The Covenant is God’s Will for Man

THE COVENANT WITH MOSES, PART ONE: VI

It was a daring act, on the part of Pharaoh, to allow a people that would never become voluntarily part of Egypt to wander about as they pleased. Perhaps, Pharaoh trusted his visitors more than he should have done:

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to me. The land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land; let them dwell in the land of Goshen; and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my cattle” (Genesis 47:5-6).  

Pharaoh trusted the sons of Jacob because of Joseph. He had no idea that Jacob had robbed Laban blind and that his sons scared the Canaanites. They were a selfish and a stubborn people. They only looked out after themselves. In four hundred years, they created an unbearable relationship with the Egyptians. If they behaved, in Egypt, the way they did in Canaan, it is no surprise that the Egyptians turned on them and enslaved them. It is unfortunate that the Hebrew historian only has given us his bias view on Egypt. He has an Egyptian mistreating his people and that the people had forgotten the redemptive work of Joseph. Unfortunately, the historian is not forthcoming with the fact that it was Pharaoh’s generosity, which made it possible for Israel to grow and to prosper. Before Jacob set out to meet with his son Joseph in Egypt, God granted him one more vision in a dream, saying:

“I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt; for I will there make you a great nation. I will go with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again; and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes” (Genesis 46:3-4).

Meanwhile, the famine helped Joseph to make Pharaoh rich. And Joseph made Pharaoh sole owner of Egypt. For the privilege of being saved from starvation, Joseph had the people promise to give one fifth or ten percent of their harvests to Pharaoh. The priests and their land were exempt from this Law (Genesis 47:13-26).

Jacob lived seventeen more years in Egypt. On his deathbed, he made Joseph swear that he would take him back to Canaan and bury him with his father. Before Jacob died, he set up in his bed and blessed Joseph’s sons and made the prediction about his own son’s’ future. He included Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s sons, with his own twelve sons (Genesis 47:27-48:22). Jacob began blessing Joseph and then he laid his right hand on Ephraim’s head, the younger son. And Joseph tried to move his father’s hand on Manasseh’s head, his father said:

“I know my son, I know; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; nevertheless his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations (Genesis 48:19)    

Jacob’s promise to Joseph’s sons was similar to the “Covenant” God made to Abraham in Genesis 17:4-8. It apparently was Jacob’s hope that Joseph’s son would perpetuate his name in the world. History did grant Ephraim that privilege with the ten tribes. The ten tribes did separate from the house of Judah and they were called “Israel” in Samaria. Jacob also was fond of Judah; no doubt, for the reason that he had saved Joseph by selling him to the Ishmaelites and for offering himself up for Benjamin (Genesis 37:27; 44:33). In his father’s eyes, Judah did distinguish himself and Jacob (Israel) did predict that Judah would play a leading role among his brothers, but not as a world leader, like Ephraim:

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies, your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he couched as a lion, and as a lioness; who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his ass’s colt to the choice vine, he washes his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of his grapes; his eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk” (Genesis 49:8-12).

Jacob or Israel’s greater wish was for Joseph to succeed, just as he had already done among his brothers:

Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by the spring; his branches run over the wall. The archers fiercely attacked him, shot at him, and harasses him sorely; yet his bow remained unmoved, his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel), by the God of your father who will help you, by God Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that couches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father are mighty beyond the blessings of the eternal mountains, the bounties of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, and on the brow of him who was separated from his brothers (Genesis 49:22-26).  

The other sons of Jacob did received short blessings that appear to depend on what Judah and Joseph would do. Simeon and Levi had stained themselves with Shechem’s blood and therefore, they were to be scattered among the other tribes (Genesis 34:24-30). Rueben had defiled his father’s bed and stained his own name. Zebulun was to become a seafaring people. Issachar became a farmer. Dan was to try to figure himself out. Gad died struggle to survive. Asher did grow rich. Naphtali did lose his identity. And, Benjamin became, “A ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey, and at even dividing the spoil” (Genesis 49:1-27). Jacob’s prediction did not dictate the outcome of his son’s future. All the tribes did prosper in Egypt for a long time before the Egyptians began to fear them and forced them into slavery.

Jacob’s last wish was to have his remains to be buried with his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham at Machpelah in Canaan. His wish was granted and a large royal caravan of his sons and Egyptians carried his remains to his resting place (Genesis 49:28-50:14). Before Jacob died he ordered his sons to settle their account with Joseph. They sent a messenger to Joseph, saying:

“Your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Forgive, I pray you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you. And now, we pray you, forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him, and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph assured them, saying, “Fear not, for I am in the place where God has put me. As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:15-21).

