ONE HOLY NATION
Once again, it's good to be with you, this our third installment in a five-part series on covenantal salvation history of the family of God down through the ages. We are, as you recall, studying the way that God fathers His family through Old Testament history, leading up to and preparing the way for the Catholic family, that is in a sense the masterpiece of our heavenly Father, through His eternal first-born Son.
Overview of Salvation History
These themes of father/son are going to be very important as we look upon the Mosaic covenant. Before I do that, though, I want to just briefly review the timeline. I want to kind of etch that into your minds, the back of your eyelids so that even when you close your eyes at night, you can almost envision a timeline.
Remember, there are five key covenants we are focusing upon. First of all is the covenant with Adam, which was a marital covenant. So, through these covenants we have said that God is establishing His family in just a little marriage. The second covenant is with Noah. At that point God's church-family is a household. Then generations later, the third covenant is with Abraham. At that point God is fathering a family through this new covenant that is a tribal family-church.
This fourth covenant that we are going to focus upon right now is the covenant that receives far more treatment than the first three put together...that is the covenant that God establishes with Moses, transforming the twelve tribes of Israel, so that they are no longer one tribe, or a tribal family-church. Now they are going to be a nation of twelve tribes and a national family of God, God's national covenant family-church, if you want to add to the sentence.
We're going to move on beyond this later to look at the Davidic covenant, the covenant that God establishes with King David and his son, Solomon, so that Israel, as a national family is elevated above the other nation families in the world and is given military power, and in Solomon's case, divine wisdom so that he might know how to subjugate these nations and reduce them to colonial dependents as vassal state so they depend on God's wisdom and truth and have to come up to Jerusalem to worship the Father in heaven and so prepare to be received back into God's family.
Because you see, ever since the Tower of Babel, the family of man is one, big, unhappy family torn apart by sin and pride, injustice and violence; and God, instead of destroying it over and over again promises with the flood never to do it again.
So he begins this re-conquest with Abraham, tracing that all the way back to Shem, Noah's righteous first- born. And remember in Genesis Shem is perhaps the only first-born son who isn't an abominable failure. He is the only one who didn't succumb to the pride of place that the first-born might have. He doesn't abuse his brothers; he actually uses his superior position to serve his father and his family. So he is elevated and blessed in a unique way.
The rest of Genesis reads like a travesty, a record of continued failure for first-born sons. You'll discover that this spells ruin for God's family, unless God does something drastic. Now at the end of this timeline we have Jesus Christ coming for the purpose of internationalizing or catholicizing the family, so that now the whole human family through His own body and blood might come back to God the Father and sit at table with Him and sup with Him as His children at the Eucharist, having been baptized and received back home.
Now that I've distinguished between these five Old Testament covenants and the New Testament covenant, the new covenant that Christ establishes, I don't want to tax your brain; I don't want to burden it too much, but I want to make one more threefold distinction that is classical among Biblical scholars - that is, you can divide Biblical history into three parts accurately as well.
Divisions of Biblical History
The first part you might want to call the natural stage, that is where God's family religion is built upon nature - where the father is the priest over the family- church, where he is the king and where he is the prophet- teacher. The father is priest, prophet and king, all wrapped up in one, and his first-born is crown prince and heir apparent and successor to the priesthood, like Shem is to Noah. That's the nature of the family relations. It's a natural family religion. And the family is at once both church and state, because the father is at once both priest and king in his tribal dominion, as it were.
Now, with the Mosaic covenant, we enter into a new, a decidedly new phase. Sometimes it's called Levitical; sometimes it's called the legal phase of salvation history because now all of a sudden we are going to see, with the Mosaic covenant, there at Mount Sinai, with the worship of the golden calf, God is going to strip the priesthood away from fathers and sons and give it to the tribe of Levi for a long time; for over a thousand years, in fact.
So, for over a thousand years, from Moses until the coming of Christ, we live in the legal stage of history wherein all the Levitical ceremonies and all the animal sacrifices that are performed by the Levite priests are going to be the substantial liturgy of God's family.
We've moved beyond the natural family and now we have a kind of bureaucratic interim arrangement with the tribe of Levi serving as priests. We're going to look into the reasons why that changed and the significance of that for us as Christians because we are going to see that's important.
The third and final phase we could call the Age of Grace or the evangelical stage. It is not dependent upon Levitical ceremonies like the animal sacrifice. We are allowed to eat pork. We are allowed to have pepperoni pizza; we're allowed to have sausage and bacon. They couldn't. They had all kinds of dietary regulations and animal sacrifices and calendar festivals that required slaying literally hundreds of thousands of oxen, cattle, sheep and goats. It was a bloody, sacrificial mess during the Levitical phase, but now we enter into a clean phase, where the sacraments of the new covenant become the means by which God binds Himself to His family. The sacraments become the bonding agents for God's family in the new covenant.
So as we focus on the Mosaic covenant this evening, realize that we are looking at something old, the Old Testament, but something new in contrast to where we have come from. The patriarchal religion was a religion of nature. The Mosaic religion is a religion of law and ceremony and the Levitical bureaucracy.
That doesn't change until God, through His own first- born Son, Jesus, in a sense restores the order of nature, and in the New Covenant He is also going to perfect and elevate it in a supernatural way. You see, human weakness is our lot ever since Adam's fall, and so fathers are not just selfless lovers. Exhibit A! Fathers are selfish, immature people and so, when they raise up their first-born son, who's supposed to be a role model to the kids. I know my older brother was the pacesetter in our family. I never listened to my parents' laws; I just watched to see what my brother could get away with! I took my cue from him. That's why I got into so much trouble. The police will attest to our names being in many of their books when we were teenage delinquents.
The fathers aren't perfect and sometimes the first-born sons are even worse! Human nature is weak and fallen. So what becomes of the father/son relation? Does God do away with it? Well, for a time, it seemed so. In the Levitical age of Mosaic ceremonies until the eternal lover of all fathers, the Father in heaven, sends the eternal first-born Son to re-institute this order and to re-institute it at an infinitely greater level, so we have a heavenly family, and the Mosaic covenant is the bridge! It makes it complicated but it also makes it crucial.
