Book One



The Five Scrolls’

Also known as


‘The Law’


The Pentateuch




Ancient Texts Relating to the Old Testament 







Major Social Concerns in the Covenant

The Beatitudes



This Bible Study is Dedicated to Stella Lilley

who, since I first met her in 1992, has been a source of inspiration and encouragement.

It is entirely due to the Padre Pio Pilgrimages that I have become interested in Bible Study.  I owe Stella a great debt of gratitude.

Michael Blackburn            November 2005




Thanks are due to

Rev Professor Brian Lloyd–Davies

of Bangui University

Central African Republic

who proof read the text,

corrected the Biblical content

and offered practical advice.



Ancient Texts Relating to the Old Testament


To give credence to the Old Testament stories there are a wealth of Near-Eastern non-biblical documents that provide parallels or shed light on various Old Testament passages. Given below are details of thirty-eight such documents.



Canaanite Akkadian – 14th century B.C.

Hundreds of letters, written primarily by Canaanite scribes, illuminate social, political and religious relationships between Canaan and Egypt during the reigns of Pharaohs Amunhotep III and Akhenaten



Egyptian – early 1st millennium B.C.

Thirty chapters of wisdom instruction are similar to Proverbs 22:17 & 24:22 and provide the closest external parallels to Old Testament wisdom literature.



Akkadian – early 2nd millennium B.C.

A cosmological epic depicts creation and early human history, including the flood. (Compares with Genesis Chapters 1 to 9.)



Akkadian – early 1st millennium B.C.

A sufferer and his friend debate with each other. (Compares with Job)



Akkadian – 6th century B.C.

King Cyrus of Persia records the conquest of Babylon (Compares with Daniel 5:30 & 6:28) and boasts of his generous policies towards his new subjects and their gods.



Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek – 3rd century B.C. to 1st century. A.D.

Several hundred scrolls and fragments include the oldest copies of the Old Testament books and passages.



Sumerian, Eblaite – 3rd century B.C. to 1st century A.D.

Thousands of commercial, legal, literary and epistle-like texts describe the cultural vitality and political power of a pre-patriarchal civilisation in northern Syria.



Aramaic – late 5th century B.C.

Contracts and letters document life among Jews who fled to southern Egypt after Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C.



Akkadian – early 2nd millennium B.C.

Marduk, the Babylonian god of cosmic order, is elevated to the supreme position in the pantheon, The 7-tablet epic contains an account of creation. (Compares with Genesis chapters 1 & 2).





Hebrew – 10th century B.C.

A schoolboy from west-central Israel describes the seasons, crops and farming activity of the agricultural year.



Akkadian - early 2nd millennium B.C.

Gilgamesh, ruler of Uruk, experiences numerous adventures, including a meeting with Utanpishtim, the only survivor of a great deluge. (Compares with Genesis chapters 6 – 9).



Akkadian – 18th century B.C.

Together with similar law codes that preceded and followed it, the Code of Hammurapi exhibits close parallels to numerous passages in Mosaic legislation of the Old Testament.



Egyptian – 14th century B.C.

The poem praises the beneficence and universality of the sun in language somewhat similar to that used in Psalm 104.



Akkadian – 1st millennium B.C.

The goddess Ishtar temporarily descends to the underworld, which is pictured in terms reminiscent of Old Testament descriptions of Sheol.



Akkadian – early 6th century B.C.

Brief texts from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II refer to rations allotted to Judah’s exiled king Jehoiachin and his sons. (Compares with 2 Kings 25:27-30).



Sumerian – late 3rd millennium B.C.

The reigns of Sumerian kings before the flood are described as lasting for thousands of years, reminding us of the longevity of the pre-flood patriarchs in Genesis Chapter 5.



Hebrew – early 6th century B.C.

Inscriptions on pottery fragments vividly portray the desperate days preceding the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 588 – 586 B.C. (Compares with Jeremiah 34:7).



Sumerian. – early 2nd millennium B.C.

The poem mourns the destruction of the city of Ur at the hands of the Elamites. (Compares with the Old Testament Book of Lamentations.)



Akkadian – late 2nd millennium B.C. A suffering Babylonian nobleman describes his distress in terms faintly reminiscent on the experiences of Job.


Akkadian – 18th century B.C.

Letters and administrative texts provide detailed information regarding customs, languages and personal names that reflect the cultures of the Old Testament patriarchs.



Egyptian – 13th century B.C.

Pharaoh Merneptah figuratively describes his victory over various peoples in western Asia, including ‘Israel’.



Moabite.  9th century B.C.

Mesha, king of Moab (see 2 Kings 3:4), rebels against a successor of Israel’s king Omri.



Akkadian – 5th century B.C.

Commercial documents describe financial transactions engaged in by Murashu and Sons, a Babylonian firm that did business with Jews and other exiles.



Hittite – mid 2nd millennium B.C.

King Mursils imposes a feudal-type treaty on King Duppi-Tessub. The literary outline of this and other Hittite treaties is strikingly paralleled in Old Testament

covenants established by God with his people.



Akkadian – mid 6th century B.C.

The account describes the absence of King Nabonidus from Babylon. His son Belshazzar is therefore the regent in charge of the kingdom. (Compares with Daniel 5:29-30).



Akkadian – early 6th century B.C.

A chronicle from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II includes the Babylonian account of the siege of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. (See 2 Kings 24:10-17).



Akkadian – mid 2nd millennium B.C.

Adoption, birthright sale and other legal documents graphically illustrate Old Testament patriarchal customs current centuries earlier.



Akkadian – early 1st millennium B.C.

A master and his servant discuss the pros and cons of various activities. (Compares with Ecclesiastes chapters 1 & 2).



Ugartic – 15th century B.C.

Canaanite deities and rulers experience adventures in epics that enrich our understanding of Canaanite mythology and religion and Old Testament poetry.





Akkadian – 1st millennium B.C.

Sargon I (the Great), ruler of Akkad in the late 3rd millennium B.C., claims to have been rescued as an infant from a reed basket found floating in a river. (Compares with Exodus chapter 2).



Akkadian – 8th century B.C.

Sargon II takes credit for the conquest of Samaria in 722/721 B.C. and states that he captured and exiled 27,290 Israelites.



Akkadian - early 7th century B.C.

Sennacherib vividly describes his siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C. making Hezekiah a prisoner in his own royal city. (This does not agree with 2 Kings 19:35-37 which tells us that, as prophesied by Isaiah, a hundred and eight-five thousand of Sennacherib’s army were struck down. Also see Isaiah 37:36-38).

Sennacherib is bragging but telling lies!



Egyptian - 2nd century B.C.

Egypt experiences 7 years of low Niles and famine which by contractual agreement between Pharaoh Djoser (28th century B.C.) and a god, will be followed by prosperity. (Compare with Genesis chapter 41).



Akkadian – 9th century B.C.

Israel’s King Jehu (or his servant) presents tribute to Assyria’s King Shalmaneser III. Additional Assyrian and Babylonian texts refer to other kings of Israel and Judah.



Egyptian –10th century B.C.

Pharaoh Shishak lists the cities that he captured or made tributary during his campaign in Judah and Israel. (Compare with 1 Kings 14:25-26).



Hebrew – late 8th century B.C.

A Judahite workman describes the construction of an underground conduit to guarantee Jerusalem’s water supply during Hezekiah’s reign. (Compares with 2 Kings 20:20 & 2 Chronicles 32:30).



Egyptian – 20th – 19th centuries B.C.

An Egyptian official of the 12th dynasty goes into voluntary exile in Syria and Canaan during the Old Testament patriarchal period.



Egyptian – 13th century B.C.

A young man rejects the amorous advances of his older brother’s wife. (Compares with Genesis chapter 39).





BIBLE STUDY Introduction                                                           MAY 2000


When I wrote the above heading and named the computer file ‘biblestudy’ I wondered how far the work would get in the rest of my lifetime. At seventy I may have another ten or at the best twenty years left. I can’t guarantee that anyone will want to continue the work after I have gone. It is something which you are either enthusiastic about or not. My enthusiasm knows no bounds. So it depends on the Good Lord as to how long he leaves me on earth as to how much of this Bible Study I will achieve.


Much as I don’t want to leave Christine, Vicky, Joanna and John and their spouses Tony and Rachel and our grandchildren Rachel, Nichola, Laura, Sarah, Eleanor, Beth and James and our great grandchild Katy and her father Karl and everyone else I know and love, I am nevertheless not wanting to delay my journey to heaven. I long to see Jesus and Mary and can only leave it to the Good Lord to decide when to call me. We can all draw comfort from the words in St Peter’s Second Epistle ‘…with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’ 2 Peter 3:8. So partings will be very brief.


Why Pentateuch?


The name given to the first five books of the Bible is ‘Pentateuch’. It comes from

the two Greek words meaning ‘five scrolls’. It is better to think of the Pentateuch as one book divided into five sections, rather than five books rolled into one. The Jews call it ‘The Torah’ (The Law) or sometimes ‘the five fifths of Moses’. Succeeding books of the Old Testament deal with the History of the Israelites then with Psalms and Prophets. But the first five books contain all ‘The Law’ which the Hebrews had to follow.


THE BOOK OF GENESIS                    The Beginning. God and Creation


In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’ The all important word is ‘God’. The Bible always assumes and never argues God’s existence. Although everything else had a beginning, God has always been. God exists in an eternal ‘now’ which is devoid of time. ‘Time’ is part of God’s creation. By naming his very popular book, ‘A Brief History of Time’, the astronomical mathematician, Stephen Hawking, showed his understanding of ‘time’ beginning with the ‘Big Bang.’ So some fifteen billion years ago God created the ‘Big Bang’ from which everything in the Universe has come. But the ‘Big Bang’ had to be very carefully controlled. Stephen Hawking explains; “If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by one part in a hundred thousand million, (1 - 100,000,000,000) it would have re-collapsed and we would have had no universe. On the other hand, if it had been greater by one part in a million (1 - 1,000,000) the universe would have expanded too rapidly for the planets to form.” We do not have to understand these astronomical mathematics, to realise that the equilibrium, upon which depends the existence of our universe, is, even today, still balanced on that same razor’s edge. The chemical make up of the Universe is equally on a razor’s edge, and the ‘what if’ questions go into unbelievable realms showing the precise control which had, and has, to be maintained or no Universe would exist. That the Universe could have come about without a creator and through ‘chance’ does not stand up to any scrutiny. Genesis 1:1-10.


Accepting this description of creation how do we equate it with the biblical story of

‘Six days of creation and resting on the seventh?’ But before we examine that let us consider who may have written it down.

Who was the Writer?


In the early days everything was memorised and passed on by word of mouth

but eventually it was written down. Until the 18th Century both Jews and Christians accepted that Moses was the writer of the Pentateuch (The first five books of the Old Testament) but, since then there have been doubts and there has never been any clear decision as to who the writer was. It may have been a combination of several writers whose work was eventually brought together into one book. But it is generally accepted that it was written about the time of Moses 1360 – 1250 B.C.


How can we explain the Seven Days?


Where did the ‘seven days’ come from? It is possible to come to an approximate seven day week by using the phases of the moon. In the book of Revelation (The Apocalypse) seven is used as a perfect number and is said to come from the openings in the head; one mouth, two nostrils, two ears, two eyes. Perhaps the seven came from that same source.


At the time of Moses the Hebrews had every reason to believe in God. They had seen the plagues wrought on the Egyptians. They had experienced the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea. They had seen Moses bring water from rocks. They had been fed by the miracle of the manna and the quails. They had seen Miriam’s leprosy which was miraculously cured. They had no doubt that there was a God (YHWH) who was in charge of everything. So it must have been this same God who made the earth and all that they could see in the night sky. The word ‘YHWH’ (Yaweh with the vowels removed appears over 6,700 times in the Old Testament. Its meaning is possibly ‘he who causes to be’. It was replaced by the word ‘Adon ai – The Lord’. It is believed that out of great reverence the name ‘YHWY’ was silently praised but never spoken).


The writers, knowing that their people believed, wanted to make their writings as easily intelligible as possible to their readers. In order to do so they opted for creation in six ‘periods of time’ with resting on the seventh. (The fact that the writers used the seven periods shows that a system must have been in use at the time they wrote.) That been the case then it shows that the seven days were known three thousand four hundred years ago. The only thing we know for certain is that the late Roman Empire was using the seven days and, as mentioned above, it is probable that the 7 day cycle has never been broken since the days of Moses.


Names of the Days of the Week


The names of the days of the week may not occur until the New Testament but let us ascertain where they are derived from. Most Latin-based languages connect each day of the week to one of the seven ‘planets’ of the ancient times: Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. These become more obvious when we see the French word for the name.


                       English                      French                   ‘Planet’

                      Monday                       lundi                        Moon

                      Tuesday                      mardi                       Mars

                      Wednesday                 mercredi                  Mercury

                      Thursday                     jeudi                        Jupiter

                      Friday                          vendredi                  Venus

                      Saturday                     samedi                     Saturn

                      Sunday                       dimanche                 Sun

The link with the sun has not been maintained in the French. Some of the Asiatic languages (for example Hindi, Japanese and Korean) have a similar relationship between week-days and the planets.


The English has retained the original planets in the names for Saturday, Sunday and Monday. For the other days, however, the names of Anglo-Saxon

or Nordic gods have replaced the Roman gods that gave names to the planets. Thus, Tuesday is named after Tiw, Wednesday is named after Woden, Thursday is named after Thor, and Friday is named after Freya.


The Calendar


In biblical terms the development of the Calendar is not as important as the number of days in the week. The changing seasons – harvests, or the lack of them – were all indications of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.




Previously God had created the Angels who are mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. We do not know whether the writers of Genesis, by experiencing volcanoes and earthquakes, had realised that the earth had once been a burning mass which eventually cooled down to allow land and sea to form. From the ‘big bang’ to the ‘cooling down’ period we get a clear idea of ‘a day being like a thousand years and a thousand years being like a day.’ To God, in the eternal ‘now’, all this could have happened in a brief moment. Then it was time for creation to commence. The plants and trees, the creatures of the sea, of the land and those which fly in the air. Male and female he created them. Finally he created man ‘In his own image and likeness’. Genesis 1:11-26.


We might question; ‘What was God doing before he created the angels, the universe and us? The best explanation I have heard is that in the eternal ‘now’ God the Father was pouring out His love to God the Son, who was in turn pouring out His love to God the Holy Spirit. who was in turn pouring out His love to God the Father. An eternal triangle of love. If there were only one nature in God rather than three, then what was that God doing in the eternal ‘now’? It would have been a very lonely ‘now’. The three-way love of the Blessed Trinity gives us a better understanding of the mystery.


How can we understand ‘In his own image and likeness’?


To cut out any possible conceit we must understand that the word ‘likeness’ weakens the power of the word ‘image’. Image is a concrete term implying a physical resemblance like that between Adam and his sons. This relationship with God marks off human beings from the animals; moreover, it involves a general similarity of nature, intellect, will, and authority. It paves the way for a higher revelation: the human share in the divine nature by virtue of grace. Grace – favours received from God. Thus the Graces received in the Sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders and The Anointing of the Sick are helping us towards our goal of being an image of God. Genesis 1:26.


The Creation of the Immortal Soul. (From the Catechism of the Catholic Church.)

Since man is made in God’s image, every human being is worthy of honour and respect. ‘Image’ includes such characteristics as ‘righteousness and holiness’. Most importantly it includes an immortal spiritual soul, not ‘produced’ by the parents, but created by God at the time of conception. The unity of soul and body, is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body, made of matter, becomes a living, human body. Spirit and matter in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Paragraphs 365 & 366.


What are we to make of Darwin’s theory of evolution?


Some like it, some do not. What we do not know is God’s intention at the time of the ‘big bang.’ God could have arranged everything at that time so that specific animals would get to a point where a group could be chosen apart and be given immortal souls. It is the idea of us coming from animals which some find objectionable. But does God find it objectionable? Or could God have intended to wait until a certain time when he would create an entirely separate species called man? Those in favour of the former suggestion point out how similar man is to the primate apes. But there is a problem because ‘the missing link’, the discovery of a definite link between animal and human, has never been discovered although it is certainly not due to anthropologists being idle in their search for such a link.


The Creation of Man and Woman


About 40% of the Bible is poetry and here we come to the first occurrence.


 So God created man

                                                                                                             in his own image,

                                                                                                         in the image of God

     he created him;

male and female

     he created them.


Here only the word ‘image’ is used. ‘Likeness’ has already been emphasised.


            The wonder and beauty of what is happening is overwhelming.

                             Perfect love is creating perfect love.


The creation of man and woman is the pinnacle of God’s creation hence the words ‘God blessed them, saying to them “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth.”’ There is no doubt that man and woman are put in charge of everything which God has created. Genesis 1:27.


‘Be Fruitful and Multiply’


God’s command; ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ makes a nonsense of the old idea that ‘the tree of knowledge’ was in any way connected with procreation. The command is clear that they must ‘fill the earth and subdue it and be masters of everything…’ Genesis 1:28-30.


Note:- Many of the Genesis stories are the literary traditions of other cultures. They date from hundreds of years after the events they purport to describe. Genesis is theology rather than history. See pages 3; 4; 5 & 6.


God saw all he had made.   Indeed it was very good


The first chapter of Genesis ends on the sixth day of creation and with God’s satisfaction at what he had done. How else could it have been? God is good. God is love. He is surely incapable of creating anything which is not perfect.

Genesis 1:31.

The Seventh Day  (Hebrew for resting – ‘shabat’ - hence Sabbath)


The start of Chapter Two tells of the seventh day; ‘God blessed the day and made it holy.’ The imposition of the Sabbath was not given as a law until Sinai, (Exodus 31:12-17) when it became a sign of the covenant. However, even at creation, God is shown to give an example which will be followed. Genesis 2:1-3.


The Creation of Man and Woman


Now Genesis appears to take a step back and retell the story of the creation of man and woman a second time. The reason the initial creation story told of ‘man and woman’ was to make it a complete story. Now we are to have the detailed story of their creation. Water flowed out of the earth which irrigated the soil but ‘nor tr was there any man to till the soil.’ So ‘God shaped man from the soil of the ground and blew the breath of life into his nostrils, and man became a living being.’ This definite story belies any idea of evolution from animals. It also agrees with the words ‘For dust you are and to dust you shall return’ (Genesis 3:19.)

Genesis 2:4-7.


The Garden of Eden  (In Greek ‘Garden’ translates as ‘Paradise.’

In Hebrew ‘Eden’ translates as ‘delight.’)


God created The Garden of Eden and put man into it. God caused every good thing to grow including, in the middle of the garden, two trees – ‘the tree of life’ and ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’ The Bible story tells of the geographical area where Eden was, giving the names of rivers, some of which are still in existence but of others there is no known record. It puts Eden in the area of what was then Mesopotamia and is now Northern Syria, & Northern Iraq & Eastern Turkey. The Garden of Eden having been in this area agrees with the later story of Noah & the flood as Mount Ararat, where the Ark is said to have landed, is in what is now Northern Turkey. Genesis 2:8-14.


The Tree of Life


This tree is a symbol of immortality. The fruit of this tree will enable those who eat it to be in a constant state of health, vigour and strength. They would not have to die. Genesis 2:9.


The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil


This tree imparts the knowledge of evil. Partaking of the fruit of this tree will automatically cut one off from The Tree of Life. Genesis 2:9.


Man Has Free Will


Man is put into The Garden of Eden ‘to cultivate and take care of it.’ He must have been able to do that without any effort – because one of the ‘punishments’ for eating the forbidden fruit was ‘to till the soil from which he had been taken.’ (Genesis 3:23). God tells the man “You are free to eat of all the trees in the garden (including the tree of life). But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat; for, the day you eat of that, you are doomed to die.” ‘To die’ here means to be cut off, excluded from community with Yahweh, God. Some reference books assume that these words were spoken to both man and woman. Which would mean that, at this point, the Bible was not in chronological order because woman is created in the next chapter. By being granted ‘Free Will’ man was able to make a choice. Here was the test of man’s love for Yahweh God. Genesis 2:15-17.


Yahweh God Creates Woman


Up to this point man is alone in the world. In order to find a helper for man, Yahweh God creates animals and birds and brings them to man to give them names. In ancient times, to name something or someone, meant having ownership. But, among the animals, no helper was found. Yahweh God makes man fall into a deep sleep – takes one of his ribs, closes up the wound, and makes the rib into a woman. The miracle of this creation – man into woman – shows the close relationship between them. This brings us to the second poem in the Bible; Man said:-                 “This one at last is bones

                                         and flesh of my flesh!

                                                                                           She is to be called Woman,

                                                 because she was taken from man.”


The word Woman is a play on the Hebrew word for woman, ‘ishshah’, where the first part of the word is added to man; ‘ish’-man – woman.


Now, early in the Bible, comes the definitive answer to the question of divorce.

‘This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife and they become one flesh.’ From the very beginning the divine intention for husband and wife was one of monogamy. Yahweh made marriage part of creation. Not having sinned they were totally innocent and felt no shame by being naked. Genesis 2:18-25.


The Fall


Enter Satan, the great deceiver, in the form of a serpent. His conversation with the woman gives us the first lie in the Bible. Satan lies to the woman that eating from the fruit of the ‘Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’ will not result in death, as Yahweh God had predicted, but will open her eyes to good and evil and she will be like God. Satan’s lie is made the worse because he is calling Yahweh God a liar. The woman is slow to respond to the deceit but quick to respond to the temptation. She eats from the fruit and finds it good, pleasing and desirable for gaining wisdom. She gave some to her husband. As soon as they had both eaten, lust entered their hearts, they lost their innocence, they had sinned and knew that they were naked.


The beauty of the garden is expressed in the words ‘The man and his wife heard the sound of Yahweh God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.’ But because they were naked they hid. Yahweh God asked them “Who told you that you were naked?” But Yahweh God already knew the answer “Have you been eating from the tree I forbade you to eat?” Then comes the inevitable – the

man blames the woman, and the woman blames the snake. It is never ‘our’ fault is it? The only redeeming part of the whole story is that they did not lie! Yahweh God addresses the snake (Satan) and in a prophesy which is to be fulfilled in the Messiah, tells the snake;

                                                        “I will put enmity

                       between you and the woman

                                                                                            and between your offspring and hers;                                                                                he will bruise your head…..”


‘The woman’ is Mary, her ‘offspring’ is Jesus. Genesis 3:1-15.

Original Sin


This is not easy to understand but is a doctrine of faith proclaimed at the Council of Trent which was the nineteenth Ecumenical Council of the Church

commencing in 1545 and closing in 1563. St Paul tells us ‘sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, And so death spread to all men because all men have sinned.’ (Romans 5:12-19.) (This agrees with the words of Genesis ‘But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat; for, the day you eat of that, you are doomed to die.’ Genesis 2:17.) But how did the sin of Adam become the sin of his descendants? (The whole human race is in Adam ‘as one body of one man’ St Thomas Aquinas).


         By this ‘unity of the human race’ all men are implicated in Adam’s

         sin as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of  

         original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. (Catechism

         of the Catholic Church Paragraph 404).


We know that God keeps the understanding of some things from us; hence the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. We will learn the truth on the other side of the grave. (Proof of ‘Original Sin’ is that otherwise the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which she proclaimed to Bernadette at Lourdes, would not have been necessary).  


Banishment from the Garden of Eden


God tells the woman that as a result of her disobedience ‘she will have intense pain in childbearing. ‘Otherwise there would have been no pain in childbearing. Once again making a nonsense of the old idea of ‘The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’ being connected with procreation. He tells the man that he will till the soil ‘painfully’ and ‘by the sweat of his face will he earn his food.’ And referring to man’s creation God says ‘For dust you are and to dust you will return.’ The man whose name was Adam (Hebrew; ha adam ‘made from the earth’) named the woman Eve (Hebrew; ‘living’). God made them some tunics and, after telling them that they can no longer eat from the tree of life, which means that they must eventually die, he banishes them from the garden.


The ‘great winged creatures’ set to guard the way to ‘the tree of life’ are taken from Babylonian mythology. Similar creatures are designed as part of the Ark of the Covenant. (Exodus 25:18). Genesis 3:16-24.


Cain and Abel


The story of Cain and Abel gives the impression of a developed civilisation and an established form of worship. They are stated as the children of Adam and Eve but the story may belong to a later period. Bringing it forward gives it a universal significance: after the revolt against God we now have brother killing brother which establishes the double command that sums up the whole law – the love of God and of neighbour.


Eve conceived and gave birth to a son, Cain (to beget). Eve exults in her creative power but not without the recognising ‘the help of Yahweh.’ A second son is called Abel (meaning ‘temporary’ or ‘breath’ which hints at the shortness of Abel’s life). We go straight from their birth to a time when they are adults and bringing their offerings to Yahweh. The younger brother’s offering is preferred to the older brother’s. This theme recurs frequently in Genesis: Isaac to Ishmael, Jacob to Esau, Rachel to Leah and their children. Such preferences demonstrate the freedom of God’s choice, his contempt for earthly standards of greatness and his regard for the lowly.


Cain is a farmer and brings ‘produce of the soil’ as an offering to Yahweh. Abel is a shepherd and brought the first-born of his flock and some of their fat as well. The ‘as well’ makes it seem that Abel had made a greater effort in preparing his offering which is preferred by Yahweh who sees Cain’s displeasure and asks him “Why are you angry? If what you have done is right then hold your head high. Sin is crouching at your door.” But Cain had withheld his best produce and therefore could not hold his head high and his anger increased. The sin which was ‘crouching’ now comes alive in Cain and in a premeditated act he invites his brother to go for a walk, probably to some lonely place, where he kills him.


Yahweh asks Cain. “Where is your brother?” But, unlike Adam and Eve who confessed their sin Cain lies. “I do not know.” and adds to his lie by the impertinent words “Am I my brother’s keeper?” But Yahweh knows everything and for his sin Cain is cursed and made to be a wanderer on the earth and the earth will not yield its crops for him. Cain finds his punishment too much to bear. Instead of remorse he is full of self-pity although he is distressed at being alienated from God “…..I will be hidden from your presence”. But his guilty conscience made him fear “Whoever finds me will kill me.” Yahweh tells Cain that anyone who kills him will suffer a seven-fold vengeance. The mention of ‘seven-fold’ reminds us of the words of Jesus “I tell you not seven, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:22. The New Testament is ever being revealed in the Old. The words ‘whoever,’ verse 14; ‘anyone,’ verse 15; and ‘no-one’ also verse 15; give the impression that the world is already populated. Yahweh also puts a mark on Cain which will protect him. (We do not know the form this ‘mark’ took but it was a warning sign to protect him from an avenger.) So Cain is banished to wander and goes to an unidentified country called the land of Nod. A play on words; Hebrew for ‘to wander’ ‘nad’. Genesis 4:1-16


The Descendants of Cain and of Adam and Eve’s Third Son Seth


Cain is banished and the next few chapters tell us of his children and, one of them, Enoch, founding a city. Adam and Eve have another son named Seth. Seth is credited as being the one who introduced a form of worship and advanced civilisation. It seems that the Biblical writers of those times used the same names for Cain’s and Seth’s offspring. The reason is that genealogies in the ancient East were generally not for conveying historical information but for determining domestic, political and religious matters. So we know who was born but, not necessarily, who their parents were. One of Cain’s descendants, Lamech, marries two women though as intended by Genesis 2:24 monogamy was God’s original intention. Lamech had a tendency to violence which shows that Cain’s violence has been transmitted to his offspring. Genesis 4:17-26.


Cain’s Son Enoch and Seth’s Son Enosh


Cain’s wife gives birth to a son whom they name Enoch. Seth’s wife also gives birth to a son and call him Enosh. (Enoch and Enosh are almost certainly the same person.) Of Enosh it is written ‘This man was the first to invoke the name of Yahweh.’ Genesis 4:26. Of Enoch we read ‘Enoch walked with God, then was no more, because God took him.’ (Genesis 5:24.) These words give the impression that, like Elijah, he was taken to heaven. Enoch is distinguished from other patriarchs in several ways: His life is shorter but his age, 365 years, number that of the solar year, he therefore attains a perfect age; he ‘walked with God’ as Noah will do. Genesis 5:1-24.


The Birth of Noah


Enoch fathered Methuselah who is said to have lived to the age of 969 years Methuselah fathered Lamech who fathered Noah. Noah sounds like the Hebrew word for ‘comfort’. We do not know whether the great ages of human longevity in the early chapters of Genesis are literal or have a conventional literary function – or both. It is possible that some of the numbers have a symbolic significance. Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth.

Genesis 5:25-32.


The Sins of the World


Corruption was rife in the world. One explanation of this passage is that ‘the sons of God’ are Seth’s descendants whilst ‘the daughters of men’ are those of Cain. The intermarriage between the wicked line of Cain and the descendants of Seth results in them all being depraved. In a possible reference to the vast longevity Yahweh decrees “….let the time allowed each be a hundred and twenty years.” This chapter gives a clear warning to Christians to be very circumspect in their marriages; and to let themselves be determined in their choice by virtue and religion instead of carnal lust. Genesis 6:1-4.


Preparations for The Flood


The wickedness of the world increased so much that ‘Yahweh regretted having made human beings on earth and was grieved at heart.’ (Genesis 6:6.) (Yahweh, who is perfect, is not capable of grief. The expression is used to declare the enormity of the sins of men). But Noah won Yahweh’s favour. Yahweh tells Noah to build an ark. The English word for ark comes from the Latin meaning ‘arca’ measuring box or chest. Yahweh gives exact details of the ark’s size. Noah and his wife and sons and their wives are to take a male and a female of every animal aboard the ark. Yahweh will send rain which will destroy all living things. Yahweh also tells Noah to take ‘eatables of all kinds’ for his family and for the animals. ‘Noah did as Yahweh had instructed.’ Noah’s complete obedience should be an example to us when we consider going our own way.


There are two versions of animals going into the ark. One is the traditional one of the animals going in ‘two by two’. The other says that the unclean animals went in ‘two by two’ but the clean animals went in ‘seven by seven’. Perhaps the ‘seven by seven’ version is for the Hebrews, ‘seven’ being the perfect number. This being the case it would seem that the distinction between clean and unclean was made before the time of Moses. Though it is more likely that those who wrote Genesis made it fit the circumstances of the clean and unclean. The ‘seven’ continues when Yahweh tells Noah “Seven days from now I will send rain.” Another favourite Hebrew number comes to the fore when we are told ‘And rain fell on the earth for forty days and forty nights.’ The forty days remind us of the days Jesus spent fasting in the desert and, four thousand years later, through the days of Lent, we also continue to experience the ‘forty days.’ Genesis 6:5-22 & 7:1-16.






The Flood


The rain lasted until the mountains were covered by 15cubits of water

(23.5ft). Everything on the earth perished. We can assume that the fish survived. The ark floated for one hundred and fifty days. Then God ‘remembered Noah’ which is a way of telling us that something is about happen. God made a wind blow, the rain stopped and the waters started to ebb. Even so it was another forty days before Noah firstly released a raven and then a dove but they had no-where to land. Genesis 7:17-24. & 8:1-9.


The Flood Subsides


Seven days later, Noah again sends out the dove which returns with a fresh olive branch. Seven more days and the dove is sent out and does not return. In the 1st Century A.D. the releasing of birds was known to the Romans who used them for navigation and followed them as they flew towards land. The Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. At the command of Yahweh, Noah, his wife, and all their family came out of the ark along with all the living things, one species after another. Yahweh vowed, never again, to strike down every living thing. That does not mean that all floods will cease. Some people live in perilous places where there are frequent floods; for instance Bangladesh where the mouth of the Ganges floods almost every year and many are drowned. Sadly, due to abject poverty, the people have no choice but to live there. It then becomes an act of charity and love for the western world to come to their aid in their time of need. What God says is that he will never again flood the whole world. If Yahweh were to interfere with nature to stop all floods then we would be living in ‘Shangri La’, a false paradise. Genesis 8:10-22.


The New World Order


Yahweh repeated to Noah and his family what he had said to Adam and Eve “Breed and multiply and fill the earth,” and he put everything under their control, plants and animals, with one exception, they must not eat “flesh with life.” That means not eating blood which is what gives life to the animal. This command to Noah differs from that given to Adam and Eve who were in the Garden of Eden with its tranquillity. Noah and his family are living in a new age which is no longer tranquil. Man will be at war with the beasts.


Yahweh takes the shedding of blood a stage further by stating that any man who sheds the blood of another will have his own blood shed. Thereby Yahweh proclaims death to murderers. Yahweh makes a covenant by the rainbow. The rainbow, which is a natural phenomenon, must have existed before the flood but it now takes on a new meaning as the sign of the Noahic covenant. This is the first covenant after the flood which is for everyone. But more covenants will follow: the covenant of circumcision made with Abraham (Genesis 17:11) which was for his descendants, and the covenant of the Sabbath made with Israel at Sinai.(Exodus 31:16-17). Genesis 9:1-17.


Ham’s Sin


Noah planted a vineyard and, not knowing the intoxicating quality of wine, drank some of its produce. Ham, Noah’s youngest son, looked into his father’s tent and saw his father’s nakedness. Rather than cover his father he broadcast it to others thereby making his father a ‘laughing stock.’ His brothers ‘turned their faces away’ whilst covering their father. When Noah awoke and heard what Ham had done he issued a curse against him. Ham’s unkindness was a sin against ‘Honour thy Father and thy Mother’. Ham is said to be the father of the tribe of Canaan who were even worse than Ham and were continually punished by being dominated both by the Israelites and the Philistines. Genesis 9:18-29.