Joseph lived to one hundred and ten years. He saw his offspring into the third generation. Joseph had his people pledge that his remains would not remain in Egypt when he would die. They promised to take him them back to Canaan. And Joseph said to his brothers:

“I am about to die; but God will visit you, and bring you up out of this land to the land which he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” The Joseph took an oath of the sons of Israel, saying, “God will visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here” (Genesis 50:22-26).

Upon his death, Joseph was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.

Joseph rested some three hundred and twenty years before God would send Moses, from the tribe of Levi to become the great deliverer of Israel. Moses’ mission was to carry out God’s “Covenant” with Abraham and have his descendants take over Canaan. It was easier said than done, with a people who preferred to return to the days of Joseph, instead of leaving the fleshpots of Egypt, to a place were they would have to tend for themselves. Life in Egypt was good until a king had the idea to built pyramids to house their eternal souls for an afterlife. When these kings could not get enough laborers, they conscripted the Hebrews. In spite of their enslavement, one of the kings decided to reduce the male population by killing the Hebrew boys. One baby boy was saved by the Egyptian princess herself and she called him Moses (Exodus 1-2).

Moses! No one towered higher than Moses. No one exercised more authority than Moses. No one was closer to God until Jesus came. Yet, in all of that, Moses only was a servant or a tool through whom God exercised His power. The writer to the Hebrews made this distinction. Moses also became a towering figure in Christianity.

Therefore, holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession. He was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in God’s house. Yet Jesus had been counted worthy of as much more glory than Moses as the builder of a house has more honor than the house. (For every house is built by some one, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ was faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope (Hebrews 3:1-6).

Moses was chosen to execute the “Covenant” God had made to Abraham. There was no mutual agreement between God and Abraham. Abraham was called and instructed to do certain things. And like Paul in Acts, chapter nine, Abraham was obedient to that heavenly vision. It was for that obedience that Moses was called to fulfill the “Covenant.” For that purpose, Moses was spared by an Egyptian princess from death, looked over by his sister, brought up by his mother, and trained as an Egyptian prince. Moses decided to help his people by killing an Egyptian. His own people betrayed him and he fled for his life to Midian. A priest of the Most High God by the name of Jethro Reuel welcomed Moses into his home and family. Jethro Reuel gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. The couple was blessed with two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. Moses became a shepherd and pastured sheep for forty years (Exodus 1-2).

It was while Moses was tending sheep that his interest was aroused by a burning bush, which called him by name. And the voice identified itself as the “I Am.” The historian gave posterity this version.

And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here am I.” Then he said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the LORD said, “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel have come to me, and I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:2-12).

Moses had reservations about going back to Egypt. He still was a fugitive. He also felt that he lacked the eloquence to approach Pharaoh. The Israelites, themselves, had rejected Moses before and he also was apprehensive that they would believe him this time. Moses was honest about his own ability. He was simply to prepare to undertake the delivery of a people who were the slaves of the most powerful monarch on earth at the time. To send a shepherd to face Pharaoh was absolutely foolish and ridiculous. Yet, that was and that precisely still is what God does. Look at whom Jesus chose as His representatives in the world and look at the first converts Paul had at Corinth.

Jesus went up into the hills (not to Jerusalem) and called to him those he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons: Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Boanerges, that is sons of thunder; Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him (Mark 3:13-19).

For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to the worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is fooling in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord” (I Corinthians 1:26-31).

Moses’ objections to being the man for the task did not concur with the “I AM.” The “I AM” became Moses’ companion and a “Divine Presence” until the new nation of Israel was delivered from Egypt, cemented into a nation, strong enough to settle in Canaan under Joshua. The “I AM” transliterates into “Yahveh’ or “Yahweh.” Yahweh or Jahweh means “Lord.” In Egyptian captivity, it was in the name of Yahweh that Moses was told to reintroduce God to Israel.

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt; and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.’”

And they will harken to your voice; and you and the elders of Israel shall go the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, we pray you, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and smite Egypt with all the wonders which I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and her who sojourns in her house, jewelry of silver and of gold, and clothing, and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters; thus you shall despoil the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:13-22).

