History of Faith & Worship
Now, with their years of slavery behind them, the people of God needed to be trained. Such a process would take time. The location of God’s “school” for His people was the desert, and the time they spent there was to be one of rich religious experience and education. Laws were to be given, learned, and put into practice. The hearts of the people were to be knit to their leaders and to each other. The Israelites must be made to understand their mission. And the life of the desert was needed to produce a people hardy and sturdy enough to be God’s sword against the Canaanites.
As you study this lesson you will follow the Israelites as they journeyed toward the promised land. You will see them as they progressed and were delayed. You will learn about the various means God used to bring order and unity among them. You will discover, too, the spiritual truths that are pictured by the particular objects and observances that God chose.
Your understanding of what faith and worship involves will be greatly enriched through the material in this lesson. You will also see how God’s people were prepared through their experiences to possess the land He had promised them.
God’s People Are Prepared
For Israel their exodus, or way out from Egypt was one of the greatest events in their experience. The following map shows the route they traveled, which is represented by a broken line. As you read about their journey, find on this map each place that is mentioned. (Read Exodus 15–19.)
After the Israelites left Egypt, their journey to Canaan by way of the Sinai peninsula was by God’s divine order. (The Sinai peninsula is the land between the Red Sea on the west and the Gulf of Aquaba on the east.)
After God defeated the Egyptians by His mighty power, there came a time of triumphant praise (Exodus 15). This was followed by a three-day journey into the wilderness of Shur. At Maran, the bitter waters were made sweet by a miracle (Exodus 15:25). The Israelites then went south, camping at Elim.
In the wilderness of Sin, God miraculously provided manna. Manna meant what is this? in the language of the people. It was a mysterious, good-to-eat, and concentrated food which was to be Israel’s daily food until they entered Canaan. Quails were supplied in abundance when the Israelites craved meat like they had eaten in Egypt.
At Rephidim, three significant things happened: 1) God provided a gushing torrent of water when Moses struck the rock with his rod; 2) Amalek was turned back by the Israelite army under Joshua while Moses prayed; and 3) Moses followed his father-in-law’s advice and appointed elders to help him carry out his overwhelming duties.
In less than three months the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai (also called Horeb). They were to camp there for almost one year. There they were to learn their destiny and purpose under God.
God’s Law and Its Purpose
One year of living in a camp around Mt. Sinai was sufficient for God’s covenant people to become a nation. First, the Decalogue (which means the ten laws or commandments) was given to them. Then the specific laws for holy living were given. A place for God to dwell among the people and for their worship of Him was constructed. This place was called the tabernacle or the tent of the Lord’s presence. In addition, the priesthood was organized, the offerings put in order, and the feasts and seasons begun. In short, Israel was being made ready to serve God effectively
For centuries, the Israelites had known that their fathers— Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—had enjoyed a covenant with God. Now that same God was revealing himself to them. His power was no longer something that others had felt, it became an experience in their own lives. They saw His miracles for themselves!
At Sinai, Israel prepared for three days for the covenant to be established. God revealed to Moses the Decalogue, the other laws, and the directions for the sacred feasts. God spoke to the people in the midst of fire and cloud. Aaron, two of his sons, and seventy elders led the people in making the burnt offerings. After Moses read the book of the covenant, the people responded by accepting the law. Then the covenant was sealed with the blood of the sacrifices. The condition of the covenant was obedience. Under the covenant, members of the nation could give up their rights by disobedience.
The laws God gave can be divided into three types:
- Moral Law—Rules of Right and Wrong
- Civil Law—Rules for the Nation
- Ceremonial Law—Rules of Worship The moral law was permanent.
But many of the civil and ceremonial laws were given for a limited period of time. For example, certain laws concerning the killing of animals were changed when Israel entered Canaan (compare Leviticus 17 to Deuteronomy 12:20–24).
The Moral Law
1.Worship no god but Me.
2.Do not make for yourselves images of anything.
3.Do not use My name for evil purposes.
4.Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.
5.Respect your father and your mother.
6.Do not commit murder.
7.Do not commit adultery.
8.Do not steal.
9.Do not accuse anyone falsely.
10.Do not desire what belongs to another man.