The Tower of Babel


The descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth peopled the world. They all spoke the same language. Their pride led them to build a tower ‘with its top reaching to heaven.’ They were egotistical and proud to the extent that they thought that they could create ‘a kingdom of man’ which would displace and exclude the kingdom of Yahweh. Yahweh had said to Noah and his sons “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth,” but, instead, their descendants preferred to band together to build a prideful city. They had not carried out Yahweh’s command. Yahweh saw what they were doing and to confuse their work he confused their languages. Not able to understand each other they were unable to continue with the tower. Then Yahweh ‘scattered them all over the world.’ Do we always listen for God’s word or do we sometimes try to pretend that we cannot hear? Genesis 10:1-32 & 11:1-9.


The Line of Abram and the move from Ur to Haran


The line of Abram, who was to be the great patriarch, is carefully recorded. Shem begot Arpachshad who begot Shelah, who begot Eber, who begot Peleg, who begot Reu, who begot Serug, who begot Nahor, who begot Terah, who begot Abram. Terah moved his family from their home in Ur of the Chaldeans in Lower Mesopotamia, intending to go to the land of Canaan, but they arrived in Haran which is in north-west Mesopotamia and settled there. The moon-god was worshipped at both Ur and Haran and since Terah was an idolater (See Joshua 24:2) he would have felt at home in either place. It could be said that such lists of names are meaningless. Anyone could make up such a list. But the same people who would make that comment would be the first to complain if no names existed! Paragraph 121 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: ‘The Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value, for the Old Covenant has never been revoked.’ The purpose of the genealogy is to relate Abraham, the ancestor of Israel, to Shem, the oldest son of Noah, and to equate Abraham with the righteous Noah, in whom God made a new beginning with the human race. Genesis 11:10-32.


The Call of Abram.


Now comes a ‘God given occurrence’ without which God’s kingdom on earth would probably not be as it is today. ‘Yahweh spoke to Abram.’ (There are times in the History of Faith when God finds it necessary to make important choices. Another will happen when he speaks to Moses from the burning bush. Yet another will happen on the road to Damascus when he chooses Saul to be his spokesman to the gentiles, and, most important of all, when the Angel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary.) The Bible tells us that God ‘had said’ which gives the impression that the command took place before they left Ur. But if Abram’s father was an idol worshipper how was Abram to know where this command came from and how he should react to it? Whilst it remains a mystery we know that with God nothing is impossible. Perhaps there was a ‘burning bush’ or ‘Damascus’ occurrence which has not been recorded but which left Abram in no doubt. Back to the number seven………God gives Abram a sevenfold promise (1 “I will make you into a great nation.” (2 “I will bless you.” (3 “I will make your name great.” (4 “you will be a blessing.” (5 “I will bless those who bless you.” (6 “whoever curses you I will curse.” and (7 “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” God tells Abram “go to the land I will show you.” In all his dealings with God, Abram showed prompt obedience grounded in faith. So he set off with his wife Sarai, and his nephew Lot to Shechem in Canaan. Abram built an altar there. Yahweh appeared to him and said “To your offspring I will give this land.” Through the Sermon on the Mount Jesus made promises to us. It is important that we should know those ‘Blessed are……….’ promises. (Matthew 5:1-12. & Luke 6:20-26. See Page 117) Genesis 12:1-7.


Abram’s Travels


Abram and his wife and servants continued their travels but famine in the land forced them down to Egypt where, because of the waters of the Nile, there were plentiful crops. This occurrence is like a prophesy of Jacob and his eleven sons joining Joseph in Egypt. Genesis 12:8-10.


Abram Lies to Pharaoh


Sarai was very beautiful and Abram was afraid for his life. If the Pharaoh were to add Sarai to his harem he would firstly have to kill her husband. So Abram tells Sarai to pretend that she is his sister. Pharaoh is attracted to Sarai and ‘the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s household’ and he rewards Abram with ‘flocks, oxen, donkeys, and men & women slaves.’ To save Sarai’s honour Yahweh inflicts Pharaoh and his court with a severe plague and Pharaoh realises that Sarai is Abram’s wife. He calls Abram to him and asks him why he has lied? The story reflects a stage of moral development when a lie was considered lawful under certain circumstances. But Egyptian ethics emphasised the importance of absolute truth. Abram was exposed as being a liar, It would seem that he was lucky to get away with his life. But the Pharaoh said “….here is your wife, Take her and go!”. Lies nearly always catch up with us don’t they? To have told a lie is very demeaning. However difficult the truth may be we must stick to it. It saves our consciences from the worry of ‘Will the truth be revealed?’ ‘Will I be found out as a liar?’ Genesis 12:11-20.


Abram and Lot


Both Abram and Lot had become very wealthy each having great flocks of cattle and many possessions. A dispute broke out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. So that the cattle would have more room to graze they agreed to part. Abram gave Lot the choice of which way to go and he went towards the Jordan plain, pitching his camp on the outskirts of Sodom. Abram settled at Hebron. Lot’s decision put Abram in the land which God would ultimately give to his chosen people. Genesis 13:1-18.


The War Between four Kings. Abram saves Lot


The result of a war is that Lot, his family and all his goods are taken as booty. Abram sets off to save Lot and, under the cover of darkness, he manages to rescue ‘Lot and his possessions, together with the women and people’. It seems strange that, certainly in the book of Genesis, the Bible always mentions the ‘possessions’ before the ‘women’! Looking back to ‘The Banishment from the Garden’ one of the penalties for the woman is that whereas before ‘the fall’ she was equal with man, after the fall ‘she will take a subordinate place.’ This is certainly the case in present Israeli society. An Orthodox Jewish woman is extremely subordinate to her husband to the point where their daughter is regarded as ‘his daughter’. Its seems that the early Books of the Old Testament reflect that position. Genesis 14:1-16.


Melchizedek, Priest of the God Most High


On returning from his successful attempt at saving Lot Abram is met by King Melchizedek who is a Priest of God most high and who in a prophetical way brings bread and wine which foreshadows the Eucharist of the Holy Mass.

Abram gives him a tenth of all he has. This is a certain guide that, in a similar way, we should tithe. Melchizedek offers all the captured booty to Abram who refuses it. Abram did not want to become beholden to anyone but God. (That is a beautiful concept – being beholden to no-one but God).

Genesis 14:17-24.


God’s Promise to Abram


I often query; How did Yahweh communicate with Abram? In the next chapter

he appears ‘in a vision.’ To Yahweh’s words “Do not be afraid, Abram! I am your shield, and shall give you a very great reward.” Abram replies, sadly, words to the effect “What good is a reward to me, I have no child to pass it on to.” Yahweh then showed Abram the night sky, (it must have been a starlit night), and tells him that his offspring will be as many as the stars. Yahweh promises Abram that he will have a son. We usually talk endlessly to God never allowing him to talk to us. Within our prayers, times of silence are necessary. Give God a chance to talk to us. Genesis 15:1-5.


Abram’s Faith


Abram’s wife, Sarai, was beyond the age for childbearing but Abram showed great faith by believing what Yahweh had told him. This is the first specific biblical reference to faith in Yahweh’s promise, which makes Abram ‘the father of all who believe’. The Christian Church acknowledges Abram [Abraham] in the same way that our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters do. Therefore we should pray to Abraham asking him to petition God for us to have a strong faith like his. Genesis 15:6-9.


Abram’s Offering


Yahweh also told Abram that his offspring would eventually possess the land on which they were standing. In order to ‘seal the covenant’ Abram makes an offering of cattle and birds and then falls into a deep sleep. During his sleep Yahweh spoke to him telling that his descendants will be exiles in a land not their own (Egypt) and will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. But Yahweh will bring judgement on that country and the Israelites will leave with many possessions. This is to come to pass when the Israelites ‘plundered the Egyptians’ (Exodus 12:36). In a further prophecy Yahweh tells Abram that his descendants will ‘come back here’ and take the land of the Amorites whose sinful religious practices included prostitution and child sacrifice. Genesis 15:10-16.


The Covenant is Confirmed


Strange to us but, in ancient times,  the way of presenting an offering of animals was to cut them in two and set them in two rows with a passage between them. These carcasses would attract carrion birds so, to keep the offering ‘clean’, time had to be spent driving the carrion off which, in this instance, Abram had to do. Later a blazing torch was seen to be passing down the row. That symbolised the presence of Yahweh thereby confirming the Covenant. What a great effort it must have been to make an offering in those old biblical days. At the Last Supper Jesus replaced such offerings with the beauty and wonder of his own Body and Blood. Jesus made it so easy for us that often we attend Mass without realising that incredible offering which is being made on our behalf.

Genesis 15:17-21.


Hagar and Ishmael


A Mesopotamian law allowed a barren wife to present one of her female slaves to the husband and acknowledge the issue as her own. The same was to happen with Rachel and Leah. (Genesis 35:23-26.) So Sarai has Abram sleep with her maidservant Hagar and she conceived. But Hagar then despised Sarai. The same was to happen between Peninnah and Hannah (1 Samuel 1:6). Sarai ill-treated Hagar who ran away but an Angel, also thought to be the second person of the Blessed Trinity, appeared to her and spoke to her in a similar way that Yahweh spoke to Abram, telling her that her descendants will be too numerous to count. She must return and submit to her mistress. She will give birth to a son and must call him Ishmael (‘God hears’) “he will be wild and will live in hostility.”         Genesis 16:1-16.


The Covenant of Circumcision and Abram becomes Abraham


God calls himself ‘El Shaddai’ which translates as ‘God, the One of the mountain.’ Perhaps the mountain referred to is Mount Sinai where the Ten Commandments will be given. He renamed Abram – Abraham (from the Hebrew ‘ab hamon’ – ‘father of a multitude.’) God then instituted the covenant of circumcision. It is recorded that circumcision was carried out in the Near East, Egypt and Canaan some 4,500 years ago. But whatever their reasons, perhaps to do with cleanliness in the dust laden desert, it was not carried out as ‘sign of obedience’ as was the circumcision of Abraham and, later, the Israelites. Yahweh makes it clear that he demands complete obedience – this is emphasised when Moses, soon after Yahweh had spoken to him from the burning bush and as he is returning to Egypt, is threatened to death by Yahweh because he had not circumcised his son. (Exodus 4:24-25).


Yahweh could have demanded a sign which would have been visual – a mark on the forehead or some other ‘birth mark’ type of sign. But such marks could be open to pride whereas the sign he demands will be hidden. It will also result in pain and the shedding of blood – a prophesy of the passion of Jesus when he shed his blood for us. Looking forward several hundred years, during the Babylonian exile, circumcision was to become an important rite of the ‘chosen people’, as they were denied other symbols of identity – temple, land, and king. “The sign must be for all your household, including slaves, and any new slaves who may come into your service.” “Babies must be circumcised when eight days old.” Abraham is characterised by his complete and immediate obedience. ‘That same day all the men of his house were circumcised’ (Genesis 17:27). Genesis 17:1-14.





Sarai becomes Sarah


Yahweh changes Sarai’s name to Sarah. Both names mean ‘princess.’ The change of names stresses a change in their roles. In the same way we take a name at Baptism and a new name at the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Holy Spirit changes our role. Abraham is to be a special servant of God. Sarah will serve the Lord by being be the mother of nations and kings. Yahweh tells Abraham that Ishmael ‘will be the father of twelve princes…’ and tells him that Sarah, even in her old age, will bear him a son. Genesis 17:15-27.


The Three Visitors


Discussion on earth will probably never cease regarding the identity of the visitors. In Genesis 19:1 two are said to be ‘angels’, but it is also suggested that the three foreshadowed the mystery of the Trinity, a doctrine not revealed until the New Testament. The apparent fuss which Abraham made in looking after the visitors (Genesis 18:4-8) was normal Arabian hospitality and probably still appertains today. To begin with Abraham probably doesn’t realise that his visitors were from a non earthly source. But as they talk he realises that he is in the presence of heavenly beings. The dialogue goes from the plural to the singular; “Where is your wife they said?” Abraham replies that she is in the tent. I will surely return to you about this time next year and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was listening and laughed at the thought of having a baby in her old age. Impossible she thought. But nothing is impossible to God. The Lord heard the laugh. Sarah exacerbates her prying by telling a lie. “I did not laugh” she said. “Yes you did” said the heavenly vision. Genesis 18:1-15.


Abraham Pleads for Sodom and Gomorrah


Yahweh lets us know his thoughts. “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…..?” But Yahweh had just made a covenant with Abraham so he calls Abraham into the heavenly court to give his intercession. Now we have a lesson in Arabian buying and selling! God is the seller, Abraham is the buyer. It is just the same as when we visit Arabian countries today. We do not buy at the stated price, we haggle! Which is exactly what Abraham does. He beats God down in price – 50 – 45 – 40 – 30 – 20 – 10. God accepts these decreasing figures. In the meantime the two angels had left the Lord and Abraham and gone to Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis 18:16-33.


Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed


The angels find Lot sitting at the gateway, which might mean that he may have joined Sodom’s judiciary, as they always met at the city gate. Lot persuades the two to go to his house. To show the depth of degradation to which Sodom had shrunk, men of the city come to the door and ask Lot to send the men out to them so that they can have sex with them. Lot offers to send out his virgin daughters rather than the two men. To make such a sacrificial offer Lot must have realised that the two were angels and not mere mortals. But the angels save the day by striking the wicked men blind. This has similarities to the story of the Levite and his wife. (Judges 19:22-30.) The angels force Lot, his wife and two daughters out of the house with the instructions “Flee for your lives. Flee to the mountains and do not look back, Sodom and Gomorrah are to be destroyed.” Lot, fearing his ability to run fast enough, asks permission to flee to a nearby town called Zoar (meaning ‘small’) and the permission is granted. But Lot’s wife disobeyed, ‘looked back’ and is turned into a pillar salt. Visitors to the Holy Land can see many such pillars by the Dead Sea where Sodom and Gomorrah are sunk beneath the waters. So when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah he ‘remembered’ Abraham and the promise he had made. But instead of ten righteous people he could only find four – Lot, his wife, who looked back, and two daughters.

Genesis 19:1-29.


Lot and His Daughters


Lot and his daughters obey the angels’ original instruction and go to the mountains; they take up residence in a cave. All the men have died, including the girls prospective husbands (Genesis 19:14), so the daughters decide to continue their family line through their father. As bizarre as the story is, it illustrates the Genesis theme of new life after destruction and the importance which was put on ‘continuing the family line’. They make their father drunk, lie with him and conceive. (In the early days of Adam and Eve and, after the flood, conception through a close relative was necessary but, even in those times, it is doubtful that conceiving through one’s father was acceptable. All this was to change in the commands given by God to Moses; “No-one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations.” (Leviticus 18:6). The eldest daughter had a son named Moab (sounds like the Hebrew for ‘from father’). He is the father of the tribe of the Moabites. The youngest daughter had a son called Ben-Ammi (means ‘son of my people’). He is the father of the tribe Ammonites, Later both these tribes are to become enemies of Israel. Genesis 19:30-38.


Abraham Lies to King Abimelech.


Abraham lies to King Abimelech, as he had done to Pharaoh, that Sarah is his sister. The king takes her, presumably into his harem, but before he lay with her God came to him in a dream to tell him of Abraham’s lie. God sounds cross with the King; “You are as good as dead because you have taken her.” but King Abilmelech states that his conscience is clear, he had been lied to by Abraham. God is very protective of Sarah. Abraham has to face the king and explain his lie. He claims that Sarah is the daughter of his father but not of his mother, which would make her his ‘half sister’ therefore it is correct to call her his sister. (I cannot find any other mention of this relationship in the Bible). When returning Sarah to Abraham, King Abimelech uses the friendly words ‘your brother’. Nevertheless Abraham’s intention was to lie. Sarah is returned to Abraham ‘along with sheep cattle and female slaves.’ Abraham seemed to live a charmed life. Even his lies lead him to obtain more cattle and slaves. Once again we notice that the ‘female slaves’ are mentioned after the sheep and cattle. Such was the way they lived, the slaves being lower in importance than the animals. Genesis 20:1-18.


The Birth of Isaac and Rejection of Hagar and Ishmael.


Sarah bore a son who is named Isaac (meaning ‘he laughs’). Eight days later Abraham carried out the rite of circumcision. The weaning of the child meant that the child had survived the threat of infant mortality. Probably a frequent occurrence in those days. His survival prompts Sarah to fight for her child. She sees Ishmael as a threat to Isaac and asks Abraham to “get rid of [them].” Abraham is saddened, Ishmael is his son. But God tells him to obey Sarah.” It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Hagar and Ishmael go into the desert and when their water is finished she sobs, awaiting her son’s death. God comes to her and tells her that he will make Ishmael into a great nation. (Muslims consider Islam to be the ‘great nation’ to which God referred.) Ishmael grew up to be an archer and Hagar found a bride for him from Egypt. Genesis 21:1-21.



Abraham’s Treaty with King Abimelech.


Abraham had become so powerful that King Abimelech decided to make a treaty of peace. This leads to a dispute about a well which Abraham said was his, whilst the King’s men had seized it. In the arid desert disputes over wells were common place. Abraham sees the treaty as an opportunity to settle the problem of the well. He gave King Abimelech seven ewe lambs as confirmation of an oath that he had dug the well himself. Genesis 21:22-34.


Abraham Tested


This very emotional story is perhaps intended to prepare all of us for those occasions when God may call us to make a supreme sacrifice. God speaks to Abraham and tells him to go to Mount Moriah, where now is the Muslim Shrine of The Dome of the Rock. There he must sacrifice his son as a burnt offering. To understand this we must know that ‘sacrificing your first born son’ was considered the ultimate sacrifice. So it wasn’t as if Abraham was being asked to do something which was completely unknown. The Bible contains many references to ‘first sons’ being sacrificed. Heil of Bethel rebuilt Jericho (1 Kings 16:34) laying in its foundation his eldest son, Abriam, and in the gateway his youngest son, Segub, because of the oath made by Joshua (Joshua 6:26). ‘The King of Moab took his eldest son……..and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall.’ (2 Kings 3:27). Human sacrifice continued for many years and as recently as the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, in temples in Mexico, up to 20,000 humans were sacrificed to obtain favours from the gods. Nevertheless Abraham would have been surprised by this command of God. But, despite his personal feelings of revulsion at having to kill his only son, he set off with that purpose in mind. ‘Only son’ is not correct as he also had Ishmael. But Isaac was his favoured son as he had come from Sarah. Sacrificing on Mount Moriah would mean that Abraham was the first to sacrifice there. As Abraham is honoured by the Jews, Christians and Muslims that seems a very suitable location.


It took three days to travel to Mount Moriah. What would have been in Abraham’s thoughts as he travelled? Every step must have been mental torture, but he never wavered. At the foot of Mount Moriah Abraham and Isaac leave the servants and make their own way up the mountain. Isaac carries the wood, Abraham carries the knife and firestone. They walk in silence broken by the conversation commenced by Isaac; “Father?”, “Yes, my son”, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham’s reply must have been almost a whisper “ My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” Arriving at the site Abraham built an altar and put the wood on it. Then comes the moment when he binds Isaac: lays him on the wood and stretched out his hand for the knife. (We can try and imagine the torment going through Abraham’s mind as he carried out these actions. But what about the effect on Isaac? He clearly realises what his father is about to do. Did he struggle as his father bound him? Did he ask “Father, Why?” Or knowing his father to be a holy and just man did he realise that ‘what must be must be’? The Bible tells us nothing to answer these questions. We can only surmise at what may have gone through Isaac’s mind. Isaac must have realised that what his father was doing was on instructions from God and his father would have taught him that God was to be obeyed without question. Did God save Isaac from the mental torment of the moment? After all it was not Isaac who was being tested but his father, Abraham. We do not know the answer to these questions. The frightening experience Isaac had to undergo does not seem to have affected his relationship with God or with his father Abraham. Thankfully an angel stops Abraham. He has been tested and has passed the test. Let us never forget that God the Father sacrificed his only Son to redeem us from our sins. Genesis 22:1-14.


Yahweh Praises Abraham


Abraham had shown complete obedience. The firstborn would always belong to Yahweh and were redeemed by a payment of five shekels (Numbers18:16).

Now God gets Abraham to ‘redeem’ his son. A ram is caught by its horns in a bush and becomes the ‘sacrifice of redemption’. For not refusing God his son, Yahweh promises to ‘shower blessings on Abraham and his descendants.’ These blessings extend to his whole family as Abraham received news that his brother, Nahor, had had twelve children. Genesis 22:15-24.


Sarah Dies and is Buried at Machpelah (Hebron)


Abraham cannot think of burying Sarah on land which he does not own. Ephron, who owns the field and cave which Abraham wishes to purchase, pretends to want to give the field to Abraham. But it is only a pretence because he can see that Abraham is insisting on paying for it. So, taking advantage of Abraham’s grief and bereavement, he set a high price, 400 Shekels. He knew that Abraham had to negotiate quickly and that it was unlikely that he would argue the price in front of the people. Abraham agrees to the price. When Abraham had bought the land it commenced the Lord’s promise that all the land will eventually belong to Abraham’s descendants. (Genesis 17:8). Abraham buries Sarah. Genesis 23:1-20.


The Marriage of Isaac


Some things in the Bible we find strange, because times have changed, not necessarily for the better, and we have built up barriers and become obsessed with what we think is right and wrong. We must open our minds to the fact that in the Old Testament times they didn’t think as we do. They hadn’t had time to build up perversions which now fill our newspapers and TV screens. One such occurrence takes place when Abraham, in his old age, calls his senior servant to him to give him advice on choosing a wife for Isaac. He says to the servant “Put your hand under my thigh……”. He then gets the servant to swear to get a bride for Isaac from Abraham’s own kinsfolk. “Put your hand under my thigh” literally meant that the servant was to swear the oath while at the same time holding Abraham’s genitals. We may squirm and feel uncomfortable at that. We may feel embarrassed. But we must try and understand the beauty of it. From Abraham’s point of view where had Isaac come from? From that same organ which the servant is holding while swearing the oath. To people of those times it was probably regarded as the ultimate oath. (Some American Indian tribes had the same custom. It signified “subjection” to them.)


From the way the servant met Rebekah and the way her family accepted all that had been said, and Rebekah’s own acceptance, it is certain that Yahweh was in charge of things. The most important words in this chapter must be the servant’s prayer: “Yahweh, God of my master Abraham, give me success today and show faithful love to my master Abraham.” The servant prayed and his prayer was answered. The servant’s explanation to Rebekah’s family is an excellent example of the ancient story teller’s art which was designed to fix the details of a story in the hearer’s memory. The servant returns with Rebekah, whom Isaac accepts and they marry. Abraham also remarried and had six more sons. Genesis 24:1-67 & 25:1-4.




The Death of Abraham


Abraham dies and is buried in the land he bought at Machpelah (Hebron). The law stated in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 that the eldest son should get double the share of the father’s property. Isaac was regarded as the ‘eldest’ as he was from Abraham’s wife. Nevertheless the Bible tells us ‘Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac’, though, before his death, he had given some gifts to his concubines ‘and sent them away.’ Abraham was aware that Ishmael, who went on to father twelve sons, had made his own wealth. The continual mention of ‘concubines’ and men sleeping with their wives’ servants makes us realise what a different world it was. (Although this is still common in many parts of Africa). But how would they find our world? They would be amazed by divorce. In Abraham’s days taking an oath was making an agreement with God. On no account could such an oath be broken. The fact that we make promise; ‘till death do us part’, and then break them, would have left the people of Abraham’s days with no respect for people of the twenty-first century. The people of Abraham’s days would have been aghast with horror at abortion. To be barren was considered to be a penalty from God. So ‘abortion’ would have been totally abhorrent to them – throwing God’s goodness back in his face. Despite the incredible advances in transport and communications, I wonder whether people living three thousand eight hundred years ago would want to exchange their life for ours? Genesis 25:5-18.


The Birth of Esau and Jacob


Rebekah is barren but, once again, prayer is the answer. Isaac prays and his wife conceives and is pregnant with twins. They jostle within her. She asks the Lord, “What is happening?” The Lord predicts that the stronger, elder twin will be subservient to the weaker, younger twin. When they are born they are named Esau (meaning – ‘hairy’) and Jacob (meaning – ‘he grasps the heel’, as he was the second to be born and was holding his brother’s heel). Esau, whose body was hairy, spent his time in the open country and was a skilful hunter. Jacob was a quiet man. Isaac loved Esau but Rebekah loved Jacob. Genesis 25:19-28.


Esau Sells his Birthright to Jacob


The story of Esau selling his birthright meant that Jacob would be regarded as the elder and gain a double share of his father’s estate. This makes us wonder whether we, however unwittingly, fall into the same trap. To consider this we must not think of the material things of the earth – they are as nothing – passing in the night, our birthright is heaven. So when we sin, we share with Esau the selling of our birthright. But God is good and our sorrow for sin lets us claim back our birthright. Therefore the sacrament of ‘reconciliation’ is paramount. God, in his goodness, through his son Jesus, who said to the apostles; “Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven……” (John 20:23), gave us the means of buying back our birthright. If we don’t use that ‘means’ then, like Esau, we have lost the security of our birthright which might mean losing our way to heaven. Genesis 25:29-34.





Isaac Lies to King Abimelech


This is a repeat story of Abraham though this King is probably the son of the one whom Abraham lied to. The reason for the lie is the same; “If you say you are my wife the men in this area might kill me.” But King Abimelech sees Isaac caressing Rebekah and realises that she is his wife. Isaac has to face the King and account for his lie. King Abimelech berates Isaac for his dishonesty. “One of my men might well have slept with your wife. and you would have brought guilt upon us.” When reading the Bible we must be prepared for the unexpected. In this story, King Abimelech comes off as a person of high moral standards. It is Isaac’s conduct, like that of Abraham, which is selfish and cowardly. As the king and his people obviously had strict rules regarding sleeping with a married woman it is surprising that they would have been prepared to kill her husband first! But they lived by the rules which they invented themselves. So we can only assume that Abraham and Isaac knew of the possible danger to their lives which led to their lies. The King gave orders that on the threat of death no-one must molest Isaac or his wife. It is strange that Abraham and Isaac always appear to make gains from their lies! We must put that down to God’s special care and not expect to get the same treatment ourselves! Genesis 26:1-11.


Isaac Prospers but Problems Regarding Wells


Isaac stayed in the territory of King Abimelech and prospers as his crops flourish and he acquires large herds. He became so rich that the King asked him to leave the area. He was becoming too powerful and was a threat. Two wells dug by Abraham’s servants had been filled in by the Philistines. The first was called ‘Esek’ which means ‘dispute’, the second was called ‘Sitnah’ which means ‘opposition’, finally a third well, which was not disputed, was called ‘Rehoboth’ which means ‘wide spaces’. Are we always wise to challenge disputes? If it is a matter of ‘not wanting to be put down’ then consider that ‘eating humble pie’ is non fattening! Humility might hurt our pride but it will bring rewards in the heavenly world which, hopefully, will be our eventual home.

Genesis 26:12-24.


King Abimelech Asks for a Treaty


Isaac was surprised when the King came after him with his army commander. The King had noticed Isaac’s success and realised that such success must come from God. So he wanted to make a treaty (a non aggression pact). Isaac agrees. They had a feast and the treaty was signed. Isaac’s servants dug another well which is called ‘Shibah’ which means ’oath’ or ‘seven’. We must be ready to recognise people who are successful because they are good to God and, in turn, he rewards them accordingly. ‘As you sow so shall you reap.’ Genesis 26:25-33.


Jacob Gets Isaac’s Blessing


By marrying Hittite women Esau had been a source of grief to his parents. Isaac, whose eyes were weak, is old and he knows that his time on earth is nearly over. (In ancient times, blindness and near blindness were common among elderly people). He asked Esau to go and kill some wild game. On his return he will give him his blessing. Rebekah has other ideas. She persuades Jacob to pretend to be Esau and obtain his father’s blessing. (This will fulfil Yahweh’s words when he said ‘the elder will serve the younger’ Genesis 25:23). Jacob is concerned by the deceit but his mother says; “The curse be on me……”. When Jacob went to his father pretending to be Esau, Isaac was surprised that he had managed to kill some game so quickly. Jacob replied “Yahweh your God made things go well for me.” (To bring God into the lie seems blasphemous to us, and we should never attempt to copy it, but it seems that oriental mentality saw no wrong in it, being used to ascribing every event to God, ignoring ‘secondary causes’). Isaac is fooled by the deception and Jacob receives the blessing. Esau returns to find that the blessing has been given to his brother and the blessing can only be given once. Esau is to ‘live by the sword’ a brigand’s life of plunder. In his heart Esau wreaked revenge. He wants to murder his brother. We must never allow our minds and hearts to seek revenge. Remember that when Jesus, who was not guilty of any crime, was being nailed to the cross he didn’t seek revenge. Quite the opposite; he said “Father forgive them; they do not know what are they doing.” So it was. The Roman soldiers were just doing a job. But when we sin we ‘do know what we are doing’; we cannot hide behind Jesus’ words and revenge would only make our sin worse.


We should encourage the ‘giving of blessings.’ Grandfathers, bless your children and grandchildren. Fathers, bless your children. Such blessings, given on special occasions, Weddings, Birthdays, Anniversaries, Christmas, and Easter etc., make those occasions more special and, despite the embarrassment which our teenagers might feel, it will be a example to them of the family love which, in some small way, reflects the love of God.

Genesis 26:34-35 & 27:1-42.


Jacob Escapes to Paddan-Aram


Encouraged by his father and especially by his mother, who realises Esau’s anger, Jacob goes to his uncle’s in Paddan-Aram (‘field of Aram’), where they hope he will find a wife. (Esau realises that his parents do not like Canaanite women so, to displease them, he purposely married into the Canaanites. He already had other wives.) Jacob stops to rest on his long journey and has a dream. he sees a ladder reaching to heaven with angels going up and down and God speaking to him confirming what had been said to Abraham that “The ground on which you are lying I will give to your descendants.” When he awakes he takes the stone on which his head and been resting and poured oil on it. This stone is said to be the one which used to be in the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey but which was claimed by Scotland and returned to them in 1996. Jacob repeats the words of his grandfather, Abraham, promising to tithe. (Genesis 14:20.) This chapter gives us a typical example of ‘Honour your Father and your Mother.’ Jacob obeys, Esau goes out of his way to disobey. Genesis 27:43-46 & 28:1-22.


Jacob, Leah and Rachel


Jacob arrived at his uncle, Laban’s, home and fell in love with the younger daughter Rachel. Jacob agrees to work for Laban for seven years for permission to marry Rachel. Jacob loved Rachel so much that ‘the seven years seemed like a few days’ (Genesis 29:20). When the seven years were completed Laban held a marriage banquet but then took his eldest daughter Leah to Jacob. It must have been dark so Jacob couldn’t see but assumed it was Rachel. He slept with Leah and it was only in the morning that he realised that he had been cheated. (Which shows how we take our electric lights for granted!) Laban’s excuse was that it was the custom for the eldest daughter to marry first. Laban agreed that at the end of the week he would bring Rachel to him but he wanted another seven years work from Jacob who agreed. Here we see the seriousness with which an oath was held in those days. In the present day-world an annulment would have put an end to the marriage to Leah. But not in those days. He had slept with Leah, even unwittingly, and that sealed the marriage contract; there was no way out of a contract made with God. In a weeks time Jacob had both Leah and Rachel as his wives and they had their servants, Zilaph and Bilhah.              Genesis 29:1-30.


Jacob’s Children


Although Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah it was Leah’s womb which was opened but initially Rachel’s remained barren. So Rachel gave her servant, Bilhah, for Jacob to sleep with. The ‘giving of servants’ which happened in those days, and still happens in Africa today, must have been a ‘last resort’ but would not ease the pain of ‘barrenness’. Rachel also felt envious of the ease with which her sister conceived. When Leah’s womb became closed she also gave her servant, Zilpah, for Jacob to sleep with. When Leah’s eldest son, Reuben, had grown up he went out and found some mandrakes which are said to have aphrodisiac properties. Rachel, hoping to obtain what she wanted by magical means, ‘purchased’ the mandrakes at the cost of Jacob sleeping with Leah who conceived! Later Rachel’s prayers were answered and she bore a son and named him Joseph. Eventually, while in Haran, Jacob had eleven sons and one daughter. Six boys and one girl by Leah, one boy by Rachel, two sons by Ziplah and two sons by Bilhah. The law would later rule out taking ‘a woman who is your wife’s sister to make her a rival wife.’ (Leviticus 18:18). Rachel’s purchase of the mandrakes, backfired when Leah conceived. Putting faith in such ‘old wives tales’ is a nonsense. Also mandrakes have poisonous properties! Genesis 29:31-35 & 30:1-24.