Continuation of the Covenant with Abraham
Now, we focus upon the Biblical material. If you think that we can be proud of ourselves during the last session for covering over ten chapters (actually we covered practically twenty to twenty-two chapters in one hour)! I want to tell you that we have Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy to get through, and that includes over 100 chapters. We're not going to be doing things quite the same way! Even now, we have to go back into Genesis just to catch us up, because a great span of time elapses between Abraham and Moses. What happens in the interim? Can I summarize rapidly the closing chapters of Genesis? I'll try.
You know that Abraham had a son named Isaac, the one he sacrificed and got back from God. Isaac married Rebekah. Rebekah gave him twin sons. The oldest of the twin brothers was named Esau. The younger of the twin brothers was named Jacob. He's the key figure. Again, God will pass over the first-born son to go to the righteous second-born, because we will see once again, the first-born's pride leads him to fall. So we see how God, from the very moment they are conceived tells this couple, Isaac and Rebekah, "The elder shall serve the younger." So the parents should know that God has already earmarked the second of the two to be his crown prince and heir apparent, his hand-picked man.
As Isaac gets older we discover that he starts playing favorites and because his older son Esau is able to cook up these great meals that he has hunted down, Isaac begins to want to bless Esau; whereas God initially wanted him to bless Jacob. So, as he is getting old and decrepit and somewhat blind, steps in Rebekah, the wily wife, who through her wiles and cleverness brings about God's initial way. She has Jacob dress up like Esau in his big fur coat that smells like Esau. He comes in for the blessing. Remember how we stressed the blessing and its importance? He who gets the blessing gets it all. He is the one who stands in line to possess all the authority of the father. Whoever has the blessing will stand in relation to his brothers like a father.
Jacob Tricks Esau out of Isaac's Blessing
So Rebekah connives with Jacob to come before Isaac disguised as Esau to get the blessing. Isaac falls for it. He gives the blessing to his second twin son, the younger of the two and then Jacob leaves. Esau comes in a few hours later with this beautiful banquet meal that he has just hunted down. Isaac begins to tremble when he realizes that he has been tricked and he tells Esau, (now, if a blessing was just a light thing - you know, like you sneeze and somebody says, "God bless you", Isaac could have said, "I'll bless you anyway, Esau"), but instead he says, "The blessing has gone forth and I cannot retrieve it. Your younger brother got it. He tricked you." The word Jacob literally means ,"He who supplants or undermines." So, he really "Jacobed" his brother!
Esau is infuriated. He has a vendetta. He is going to kill Jacob. He is going to kill his brother, so his brother has to run and hide. He actually works out a deal with his father Isaac to flee the country and to go back to another area up north, Haran, where some relatives live. So we have Jacob fleeing his older twin brother Esau, fleeing for his life because Esau wanted that blessing. You might think, "what treachery", but if you read carefully in Genesis, you'll discover from earlier chapters that Esau never really wanted it in the first place. Early in their lives Esau actually sold it legally to his younger twin brother for a big pot of some pottage that he wanted more than his own birthright. In a sense, then, he despised his birthright, as the New Testament says of him.
Jacob leaves to go up north to Haran. He meets this man called uncle Laban. Here is where Jacob gets a taste of his own medicine. Here is where Jacob gets "Jacobed" by uncle Laban. There he meets Laban's daughter Rachel, which means "little ewe lamb" in Hebrew. He falls head over heels in love with her. He tells his uncle, "I want to marry Rachel" and Laban says, "Okay, work for me for seven years and that will be your dowry." "Seven years? Fine." The time seemed to go by lickety-split because he wanted to marry her so much.
The night of the wedding, Uncle Laban pulls a switch-a- roo. It's so dark in the honeymoon tent, he takes Rachel's older sister Leah, who can hardly see (she is partially blind). Leah means "cow." So he takes her older sister, the "blind cow" and slips her into the honeymoon tent and they consummate the marital relation. In the morning Jacob wakes up, says, "Wait, I've been Jacobed!" He goes out and in ancient customs, once you have consummated such a relationship sexually, there isn't any going back! So he says, "I wanted Rachel" and was told "Well, it's our custom always to marry the oldest daughter." "Well, why didn't you tell me that in the first place!" "Because I wanted to give you a taste of your own medicine.".. (In effect, at least God did through Laban.) So he works for seven more years and becomes a bigamist in the process, because at the end of those fourteen years, he marries Rachel. That's the good news. The bad news is that Rachel, this beautiful ewe lamb second wife is barren, whereas the blind cow, Leah, gives birth to four sons in no time at all. Some pretty famous guys, too. Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah, four patriarchs who are going to become the fathers of four of the most prominent tribes of Israel.
Rachel is intensely jealous, so jealous, in fact, that she "pulls a Sarah." She tells her maidservant, Bilhah, "Why don't you go in and sleep with my husband and have children for me?" (They don't learn their lessons, do they? Just like we don't learn our lessons either.) So, Bilhah, the maid servant goes in and raises up some sons, but that's not the same as having your own. So Rachel is distraught and sorrowful. Then after twenty long years, Jacob finally finds a way to take Leah and Rachel and leave Uncle Laban. They go back home, where Esau is waiting!
Jacob gets all this booty and treasure and has it go in advance to reach brother Esau to appease this man's temper. It works! When they finally meet, they hug, they embrace, they kiss. Jacob submits to Esau's power and there is somewhat of a reconciliation.
