is in the second person (most frequently the singular), often with a negative command or prohibition. This is the form used for most of the Ten Commandments and is called the apodictic (that is, expressing what is always true) formulation.
Some of these laws are found at Exodus 20:21 through Exodus 23:19. Although, in this account, it is not stated specifically when they were given to Moses, it is most probable that he received them before he went into the mountain and stayed forty days and nights. (Exodus 24:12)
In verses 22-26, Jehovah explains that the altar that the people build to offer sacrifices upon can be either an earthen one or if it is to be made of stone, no chisel should be used on the stones. There should be no steps going up to the altar.
In verses 1-11 of chapter 21, instruction is given on how to deal with an Israelite who becomes a slave to another Israelite whether male or female.
In verses 12-17, a list of offences that require that the death penalty be imposed. These include intentional murder, striking one’s parents, cursing one’s parents or kidnapping. Accidental death will be dealt with differently when the cities of refuge are assigned.
In verses 18-32, the penalties for persons who inflict bodily injuries upon another person or an animal that inflicts injury are described. The penalties were usually some sort of compensation.
In verses 33-36, instruction is given regarding injury done to animals and how much restitution needs to be made.
Exodus Chapter 22
In verses 1-15 we find laws concerning property damage and its consequences. There were regulations that dealt with the theft of animals, burglary, violating the grazing rights of another man, goods left in the care of another person, or borrowed animals that were injured or died.
Verse 16 considers action to be taken when a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged.
Verses 18-20 deals with laws pertaining to those committing idolatrous acts. Persons who practice sorcery, bestiality, and those who offer sacrifices to other gods are not to be allowed to live.
In verses 21-27, laws are given concerning the care of the needy such as widows, orphans, and alien residents. We also learn that an Israelite was not to charge interest on loans to another Israelites in need.
Verses 28-31 concerns proper reverence for things that belong to Jehovah. They were not to revile Jehovah or curse a leader; they should not hold back the first fruits of their fields or winepresses or the firstborn of their oxen or sheep and their firstborn sons that belong to Jehovah. Since the nation is holy to Jehovah, they should not eat meat that has been torn by a wild beast.
Exodus Chapter 23:1-19
In verses 1-9, laws are given concerning the need to show impartiality in dealing with everyone even one’s enemy. An Israelite would not spread a false report, nor show favoritism in a lawsuit nor take a bribe. He would even help his enemy. He would not oppress an alien remembering that he was once an alien.
In verses 10-19, various other requirements are stated. They are to remember to observe the seven year sabbath as well as the weekly sabbath. Three times a year all males were required to hold three festivals to Jehovah; the festival of unleavened bread, the festival of harvest and the festival of ingathering. They were not to come to these festivals empty-handed but were to bring the best of the products of their fields. Nothing was to be offered on the altar that contained yeast. The prohibition against boiling a kid in his mother’s milk may have been given because this act was a pagan fertility rite.
The nation is now ready to move to the land of Canaan to take possession of it. They have been prepared to function as an organized group of people. They have laws to govern their lives in a way to be pleasing to their God, Jehovah. They know what is required of them to keep his direction and blessing upon them so that they will be successful.
Jehovah will guide them to Canaan using an angel. This is no ordinary angel. Jehovah warns the nation to ‘be attentive to his direction,’ and ‘do not rebel against him.’ He will not pardon their transgressions because ‘my name is in him.’ As long as they are obedient, Jehovah will drive out the nations currently inhabiting this land. It will not be done in a year, but over a period of time in order to keep the wild animals from over-running it. They are not to make a covenant with any of the pagan inhabitants, but they are to demolish their images so that they would not be tempted to worship them. They would worship Jehovah exclusively and He in turn would give them bounteous blessings. The blessings He promised are reminiscent of those we usually reserve for the thousand- year reign, such as plenty of food, no sickness, no miscarrying and longevity. Obedience would bring paradisiacal conditions. Phrases found in other scriptures such as ‘the land flowing with milk and honey’ or ‘every one dwelling under his own vine and fig tree’ are evidence of this.