Jacob’s Flocks Increase


Now Jacob wanted to return home but Laban put obstacles in the way, he says that he feels blessed by Jacob’s presence and mentions ‘divination’. (The attempt to discover hidden knowledge through mechanical means, the interpretation of omens or the aid of supernatural powers were strictly forbidden to Israel. Leviticus 19:26. Deuteronomy 18:10 & 18:14). In the twenty-first century, horoscopes and fortune telling is detestable and should never be considered. God works through ’prayer’ not through magical means. Whatever method Jacob tried to use to produce speckled sheep it must have been through God’s providence that the scheme worked. Genesis 30:25-43.


Jacob’s Flight


Eventually Jacob has had enough. Laban’s attitude towards him had changed. To confirm his thoughts Yahweh told Jacob “Go back to the land of your ancestors…” He set off on camels with his wives, their servants and all that he had acquired in Paddan-Aram. It was considered miserly if a father-in-law did not return a part of the sum paid over by the husband at the time of the marriage, but all that Jacob had given were his years of work which Laban had exploited. Genesis 31:1-21.


Laban pursues Jacob


When Laban discovered that they had left, he and his sons, set off after them. They caught up and Laban asks Jacob why he had left without saying goodbye. He calls Jacob a fool for the way he has acted and accuses him of stealing the family idols. Rachel, who had taken them, probably did so because she thought they would bring her protection or blessings. To expect protection from such idols showed that she was not yet free from her pagan background. Possession of these idols could, especially in exceptional cases, constitute a legal right to an estate. When Laban enters Rachel’s tent to search for the idols she claims that she is having ‘her period’ and cannot stand up. She was actually hiding the idols in a camel’s cushion and was sitting on them! If her statement was true then sitting on the idols would make them unclean! (Leviticus 15:20). Jacob seems to be at the end of his tether. He lost his temper. He berated Laban for the many years he had had to work. He had been taken advantage of and all he was getting in return was being called a fool and blamed for the theft of the family idols which he knew nothing about. This ‘telling off’ brings Laban to his senses and leads to a treaty between Jacob and Laban. This chapter gives us lessons in theft, deceit, lies and anger. Not a happy state of affairs. It is to their credit that they sorted themselves out and made a treaty. But we must learn lessons: We cannot afford to be bad tempered. We must not steal. We must not tell lies and we certainly must not put our trust in pieces of metal or stone which have the name of ‘idols’. To do so is to throw God’s love back in His face.

Genesis 31:22-55.


Jacob Prepares to Meet His Brother Esau


Jacob does not know whether, in the passage of time, Esau has forgiven him for stealing his father’s blessing. So he sends messengers ahead to let Esau know that he is returning. The messengers return to tell Jacob that his brother is on his way to meet him ‘along with four hundred men.’ Jacob is afraid. The words ‘along with four hundred men’ sounded aggressive. So Jacob split his people and flocks into two camps so that if Esau attacked, the remaining camp may be able to escape. In his fear Jacob prays to Yahweh and reminds Him of His words “I shall……..make your descendants like the sand of the sea.” While he camped for the night he sent servants to his brother with gifts of goats, camels, cows, bulls and donkeys. It was Jacob’s mother who had persuaded him to ‘steal’ his father’s blessing. But now the theft ‘comes home to roost’ and it is Jacob who has the worry. Before it ever happened Yahweh knew of Rebekah’s plan for Jacob but that did not mean that He agreed to the deceit; Yahweh could not do such a thing. We must never confuse our greed and selfishness with God’s goodness which will come to us free from any taint of sin. Genesis 32:1-22.


Jacob ‘Wrestles with God’


After taking his family across the Jordan, Jacob returns and spends the night wrestling; which could have been with his conscience, but it is more likely that it was with God. Why should God choose to wrestle with Jacob? A possible answer is that Jacob wrestles in order to obtain God’s blessing in contrast to the blessing which he stole from his brother. Jacob believed that he was wrestling with God

“…I have seen God face to face and have survived.” (‘To see God is death’ Exodus 33:23) but Jacob had seen and had lived. Jacob called that place ‘Peniel’ which means ‘face of God’. God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. There are many interpretations of the meaning of this new name – ‘May God Rule’ and ‘He struggles with God’ are just two of the possibilities. When we struggle with our consciences aren’t we also struggling with God? We struggle because we feel guilty. We may be trying to excuse ourselves – did we really do that thing of which we are accusing ourselves? But be warned: the evil one can confuse us by making us think we have sinned when we haven’t. (Padre Pio’s advice was, unless we were absolutely certain we had sinned, then to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. The evil one feeds us with doubts to keep us from receiving the Eucharist. Hence Padre Pio’s excellent advice. ) Genesis 32:23-32.


The Meeting with Esau


As he approaches his brother, Esau, Jacob puts the slave girls in front with Leah and Rachel and Joseph at the back. That was selfish of Jacob and was done because he loved Rachel and Joseph more than the slaves and Leah. Putting them at the back meant that they would be the last to be attacked. To his credit he went forward alone to greet his brother and, in an act of subservience, bowed down to the ground seven times before him. Esau showed no animosity, but threw his arms around Jacob’s neck and wept as he kissed him. Jacob introduced Esau to the slave girls and their children, to Leah and her children and finally to Rachel and Joseph who all bowed before him. Esau queries with Jacob the purpose of the gifts which had preceded them. He tells Jacob that he has no need of such gifts as he has also been successful but Jacob asks his brother to keep the gifts. Esau comes out of this situation better than Jacob who showed selfishness in respect of Rachel and Joseph. Selfishness leads us to lack love for others who are probably in need of our love and even depending on it.

Genesis 33:1-11.


Jacob and Esau Part Company


As they break camp Esau goes on ahead saying that he is going to Seir and asking Jacob to join him there. Making the excuse that his people and cattle need rest after their long journey Jacob says that they will rest and follow Esau later. Despite their peaceful meeting Jacob mistrusts his brother. So, once again, he is less than truthful to his brother and, after having rested, he leads his people and cattle to Succoth. Jacob had a guilty conscience. How he must have regretted taking his mother’s advice. When we are given wrongful advice we can’t opt out of our sinfulness by ‘passing the buck’. We know right from wrong. Even though he had had a successful meeting with Esau, Jacob wasn’t truthful. He had never intended to follow Esau to Seir but didn’t tell his brother the truth. Yet God is ever forgiving and Jacob is the one whom God supports in keeping His promise to lead the Hebrews to the Promised Land. For all our disobedience and sinfulness perhaps we can draw some comfort from Jacob’s failings which still received God’s love. Genesis 33:12-20.


The Rape of Dinah


Dinah, Jacob’s daughter by Leah, is raped by Shechem, son of Hamor, a headman of the region. Shechem fell in love with her and wanted to marry her. Dinah’s brothers are infuriated that their sister has been dishonoured. But Shechem pleads to be allowed to marry her. It is eventually agreed that, provided Shechem and all the men of his town agree to be circumcised, then the marriage can take place. Three days after they were all circumcised, and when they were in too much pain to defend themselves, Simon and Levi each take a sword and slaughter all the males in the town as a revenge for the rape of their sister. They also seized the flocks and cattle and took all the women and children captive. Jacob is not impressed by their action. They have used a religious ceremony for evil purposes.  In ‘Jacob’s Testament’ also known as ‘the blessings of Jacob’ he berates them for their actions (Genesis 49:5-7). The actions we take, when our hearts are full of revenge, will be wrong. Revenge is ‘hate’. God is ‘love.’ Genesis 34:1-31.


God talks to Jacob (Israel)


At God’s command Jacob moves towards Bethel. God tells him to get rid of all the foreign gods. Those would be the ones stolen by Rachel and any held by other family members. They must also get rid of their amulets, rings and earrings, which would have been worn as charms against evil. Such things are, and still remain, an offence to God. When we put our trust in God there is no room or necessity for any sort of ‘charms’. Genesis 35:1-15.


The Death of Rachel


At God’s instructions as they are moving towards Ephrata (Bethlehem), Rachel went into labour. The baby, a boy, is born but at the cost of Rachel’s life. Just before she died she named the baby Ben-Oni (‘son of my trouble’) but Jacob renamed him Benjamin (‘son of the south’; as distinct from all the others who had been in the north). The birth of Benjamin proves the truth of Rachel’s tragically prophetic words “Give me children or I’ll die.” (Genesis 30:1). Rachel was buried on the roadside. Sadly, in the past few years, her tomb has become a further point of argument between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It is sad that some three thousand seven hundred years after Rachel’s death she cannot be at peace. For all the meetings and agreements which try to resolve the matter the answer is very easy; ‘Love thy neighbour.’ Genesis 35:16-20.


Reuben Loses his Right as Firstborn


Jacob’s eldest son, Reuben, slept with his father’s concubine, Bilhah, Rachel’s servant. That was an arrogant and premature claim to the rights of the firstborn; the right to inherit the father’s concubines. The right only commenced after the death of the father. For this disobedient act he lost his legal status as firstborn (Genesis 49:3-4). We, in the Western World, may wonder at the way women were treated in the Old Testament days. But in today’s world ‘arranged marriages’ still exist and in many countries women are still considered as second class citizens. There is much to pray about. (The inheritance of wives and concubines is still practiced in some societies. Its purpose is to care for the widows and their children in societies where there is no state welfare system i.e. parts of Africa). Genesis 35:21-22.


The Death of Isaac


Isaac dies and is buried by his sons Esau and Jacob. Despite all that has been written against Esau it is interesting to note that his name, the eldest son, comes first in this mention of Isaac’s burial. We are used to hearing the words ‘Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ as being the three important Patriarchs . But actually Isaac had played a very small part. It would seem that his name has been included to give continuity between the more important, Abraham and Jacob. At all times God is in charge. Genesis 35:23-29.


Esau’s Descendants


This is the last we shall hear of Esau. A long list of his descendants is given in considerable detail. Despite losing his father’s blessing and being regarded as the ‘black sheep’ of the family, it seems that God had been good to him. He had many wives, sons and daughters. He had amassed great flocks of livestock. Esau is an example to all who want to live as ‘tearaways’. Giving away his birthright for some stew (Genesis 25:29-34), is an example of foolhardiness, acting without thinking. Today’s parents, trying to cope with children who are being deceived by the evil that the twenty-first century has to offer, can sympathise with Isaac and Rebekah and their problems with Esau. Genesis 36:1-43.


The Story of Joseph


The story of Joseph is of a man who was completely moral and whose life is reflected by the rewards which God gave him for his goodness. If one wants to find any fault it may be that he should have been more cautious in telling his brothers of his dreams – which infuriated them and led them to want to kill him but, instead, they sell him to some passing spice merchants who were on their way to Egypt. Also, his father, Jacob (Israel), cannot go without criticism – having favourites among our children is wrong and was responsible for the brother’s jealousy which increased their desire to rid themselves of Joseph. But, as we read Joseph’s story, we realise that ‘the hand of God’ is at work. Genesis  37:1-36.


The Story of Judah and Tamar


Joseph’s story is interrupted by this chapter which is a tale of intrigue. Israel’s son, Judah, marries and has three sons Er, Onan and Shelah. Er marries Tamar. But Er is evil and the Lord puts him to death. Judah tells Onan to sleep with Tamar to give her children as was the custom (See Deuteronomy 25:5-6). But Onan knows that any children would not be counted as his so he ‘spilled his semen on the ground’. For this wicked act God puts him to death as he had done with his brother. Judah promises Tamar that when Shelah is old enough he will sleep with her and provide her with children. But Judah is worried that Shelah would also die so he does not keep his promise.


Tamar hears that Judah is on his way to Timnah so she sits at the side on the road, covered with a veil, pretending to be a prostitute. Judah sleeps with her not realising that she is his daughter-in-law. She obtains the ‘deposit’ of Judah’s seal, cord and staff against the goat which is to be sent as payment for sleeping with her. When the goat is delivered there is no prostitute to be found. Three months later Judah is told that his daughter-in-law is guilty of prostitution and is pregnant. Judah orders her to be burned to death (Leviticus 21:10 & 21:14) but Tamar saves her life when she shows the seal, cord and staff revealing that Judah is the father of her child. Judah accepts that, despite Tamar’s deception, he is more guilty than she is for breaking his promise.


The unsavoury events of this chapter illustrate the danger that God’s separated people faced when they were able to mix with the Canaanites. In Egypt the Israelites were kept separate because Egyptians despised them (Genesis 43:32 & 46:34). Being in Egypt enabled the Israelites to become a separate nation without losing its identity as was happening with the Canaanites. Genesis 38:1-30.


Joseph’s Story Continued


In God’s plan it was necessary for Joseph to be in Egypt and even to be in gaol which led him to interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. The dream involved the ever present ‘seven’; seven cows, seven ears of grain etc. Prior to that he had been a successful servant to Potiphar, and had refused the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife. Even in gaol the commander of the guard recognised Joseph’s qualities and put him in charge of all those held in the prison. It was from prison that he was recommended to Pharaoh who would have recognised that Joseph’s gift of interpretation came from ‘above’. So eventually God rewards Joseph by making him second only to Pharaoh. An amazing transformation. He was only thirty years old. (Genesis 41:46). To Joseph’s credit, there was no guile in his heart. He could easily have obtained permission from Pharaoh to go to Canaan, see his father and expose his brothers for their evil and lies. But he didn’t. Genesis 39;40;41.


What was Joseph reaction when his brothers came before him? It must have been mental shock plus the joy at seeing his brothers again. His accusation that they were ‘spying’ would not be unusual on the part of an Egyptian official, but Joseph is ‘playing for time’ wanting to put some plan into operation. From the way events develop, it would seem that he wants to prepare a haven for his family, as well as to test the humanity of these brothers who had been potential fratricides. But what should he do? Should he immediately tell them who he is? His first natural reaction is wanting to see his younger brother Benjamin. So he bides his time but sets into operation a series of traps, which will test the brothers to the limit. If they pass these tests then he will know, without doubt, that they have learned lessons since they sold him into slavery. Joseph had power over his brothers, and they deserved the discomfort. Joseph is not seeking revenge, he is waiting for the moment when he will disclose himself to them. He is able to listen to them without them knowing, because he was speaking to them through an interpreter. He can understand every word they are saying. Reuben tells his brothers “Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen. Now comes the accounting.” At this Joseph turned away and wept. The brothers return to Jacob in Canaan. Genesis 42:1-28.


Joseph has asked for the youngest brother, Benjamin, to be brought to him. Jacob is unwilling to let him go. He had already lost Joseph and if he lost Benjamin then he would have lost both of the children of his beloved Rachel. Up to this point Reuben had been the spokesman but Judah takes over. Eventually his tribe will become pre-eminent among the twelve and he would be an ancestor of Jesus. Genesis 42:29-38.


The brothers return to Egypt for a second time and take Benjamin with them.

On seeing his brother, Benjamin, Joseph went to his room and wept. After he had washed his face he returned and a meal was served. They ate in Joseph’s house in the same room along with the Egyptians, but the brothers ate at a separate table as Egyptians would not eat with Hebrews. They despised their lowly position as shepherds. Due to his high office Joseph would have eaten separately. The brothers could not understand this special treatment which they were being given. They were worried and suspicious but eventually settled down and ‘feasted and drank freely…’. Genesis 43:1-34.


Once again the brothers set off home with food supplies. But Joseph, who obviously had plans to declare who he was, had a silver cup put into Benjamin’s sack. This might seem extremely cruel but it is the final test which will enable Joseph to assess the change of heart which his brothers have had since they sold him into slavery. Genesis 44:1-2.


Joseph has the brothers followed and the silver cup is found in Benjamin’s sack. The brothers are distraught. Although they know that none of them stole the cup nevertheless the fact that it was found in Benjamin’s sack means death for him and imprisonment and a life of slavery for them. They are brought back to Egypt and are taken to Joseph. Genesis 44:3-13.


Bible study can be lonely work: reading every passage, and, through a type of ‘Lectio Divina’, trying to find a meaning for us in the twenty-first century. But there are moments when the words shout out of the pages. One of those moments happens now.


In front of Joseph, Judah makes an eloquent appeal which is one of the great speeches of the Old Testament. The change of heart of the brothers is mirrored in Judah’s generosity and love for all the family. Although it is a plea for the freedom of a brother, in a deeper sense it is a plea for the life of Jacob: “his father loves him”; “his father will die”; “his very life is bound up with (Benjamin)”; Benjamin almost disappears from sight in the verbal description of Jacob’s pathetic suffering. Jacob’s favouritism , which ignited the hatred for Joseph, is acknowledged without envy. To get the full impact of Judah’s speech read the whole of it.

Genesis 44:14-34.


When Joseph sees the profound change in his intended murderers, his test has come to an end. In a way they have shown more love for their father, Jacob, than he has. Joseph dismisses his servants. He is alone with his brothers. An extremely emotional moment. (There must be moments in the Old and New Testament when we would have liked to have been there. For me, this is one such ‘moment’). Genesis.45:1-2.


What must Joseph have felt like? He is almost ‘Lord of all he surveys’ and could tell his brothers who he is and still maintain that ‘special status’. But he longs to become ‘their brother’ again. For the first time he spoke in their language, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?.” They had already told him many times that Jacob was alive. But it would not be surprising if, in the emotion of the moment, he was lost for words. They do not answer, they are dumbfounded. That is hardly surprising. One moment they fear for their brother, Benjamin’s life, and for their own futures, not to mention how their father was going to survive without them. Now this ‘Egyptian’ potentate is telling them that he is their brother, Joseph. He attempts to put them at ease – he gives the theological explanation of the entire affair; ”God sent me before you to assure the survival of our race on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So it was not you who sent me here but God…….”  It is only after he throws his arms around them, kissing them, that their tongues are loosened and they are able to speak to him. They must have recognised the truth of Joseph’s dream “…….your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it”. (Genesis 37:7). They had bowed to Joseph many times during their meetings. “Will you actually reign over us?’ (Genesis 37:8). He had reigned over them. Genesis 45:3-23.


The brothers return to Canaan with Joseph’s words ringing in their ears; “Don’t quarrel on the way.” (Joseph was uncertain whether all that had happened would lead his brothers to waste time arguing as to who was most to blame!) We are not told of their explanation to their father but it would surely have been the whole truth. If they didn’t ‘own up’ how could they be certain that Joseph would not tell Jacob the truth of what had happened? Jacob, and all his family, go to Egypt. We can but ponder on the meeting between Joseph and his father. The Biblical importance of Joseph is emphasised by the fact that more than a fifth of Genesis is given to the story. What can we learn from this incredible story? We can see clearly that God was in charge. But God did not incite the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery. God may have used that situation to Israel’s eventual benefit but he had no part in the evil intent; that was man’s free will. Nor did he incite Potiphar’s wife to have lustful desires towards Joseph. Again, ‘free will’ was responsible. God did give Joseph the power to

understand Pharaoh’s dream and from then on Joseph’s future was secure. So we learn that no good can come from evil. Evil creates more evil. If we put our trust in God then, whatever circumstances we may undergo, God will look after us. His method of looking after us may leave us doubting that He cares, because He will not interfere with our ‘free will’. If He did, then how can He know that we love Him. So His ‘help’ may not take the form that we are expecting. In fact in God’s provision for his chosen people, the Pharaoh, hearing of all that has happened, gives his approval to Jacob and his family and flocks to come to Egypt where they will be given ‘the pick of the land’. (Genesis 45:18). From this incredible story we must recognise that God was in control of the situation. He did not cause the evil to happen but used it so that His eventual plan might be fulfilled. We are therefore given ‘hope’ in abundance. Never despair. Trust in God. Pray to God and in His time and in His way, our prayers will be answered. Genesis 45:24-28. 46:1-34.


Jacob and His Sons Before Pharaoh


Pharaoh gave an audience to Jacob but the Bible tells us that only five of his sons were presented. One theory is that Joseph chose those of meanest appearance so that there would be no danger of Pharaoh wanting to employ them where they would be in danger to their morals and religion. Genesis 47:1-12.


The Hebrews Reduced to Servitude


Joseph could not give away the stored grain so payment of some sort had to be made. To start with the Israelites paid with money. When that ran out they paid with their live stock. When that ran out they paid with themselves; “If you please my lord, we will become serfs to Pharaoh.” (Genesis 47:25). So Joseph is credited with reducing Israel to slavery, though, once again, it must have been God’s plan for his chosen people. Here we are reminded of the words of Job “If we take happiness from God’s hand, must we not take sorrow too.” (Job 2:10). Are we prepared for whatever tests the Good Lord may send us?         Genesis 47:13-28.


Jacob’s Last Wishes and His Blessing to Manasseh and Ephraim


When Jacob’s time to die came near he called Joseph to him and got him to ‘put his hand under his thigh’ (See ‘The Marriage of Isaac’ Page 24) and, on oath, pledge to eventually bury him in the family tomb at Machpelah (Hebron). Joseph brings his two sons to Jacob to receive his blessing. The eldest was Manasseh and the youngest Ephraim. So Joseph put Manasseh by Jacob’s right hand to receive the major blessing with Ephraim by his left hand to receive the secondary blessing. But, God, who can see all things, ensured that Jacob crossed his hands so that his right hand was over Ephraim and his left hand over Manasseh. Joseph tried to move his father’s arms, but Jacob insisted saying “…this younger brother will be greater.” Here we see God intervening by giving Jacob an insight to the future which led him to give his major blessing to the younger brother. Do we keep ourselves open to God’s word? It is probable that he often works through us without our knowing it. By prayer and the graces received in the sacraments we can ensure that we are ever ready to carry out His commands.        Genesis 47:29-31 & 48:1-22.


Jacob’s Prophetic Blessing of His Sons

The blessings are in the form of a poem, the longest poem in the Book of Genesis. They are not only a prophesy for the twelve sons but also for the tribes that descended from them. Two of the prophecies refer to happenings earlier in Genesis. One is for Reuben who slept with his father’s concubine. That was a foolish act of lust. (Genesis 35:22). For that he sacrificed his place as the firstborn. Simeon and Levi are taken to task for having killed Shechem and all the men of his town as revenge for the rape of their sister Dinah. They had allowed themselves to be led by the evil one. Jacob was especially critical of their actions as they had allowed the religious act of circumcision to be used for evil purposes. (Genesis 34:25-31). Do we always think ahead to the effect of our actions? The Highway Code for Crossing the Road can be useful: Stop, Look and Listen. If we can teach ourselves to be more patient and less impulsive we would avoid many temptations which lead us into sin. Genesis 49:1-33.

Jacob’s Funeral

Jacob dies and Joseph has him embalmed. To fulfil his father’s wishes he obtains Pharaoh’s permission to go to Machpelah (Hebron) to bury his father. What a procession it must have been! There were not only the twelve sons and their families and all who belonged to their households but Pharaoh’s officials also accompanied them – all the dignitaries of court, and all the dignitaries of Egypt. Chariots and horsemen also went with them. What we are witnessing is God’s reward to Joseph for his life of complete morality. Joseph is an example to us all. If we follow in his footsteps then we may not avoid all of life’s hard knocks, but we will be given God’s protection and will eventually conquer our earthly evil ways and be safe in the knowledge of an everlasting life in heaven.       Genesis 50:1-14.

Joseph Reassures His Brothers


Joseph’s brothers had been so wrapped up in their evil ways that they were not able to see the goodness in their brother Joseph. Now their father is dead they fear that Joseph might want to ‘pay them back’ for their earlier misdeeds. So they make representations to him asking for his forgiveness. They slyly invoke their father’s command: “You are to say to Joseph: Now please forgive the crime and faults of your brothers and all the wrong they did you.” (Genesis 50:17). It sounds as if even Jacob was not certain of Joseph’s forgiveness. When Joseph heard of their concern, ‘he wept.’ No wonder he wept. Would they never learn? In their concern at Joseph’s possible retribution they went to him, threw themselves at his feet and offered to be his “slaves”. They were very worried men. Joseph does not deny their evildoing, but points to a higher factor. The outcome of all that had happened was meant to be - it was ‘God’s doing.’ “The evil you planned to do me has by God’s design been turned to good.” (Genesis 50:20.) ‘He comforted them, and spoke gently to them.’ (Genesis 50:21). We too must be ready to follow God’s way which may be the complete opposite to the way we expect things to happen. When faced with a dilemma we must ‘pray our way out of it’ asking God for His guidance. Genesis 50:15-21.


Joseph Dies


Joseph dies, is embalmed, and kept in a coffin. Joseph had put Israel’s sons on oath to “take my bones away from here.” He must have known that the Israelites would eventually move from Egypt. No attempt was made to copy Jacob’s funeral probably because Joseph was very highly thought of and, at that time, Pharaoh would not want his body to be taken away from Egypt. Genesis 50:22-26.




Epilogue on the book of Genesis

What have we learnt from this, the first book of the Old Testament?


We know that God, who ‘always has been’ created the universe and all that is in it including our world. We know that He created man and woman, that He gave them ‘free will’ but expected ‘obedience’. Man and woman misused their free will and sin entered the world. We do not know the actual means of their disobedience. The ‘apple’ may only a be symbol. They put their ‘free will’ before their love for God. The question is often asked ‘Where did evil come from?’ As God created everything didn’t He also create evil? From Genesis 2:9 we learn ‘And the Yahweh God caused to grow every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’ That appears to give an affirmative answer to the question. But for ‘evil’ read ‘ free will’ and we have a clearer understanding.


We learn that in The Garden of Eden man tilled the soil but did so without exertion or the sweat of his brow. After being ejected from Eden work became laborious. Life in the Garden of Eden is impossible for us to understand. It is a mystery which we will only understand on the other side of the grave.


We have learnt that God can decide to take action to eliminate sin in the world. He did that at the time of the flood. He did it again when he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.


We have the first mention of angels though the story of their fight with Satan will have to wait till the Book of Revelation.


We learn that God expects our obedience. He loves us and desires our love in return. But that love has to be freely given.


We learn that God can intervene as he did when he chose Abram to be the father figure of his chosen race.


We learn that God does not always accept that the eldest should inherit or take the leading role. God looks at the heart and not on the physical state of the person.


We learn of Joseph’s life of complete morality and the great rewards which he received from God. Surely an example as to how we should live. In Joseph’s life we find a mirror image of St Joseph. Both were men of great integrity, both had dreams and, as Joseph led the Israelites to safety in Egypt, so St Joseph led Jesus and Mary to safety also in Egypt.


We read of God speaking to Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Perhaps we don’t hear God, not because He isn’t speaking to us, but because we are not listening. We live in such a noisy world with everything done at the greatest speed. Compare our times with those of Abraham. The fastest and probably noisiest thing they would have had would have been camels! There was no radio, no television, no cinemas. There were no motorways, no railways, no airports, no mobile phones, no supermarkets. Is it any wonder with all the noise and speed which surround us that we don’t hear God? We should try to have some ‘quiet time’ specifically to ‘listen to God’. I am certain he won’t disappoint us. But we must be ready to ‘Obey’ his requests.


THE BOOK OF EXODUS                               


The Liberation from Egypt

The book starts by naming some of those who came to Egypt with Jacob. As would be expected it contains the names of Joseph’s eleven brothers and tells us that the total number of Jacob’s family who came with him totalled seventy. The book moves on quickly to mention the deaths of Joseph and all his brothers. The reason for this apparent speed is that the entire purpose of the first fifteen chapters of Exodus is to tell the story of the Israelites being released from Egypt. (From the end of Genesis to the start of Exodus spanned 430 years.[Exodus 12:40] though there is some evidence that this figure could be reduced to 200 years. Whichever it may be it does not alter the story of what occurred during the time leading up to the Hebrews’ release from Egypt.) There are no stories of their early days in Egypt but we are given the information that ‘eventually they were fruitful and prolific; they became so numerous and powerful that eventually the whole land was full of them.’ (Exodus 1:7). Here we see the result of God’s plan which commenced with Joseph having been sold into slavery by his brothers. Had the Israelites remained in Canaan they would have intermarried with the Canaanites and would have been lost as a distinctive nation. In Egypt there was little fear of intermarriage. Whilst the Pharaoh who knew Joseph was obviously a kind man, his people were not enthusiastic about the Israelites. They looked down on them and on their lowly job as shepherds. (Whilst intermarriages were unlikely, there is always ‘an exception to the rule’, and they did take place as mentioned in Leviticus 24:10). But in general terms the distinctive nature of God’s chosen people is safeguarded. God’s plan continues. Exodus 1:1-7.

At the start of Exodus it seems that the Israelites, know that they are in an alien land but are unmindful of Yahweh’s promises. Time has hidden the memories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. For a people who totally depended on ‘the word being passed down’ this is strange. But perhaps the constant oppression of their Egyptian masters clouded their minds from their illustrious past. They are oppressed by a cruel Pharaoh ‘who had never heard of Joseph’. Exodus 1:8-9.

The Oppressing of the Hebrews

Pharaoh, seeing the vast numbers of Israelites is concerned and makes plans to reduce their numbers. He puts taskmasters over them. (We recall that, during the famine the Israelites made themselves serfs to Pharaoh. ‘If it please my lord, we will become serfs to Pharaoh.’. Genesis 47:25). The early chapters of Exodus emphasise the hard labour which was put on the Israelites, not only to gain extra work from their labours but because of the fear that ‘[they] may escape from this country or join the ranks of our enemies’. So the Pharaoh was afraid of their increased numbers but wanted to continue to use them for slave labour. Exodus 1:9-14.

The Israelite numbers continue to increase so the Pharaoh spoke to the midwives and told them ‘When you attend Hebrew women in childbirth – look at the two stones (either the stones on which they sat while giving birth or the sexual organ of the infant. In the Greek the words are ‘while they are giving birth’) ‘If it is a boy kill him; if a girl let it live.’ But the midwives were god fearing women and did not obey the orders of the king of Egypt.’ This surely gives comfort to us three thousand five hundred years later – that these women did not allow themselves to be bullied into killing the babies at the moment of birth which would have been the same as abortion. These were professional women who were not prepared to have their work trivialised. Exodus 1:15-17.

When Pharaoh asks the women why the boys are not being killed they reply that the Hebrew women are strong and give birth before the midwives arrive. The Bible tells us that because of what the midwives had done God rewarded them - ‘He gave them families of their own.’ The Hebrews kept on increasing. Exodus 1:18-21.

Pharaoh’s final order to solve the problem of the increasing numbers of Hebrews is to say that all the boys born must be thrown into the Nile. The girls can live. (Bearing in mind that Pharaoh wanted men to work as slaves his act of killing the boys was bad logic!) Hebrews 1:22.

The Birth of Moses

‘A Levite man and a Levite woman have a son’ (Later the Levites are chosen by God to be at the service of the priests. Numbers 3:5-51). The woman, seeing what a fine child he was, kept him hidden for three months. Then we have the story of the papyrus basket complete with bitumen and pitch into which the child is laid and put among the reeds. His sister watches to see what will happen. (Now we surely have another intervention by Yahweh.) Pharaoh’s daughter went to bathe, saw the basket and opened it to find the baby crying. The baby is brought up by his mother. All Exodus tells us about the time when the boy went to live with Pharaoh’s daughter are the words ‘when the child grew up.’ But Acts 7:20-21: says; ‘For three months he was cared for in his father’s house’ which would mean that he was six months old when he was taken by Pharaoh’s daughter who ‘brought him up as her own son.’ The child was named Moses. One interpretation of this word is that it is like the Hebrew word mashah ‘to draw out’ (of the river). But Pharaoh’s daughter was unlikely to speak Hebrew and it is more likely that Moses’ name came from a shortened version of an Egyptian name meaning ‘born of’. Egyptian names such as Tutmoses, Ahmose and Ramses contain, in some form or other, the word ‘moses’. So the life of Moses was saved and all Pharaoh’s efforts at suppressing male Hebrews were thwarted by women: the midwives, Moses’ sister; Moses’ Hebrew mother and Pharaoh’s own daughter. Acts 7:22 also tells us; ‘Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.’ Exodus 2:1-10.

Moses Flees Egypt to Midian

‘After Moses had grown up he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour.’ (‘When Moses was forty years old he decided to visit his fellow Israelites’. (Acts 7;23). Moses was 80 when he was sent to speak to Pharaoh and 120 when he died. So the age of forty would be correct.) An Israelite was being ill-treated by an Egyptian so Moses intervened and killed the Egyptian. The words ‘looking this way and that and seeing no-one in sight’ make it certain that Moses intended to kill and it was not an accident. Moses hid the body in the sand. But his action had made him unwelcome to his own people. When he sees two Israelites fighting he cannot give an answer to the question “Who made you a prince and judge over us?” (‘Moses thought that his own people would realise that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.’ Acts 7:25.) It is necessary to question Moses’ act of murder. When Cain killed his brother Yahweh cursed him and made him a restless wanderer. What can we make of Moses’ murder? We can remind ourselves that, at that time, the Covenant of the Ten Commandments had not been given to Moses by God. But then why the difference with Cain’s murder? One can only speculate; but in Cain’s case it was the vice of jealousy which brought about his act of fratricide. In Moses’ case it was, certainly intended, as an act of protection, of love, of his own people). Pharaoh tried to kill Moses who fled to Midian (in South Eastern Sinai.) Exodus 2:11-15.