Jacob's Son: Joseph
Then, finally, Rachel gives birth to a man named Joseph, who from now on becomes the key character in Genesis. By the time Joseph reaches his seventeenth birthday, there is no question who the old man favors! Now Leah's kids are much older than seventeen. This Johnny-come- lately named Joseph, this half-pint upstart is laying claim to the birthright, because what could Joseph claim? "Well, I am the first-born son of the beloved wife, the one he initially intended to marry." Jacob gives Joseph this coat which provokes all kinds of resentment and envy in the half- brothers. Why? It was like the coat-of-arms in a sense. It was like the mantle of a father's authority and they all recognize it.
So, when he's seventeen, Joseph is out there herding some flocks, his half-brothers come out to meet him and they decide to kill him. They throw him down a pit. Then they decide otherwise. Reuben says, "We can't do it." They pull him out of the pit and they see some traders and they sell him into slavery. They take his coat, pour goat's blood on it, take it back to father Jacob. He sees it, thinks it's his son's blood, weeps and wails and mourns Joseph's death and Joseph is sold down into slavery in Egypt. (Incidentally, the two groups of traders in the caravan who bought Joseph from his half-brothers are Ishmaelites; they are cousins from Ishmael, Abraham's other son. They are also Midianites. After Sarah had died, Abraham had re-married some foreign woman, Keturah. He had a boy named Midian. The Midianites and the Ishmaelites team up and they resent Abraham's family through Isaac and Jacob. They look for opportunities like this to take Joseph and sell him into slavery because they are half Egyptians anyway through Hagar. (This is like a soap opera, isn't it? I need some kind of chart for all this!) Anyway, Joseph winds up in Egypt as the slave to Potiphar, who is one of the most powerful men in Egypt. Whatever Joseph touches turns to gold, and Potiphar is impressed and , even more, is Potiphar's wife impressed, so impressed that she repeatedly tries to seduce Joseph. He won't have anything to do with it. She gets so adamant at one point that she begins to strip and go after him. He starts running, she grabs his coat and yells, "Rape, rape." He is arrested and thrown into prison for allegedly raping this priest-prime minister's wife.
He is in prison. He is forgotten, He is forlorn. There he meets this baker, this butler and some other people and he shows his wisdom in interpreting dreams. The baker and all these people down in prison are impressed so that when they are released, they carry out the knowledge that there is an incredible Hebrew who can interpret dreams like nobody else, locked up, down there in the dungeon.
One day Pharaoh has a nightmare and he calls everybody to interpret and nobody can and he gets perturbed. "I want somebody to interpret my dream!" They remember Joseph; they bring him out of prison. Joseph said, "You had a dream", and he begins to interpret the dream and says, "What the dream means is that the next seven years are going to be seven consecutive bumper crops, seven beautiful harvests followed by seven very lean years of famine.
Pharaoh makes Joseph prime minister - from prison to prime minister in a day. Not bad for a power play! Now, everything comes true just like the dream had said in his interpretation, seven years of incredible harvests. So Joseph begins to store up all the grain in silos, knowing of the famine that's coming. Seven years of famine hit and the whole Middle East is stricken and starved, so badly that word gets out that there is only one place in the Middle East where you can find some food, down in Egypt. Guess who ends up going down to Egypt to get some food...his ten half- brothers! They think he is forgotten, perhaps dead, whatever, a slave. They don't recognize him when they come before the prime minister to beg for bread, but he recognizes them.
He pulls all kinds of shenanigans with them. He just turns them every which-way but loose! Finally in one of the most poignant scenes in all literature, Joseph breaks down and reveals himself to his brothers. They can't believe their eyes and ears. They go back to father Jacob and say, "Joseph is alive and he is the prime minister under pharaoh and he owns and controls all Egypt because the lazy pharaoh didn't want to be operative; he didn't want to be in control of the daily affairs. He turned it all over to Joseph. When Joseph's family, including Joseph's father Jacob who had his name changed to Israel by this time, by God himself; Israel brings his whole family down into Egypt and the pharaoh said to Joseph, "Put them in the best real estate.
He puts them in Goshen. That's important. They settle there and they own Goshen, which was like the Garden of Eden! It was like paradise. They got the prime real estate, the best property there. Meanwhile, all the Egyptian farmers are also starving, so they have to come to Joseph for food, and he just works out a little deal. "You give me all your land, and in exchange, I will give you bread." At the end of seven years of famine, guess who winds up owning Egypt? Joseph, Jacob's family sitting fat and pretty up in Goshen with all the bread they want while the Egyptians are all now serfs, under this foreigner-prime minister named Joseph. That is the key to it all. Genesis ends with this story and ends with Jacob-Israel blessing his twelve sons, a beautiful story. Then all of a sudden we come to Exodus. Here we read that Joseph and his brothers and all that generation died but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.
"Then a new king who knew not Joseph came to power in Egypt", which basically means a palace coup succeeded in overthrowing one pharaoh and his dynasty and replacing it with a new dynasty. It doesn't mean he never heard of Joseph. In the Bible to know someone - for instance Adam knew Eve and she had a child - it means intimate family relations, covenant relations, it's a covenant term "Yadah" in Hebrew. This new pharaoh did not know Joseph. In other words, we have no intimate family relations with you Jews, with you Israelites sitting fat and pretty in our best land, Goshen; owning us like serfs.
"Look," he said to his people, "the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly." What does he decide? He resolves to kill all of the Hebrew male children at birth. Now, you might think, "what a maniac! What a slaughtering pig!" What is the political savvy in that decision? What is he actually intending to do? Is he just anti-Jewish? Then he'd kill the women as well, right? Why is he killing off the Hebrew male children at birth and not the females? Because, when the females grow up, who are they going to marry?...Egyptians. Then, to whom will the land title passover to?...Egypt! So with a few political moves, we are going to retrieve all of this real estate and put them back where they belong. Not so dumb. Pretty wicked and pretty diabolical, but there was a method to his madness.
We read how the Hebrew midwives wouldn't cooperate and they kept bringing forth these children. Some were slaughtered, but one in particular was successfully hidden before being killed...a guy named Moses, which literally means "being brought up out of the water." So Moses is born and for survival sake, he is put in a little ark and sent down the Nile river, where he gets stuck in the bulrushes. Pharaoh's daughter comes down to bathe and swim, sees the little baby, hears it cry, picks it up and says, "Oh, what a lovely little Hebrew child", and adopts it as her own son.