The first two laws are the ones that show the special nature of the Decalogue. They forbid the worship of idols or any other gods. Egypt, from which Israel had come, worshipped many gods. Canaan, to which Israel was marching, was also filled with idolatry. God’s people had to be different! They must express devotion only to the true God.
After these commandments had been given to Israel, however, the people sinned. While Moses was in the holy mountain they made a golden idol shaped like a bull and worshipped it (Exodus 32:1–10). In Egypt the Israelites probably had joined the Egyptians in their worship of the god Apis, who was represented by an image of a bull. Now at Sinai, the Israelites themselves made and worshipped the same kind of image. This showed that they had not really turned away from worshipping other gods as the Decalogue commanded. Their action demonstrated the great need for total separation from heathen practices as the Law required.
The moral law shows how humans must live in order to be accepted by God. But no person can keep it perfectly, so it shows up humanity’s sinfulness. The purpose of the entire moral law is the same today as it was for the Israelites. The New Testament teaches us that the law shows a) God’s holiness, b) humanity’s sinfulness, and c) our need for God’s righteousness (Romans 3:19–31).
During Old Testament times, God required men to offer sacrifices. These sacrifices temporarily covered people’s sins and failures to keep the Law. The Law itself had no provision for failure. Since it was given, only one man has been able to keep it perfectly, and that man was Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Christ not only kept the Law but also paid the complete penalty for the broken Law. That penalty was death. He died that we might live. He was the perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 9:13–15; 10:1–22, 1 Peter 1:18–20).
Abraham is an Old Testament example of how God puts people right with himself. God accepted Abraham 13 years before Abraham was circumcised (Genesis 15:6) and 430 years before the Law was added to show what sin was (Galatians 3:15–18). It was impossible, then, for Abraham to have been accepted because he had kept the Law. It is important to understand this! It will help us to avoid thinking that believers today must keep all the Old Testament laws in order to be accepted by God.
Paul wrote, “Now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify” (Romans 3:21). But God now puts people right with himself on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice and their faith in Him (Romans 3:22–26). Thus we may make a contrast between Mt. Sinai with its horror, thunder, and lightning (Exodus 19) and Mt. Calvary where a meeting place between God and the sinner is made possible by the blood of Jesus Christ.
So God’s eternal plan, as we have seen, is to declare us righteous by our faith and trust in Him. That is always the basic covenant of His kingdom. Our righteousness can never come by way of the Law. But the Law still has its purposes. It shows us our need for a savior. It also represents God’s standard for living. Jesus summed up the spirit of the Law in Matthew 22:34–40. He said that we should love God with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves.
God gave His people laws which related to every area of living; these laws are known as the civil law. His people were not to follow the evil ways of the Egyptians and the Canaanites. Laws about motherhood and childbirth were necessary because of sexual perversion, prostitution, and child sacrifice, which were common among the Canaanites. Laws forbidding brother and sister marriages were also given because these were common in Egypt. The more a person knows about the cultures of Egypt and Canaan the easier it is to understand the Law’s restrictions!
The ceremonial law, or the rules of worship, includes laws relating to the tabernacle, the priesthood, the feasts, the offerings, and the organization of the camp. It is described in the following section.
God’s Organization and Its Purpose
Every country celebrates some day in which its citizens recognize their national existence or freedom. From Mt. Sinai on, the Israelites celebrated their existence as a special people for God’s use. But emotion and sentiment are not enough! God organized His people so that they might walk in their commitment. This organization, described in the ceremonial laws, took five basic forms. For the believer, each of them is like a rich vein in a gold mine. They singly and together point to the true kingdom of God. Each gives us an illustration (called a figure or type) of Jesus, God’s chosen one or Messiah, or pictures Him in some way. These forms had to do with five basic areas of Israel’s spiritual life. Also, they illustrate truths which apply in a similar manner to the lives of believers today.
If you were to write a study of even one of these applications, you would need a whole book. This course can give only the main points of the truths they teach. Perhaps the Holy Spirit will inspire you to study them in greater detail on your own!
The Tent of the Lord’s Presence
The tent of the Lord’s presence, also called the tabernacle, is emphasized in many chapters of the Bible. For example, more than one-third of the verses in the book of Hebrews refer to the tabernacle.
