|BIBLE STUDY SERIES #125, 126 and 127|
10 April, 1994
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
Over the course of recent weeks, our Bible Studies have been examining each of the Ten Commandments and today we find Moses, standing as intermediary between Yahweh (Jehovah), the God of Israel, and the masses of the Israelites. The Tribes of Israel have been standing fearfully, all the while, at some distance from the summit of Mount Sinai, and they now request that Moses, rather than God Himself, relate to them the word of The LORD.
The Ten Commandments have just been delivered by The Almighty God to Moses, and following this, the Scriptures now record the reactions of the Israelites, standing at the foot of the mountain, as they have watched the awe-inspiring phenomena displayed above them on the top of Mount Sinai during the giving of the Law.
We begin today's study by reading Exodus 20:18-21:
18. And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
19. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
20. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.
21. And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.
The New Bible Commentary says "They were not to be afraid that they would be smitten by the lightning, etc., but they were to fear continually lest they offend God." Keil and Delitzsch explain that Moses first took away the false fear of death in the words "fear not", and immediately added "for God is come to prove you", referring to the state of the heart in relation to God. Such great Thunder is also associated with the voice of The Almighty elsewhere in Scripture.
In Job 40:9, The LORD speaks to Job, saying "Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?" In John 12:28-29 Jesus, after explaining to Philip and Andrew that He must die, prays to The Father in these words: "Father, glorify thy name." The passage continues in the words: "Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him."
Having these great thunderings in view, we might compare the voice in the Exodus account, not only with the voice of The Almighty as it is represented elsewhere in Holy Writ, but of the voices of multitudes, heard in the great symbolic descriptions revealed by Our Lord to St. John, and which are recorded in the Book of Revelation.
Revelation 6:1 says: "And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see."
Revelation 10:4: says: "And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not."
Revelation 14:2-3 records: "And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth."
One other quotation I want to take from Revelation at this time is one which I find particularly interesting. It is found in Revelation 19:6-7, and it says: "And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready."
That description is, I believe, a most appropriate one to include at this point because, like the great thunder on Mount Sinai, the thunder of the Revelation passage is heard at the marriage of the Bride of Almighty God, and in both cases, that bride is the same personification, namely, the nation of Israel.
Let us not forget that the nation, when gathered for a religious observance or purpose as here before Mount Sinai, was the qahal, which the LXX usually translates using the Greek word "ekklesia", as The New Bible Dictionary, item "Congregation" explains. In other words, the Nation of Israel, gathered before their God, is "the church." Thus these two events are linked. The Thunders on both occasions are heard at the marriage of Israel to God; the first with Almighty God at Mount Sinai, and the second at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. In this second case, Christ has passed through death, to remove the bar against re-marriage of the Israel wife of Sinai; she who had been set aside for her sins for a certain period called "seven times", or, in other words, two thousand, five hundred and twenty years, to Himself. St. Paul makes reference to the pertinent law in I Corinthians 7:39.
These are obviously most awe-inspiring visions, and one wonders how we, ourselves, might react at such a display of God's purposes. Would we, like those Israelites of old, at Mount Sinai, fearfully retreat from the presence of such an awe-inspiring Deity? Indeed, we might ask, "Will we do so"?
There is a passage in Revelation 6:15-16 which says that "...the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"
Of the Exodus passage, the New Bible Commentary (Revised), says: "Love is the motive for keeping this law, but fear is also spiritually healthy lest love be debased."
There is a great deal to consider in that observation. Until the present generation, it was generally understood that both The Almighty God, and, indeed, one's own parents ought to be shown, not only a sense of adoration, but also, a certain healthy fear. This fear was something in the nature of the fear of losing a good relationship with someone or something precious, but also, a fear of transgression of a just authority.
We might generalise by stating that an authority rules by Love, or by Fear, or a combination of both. Lacking love, only fear is left, to assure compliance.
The superstitious, in ignorance of nature's laws, might, in generations past, have attempted to propitiate their gods through fear. Today, scientists, who do understand the laws of physics to a certain extent, may fear the results of unleashing atomic, biological, or chemical weapons in war, and so they work for international peace at all costs. However, they don't fear God because they don't see Him as a reality. (At this point, I am reminded of the words of I Thessalonians 5:3, "when they shall say Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.")
Perhaps the loss of this healthy reverence or fear of The Almighty God is, at least in part, a consequence of the humanistic assault upon the authority and reliability of God's Word, for, as Hebrews 11:6 explains, "...for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him". At any rate, we find that the prophetic words of the Apostles, and of Christ Himself, regarding the last days, are now coming to fulfilment for, we see, as set out in I Timothy 4:1-2, the heed presently being given to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. Thus is the Word of God set aside, and the authority thereof to guide and enjoin men and women is set at naught. St. Paul expressed wise advice in I Timothy 6:1-5:
1. Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.
2. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.
3. If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;
4. He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
5. Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
And in Titus 3:1-2, St. Paul in advising Titus concerning his work, says "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men."
There is, however, one final and most important aspect to this whole question of respect for authorities which must be mentioned. When arrested by the Jewish authorities, and admonished by the Council that they must not speak in Jesus' Name, Peter and John replied thus, in Acts 4:19-20: "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." Thus did these two, chief among Christ's Apostles, boldly answer those who would have silenced them from preaching in the Name of Our Lord. We see, then, that there must be an hierarchy of authority, and we must obey the greater rather than the lesser claimant upon our loyalty. The proponents of a New World Order often seem to emulate those of the Council of Jeruslem in the days of Peter and John.
We shall continue our Bible Studies on our next programme.
17 April, 1994
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
Over the course of recent weeks, our Bible Studies have been examining each of the Ten Commandments. Moses has become an intermediary between Yahweh (Jehovah), the God of Israel, and the Israelites who have stood afar off from Mount Sinai while The Law was imparted by The Almighty.
Today's passage, taken from Exodus 20:22-26, speaks to us, as it did to the ancient Israelites, about the tendency to pollute God's service by our own adornments and accretions, all of which tend to involve some form of service which is of our own designs. We find these words of warning at the end of the same chapter in which the Ten Commandments are recorded, and they bear such importance that I believe that we ought to devote today's talk to their examination.
22. And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
23. Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.
24. An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.
25. And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.
26. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.
The New Bible Commentary states that this involved "A warning against worshipping idols at the same time as Jehovah, or Worshipping Jehovah under the form of an idol, as in xxxii." Keil and Delitzsch point out that the earth or natural stone which has been involved in the curse of sin, is to be renewed and glorified into the kingdom of God, not by sinful men, but by the gracious hand of God alone. They further point out that the place must be of God's selection, not man's casual choice.
Another point is made by Keil and Delitzsch, in reference to the "going up by steps." Nakedness was a disclosure of sin, through which the altar of God would be desecrated, and for this reason it was forbidden to ascend to the altar by steps.
Here, there are several aspects to God's injunctions. First, it is forbidden to attempt to represent any figure which is intended to present some form of a god out of gold or silver, even though it might be an attempt to represent the True God. There may be a number of considerations here. The Israelites had been, for several centuries past, living in Egypt, within a context of idol worship.
The Egyptians worshipped many and varied gods, as we have learned in our past Bible Studies, and in order to make some tangible focus for the worship of each, they had created many idols out of stone, precious metals, and other materials. We may think of the stone used to carve the images of the Pharaohs, each of whom, in turn, would have been considered as a god to Egypt. We may add to that the many animal-headed idols by which those Egyptians honoured the deities of natural aspects of Egypt, like the River Nile, or the animals which dwelt about them in the land.
The presence of these would, in their own minds, have held some importance to their well-being or the lack thereof, and, lacking a knowledge of the true God, they had developed the worship of many gods.
There would have been a natural tendency for the Israelites to absorb, even in spite of their own forefathers' teachings with regard to the One God, the other "nearer" deities in which their Egyptian task-masters believed and which they respected. If a tyrant believed something to be true, the bondservants, whether they would prefer to do so or not, must constantly have kept that factor of respect by their superiors to the fore in their own every-day activities of life.
Then there is the artisan factor. If any among those Israelites had developed some talent for creating forms in gold, silver or stone, they would, perhaps, have been called upon to use their talents for the service of their directors, and that artistic ability might have earned them some special advantages amid the Egyptian society in which they were forced to dwell.
Then also, there would have been the natural tendency, seeing the demand existed to manufacture such images, for the more artistic or accomplished artisans among the tribesmen to make a good living, of sorts, by employing their talents in that connection. After all, the God of their fathers was a partially lost memory to many of these Israelites.
There is some evidence of this to be found when Moses had approached the burning bush, at the time when he was given his commission to return to Egypt, you may remember, there to provide the focus of God's signs and wonders in the extraction of God's people out of their predicament. He had asked "when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?" (Exodus 3:13).
This tendency towards turning to the corruptions of Egyptian idolatry by these same Israelites, is later to be revealed when we examine Exodus 32:8. Moses tarried, failing to appear for forty days, and the response of some was to make for themselves a golden calf-god to lead them back to Egypt.