Covenant with Moses
Moses is raised in the royal court of pharaoh as one of the king's sons by adoption, or nephews or whatever (we're not clear on the details here). He grows up getting the best clothes, the best education, the best food, the best everything. Then one day, knowing that he's Hebrew, he is walking out there and sees and Egyptian taskmaster beating some Hebrew slaves, whereupon he kills the Egyptian taskmaster in fit of fury...kind of goes overboard. In other words, he has decided to kind of cast his lot with those whose flesh and blood he shares, his Hebrew compatriots. He's jumping ship, in a way.
The next day he goes back to the Hebrews, probably plotting to lead them out or back to strength and power. What do they say? "Here's the pharaoh's own boy coming over to our side. Are you going to kill us too?" Pretty soon, they realize that the word is out and the Israelites aren't sympathetic to him. They think he's some fair-haired spoiled brat. They want no part of him. They are not going to follow him. They reject him. The Egyptians are now hunting him down, so Moses has to flee out into the desert. He is fleeing for his life and he just barely gets away. Then all of a sudden, he meets a man named Jethro and his beautiful daughter Zipporah, a Midianite, incidentally; so a relative of Abraham.
There he ends up marrying Zipporah and raising children, Gershom and a few others out there in the desert with the Midianite nomads. From Hebrew to Egyptian to Midianite; the poor guy is like a man without a country. What happens? God hears the groaning of the Israelite slaves, and remembers his covenant. So one day when Moses was tending the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian - so again he moved into a very prominent family - he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God.
There God appears to him in a burning bush and says, "Moses, Moses, here am I. Don't come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham." Now, if He stopped there, Moses would not have known for sure what God he was dealing with, because after all, if He was just the God of Abraham, the Midianites could claim Him, because the Midianites come from Abraham. The Ishmaelites could claim Him, too, because they come from Abraham. Even the Egyptians could lay some claim because, after all, Abraham's wife, the first one to bear him a child, was Hagar, the Egyptian. But He goes on to say "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
If He had just said, "Abraham and Isaac", the Edomites, who were descending from Esau, could have said, "He is our God", because they all wanted exclusive monopoly on Him. "But I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" - he narrows down the family lines. So you can see from Shem to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob all the way down to Jacob-Israel and the twelve tribes that are enslaved in Egypt: "I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt", and I am going to do something about it. I want to bring them out.
So, He gives to Moses a sign, saying the sign that I will do this is that I will bring them to worship me on this mountain. Then Moses asked His name. "I am, who I am - I AM is my name. Go tell them that I AM has sent you. Go tell these people (and go tell pharaoh) that the Lord the God of the Hebrews has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifice to the Lord Our God." But then He says, "I know that pharaoh is not going to let you go, so I have to send all kinds of plagues his way." But the initial request is what? Let my people go? That's what we usually think. But, no; what His initial request is a three- day vacation - to leave Egypt, to go to this mountain, to worship and offer sacrifices and then to go back into Egyptian slavery!
We often forget that God's initial request for Moses was not total liberation and freedom, "Leave the country", but just set me a three-day religious festival, if pharaoh had cooperated. We're going to see why in just a minute. Then He gives him some signs, "Take that staff that you have. Throw it on the ground." It becomes a snake and he ran from it. Then he said, "Reach out your hand and take it by the tail." When Moses did, it becomes a staff again. That sign will convince them, perhaps. Then He says, "Put your hand in your cloak", and when he pulled it out it was white, leprous - advanced leprosy. Then He said, "Now put it back", and he brought it out and it was like baby flesh.
What is he doing? He is taking various signs - that staff is a symbol of Moses' authority. When Moses throws it down, it's a serpent, a symbol of evil. Moses has dominion over evil; he grabs it by the tail and it's his rod of authority again. Israel now, in Egypt, is sinful and sin is constantly being compared to leprosy. In Egypt, leprosy. When they come out, they will be my children.
These signs should convince them, but, of course, we will discover soon enough that they don't. After all this Moses is scared. "I've never been eloquent. I s-s-s-stutter. Why send me?" (He is really fearful and it tells us), Moses said, "Oh, Lord, please send someone else to do this!" And then the Lord's anger burned against Moses and He said, "What about your brother, Aaron, the Levite? He is already on his way to meet you. You shall speak to him and put words into his mouth and I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him."
So, Aaron now enters into the picture as a kind of intermediary. Now, take your Bibles out at this point and turn with me to my favorite passage in Exodus: Chapter 4. Moses goes back to his father-in-law and says "You're going to have to let me go, so I can go back to Egypt and tell them to let my people go." He consents and he goes back with his wife and his sons on a donkey to Egypt, and he took the staff of God in his hand. Look at verse 22; this is kind of a Western Union summary of the message: "Then say you to pharaoh", This is what the Lord says, "Israel is my first- born son and I told you, let my son go so he may worship me. But you refused to let him go so I will slay your first-born son." What is God saying through Moses? It's quite simple. God is saying, "Pharaoh, Israel is my first-born son." Does that mean that Israel is God's only child? No. It means that the other nations are like God's younger children, Israel's younger siblings, but that God intends for Israel to be a kind of pacesetter and role model, a first-born...a model for righteousness and wisdom so that nations might learn how to walk in the ways of God, much like Shem, much like Shem's descendant, Abraham. So now, Jacob-Israel's national family.
"Israel is my first-born son - Egypt, you are potentially my children, but only if you let my first-born son go to serve me so that you will learn how to serve me by watching him." That's the plan. Israel is going to be like a priest. You know how fathers raised up their sons to be priests in the family back then?