Moses in Midian

Getting water from the local well was a constant chore. So it was an obvious place to go to meet people. Moses sat by the well at Midian and got involved in helping the daughters of the local priest, (Jethro, a priest of Midian, which translates as ‘friend of God’), who were being bullied by some shepherds who were trying to drive them away from the well. (In the arid desert, water was a precious commodity, and such disputes would frequently occur.) Moses helped them water their flock. (It is worth reminding ourselves of Moses change of circumstances. He had been brought up in Pharaoh’s Palace as Pharaoh’s adopted son. He would have had every comfort and servants to look after his every whim. Now he finds himself in the arid desert where ‘survival is the name of the game’. A very different life than he had lived for the previous forty years.) The daughters return early and their father asks; “Why are you back early today?” They tell their father of the man who had helped them. Moses is invited to eat and stays with them. Things seemed to happen very quickly as in the next two sentences Moses marries one of the priest’s daughters, Zipporah, and has a son named Gershom, and helps Jethro by looking after his flocks.         Exodus 2:16-22.

God Remembers Israel

We move forward forty years during which time another King (Pharaoh) was reigning in Egypt (Probably Amunhotep II). The Israelites were groaning in slavery. ‘God remembered His covenant with Abraham, saw their plight, and took note.’ (Up to this point Exodus hasn’t mentioned God. God has been silent. But now He is mentioned four times in three verses. In Egypt, by his imposition of slavery and killing of the male boys, Pharaoh behaved as a god. The people must be released to serve Yahweh.) Exodus 2:23-25.

The Burning Bush

Moses is looking after his father-in-law’s sheep and is in the area of Horeb. (This in the Sinai mountain range where, later, God will give the Ten Commandments.) Moses sees a burning bush. (Here we have one of those special occasions when God chooses to reveal the wonder of His love. Another is to come when Saul is approaching Damascus and yet another, most important of all, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. We may consider that Moses and Saul were given special treatment. Why aren’t we all called by God in a similar way? Because we would not be suitable to the task. Moses and Saul were chosen because of their natural ability to lead. Very few have such ability. God knows who they are. To choose someone without that talent would be unkind and God will never make such a mistake.)

God appears to Moses from the burning bush. Would Moses have had any knowledge of God? Prior to fleeing from Egypt Moses had shown his compassion for his people, the Hebrews. But his education under Pharaoh would not have contained the God of the Hebrews. We are told that Moses’ father-in-law (Jethro) was a ‘priest of Midian’ (Exodus 2:16) and later in Exodus we are told ‘Jethro…then offered a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God’ (Exodus 18:12). So perhaps Jethro already knew the Hebrew God and it was from him that Moses obtained his knowledge. (When Jacob and the Israelites went to Egypt it is possible that a remnant of Hebrews stayed in Canaan and, from them, over the period of approximately 450 years, the knowledge of Yahweh would have spread. However this does not necessarily mean that Jethro believed in Yahweh as the one and only God.)

Moses approaches to see why the bush is blazing but not being burnt. As Moses gets near he hears a voice coming from the bush. “Moses, Moses!” He replied. “Here I am”. The voice tells him to come no nearer. “Where you are standing is holy ground.” Moses is told to remove his sandals which is a symbol of laying aside all pollution from walking in the way of sin. (It is probably from this command that Muslims remove their footwear before entering the Mosque. Forty years later, before the capture of Jericho, Joshua is to receive a similar command to remove his sandals (Joshua 5:15) God immediately tells Moses who He is; “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses covers his face. (God’s majesty is such that no-one can gaze on it and live.) Like David (2 Samuel 7:8) Moses is called while tending the sheep. God chooses those doing lowly jobs for His important work. Exodus 3:1-6.

The Mission of Moses

God tells Moses “I have indeed seen the misery of My people in Egypt.” Then comes the command for Moses to go and rescue the people. There follow Moses’ arguments as to why he may not be the best person to undertake the task.    Exodus 3:7-12.

The Divine Name Revealed

Moses wants to know what to tell the Israelites when they say “Who sent you. What is his name?” God replies “I am He who is.” (I am being itself; eternal; self-existent; independent; infinite; without beginning, end or change; and the source of all other beings.) Exodus 3:13-15.

Moses Instructed for His Mission

Moses is given instructions what to say to the Israelites and how they are to be brought out of Egypt ‘into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – a land flowing with milk and honey.’ They must go to Pharaoh and ask permission to go into the desert ‘a three day journey’ (which would have taken them into Sinai and well out of reach of the Egyptian army). God foretells that Pharaoh will not agree to the journey. Then will occur the ‘wonders’ which God will perform. (‘Wonders’; A prediction of the plagues that God would send against Egypt.) Exodus 3:16-20.

The Egyptians Will be Plundered

God predicts that as the Israelites leave Egypt they will not go empty handed but will ask for and be given ‘articles of silver, gold and clothing,…… And so you will plunder the Egyptians.’ (This fulfils the prophesy given in Genesis ‘But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions.’ Genesis 15:14.) Exodus 3:21-22.

Moses Granted Miraculous Powers

Moses continues to argue his case that he is not suitable for the task. So God gives him miraculous powers. His shepherd’s staff turns into a snake and back into a staff. (The significance of the snake may be that Pharaoh wore a cobra made of metal on the front of his head-dress as a symbol of his sovereignty). Moses’ hand became leprous and is then cured. God tells Moses that if these two miracles won’t convince Pharaoh then water taken from the River Nile will be turned into blood. Exodus 4:1-9.

Aaron to be the Mouthpiece of Moses

Despite the miracles Moses continues to argue his unsuitability. He claims to be ‘slow and hesitant of speech’. ‘At this God’s anger was kindled against Moses.’ (God requires our obedience.) But perhaps Moses argument had an element of truth because God tells Moses that his brother Aaron ‘the Levite’ will be his spokesman. (This is the first mention of Aaron [whose name means ‘enlightened’]. He was an older brother born before the command to ‘throw the boys into the Nile.’ See Exodus 7:7) Exodus 4:10-16.

Moses’ Staff

God tells Moses to take his shepherd’s staff with him. ‘With this (staff) in your hand you will perform the signs.’ Exodus 4:17.

Moses is Told to Return to Egypt

Moses is given leave by his father-in-law to return to Egypt. Yahweh tells Moses ‘those who w anted to kill you are all dead.’ He also tells him that Pharaoh ‘will not let the people go’. Yahweh also said ‘Israel is My firstborn son’ (A figure of speech indicating IsraeI’s special relationship with God.) You must say to Pharaoh “You refused to let them go so I will kill your firstborn son.” Thus anticipating the tenth plague). Exodus 4:18-23.


God’s Anger


Moses left Midian with his wife and two sons (a second son named Eliezer had been born. Exodus 18:4.) ‘At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met him (‘him’ might be Moses or one of the sons). Moses’ wife, Zipporah, knew the reason for the meeting – either Moses or one of the sons had not been circumcised and was about to be killed. Zipporah carried out the circumcision and dropped the foreskin onto Moses’ feet (the word ‘feet’ is a euphemism for the male genital organ.) and said the words “You are my blood bridegroom.” It can only be assumed that there was some reason in tradition for this action and words. It could be that circumcision was repulsive to Zipporah which would give reason for her words. (We do not know if and when Moses or his two sons were circumcised. But we can assume that by Zipporah’s action all three had been circumcised.) God’s anger shows his demand for obedience to his commands. Exodus 4:24-26.


God Speaks to Aaron


The action now moves to Aaron. Yahweh tells him to go and meet Moses. He must have set out sooner than Moses as they met ‘at the mountain of God’ which is in the Sinai Mountain Range close to where Moses had looked after Jethro’s herds. Moses told Aaron all that Yahweh had said. Exodus 4:27-28.

Moses and Aaron Return to Egypt


On reaching Egypt they gathered all the elders and Aaron told them all that Yahweh had said to Moses. (God’s words to Moses were being fulfilled “He (Aaron) will speak to the people in your place.” Exodus 4:16.) To help to convince them Moses ‘in the sight of the people performed the signs’ – the staff turning into a snake and Moses’ hand turning leprous. ‘The people rejoiced that Yahweh had seen their misery and they bowed to the ground in worship.’

Exodus 4:29-31.


The First Meeting with Pharaoh


In the whole story of the meetings leading up to the plagues we get the impression that the Pharaoh kept himself open to the people, even to those he regarded as slaves. Moses and Aaron meet Pharaoh and, on behalf of Yahweh, ask to be allowed to hold a feast in the desert. When Pharaoh refuses they tell Pharaoh; “The God of the Hebrews has encountered us. Give us leave to make a three-days journey or He will strike us with a plague or with a sword.” (the words ‘three days journey’ was a saying meaning a journey of indeterminate length. The saying is frequently found in the Biblical writings of those days). They couldn’t have been more explicit but Yahweh had foretold that the people would believe Moses and that Pharaoh would not (Exodus 3:18-19). Pharaoh perversely interprets the people’s desire to worship in the wilderness as shirking.

Exodus 5:1-5.


The Outcome of the First Meeting


Hebrew slave labour was making bricks for the huge buildings which the Pharaohs’ built. They used straw to bind the clay together. Up to now the straw had been supplied by Pharaoh’s men. But now Pharaoh tells his men to make the slaves gather their own straw but not to reduce the daily quota of bricks. Exodus 5:6-9.


The Israelites had their own Hebrew foremen appointed by Pharaoh’s slave-drivers. When they were beaten by Pharaoh’s men for not meeting their quota of bricks they went to see Pharaoh. (Once again showing Pharaoh’s openness to the people.) At their complaint Pharaoh turned them against Moses and Aaron by saying that it was the request ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord’ which had made him realise their laziness. His clever strategy divided the Israelites from Moses and Aaron. The Israelite foremen went to find Moses and Aaron and told them what had happened. They complain bitterly that their position is now worse. Their words ‘May the Lord look upon you and judge…’ were words of hostility. Exodus 5:10-21.


Moses Prays to the Lord


Moses complains to Yahweh; even to sayingYou have done nothing at all about rescuing your people.”  Yahweh replies “Now you will see what I am going to do to Pharaoh. A mighty hand will force him to expel them from his country.” It took nine plagues before ‘the death of the firstborn’ made Pharaoh agree to let the Israelites go free. Why did Yahweh allow these nine plagues to happen? Why not start with the death of the first born? The answer has to be that God gave Pharaoh nine opportunities, all of which he refused. So in the end God had to use ‘death’ as the only way of bringing Pharaoh to his senses. Exodus 5:22-23. & 6:1.






Another Account of the Call of Moses


At this point the Bible takes a step back and gives another account of God’s commissioning of Moses leading up to Moses first confrontation with Pharaoh. Why should this second account be necessary? Perhaps there were two well understood traditions. But rather than blend them into one written form it was decided to share both traditions with the Bible readers.


God speaks to Moses and tells him ‘I am Yahweh’. But He then goes on to tell Moses that when He appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob He did so as ‘El Shaddai’ (God Almighty). Only at Sinai, and to Moses, did He reveal His real name, ‘Yahweh’. He remembers His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and will rescue the Israelites from their slavery. “Then shall I lead you into the country which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob……”. At this point the two accounts differ. This one says that Moses related all that Yahweh had said to the Israelites ‘but they would not listen to Moses, so crushed was their spirit and so cruel their slavery.’ Then the two accounts come together when Yahweh sends Moses to Pharaoh and sends Aaron with him to act as spokesmen. Exodus 6:2-13.


The Genealogy of Moses and Aaron


When Patriarchs and other important new names appear the Biblical writers are anxious to give proof of their identities. They did it with Noah and Abraham and they now do it with Moses and Aaron by stating their lineage which shows them coming from the tribe of Levi which is to be the ‘priestly’ tribe. Exodus 6:14-25.


God’s Command to Moses and Aaron


Again the Lord orders Moses to go to Pharaoh with the words “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.” Nine times in Exodus the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is ascribed to God. (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1; 10:20; 10:27; 11:10; 14:4; and 14:8; Also see Romans 9:17-18). By hardening Pharaoh’s heart God was able to show his power by his miracles.) Nine times the Pharaoh is said to have hardened his own heart. (7:13; 7:14; 7:22; 8:15; 8:19; 8:32; 9:7; 9:34; 9:35). The age of Aaron is given as 83 and of Moses 80. Exodus 6:26-30 & 7:1-7.


Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh. The staff turns into a snake


God keeps his word with Moses by letting Aaron be the spokesman in front of Pharaoh. It is Aaron who throws down the staff which turned into a snake. Pharaoh called for his sages and sorcerers and by their magic each threw his staff down and they also turned into snakes. But Aaron’s staff (snake) swallowed up theirs. Pharaoh remained obstinate. Exodus 7:8-13.





The Ten Plagues.


When the plagues are put into triplets with the tenth plague being outside the series, they have a similar structure.


1. Blood.               4. Flies.                   7 Hail.                             10 Death

2. Frogs.               5. Pestilence.          8. Locusts.                     of the

3. Gnats.               6. Fever Boils.        9. Darkness.                   firstborn.


In the plagues of the Blood, Flies and Hail, Moses and Aaron were told to ‘confront Pharaoh in the morning.’ In the plagues of the Frogs, Pestilence and Locusts, they had to ‘go to Pharaoh’. In the plagues of the Gnats, Fever Boils and Darkness, it is left to Moses and Aaron to commence those plagues without approaching Pharaoh.


Plague 1.The Waters Turn into Blood


Moses and Aaron are told ‘Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the water.’ Aaron stretches out his staff over the waters of the Nile and it, and all water in Egypt, turned into blood. The Egyptian magicians did the same things by their magic arts and Pharaoh’s heart became hard.’ Exodus 7:14-24.


Plague 2. The Plague of Frogs


Seven days later Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and say; ‘This is what Yahweh says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I shall strike your whole territory with frogs. The river will swarm with frogs; they will make their way into your palace, into your bedroom, onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and subjects, into your ovens, into your kneading bowls. The frogs will actually clamber onto you, onto your subjects and your officials.’


Aaron stretched out his staff over the waters and frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. But by their spells Pharaoh’s magicians did the same, bringing frogs over the land of Egypt. (Revelation 16:13 ‘Then from the jaws of the dragon and beast and false prophet I saw three foul spirits come; they looked like frogs and in fact were demon spirits, able to work miracles……’)


Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said ‘Entreat Yahweh to take the frogs away…… .and I promise to let the people go and sacrifice to Yahweh.’ But once the frogs had gone Pharaoh once again became obstinate as Yahweh had foretold. Exodus 7:25 & 8:1-15.


Plague 3. The Plague of the Gnats (Mosquitoes.)


Aaron stretched out his staff and struck the dust of the earth. It turned into gnats (mosquitoes). There were gnats on every man and beast. By their spells the magicians tried to produce gnats in the same way but failed. They said to Pharaoh “This is the finger of God.” They accepted that Yahweh was the true God. But Pharaoh continued to be obstinate. Exodus 8:16-19.


Plague 4. The Plague of Flies


Moses and Aaron are told ‘Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he makes his way to the water. Say to him Yahweh says this: Let My people go and worship Me. But if you will not let My people go I shall send swarms of flies on you, on your officials, your subjects and your houses. – But I shall exempt the region of Goshen, where my people (the Hebrews) are living. (Yahweh begins to differentiate between his own people and Egypt.) This sign will take place tomorrow. The sign happened and great swarms of flies were everywhere. They found their way into Pharaoh’s palace. The country was ruined by flies.


Pharaoh begins to show a weakness when he agrees to allow the Hebrews to worship Yahweh within Egypt. But this is not what Yahweh is asking for and such worshipping would be unacceptable to the Egyptians (Genesis 46:34). Finally Pharaoh agrees to let them go ‘but you must not go far’ but when the flies were gone Pharaoh’s heart was hardened again. Exodus 8:20-32.


Plague 5. The Plague of Pestilence


Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and give him Yahweh’s message If you will not let my people go I will send a pestilence which will kill your horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep and goats. But the lord made a distinction between the livestock of Egypt and that of the Israelites.


So it happened that all the livestock of the Egyptians died. Pharaoh sent men to investigate and found that none of the animals of the Israelites had died. Yet still his heart was hardened. Exodus 9:1-7.


Plague 6. The Plague of Boils


Moses is instructed to throw handfuls of soot into the air in front of Pharaoh. It will turn into find dust and produce boils on man and beast. Moses did this and the magicians could not compete as they too were covered with boils like all the other Egyptians. Pharaoh remained stubborn. Exodus 9:8-12.


Plague 7. The Plague of Hail


Yahweh tells Moses “Get up early in the morning and tell Pharaoh that I will send hail which will kill man and beast. So tell the people to fetch their cattle and slaves under cover so they will not be killed. The hail came – it was the worst hail storm which Egypt had ever known. Pharaoh summoned Moses and said “This time I have sinned.” Moses spread out his hands in prayer and the hail stopped. (It had not hailed in the area of the Israelites.) But, once again, Pharaoh and his officials hardened their hearts. Exodus 9:13-35.


Plague 8. The Plague of Locusts


The previous plague mentioned ‘flax and barley were destroyed’ which means that this plague occurred in the early spring which explains why there were crops for the locusts. Moses is told to go to Pharaoh and warn him that if he will not let the people go then swarms of locusts will devour what little is left after the hail. But Yahweh declares that He has hardened the hearts of Pharaoh and his officials so that future generations of Israelites will know the power of Yahweh. But when Pharaoh’s officials hear of the devastation which the locusts will inflict they try and persuade Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go to worship their God. Pharaoh speaks to Moses and Aaron and agrees to them going but only the men without the women and children. Moses does not agree to this and the plague of locusts descended on Egypt and stripped whatever was growing in the fields and on the trees. Again Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and said “I have sinned against Yahweh and against you. Now forgive my sin.” Moses prayed to Yahweh and a strong wind swept the locusts into the Sea of Reeds. Yahweh made Pharaoh stubborn and he did not let the Israelites go. Exodus 10:1-20.


Plague 9. The Plague of Darkness


Without meeting with Pharaoh Moses is told to stretch his hands to heaven and three days of darkness descended on Egypt; though the Israelites had light where they were living. (The darkness was an insult to the sun-god Ra (or Re), one of the chief deities of Egypt.)This time Pharaoh agrees that Moses can take the men, women and children but not their flocks. Moses cannot agree to this. (The Egyptians found the Hebrews’ work as shepherds detestable so their flocks would have been at risk if left behind. Genesis 46:34). Plus the fact that some of the flocks were needed to be used as offerings. So Pharaoh’s heart remained stubborn. Pharaoh decides never to see Moses again – which prepares for the climax. (This conversation continues after the next paragraph below.)

Exodus 10:21-29.


Preparation for the 10th Plague


Yahweh tells Moses that He will inflict one more plague on Pharaoh after which he will let them go. ‘In fact he will drive you out!’ Now Yahweh prepares the Israelites to fulfil His words in Exodus 3:21-22: ‘I will ensure that the Egyptians are so impressed with this people that when you go, you will not go empty handed. Every woman will ask her neighbour and the woman staying in her house for silver and golden jewellery and clothing. In these you will dress your own sons and daughters, despoiling the Egyptians of them.’ Exodus 11:1-2.


Continuing his words after the Plague of Darkness Moses tells Pharaoh of the final Plague when all the first-born of Pharaoh, heir to his throne, of the slave girl at the mill, and all the first born of the livestock will die. But none of the Israelites will be affected. (By now Moses is an important person in Egypt looked up to by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people [Exodus 11:3] and continually getting the better of Pharaoh.) Moses predicts; ‘Then all these officials of yours will come down to me and, bowing low before me, say: “Go away, you and all the people who follow you!” Hot with anger, he left Pharaoh’s presence. Exodus 11:3-10.


The Passover


Whilst the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are given here as one and the same feast they were actually two quite separate feasts. The Passover took place at the time of the Exodus (although there had been a pre-Israelite Passover which was an annual festival of nomadic shepherds celebrated for the well being of their flocks), but the Feast of Unleavened Bread didn’t take place until fifty years later when the Israelites were in Canaan during the reforms of Joshua. They are put together here to encourage future generations to celebrate them at same time.


Yahweh tells Moses and Aaron: ‘This month is to be the first of the year.

On the tenth day of this month every man must take an animal, one animal for each household. If the household is too small for the animal then he must join with his neighbour.’ Then the instruction is given to mark the door-post and lintel of the house with blood from the animal. It is certain that the Angel of Death would not have needed such a sign and would have known which were the homes of the Israelites. But a token gesture was necessary. Such token gestures continue today; making the Sign of the Cross – Using Holy Water – Receiving a Blessing – Genuflecting – Saying ‘Alleluia’ – Saying ‘Amen’. So, in some small way, we are not getting something for nothing.


The Israelites are commanded to make this a day of commemoration. ‘Generations to come shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord.’ (It is still celebrated by Orthodox Jews today.) Remove yeast from your houses. (Yeast was often used later as a symbol of sin, such as ‘hypocrisy’ [Luke 12:1] or ‘malice and wickedness’ [1 Corinthians 5:8]. Before celebrating the Passover, the observant Jew today conducts a systematic, often symbolic, search of his house to remove every crumb of leavened bread. Today at Passover meals a sprig of parsley or other plant is dipped in salt water to symbolise the lowly diet and tears of the Israelites during their time of slavery.) Exodus 12:1-28.


Plague 10. Death of the First-born


‘And at midnight Yahweh struck down all the first-born of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh, heir to his throne, to the first-born of the prisoner in the dungeon, and the first-born of all livestock.’ – ‘there was great wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without its dead.’ ‘It was still dark when Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron.’ (Though he had sworn never again to call Moses into his presence he does so in this moment of national tragedy, Exodus 10:28). Pharaoh said “Up, leave my subjects, you and the Israelites! Go and worship Yahweh as you have asked! And take your flocks and your herds as you have asked and go!” (Pharaoh capitulates and, at last, and at a high price, gives Moses all that Yahweh has asked for). ‘The Egyptians urged the people on and hurried them out of their country.’ ’The Israelites did as Moses had told them and asked the Egyptians for silver and golden jewellery and clothing.’ ‘So they plundered the Egyptians. (Exodus 3:22). (As Christians we must remember that all that was happening in Egypt three thousand three hundred years ago was an anticipation of the Christian Easter: the Lamb of God, Christ, is sacrificed [the cross] and eaten [the last Supper] within the framework of the Jewish Passover [Holy Week]). Exodus 12:29-36.


The Exodus


Leaving Egypt were ‘…..about 600,000 men on foot, besides women and children.’ This is a very large number and may be the result of a census taken at a later stage in their travels. Nevertheless it must have been an impressive sight as it included ‘large droves of flocks and herds’. We also read that ‘Many other people went with them.’ (Exodus 12:38). Who could they have been? Some of them could have been those mentioned in Exodus 9:20, ‘…hurried to bring in their slaves….’. It does seem that some Egyptians left with the Israelites. Pharaoh’s appalling leadership throughout the ten plagues would be an encouragement to leave. Also, during the four hundred and thirty years which the Hebrews had resided with them, marriage had taken place between some Israelites and Egyptians Leviticus 24:10. Exodus 12:37-42.


Passover Regulations


The importance of these regulations is that, at this moment when, after the massive build up of the Ten Plagues, and The Exodus is taking place, we are given the instructions for Passover and the Firstborn. ‘No alien may eat it but any slave may eat once you have circumcised him. No bones of the Passover animal may be broken. (When Jesus – Our Passover lamb – was crucified, none of his bones were broken.) ‘No uncircumcised person may eat it either citizen or stranger.’ Moses institutes the Feast of Unleavened Bread which must be kept every year. Exodus 12:43-51. & 13:3-10.


Firstborn Regulations


‘Every firstborn must be consecrated to Yahweh both of man or beast.’ But a donkey must be redeemed with a lamb or kid, or its neck must be broken. This is because the donkey, being considered unclean, could not be offered in sacrifice. Exodus 13:1-2 & 13:11-16.


The Exodus Continued.


‘At God’s instructions Moses did not take the shortest route to the Philistines’ territory in case fighting were to break out and the people might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ This might seem unlikely but we must remember that they had been subject to slavery for four hundred and thirty years and had become so institutionalised to it that it might be considered better than getting involved in fighting. Exodus 13:17-18.


Joseph’s Oath is Honoured


Joseph had made an oath, “take my bones away from here with you.” (Genesis 50:25). Moses honours that oath. Joseph obviously had a premonition of the future of the Israelites. Exodus 13:19.


Cloud by Day  Fire by Night


To show them the way Yahweh proceeded them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God’s revelation of Himself and His will was often accompanied by fire. (Exodus 3:2; & 19:18. 1 Kings 18:24; & 18:38.)

Exodus 13:20-22.


Pharaoh’s Heart Will Again be Hardened


Yahweh tells Moses to ‘turn back’ to make it appear that the Israelites are wandering aimlessly to and fro in the desert. Pharaoh will think he has them trapped and will pursue them. Yahweh’s plan for Pharaoh’s final punishment is set in place. Exodus 14:1-4.


Pharaoh Rises to the Bait


Despite all that had happened, (the ten plagues culminating in the death of the firstborn), Pharaoh and his officials ‘changed their minds’. They couldn’t bear the thought of the loss of Israelite slaves. They prepare six hundred chariots and catch up with the Israelites as they were camped near the Sea of Reeds (or Red Sea). The Israelites were terrified. They had reason to be. They had suffered hundreds of years of slavery and knew the cruelty of the Egyptians. They were trapped by the sea and could see no way of escape. They feared the revenge which they would suffer. They cry out to Moses saying that they would have been better serving the Egyptians than to be caught in this trap.

Exodus 14:5-12.



Moses’ Great Faith in Yahweh.


Moses’ faith had grown enormously since the occasion of the burning bush. This is not surprising since each of the ten plagues had shown Yahweh’s great power. (It is significant that now, and as the Israelites enter their forty years in the wilderness, he does not need Aaron as his spokesman as he did when approaching Pharaoh). Faced by his own frightened people, he has to show them immediate leadership based on that strong faith. Never wavering, but believing in Yahweh’s plans he tells the people; “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see what Yahweh will do to rescue you today, all you need to do is to keep calm”. Brave words when faced with Pharaoh’s chariots.

Exodus 14:13-14.


Yahweh Instructs Moses


Following his brave words did Moses say a silent prayer which brought forth Yahweh’s words ‘Why cry out to me?’ Then come Yahweh’s words which bring deliverance for the Israelites, death to Pharaoh and his army, and will be forever told and retold especially at the time of the Passover; “Tell the Israelites to march on. Your part is to raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, so that the Israelites can walk through the sea on dry ground”. Exodus 14:15-16.


Yahweh’s Plans for Pharaoh and His Army


Yahweh continued; “I for my part, shall make the Egyptians so stubborn that they will follow them (the Israelites), and I shall win glory for Myself at the expense of Pharaoh and all his army, chariots and horsemen…..the Egyptians will know that I am Yahweh” Exodus 14:17-18.


The Pillar of Cloud Moved


The pillar of cloud, which signified the Lord’s presence, moved from the front of the Israelites and followed behind them. The cloud brought darkness to Pharaoh and his army but it remained light for the Israelites. (Yet another miracle!)         Exodus 14:19-20.


The Miracle of the Parting of the Red Sea


‘Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. Yahweh drove the sea back with a strong easterly wind all night and made the sea into dry land.’ Exodus 14:21.


The Israelites Walk on Dry Ground Through the Sea


‘The waters divided and the Israelites went on dry ground right through the sea, with walls of water to the right and left of them.’ Here we have similarities to the breaking of the mother’s waters at birth and to the water of Baptism. In both cases it is the start of something new as it was to be with the Israelites. Exodus 14:22.


The Egyptians Give Chase


To say that their hearts were hardened is hardly sufficient. Their brains must have been blind. They had been outwitted by the ten plagues and yet they follow heedlessly into the wall of water. ‘During the last watch of the night (often the time for a surprise attack), Yahweh looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud and threw the Egyptians into confusion. He so clogged their chariot wheels that they drove only with difficulty.’ At this point they realise the danger they are in and say; ‘Let us flee from Israel, Yahweh is fighting on their side against the Egyptians.’ Exodus 14:23-25.


Yahweh’s Victory Over the Egyptians  The Israelites are Saved


As day broke Yahweh told Moses to stretch his hand over the sea again. ‘The sea returned to its bed. The fleeing Egyptians ran straight into it. The returning waters washed right over the chariots and horsemen of Pharaoh’s entire army……..not a single one of them was left.’ The Israelites however, had marched through the sea on dry ground with walls of water to the right and left of them. The Israelites saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.’ The miracle of the parting of the waters is to repeated when Joshua leads the Israelites across the Jordan (Joshua 3:16) and again when Elijah and Elisha cross the Jordan

(2 Kings 2:8) Exodus 14:26-31.


A Time to Stop and Meditate


At this moment when the Israelites are safely across the Red Sea and have not only seen the Egyptians engulfed by the returning waters but can also see their drowned bodies lying dead on the shore, perhaps it is time to stop and reflect at what we have learnt.


Yahweh made a choice and that choice was Abraham who was of the lineage of Noah’s eldest son, Shem, who was the father of the Semites. Abraham is called a Hebrew (Genesis 14:13) as is Joseph (Genesis 39:14 and 39:17) and the word Hebrew is also applied to the Israelites during their time in Egypt. (Exodus 2-6). The name Hebrew changed to Israelite which comes from Yahweh’s change of Jacob’s name to Israel.


From the time Yahweh chose Abraham until the Exodus was approximately six hundred years during which time the Israelites had been slaves to the Egyptians for four hundred and thirty years. That reminds us of St Peter’s words ‘But there is one thing, my dear friends, that you must not forget: that with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promise, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance.’ (2 Peter 3:8).


So we, in turn, must also be patient especially in times of trial when we ask for, and expect, immediate answers to our prayers. God knows our real needs; we do not.


As I write this section of Exodus it is two days to the first anniversary of the 11th September 2001 and the horror of all that happened that day. Time to think of over three thousand people who lost their lives. To think of their families. To think of what John Paul II referred to in another context as the mysterium iniquitatis ‘the mystery of evil’. But these thoughts bring to mind the families of Pharaoh’s army. We must have no feelings of triumphalism. There must be only feelings of sorrow that, despite all the warnings, Pharaoh failed to grasp the truth – that Yahweh is God and there is no other God.


Pharaoh’s problem was one of ‘Power’. All previous Pharaohs had been powerful and he couldn’t let them down by showing weakness. To do so would show humility and that was something which, to a Pharaoh, would be an anathema.


Do we sometimes fall into the same trap? It can be done is such simple ways almost without our realising it. When we pass the beggar sitting on the pavement with a sign ‘Hungry, Cold. Please Help’, do we pass by saying to ourselves “If I give any money it will only be spent on drink or drugs?” That’s an easy get out and we must not be satisfied with it. If there is a shop nearby we can ‘help’ by buying the beggar a sandwich or a chocolate bar or a hot drink. What we must not do is use our ‘power’ of having sufficient money to make us comfortable and thinking uncharitable thoughts. Jesus said that to think impure thoughts was the same as committing adultery. (Matthew 5:28). Surely the same applies if any of our thoughts are uncharitable. If all else fails and buying the sandwich or chocolate bar or drink is not practical (or perhaps we would even find it too embarrassing to do) then at least we can offer a prayer as we pass by. ‘There but for the Grace of God.’


Israelite Song of Victory


What were the Israelites’ thoughts as they saw Pharaoh’s army drowned and their bodies washed up on the shore? Up to that moment they were in fear of the Egyptians. Despite all that had happened - the Plagues and the Escape there was always the possibility that Pharaoh might renew his power. Now that possibility had disappeared. It must have been a moment of immense relief. Fortunately they don’t know the forty years of trials ahead of them wandering in the wilderness! (But then we don’t know what is ahead for us do we? We trust in God and take each day at a time.) For the Israelites it is a time of rejoicing and they do so with a ‘song of victory’.


Song of Victory


The focus of the song is God Himself. The divine name ‘Yahweh’ appears ten times. (In verse two is a shortened version of Yahweh). Similes – ‘like a stone’ – ‘like a wall’ – like lead’ – mark the conclusion of three of the five stanzas. The first four stanzas tell the story of the ‘deliverance’ at the Red Sea, and the final stanza anticipates the future approach to and conquest of Canaan. One of the singers is Miriam, who is identified as Aaron’s sister. Is this the young girl who watched to see what would happen when her mother placed Moses in the papyrus basket? She is said to be a prophetess. (Later she and Aaron will oppose Moses: Numbers 12:1-2.) Exodus 15:1-21.


The Waters of Marah and Elim


Moses leads the Israelites from the Red Sea and, for three days, they travelled without finding water. (In the hot climate water is an absolute necessity. It is unlikely that they would have set out without some provision for water. But after three days they would need to be replenishing their water bottles/skins.) They reach a water point but it is too bitter to drink. (That is why the place is called Marah which means ‘bitter’). Exodus 15:22-23.





The People Grumble


During their desert wanderings the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron whenever they faced a crisis. (Exodus 16:2 & 17:3. Numbers 14:2; 16:11 & 16:41).

In reality, however, they were grumbling ‘against the Lord’ (Exodus 16:8). Paul warns us not to follow their example; ‘And do not grumble as some of them did- and were killed by the destroying angel’. (1 Corinthians 10:10). Paul links the angel who brought the plague of Numbers 16:46-50 because of the grumbling of the Israelites against Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:41) with the destroying angel of Exodus :12:23. Exodus 15:24.