Exodus Chapter 24
It is now time to ratify the covenant that God has concluded with Israel and they have agreed to follow. This ceremony is described for us in verses 3-9. Moses speaks all the words of Jehovah to the people and they agree that they will do them. Then he wrote them down. He built an altar at the foot of the mountain and sets up twelve pillars. Burnt offerings and fellowship offerings were offered on the altar. The young men used to make these offerings may have been fulfilling their obligations as firstborn. Moses took half of the blood from these offerings and put it in a basin, the other half he sprinkled on the altar. He then read the words that he had written down in the book of the covenant, to the people and they again responded: “we will do all that Jehovah has spoken, we will hear.” Moses then sprinkled the remainder of the blood on the people and said: “Behold the blood of the covenant that Jehovah has cut with you concerning these words.” (TIB)
In verses 1 and 2 of this chapter, Jehovah summons Aaron, Nadab and Aihu, along with seventy elders to accompany Moses to the mountain. Verse 9 tells us that when they arrived, Jehovah showed himself to them in a vision. Afterwards, they ate and drink in the mountain. This eating of a meal in Jehovah’s presence was a part of ratifying the covenant.
Then Jehovah summons Moses to go further up the mountain where He would give him the commandments on stone tablets that Jehovah himself has written down. Joshua would go further up the mountain with him, but the others are asked to remain where they are. Moses ascends the mountain where he has been told to wait. Moses is the only one permitted to ascend the mountain in fulfillment of Jehovah’s promise recorded at Exodus 3:12. (See also Exodus 24:1, 2) He waited for six days while the ‘glory of Jehovah’ settled on the mountain. On the seventh day Jehovah spoke to Moses out of the cloud. Moses then entered the cloud and would remain there for forty days and forty nights.
Moses unique relationship with Jehovah is indicative of the unique one experienced by the Modern-day "Servant" or "Chieftain" of our day, who receives Special Divine Instructions in the "east gate" of God's Temple. (Ezekiel 44:3)
Exodus Chapters 25 and 26
Jehovah gives Moses instructions on how to build a tabernacle from which He would dwell among Israelites. He would give Moses the pattern for constructing it. Moses was to have the people bring contributions or offerings of gold, silver, bronze, blue, purple and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair, ram skins dyed red, hides of sea cows, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil, onyx stones and gems. These would be used to build the tabernacle and to make the priestly garments. They were to be freewill offerings, as no one would be put under compulsion to contribute.
The articles that would be placed inside the tabernacle were:
1. An ark or chest made of acacia wood overlaid with gold, inside and outside, with two gold rings on each side in which poles overlaid with gold would be placed. These would be used to carry it. The cover for the ark, called the atonement cover, also made of gold, would have two cherubim of gold at each end. These cherubim would face each other, their wings spread, overshadowing the mercy seat, and their faces would be turned toward the mercy seat. The tablets of stone that Jehovah would give Moses were to be put into the ark. Jehovah would speak to Moses from above the mercy seat, between the two cherubim.
According to The NIV Bible Commentary, “the verb that lies behind the noun ‘atonement’ in the expression “atonement cover” means “to ransom or deliver by means of a substitute.”” Most scholars conclude that this is a substitution for the ransom sacrifice of Jesus. We will later learn that the high priest sprinkled blood on the atonement cover. The purpose of sprinkling blood on something represented a cleansing of that item. Jesus was perfect, therefore did not need cleansing from sin. Someone else, an imperfect person, must be represented by the atonement cover. (Leviticus 16:14, 15)
2. A table of acacia wood overlaid with gold, with a molding of gold around it and a rim. It would have rings in its four legs and two poles of gold for carrying it. The dishes and plates for incense and the pitchers and bowls for drink offerings were to be made of gold. The bread of Presence, which consisted of twelve loaves, was to be placed on this table.
3. A lampstand of pure gold having a total of six branches going out from its sides, three on each side. Each branch would have a cup shaped like almond blossoms. There would be four of these cups on the lampstand itself. It would have seven lamps to give light in front of it.
4. The altar of incense will be described in chapter 30.
The covering for the tabernacle would consist of several layers of curtains. The innermost layer will be made with curtains of fine twisted linen and blue, purple, and crimson yarns with cherubim worked into them. On top of this layer would be curtains made of goat hair and above this layer would be curtains made of ram skins dyed red and above this would be curtains made of the hides of sea cows.
The frame for the tabernacle were upright frames made of acacia wood overlaid with gold, forty eight in all, and were secured with fifteen cross bars, also overlaid with gold, that would fit through gold rings. These frames were set in silver bases.