Moses Returns To Egypt
So God the Father is raising up Israel to be a priest to all the other nations, if only the nations will cooperate. But they won't! And here comes that favorite verse of mine, verse 24 in the narrative, "At a lodging place along the way, the Lord met Moses and tried to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses with it. 'Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,' she said. So the Lord let him alone" Did you ever picture God as an assassin? Read that again: "At a lodging place along the way, the Lord met Moses and tried to kill him." Well, which way is it, Lord? Do You want to use Moses to liberate Your people or do You want to exterminate Moses along the way before he gets back? What's going on?
Moses is a covenant breaker. Gershom, his first-born is uncircumcised. Genesis 17 says, "If any man refuses to circumcise his son in eight days, I shall cut him off like so much foreskin." Moses had broken the covenant. Now, why? The Midianites practiced circumcision. Historians will show us that. But Midian, just like Ishmael and Ishmaelites circumcised, like the Arab Muslims do to this day. When are Arab Muslims circumcised? It's the male puberty rite, at thirteen years to make him a man, not at eight days. Maybe Moses was thinking, "When in Rome, do as the Romans; when in Midian, do as the Midianites. I don't want to offend Jethro, my father-in-law." Well, you're offending God the Father who meets him there and tries to kill him, so to speak. In other words, he's showing Moses, "I mean business when I'm talking about covenant breaking. When you break the covenant, you rupture my family and I don't take to that in any soft terms."
So what does Zipporah do? She immediately circumcises Gershom and touches the blood to his legs or to his feet and God relents. Now, there's probably a lot more there, and I know several articles written by top scholars trying to figure all of it out, but it shows us an incredible and fascinating episode that almost cost Moses his life, to show how serious God is about obeying covenant statutes.
Moses goes back, finds his way to Egypt, finds the pharaoh and orders the pharaoh to let him go. "Let us go and sacrifice to our God." He decided to make the work harder, says, "you're lazy." So he offers these promises of deliverance to the elders and even the Israelite elders don't want to cooperate with Moses. He explains, "Look, I just spoke to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and He wants to let you go", but they are not interested in following him.
After the genealogy of Moses and Aaron in Exodus 6, we turn to Exodus 7 and the action begins to speed up. Now all of a sudden we see Moses resorting to these various signs and then we see the first plague, the plague of blood, the first of ten plagues. I've got to tell you, God is not just flexing his muscles saying, "Here, now, watch this - the Nile River? I'll turn it to blood." The Nile River was worshipped as a god by the Egyptians, the god Hopi was identified with the Nile. When you turn the River Nile to blood, for all practical purposes, you've just slain one of their gods.
Likewise, in chapter 8, when God sends this plague of frogs and they all start dying and stinking up the place, that is a judgment on the goddess Hecht which was always worshipped in the form of, you got it, frogs! Then gnats come; but each time, the people in Goshen are completely protected from all the plagues.
Verse 25, Exodus 8 is key: "Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, 'Go sacrifice to your God here in the land." But Moses said, "That wouldn't be right. The sacrifices we offer to the Lord our God would be detestable to the Egyptians and if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, they will stone us. We must take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifice to the Lord our God as he commands us." Then pharaoh says, "Okay, I'll let you offer sacrifice to the Lord your God in the desert, but you must not go very far. Now pray for me." Only then he turns around and changes his mind. But again, we are only dealing with the preliminary request, a three-day religious holiday. But why can't they sacrifice in Egypt? This is one of those things that I hear people missing over and over again. I mean, my professors who taught the Exodus missed this. I didn't find it until I was reading St. Thomas' Summa. This was well known to the early Fathers of the Church, but for some reason, it's often neglected.
Why did God require Israel to come out of Egypt to worship and sacrifice at Horeb out of the boundaries, and then offer to return as slaves back to Egypt? What was it God wanted them to sacrifice? Pharaoh said, "Well, if you have to sacrifice to your God, do it in our land ." No, because we have to sacrifice the abominations of the Egyptians is another translation. In other words, they have to sacrifice three animals: cattle, goats and sheep, all three of which were revered and worshipped as divinities in the Egyptian religion. It's like going into India and killing a cow. You don't do that kind of stuff safely. We're going to have to leave Egypt. Well, why? I mean, is God only saying that those things are intrinsically divine demons or something? No. But Ezekiel 20 tells us that Israel had been in Egypt so long that it had already begun to absorb this idolatrous cult, this religion, a religion of nature, of fertility, of power and wealth. The demons, through these gods, promised to give all kinds of earthly treasures and influence in exchange for your eternity.
The demons have always been offering us this kind of exchange, like Satan: "If you will worship me and worship power and worship all the things of earthly goods, earthly wealth and so on, I will give that to you, if in exchange you will give me your soul and your eternity." Egyptian religion was built upon that and the powerful and the fruitful animals were symbols of this kind of veneration. God says, "Kill them." Why? "Because you're addicted." Ezekiel 20: we don't have time to look at it too much; let's turn to it quickly. Ezekiel 20 makes it so patently clear, verse 7: Ezekiel is told by God, "I said to them, `Each of you get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on and no longer defile yourself with the idols of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.' But they rebelled against me and wouldn't listen to me. They did not get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt." And all of this, if you read on, is before the Exodus! It's sort of like, if you have a married couple and the husband is an alcoholic; and over and over again, he gets violent and abusive because he's drinking, and over and over again, the next morning he apologizes profusely and swears never to do it again. After twenty times, it just won't cut it anymore. So you say, "Okay, take that bottle of Jack Daniels under the sink and I want you to do a little ceremonial smashing, otherwise I'm leaving with the kids." Smart woman! He takes that bottle and smashes it, thus renouncing this addiction, this idolatry. That's what God was calling Israel to do. "You have become addicted and enslaved to the idols of Egyptians' power cult, the religion of personal power and wealth and pleasure.