The tendency towards idolatry persists. We find it repeated down through the years of Israel's development in the Promised Land. Instead of driving idolators from the land, Israel settled down and lived among them and this resulted in Israel's expulsion from their inheritance for a period of punishment and re-training. They had adopted all those gods of the Canaanitish peoples whom they had been ordered to expel from the land. We might also consider those further developments which have come about in various parts of the Christian church, down through the centuries subsequent to Christ's First Advent. In many places of worship, the glitter and artistry of the edifice has been a continuing source of temptation to worship the image rather than the God Who is the deity supposedly forming the true focus of attention therein.
We ought to consider, in that regard, the manner in which things developed both in ancient times, and in more recent years. When the Canaanites worshipped, they did so using stone or metal images for Baal, or Chemosh, for Moloch or Milcom, or the various Asherah woods. The temptation has always been to substitute a carved image for the reality. It was with His perfect omniscience, His perfect understanding of what would come about, that The Almighty God was thus warning His people by these strictures.
If we consult a dictionary, such as the Oxford Illustrated Dictionary, for a definition of "Art", we find such explanations as "Skill, esp. applied to design, representation, or imaginative creation; human skill as opp. to nature; cunning, stratagem; subject in which skill may be exercised..."
The Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary says "practical skill guided by rules: human skill as opposed to nature: skill as applied to subjects of taste, the fine arts..."
I feel that these definitions do not cover the whole field which might be included. I would like to suggest a somewhat broader alternative definition be entertained. It is: "That which provides opportunity for empathy." If my use of the word "empathy" is not easily grasped, I might add that the dictionary explains empathy as "power of entering into another's personality and imaginatively experiencing his experiences." The reason I would suggest this wider thought is that the more restrictive dictionary definitions limit art to man's devices, and thus exclude the mighty works of God, Who is the supreme Artist.
We might, then, think of that passage which we read earlier as favouring the artistry of The Almighty God over the tawdry impositions of mere man. Hewing the stone of the altar would, then, be like the impertinence of a second-rate artist attempting to impose his own "corrections" upon a masterpiece from the mind of the supreme artist. This is not so much true of the physical form taken by the product as it is of the lost symbolism involved. It would speak of rebellion, in fact, against that which has been accomplished by Our Creator.
It is true that man was instructed, in Genesis 1:28, to "replenish the earth and subdue it", and the arts were to be employed in fashioning the adornments of the tabernacle, and later of the Temple in Jerusalem, but all such artistry involved at any point in such a process must be in total accord with God's instructions. It must never be such as to express impertinence towards the supreme Creator of all.
The significance of the symbols used in those earlier forms of worship was the theological information concerning God's ultimate purposes, embodied therein, which was to be conveyed through these symbols to later generations. Such symbolic teachings would be obscured or totally lost by the artistic interferences of man's devising, beautifying though these might appear from the immediate human level.
I might, in closing, quote Samuel's words from I Samuel 15:22, spoken when King Saul had failed to carry out God's commands completely, by leaving Agag, the enemy king of the Amalekites, alive: "Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." We shall continue our studies next week.
24 April, 1994
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
During recent weeks, our Bible Studies have been examining each of the Ten Commandments. Moses is, at this time, acting as an intermediary between Yahweh (Jehovah), the Almighty God, on the summit of Mount Sinai, and the Tribes of Israel. From The Almighty, he is receiving The Law in the holy mount while the people of Israel remain standing at some distance from the foot of the Mountain.
In the Biblical account, the Ten Commandments are followed by sundry "judgments". Keil and Delitzsch explain such judgments to be thus: "not the 'laws, which were to be in force and serve as rules of action,'... but the rights, by which the national life was formed into a civil commonwealth and the political order secured. These rights had reference first of all to the relation in which the individuals stood one towards another. The personal rights of dependants are placed at the head... and first those of slaves..."
Today, we begin to focus some attention upon the words of Scripture which are to be found in Exodus 21:1-11. This passage speaks to the ancient Israelites about the regulations which were to apply to certain forms of service which were obligatory in those days, and which we might term "slavery".
We must understand that the laws which are about to follow on from the Ten Commandments are "judgments", of a sort which might be termed "case law". Slavery of various kinds had almost always been accepted, and practiced, in all ancient lands and societies, not excluding those of the ancestors of these Israelites. It had been so in the days of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, and it existed in the time of these descendants of Israel. Thus we find God's regulations given in the words which follow.
1. Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them.
2. If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.
3. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.
4. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself.
5. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:
6. Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.
7. And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.
8. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.
9. And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.
10. If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.
11. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.
It may at first sight tend to shock some listeners to realise that some of the judgments found in the Old Testament included laws pertaining to the regulation of forms of slavery. We may view such directives from the perspective of Christ's teachings in regard to the rights and duties of the individual, and perhaps also the later development of humanistic creeds which claim for man certain rights which count slavery of any kind demeaning and abhorrent. However, as with all of Holy Writ, upon further meditation we may discern apparently sound reasons for the inclusion of such judgments when we consider the context in which they were laid down.