A curtain made of blue, purple, and crimson yarns and of fine twisted linen with cherubim worked into it would be used to separate the tabernacle into two rooms, the holy place and the most holy place. The ark with the atonement cover would be put into the Most Holy compartment. The lampstand would be placed on the south side in the Holy compartment and the table of the bread of Presence would be put on the north side, opposite the lampstand in the holy compartment.
The curtain for the entrance to the tabernacle would be made of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen, embroidered with needlework.
Exodus Chapter 27
The altar of burnt offerings was to be made of acacia wood overlaid with copper or bronze with projections or horns on each corner. The utensils, such as the pots for the fatty ashes, the shovels, the bowls, the forks, and the fire holders were also of copper. A copper grating or network would divide the altar into two parts. The bottom half was a hollow box where the fire was. The upper half is where the meat was burned. There were two copper rings on each side and copper poles were placed through them for carrying the altar.
The courtyard was to be a rectangular area and would be made by hanging curtains made of fine twisted linen supported on posts set in copper bases. It had silver fasteners for hanging the curtains to the posts. The curtains were kept tight by using copper tent pegs.
The Israelites were to bring pure beaten olive oil to light the lamps on the lampstand. Aaron and his sons were to keep the lamps burning from ‘evening to morning.’
Exodus Chapter 28
Jehovah now tells Moses that Aaron and his sons will be priests to him. He is to make sacred garments for them to wear when they minister before Him at the tabernacle. These garments were called “holy garments for glory and beauty.” The priest must approach Jehovah with great dignity and care. They must respect his holiness.
The high priest’s garments would consist of the following:
1. An ephod, which is a short sleeveless garment, woven from gold, blue, purple and scarlet yarns and of fine linen. It had a front and a back piece held together by two shoulder straps on which was mounted two onyx stones engraved with names of the sons of Israel, six on each stone. It was held to the body by means of a skillfully woven girding band at the waist.
2. A breastpiece of judgement, to be made from the same material as the ephod. It was a square piece of material folded in half with twelve different precious stones, mounted in a gold setting, set in four rows of three stones each. Each stone was engraved with the name of one of the sons of Israel. It was attached to the ephod by means of four gold chains. The two top chains were fastened to the ephod’s shoulder pieces and the two lower chains were attached to the girding band by means of a blue cord. The Urim and the Thummin, which means ‘lights and perfection,’ were kept inside the fold of the breastpiece. These were two stones that the high priest would use when seeking a decision from Jehovah in a crisis situation. The breastpiece was said to be ‘upon Aaron’s heart’ when he went into the tabernacle.
3. A long blue sleeveless robe worn under the ephod. It was woven without seams, had a reinforced collar line and came to the knee. It had pomegranates made of blue, purple and scarlet yarn along the hemline alternating with small gold bells. The sound of the bells must to be heard when Aaron went into the most holy and when he left it in order that he would keep living.
4. A sacred diadem, a solid gold plate with the words “HOLINESS TO JEHOVAH” engraved upon it. It stretched from ear to ear and was held in place by a blue cord. It was worn on Aaron’s forehead over the turban. Aaron’s wearing it would symbolize his bearing the sins of the Israelites in reference to the holy things. It was to always be upon his head.
5. A tunic, a long garment made of fine white linen with long sleeves. It had an embroidered sash at the waist.
6. A turban made of fine white linen.
The under priest wore long tunics with long sleeves made of fine white linen with embroidered sashes and turbans made of fine linen. They all had to wear undergarments of linen that went from their waist to the thigh to cover their ‘nakedness.’
Exodus Chapter 29
The ordination ceremony of the priesthood is now given to Moses. This ceremony is to last seven days. He is to bring a bull and two rams along with unleavened cakes and wafers made from fine flour mixed with oil in a basket. He is to bring Aaron and his sons to the Tabernacle and they are to wash themselves with water. Moses is then to dress Aaron in the sacred garments and pour the anointing oil on his head. Then he is to dress the sons of Aaron in their official garments. They however are not anointed with the anointing oil.
Aaron and his sons are to put their hands upon the head of the bull. It is then killed and some of its blood is put on the horns of the altar and rest poured out at the base of the altar. The fat, the appendage of the liver and the two kidneys and their fat are to be burned up on the altar. The rest of the bull is to taken outside the camp and burned up. This is a sin offering for the priests.