The tabernacle was built to provide a way for God to have fellowship with His people; He wanted to live among them (Exodus 25:8). God gave Bezalel of the tribe of Judah and Oholiab of the tribe of Dan special ability to do the work.
In building the tabernacle, the people of God were invited to make freewill or voluntary contributions. The men brought gold and silver. They cut down acacia trees and brought them; these were desert trees supported by deep tap-roots into underground streams. Their wood was practically indestructible! The women brought the finest of their spun and woven cloth. According to Genesis 15:14 and Exodus 12:35–36, the Israelites had carried away the wealth of the Egyptians with them. This was where they got the precious materials used to build the tabernacle. In this way a portable structure of rare fineness was made. For hundreds of years it continued to be a place where God’s people gathered and worshipped.
The tabernacle was set in the midst of a court which was enclosed by 450 feet (137 meters) of fine linen curtains. These were hung on bronze pillars spaced 7½ feet (2.3 meters) apart. The only entrance was at the east end; it was 30 feet (9 meters) wide (Exodus 27:9–18; 38:9–20).
When the Israelite entered, he made his offering in the open area at the altar of sacrifice. This altar was covered with bronze and was portable, like the other furnishings (Exodus 27:1–8; 38:1–7). A bronze basin where the priests had to cleanse themselves also stood in this court (Exodus 30:17–21: 38:8; 40:30). This court, furnished mostly with bronze, stands for judgment upon sin. The offerings made there were consumed or tested by fire.
In the western half of the court was the tabernacle itself. Its length was 45 feet (13.7 meters) and its width was 15 feet (4.6 meters). It was divided into two parts: the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place. The Holy Place measured 30 feet by 15 feet (9.1 meters by 4.6 meters) and the Most Holy Place measured 15 feet by 15 feet (4.6 meters by 4.6 meters). There was only one entrance, which opened from the east into the Holy Place. Only priests could go in. Beyond a veil was the Most Holy Place. Into this part only the high priest could enter, and only on one day a year—the day of covering or atonement.
Against the north side of the Holy Place stood the table of bread. On the south side the lampstand was placed. In front of the veil which divided the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place was located the altar of incense. All of these furnishings were covered with gold.
The Most Holy Place contained the most sacred object in the religion of Israel. It was called the ark of the Lord or the ark of the covenant. It was made of acacia wood and overlaid inside and outside with pure gold. It was 3 feet 9 inches long (1.1 meters) and had a depth and width of 2 feet 9 inches (84 centimeters) according to Exodus 25:10–22 and 37:1–9. The cover of the box or chest was called the mercy seat.
Two winged creatures made of gold overshadowed the center of the mercy seat, which represented God’s presence. Unlike the other nations, who represented their gods with idols, no object was used to represent the God of Israel. Nevertheless, the mercy seat was the place where God and man met (Exodus 30:6), and where God spoke to man (Exodus 25:22, Numbers 7:89). It was the place whereon the Day of Atonement the high priest sprinkled the blood for the sins of the nation of Israel (Leviticus 16:14).
The stone tablets on which the Decalogue was written were placed inside the ark (Exodus 25:21; 31:18, Deuteronomy 10:3–5). Later on, a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod were also put into the ark (Exodus 16:32–34, Numbers 17:1–11).
The construction and furnishings of the tabernacle picture aspects of Christ and His work. For example, each of the seven pieces of furniture (counting the mercy seat as a separate piece) represents a specific spiritual truth.
Of course these are only some of the spiritual meanings these objects can represent. There are many others as well.
God’s purpose that Israel be a holy nation demanded an orderly worship. God therefore chose Aaron, Moses’ brother, to serve as high priest. Aaron’s four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar were to help him.
Before this official priesthood was begun, the head of each house (the patriarch) represented his family in the worship of God. Only one priest is mentioned earlier in Scripture. He was the mysterious Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18. Since the Passover in Egypt, the first-born son of every Israelite family belonged to God (Exodus 13:1–2). The people’s sin in making the golden bull caused God to choose the Levites (male members of the tribe of Levi) as substitutes for the oldest son of each family (Numbers 3:5–13; 8:17).