It combined political power, economical wealth and sexual pleasure, a lot like a certain American culture I happen to live in! Political power, economical wealth and sexual pleasure are addictive in every age. Only back then, they had religious sanction and they had a liturgical form that consisted of worshipping sheep and goats and cattle as the symbols of this fertility and this power and so on. "Kill them." "The Egyptians won't let us." "Then get out of Egypt for three days, then go back into Egypt and you can resume your status as slaves." Because God knew that if you can free yourself spiritually from this idolatry, then it doesn't matter what you are politically.
The political liberation only comes as a result of pharaoh's hardness after ten plagues, but if he had cooperated at the beginning, God is saying, "It's enough for you to liberate your soul from bondage to idols and addiction to earthly goods, you'll be free no matter what your earthly circumstances are." But, of course, it's not enough. And so pharaoh responds with hardening of his own heart and it gets worse.
In Exodus 9 the plague on livestock, and that is a great judgment on Apus, one of the supreme deities as well as a goddess, Hatha I believe, who was associated with livestock, as well. The bull god, Apis, the cow god, Hathor and the ram god, Kanum, were all judged and condemned and symbolically slaughtered in these plagues systematically. God even told Moses to tell pharaoh, "These plagues are going to ruin the gods of Egypt to show Israel that I am the God of the universe", and to break them of their addiction to power and to wealth and to pleasure.
The plague of darkness is a judgment on Ra, the Egyptian sun god, chapter 10. But then, ultimately, the tenth plague is the most terrible of all, the plague on the first-born, which results in the Passover. Why? Because pharaoh was considered to be divine and his first-born was divinized in a ceremony. So, symbolically in a sense, all fathers and their first-born sons were called to share in a quasi-divine power and wealth. The first-born represented in a sense, the political gods of Egypt. When you destroy the first-borns of a culture that depends upon family relations and tribal structures, that's like having an election year where everybody in Congress runs and all the incumbents lose and all of the newly elected representatives gather in a place and they are all systematically killed. You've got a power vacuum! By slaying all of the Egyptian first-borns, you've got an immense power vacuum in which Israel can finally escape and in which Israel will no longer be seduced or even attracted to this kind of culture and this way of life. The plague on the first-born: God says, "The angel of death will pass through the land and slay every first-born." But then Moses gives instructions for the Passover: "Take a lamb without any broken bones, take the lamb, slay him and sprinkle his blood on the doorposts and that night, eat the lamb. Go to bed, you'll wake up, your first-born will be alive. You don't, your first-born son will be dead and all your first-born of the flocks will be dead, as well." Incredible!
So Moses tells them what to do, all the elders systematically prepare the people, and they do it and the destroyer, the angel of death, passes over the land and there is great wailing and mourning throughout all of Egypt and finally, pharaoh says, "Get out!" Then, of course, the Egyptians are kind of pressured into giving up all the gold and silver in exchange for the years of slave labor and the Israelites plunder the Egyptians of their wealth and then skedaddle under Moses' leadership in the Exodus.
Then, all of a sudden in a weird and demonic sort of way, the pharaoh has a change of mind and gets the few soldiers he has left and the chariots and so on and charges. Can you imagine what a maniac this man must have been? His livestock, his flocks and all the crops have been completely wiped out. This country is in ruins and he won't let them go! He has been too humiliated. His pride won't let him.
This, of course, is where the great crossing of the Red Sea occurs. In Exodus 13 and 14 we read about that. I'm not going to spend so much time there because I think we all know the story with some familiarity. The Holy Spirit leads them as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day. They have to learn to put their faith in God and Moses, His servant. (14:31) And then Miriam sings the song in Exodus 15 that is beautiful. In Exodus 16, out in the wilderness God feeds them, after they have learned to trust him, after seeing all the Egyptian soldiers and chariots wiped out, besides the food, the miracle bread that God gives them; in Exodus 17 the water from the rock after they are grumbling and complaining. They have so many complaints that finally Moses has to appoint seventy elders in Exodus 18.
In Exodus 19, we have a very crucial section where God declares to Israel her own identity. Verse 5: "Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests." So, Moses goes back and he summons the elders and says, "We've got a few instructions. The Lord's coming down," and here are the instructions in verse 10: "Consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready on the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Put limits for the people, etc., etc." He give all of these things. Then over in verse 15, then he said to the people, "Prepare yourselves for the third day, abstain from sexual relations." Interesting!
Next verse: "On the morning of the third day, there is thunder and lightning, just as he said; a thick cloud over the mountain, a very loud trumpet blast and everyone in the camp trembled. We discover that all the people are begging and pleading with Moses, "You alone go up there." Why are they so scared? All they had to do was basically shower and wait three days and abstain from sexual relations. Why are they so scared? You know why they are so scared: because they're humans - they didn't do it! Abstain from sex for three days and it becomes the forbidden fruit, the most attractive of all. Those three days become the most impossible of all. These guys failed. God says, "You will be a kingdom of priests, kingly priests. You won't rule through political power like the Egyptians. You will rule through wisdom and righteousness and holiness. You will compel the nations to come back to me, if you trust me and meet me and come to me face to face and hear me speak my law of love.."
They don't obey. They tremble. They fall back and say, "Moses, you alone go up." God says, "I knew it!" He speaks to Moses the Ten Commandments. I'd love to spend another hour on them, but I will be merciful to you.
Here is something you may not have known. Let's jump ahead to Exodus 32. Before we do that, let's take a quick look at Exodus 24. That's also really crucial. Moses gets the seventy elders and he climbs up the mountain. He sacrifices, just as they had been told - young bulls as fellowship offerings, etc. Then in verse 6: "Moses took half the blood and put it in bowls and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people and they responded, "We will do everything the Lord has said; we'll obey." Then he took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, "This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words."