One of the rams is then brought forward and Aaron and his sons are to lay their hands on its head. It is killed and its blood is splattered around the altar. The ram is then cut in pieces its entrails and legs are washed. The entire ram is then offered as a burnt offering.
Aaron and his sons next lay their hands on the head of the second ram, the ram of ordination. It is killed and some of its blood is put on the right ear lobe, the right thumb and the right large toe of Aaron and his sons. The remainder is sprinkled all around the altar. This act emphasizes the importance of their being good listeners, walking carefully before Jehovah and always doing what is right. Some of the blood sprinkled upon the altar was mixed with the anointing oil and sprinkled upon the garments of Aaron and his sons thereby sanctifying these.
Moses is to put certain parts of the ram and some of the bread offering in the hands of Aaron and his sons and they are to wave them before Jehovah. Afterwards they are to be put on the altar to be burned up along with the burnt offering. The breast of the ram is to be waved also and then Moses is to take it as his portion at this time. Moses is then told that the waved breast and thigh is to be set apart as the priest’s portion from the Israelites forever from their peace and thanksgiving offerings.
The garments of the high priest are to be passed on to the son who succeeds him and the same ordination ceremony would be carried out for him for seven days.
Aaron and his sons were to eat the boiled flesh of the ram and the bread of ordination for the seven days of the ceremony at the entrance to the Tabernacle. If any was left over until morning, it was to be burned with fire, it was not to be eaten. It was sacred.
Moses is next given instruction about the continual or daily burnt offering. Atonement for the altar of burnt offering has to be done for seven days before offerings are made upon it. Two year-old lambs without defects are to be offered daily, along with their drink offering and grain offering, one in the morning and one in the evening. This is to be a perpetual offering to Jehovah in front of the Tabernacle, the place where Jehovah will dwell in the midst of the sons of Israel. In the New World Translation, it is referred to as the ‘constant feature.’ This offering pictures the fact that the nation of Israel would be a light to all other nations. (Matthew 5:14) When Jehovah decides to discontinue using the nation as a light to other nations, it is referred to as ‘removing the constant feature.’ (Daniel 12:11)
Exodus Chapter 30
Jehovah now instructs Moses to build the altar of incense. It is to be of acacia wood overlaid with pure gold. It will also have horns and four gold rings with poles inserted to carry it. It is to be placed in front of the curtain that divides the holy from the most holy compartment. Aaron is to burn incense upon it the morning and in the evening when he went into the most holy to attend to the lamps. Special incense was to be prepared for use on this altar. It was not to be used for any other purpose. Nothing else other than this incense was to be offered on this altar. Once a year, on atonement day, the blood of the sin offering would be put upon its horns to make atonement for it.
Incense symbolizes prayer. Psalms 141:2 says: “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you and the lifting up of my hand as the evening sacrifice.”
Moses is instructed to make a large copper basin to be filled with water for the priests to use to wash themselves before they minister before Jehovah. If a priest failed to do this, he would die.
Moses is then told how to make the sacred anointing oil with which the Tabernacle and its furnishing, the altar of burnt offering and its utensils and the basin would be sanctified for use. This oil would also be used to anoint the high priest. The direction for making the sacred incense is also given. Anyone making or using these sacred items for purposes other than stated by Jehovah would be put to death.
Whenever a census was taken, each Israelite, twenty years old and up, would pay a tax that would be used to maintain the tabernacle. The tax was the same for everyone, whether rich or poor, half of a silver shekel. It is described as ‘atonement for your souls’ so that Jehovah would not bring a plague upon them for doing this. This tax became the basis for the annual temple tax that was later instituted and was still in use during the time of Jesus. (Matthew 17:24)
Exodus Chapter 31
Jehovah tells Moses that he has chosen Bezalel, of the tribe of Judah, to oversee all the work involved in the construction of the sanctuary and its furnishings, the garments of the priests, the altars, the anointing oil, the incense and the basin. He tells Moses that he has filled him with ‘all the spirit of God in wisdom and in intelligence.’ He has also assigned Oholiab of the tribe of Dan to assist him along with other ‘wise hearted ones’ in whom he has given wisdom.