The priests offered sacrifices and led the people in making atonement for sin (Exodus 28:1–43, Leviticus 16:1–34). They helped discern the will of God for the people (Numbers 27:21, Deuteronomy 33:8). They were responsible for caring for and supervising the tabernacle with the help of the Levites. As guardians of the Law, they were also the teachers of the nation
The priests were required to live holy (Leviticus 21:1–22:10). There were special clothes for them (Exodus 28:40–43; 39:27– 29) and for the high priest also (Exodus 28:4–39). The priests and the high priest went through a ceremony of consecration (Exodus 29:1–37; 40:12–15; Leviticus 8:1–36). All of these matters are worthy of further study when you have opportunity. Now, however, we will consider how they relate to our lives as Christians.
We are called to serve God also. First Peter 2:5–9 tells us that believers today are like the priests of Old Testament times in some ways. Like those priests, believers should also live lives that are separated from the world. Much can be learned from the Old Testament priesthood about what it means to serve God.
The practice of making offerings to God did not begin at Mt. Sinai. Sacrifices and offerings to God had undoubtedly been a regular procedure. The records concerning Cain, Abel, and Noah indicate this. Remember that Moses spoke of such offerings to Pharaoh (Exodus 5:1–3, 18:12, and 24:5). But the sacrificial laws given at Mt. Sinai were meant to provide specific instructions for such worship.
There were offerings of five kinds. In four of these, blood was shed: 1) the sin offering, 2) the trespass offering, 3) the burnt offering, and 4) the peace offering. In the fifth kind, the meal offering, no blood was shed. For the first four offerings, acceptable animals were those that were clean and tame such as sheep, goats, or oxen. Israelites who were extremely poor were allowed to substitute pigeons.
The general procedure for making each offering where blood was shed was this:
- The Israelite presented the animal at the altar.
- He then placed his hand on the animal, testifying that it was offered in substitution for him.
- The animal was slain.
- The blood was sprinkled, generally at the base of the altar
- The sacrifice was burned in whole or in part depending upon the offering
These offerings and sacrifices were related to human needs and behaviors.
Carefully study the following diagram. Notice that the order in which God gave the offerings in Leviticus started with the peace (communion), meal (service), and burnt (surrender) offerings—all voluntary. In contrast, the order in which man came to God began with the sin and trespass offerings—both compulsory or required.
Each of the offerings pictures something about the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. The voluntary offerings pointed to His person, character, and obedience. The compulsory offerings pointed to the sacrifice it was necessary for Him to make for our sins. Each of the offerings also describes an aspect of our worship to God. For example, the odor of the burnt offering pleased God (Leviticus 1:9). In a similar way, God is pleased when we offer ourselves completely to Him (Romans 12:1).
The Appointed Feasts and Seasons
God had a way of constantly reminding the Israelites that they were His special people, called to separation from sin and communion with Him. The five offerings, which we have just studied, were saying constantly get into a right relationship with God. The feasts and seasons were saying constantly order your life to keep right with God. The faithful observance of these feasts and seasons was a part of the people’s covenant commitment (Exodus 20–24).
Seven feasts were celebrated during three annual observances. These feasts or festivals were so important that all Israelite men were required to attend them (Exodus 23:14–17).
We may make the following observations:
- The foundation of all experience in God is the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:1–3). Hebrews 4 teaches us that the believer can experience the Sabbath, or rest, by believing in God.
- The seven feasts relate to seven experiences we may have in our walk in the Holy Spirit: being saved, cleansed, set apart or consecrated, filled, inspired to speak, adopted, and knowing God’s presence.
The Numbering and Organizing of the Camp
As shown in the book of Numbers, God gave Moses and Aaron instructions for taking a census. The tribes were numbered and arranged (Numbers 1–2), and the leaders, priests, and Levites were chosen and given their responsibilities. The following diagram shows how God gathered His people around Him. The twelve tribes guarded the tabernacle and were placed in their positions around it. The Levites (divided into the three families of the Merarites, Gershonites, and Kohathites) camped right next to the court. Moses and Aaron and the priest-family guarded the entrance. This entrance was the only way into the tabernacle and God’s presence.
Some who have studied this description believe that the camp arranged in this way had a circumference of twelve miles. There were almost 3,000,000 people in perfect order with the cloud by day and the fire by night over the tabernacle (Numbers 9:15–23).