Moses had a deep misapprehension for his own people. They had been under Egypt over four hundred years, and the days of Joseph had long been forgotten. The hope of a Messiah must have been dashed many times, and with it the faith in Yahweh also had faded. It was almost an impossible task from scratch. How does one prepare and retrain two million people in a short time. They were not an organized or a united nation, but they were twelve tribes with envy and hostility between them. It was a monumental undertaking. And it did take forty years to turn the Hebrew people into a small fighting force that did intimidate their neighbors. Hence, Moses needed more assurance and convincing that Yahweh was in charge of the exodus project.

Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.’” The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.” And he said, “Cast it on the ground.” So he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it. But the LORD said to Moses, “Put out your hand, and take it by the tail’—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand—“that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand into your bosom.” And he put his hand into his bosom; and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, as white as snow. Then God said, “Put our hand back into your bosom.” So he put his hand back into his bosom and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or heed the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or heed your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it upon the dry ground; and the water which you shall take from the Nile will become blood upon the dry ground” (Exodus 4:1-9).

And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. And you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my first-born son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me”; if you refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay your first-born son’” (Exodus 4:21-23).

The Lord God did give Moses his older brother Aaron as his assistant and as Moses’ spokesman. The two went to Pharaoh and laid out God’s demands. They did do that ten times with ten plagues before the Egyptians did let their slaves go. After Moses and Aaron had consulted with their elders and informed them of what God had sent them to do, they approached Pharaoh and said:  

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” But Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should heed his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us; let us go, we pray, a three days’ journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get to your burdens.” And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many and you make them rest from their burdens!” The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as heretofore; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks which they made heretofore you shall lay upon them, you shall by no means lessen it; for they are idle; therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid upon the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words” (Exodus 5:1-9).

As expected, Pharaoh disregarded God’s demand to let Israel go and worship their God. He commanded the taskmasters to increase their workloads without the supply of straw for bricks. The people cried out to Moses, and Moses complained to the Lord. The Lord informed Moses that things were progressing as expected. And the Lord said to Moses:

“Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, yea, with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land” (Exodus 6:1).

And God said to Moses, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they dwelt as sojourners. Moreover I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment, and I will take you for my people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give Abraham, to Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’” Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel; but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel bondage (Exodus 6:2-9).

Moses’ speech of God being ready to deliver Israel fell on deaf ears. And the enslaved Israelites began to blame Moses and God for their added hardships. Moses, himself, became more convinced that he was not the man who could fulfil God’s enormous promise of delivering a large hoard of unbelievers. So, Yahweh raised Moses to the statute of a god to Pharaoh and Aaron as Moses’ prophet, who did predict the outcome of the contest with Pharaoh. The contest was to be between two gods in which Moses did end as the far stronger than Pharaoh. It is a fact in history, that the idea — that the gods — used men and women, even children to fight for their gods. Even in our time, Christians defend the God of Jesus against the Muslim god. Pharaoh, the weaker god and Egypt did receive back some of their own medicine. They did reap what they had sown, and with the measure they measured the Israelites, they, themselves, were measured (Galatians 6:7; Matthew 7:2).

On the day when the Lord spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt, the Lord said to Moses, “I am the Lord; tell Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I say to you.” But Moses said to the LORD, “Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips; how then shall Pharaoh listen to me” (Exodus 6:28)?

And the LORD said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh; and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you; and Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you; then I will lay my hand upon Egypt and bring forth my hosts, my people the sons of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth my hand upon Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” And Moses and Aaron did so; they did as the LORD commanded them. Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh (Exodus 7:1-13).

Pharaoh did not yield and he did not let Israel go and the contest did escalate:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water; wait for him by the river’s brink, and take in your hand the rod which was turned into a serpent. And you shall say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness; and behold, you have not yet obeyed.” Thus says the LORD, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD; behold, I will strike the water that is in the Nile with the rod that is in my hand, and it shall be turned to blood, and the fish in the Nile shall die, and the Nile shall become foul, and the Egyptians will loathe to drink water from the Nile:’ And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, and their ponds, and all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’”

Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded; in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, he lifted up the rod and struck the water that was in the Nile, and all the water that was in the Nile turned to blood. And the fish in the Nile died; and the Nile became foul, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts; so Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them; as the LORD had said. Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not lay even this to heart. And all the Egyptian dug round about the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the Nile (Exodus 7:14-24).

In this contest, Pharaoh had much to lose and Moses had much to gain. The Egyptian economy rested on the shoulders of their slaves. And for Moses the task was to build these slaves into an economy based on freedom and individual enterprise. Every family was to become self-sufficient and self-sustaining. But, first, Israel had to be set free to pursue and discover her own future.