Friday, July 10, 2009

Promises, Promises

We are at the end a list of God-given commandments in Exodus; God's first complete set instructions for mankind, or at least for the Israelites. Many of these laws reveal a just and merciful God, but we have also learned that God definitely approves of capitol punishment, has no issue with inequality under the law based on social class or sex, and was not at all interested in converting those of other faiths to follow Him. In fact, those who worship other gods were to be killed. This is how God is structuring the Law for His representatives on earth, and thereby showing the world His true nature.

Promises, Promises
Before we get to the heart of this study, there is one quick topic to cover. Near the end of God's first complete set of laws, there is a verse which does not get nearly enough attention. Do you think that God views men and women as equals? Think again. In Exodus 23:17, you find this:
"Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD." NIV
God doesn't require women to appear before Him, or even children for that matter. God only seeks a direct relationship with men. There are a number of practical reasons why the whole family would not be required to appear before God. However, with Christianity posturing that God's main goal is to “save” people for the life after death, there is then no logical reason which would prevent God from requiring that everyone appear before Him, men, women, and children, because the fleeting matters of this world are trivial when compared to the eternal next world. That is, unless God just simply does not value women the same as He does men.

All right, on to the main topic: promises. Immediately following the last commandment are promises about what God will do for the Israelites as they enter the Promised Land in Exodus 23:20-33, as well as some miscellaneous instructions and reminders for the Israelites.

God said He would send an angel with His Name in him ahead of the Israelites (Exodus 23:20-21). It's not clear who this angel was. Some scholars suggest it was Jesus, while some others suggest it was the Archangel Michael. Regardless of who the angel was, this angel had complete authority and power to act according to God's will (Exodus 23:22-23).

What was this angel going to do? At first, it seems like the angel would kill the present occupants of the promised land all by himself (Exodus 23:23). But then, in apparent contradiction, it seems that he would simply terrorize and confuse occupants to make them gradually flee at the approach of Israelites (Exodus 23:27-30). Either way, the Israelites were going to acquire the Promised Land with no effort.

This promised angelic action had a caveat; the Israelites had to obey God (Exodus 23:22). The books of Joshua and Judges contain a record of many battles fought by the Israelites while taking control of the Promised Land, so obviously the angel did neither of these two actions. However, the Israelites as a whole did not perfectly obey God, so this is not necessarily a broken promise. Yet God (or perhaps this angel) assisted the Israelites in many of the battles, just not consistently in the prescribed manner. So what does this mean, or what can we learn from it? What do you think?

In the midst this elusive promise is another one which is critical to understanding the Old Testament God and His Plan for mankind. In God's own words in Exodus 23:25-26:
"Worship the LORD your God, and His blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span." NIV
Simply put, if the Israelites worship God, they can expect long, healthy lives and lots of offspring. God is the original prosperity theology preacher. That is good, but did you catch what is missing? There is no mention of an afterlife. All of the rewards listed here are for their normal lives and are not eternal. In fact, the last verse essentially guarantees death after a long life. It does not make sense that God would fail to mention the best and everlasting reward of worshiping Him; an eternally happy life after life. Unless, of course, the concept of an afterlife was not yet invented by the mind of this Old Testament (OT) author.

One more quick note on this verse: God has control over sickness, miscarriages, and sterility. If you worship God and experience any of these issues, perhaps you are just not worshiping Him correctly. ;-)

Promises are made on both sides. In Exodus 24:3-8, Moses tells the Israelites all of the laws and other information which God had just provided. Moses also writes all of this down in the “Book of the Covenant”. All of the Israelites agreed that they would obey God.

Also in the confirmation of this covenant we see that there were offerings; burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls. Half of the blood of these offerings was put on the altar, while the other half was sprinkled on the (>>600000) people. It is somewhat interesting that this ceremony is performed with both burnt offerings and young bull's blood. After all, if the OT had shadows of what was to come in the New Testament (NT), why were there burnt offerings? And why was bull's blood used as opposed to lamb's blood, which would have provided more consistent symbolism with Jesus being the “lamb of God”? It seems like the OT authors didn't know the end from the beginning.

Perhaps the strangest part of this ceremony is what happened afterwards. Exodus 24:9-11 records how Moses, Aaron and his sons, and 70 elders of Israel went up on the mountain and saw God. God was standing on a pavement of blue crystals! It is yet another confirmation that God is shaped like a man. So much for the NT references saying that nobody has ever seen God (John 1:18, John 6:46, 1 Timothy 6:16, 1 John 4:12)! Perhaps even stranger yet is the content of the last verse; that “God did not raise His hand against...”, or in other words, God did not kill them for seeing Him. As in, normally God would have killed them for seeing Him. If your first instinct is to kill anyone who sees you, then you are probably not the epitome of love.

In Exodus 24:12-18, the matter draws to a close with Moses (and Joshua) going up to see God to get stone tablets containing the laws and commandments (which Moses had already recorded in the Book of the Covenant). It's somewhat amusing to see that God made Moses wait for six days before He let him into His Holy cloud (Exodus 24:16). Perhaps God was just trying to emphasize to Moses that He had complete control over the situation.


  1. "If your first instinct is to kill anyone who sees you, then you are probably not the epitome of love."

    Awesome line. :)

  2. Thanks J. I don't know why, but that weird paradox didn't strike me until I did this study. It is rather bizarre from a "God is Love" perspective! :-)