We shall be examining the actual details of those verses and the method of application and the apparent reasons for their existence on our next study, but today, I want to provide some general comments in order to form an introduction to that examination, and, indeed, to the matter of slavery as an institution in Biblical times.
As any teacher who seeks to be successful in instructing a large group of pupils will immediately understand, any such instruction must be taken up at a point matching the level of understanding previously attained, and which presently exists among the generality of such pupils. New knowledge must have a basis within, and be built upon, that which already exists. It is useless to begin a course of instruction at a point outside the previous experiences of the students' own lives. The need is to adapt new explanations to the realm of experience of the pupils. As understanding enlarges, so new methods of inter-action can be developed.
God is here outlining judgments which will relate to the Israelites' familiar world, beginning at the point of their understanding within the existing norms of society in their own day. God must have held constantly in view their own experiences of bondage in Egypt for a number of past generations, and their general acceptance of the values of their times. Indeed, we may remember that Joseph himself had been sold as a slave into Egyptian custody by his own brothers, through the Ishmaelite middle-men, for 20 shekels of silver, precisely the prevailing price of a slave in the patriarchal period, as we find in the New Bible Dictionary item "Slave, Slavery." That they yet held those values as normal will become evident in their willingness in the days ahead, to return to Egypt as Moses tarries upon the mount.
Subsequent history, under God's tutelage, will, as we know, lead eventually to attitudes consistent with Christ's teaching at His First Advent. In His great Sermon on the Mount, we find the further uplifting amplification of Old Testament laws imparted through phrases such as "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time...", followed by the higher level of understanding introduced in such phrases as "But I say unto you...". In grasping the full application of God's Law, a progression is involved. It would seem that the Sinai code was appropriate for that Exodus stage of Israel's understanding.
The Ten Commandments had presented certain principles of conduct between Israel and her God, and between one Israelite and another, and the relationship of Israel to aliens. Any attempt to apply the legal principles of God's just laws to the social structure of their day would require judgments which would act as practical extensions of those Commandments, in order to regulate, for God's people, an accepted social practice, existing almost universally, in some form or another, throughout the whole of the ancient world.
Five pages of The New Bible Dictionary are occupied by the item on Slaves and Slavery, and these pages form a most useful summary of the situation during Biblical times. It might not be out of place to quote some pertinent information from that source. It starts by stating: "Under the influence of Roman law, a slave is usually considered to be a person (male or female) owned by another, without rights, and - like any other form of personal property - to be used and disposed of in whatever way the owner may wish. In the ancient biblical East, however, slaves could and did acquire various rights before the law or by custom, and these included ownership (even of other slaves) and the power to conduct business while they were yet under their masters' control. Slavery is attested from the earliest times throughout the Ancient Near East, and owed its existence and perpetuation primarily to economic factors."
The article continues by itemising the sources of slaves in seven categories. These were:
1. By capture in war, a custom going back as far as written documents themselves.
2. By purchase from previous owners or merchants, as with Joseph, and these slaves often were removed from country to country.
3. By birth to slaves serving in a household.
4. As restitution, being a convicted thief, destitute, and unable to repay the damages.
5. As a defaulting debtor, a man might be forced to sell his children into slavery.
6. By selling one-self voluntarily to avoid poverty.
7. By kidnapping.
Next, the price of slaves is examined, and we find that inflation gradually raised the average prices for various categories of slaves, "the female of child-bearing age being always more valuable." The amount passed generally from 10 shekels of silver in early days through 20 in Joseph's day, 30 about the time of the Exodus, to perhaps 50 shekels of silver in Assyrian times.
The circumstances of privately owned slaves are next given attention in this reference. Like Hammurabi's Code, five centuries earlier, the Hebrew law sought to avoid the risk of wholesale population drift into slavery by limiting the length of service demanded of debtors to six years. Next the account examines the attempts of slaves to escape and the laws pertaining in such cases. There is also the special case of state and temple slaves. Each aspect of the subject receives treatment in this interesting summary, followed by a further study of slavery in New Testament times. The New Bible Dictionary reference is well worth consulting if one desires further information on the topic.
Those of us who count ourselves lucky to have a job from which we derive a weekly paycheck might just stop to ask ourselves whether we have managed to advance our situation all that much from the conditions of some categories of slaves in ancient times. Effectively, through the compulsion to strive for an income, we have "sold ourselves" in certain respects, as did the slaves of long ago. Perhaps it is time to re-consider the situation in light of our own experiences. Although economic realities have replaced those harsh task-masters or slave owners of ages past, God has something better for His people in the Kingdom Age which is to come with Christ's return. May we find new heart in meditating upon that reality.
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