Moses, Nadab, Abihu and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Verse 11: "But God didn't raise His hand against these leaders of the Israelites. They saw God and with Him they ate and drank." That is intimate family fellowship and that is just a foretaste of what God wanted from the very beginning for His people, if only they would trust and obey. "There is no other way but to trust and obey", as the old hymn goes. I have a book here entitled "Covenant and the Old Testament" in which this whole chapter 24 is explained in terms of ancient family rituals by which family relationships are restored and strengthened through sacrifice and then a meal. Every tent was to be a tabernacle. Every hearth was to be an altar. Every father a priest. Every family, in a sense, a church; and the whole nation, a kingdom of priests...if only they would trust and obey and forsake the gods of Egypt - power, wealth and pleasure.
Exodus 32 tells us they didn't. Moses was up there fasting for forty days (can you imagine a forty-day fast?), hearing and receiving the word from God and the Ten Commandments and much else. While they were waiting down in the valley, they tell Aaron, "Come make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what's happening." No longer did God do it, Moses did it.
Aaron says, "Bring all your fine jewelry." They do. He took what they had and made it into an idol cast into the shape of a calf. The Apis cult in Egypt worshipped a calf, a golden calf. When Aaron saw this , he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to Yahweh." So the next day the people arose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward, they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry, which is a Hebrew cliché for a fertility cult behavior; it's a sexual orgy, just like the Egyptians after worshipping Apis.
The Lord said to Moses, "Go down, because YOUR people whom YOU brought out of Egypt." You see what he's doing? He's disowning Israel. Don't underestimate the ferocious evil of the golden calf. It was an utter renunciation of true religion and faith to God. It was a total reattachment to the religion of Egypt. God said, "They're your people , Moses. Get down. You brought them out of Egypt. Leave me alone till my anger may burn against them and then I may destroy them and then I will make you into a great nation."
Moses could have said, "Hey, not bad. You destroy all those scoundrels and you're going to start all over again with me and the nation will be called Moses instead of Israel"? No, Moses says, "Blot me out instead. Remember the oath that you swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. All the world is going to look on and say, "He could bring them out of Egypt, but he couldn't take Egypt out of them. Don't do it for your sake, not for them." And God relents. He knows how to fashion a mediator. He knows how to form a mediator's heart like Moses.
So the Lord relented in verse 14 and did not bring on His people the disaster He threatened. Moses goes down, takes the tablets of stone, smashes them to pieces, takes the dust, throws it in the water and makes them drink and then he calls out, "Who's on the Lord's side." You'd think at this point the first-born sons would say, "We are; after all, we're priests and we would be dead in Egypt if it weren't for the Passover." They are conspicuously silent. Some scholars suggest that the golden calf was a symbol of the first-born son; they might have been the perpetrators of the whole idolatrous act! But the Levites say to Moses, "We're on the Lord's side." He says, "Then take every man a sword and slay every man his kinsmen." They took their swords, went to and fro throughout the gates of the camp and slew 3,000 Israelite kinsmen!
Moses then said, "Guys, I only meant that figuratively, you know the sword of the spirit." No! He says, "Well done, good and faithful servants. You, today, have ordained yourselves to be Israel's priests." What just happened? Well, we'll read in the next two or three books what happened. All twelve tribes were systematically and instantly defrocked and laicized, dispensed from the priesthood. And the tribe of Levi merited the priesthood. Why? In consequence of their burning with zeal for God's glory. Wimpy priests? No way! Effeminate priests? No way! Godly, manly, fatherly priests who burn with love for their children, even when they're sinning and when they have to be punished. That's what the Levites stood for. Can you imagine? One week before the calf, you're worshipping your father and your oldest brothers up there and then your uncle and they are all leading the songs and the sacrifice is great. The next week you go to liturgy, your son is dead. He was slain by a Levite and the murderers up there leading the singing, and all the other guys up there slew your cousins and your nephews, 3000 kinsmen and the ones who did it are now the priests.
God says, "You take my commandments seriously. My law is a law of love. I love you too much to let you sin, and those who will burn with zeal for my law, I will raise up and empower." And do you know something? St. Thomas and many others have seen this. Maybe people today don't see it, but before the golden calf, all of the animal sacrifices and all of the dietary regulations seem not to have been required. They were discretionary, votive offerings that you could make if you wanted and when you wanted, after this initial sacrifice. It's only after the Golden Calf; it's only after the Levites become priests; it's only after the first-born sons are all repudiated as God's priests that God imposes the Books of Numbers and Leviticus upon the people so that every day they have to be sacrificing (you got it!) sheep, cattle and goats. Why? It's like a woman who's been burned too many times by her alcoholic husband. One bottle of Jack Daniels smashed in the sink isn't enough. Every morning, Jack, when we wake up you take your Jack Daniels and smash it in the sink. Every evening, before you go to bed, you do the same thing. You ceremonially renounce every day of your life from now on that which has bound you.
God says, "I wanted to set you free from all this earthly addiction, but you went back." Ezekiel 20:25 says, "So God had to give them laws that weren't good - animal sacrifice. Hundreds of thousands and millions of goats and sheep and cows." Why? Because God loves blood and the smell of animal meat and flesh burning on the altar? No. Because they had to continually renounce the gods of Egypt and the gods of the greatest power religions and nature religions throughout the ancient Near East.
So Israel's religion became horribly complicated and bureaucratic; bureaucratic because of the Levites. Now the families have been laicized. They are not priests any more. They are bureaucratic and complicated because all of the ceremonial sacrifices and all of the dietary regulations and so on.
Two laws now exist for Israel: Leviticus, which is the priestly code, which requires all kinds of purification and strict morality and then Deuteronomy, which is given to the twelve tribes, which are now lay tribes, no longer priestly tribes. For the first time since creation in Deuteronomy, God allows the twelve tribes, but not Levites, not the priests in Leviticus, but he allows the twelve tribes in Deuteronomy to divorce and remarry. Jesus said, "Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of your heart." He's talking about how God had to have two laws. One for those who took him seriously, and one for those who wouldn't.