The Water is Made Pure


Moses cried out to Yahweh who ‘showed him a piece of wood’. Moses threw it into the water which became pure. (For another similar occurrence see 2 Kings 2:19-22). Are we always complaining and not putting our trust in God? If so then our ‘Moses’ has become Mary, always ready to listen to her children who Jesus put into her care from the Cross. (John 19:27). At Marah Yahweh had put the Israelites to the test and he now laid down a statute and law for the Israelites. He saidIf you listen carefully to the voice of Yahweh your God and do what he regards as right, if you pay attention to his commandments and keep all his laws, I shall never inflict on you any of the diseases that I inflicted on the Egyptians, for I am Yahweh your Healer.’They moved on to Elim where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees’.  Exodus 15:25-27.


They Move On


Setting off from Elim, the whole community of Israelites entered the desert.(We can assume that the cloud, which protected the Israelites when they were being followed into the Red Sea, had stayed with them. [Exodus 14:19]. So it was the cloud lifting which made them leave the oasis of Elim and enter the desert. Later, when the Ark had been built there was a cloud above it. In daytime it looked like a cloud but at night like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from the Tent the Israelites broke camp, and whenever the cloud halted the Israelites pitched camp. (Numbers 9:15-17). Exodus 16:1.


The Manna and the Quails


Again the people started to complainWhy did we not die at Yahweh’s hand in Egypt where we used to sit around the flesh pots and could eat to our hearts content? As it is, you have led us into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death! Yahweh tells Moses that he will ‘rain down bread from the heavens.’ (Jesus called himself “the true bread from heaven.” [John 6:32] “the bread of God.” [John 6:33] “the bread of life.” [John 6:35 & 6:48] “the living bread that came down from heaven.” [John 6:51] all in the spiritual sense. [John 6:51]). Yahweh tells Moses that the people must collect their ration each day except that on Friday (the day before the Sabbath) they must collect double the amount. Yahweh is testing the people to ensure that they do not break the Sabbath. Yahweh had also promised ‘meat’. Moses and Aaron tell the people that they will have meat in the evening and bread in the morning. While they are speaking the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. (That must be the cloud which is referred to in ‘They move on’ above. In the twenty-first century we have no need to feel envious of the Israelites seeing God in the cloud. Jesus, the Son of God, has left himself on earth in the Blessed Sacrament. We are much more blessed than the Israelites. We can both receive Jesus in Holy Communion and adore him at times of Adoration. The Israelites would have considered us to be fortunate beyond belief! Even more so now that Mary has been chosen to come to us and is able to mediate for us.) That evening quails flew in and covered the camp. The next morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the desert was something fine and granular, as fine as hoarfrost on the ground. This was the ‘food’ (manna) which Yahweh had provided. – ‘manna’ means ‘what is it?’ - (Much thought has been put into trying to ‘prove’ what this food was. Whatever theories have been considered none of them account for the fact that there was a double quantity on Friday). Moses was instructed that some of the manna should be put in a jar (said in Hebrews 9:4 to be made of gold) and kept for generations to come. The manna was eventually kept in the Ark of the Covenant.  Exodus 16:2-16.


“Only Take what You Need.”


The Israelites collected the manna, some more and some less, but when they came to use it each had collected exactly the right amount for their needs. Here is a prophesy of the feeding of the five thousand. (Matthew 14:13-21). Moses had stated that no-one should keep any of the manna for tomorrow. But some had taken too much. (Possibly out of greed or due to a lack of faith that the manna would be there the next day.) It bred maggots and smelt foul. Moses was angry with them. On the sixth day they collected twice as much and it did not smell or become foul and there were no maggots in it. But on the seventh day some of the people went out to collect it, but they found none. Yahweh said to Moses; “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my law?” Exodus 16:17-28.


The Seventh Day


Yahweh said “The Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. So the people rested on the seventh day.” (Three thousand years later the Third Commandment still appertains. ‘Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day’. But, in the materialistic world in which we live, it is one of those commandments which is almost forgotten. In more than sixty years of going to confession I can’t remember ever confessing it - until now! This Bible Study is proving a useful examination of conscience!) ‘The Israelites ate manna for forty years, up to the time they reached inhabited country. They ate manna up to the time they reached the frontiers of Canaan.’ Exodus 16:29-36.


The Water From the Rock


‘The community moved on as Yahweh ordered.’ (‘When the cloud lifted…..’) Once again they find themselves without water so they complain to Moses who by his words, “What am I to do with these people?”, feels alienated from them. Note he says ‘these people’ not ‘my people’. Moses appealed to Yahweh for His help. He is told to take the staff with which he struck the Nile and strike the rock at Horeb. Moses did so and water flowed out. The place was called Meribah because the people had quarrelled there. (Meribah means quarrelling).The event at Horeb was later celebrated by Israel’s hymn and writers and prophets; (Psalms 78:15-16; 105:41; 114:8 & Isaiah 48:21). Exodus 17:1-7.


The Amalekites Defeated


No doubt the Israelites were looked on as a great threat. It would be this threat which would have encouraged the Amalekites to attack. For the first time Joshua is mentioned. (He starts out as Moses’ lieutenant but is to become his successor.) At Moses’ instruction Joshua chooses some men and goes out to fight the Amalekites. Moses sat on a nearby hill watching the fight, ‘with the staff of God in my hand’ (The ‘staff’ had become an important item to Moses and the Israelites). As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. (‘Holding up his hands’; A symbol of an appeal to God for help). As Moses’ arms become tired Aaron and Hur hold them up and Joshua overcame the Amalekites. (Hur, who must have been one of Moses’ trusted aides, has not previously been mentioned. He was the son of Caleb of Judah 1 Chronicles 2:19.20. Josephus and others say he was Moses and Aaron’s brother-in-law and husband of Miriam, He was the grandfather of Bezalel the builder of the Tabernacle Exodus 13:2). Yahweh told Moses to write details of the battle on a scroll. The scroll is mentioned in Numbers 24:20 and the battle in Deuteronomy 25:17-19. As, in our times, we would offer a Mass to celebrate a victory, so in those days, ‘Moses built an altar.’ Exodus 17:8-15.


Jethro visits Moses


It seems that, for safety, Moses had sent his wife, Zipporah and his sons Gershom and Eliezer, back to his father in law, Jethro, though we do not know when that occurred. To return his wife and sons to him, Jethro pays a visit. He hears all that has happened and says “Blessed be Yahweh for having rescued you from the clutches of the Egyptians and the clutches of Pharaoh…now I know that Yahweh is greater than other gods……’ It is not certain that Jethro believed in Yahweh as the one and only God. Moses and Jethro offered sacrifices and, along with Aaron and all the elders, they ate together. To eat together was a token a friendship and often culminated in the establishment of a treaty. Exodus 18:1-12.


The Appointment of Judges - Jethro’s Advice


Jethro is present when Moses takes up a daily task of ‘administering justice for the people, and the people were standing round him from morning till evening.’ Some Biblical commentators attribute Jethro as having advised Moses to take the strain from himself and share his authority. Others suggest that it happened after the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai and that the advice was given by Yahweh. (So there is every possible ‘truth’!) What we can be sure of is that at ‘around this time’ Moses chose ‘God-fearing men, men who are trustworthy and incorruptible, and put them in charge of them as heads of thousands, hundreds, fifties and make them the people’s permanent judges.’ Jethro then returned to his own country. (Advice comes to us through sermons, and through the Catholic press. It is not sufficient just to listen and read. We must act on what we learn). Exodus 18:13-27.




The Israelites reach Sinai


‘Three months to the day after leaving Egypt, the Israelites reached the desert of Sinai – and pitched camp in the desert there, facing the mountain. Israel is to remain encamped at Sinai from Exodus 19:1 to Numbers 10:10 so it is therefore central, not only by the sheer bulk of law and narrative connected with it, but also by its position on the journey. (From the moment we are born, the whole of life is ‘a journey’ and we will have our ‘Sinai’ on the way. It is up to each of us to recognise when we have reached our Sinai and to take to heart God’s commands). Exodus 19:1-2.


Yahweh Promises the Covenant


Moses went up the mountain and Yahweh spoke to him. “…..if you (the people) are really prepared to obey me and keep my covenant, you, out of all peoples, shall be my personal possession.” “For me you shall become a kingdom of priests”. (Isaiah 61:6 & 1 Peter 2:5 & 2:9). Moses told the people what Yahweh had said. The people replied “Whatever Yahweh has bidden, we will do”. We can’t claim to be ‘priests’ but we are all missionaries. It is our constant task, whether by word or example, to encourage others to know, love and follow the teachings of Jesus. Exodus 19:3-8.


Preparing for the Covenant


Yahweh said to Moses “…..I shall come to you in a dense cloud so that the people will hear when I speak to you and believe you ever after.” Moses is told; “You will mark out the limits of the mountain.” Holiness implies separation from the profane. “Take care not to go up the mountain or to touch the edge of it.” Where God manifests his presence is forbidden ground. (For the same reason the Ark of the Covenant had not to be touched. 2 Samuel 6:7.) Yahweh told Moses to ‘consecrate them’ (the people). They had to wash their clothes and ‘be ready for the third day.’ We can remind ourselves that when Jacob made his household get rid of their idols, rings and foreign gods he said ‘purify yourselves and change your clothes.’ (Genesis 35:2). (So the saying ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ has a definite Biblical base!) ‘Be ready – do not touch a woman.’ Not because sex is sinful but because it may leave the participants ceremonially unclean. (Leviticus 15:18 & 1 Samuel 21:4-5). But why ‘the third day?’ Three is to become an important number. The Blessed Trinity (Matthew 28:19); (Mark 1:1-8); (Mark 1:9-13); (Luke 12:8-12); (John 20:30-31). The Finding in the Temple after three days. (Luke 2:41-52). The Resurrection (after three days). (Matthew 28:1-4; Mark 16:1-20; Luke 24:1-12. John 20:1-31). Exodus 19:9-15.


The Morning of the Third Day


On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. The description is not unlike a volcano. Had the Israelites at some time witnessed a volcano which caused this description? The description continues; Yahweh had descended on it (the mountain) in the form of fire. The fire rose like smoke from a furnace and the whole mountain shook violently. The comparison with a volcano is apparent. Yahweh called Moses to the top of the mountain. (I want to see Yahweh, everyone who believes in Him surely wants to see Him). Yahweh, realising this sends Moses down the mountain to tell the people ‘not to break through to look at Yahweh or many of them will perish.’ Why many of them and not all of them? With Yahweh’s presence the whole mountain becomes sacred. Anyone who strays into it becomes charged with holiness. Some may be holy enough to withstand that level of holiness but many will not and will perish. For safety all are warned not to approach. Moses is sent down the mountain to warn the people and to return with Aaron.

Exodus 19:16-25.




The Decalogue  The Ten Commandments


The word ‘Decalogue’ is a word of Greek origin meaning ‘ten words’. There are two systems for dividing the Commandments. The system drawn up by St Augustine, follows Deuteronomy 5:1-21, and is favoured by the Catholic and Lutheran Churches. The Greek system is favoured by the Orthodox and Reformed Churches.


The St Augustine System. (The Greek system is given on pages 58/59)


Then God spoke all these words. He said  “I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of Egypt where you lived as slaves.” Exodus 20:1-2.


1. “You shall have no other gods to rival me”. Yahweh demands exclusive worship from Israel; the covenant is conditional on this. Denial of the existence of other gods was to come later (Deuteronomy 4:35). “You shall not make yourself carved images or any likeness of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters under the earth”. We have seen in Genesis 31:34 that idols were considered an almost essential part of the way of life. This prohibition against idols set Israel apart from all other peoples surrounding it. (Deuteronomy 4:15) “You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God” (the word ‘impassioned’ is probably more appropriate than jealous) “and I punish a parent’s fault in the children, the grandchildren. and the great-grandchildren among those who hate me; but I act with faithful love towards the thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments”. ‘Obedience’ meant that the idols had to be immediately eliminated. In our materialistic world we must be cautious against twenty-first century idols – The Car, The TV, The Computer, Greed; The list can be endless. It is our attitude towards these things which can take them out of the realm of ‘necessity’ into the realm of ‘idol’. Exodus 20:3-6.


2. “You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God, for Yahweh will not leave unpunished anyone who misuses his name”. “You will not swear by my name with intent to deceive and thus profane the name of your God”. (Leviticus 19:12). Exodus 20:7.


3. “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath for Yahweh your God. You shall do no work that day, neither you nor your son nor your daughter nor your servants, men or women, nor your animals nor the alien living with you. For in six days Yahweh made the heavens, earth and sea and all these contain, but on the seventh day he rested: that is why Yahweh has blessed the Sabbath day and made it sacred”. As mentioned in ‘The Seventh Day’ on Page 54 this is one of the commandments where I need to take a careful look at myself! As Sunday Opening Laws have changed have I allowed myself to forget this commandment? Exodus 20:8-11.


4. “Honour your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you”. We can remind ourselves of Jesus’ words “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” (Matthew 12:48 Mark 3:33). Special honour is due to our parents but respect is due to everyone. Exodus 20:12.


5. “You shall not kill”. Yahweh had already shown his abhorrence to killing when Cain killed Abel. All life belongs to God and He alone can take life when He calls us to our judgement. It is essential to become involved with an anti-abortion society, even if our involvement is no more than writing to our MP. We cannot stand back and do nothing while these murders continue day after day. Exodus 20:13.


6. “You shall not commit adultery”. In Moses’ time divorce was allowed. When the Pharisees asked Jesus ‘Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for any cause? He told them “Have you not read that the Creator, from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” They said to him “Why then did Moses command to give a written notice of dismissal and to put her away? ” Jesus replied “…because of the hardness of your hearts; but it was not that way from the beginning.” (Matthew 19:3-9). Exodus 20:14.


7. “You shall not steal”. There is almost an epidemic of disobedience to this commandment. Some are prepared to walk away from a meal in a restaurant without paying. The same people will happily take advantage of drinks not being put on the bill. People do not think of the cause of their actions – in a supermarket they leave items which they have decided not to buy on any shelf. If the items are frozen then they will have to be thrown away. As well as laziness this is also a form of stealing. Exodus 20:15.


8. “You shall not give false evidence against your neighbour”. Gossiping! I know I do it and, for all of us, it is probably our worst fault and yet one which we forget to confess. I often sit in our town’s precinct waiting for my wife as she goes shopping. As I sit there I can’t help hearing small parts of conversations of couples passing by. They are nearly always talking disparagingly about a third person! I can’t criticism them. I need to remove the beam from my own eye! Exodus 20:16.


9. “You shall not set your heart on your neighbour’s spouse”. Such a sin would almost certainly be also against the sixth commandment; “You have heard it said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say this to you, if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28). Exodus 20:17


10. “You shall not set your heart on your neighbour’s house, or servant - man or woman - or ox, or donkey, or any of you neighbour’s possessions”. Why is it that we are never satisfied? Always wanting more and more. Yet the more we get the more dissatisfied we become. And this ‘wanting’ covers our neighbours goods and our greed turns to envy! Exodus 20:17.


The Ten Commandments give a framework of Yahweh’s Law which is based on ‘purity and love.’ More details are to follow in subsequent chapters of Exodus, in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The commandments are frequently referred to in the New Testament Four Gospels.


The Greek System. (The differences are very small and can best be seen by comparing the two. Nothing is missed out so there is no advantage in having a preference!)


Then God spoke all these words. Exodus 20:1.


1. “I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you lived as slaves. You shall have no other gods to rival me”. Exodus 20:2-3.


2. “You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven above the earth beneath or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God and I punish a parent’s fault in the children, the grandchildren, and the great-grandchildren among those who hate me; but I act with faithful love towards thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments”. Exodus 20:4-6.


3. “You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God, for Yahweh will not leave unpunished anyone who misuses his name”. Exodus 20:7.


4. “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath for Yahweh your God. You shall do no work that day, neither you nor your son nor your daughter nor your servants, men or women, nor your animals nor the alien living with you. For in six days Yahweh made the heavens, earth and sea and all that these contain, but on the seventh day he rested: that is why Yahweh has blessed the Sabbath day and made it sacred”. Exodus 20:8-11.


5. “Honour your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you”. Exodus 20:12.


6. “You shall not kill””. Exodus 20:13.


7. “You shall not commit adultery”. Exodus 20:14.


8. “You shall not steal”. Exodus 20:15.


9. “You shall not give false evidence against your neighbour”. Exodus 20:16.


10. “You shall not set your heart on your neighbour’s house. You shall not set your heart on your neighbour’s spouse, or servant - man or woman - or ox, or donkey, or any of you neighbour’s possessions”. Exodus 20:17.


The People were Terrified


Moses has already been chosen by Yahweh to mediate on behalf of the people. (Exodus 19:20-23). The people are so frightened by Yahweh’s presence, which is shown by ‘the thunder pealing, the lightning flashing, the trumpet blasting and the mountain smoking’, that they are happy to keep their distance. “…we will obey”, they say “but do not let God speak to us, or we shall die.” The people were afraid of close contact with God, which would have swept them out of the everyday world into the divine world, i.e., would have killed them. Moses approached the dark cloud where God was. Exodus 20:18-21.


The Book of the Covenant


The Book of the Covenant consists largely of expansions on the expositions of the Ten Commandments. The people are so used to having their family idols, even made of gold and silver, that Yahweh emphasises that they are unacceptable. (After the Temple had been built in Jerusalem [950B.C.] it was the only place where Sacrifices [burnt offerings] could be made and that is the case in this present day, which is why the Jews want to reclaim the Temple Mount where now stands the Muslim Shrine of The Dome of the Rock. During their wanderings in the desert altars could be erected in many places.) They were not to use dressed stones for the altars. “For if you use a chisel on it, you will defile it.” This is because salvation is not by works but by grace. Do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed. Apparently only a loincloth was worn when offering sacrifice hence the risk of indecency when mounting altar-steps. Altars with steps were rare (Exodus 20:26) but some did exist (Ezekiel 43:17) and accordingly Aaron and his descendants were instructed to wear linen under-garments (Exodus 28:42-43). Exodus 20:22-26.


Laws Concerning Slaves


The mention of ‘slaves’ does not necessarily mean non-Jews. An Israelite could be born or fall into slavery through sale by the parents as a debt payment (2 Kings 4:1). There follow detailed rules regarding slaves – in the seventh year all slaves must go free (the Lord’s servants are not to be anyone’s perpetual slaves).  If a slave comes to you married, his wife will leave with him. If his master gives him a wife and she has children, the wife and children will belong to the master, the slave will leave alone. (That seems very cruel. At least the male is aware of this when he marries). The rights of a slave to stay with the master and not go free. Rules for if a man chooses a woman slave to marry his son. Rules regarding the slave’s rights if subsequently the son then marries another. In our day and age it seems strange that one of the first laws in the Book of the Covenant should be to do with slaves. Perhaps many of them were badly treated and their plight needed special attention. Exodus 21:1:11.


Quarrels Among Men

“Anyone who by violence causes death must be put to death. But if the death were not planned but came from God (accidents were attributed to God) he can take refuge in a place I shall appoint”. (in a society where the state had not yet supplanted the individual avenger, the unintentional killer had to be protected [Joshua 20:1]). There are rules concerning – if a man attacks his father or mother – if anyone kidnaps another – anyone who curses his father or mother – if men quarrel – if a man beats a slave with a rod (the slave comes off badly because if they are not killed but are able to ‘get up after a day or two’ then the master is not punished ‘because the slave is his property’) More rules concerning – If men fighting hit a pregnant woman (If the woman is seriously injured) then you must take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stroke for stroke.’ One thousand two hundred and seventy years later, at the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is to change all that. (Matthew 5:38). “But I say this to you: offer no resistance to the wicked. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the left as well…..” More rules about compensation to a slave by anyone who has knocked out their eye or tooth – punishment if an ox gores someone and extreme punishment if the offending animal had previously gored and had not been kept under control – if anyone digs a pit and an animal falls into it. Apart from the rules regarding slaves everything else is good common sense. But, as there had never been any set rules Yahweh had to institute them. (We can recoil in horror at slavery – but sadly, it still exists today especially in Africa where extremists capture boys, women and girls and use them as slaves. But, also here in the UK, illegal immigrants are been used as slave labour. How little the world has learnt in the last three thousand years.) Exodus 21:12-36.



Laws Concerning Theft of Animals

If an ox is stolen, restitution must be made by paying back five oxen. If a sheep is stolen, the restitution is four sheep. (2 Samuel 12:6). If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck and dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed. But if this happens in the daytime, then the defender is guilty of bloodshed. (Killing in broad daylight is not justifiable.) If the thief has no means of paying back, then he must be sold to pay for his theft. If a stolen animal is found alive (which gives the impression that many animals were stolen for food), the payment will be two animals. Exodus 22:1-4.

Offences Requiring Compensation

There follows a long list of situations where compensation may or may not be required depending on circumstances. For instance if a man borrows an animal and it breaks a limb or it dies, then he must make restitution to the owner. But if the owner was present at the time of the accident/death, then restitution would not be made. If the animal had been hired, then the hire charge will be the restitution. These laws were intended to limit the excesses of vengeance. The ultimate aim was to move towards forgiveness (Leviticus 19:17-18.)         Exodus 22:5-15.

Violation of a Virgin

If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, he will pay her bride-price and make her his wife. If her father refuses to let him have her, the rapist will pay a sum equivalent to the bride-price of a virgin. As she is no longer a virgin she is not easily marriageable hence the payment. If the father agrees to the marriage then the rapist in not allowed to divorce her.(But, sadly, the girls’ preference is not taken into account. Women were given a low status in society). Exodus 22:16-17.

Sorceresses and Bestiality

You will not allow sorceresses to live. (Deuteronomy 18:13) (Where does this put present day soothsayers, mediums, astrologists, fortune tellers and palm-readers? To follow Yahweh’s law we must avoid them.) Anyone who has intercourse with an animal will be put to death. Exodus 22:18-19.

Religious Laws

Anyone who sacrifices to gods other than Yahweh should be destroyed. (The total destruction of the idolatrous Canaanites was later commanded. [Numbers 21:2. & Deuteronomy 2:34]). Do not ill-treat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. (Where does that put us regarding political asylum seekers?) Do not take advantage of the widow or the orphan. Charge no interest on a loan. Do not eat meat of an animal torn by wild beasts. Since God’s people were a ‘kingdom of priests’ (“You will be for me a kingdom of priests”. Exodus 19:6, they were to obey a law later specified for members of the Aaronic priesthood). Exodus 22:20-31.

Laws of Justice and Mercy

These are common sense ‘love your neighbour’ regulations: ‘You will not spread false rumours. - You will not support the wicked by giving untrue evidence. – you will not show partiality to the poor in a lawsuit. That might seem strange, but it would be unfair to favour the poor when they were not in the right. - If you see a donkey of someone who hates you fallen under its load, do not stand back; you must go and help him with it. Here we have an attempt to ‘love thy neighbour’ but also compassion for the animal.  Accept no bribes, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and is the ruin of the cause of the upright. (Deuteronomy 16:19; 1 Samuel 8:3 & 12:3). Exodus 23:1-9.

The Sabbatical Year.

For six years you will sow your land and gather its produce, but in the seventh year you will let it lie fallow. This is an extension of the fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8.) Exodus 23:10-13.

The Three Annual Feasts

1.      The Feast of Unleavened Bread celebrating the Exodus from Egypt. (Exodus 34:18-26. )                                                                                          

2.      The Feast of Harvests (also called the Feast of Weeks) held seven weeks (or fifty days) after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, during the wheat harvest. In later Judaism it came to commemorate the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, though there is no evidence of this in the Old Testament. In New Testament times it was called (the day of) Pentecost (which means fifty. Leviticus 23:16).                                                                                               

3.      Feast of In-gathering (or Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths, [Leviticus 23:34], because the Israelites lived in temporary shelters when God brought them out of Egypt). It was celebrated from the 15th to the 22nd days of the seventh month (usually about mid-September to mid-October) when the produce of the orchards and vines had been harvested; it commemorated the desert wandering after the exodus. Bring the best of the first-fruits of your soil. (We remember that Cain failed to fetch ‘the best’ which led to his jealousy and the murder of his brother.) Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk. (It was a Canaanite fertility rite. It propitiated the gods firstly and was then sprinkled onto the fields to ensure a good harvest). Exodus 23:14-19.

God’s Angel to Prepare the Way                                                              (Promises and instructions for the entry into Canaan.)

Look, I am sending you an angel (this is a guardian angel Genesis 24:7 & Numbers 20:16 such as figures in the book of Tobit 5:4.) Do not defy him: he will not forgive any wrong-doing on your part. My angel will precede you and lead you to the home of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jesubites, whom I shall exterminate. You will not bow down to their gods or worship them….but throw them down and smash their cultic stones. (In the Canaanite cult, stelae or standing-stones were symbols of male divinity and [Leviticus 26:1]. They were often phallic). I shall drive them out little by little before you, until your numbers grow sufficient for you to take possession of the land. (The explanation given here for the slowness of the conquest is the same as in Deuteronomy 7:22). Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. (Forty years later Joshua, forgetting this covenant, is tricked into making a covenant with the Gibeonites Joshua 9:15-26). Exodus 23:20-33.

The Covenant Confirmed

Yahweh now commands Moses to “Come up to the Lord”. ‘Up’ meaning up the mountain. He is to bring with him Aaron and his sons Nadab and Abihu (they should have succeeded Aaron but, later, they both die when they offer unauthorised fire before the Lord. [Leviticus 10:1-2 & Numbers 3:4]). Moses must also take seventy of the elders. This number of seventy might represent the number of Jacob’s descendants. (Exodus 1:5). Moses alone is to approach the Lord. As Moses was the mediator between God and the People of Israel so Jesus was the Mediator chosen by his Father to be ‘mediator of the New Covenant.’ (Hebrews 3:1-6). Exodus 24:1-4.

An Altar is built and a Sacrifice Offered

The story of Moses on the mountain is interrupted. Moses tells the people the Lord’s words and laws (the Ten Commandments) and the people reply “Everything the Lord has said we will do’” Which reminds me of my act of Contrition “…….and I will not sin again”. But then I do! Moses wrote down everything the Lord had said (17:14). An altar is built of twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent for young Israelite men and they offered sacrifice. Before the Aaronic priesthood was established, (Exodus 28:1), priestly functions were performed either by the elders or by designated younger men. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls. One half he sprinkled on the altar and, the other he sprinkled over the people. The division of the blood points to the twofold aspect of the ‘blood of the covenant.’ The blood on the altar symbolises God’s forgiveness and his acceptance of the offering. The blood on the people points to an oath that binds them in obedience. (This symbolic ‘sprinkling with blood’ would have been regarded in the same way that we accept sprinkling with holy water). Exodus 24:5:8.

Moses on the Mountain with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and Seventy Elders

The Bible story returns to Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the seventy elders on the mountain. They went up and ‘saw the God of Israel’. God is seen as through a sapphire pavement. They saw Him and yet they were not harmed. (Exodus 33:20) tells us ‘But my face, you cannot see, for no human being can see me and survive.’ So Yahweh must have specially protected all those on the mountain. In order to ratify a treaty it was customary to eat a meal together; that is what they did. (This foreshadows the Lord’s Supper, which celebrates the new covenant sealed by Christ’s death and Resurrection.) Exodus 24:9-11.

The Start of Moses’ Forty Days on the Mountain

The Bible story gives the impression that, after telling the elders to take their problems to Aaron and Hur to settle, Joshua accompanied Moses up the mountain. Perhaps Joshua went part of the way but our understanding and belief is that only Moses went to the top to meet Yahweh. ‘Cloud covered the mountain, The Glory of Yahweh rested on Mount Sinai and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day Yahweh called to Moses from the cloud.’ Here we have a further confirmation of the seven day week. (Genesis 2:1-3). To the watching Israelites (at the bottom of the mountain) the glory of Yahweh looked like a devouring fire on the mountain top. The brilliant light needed no storm for its appearance and later leaves its glow on the face of Moses (Exodus 34:29). It stands for God’s unapproachable majesty. Later it fills the newly erected Tent; (Exodus 40:34-35), and even later takes possession of Solomon’s Temple; (1 Kings 8:10-11). Moses stayed on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. Which compares with the forty days journey of Elijah to Sinai               (1 Kings 19:8), Christ’s forty days in the desert (Matthew 4:2) and our forty days of Lent. Exodus 24:12-18.


The Ark of the Covenant

Yahweh tells Moses that the people are to set aside contributions for the building of a sanctuary. It will consist of the Ark and the Tent of the Dwelling. The Ark will be a sign of God’s presence. “Make me a sanctuary so I can reside among them (the people).” (‘Sanctuary’ means ‘Holy Place’ or ‘place set apart’).The Tent will house the Ark and will be Yahweh’s Dwelling. “The offerings can be: gold, silver, bronze, dyed materials, goats’ hair, rams’ skins, fine leather, acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing, fragrant incenses, and cornelian and other stones. You must make me an Ark.The Ark was a rectangular chest, carried on wooden poles. For its history see especially Joshua 3:3-6; 6:4; 1 Samuel 4:3-22; 5:1-12; 6:1-21; 7:1. and 1 Kings 8:1-9. The Ark disappeared in 587 B. C. during the sacking of Jerusalem (or perhaps during Manasseh’s wicked reign). (also see 2 Maccabees 2:4-7) and was never rebuilt. (Jeremiah 3:16). Exodus 25:1-9.

Measurements and Details of the Ark

“The Ark is to be made of acacia wood and is to be two and a half cubits long, one and a half cubits wide and one and a half cubits high.” (approximately 3’ 7” X 2’ 3” X 2’ 3”; 1025 cm X 600 cm X 600 cm.) Yahweh gives precise details for the construction of the Ark. For a great people to exist in the ancient Near East, they had to have certain essentials: land, specific traditions (legal and narrative), a king or great leader, a god(s), and a house for the god(s). Yahweh had shown himself to be the people’s God by defeating Pharaoh, and they are encamped at his mountain and about to move on to Canaan; they have also just been given a law (the Ten Commandments) and have a divinely appointed leader, Moses. A house for their God remains to be built, a house that ensures God’s presence in their midst. The house must be designed by God, not humans: hence the importance of the divine commands prior to construction. “Inside the Ark you will put the Testimony (the stone tablets) which I am about to give you.” Also put in the Ark was a jar containing manna which Yahweh had used to feed the people. (Exodus 16:34). Exodus 25:10-16.

The Making of the Mercy Seat

“You will make a mercy seat of pure gold. Make two cherubim with their wings spread upwards”. Also known as ‘the seat of atonement’ it was placed on top of the Ark. It was the most sacred object in the dwelling; here God was enthroned invisibly, meeting and speaking to the people through Moses. Exodus 25:17-22.

The Table for the Loaves of Permanent Offering

“You must make a table of acacia wood.” On this table were placed the ‘twelve loaves of proposition’ also known as ‘loaves of the face’ because they were always to stand before the face of the Lord in his temple. This is a symbol of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Sacrament, in the Church of Jesus Christ. (The table taken from the second temple [Zerubbabel’s temple] by Antiochus Epiphanes is depicted in the Arch of Titus in Rome. (It was among the items the Romans took back to Rome after conquering Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The Romans knew the importance of the Israelite’s religious items and depicted them on the Arch to show their superiority). Exodus 25:23-30.

The Lamp-stand

“You will also make a lamp-stand of pure gold.” The design is patterned on the almond tree, which is the first of the trees in the Near East to blossom in the Spring. “You will also make seven lamps for it.” Seven signifies completeness (seven being the perfect number; see Page 8, ‘How can we explain the Seven Days?’) A representation of the Lamp also appears on the Arch of Titus in Rome. The lamps were to burn all night in the tabernacle, tended by the priests. Oil for the lamps was to be supplied by the people. (Exodus 27:20). The light from the lamps represented the glory of the Lord reflected in the consecrated lives of the Israelites. (Today’s equivalent is the Sanctuary Lamp which reminds us of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle). Exodus 25:31-40.

The Tabernacle (The Dwelling Fabrics and Hangings)

“The Dwelling itself you will make with ten sheets of finely woven linen dyed violet-purple, red-purple and crimson.” The idea of the dwelling was a collapsible sanctuary appropriate to tribal movements of the nomadic period. Its basic structure was fifteen feet wide by forty-five feet long by fifteen feet high. This dwelling was the inner sanctuary which housed the Ark, the Mercy Seat, the Table and the Lamp-stand, and into which only the High Priest was allowed to enter, and then only once a year. (The same division between Holy Place and Holy of Holies existed in Solomon’s Temple; (1 Kings 6:16); and the curtain was also to be found in Herod’s Temple; (Matthew 27:51)). Our understanding of a ‘tabernacle’ is a place where the Blessed Sacrament, the Body of Christ, is preserved so that it can be taken to the sick or dying. For the Israelites it was the total area 100 Cubits x 50 Cubits (150’ x 75’) of their Holy Place.

Yahweh goes into great detail as to the fabric both for the inner sanctuary and the outer court. By so doing he is ensuring that everyone would have a job to do and would know that the final result would be part of their efforts. The shepherds would look after the flocks, the shearers would obtain the fleeces, others would wash and dye the fleeces. Then the work would be taken over by the weavers whose work would be passed to those who were skilled in sewing and producing the final curtains to Yahweh’s instructions. All could have a real pride in the final result.

