The Covenant is God’s Will for Man

THE COVENANT WITH MOSES, PART THREE: VIII

The birth of Israel, as a nation, began with the first “Passover meal” on the night when God spared the Hebrews from losing their first-born sons. And “day one” began as a people who no longer belonged to Egypt, but to Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This day also began as the “year one” in the Hebrew calendar. The Lord, Himself, set the conditions for the “New Nation” and He gave the instructions to Moses and Aaron:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month they shall take every man a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household; and if the household is too small for a lamb, then a man and his neighbor next to his house shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old; you shall take it from the sheep or from the goats; and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening. Then they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled with water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning, anything that remains until the morning, you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it; your loins girded, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’S passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments; I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, upon you the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you, to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.

This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses, for if any one eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly; no work shall be done on those days; but what every one must eat, that only may be prepared by you.

And you shall observe the feast of the unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt: therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as and ordinance for ever. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, and so until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses; for it any one eats what is leavened, that person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a so-journer or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread (Exodus 12:1-20).

Moses called all the elders and the leaders together and he gave them strict instructions what they had to do to stay safe when God was to judge Pharaoh and his people at midnight. God’s final lesson left no doubt what Pharaoh and the Egyptians had to do to get the Hebrews out of their country. The Hebrews enjoyed plundering the Egyptians. Thus, after four hundred and thirty years, Israel was forced to leave without time to prepare.

Then Moses called all the elders of Israel, and said to them, “Select lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood which is in the basin; and none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to slay the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to slay you. You shall observe this rite as an ordinance for you and for your sons for ever. And when you come to the land which the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’S passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he slew the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.

Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did (Exodus 12:21-28).

At midnight the Lord smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where one was not dead. And he summoned Moses and Aaron by night, and said, “Rise up, go forth from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone; and bless me also!

And the Egyptians were urgent with the people, to send them out of the land in haste; for they said, “We are all dead men.” So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their mantles on their shoulders. The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked of the Egyptians jewelry of silver and of gold, and clothing; and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they despoiled the Egyptians.

And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very many cattle, both flocks and herds. And they baked unleavened cakes of dough which they had brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any provisions (Exodus 12:29-39).

God’s Covenant to Abraham was confirmed with a mark on the foreskin by circumcision. The same identity mark or circumcision was required of all the males, Hebrews and non-Hebrews to participate in the Passover — the perpetual feast of gratitude for Israel’s deliverance from slavery and the beginning of a new and independent nation under God. Many other slaves were also leaving Egypt who were not Jews and they became Jewish proselytes. Moses’ recorder reproduced Israel’s departure from Egypt and her first memorial of delivery feast. It also was the first briefing of what Yahweh expected of his people:

The time that the people of Israel dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.

And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the passover: no foreigner shall eat of it; but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. No sojourner or hired servant may eat of it. In one house shall it be eaten; you shall not carry forth any of the flesh outside the house; and you shall not break a bone of it. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. And when a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”

Thus did all the people of Israel; as the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did. And on that very day the LORD brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts (Exodus 12:40-51)

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”

And Moses said to the people, “Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place; no leavened bread shall be eaten. This day you are to go forth, in the month of Abid. And when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this service in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory. And you shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt. You shall therefore keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year.

And when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, you shall set apart to the LORD all that first opens the womb. All the firstlings of your cattle that are males shall be the LORD’S. Every firstling of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every first-born of man among your sons you shall redeem. And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, “By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man and the first-born of cattle. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all the males that first open the womb; but all the first-born of my sons I redeem.’ It shall be as a mark on your hand or fortlets between your eyes; for by the strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:1-16).  

The final showdown with Pharaoh began when he awakened from the nightmare of losing his first-born and his labor force. To avoid the Hebrews from having second thoughts about leaving Egypt, the Lord directed them to move on toward the Red Sea and not to stay in close proximity to Egypt. Pharaoh did noticed Israel’s move away from Egypt and he had his army pursue the Hebrews and all the other slaves and return them to Egypt. To shelter his chosen people by night God was present in a “pillar of fire” and by day in a “cloud.” When Pharaoh’s army approached, the “cloud” blinded the Egyptians until Moses parted the Red Sea and all of Israel crossed over on dry land. The Egyptian army entered the Red Sea and when the army was inside, the sea closed on them. At last, Israel was freed.

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, “Lest the people repent when they see war, and return to Egypt.” But God led the people round by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.

And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him; for Joseph had solemnly sworn the people of Israel, saying, “God will visit you; then you must carry my bones with you from here.” And they moved on from Succoth, and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night; the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people (Exodus 13:17-22).

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baalzephon; you shall encamp over against it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are entangled in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” And they did so.

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, and took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the people of Israel as they went forth defiantly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pihahiroth, in front of Baalzephon.

When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were in great fear. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD; and they said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go on dry ground through the sea. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, so that they shall go in after them and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

Then the angel of God who went before the host of Israel moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness; and the night passed without one coming near the other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down upon the hosts of the Egyptians, and discomfited the host of the Egyptians, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily; and the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel; for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” So Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its wonted flow when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled into it, and the LORD routed the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not so much as one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians dead upon the seashore. And Israel saw the great work which the LORD did against the Egyptians, and the people feared the LORD; and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses (Exodus 14:1-31).

It appears that all was well and the Hebrew people finally believed in the God of their fathers and in Moses as their deliverer. Pharaoh and Egypt were out of their way, but why were they headed into the wilderness instead into the “Land of Promise” that was filled with milk and honey? Well, the Israelites had to learn to live under the “Covenant.” There were some conditions, rules, and stipulations, which had to be resolved before they could live as free people, and not as slaves. Freedom, itself, has a costly price tag, which creates immense problems for any people who want to enjoy freedom. Their celebration in song and in dancing was short lived.