Reminders are given regarding the sacredness of the sabbath. It is a holy day, a sign of the covenant between the nation and Jehovah forever. Anyone not observing this day would be put to death.
Jehovah’s instructions to Moses are now complete and He gives him the stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant, on which He had written His commandments.
Israel is in a very unique position that no other nation at that time could claim. Psalms 149:19, 20 (NRSV) has this to say: “He has declared his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the LORD [Jehovah].”
Exodus Chapter 32
While Moses is on the mountain, the people quickly forgot the covenant they had agreed to and decided to make their own god to go before them. They said: “We do not know what has become of him.” They prevailed upon Aaron to make this god out of the gold jewelry that was in their possession. Aaron melted these down and then shaped the gold into a calf, a violation of the second commandment. Then Aaron made an altar for the calf and they scheduled a festival to this god for the next day. There were sacrifices made to this calf and the people began eating and drinking before it. This act constituted a sealing of the relationship between the people and this god. They even became involved in revelry, which could have included drunkenness and sexual immorality, a violation of the seventh commandment.
Jehovah told Moses that the people had made a golden calf and that His anger burned against them such that he would annihilate them and make a nation out of Moses. But Moses prayed to Jehovah that He would not do this because the nations would reproach His name and His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel would go unfulfilled. In response to Moses’ prayer, Jehovah said that he would not destroy those people. But they would not go unpunished.
When Moses returned to the camp, he saw the golden calf and he became very angry. He threw the two tablets down to the ground shattering them ‘before their eyes.’ His shattering of these tablets could indicate that Moses believed that Israel’s relationship with God had been quickly and completely nullified. He threw the calf into the fire, melted it down, then he ground it to powder and threw it into a stream of water and made the Israelites drink that water in order to make them choke on their own perversion. They would have to bear the consequences of their sin.
Then Moses drew all those to him who had not participated in the idolatry when he said: “Who is for Jehovah? Come to me!” The tribe of Levi assembled to him and he told them to take their swords and go through the people and kill anyone that they knew who had participated in the idolatry. Three thousand died at that time. Because the Levites obeyed unconditionally, even killing their own family members and neighbors, it would turn out to be a blessing for them. This act did not completely eradicate all the idolaters from the people, but it would enable Moses to go before Jehovah to plead for this people.
He stated at Deuteronomy 9:8, 16 (NWT) concerning this event: “Even in Horeb you provoked Jehovah to anger so the Jehovah got incensed at you to the point of annihilating you. Then I looked and there you had sinned against Jehovah your God! You had made yourselves a molten calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way about which Jehovah had commanded you.”
Psalms 106:20-23 (NWT) shows how Jehovah felt about this incident. It reads: “So that they exchanged my glory for a representation of a bull, an eater of vegetation. They forgot God their Savior the Doer of great things in Egypt, wonderful works in the land of Ham, fear-inspiring things at the Red Sea. And he was about to say to annihilate them, if it had not been for Moses his chosen one, who stood in the gap before him, to turn back his rage from bringing them to ruin.”
The next day Moses told the people that because of the great sin that they had committed he would go to Jehovah and perhaps he could make atonement for them. Moses approached Jehovah acknowledging that the people had sinned greatly by making the ‘gods of gold.’ If Jehovah would not be willing to forgive them then he would prefer to have his name ‘blotted out of God’s book.’ Jehovah responded that the one who was guilty of sin his name would be blotted from His book. (See Deuteronomy 9:25-29)
Moses tells us that on this particular occasion, he lay prostrate before Jehovah for forty days and nights, pleading with Jehovah that He would not destroy His people. (Deuteronomy 9:18) Also, at this same time, he had to make a special plea for Aaron. Deuteronomy 9:20 records this for us. “At Aaron, too, Jehovah got very incensed to the point of annihilating him; but I made supplication also in behalf of Aaron at that particular time.”
Moses was told to lead the people to the land of Canaan and Jehovah would send his angel before them. “Jehovah then began plaguing the people because of the calf which Aaron had made.” He would completely remove those idolaters from among his people.
NOTE: Bible translations used in this commentary:
NRSV - New Revised Standard Version
TIB – The Interlinear Bible Hebrew-Aramaic Old Testament
NWT – New World Translation Large Print Reference Bible
NIV – New International Version
***©2005 by YORWW Congregation
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