Meanwhile others, and we have the name of the actual main craftsman, Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur of the tribe of Judah (Exodus 31:2), would be working on the gold, silver and bronze items. Yahweh said to Moses that; He has singled out Bezalel and filled him with the spirit of God in wisdom, knowledge and skill in every kind of craft. Bezalel must have been the Michelangelo of his day. By his labours and under his direction everything will be made to Yahweh’s very specific instructions.

This gives us a look into the mind of God. He is meticulous in his planning. He wants everything to be of the best. No cutting corners. No shoddy work. At the moment we are only referring to material matters. When God looks at us He will want better and, if possible, more meticulous results in respect of the moral covenant from our souls He has created. How often do we let Him down? Exodus 26:1-37.


The Altar of Burnt Offerings and the Courtyard

“You will make the altar of acacia wood, three cubits high, (4 ½ feet). It is to be square five cubits long and five cubits wide. Make a horn at each of the four corners, so that the horns and the altar are one piece, and overlay the altar with bronze. This altar was outside the area of the Ark, in an open area, which was accessible to all Israelites so that the burnt offerings could be made for all the people to see. (In Solomon’s Temple the courtyard was also open to non-Israelites, Greeks and Gentiles). Exodus 27:1-21.

The Priestly Garments

The object of the Priestly Garments was to give dignity and honour to God. Specific details are given of every garment and the colours which must be used. On each shoulder piece were onyx stones with the names of the sons of Jacob. Ruby, topaz, beryl, turquoise, sapphire, emerald, jacinth, agate, amethyst, chrysolite, onyx and jasper were to be used on the breast-piece. (These semi-precious stones were obviously available). These were to be set in gold filigree settings. Gold braided chains were to be used to fasten the breast plate. (The gold would have come from the items which the Israelites plundered from the Egyptians at the start of the Exodus [Exodus. 12:36]). The Robe, used by Aaron when he entered the sanctuary, was to have woven pomegranates around the hem with golden bells in between them. (A widespread primitive notion held that the sound of bells drove off demons). Aaron and his sons must wear linen breeches to cover their bare flesh so that when they approach the altar they may not incur moral guilt. (We may wonder what the good Lord makes of some of the states of undress which appear in those coming for Holy Communion when He is not only ‘in a cloud’ but in His Real Presence). Exodus 28:1-43.

The Consecration (Ordination) of Aaron and his Sons, Preparations

For consecration: ‘Take a young bull and two rams without defect.(Without defect meaning that they must be without blemish. Similarly Jesus was ‘like a lamb without blemish or defect’). God is always asking for perfection. No half measures, no holding back the best as Cain did. (If we want to make every day into a day of prayer [pray continually: 1 Thessalonians 5:17] then we must always give of our best so that our every action will be perfect in God’s sight). After those who are to be ordained have been washed (thus signifying purity), they are anointed. (The word ‘Ordain’ in Hebrew means ‘to fill the hands’, probably with sacrifices). Then Aaron and his sons lay their hands on the young bull (as a symbol of the animal becoming their substitute or transferring their sins to the sin-bearer. See Leviticus 16:20-22). The young bull is killed and its blood ceremonially spread over the altar and over the right ear, the thumb of the  right hand, and the big toe of the  right foot of Aaron and his sons. (Right ears; symbolise sensitivity to God’s word. While right thumbs and toes; symbolise a life of service to others on God’s behalf). God now details how the animals must be sacrificed. The perfect number ‘seven’ is used again: ‘Seven days shalt thou consecrate their hands’ ‘ Seven days shalt thou expiate (to make amends) the altar.’

Everything about this elaborate ceremonial points to the ‘otherness’ of God. He will be with His people, but there can be no familiarity. God is to be approached only in the ways He lays down. Sin disqualifies everyone from entering God’s presence. The priests and every item of equipment must be specially set apart for God’s service. So Aaron and his sons must be cleansed, robed and their sins expiated by sacrifice before they may take office. The living God is no impotent image to be worshipped as human beings think fit. God lays down the only terms on which it is possible for Him to take up residence with his people. Exodus 29:1-46.

The Altar of Incense

Now God gives specific instructions as to the altar and its furnishing. Nothing is left to chance, everything is detailed. Incense was an ancient court ceremonial, the fragrance being considered a luxury. Exodus 30:1-10.

Taking a Census

When a census was taken a ransom had to be paid. Among many peoples, taking a census was considered dangerous, perhaps because it exposed the people to divine jealousy. (Perhaps such censuses were taken on various occasions to enter the Israelites on an official roll for public duties). The ransom would be a way of reducing the feelings of ‘divine jealousy’! (Divine Jealousy? Perhaps a ‘holier than thou’ attitude of the larger tribe. “Our numbers are larger than yours”. Paying the ransom would temper that attitude. The ransom was a type of tax used for the services of the tabernacle and a reminder of how God had redeemed them from slavery (V.16) Everyone paid the same amount as in matters of salvation we are all the same). Exodus 30:11-16.

The Bronze Basin

The basin was for the priests to wash themselves before entering the tent or approaching the altar. It was made of bronze which was the material used for the furniture in royal courts. (The basins were made from bronze mirrors supplied by the Israelite women. Glass not being discovered, mirrors were made of highly polished bronze Exodus 38:8). Not to wash would be to violate the rule conducting oneself in the holy sphere. (Three hundred and twenty years later Solomon’s Temple was to have ten such bronze basins). Exodus 30:17-21.

The Anointing Oil

Specific details are given regarding the anointing oil. It must be made from liquid myrrh, fragrant cinnamon, fragrant cane, cassia and olive oil. Specific weights of each of the ingredients are given. They are to be blended together by a perfumer. (This oil is to be used to anoint the Tent and its contents). Exodus 30:22-33.

The Incense

The incense is to be made from gum resin, onycha, galbanum and pure frankincense. (This formula must only be used in the Tent and not for any other use. Anyone who was found to have made it for their own use ‘must be cut off from the people’). Nothing was let to chance. Exact quantities of each of the ingredients were given. Exodus 30:34-38.

The Purpose of the Tent of Meeting

The Tent of Meeting was for Yahweh to meet with Israel, and that his presence would make the tent and all its personnel holy. Yahweh’s dwelling would prove to the people that He is their God and that He brought them out of Egypt.




‘Then the Lord said to Moses, “See I have chosen Bezalel and have filled him with the Spirit of God to work in gold, silver, bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship”. Here we have the word of God that he provides for the skills which are required at the time they are required. In the same way God gave us St Thomas Aquinas, Mozart, Michelangelo, Beethoven, Florence Nightingale, Einstein, Madam Curie, Mahatma  Gandhi, The Dalai Lama, Edward Elgar, Yehudi Menuhin, Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and all the other ‘very special’ gifted people who have helped to transform our world. Exodus 31:1-11.

The Sabbath

God’s desire to ‘Keep the Sabbath Holy’ was first mentioned in the early chapters of Genesis. (Genesis 2:1-3.) Only now does he make it a command. It is probably to ensure that, in their enthusiasm to build the Tent and Ark, the Israelites may forget to rest on the seventh day and offer that day to God. The instructions go so far as to sayAnyone who desecrates (the Sabbath) must be put to death.’ Exodus 31:12-17.

The Stone Tablets.

The Lord, having given Moses full instructions gave him ‘two stone tablets’. The Ten Commandments are inscribed on the tablets ’written by the finger of God’: the rest of the commands are for oral transmission. The two tablets were duplicates of each other. (Thereby one copy belonged to each party of the covenant). One copy was God’s the other belonged to the people. Both covenant tablets (God’s and Israel’s) were to be placed in the Ark.         Exodus 31:18.


The People Became Impatient

Moses was up the mountain for forty days and forty nights and the people became impatient. They said “This fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” These words throw God’s work back at Him. It was not Moses but God Who had produced the miracles which had brought them out of Egypt.(Exodus 20:2). They ask Aaron to make them gods which they can worship. (Although they had been released from Egypt they were a slave people, still with the minds of slaves. So they clamoured for a replica of the old gods of Egypt). Exodus 32:1.

Aaron makes a Golden Calf

Everyone gave their gold earrings, both women and men, and Aaron fashioned a Golden Calf. Once it was made it was referred to as ‘gods’ perhaps that is because it was made from many small pieces. (But why did Aaron agree to make the idol? We must remember that Aaron was only ‘the spokesman’. The brains and leader, inspired by God, was Moses. Perhaps, over the forty days, Aaron had been under continual pressure from the Israelites, who were so used to being surrounded by Egyptian gods that they felt uncomfortable without them. Eventually he succumbed, safe in the knowledge that when Moses returned the problem would be sorted out.) Then they added insult to injury by saying “These are thy gods, O Israel , that have brought thee out of the land of Egypt.” There is also an argument that the Calf was believed to be an image representing Yahweh.( What we learn from this passage of scripture is that the people sinned just as we sin. They had their ‘golden calf’ we have our Cars, T.V s, Computers, Food and Drink etc. which we make into our gods.) Exodus 32:2.

Aaron Makes an Altar

Aaron, realising the idolatrous consequences of the golden calf, acted quickly to keep the people from turning completely from the Lord. He announced there would be a festival to the Lord and he built an altar and sacrificed burnt offerings. This was followed with a meal but unlike the meal which had been eaten when the covenant was ratified (Exodus 24:11) this meal was followed by the people ‘amusing themselves’ and taking part in ‘revelry’. (This could result in sexual realtions). Exodus 32:3-6.

Moses Forewarned by Yahweh

God told Moses what was happening – that the people had become corrupt. He disowns Israel by calling them ‘your people’ and ‘these people.’ God asks Moses to leave Him so that He can; ’blaze at them and put an end to them’. Exodus 32:7-10.

Moses Pleads for Israel

Moses appeals to God’s special relationship with Israel. Then to vindicate His name in the eyes of the Egyptians he says; ‘The Egyptians will say ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’, and finally to the great patriarchal promise; ‘Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel (Jacob) to whom you swore by your own self ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky….’ The Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. (This tells us of God’s forgiveness which we, three thousand two hundred years later, need just as much as the Israelites did.)                  Exodus 32:11-14.

Moses Breaks the Tablets of The Law

Moses came down the mountain and met Joshua who had been for waiting for him. Joshua hears the Israelites shouting and thinks they are at war. Moses knows that they are taking part in sinful revelry. When he saw the golden calf he threw down the tablets, thereby destroying them, and thus breaking the covenant. Moses ground the idol into dust, mixed it with water, and made the Israelites drink it. The destruction of idols took place again six hundred and fifty years later in the reign of King Josiah (2 Kings 23:15).Exodus 32:15-20.

“Whoever is for the Lord Come to Me.”

When Moses spoke those words it was the Levites, Moses’ tribe, who came to him. Moses ordered them to go among the Israelites with their swords ‘killing his brother and friend and neighbour”. (Matthew 10:37). From then on the Levites were consecrated forever to the service of Yahweh. “the Lord has blessed you this day.” ‘About three thousand people died.’ Exodus 32:21-29.

Moses Offers Himself as Atonement for the People’s Sin

After reminding the people of their sin Moses goes up the mountain again and pleads with the Lord “…..please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” (Moses so identified himself with Israel that he made his own death the condition for God’s destruction of the nation. [As Jesus Christ, the great Mediator, offered himself on the cross to make atonement for his people.] But Moses’ offer is refused. God said “ when the time comes, I will punish them for their sin.”) Exodus 32:30-33.

“My Angel Will Indeed Go at Your Head.”

There is a high price to be paid for their sin. Yahweh is no longer to lead the Israelites. The all holy God will not go in their midst. Instead He sends His angel to lead them “to the place I spoke of…. (Canaan).” (As the Israelites were led by an angel so are we granted an individual Guardian Angel to stay with us throughout our life on earth. Catechism of the Catholic Church: Chapter 336.) Exodus 32:34-35.

God Orders The Israelites to Move On

God repeats that He will not travel with the Israelites by his words: “Leave, move on……. I shall send an angel in front of you…….. but I myself will not be going with you or I might annihilate you on the way, for you are an obstinate people. (How often have we earned a similar rebuke?) At God’s command and stern words, as a sign of mourning, they stripped themselves of their ornaments. (Then, as now, God demands complete obedience.) Exodus 33:1-6.

The Tent of Meeting

This was probably a temporary place to be used while the real Tent, Tabernacle and Ark were being constructed. This temporary Tent was where the people could enquire of the Lord until the more durable tabernacle was completed. The completed tabernacle would occupy a central location within the Israelite camp. Exodus 33:7.

Moses Enters the Tent and Speaks to the Lord

When Moses entered the Tent a pillar of cloud came down and remained at the entrance of the Tent. Yahweh would speak to Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses left the Tent Joshua did not leave. (He was probably guarding the Tent from intrusion.) Moses complains to God that the presence of an angel to lead them is no substitute for God’s own presence. The Lord gives a gracious response to Moses’ concern and says “My presence will go with you.”  Exodus 33:8-17.

Moses Asks to See the Lord

The Lord replied “I shall make my goodness pass before you……and I shall  pronounce my name (God uttering his name to Moses is tantamount to a revelation of His true nature and identity)……….but my face you cannot see, for no human can see me and survive.” (Moses’ prayer was finally answered at the Transfiguration where he shared a vision – however brief – of the Lord’s glory with Elijah and three of Jesus’ apostles.) God’s sanctity is so removed  from human unworthiness that anyone who looks on God must perish. For this reason Moses and Elijah (1 Kings 19:13) and even the seraphim (Isaiah 6:2), must have their faces covered. God puts Moses in a cleft in the rock (I Kings 19:13) so Moses only sees God’s back but not His face. (God turns His face from us not to reject us but to save that most beautiful of visions for the time when he calls us to our eternal reward.) Exodus 33:18-23.

The Covenant Renewed

At God’s command Moses cut two tablets of stone and, by himself alone, takes them up the mountain. Yahweh descended in a cloud and stood with Moses and pronounced the name “Yahweh”. The covenant, replacing the stones which were broken, is renewed. The covenant consists of both promises and commands. They lay down the necessary conditions of the covenant: prohibition of idolatry, observance of the Sabbath and ritual ordinances; feasts, first fruits, sacrifice. Yahweh passed before Moses saying “Yahweh, Yahweh, God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in faithful love and  constancy, maintaining his faithful love to thousands, forgiving fault, crime and sin, yet letting nothing go unchecked……..” Moses bowed to the ground in worship. Exodus 34:1-9.

The Covenant

In telling of the Covenant, God explains how He will drive out the people from the Promised Land. He warns Moses not to make any pact with inhabitants of that country (Joshua is tricked into doing so by the Gibeonites. Joshua 9:3-13). God stresses that the pagan altars, cultic stones and sacred poles of the idolaters must be destroyed “Yahweh’s name is the Jealous One; he is a jealous God. (We offend God when we make idols of our cars, homes and material possessions. There is no harm in having these things but God must come first.) God warns against allowing marriage between Israelites and the local inhabitants. The day of rest on the Sabbath is emphasised and the feast days which have already been stated are repeated. The words ‘Do not cook a goat in its mother’s milk’ refers to a Canaanite pagan rite. God then wrote the words on the tablets which Moses had prepared. (Exodus 34:1.) Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. Exodus 34:10-28.

Moses Comes Down the Mountain

When Moses came down the mountain his face was radiant because he had been talking to God and had seen His back. The people were afraid to go near Moses so he covered his face with a veil. When he went into the Ark into Yahweh’s presence he uncovered his face but covered it again when he came out to the people. (There are special people who, whilst they do not wear a veil, nevertheless have a spiritual aura surrounding them. Those who met Mother Teresa make mention of this. We should give these people special respect. The aura they possess is given to them by God both for their benefit and surely also for ours.) Exodus 34:29-35.

Sabbath Regulations Repeated

The materials for the tabernacle are about to be collected. But before that happened God reminded the Israelites of keeping the Sabbath Holy. In their enthusiasm to carry out God’s work He was concerned that they might forget that “the seventh day shall be your holy day.” Exodus 35:1-3.

Materials for the Tabernacle

Moses encourages the Israelites to make offerings of both materials and their skill but these offerings were to be voluntary so the finished product will be one of ‘love’ and not coercion. The materials detailed in chapters 25; 26; 27 and 30 were to be given as offerings by the people. Those with skills, both men and women, offered their services for the work of building the Tabernacle.  Exodus 35:4-29.

Bezalel and Oholiab to Oversee and Teach

Moses reminds the people of God’s choice of Bezalel and states “The Lord…  ……has filled him with the Spirit of God. (The Holy Spirit is to assist in the building). Both Bezalel and Oholiab are granted the ability to teach.              Exodus 35:30-35.

The Freewill Offerings

In response to Moses’ request so many offerings were made that it soon became necessary to call a halt. There were more than enough materials to complete the work. (Can the same be said of us? Are we generous with the time and money we give to the Church and to God?) Exodus 36:1-7.

The Construction of the Tabernacle

The dwelling, framework, curtain, ark, table, lampstand, altar of incense, altar of burnt offerings, and bronze basin were constructed in accordance with Yahweh’s detailed instructions (Exodus 25; 26; 27 and 30). Then the curtaining with its poles, hooks, rods was made and constructed within the Court. (As if the writer of Exodus wants to ensure that we believe what is written, the quantities of everything used in the construction are given. For instance ‘twenty-nine talents and seven hundred and thirty shekels of gold were used.’) Exodus 36:8-38; 37:1-29 and 38:1-31.

The Vestments for the High Priest

In accordance with previous instructions given in chapter 28, the garments for the priests are made. Everything is done in great detail as God had instructed Moses. Exodus 39:1-31.

Moses Inspected the Tabernacle

When the work was completed it was brought to Moses for him to inspect. He found everything in accordance God’s instructions and he blessed the people for the faithfulness with which they had donated their gifts, time and talents in building the tabernacle and all its furnishings – faithfulness in service brings divine benediction. Exodus 39:32-43.

Setting up the Tabernacle

‘Moses did just as the Lord commanded.’ (Moses’ obedience to God’s commands is a key theme of the final chapter of Exodus.) The people had provided all the resources and made all the components, but it was the Lord’s servant Moses who was authorised to erect the tabernacle and prepare it for the Lord’s entry. Exodus 40:1-33.

Yahweh Takes Possession of the Sanctuary

‘Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of Yahweh filled the Dwelling.’ Even Moses could not enter whilst the cloud stayed over it and the glory of God filled the Dwelling. (The same was to happen during Solomon’s reign. The cloud filled the temple and the priests could not enter. [1 Kings 8:10-11]). Exodus 40:34-35.


The Cloud Guides the Israelites

In all the travels of the Israelites whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out, but if the cloud did not lift they did not set out. By day it was a cloud but by night a fire. (This conforms to the cloud and fire which defended them as the fled from the Egyptians. Exodus 13:22) Exodus 40:36-38.

Epilogue on the Book of Exodus

What have we learnt from the Book of Exodus?

We have learnt that God ‘remembers’ his promises but the words of St Peter seem relevant; (2 Peter 3:8; with the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day.) So Yahweh didn’t immediately rescue his ‘chosen people’ from the slavery of the Egyptians but only after four hundred and thirty years. Why? Perhaps because successive generations needed to become hardened to a way of life which would enable them to survive the forty years roaming in the desert.

We learn that God chooses special people like Moses to carry out his work on earth. Those ‘special people’ still exist – Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Leonard Cheshire and many, many more. Dare we hope that God might choose us for even the smallest of tasks?

We learn that God is very precise. He arranges the manufacture of things down to the last detail. He expects absolute obedience to His requirements.

We learn the Ten Commandments; God’s law to aid us in showing constant love towards Him and towards all here on earth. In order to fulfil God’s commandments we must put away our selfishness and concentrate on ‘loving our neighbour’. Do we try hard enough to meet the standard which God has set for us?

We learn that Yahweh is a jealous God. He who made the whole universe and within it the earth and all it contains, will not permit anything which can be interpreted as a god – pagan idols, pagan altars, golden calves, the god of materialism or other items, cars, houses, sports, computers which we turn into gods.

We learn that God demands that we work for six days but the seventh day is His. We must rest on the seventh day and give that day to Him.


The book is called Leviticus because it tells of the Offices, Ministries Rites and Ceremonies of the Levites. The Hebrews call it ‘wayyiqra’ from the first words ‘And the Lord Called’ with which it begins.

The Old Testament gives five types of Sacrifice; Holocausts, Cereal Offerings, Peace Offerings, Sin Offerings and Guilt Offerings.


‘Holocaust’ means a whole burnt offering so called because the whole victim was consumed with fire, and given in such a manner to God as to be wholly consumed, as it were, for his honour and glory, without having any part of it reserved for the use of man. Leviticus 1:1-17; 6:8-13; 8:8-21 & 16:24.

Cereal Offerings

These were originally a separate offering but later appear as a supplement to the holocaust and peace offerings. (Numbers 15:1-16). As with everything else it all had to be carefully prepared and only the very best grain, spices and oils were to be used. Leviticus 2:1-16 & 6:14-23.

Peace Offerings

This is considered to be a ‘communion sacrifice.’ The difference between Peace Offerings and Holocausts is that whereas the Holocaust is completely burnt, Peace Offerings are shared – partly burnt and partly eaten by the offerers or priests. The ritual allows for ox, sheep or goat offerings. Leviticus 3:1-17 & 7:11-34.

Sin Offerings

This offering could be made by the priest, the community, a specified ‘leader’ of the people or a single individual. The size of the offering depended on who was making the sacrifice. If it was a priest then a bull would be used; for a leader a goat, for the poor a pigeon and for the very poor a measure of flour. (To be ignorant of what we are bound to know is sinful; and for such culpable ignorance, the sacrifices prescribed in Leviticus 4:1-35 and the following chapters were appointed. This is carried in today’s laws ‘where ignorance of the law’ is no excuse). Leviticus 4:1-35; 5;1-13; 6:24-30; 8:14-17 & 16:3-22.

Guilt Offerings

The dominant note in the treatment of Guilt Offerings is ‘atonement’ rather than ritual. A ram or bull could be used which was sacrificed by the priest and he could eat a share of the sacrifice. Leviticus 5:14-19; 6:1-7 & 7:1-6.

Comment on The Offerings

In all these offerings it seems to have been the priest who carried out ‘the offering.’ Once the leaders or people or person had handed over their offering they had done their part and the priest took over. This method of sacrifice continued from the wanderings in the desert through to the Temple in Jerusalem but stopped when the people of the Kingdom of Judah were overcome by Nebuchadnezzar and deported to Babylon. Sacrificing recommenced after the return from exile and continued until Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans forty years after the Crucifixion of Jesus. Present day Jews want to sacrifice again but the only place they can do that is on the Dome of the Rock where stands the Rock on which Abraham is said to have been prepared to obey Yahweh’s command to sacrifice his son. But now there stands the Muslim Shrines of the Dome of the Rock and the El-Aqsa Mosque. Synagogues are places of prayer but not of sacrifice. (See paragraph below). So it is easy to understand the Jew’s desire destroy the Muslim Shrines and rebuild their Temple. It is said that all the items necessary to furnish the Temple are ready and just waiting for the moment. It is a precarious situation and one which is the cause of great tension between the Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem. Sadly they have reason not to trust each other.

Temple Versus Synagogue

During the time of the wandering in the desert the Israelites offered sacrifice in the portable Tabernacle. Two hundred and fifty years later, when King David conquered Jerusalem, he moved the Tabernacle there and it remained the central place for offering and sacrifice. But prior to that, when Joshua conquered the Promised Land, most tribes lived too far away to be able to get to the Temple. That would be when synagogues commenced. But they did not usurp the authority of the Tabernacle which remained, and still remains, (even though, at this time, it does not exist) the only place for Offerings and Sacrifice. It was because of that that the Israelites made annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the Passover. (The only way Christians can make a comparison is to imagine that our local churches were only for prayers and, in order to attend Mass, we had to go to London!)

Christians and Sacrifice

Jesus came to change animal and cereal sacrifices into the sacrifice of Himself – His Body and Blood. (Psalms 40:6; Isaiah 1:11). It was Yahweh who first requested the various offerings detailed in Leviticus. But when the time came for the Messiah to come among us those offerings were to cease and God gave us the perfect sacrifice, the offering of His Son, Jesus. We participate in that sacrifice and offering whenever we attend Mass. One of the most startling changes was God’s command for us to drink His Blood. Drinking blood was a complete anathema to the Jews. Yahweh pointedly instructed them not to do so (Leviticus 17:1-16.) The command not to drink animal’s blood was a preparation for the drinking of Jesus’ blood. ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…’ (John 6:54.) Leviticus 7:7-27.

The Priest’s Share

The breast and right thigh of the sacrificed animal was the priest’s share. In His usual meticulous and caring way God leaves nothing to chance and ensures that those sacrificing the offerings will be rewarded. Leviticus 7:28:38.

The Ordination of Aaron and His Sons

This must have been a very special occasion. The Tabernacle and Priest’s Vestments had been made to Yahweh’s specific requirements. Now it was time to anoint the priests prior to them carrying our their duties. Moses is told to assemble everyone. They are to see the anointing and to know and accept Aaron and his sons as Priests. After they have been washed (similarities to baptism) they are dressed in the vestments ascribed by Yahweh. Aaron is anointed but there is no specific mention of his sons being anointed. (Later they die when using censers. They did not take fire from the Altar but made it themselves and were probably drunk so were not properly prepared to stand before God. [Leviticus 10:1-3]. Yahweh demands complete obedience..) After the ordination three sacrifices were made which all included the ‘laying on of hands’, which is the accepted method today at an ordination, except that in the case of Aaron and his sons they were laying their hands on the animals which were to be sacrificed. It is Moses who carries out the washing and robing of the priests. This signifies Moses’ very special place in God’s plan. His ‘anointing’ was probably anticipated by being with God on the mountain for forty days and nights and seeing God. It is Moses who slaughters the bull and takes some of the blood to purify the altar . Putting some of the blood on the ear, thumbs and big toes is thought to represent ‘the ear which receives instructions, while the hands and feet which carry them out.’ The seriousness of the ordination ceremony is shown by the fact that, for seven days, those who had been ordained were not allowed to leave the Tent of the Meeting. On the eighth day the priests inaugurated their priesthood by offering sacrifices at the altar. ‘Moses and Aaron came out of the Tent of Meeting together to bless the people and the glory of Yahweh appeared to the entire people: a flame leapt out from Yahweh’s presence and consumed the burnt offering…. At this sight the entire people shouted for joy and fell on their faces.’ (We can liken this to the moment of Consecration when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus. At this solemn moment we bow our heads and adore the holy species.) Leviticus 8:1-36 & 9:1-24.

The Death of Nadab and Abihu

A mystery surrounds the deaths of Aaron’s sons who ‘offered unauthorised fire before the Lord’ and were burnt to death’. Perhaps they had used incense from outside the Tabernacle; or they had not been finally anointed (see previous paragraph); or they had been drinking, which, for priests, was forbidden. Leviticus 10:8-11.(There is a comparison in the New Testament with the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira on Acts 5:1-11). Whatever the reason it all comes down to ‘obedience.      (Leviticus10:1-3).

The Bodies are Removed

Priests were not allowed to touch dead bodies or they became ‘unclean’. Therefore other members of the family, not priests, are brought in to take away the bodies of Nadab and Abihu. Leviticus 10:4-5.

Mourning Forbidden for Priests

Aaron and his other sons Eleazer and Ithamar, who were also priests, were told not to mourn. Mourning was to be done by the whole Community on behalf of Aaron and his sons. They must not leave the area of the Tabernacle. They must  not tear their clothes (this was a sign of great grief or shock; Genesis 37:29; 2 Kings 18:37 & 19:1.) At Jesus’ trial the high priest ‘tore his clothes’ as an act of judicial expression that Jesus’ words had been blasphemous (Mark 14:63). In doing so he was disobeying the order in Leviticus but Jesus’ blasphemy was considered to be so serious, the ultimate, that ‘tearing the clothes’ was permissible. Leviticus 10:6-7.

The Portions of Offerings Which Can be Eaten

Everything they do they are doing for the first time. So Moses has to remind them of Yahweh’s command that they may eat certain portions and that the priests may share these portions with the male and female members of their families. (This prepares the way for the special towns in the Promised Land which, along with pasture land, will be given to the Levites. Joshua 20: & 21).                 Leviticus 10:12-15.

Moses’ Anger at the Way an Offering Had Been Made

Moses took Aaron‘s sons to task for not having eaten the offering. (The explanation is that there were two types of sin offering: (1 those in which the blood was sprinkled within the tabernacle, (2 those in which it was sprinkled only on the great altar. Portions of the second type should normally have been eaten.) Aaron pleads with Moses that because of Nadab and Abihu’s sinful deed that he, and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, felt unclean and lacked the necessary integrity required of anyone partaking of such a sacrifice. They shared in the guilt of the dead sons and brothers and did not enjoy a state of holiness compatible with the sin-offering repast. The response appeased Moses’ anger. (A reminder of St Paul’s words to the Corinthians ‘Therefore anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.’   1 Corinthians 11:27.) Leviticus 10:16-20.

Laws Concerning Clean and Unclean Animals

These laws, given by God to Moses, complement the ‘Law of Holiness’ in Chapters 17 to 26, as the negative and positive aspects of the same divine demand. Behind these regulations lie religious taboos of great antiquity. That is ‘clean’ which is considered worthy to approach God, ‘unclean’ whatever makes a person unfit for ritual worship or whatever is in fact excluded from it. The clean animals are those which can be offered to God (Genesis7:2). The unclean animals are those which neighbouring peoples regarded as sacred or used in magic or superstitious practices and which, since they were unpleasing to human beings, were thought displeasing to God. (As with the details for the Tabernacle these laws are given in great detail.) The chapter describes the land, air and sea animals which are clean or unclean. Anyone who even touches one of those described as unclean becomes unclean himself and ritual washing is necessary.              Leviticus 11:1-47.

Laws Concerning Purification After Childbirth

These laws are not due to the birth but from the bleeding which was regarded as a loss of vitality; this loss must be made good by ritual means: union with God, the source of life, is thus re-established. The period of uncleanness was 40 days for a boy and 80 days for a girl. A possible explanation is that birth of a male caused less uncleanness because of the greater strength and vitality connected with the male. (We must bear in mind that sexist demarcations did not exist in the time of Moses! Yahweh had spoken and the people did what they were told.) Leviticus 12:1-8.

Regulations About Infectious Skin Diseases

The word traditionally translated as ‘Leprosy’ included various serious or trivial skin-diseases, and even signs of decay in clothing or on walls. (Travelling through the desert was not the best place to deal with such disease so the regulations were practical.) Because they came from God they took on a religious significance. Swellings, scabs, ulcers, burns, diseases of the scalp and chin, rashes, loss of hair and infection of clothing are all given detailed regulations. Nothing is left to chance. (One thousand three hundred years later Jesus abided by those regulations. Whenever he cured lepers he said to them; “…go show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Mark 1:44.)             Leviticus 13:1-59.

Purification From Contagious Skin-Diseases

The ritual after skin disease had been cured had three parts:1) ritual for the first week outside the camp, (Leviticus 14:1-7;. 2) ritual for the second week inside the camp, (Leviticus 14:8-20;. and 3) special permission for the poor, (Leviticus 14:21-32). In all cases washing and shaving off all hair, including eyebrows, is required. (That the poor have ‘special permission’ indicates that, as they travelled through the desert for forty years, there were both rich and poor travelling together which tells us that during their time in Egypt some had fared better than others.) Leviticus 14:1-32.


Cleansing From Mildew

In this Chapter Yahweh is looking ahead to the time when the Israelites will be in Canaan and deals with mildew and fungus in buildings. (Because of their external resemblance to human skin disease, certain forms of fungus, when found on buildings, were believed to have made them ‘leprous’. In a case where a building had been cleansed but the fungus reappeared the building had to be demolished). Leviticus 14:33-57.

Sexual Impurities

Not only was there a certain aura of mystery surrounding the faculty of generation, but also a loss of vitality, a diminution of the life principle, was indicated in the loss of seed by a man or blood by a woman. (Male impurity might arise from genital excretions resulting from gonorrhoea. Female impurity arose from either menstruation or an abnormal flow of blood. In the case of both male and female any items they had sat on were unclean. If the man touched a clay pot it must be broken). Leviticus 15:1-33.

The Day of Atonement

The tenth day of the seventh month was to be the annual Day of Atonement (‘at-one-ment’) for the nation. (Year after year Israel was reminded of the sin which cut them off from God’s presence – of the need for atonement to bring forgiveness and restore relations). Among the sacrifices offered are two male goats. One, chosen by lot, is sacrificed. The priest laid his hands on the other goat, in so doing he transferred the people’s sin to the goat. This goat, which is sent out into the wilderness, is called the ‘scapegoat’, from whence comes the word! (Both Israelite and non-Israelite residents were obliged to fast and desist from any form of work on this “most solemn Sabbath” or day of rest. This fast is the only one prescribed in the entire Torah). Leviticus 16:1-34.


Slaughtering and Sacrifice

The life of a creature was considered to be in the blood. It epitomised the life of the sacrificial victim. Since life was sacred, blood (a symbol of life), had to be treated with respect. Therefore eating blood was forbidden. (The blood of the Old Testament sacrifice pointed forward to the Blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, Who obtained for His people ‘eternal redemption’ ‘Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22).     Leviticus 17:1-16.