In Deuteronomy God has to allow divorce. The rabbi said because if he didn't, the Israelites would have killed their women to marry the ones they wanted. For the first time we have "harem warfare" allowed. Genocide and extermination is allowed and permitted in Deuteronomy. Usury, charging interest on loans to other people is allowed. All kinds of laws concerning slavery and polygamy and marrying slave women are allowed in Deuteronomy. The Levites had to follow the strictest marital morality because they were still priests, but the Deuteronomic law had all kinds of concessions and compromises. Scholars like Goldinade still see this. There were two laws now, as the vast majority of Israel was laicized. Was this what God wanted? No, of course not. This one scholar says: "Unfortunately for the people, they declined the privilege of being a national priesthood in preference to representation under Moses, Aaron and the Levites. Therefore, the original purpose of God was delayed but not scrapped or defeated forever. Delayed until New Testament times when the priesthood of all believers was again proclaimed. (First Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6 and 5:10). Nevertheless, Israel's role of being the agents chosen by God, the ministers of the needs of the nations was not rescinded. In other words, from the golden calf until the coming of Christ, through their disobedience, and through God's punishments, the nations would learn righteousness the hard way. Oh! that's what happens when we sin! Yeah! No longer would they be priestly teachers inspiring obedience. Now through their disobedience and suffering of God's punishments, they teach the nations the ways of God.
God's purpose was not thwarted; it was delayed. The Catholic Church teaches the priesthood of all believers. Baptism restores to Christians, priesthood, a natural priesthood, making the family a domestic church, distinct from the sacramental and supernatural priesthood that we receive in Holy Orders. But don't let anyone ever trick you into believing that the Protestants believe in the priesthood of all believers but not the Catholics. We believe in the priesthood of all believers through Baptism, because at the age of thirty, priests were anointed s with water and the word is "Baptidso", they were prinkled.
We are baptized and thus we are restored in our families to the priesthood. I wish I could just get this across. I'd jump up and down on my head and spit dimes and nickels if I could do something to get this across to people today. Our families in the New Covenant are what the families in Israel could no longer be. We can! We can be domestic churches. Fathers, religion is not a feminine enterprise. It's not "women's work"; it's not wimpy. To be religious is to be un-cool and to be cool is the rule. I see this in so many high school kids and in college guys and so on. We've got to rediscover manly religion as well as womanly religion. We've got to see that it belongs in the home, at the table, with songs and with prayers and with men of God acting out the part of priests and allowing the women to be prophets, as well, just as the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has insisted over and over again.
Now, we could go on and on describing all of this, but I've got to ask you one question, the same question I asked last night. "What kind of God was Moses dealing with?" I mean, to slay 3000 kinsmen and then to merit the priesthood? To wipe out millions, or at least thousands of first-born sons and animals? To slay a lamb and to sprinkle the blood and to make these people eat the lamb? What kind of God is that? And the same answer applies - the same God we have to deal with in Jesus Christ; because Jesus Christ came as a new Moses.
Conclusion: Jesus as the New Moses
Remember how Moses was born; and he was almost slaughtered? What happened to Jesus when he was born? He was almost slaughtered by a royal decree, wasn't he? His parents had to flee. Where did he go for safety. Coincidentally, he went down into Egypt. After the king died in this case, what happens? Matthew says, " Out of Egypt have I called forth my Son", quoting Hosea's reflection on the Exodus. If Israel is God's first-born son, how much more Jesus Christ! If Israel is enslaved in Egypt, so was Christ. If Israel was brought up out of Egypt, so was Christ. If Israel was brought through the waters, so was Christ through the Jordan. If Israel had to go for forty years in the wilderness and Moses fasted forty days in the wilderness, what did Jesus do? He fasted for forty days in the wilderness. If Moses had to go up the mountain to give the law to the people to show what the Father wants, what does Jesus do? As soon as He has been out in the wilderness for forty days being tempted by the devil, quoting the laws of Moses to rebuke the devil from Deuteronomy, just as the devil tempted Israel out there for forty years, Jesus goes up and preaches the Sermon on the Mountain, giving the New Covenant law. Just as Moses took the twelve chiefs and the twelve tribes, and then seventy elders to fashion a new church government, what does Jesus do? He takes twelve disciples and says, "You will sit on twelve thrones and rule the twelve tribes of Israel.
Then, Luke 10 tells us that he took seventy other disciples (what a coincidence, right?) Wrong. He saw himself as the new Moses, giving a New Covenant to constitute a new Israel and so did those people recognize it. In John 6, they said, "You are the prophet that Moses promised, 'the prophet like unto Moses'." And what about the Passover? Christ is the first-born son who is slain in Egypt and he is also the lamb, without blemish, without broken bones and is slaughtered; whose blood is sprinkled and whose body must be eaten!
Suppose you didn't like lamb meat back then in Egypt? You killed the lamb, you sprinkled the blood and you had lamb cookies instead and you throw away the lamb. Well, what would happen? You'd wake up, your first-born son would be dead. You had to eat the lamb. Jesus Christ says in John 6, "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him, and I will raise him up on the last day. My flesh is food indeed; my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me."
All these Jews were horrified, because Leviticus prohibited the drinking of blood. If you drink blood, you're going to have to be cut off from your family. And Jesus said, "Bingo, you got it right. If you drink my blood, you are going to be cut off from the family of Adam, and you are going to become attached to the family of the new Adam, the Son of God, the priest, the prophet, the king, the messiah, the beginning and the end of it all; who has formed a New Covenant and a new family in his own flesh and blood, which we celebrate in every Mass." You've got to eat the lamb. You don't just kill the lamb. A sacrifice requires death, but the purpose of sacrifice is to restore family communion. That is symbolized by eating the lamb in a family meal. That, praise God, is what we do every Sunday, and for you fortunate and blessed daily communicants, every day! God be praised!
He set this whole thing up. He loaded the dice. He stacked the deck. The whole of the Exodus, the whole entire Mosaic covenant was a curriculum in pre-Christian education. Isn't it about time we go back and learn the alphabet of our faith?
Thank you very much.
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