God’s People Doubt And Wander
After the year of preparation at Mt. Sinai, the Israelites marched for eleven days and reached Kadesh-barnea in the wilderness of Paran. They had marched in order as an organized unit. But the people were filled with complaining and rebellion (Numbers 11:1–35). There was jealousy among the leaders, even in Moses’ family (Numbers 12:1–16). The doubt and unbelief of the people had serious consequences.
Delayed by Lack of Faith
Moses sent 12 spies into Canaan from the wilderness of Paran. They all reported that the land was good and that the people there were strong. Ten declared that it would be impossible to occupy Canaan and stirred the people to return to Egypt. However, two men, Joshua and Caleb, were confident that victory could be won. The people, unwilling to believe that God would give them the land, became a mob and resorted to stoning their leaders.
Learning While Delayed
The book we call Numbers is called in the wilderness or desert journeys in the Hebrew language. After they turned back from entering Canaan, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 39 years (Deuteronomy 2:14) until an entire generation died (Numbers 15:1–20:13). The accomplishment of God’s purpose for them was delayed, but He continued to be faithful. He gave them food every day, guided them by the pillar of fire and the cloud, and accepted their sacrifices and worship in the tabernacle.
In Numbers 16:1–50 we read that Korah, Nathan, and Abiram led a great rebellion against Moses. As a result, they perished along with their families and 14,700 other Israelites. At this time God confirmed that He had chosen Aaron to serve as Priest. He caused Aaron’s rod to blossom (Numbers 17).
Many other events are described in Numbers 15–22:1. The experience of the poisonous snakes (Numbers 21:6–9) showed the people that they needed faith. Anyone who looked at the bronze snake Moses had made and put on a pole was saved.
We can learn many lessons from the other events given in these chapters. God is kind and forgiving. He continues to lead us even when we miss His perfect will. But oh, how costly doubt is! Like the Israelites, we can allow our fear to keep us from enjoying God’s full intention for us. We can feel as small as grasshoppers beside our problems like they did (Numbers 13:33). When we compare our difficulties to our own strength and forget God, our journey—like theirs—will be one of despair.
God’s People Hear Final Instructions
After the forty years of wandering, Israel camped on the plains of Moab, east of the Dead Sea (also called the Salt Sea). Numbers 33:50–36:13 and the entire book of Deuteronomy record the final instructions they received before entering Canaan.
Moses gave his final message to the people about one month before they crossed the Jordan. He probably spoke it out loud, taking about seven days to do so. His audience was a new generation of Israelites, all under the age of sixty. His message occupies the entire book of Deuteronomy except the final chapter, which was probably written by Joshua. It can be divided into three addresses:
- Deuteronomy 1–4: A survey of God’s revelation to Israel
- Deuteronomy 5–26: An exhortation to let love motivate them to obey God’s law
- Deuteronomy 27–33: Warnings and prophecy concerning their entry into Canaan
Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 6:5 seem to sum up the meaning of what we have learned. They state what we have learned, what is the key to our relationship with God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Love is the key to faith and worship of the true God. Love means commitment and involves a lifestyle of exclusive devotion. Love demands all the strength of heart and soul. It is possible for us to love in this way because this is how God loves us (compare 1 John 4:19). You should take special notice also of Deuteronomy 28:1–14. This is a remarkable statement of what the nation of Israel could be if they would obey God.
Jesus quoted from the book of Deuteronomy more frequently, and the New Testament writers refer to it more often than any other book in the Old Testament. Compare Matthew 4:1–11 and Luke 4:1–13 with Deuteronomy 8:3; 6:13, 16; and 10:20. Notice how Jesus used statements from this book when He was in conflict with the devil.
We have studied the history of the development of faith and worship among God’s people after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. Moses, their mighty leader, was a grand old man at the end of the book of Deuteronomy—120 years old. Deuteronomy 32 records the song he sang for Israel. His disobedience at Kadesh (Numbers 20:10) meant that he could not enter Canaan. But God took him to mount Nebo and showed him the land. He died there on the mountain and God buried Moses, His servant. He had not only led God’s people for forty years, but also is credited with writing one-fourth of all the literature known today as the Old Testament.