Sexual Prohibitions  (The Sacredness of Sex)

As an introduction to this chapter Verse 3 states ’You must not behave as they do in Egypt where you used to live’. (The Israelites had seen the many forms of prohibition being carried out and had to be warned against them.) The list is long and prohibits sexual relations with close family members. (Details of those prohibited are named). It prohibits sex between people of the same sex (homosexual or lesbian) and it mentions sex between men, women and animals (bestiality). (Child sacrifice, the burning of a child while still alive, is also mentioned. It seems to have been associated with a god, Molech, worshiped by the Ammonites, Canaanites and others.) Leviticus 18:1-30.


Various Laws

The heading might sound somewhat uninspiring but it contains many basic charitable laws which we need as Christians. They follow the Ten Commandments but with extra guidance. The major social concerns in God’s Covenant are: Personal Security; Everyone’s person is to be secure. False Accusation; Everyone is to be secure against slander and false accusation. Women; No woman is to be taken advantage of within her subordinate status in society. Punishment; Punishment for wrongdoing shall not be excessive so that the culprit is dehumanised. Dignity; Every Israelite’s dignity and right to be God’s freedman and servant are to be honoured and safeguarded. Inheritance; Every Israelite’s inheritance in the promised land is to be secure. Property; Everyone’s property is to be secure. Fruit of Labour; Everyone is to receive the fruit of his labours. Fruit of the Ground; Everyone is to share the fruit of the ground. Rest on the Sabbath; Everyone, down to the humblest servant and the resident alien, is to share in the weekly rest of God’s Sabbath. Marriage; The marriage relationship is to be kept inviolate. Exploitation; No-one, however disabled, impoverished or powerless, is to be oppressed or exploited. Fair Trial; Everyone is to have free access to the courts and is to be afforded a fair trial. Social Order; Every person’s God-given place in the social order is to be honoured. Law; No-one shall be above the law, not even the king. Animals; Concern for the welfare of other creatures is to be extended to the animal world. For a further complete list of major social concerns see page 116.

Apart from the basic Ten Commandments other laws include: ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of the field, nor will you gather the gleanings of the harvest; nor will you strip your vineyard bare, nor pick up the fallen grapes. You will leave them for the poor and the stranger.’ (We may not have fields and grapes but we must obey by doing likewise to the sellers of The Big Issue and any unfortunates who are in obvious need. One way of trying to avoid such giving is to say, “But they may buy drink or drugs with the money we give.” That is an easy way out but is not charitable. To give is the total answer. What happens to the money is not our responsibility. If some use the money responsibly then our giving has been worthwhile.) Leviticus 19:9-10.

Two of the laws are relevant to today’s world. ‘You will not exploit or rob your fellows and you will not keep back the labourer’s wage until the next morning.’ (Tax and National Insurance might make the latter law impossible to accurately maintain but monies might still be withheld by holding back wage increases or improvements delayed in working conditions.) In respect of ‘robbing your fellow’ we have to consider our buying habits at supermarkets. They have such powerful purchasing power that they can leave their suppliers with no profit and even making a loss. (Watch out for reports of that in the media and avoid any such products. By taking advantage of those products we are guilty of ‘robbing your fellows.’ In contrast we should purchase products from the 3rd World which are supervised and known to be advantageous to that country. Those products come under the overall name of ‘Fairtrade Goods’ and one of the suppliers is ‘Traid Craft’. Ask your Supermarket for those products. An example of this problem is that on the 9th December 2003 it was reported that Ethiopia had stopped growing coffee as they could no longer produce it competitively. Instead they were growing narcotics for the drug market!) Leviticus 19:13.

The strict Pharisees (school of Shammai) interpreted ‘love your neighbour’ to also mean ’hate your enemy.’(Jesus’ reaction ‘Love our enemies’ was in line with the middle-of-the-road Pharisees whose sentiments were “One should place no limitations upon the love for the neighbour, but instead a person should love to do an abundance of good for his fellow being as he does for himself.) Leviticus 19:18.

A law which seems strange to us is ‘You will not mate your cattle with those of another kind.’ (This law corresponds with Genesis 1:11-12. Cross-breeding was evidently considered a perversion of the divinely established order. Over the years scientific knowledge has shown that cross-breeding can improve the quality and quantity of the meat. Early in Genesis Yahweh put man in charge of the animals so such advances in animal-husbandry are to the benefit of mankind. Genesis 1:26) Leviticus 19:19.

A law which favours the man, commands that a master who sleeps with his slave girl shall make a sin offering but suffer no other penalty.(Because the slave girl had not been freed, she is considered to be the man’s property. Yet if the woman were another man’s wife or a virgin pledged to be married then the penalty for the man would be stoning to death [Deuteronomy 22:23-27]. Those were the times in which they lived and perhaps we should be even surprised that any penalty was considered necessary!) Leviticus 19:20-22.

Eating the fruit from newly planted trees was severely controlled. (Just as the male child did not properly belong to Yahweh until the time of his circumcision, so by analogy the fruit of a tree produced prior to the first-fruits offering was termed ‘uncircumcised’. Not before the fourth year, when the fruit was truly well developed and worth eating could it be offered to the Lord as a token of thanks. Hence the people were forbidden to eat the fruit prior to the fifth year.) Leviticus 19:23-25.

The older laws of verses 26 to 31 were prompted mainly by the dangers arising from the cultic practices of Israel’s neighbours. (Besides the oft-mentioned prohibition of blood [Leviticus 17:10-12], likewise prohibited were the following: divination and magic arts as attempts to plumb divine secrets or to control events; the mourning customs of the Canaanites – cutting of hair, body lacerations, tattooing - probably viewed as a means of warding off the departed spirit by changing the appearance to avoid recognition; the abandonment of a daughter to cult prostitution and consultation with mediums or fortune-tellers to commune with the dead or foresee the future). Leviticus 19:26:31.

The penultimate law concerns respect for both the elderly and the alien. The final law concerns using honest standards in measuring length, weight or quantity. Leviticus 19:35-37.

The Penalties (Religious Offences) 

After details of the laws there follow the penalties. They are given in two parts Religious Offences and Offences against the family.

The religious offences are twofold. The first concerns the Canaanite god, Molech, to whom children were sacrificed by fire. The children had to literally pass through fire to satisfy the god. This was one of many ways in which children were brutally killed to appease a pagan god. (The penalty for sacrificing your child to Molech was death by stoning. But, despite that dire penalty, some were still prepared to carry out the sacrifice. The problem was that Canaanites and other pagan nations carried out such sacrifices and the Israelites were tempted to imitate them; ‘Just in case it might help’ or ‘playing it both ways’. This practice exists in Africa today. A lot of people have one foot in the Church and another in the old pagan system just to make assurance doubly sure! Today the sacrificing of children happens only on very rare occasions. In a similar sad way such occurrences happen in India with the old custom of burning of a widow on her husband’s pyre). Another Old Testament sacrifice was of the eldest son as a burnt offering on the city wall as carried out by King of Moab (2 Kings 3:21-27). Yet another was the sacrifice of Heil of Bethel who, when he rebuilt Jericho, in order to placate the curse of Joshua (Joshua 6:26-27), killed his eldest son and built him into the foundations and killed his youngest son and built him into the gates of the city. These killings were completely worthless but sadly show the power which the pagan gods had in the minds of the people. Child sacrifice even took place in Jerusalem when King Manasseh sacrificed his sons (2 Chronicles 33:6). Is it any wonder that Yahweh speaks out against these appalling practices? (While being abhorrent to such sacrifices we must not forget that God the Father gave His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for our sins. The difference is that the child sacrifices were to pagan gods. God the Father’s sacrifice of His Son was a sacrifice of love for all of us whom He has created.)          Leviticus 20:1-5.

The second religious practice which Yahweh condemns is anyone having recourse to the spirits of the dead or to magicians. Leviticus 20:6-7.

The Penalties (Offences against Families)

Apart from the first ‘offence’ all the others are to do with sexual intercourse and the degrees of kindred and other circumstances where sex was prohibited.

The first offence is a threat of death to anyone who curses their father or mother. Leviticus 20:9.

There follows a long list of sexual prohibitions including a man having sex with another man (Homosexuality), and a man or woman having sex with an animal (Bestiality). For a man who marries his brother’s wife, which is what King Herod did when he married Herodias, the penalty is that they should die childless. (Salome was Herodias’ daughter by her marriage to Herod’s brother Philip. There is no mention of a child born to her marriage to Herod.) For most of the prohibitions the penalty is death by stoning. But for the man who marries both a woman and her mother the penalty for them all is to be burnt to death!         Leviticus 20:10-21.

Concluding Exhortation Regarding Penalties

Yahweh commands that these laws should be kept. The people he will be driving out of the land of milk and honey practised these things which is why Yahweh detests them. Leviticus 20:22-24.

A reference back to Chapter 11 is a reminder of clean and unclean animals. Leviticus 20:25-26.

Final mention is for any man or woman among the Israelites who practices magic. They must be stoned to death. (This is distinct from those mentioned in 20:6-7 who ‘consult’ rather than ‘practice’). Leviticus 20:27.


The Holiness of the Priesthood

Priests were not allowed any disfigurement of their bodies. Such practices were common among the pagans as signs of mourning and to secure attention of their gods. Yahweh refers to the priests descending from Aaron. They must not make themselves unclean by touching a corpse. They are allowed to touch the corpse of a close relation: father, mother, son, daughter, brother or virgin sister. (Why virgin sister? Because by marriage the woman becomes the ‘flesh’ of her husband [Genesis 2:23] and loosens ties of blood.) Leviticus 21:1-4.

Priests must not disfigure their bodies as the pagan priests do as a sign of mourning and in an attempt to secure the attention of their pagan gods. (For an example of this see 1 Kings 18:28 where the priests of Baal try to get their pagan god to set fire to the wood and ‘slashed themselves with swords and spears as was their custom…’) Leviticus 21:5-6.

A priest may marry but his bride must be a virgin, but he is also allowed to marry the widow of a priest. (Ezekiel 44:22). If a priest’s daughter becomes a prostitute then she must be burnt to death. By reason of the family solidarity, the priest would share in his daughter’s guilt. Leviticus 21:7-9.

The High Priest has stricter laws to obey. He is not allowed to touch any corpse, even his own father or mother. Leviticus 21:10-15.

No priests were allowed to have any infirmity. Blindness, lameness, any deformity of foot or arm, disfigurement, hunchback or any visual ailments would disqualify a man from being a priest. In those days people thought that disability was the result of sin on the part of the parents or of the disabled themselves. (The same thoughts were in the minds of the disciples when they questioned Jesus about the man born blind John 9:1-3. To us in the twenty-first century this seems unjust almost similar to racist connotations. But by making this law Yahweh was maintaining His request for ‘perfection’ in everything. The truth is that it is only in the past century that the disabled have been able to come out into the community, and only in the past ten years,1994-2000, have laws come into force giving the disabled rights of access and rights of opportunity. So, from the time of Leviticus, it has taken three thousand two hundred and fifty years for things to change!) Leviticus 21:16-24.

Holiness in Consuming Sacred Food

This chapter deals with the priest’s share of the food being sacrificed. It cannot be eaten by any priest who has leprosy or who has abnormal bodily emissions (Leviticus 15:2-15). Priests’ families were allowed to share the food as were any slaves owned by the priest. But the ordinary layman, alien, hired servant or someone employed for a particular job were prohibited from sharing the food. Leviticus 22:1-16.

Sacrificial Animals

Care must be taken in choosing the animal to be sacrificed. Any animal with a blemish was unacceptable. The mention of testicles portrays Semitic reverence for the procreative faculty. Castrated animals were not acceptable offerings. The prohibition not to allow any animal to be slaughtered on the same day as its young, may be due to the Canaanite practice of honouring their pagan fertility god by purposely sacrificing parent and young together. Leviticus 22:17-33.

The Ritual for Annual Feasts (There are seven major feasts)

Sabbath; Day of rest for people and animals every seventh day.

Passover and Unleavened Bread; Remembering deliverance from Egypt.

Firstfruits; Recognising the Lord’s bounty in the land.

Feast of Weeks (Pentecost); Joy and thankfulness for the harvest.

Trumpets; New Year Festival. (The 1st of three festivals in the 7th month.)

Day of Atonement;  Cleansing the priest and people from their sins.                                                          (The 2nd festival.)

Tabernacles: Commemorating the journey from Egypt to Canaan and giving              thanks for the productivity of Canaan. (The 3rd Festival.) Leviticus 23:1-44.

The Lamp for the Tent

As our Tabernacles have a Sanctuary Lamp so the Tabernacle in the desert required a lamp to indicate Yahweh’s presence. But their Yahweh was ‘a cloud’. In ours He is really present under the species of Bread. The Tabernacle lamp was lit by the oil from ripe olives crushed in a mortar. The pulpy mass was then placed in a cloth basket through the bottom of which the oil dripped producing clear fuel which burnt with little or no smoke. Leviticus 24:1-4.

Bread for the Temple Table

The table, which had been made to Yahweh’s specific instructions (Exodus 25:23-30), was to hold the bread which belonged to Aaron and his sons. As well as the bread, incense is also placed on the table. The smoke rising from the incense is Yahweh’s memorial portion of the offering. This compares to our use of incense during High Mass, at Adoration (Benediction) and when incensing the coffin at funerals. The rising smoke is symbolic of taking our adoration, our love and our prayers to God. Leviticus 24:5:9.

A Case of Blasphemy

The word ‘alien’ has appeared many times in the book of Leviticus and now we can understand the reason why. ‘There was a man whose mother was an Israelite and whose father was an Egyptian.’ (Leviticus 24:10.) So, during their time in Egypt, mixed marriages took place. The fact that the man had left Egypt with his Israelite wife might make us think that he had accepted the Hebrew faith. But the fact that the son ‘starts to argue with an Israelite man’ make it seem that his father had not done so. The son blasphemed and cursed the name of Yahweh. (Some sympathy can be spared for the son who had been uprooted from his homeland and, presumably, from his friends). The young man was put under guard and Moses is consulted. Moses, in turn, consults Yahweh who determines that the young man be taken outside the camp and the people who heard him curse must lay their hands on his head (in the same way as laying hands on the scapegoat). (Leviticus 16:21) then the blasphemer must be stoned to death. Yahweh said: “Anyone who curses his God will bear the consequences of his sin, and anyone who blasphemes the name of Yahweh will be put to death; the whole community will stone him; be he alien or native born; for I am Yahweh your God.” The sentence might seem harsh but those were the times in which they lived. Wandering in the desert, being in close proximity to everyone else, probably required great patience and self-control. One ‘bad-apple’ could cause untold problems. So severe action was necessary.   Leviticus 24:10-23.

The Holy Years

Sabbath Year; Every 7th year. To give rest to the land. Leviticus 25:1-7.

Year of Jubilee. Every 50th year. To help the poor and stabilise society. The cancelling of debts and the liberation of slaves. “The land is mine” said the Lord so He could make whatever laws He considered necessary. In the Year of the Jubilee the land was to be returned to its original owners. Effectively land could only be leased and not sold. The system might sound perfect but, in practice, did not always work. (Jeremiah 34:8-11). The ‘giving-back’ is also strongly emphasised in Nehemiah 5:1-13. There were various ‘exceptions to the rule’ concerning whether or not houses were in a walled city and other exceptions for Levites, who, as priests, could not own their own houses but live in properties owned by the whole community. Leviticus 25:8-34.

Year of Jubilee Continued

Poor Israelites are to receive the same courtesy as given to non-Israelite inhabitants. But interest could not be demanded from the poor but could be demanded from the non-Israelite. The poor were allowed to work for their fellow Israelites but they should not be treated as slaves but only as employees and could be redeemed by a relative. (This is a modification of earlier legislation [Exodus 21:2-11]. The trading in non-Israelite slaves both men, women and children was allowed. Such slaves were the property of the owner and could be willed to one’s heirs.) Leviticus 25:35-55.

Reward for Obedience

Promises of rain, yields of crops, and adequate food are offered for not making idols. (Exodus 20:4). Peace will be granted and enemies will be put to flight. “I will walk among you and be your God.” Leviticus 26:1-13.

Punishment for Disobedience

Diseases and fever, seed planted in vain and sudden terror. All these will be afflicted ‘seven times over’. Seven, which is known as the perfect number (See ‘How can we explain the Seven Days’ Exodus Page 8), is now used as a means of comprehensive destruction. The scale of the punishment goes further – food would be in such short supply that the people would be reduced to cannibalism. Leviticus 26:14-35.

Conversion and Pardon

The punishment will not be terminal but medicinal. Despite Israel’s infidelity Yahweh will, in the last analysis remain true to the covenant. The survival, for at least part of the population, in view of the covenant, is a most important Old Testament theme, its expression here is very similar to Ezekiel 16:53-63 Leviticus 26:36-46.

APPENDIX Vows, Offerings and Tithes

The appendix modifies a number of its laws in the light of later practice. Gradually the tendency grew to convert laws into their monetary equivalents. This final chapter of the Book of Leviticus gives detailed regulations regarding such values. Values vary depending on age and whether male or female. For example the value of a man aged between twenty and sixty is fifty shekels. A woman of the same age thirty shekels. Animals are also valued depending on whether they are considered to be ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’. Houses and fields are to be valued by a priest. They can be redeemed but only at an increase of 20% on the priest’s valuation. Leviticus 27:1-25.

Particular Rules for Redemption

First born of animals cannot be dedicated to Yahweh because they already belong to Him. (Exodus 13:12). But if the firstborn is unclean then it can be redeemed or sold by the priests. Leviticus 27:26-27.

Dedicated or Devoted

There is a huge difference between something ‘dedicated’ to Yahweh and ‘devoted’ to Yahweh. ‘Dedication’ means that someone has made a ‘choice of giving’. Such items can be redeemed at a cost. But ‘devoted’ items belong to God as a right and cannot be redeemed. (An example of the seriousness of devoted items occurs in the Book of Joshua.) ‘The city of Jericho and everyone in it must be devoted to Yahweh under the curse of destruction.’ (Joshua 6:17). ‘But Achan took something that fell under the curse.’ (Joshua 7:1). Because of this Yahweh withdrew his protection from the Israelites and they were defeated by the people of Ai. (Joshua 7:4-5.) In answer to Joshua’s prayer Yahweh tells him that a ‘devoted’ item had been stolen and that was the reason for their defeat. (Joshua was especially concerned that the Canaanites and other nations which the Israelits would need to defeat would hear of Israel’s loss and would have less respect for Israelites’ vulnerability.) Eventually Achan owns up to his theft. ‘I am the man who has sinned against Yahweh.’ (Joshua 7:20). He had stolen a robe, two hundred shekels of silver and an ingot of gold weighing fifty shekels. (Joshua 7:21).Despite his honesty at owning-up he is stoned to death and the stolen items are destroyed. At all times Yahweh demands complete obedience.

Tithes for the Levites and the Poor

There appear to have been three tithes: 1) the general tithe paid to the Levites (Numbers 18:21). 2) The Levites were to give a tenth of what they had received to the priest. (Numbers 18:26). 3) The tithe paid every year to the poor. (Deuteronomy 14:22-29). Leviticus 27:28-34

Epilogue on the Book of Leviticus

What have we learnt from the Book of Leviticus?

We learn of Yahweh’s requests for sacrifices: bulls, goats, doves, cereals. In those times what else could He ask for? They had nothing else to offer. But with our hindsight we know that God replaced those with the Supreme Sacrifice of His Only-begotten Son. But Yahweh always demanded the very best – an animal with a blemish was unacceptable. Today’s Sacrifice, the Son of God, is without blemish; but are we always without blemish when we attend Holy Mass? If not, then the door of the confessional is calling us.

We learn of the great detail which Yahweh described in preparing the elaborate vestments for His priests. Some people think that ‘vestments’ are unnecessary but Leviticus enables us to ‘listen to Yahweh’ and to know his requirements. If Yahweh demanded such vestments for the sacrifice of Bulls, goats, doves and cereals how much more should we provide for the Sacrifice of His Son.

Through the death of Nadab and Abihu we learn, yet again, that Yahweh demands complete obedience. Doing things ‘our way’ or taking ‘short-cuts’ are not acceptable. Do we fully understand this? Are there areas where we need to reconsider our total acceptance of God’s commands?

We learn of some of the diseases from which the Israelites suffered. This included the venereal disease, gonorrhoea. So, despite their faith, some of the Israelites hadn’t the will-power to overcome this dreadful sexual disease. Since then, over the past 3250 years, little has been learnt and AIDS has made the matter even worse. Laxity in sexual matters continues to cause appalling suffering. The answer, ‘self-control in all matters of sexuality,’ is obvious but seems to be one which many do not want to learn. Much of the responsibility must rest with the government and those who favour offering young people more and more methods of birth control. The same applies to educationalists who see it as their ‘right’ to offer and encourage birth control methods such as ‘the morning after pill’. Add to that a decrease in religious education in schools and we have the sad decline in morals which has led to more and more teenage pregnancies and, equally sadly, an ever increase in abortions.

We learn of the great Feasts which the Israelites celebrated. Theirs would have been wonderful celebrations far superior to anything which we experience. The reason is that they were all together in the desert and the whole community could join together for the Feasts. On our Feast days we, as Christians, in a now largely pagan country, attend Mass and that is all. We do not understand ‘Celebrating a Feast’ as the Israelites did.

We learn of the many rules regarding ‘sacrifices’ and the way they were presented to Yahweh. At the ‘Last Supper’ all these rules were replaced by the Sacrifice of Jesus’ Body and Blood.

We learn of the command to ‘Tithe’. Giving a tenth to the priests and the poor. Do we always remember the fifth commandment of The Church? ‘To contribute to the support of our pastors.’ Do we give according to our means?


The English name of this book comes from the Septuagint (The Greek translation o the Old Testament) and refers to the census found in chapters 1 & 26. The Hebrew title is ‘bemidbar’ (in the desert) and is more descriptive of its contents. The book presents an account of the 38-year period of Israel’s wandering in the desert following the establishment of the covenant of Sinai. It starts from the second month of the second year after leaving Egypt, until the beginning of the eleventh month of the fortieth year. But the book could also be called ‘The Grumblings of a Nation’. The trust in God which took them out of Egypt evaporated as they began to experience the hardships of desert life. Numbers is one long sad story of complaining and discontent. Because of the people’s disobedience a distance of about 350 km/220 miles becomes a lifetime’s journey.



The Census of the Children of Israel

It was while they were still camping in Sinai that Yahweh ordered Moses to take a census, tribe by tribe, of all the males over twenty years of age fit to bear arms. Yahweh named men from each tribe who should assist in taking the census. The total number of all the tribes was 603,550. Except for Joshua and Caleb all these died in the desert and Moses died in sight of the Promised Land but was not allowed to enter it. If these figures are correct then, including women and children, they give a total population in excess of 2,000,000. Biblical scholars are uncertain at such a large number which is an amazing growth from the 70 who entered Egypt four hundred years earlier. But we know that they had become so numerous that they were regarded ‘as a grave threat to the security of Egypt.’ Perhaps the numbers are correct and can be taken as evidence of God’s great blessing and his faithfulness to his covenant with Abraham. Numbers 1:1-54.

The Arrangements of the Tribal Camps

Yahweh instructed Moses and Aaron how the tribes should be placed around the Tabernacle. The name of two tribes had to be found because the tribe of Levi were separated from the others as they were priests, and Joseph’s name was not given as a tribe. In order to make the number of tribes up to twelve Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were each prescribed as tribes. The twelve tribes and the way they encamped around the Tabernacle was as follows:



                                                           Naphtali     Asher      Dan


                                             Ephraim                                    Judah


                             WEST       Manasseh   TABERNACLE      Issachar     EAST


                                                  Benjamin                                  Zebulun


                                                           Gad        Simeon     Reuben     



Numbers 2:1-34.




Their Anointing


Yahweh instructs Aaron and Moses to anoint the priests which include Aaron’s sons Eleazar and Ithamar. (This strengthens the argument that Nadab and Abihu had not been anointed when they incensed the altar and were burnt to death. [Leviticus 10:1-2]). The Hebrew name for ‘anointed’ (mashiah) later became the specific term for the Messiah (Christ). Yahweh’s total authority over who does and does not approach the Tabernacle is further enforced by His words “….anyone else who approaches the sanctuary must be put to death.”       Numbers 3:1-13.




Numbering of the Tribe of Levi


Yahweh instructed Moses to take a census of the Levites aged one month and older. The number came to 22,000. Yahweh then asked for a census of the first born of all the other tribes of Israel. The number came to 22,273. (This number gives doubt as to its accuracy. It has been calculated that it would mean that there would be about 40 sons in each family! The census figures in the Book of Numbers have given Biblical scholars much work in trying to come to an understanding of the real numbers. No final agreement has been reached.) Because there were 273 more firstborn Israelites than Levites, a redemption of five shekels each is paid to the Levites. This is because the firstborn belong to Yahweh and, in order to ‘balance the books’, the numbers of firstborn should equal the number of Levites who automatically belonged to Yahweh. (It seems a strange way of ‘bookkeeping’ but, in their minds, it kept the figures accurate.)    Numbers 3:14-51.


Another Census of the Levites


Another second census of the Levites counts those who are of age for active service in the sanctuary. The specification of 30 to 50 years contrasts with Numbers 8:23-26, where the span is 25 to 50. Other texts speak of levitical service beginning at 20. These differences could be due to the increased work load in looking after the sanctuary or due to the deaths of older members. Or perhaps the first five or ten years were regarded as an apprenticeship (1 Chronicles 23:24 & 2 Chronicles 31:17) Numbers 4:1-3.


Duties of the Levites


Kohathites, Gershonites and Merarites were all part of the tribe of Levi. When the tabernacle was to be transported each had their specific tasks. The Kohathites were responsible for carrying the sacred objects of the sanctuary after the priests had dismantled and covered them. This ‘covering’ was very important because Yahweh commanded that on the pain of death none of the furnishings or holy articles should by seen or touched by the Kohathites. The chief leader of the Kohathites was Aaron’s son Eleazar who was in charge. The Gershonites were in charge of transporting the curtains and covering of the Tent and forecourt. The Merarites were to look after the framework pillars, pegs and cord. The Gershonites and Merarites were to work under the supervision of Aaron’s son Ithamar. They were provided with oxen and wagons. This detailed care must have had an effect on the Israelites ensuring that they understood the importance of the Sanctuary and of Yahweh who dwelt there. Numbers 4:4-49.


The Purity of the Camp


These laws are additional to those in Leviticus Chapters 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. Anyone with infectious diseases must be expelled from the camp. Following infectious diseases come diseases of the heart where secret faults may mar the purity of the community. Those sins must be admitted and forgiveness sought. (A complete contrast is wrought by Jesus who healed lepers which made him so popular that he became ‘cast out’ having to find a place to hide from the multitudes wanting to find him [Mark 1:42-45]). Numbers 5:1-10.





Adultery  The test for an Unfaithful Wife


In our modern world divorce is taken for granted. Often the excuse is that, back in the time of Moses, men could very easily divorce their wives. But this section of Chapter 5 shows that not to be the case. Following on from infectious diseases and diseases of the heart come issues of purity which intrude into the most intimate relationship – the purity of men and women in their marriage bed. Whilst the ‘Test’ may appear petty and even harsh some means had to be sought to prevent unfounded charges of unfaithfulness from being examined. Also innocent women had to be protected from malevolent husbands. Whilst the husband’s jealousy is mentioned, the aim is to protect the purity of the whole community. It is not known how the ‘Test’ worked. If the woman was guilty then perhaps the mental anguish was enough to make her fail the test. If she was not guilty then she would want to avoid the ‘curse’ of not being able to bear any children. It was in the bearing of children that a woman’s worth was realised in the ancient world. The Loosening of her hair’ Verse 18 was a sign that she was no longer under the protection of her husband as he had become her accuser. Numbers 5:11-31.




Today we have no equivalent of the Nazirites. Being a Nazirite was a ‘separation’ from the normal community but not like Monks or Nuns. Nazirites lived in the community. We know that this ‘separation’, which could be for a specified time or permanent, continued until the time of St Paul (Acts 21:23). During the period of a Nazirite’s vow three areas of his/her life were governed. 1) Diet. 2) Appearance. 3) Associations. Every Israelite was regulated in these areas but for the Nazirite each regulation was heightened. Being a Nazirite meant being specially consecrated to God. The sign of a Nazirite would be no alcoholic drink and their long hair which they were not allowed to cut (hair was a sign of strength). They were not allowed to touch a dead body, even a member their own family. The long hair had a special significance because if someone suddenly died in their presence they had to cut off their hair and burn it at the Tent of the Meeting. There was a special ceremony at the end of the period of separation. The nearest we can come to Nazirites in today’s world is Priests, Monks and Nuns and the special effort which lay people might make to Fast during Lent.  Numbers 6:1-21.


The Priestly Blessing


Yahweh told Moses how Aaron must bless the people. This blessing has been used by both Jews and Christians in their worship. It acknowledges that it is God who gives all good things, and particularly asks for the gift of God’s peace.


May Yahweh bless you and keep you.

May Yahweh let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.

May Yahweh show you his face and bring you peace. In Hebrew ‘Shalom’.

Numbers 6:22-27.


Offerings of the Leaders


Moses consecrated the altar and all its equipment. Then the leaders of each tribe brought their offerings. Moses gave two wagons to the Gershonites and four wagons to the Merarites to enable them to carry out their duties of transporting the Temple and furnishings. (This is where the wagons came from which are mentioned in [Numbers 4:4-9]). But to the Kohatithies he gave nothing because the sacred objects which they transported had to be carried on their shoulders. The bringing of offerings lasted twelve days with each tribe having a day to present their offerings. Numbers 7:1-89.


The Lampstand


The commands of Exodus 27:21 and Leviticus 24:2-4 are obeyed.

Numbers 8:1-4.


The Levites are Offered to Yahweh


Those who serve Yahweh must be clean through and through. Washing and shaving ensure outward cleanliness. The blood of sacrifice cleans the inward stain of sin. Numbers 8:5-22.


The Duration of their Ministry


The age of entry into service is set at twenty-five which disagrees with Numbers 4:23 where the age is stated as thirty. Perhaps a shortage of personnel required a lowering of the age. Numbers 8:23-26.


The Passover


These rules for celebrating the Passover are in four parts. 1)The Command to keep the Passover. This annual remembrance of the Israelites leaving Egypt was kept in the first month on the fourteenth day of the month. 2) The question concerning those ceremonially unclean. Some Israelites had become unclean by touching a dead body. They were allowed to celebrate the Passover on the fourteenth day of the second month. 3) Giving permission for legitimate delay but judgement for wilful neglect. Anyone unable to celebrate the Passover due to travelling was also allowed to celebrate a month later. But anyone who purposely missed celebrating the Passover must be cut off from the people. 4) The rights of an alien at Passover. The alien can celebrate but must obey the regulations i.e. circumcision. Numbers 9:1-14.


The Cloud Above the Tabernacle


Yahweh’s guidance in the wilderness was a clear and visible sign. (Exodus 40:36). Sometimes the cloud stayed above the tabernacle for two days or only for one evening. But whenever it lifted they moved on. Numbers 9:15-23.


The Silver Trumpets


Everything was now set for the move through the wilderness. Yahweh commands Moses to have two trumpets made. They were to be made of silver. When these were sounded the community knew it was time to move. They were also used to announce feasts and for going into battle. So that the procession was orderly the tribes on the east set off at the first sound of the trumpet. The tribes on the south set out on the second sound. Numbers 10:1-10.





The Israelites Leave Sinai


On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year the cloud lifted and the Israelites set out until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran.

 Numbers 10:11-13.


When on the move the tribes formed up in the following order:-


            The Rear       4th Row         3rd Row       2nd Row       Leading


            Dan              Ephraim          Reuben       Judah        The Levites


            Asher           Manasseh     Simeon        Issachar   Carrying the


            Naphtali       Benjamin         Gad             Zebulun          Ark


Between the 2nd and 3rd rows were the Gershonites and Merarites carrying the

Tabernacle. Between the 3rd & 4th rows  were the Kohathites carrying the tabernacle furnishings. The Gershonites, Merarites and Kohathites were all part of the tribe of Levi. Everything was carefully ordered and everyone knew his place. Numbers 10:14-28.

Moses Appeals to His Brother-in-Law

This is the first mention of Hobab the son of Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro. Perhaps Hobab had been with Moses since soon after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. But now he decides to return home. Moses asks him to stay. It is likely that he will have knowledge of the area they are about to enter and can be helpful in negotiating the terrain. (We know from later chapters that he almost certainly did stay with Moses. Judges 1:16). Numbers 10:29-34.

The Israelites on the Move

Whenever the ark set out, Moses said:

“Rise up, O Lord! May your enemies be scattered! May your foes flee before you.”

Whenever it came to rest, he said,

“Return, O Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel.” Numbers 10:35-36.

These words reinforce the portrayal of Israel as the Lord’s army on the march, with the Lord in the vanguard.

Fire From the Lord


The first ten chapters of Numbers repeatedly emphasise the complete obedience of Moses and the people to the dictates of Yahweh. But only three days into their march, the people reverted to disloyal complaints. They had expressed the same complaints a year earlier only three days after their passing through the waters of the Red Sea and subsequently had complained about the manna and a lack of water. By this new complaining Yahweh’s anger is aroused and He sent ‘fire from the Lord.’ The purging fire was limited to the outskirts of the camp. (The phrase ‘fire from the Lord’ sometimes refers to fire ignited by lightning.) The place was called Taberah (which means ‘burning’). Numbers 11:1-3.


The Israelites complain. They want Meat


The lightning didn’t quieten the Israelites who now become ‘a rabble’ as they complain that they ‘crave for meat.’ In their anger they refer to all the nice things they used to eat in Egypt – “cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic! Now all we have is this manna!” Both Yahweh and Moses found the Israelites attitude a disgrace. They had forgotten the slavery under which the Egyptians kept them. They had also forgotten the miracle of the manna which Yahweh had provided. Numbers 11:4-9.


The Prayer of Moses


Moses speaks to Yahweh “ Why are you treating me so badly?” “The burden of all these people is too much to bear. He asks Yahweh to kill him rather than to continue; “The weight is too much for me”. “Where can I find meat for all these people?” Numbers 11:10-15.


Yahweh Replies


Moses is told to get seventy elders and bring them to The Tent of the Meeting. Yahweh makes Moses’ task easier by sharing it out among the seventy. He also promises so much meat that the people will be sickened of it. Moses seems to doubt Yahweh’s words. “If all the flocks were slaughtered would that be enough for them?” Numbers 11:16-23.


The Spirit is Given to the Elders


The seventy are present when Yahweh sent ‘the spirit’ to them (This is the same Holy Spirit who comes to us in the Sacrament of Confirmation.) The seventy find themselves able to prophesy. The words ‘but only once ’ indicate that the ability to prophesy was short lived but gave them the seal of approval. Numbers 11:24-25.


Eldad & Medad Prophesy


The Spirit also came down on two men who were not part of the seventy but remained in the camp. This shows us that Yahweh can choose whom and when and where he wants. This means that we must always keep ourselves open to Yahweh’s gifts. A young Israelite ran to tell Moses that the two men, Eldad and Medad, were prophesying. In his reply Moses’ true spirit is demonstrated. Rather than being threatened by the gifts of the Spirit given to Eldad and Medad, Moses desired that all God’s people might have the gifts of the Spirit. (This verse is a fitting introduction to the inexcusable challenge to Moses’ leadership which is about to commence. This occurrence is mirrored by Jesus’ answer in Matthew 9:37-38). Numbers 11:26-30.


The Quails


A wind drove in quails from the sea which were gathered by the Israelites. This is similar to the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:5-13) and of the 4,000 (Matthew 15:29-30) except that in the case of the quails Yahweh’s wrath burned against the people because of their complaining. So Yahweh struck them with a severe plague and the place was named ‘Kibroth Hattaavah’ which means ‘graves of craving.’ Numbers 11:31-35.


Miriam and Aaron Criticise Moses


Possibly due to jealousy Miriam and Aaron challenge Moses. As an excuse they use his marriage to Zipporah to attack him. Yahweh calls them to the Tent of the Meeting where He defends Moses and in His anger makes Miriam leprous (she must have been the leader in the rebellion). She is sent out of the camp. But Moses prays for her and his prayer is heard. After seven days her leprosy disappears and she is allowed back. Contained in this chapter are the words ‘Now Moses was a very humble man, the humblest man on earth.’ If we have wondered at Moses’ closeness to Yahweh here is the answer; total humility. (In this passage the meekness and humility of Moses contrasts with the self-assertion of Miriam and Aaron, who wanted to push themselves forward into positions of power). Numbers 12:1-16.


The Reconnaissance in Canaan


Yahweh tells Moses to send men to reconnoitre the land of Canaan with the intention of attacking and winning the land. Yahweh knew exactly what they would find and also knew that they could attack and win. But after all the miracles of the ten plagues and the dividing of the Red Sea it was time for the Israelites to stand on their own feet. One man from each tribe is chosen. Among them, from the tribe of Judah, is Caleb and from the tribe of Ephraim, is Hoshea. Moses changes Hoshea’s name to Joshua which means ‘Yahweh Saves’. (This anticipates the later prominence of Joshua). When they returned all agreed that it was a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ but only Caleb was certain that they could “go up and take possession of the land.” The others reported “All the people we saw there are of great size.” They exaggerated the size by stating “We seemed like grasshoppers…”. Yahweh had promised them this land and by speaking bad things about it, the faithless spies were speaking evil of the Lord. Numbers 13:1-33.


The People Rebel


The unsatisfactory news brought back by the spies leads to the Israelites grumbling against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt!”. They suggest choosing a leader to take them back to Egypt. At this rejection of all that Yahweh had done for them Moses and Aaron ‘fell on their faces’ while Caleb and Joshua ‘tore their clothes’. (Joshua had not been mentioned as returning from the reconnaissance in favour of an attack but he had faith in Yahweh and was totally against the rebellious talk.) There was even talk of stoning Moses, Aaron, Caleb and Joshua when ‘The Glory of Yahweh appeared to all the Israelites’. (The manifestation of God must have been staggering in its sudden and intense display of His majesty and wrath). Once again Yahweh despairs at the lack of faith of His chosen people. He tells Moses that He intends to strike down all the people with a plague. Moses, who always seems to come up with a ready answer, suggests that the news of such action would get back to the Egyptians and to other nations that Yahweh was not able to bring the people to the land He had promised, but had slaughtered them in the desert. Moses refers to Yahweh’s words “Yahweh, God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in faithful love…” (Exodus 34:6-7.) Moses asks for Yahweh’s forgiveness. Numbers 14:1-19.


Pardon and Punishment


Yahweh agrees to forgive but there is a price to be paid: only Caleb and Joshua will live to reach the Promised Land. All the others will die on the way; only their children will survive. To show Yahweh’s disapproval the other ten men responsible for spreading the bad report were struck down. The judgement on the ten evil spies was immediate. Numbers 14:20-38.


An Abortive Attempt by the Israelites


In an act of stubbornness the people set out to enter the Promised Land. They were disobeying the order not to move unless the cloud lifted from the  Tabernacle. Moses warned them that they will be defeated and his words come true. (We are equally stubborn when we sin. Our ‘cloud’ is our conscience which we ignore at our peril). Numbers 14:39-45.


More Laws Concerning Sacrifices and Powers of Priests and Levites


Supplementary Offerings


Chapter 15 is divided into three parts, each introduced by the words ‘The Lord spoke to Moses and said………….’.


The first command is for Cereal Offerings to accompany sacrifices. (Despite the inability of those making the reconnaissance to agree to take the land Yahweh commences His word with “When you have arrived in the country where you are to live….”) Numbers 15:1-16.


The second command is for Yahweh to have a portion of dough set aside for Himself. Before the third command is given Yahweh stresses the importance of obeying the orders He has given. An example is immediately brought to our attention by the Sabbath breaker. A man is caught gathering wood on the Sabbath. He is brought to Moses, Aaron and the whole community. Yahweh commands that the man be stoned to death.(His sin was that of presumption. He knew the law but deliberately refused to obey it). (This command appears harsh especially to us in the twenty-first century where, in many countries, capital punishment has ceased. We can only surmise that Yahweh had to maintain a tight control especially in the rough desert life. Truth of that is soon to come when a revolt takes place.) Numbers 15:17-36.


The third command might seem an unnecessary one – it is to put tassels on the hems of their clothes. The main purpose is that the tassel should include a violet thread which will act as a reminder of Yahweh’s commands. (It was these tassels which the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees made longer and bigger to show their importance. Jesus took them to task at their show of mock humility.) Numbers 15:37-41.


The Rebellion of Korah, Dathan, Abiram and On


A Levite, Korah, and three Reubenites, Dathan, Abiram,and On, along with 250 ‘Israelite men, well-known community leaders’ rebel against Moses. The rebellion seems to have been led by Korah who had ‘high duties in the service of the Lord but desired more.’ His passion was probably to assume the role of a priest. They complain to Moses “You have gone too far!’ Moses’ answer is to set up a trial by fire. The 250 rebels have to come to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting with censers. Aaron will join them there and the Lord will judge. Moses prophesises that if death comes to Korah, Dathan, Abiram and On by some unusual means then he, Moses, is the chosen one of God. Moses even states the method by which Yahweh might punish them; ‘the earth opens its mouth and swallows them’. Yahweh tells Moses that he, Aaron and the assembly must move away from the four rebels and as Moses had predicted the earth opened and swallowed the rebels and their families. Then the 250 and their censers were consumed by fire. Numbers 16:1-35.


The Burnt Censers Are Made Into An Altar Covering


Yahweh instructs that the burnt censers must be hammered into sheets to overlay the altar. This new overlay will be a reminder of the men who had sinned.         Numbers 16:36-40.


Still the People Grumble


The next day the whole Community muttered against Moses and Aaron. (Some of them would have had friends among those who were swallowed up or burned to death). They blame Moses and Aaron for the deaths. As the people banded together the cloud appeared at The Tent of Meeting and ‘the glory of God appeared.’ Yahweh tells Moses and Aaron ‘Get away from this community; I am going to destroy them.’ (How often do we grumble when things don’t go our way. We also deserve God’s anger. Now it will be Mary who intercedes for us.) Numbers 16:41-45.


A Plague and Aaron’s Intercession


Moses and Aaron ‘……threw themselves on their faces.’ A plague broke out and Moses instructs Aaron to take a censer and hurry to perform the rite of expiation. (Leviticus 16). As Aaron offers the incense the plague is stopped but it had killed 14,700 people. (As with many Biblical figures these are subject to query. But even if Yahweh had only killed one person His anger is apparent.)

 Numbers 16:46-50.


The Budding of Aaron’s Staff


Moses wants to bring to an end the endless grumbling over Aaron’s priestly status. He gets twelve staffs, one for each of the tribes of Israel. Aaron’s name was written on the staff of Levi. The staffs are placed in The Tent of Meeting. Whichever staff sprouted would be the one whom Yahweh had chosen. The next day Aaron’s staff had not only sprouted but had produced blossom. The staff is placed by the stones of testimony (the Ten Commandments). This symbolic memorial would stand in opposition to the audacity of anyone who would challenge the Aaronic priesthood. (This compares with the tradition that St Joseph was chosen as husband for Mary by his staff sprouting buds.) Numbers 17:1-13.


Duties and Rights of the Levites


The Levites are associated with the Aaronites (Aaron and his sons) but only as servants. Only the Aaronite priests were privileged to approach the altar. The priests were to be supported in their ministry. Since they did not have any land it was necessary that their means of provision be made clear. Yahweh tells Aaron that all the holy offerings the Israelites give to Him are given in turn by Yahweh to Aaron and his sons and daughters. But if any family members were ceremonially unclean then they were forbidden to eat the offerings. (Leviticus 22:1-3). If we are unclean through serious sin, then we are also forbidden to eat the Body of Christ. Numbers 18:1-13.


Redeeming the First Born


Every firstborn son and male of unclean animals must be redeemed at a price of five silver shekels. Our Redemption is gained by the Grace of Baptism. Numbers 18:14-16.


More Rights of the Levites


The firstborn of oxen, sheep and goats are to belong to the Levites and to their sons and daughters. The ‘covenant of salt’ is a proverbial expression, signifying a covenant not to be altered or corrupted as salt is used to keep things from corruption. Numbers 18:17-19.


Levites to Receive the Tithes of the Israelites


The Levites will have no land but they will receive the tithes which the Israelites offer to Yahweh. Nevertheless the Levites will not be exempt from paying tithes themselves. The Levite’s tithes will go to Aaron. Numbers 18:20-32.


The Red Heifer


The red cow was offered in sacrifice for sin, and consumed with fire outside the camp. By its ashes mingled with water, the unclean were purified. It can be seen as the figure of the Passion of Christ by whose precious blood applied to our souls in the holy sacraments, we are cleansed from our sins.                Numbers 19:1-22.


From Kadesh to Moab


The Waters of Meribah and Moses and Aaron’s Sin


On arrival in Kadesh Miriam dies and is buried. Because there was no water the people once again banded together against Moses and Aaron who ask Yahweh for help. He tells Moses and Aaron to take the staff (the one through which God had performed wonders) and that Moses and Aaron should ‘speak to the rock and water would gush forth.’ But instead of ‘speaking to the rock’ Moses and Aaron had struck it with the staff, not only once, but twice. Some Biblical scholars think that Moses and Aaron not only carried out Yahweh’s orders incorrectly but also with a lack of faith and also in anger. This led to them both being refused entry into the Promised Land. Numbers 20:1-13.


Edom Denies Israel Passage


Moses sends messengers to the king of Edom asking to pass through their territory. The Edomites were descended from Esau the brother of Jacob which is why Moses used the term ‘your brother Israel’. But Edom refused even though Moses promised to ‘use the main road and to pay for any water they used’. To ensure that Israel did not pass throughEdom came out against them with a large army so Israel turned away’. Yahweh obviously did not intend them to pass that way or he would have led them in fighting and defeating Edom’s army. Numbers 20:14-21.




The Death of Aaron


Yahweh predicts Aaron’s death and has his priestly garments put on his son Eleazer thereby passing Aaron’s priestly status to his son. Aaron dies and is mourned for thirty days. (One wonders at Moses’ feelings at the death of his elder brother. Moses was specially chosen by Yahweh but he had relied on Aaron, not only as a spokesman, but as a comrade in times of adversity of which there had been plenty! Also See Page 42 ‘Aaron to be the mouthpiece of Moses.’) Numbers 20:22-29.


Victory Over King Arad


The Canaanite King Arad raided the Israelites and took some captives. Whereas previously Yahweh had predicted defeat for the Israelites (Numbers 14:41-45) now he predicted victory. Israel attacked and won the day. The place was named ‘Hormah’ which means ‘destruction.’  Numbers 21:1-3.


The Bronze Snake


Once again the people complain against Yahweh and against Moses. Yahweh sent venomous snakes among them which bit the people and many died. The people realised that the snakes were their ‘just reward’ for complaining. They ask Moses to intercede for them. Yahweh tells Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Anyone who looks at it will live. (Five hundred and fifty years later, in the reign of Hezekiah the King of Judah, the bronze snake was broken up when it was found that idol worshipers were burning incense to it! [2 Kings 18:4]). Numbers 21:4-9.


Further Travels Towards Transjordan


The cloud must have kept lifting from over the tabernacle because in only a few verses of Numbers the Israelites move on eight times! One of the place names is Beer though such a place is unknown. Perhaps the name came from the Hebrew name for ‘a well’ which is ‘Be-er’.’ Also a collection of war songs is mentioned. They are no longer in existence and are only mentioned on this one occasion in the Old Testament. (It was probably an ancient collection of war songs in praise of God.) Numbers 21:10:20.


Defeat of Sihon and Og


In the same way that Moses had asked permission of the King of Edom to pass through his territory he now asked for similar permission from King Sihon of the Amorites. King Sihon refused. A battle ensued and  the King suffered an overwhelming defeat. In another battle the Israelites defeated King Og of Bashan. The Israelites then took over the cities of that area. Numbers 21:21-35.


Balak & Balaam


The victorious Israelites camp on the doorstep of Balak King of Moab, who sends post-haste for Balaam the diviner to come and curse his enemies. It was a routine business arrangement for the prophet in a day when everyone believed in the power of words (especially formal ‘blessings’ and ‘curses’) to influence events. What is surprising is the disclosure that the source of Balaam’s knowledge is God Himself. Neither bribe nor threat will budge him from the truth as God reveals it to him. Three times Balaam blesses Israel to the increasing anger of Balak.  Numbers 22:1-21.


Balaam’s Donkey


God’s purpose in the story of the donkey seems to be to so impress Balaam that no matter how hard Balak works on him, the prophet will stick to the truth. By the words ‘…the donkey saw the angel…’ we understand that Balaam, the seer, is blind to spiritual reality, but his proverbially dumb beast is able to see the angel of the Lord. As a pagan prophet, Balaam would be a specialist in animal divination, but his animal saw what he was blind to observe. Numbers 22:22-41.


The Oracles


Three times they go through the same ritual. Three times Balaam blesses Israel to the increasing anger of Balak. The fourth oracle tops them all. It predicts a victorious future king who will defeat all Israel’s enemies. (Perhaps fulfilled initially in David but ultimately in the coming Messianic ruler. Israel’s future deliverer will be like a star and sceptre in his royalty and will bring victory over the enemies of his people.) Numbers 23:1-30 & 24:1-19.


Balaam’s Final Oracles


These oracles promise further defeat for Israel’s enemies. Numbers 24:20-25.


Moab Seduces Israel


Balaam had advised the Moab women to seduce the Israelites. (Numbers 31:16). Failing to destroy Israel by pronouncing curses, Balaam seduced Israel by the Canaanite fertility rites of Baal. Balaam is to pay for this seduction with his life. (Numbers 31:8.) Yahweh instructs Moses to put to death all the men who had indulged in sexual immorality with the Moabite women. When this was done Moses, Joshua and Caleb are the only ones left who had come out of Egypt. (As well as sexual immorality the men were also guilty of worshipping Baal which broke their faith with Yahweh.) Numbers 25:1-18.


The Second Census


The numbers were slightly fewer than in the first census. One whole generation had been replaced by another. The purpose of this census was so that the promised land could be shared out fairly according to the size of the different groups. Numbers 26:1-65.


Zelophehad’s Daughters


The rules of inheritance were that on the death of the father the land must pass to the eldest son thereby keeping the land in the tribe. But Zelophehad had died leaving five daughters. In the Near Eastern countries women could not normally inherit land. ‘Moses brought their case before Yahweh’ (Numbers 27:5-6). (The decision is made that the daughters can inherit but, so that the land is safeguarded, they must marry within their tribe. [Numbers 36:2-12]).

Numbers 27:1-11.



Joshua to Succeed Moses


Moses’ life is almost over, as he looks out over the promised land. Joshua, his right-hand man who was also one of the two faithful spies (Numbers 14:6), is God’s choice of successor. He is now invested with authority to lead the nation in Moses’ place. It is a touching thought that Yahweh made provision for Zelophehad’s daughters but there is no provision for Moses. His sin at the waters of Meribah (Numbers 20:1-13), was always before him. (After all the good he had done, the thought of Moses being punished in this way might make us quake at the thought of our own justifiable punishment. But we can have faith in the words of Jesus “When someone is given a great deal, a great deal will be demanded of that person. When someone is entrusted with a great deal, of that person even more will be expected.” [Luke 12:48]. Perhaps, to some extent, those words let us off-the-hook; allow us some hope!) Numbers 27:12-23.


Regulations for Sacrifices


These regulations, which are very detailed, systematise the arrangements of Leviticus 23:13 & 23:17-18. Perhaps the reason for these passages at this time is to give continuity to the impending transition from the leadership of Moses to that of Joshua. Numbers 28:1-31 & 29:1-40.


The Making and Keeping of Vows (but protection for Girls and Women)


If a man makes a vow to Yahweh then it must be kept. If a girl makes a vow it can be nullified by her father. The same appertains to a married woman; her husband can nullify the vow. (This was to protect the girls and women who, in ancient Near Eastern society, were subject to strong social pressures which would leave them without defence.) But a widowed or divorced woman is her own agent in taking the vows. Numbers 30:1-16.


Vengeance on the Midianites


The Midianite women had seduced Israeli men which had also led to them worshipping Baal. Yahweh tells Moses to go to war. (This is Moses’ last action before the end of his life. This action was not motivated by Moses petty jealousy but by a direct command from Yahweh.) Normally women and children were not killed (Deuteronomy 20:14) but on this occasion, at Yahweh’s instruction, only the virgins were saved, as they had not taken part in the seduction. Among the dead was the sorcerer Balaam who thereby had reaped his just deserts for encouraging the Midianite women to seduce the Israeli men. (Whilst the virgins might be relieved to have their lives saved one wonders what their lot would be. They are now slaves of the Israelis. The Bible tells us ‘The [Israelite] soldiers took 32,000 women who had never slept with a man’.) The rest of the plunder taken from the Midianites was shared out among the tribes with the Levites given a special share including items of gold. Numbers 31:1-54.


The Transjordan Tribes


The tribes of Reuben and Gad were herdsmen with large herds and flocks. They had seen the lush land on the East of the Jordan which had already been conquered and knew that it was perfect for their use. So they went to Moses and asked whether they could have that land instead of crossing the Jordan. Moses retold the story of the exploration of Canaan and Yahweh’s anger at the decision not to go at once into the Promised Land (Numbers 14:26-38). Therefore the tribes of Reuben and Gad could not be excused from crossing the Jordan and helping to fight to claim the Promised Land. But once they had done so then they could return to the land which they requested, East of the Jordan. When the agreement was reached half the tribe of Manasseh (one of Joseph’s sons) also joined with Reuben and Gad. Numbers 32:1:42.


Stages in Israel’s Journey


In this chapter are given the names of all the stages in the journey from leaving Egypt to arriving at Moab. They are forty in number. The list is like a litany of the Lord’s deliverance of his people. Numbers 33:1-49.

The Allocation of Canaan, Yahweh’s Order


Yahweh commands that when the Promised Land is being conquered all the  painted images, metal statues and high places must be destroyed. (Complete destruction of ‘high places’ never seemed to happen. They are continually mentioned throughout many of the subsequent chapters. Even Solomon, despite his wisdom, succumbed to them due to his many pagan wives.) Numbers 33:50-56.


The Boundaries of Canaan


Yahweh designates the boundaries of the Promised Land.’ From the south; the Dessert of Zin. On the East; the Salt Sea (Dead Sea). On the North; Hamath (which is in Syria). On the West; The Great Sea (The Mediterranean). Moses divided up the land between the tribes. Numbers 34:1-29.


Towns for the Levites


As the Levites were not included as a ‘tribe’ special arrangements had to be made for them. Yahweh tells Moses to give the Levites towns of their own and they must have pasture land surrounding these towns. By spreading the Levites around throughout the land they would be available to the tribes when they were needed. (In all the Levites were to be given forty-eight towns. Numbers 35:7). Numbers 35:1-5.


Cities of Refuge


Six of the Levitical cities: (three in Trans-Jordan and three in Canaan) were to be cities of refuge where anyone who had accidentally killed someone could escape revenge. These towns of refuge did not give permanent immunity but were to allow the person who had taken life to be safe from his accusers until he stands trial. Numbers 35:6-21.


Laws of the Cities of Refuge


These laws were aimed at reconciling the practice of blood vengeance by the relative of the person who had been killed, with the ethical principle that a person involved in accidental homicide did not deserve death. The words ‘only after the death of the high priest’ may be an adaptation of an older principle of general amnesty at the death of a king and the inauguration of a new reign.     Numbers 35:22-34.




Intermarriage Between the Tribes


This continues the matter of Zelophehad’s daughters from Chapter 27. Yahweh had already ruled that the daughters could inherit (previously only sons were mentioned). Now another query is put to Moses. What if Zelophehad’s daughters married outside their tribe? The land would then be lost to another tribe. Yahweh commands that to safeguard the land the girls must marry within their own tribe. The five daughters, Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah and Noah married their cousins, the sons of their father’s brother. So the land reverted to their tribe of Manasseh. Numbers 36:1-13.


Epilogue on the Book of Numbers


What have we learnt from the Book of Numbers?


We have learnt that time and time again the Israelites disobeyed Yahweh’s commands, broke his Commandments. But that, sometimes at the behest of Moses, Yahweh always forgave his chosen people. We must obey.   


We have learnt that Yahweh insisted that things be done in an orderly manner e.g. the specific arrangements for the tribes to be positioned around the Tabernacle and the order of the tribes when on the move.

(Numbers 2:1-34 and 10:14-28). We must live our lives in an orderly manner.


We have learnt of Yahweh’s rules for purity and cleanliness. Purity of conscience must be uppermost in our minds and hearts at all times.


We have learnt that when the Israelites ‘did their own thing’, Yahweh left them to suffer the consequences, e.g.  the defeat of Israel by the Amalekites and Canaanites. Numbers 14:41.45.


We have learnt that listening to the majority does not necessarily lead to the right decision, e.g. Numbers 13:1-33.


We have learnt that the devil never misses an opportunity to lead us astray, e.g.  Numbers 21:4.9 and 25:1.18.


We have learnt of Yahweh’s plans for the Levitical priests.


We hear Yahweh’s answer to the question of land being lost by marriage outside your own tribe, e.g. (Numbers 36:1-13). Once again nothing is left to chance. Everything is done in an orderly manner.




This book signifies a ‘second law’ because it repeats and emphasises the ordinances given on Mount Sinai with other precepts not previously mentioned. The Hebrews call it ‘Elle Haddebarim’ from the first words of the book ‘These are the words’. The book brings to a close Moses’ leadership which passes to Joshua.


The book is almost entirely made up of addresses delivered by Moses to the people. Before Moses died and handed authority to Joshua it was necessary for Moses to remind the people ‘for a second time’ of The Law. A new generation had grown up in the 38 years since the Law had been received at Sinai. The people needed instructing. 


Moses’ first discourse to the Israelites


The Command to Leave Horeb


Yahweh commands the Israelites to move from the Wilderness of Paran towards the Desert of Negev and to the land which he has promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Deuteronomy 1:1-8.  


The Appointment of Leaders


Moses recalls how, in delegating responsibility, he found relief from the solitary burden of leadership. The wise advice had come from his father-in-law, Jethro. Deuteronomy 1:9-18.


Spies Sent Out


Moses reminds the people of the occasion, thirty-eight years earlier, when spies were sent out to reconnoitre the Promised Land. But only Caleb and Joshua had come back with optimistic reports. All the others had reported that the people they had seen were too strong and too tall and the people grumbled at Yahweh for bringing them out of Egypt. Yahweh was angry and swore that only Caleb and Joshua would live to enter the Promised Land. In answer to Yahweh’s anger the people, realising their sin, went against Yahweh’s advice and went to fight the Amorites. But they only compounded their sin as Yahweh had told them not to go and was not with them and so they were defeated. Going against Yahweh’s commands is both dangerous and useless. (A lesson for us in not going against the Ten Commandments). Deuteronomy 1:19:46.


Wanderings in the Desert


Moses reminds the people of the wanderings from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Plains of Moab, all the while moving nearer to their entry to ‘the promised land.’ Moses’ words include stories of the battles against Sihon, King of Heshbo, and Og, King of Bashan. (A strange thing to find in the Bible: ‘King Og’s bed was made of iron and was more than thirteen feet long…!’ Probably intended to show the strength and power of this king whom they had conquered. Another interpretation is that the ‘bed’ may refer to a sarcophagus). Deuteronomy 2:1-37 & 3:1-11.


Division of the Land


The Reubenites, the Gadites and half the tribe of Manasseh had asked to be given land, which had already been conquered, east of the River Jordan. Yahweh instructs Moses to agree to this provided the men of those tribes cross the Jordan and help to fight for the land of the Canaanites. Once the land is won they may return to their families and to the land east of the Jordan. Deuteronomy 3:12-20.


Moses Forbidden to Cross the Jordan


Moses tells the people how he pleaded with Yahweh to be allowed to cross the River Jordan. Yahweh replied “Enough! Do not mention this subject again!” Yahweh had been angry with Moses when, in a wrong spirit, he struck the rock at Meribah to get water. Moses ‘wrong spirit’ had been caused by the stubbornness of the Israelites. Now he tells them it is ‘because of you’ that I am not being allowed to cross the River Jordan. Instead of crossing the Jordan Moses must prepare Joshua to lead the people. Was Moses ‘passing the buck,’ trying to make someone else responsible for his disobedience? We do that when we fail to admit our sin and put the blame onto others. Deuteronomy 3:21-29.


Obedience Commanded


Moses calls the nation to obedience and warns against idolatry. Moses recounted the history of Yahweh’s dealings with Israel over the past 40 years. Now he reminds them of Yahweh’s character as shown in his acts, and warns of the inevitable consequences of disobedience. ‘Yahweh is the true God, in heaven above as on the earth beneath, He and no other. Keep his laws and commandments……so that it may go well with you…..’ Deuteronomy 4:1-40.


Cities of Refuge East of the Jordan


Anyone requiring sanctuary West of the Jordan had been cared for. (Numbers 35:11). Now the same is arranged for those tribes who were settling East of the Jordan. Three cities are designated. Deuteronomy 4:41-43.


Moses’ Second Discourse to the Israelites  


The first verses at the start of this discourse introduce the re-stating of the covenant which Moses gave to the people before they crossed the Jordan, in order to remind them of God’s faithfulness to them as well as their covenant responsibilities. Deuteronomy 4:44-49.


The Ten Commandments


Moses summoned all the Israelites and restated the Ten Commandments. The St Augustine list (see pages 57/58/59) in Exodus differs slightly from that in Deuteronomy. The differences are as follows:-


                           Exodus                                 Deuteronomy


  1                                          1 & 2                                         

  2                                             3

  3                                             4

 4                                             5  

 5                                             6

  6                                             7

  7                                             8 

  8                                             9

                              9&10                                        10


These small differences make no difference. No commandment has been omitted.


There are some interesting minor changes in the wording of some of the Commandments. Under the Sabbath Law Moses adds ‘so that your manservant and your maidservant may rest, as you do,’ and ‘Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.’ We may wonder whether the Israelites were using their servants to work when they should have been resting. Hence Moses adds these words as a reminder that the law was for everyone.


Under ‘respect for parents’, after the words ‘that you may live long’ Moses adds ‘and that it may go well with you.’ Deuteronomy 5:1-33.


Love the Lord Your God


Moses reminds the people of The Greatest Commandment and that they must teach it to future generations. Jesus said that the whole law could be summed up in verse 6:5 ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’ and (Leviticus 19:18) ‘…love your neighbour as yourself…..’ (Matthew 22:37-40). The words ‘Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads’ (Deuteronomy 6:8) are the reason for the arm bands and phylacteries which the Jews wear when they are praying. Deuteronomy 6:1-25.


Driving Out the Nations


Moses now talks of the future. His apparent knowledge of the future and of the traps into which the Israelites will fall shows that this knowledge must have come from God. The commands include:-


The nations in the Promised Land must be driven out. They must be totally destroyed.


Make no treaty with them. The Israelites broke this command when they were tricked into making a treaty with the Gibeonites. (Joshua 9:1-27.)


Do not intermarry. (That this command is given shows that the first command was not going to be kept. If they had ‘totally destroyed’ their enemies there would be no-one to intermarry with.)


Break down their altars. Time and time again this command is repeated. Yahweh commands total obedience. But the ‘high places’ (which were where the pagan idols were kept) were never eliminated. Eventually even Solomon, despite his wisdom, falls prey to honouring the ‘high places’ in order to placate his pagan wives.


Do not covet the silver and gold which adorn the pagans’ idols. This command was ignored by Achan which lost the Israelites the battle with Ai and cost Achan his life. (Joshua 7:1-26). Deuteronomy 7:1-26.  


Do Not Forget the Lord


God is driving out the nations before you because of their wickedness not because of your righteousness. Deuteronomy 8:1-20 & 9:1-6.


The Golden Calf


Moses recounts how he had been up the mountain. He had fasted for forty days and nights with neither bread nor water. Yahweh had given him two tablets of stone ‘the tablets of the covenant….inscribed by the finger of God ’. But Yahweh told Moses ‘[they] have become corrupt……and have made a cast idol for themselves; Yahweh wanted to destroy the Israelites. Moses came down the mountain, broke the tablets into piece: symbolic of the way the Israelites had broken the covenant. Moses had burnt the idol. Deuteronomy 9:7-17.


Moses Placates Yahweh’s Anger


Moses returned up the mountain. He then appealed to Yahweh not to destroy the people he had led out of Egypt. Yahweh told Moses to chisel two stone tablets. (The original tablets had been ‘inscribed by the finger of God.’) The first tablets were written by God’s Will. The second tablets are written by our Free Will. The tablets were placed in The Ark. Deuteronomy 9:18-29 & 10:1-5. 


Aaron Dies


Moses’ brother, Aaron, dies and is succeeded by his son, Eleazer. (Aaron’s death must have been an emotional time for Moses. Aaron had been the spokesman and, especially at the time of the plagues in Egypt, he must have been a great support for Moses). The Israelites move on. It was at this time that the Lord set apart Levi and his tribe to carry the Ark of the Covenant, to stand before the Lord to minister and to pronounce blessings. Deuteronomy 10:6-9.


Moses on the Mountain


Moses stayed on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. The Lord listened to Moses’ pleading and He did not destroy the people. “Go” said the Lord. Lead the people on their way.” Deuteronomy 10:10-11.


Fear the Lord


Verses 12 to 15  form the basis of Christian love and obedience to God and His love for us. Deuteronomy 10:12-15.


Circumcise your Hearts:  An Exhortation to Obedience


‘If your hearts are hardened and if you are stiff necked then you are shutting God out of your lives and living selfishly.’ God reminds the people of the seventy who went down to join Joseph in Egypt. Now they number many thousands. Yahweh had kept His word to Abraham. (Genesis 12:2). Deuteronomy 10:16-22.


Promised Blessings


This chapter reminds the people of all that Yahweh has done for them and the blessings He has given them. The blessings and curses proclaimed on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal (Deuteronomy 11:26-30) are detailed in Chapters 27& 28. Deuteronomy 11:1-32.


The One and Only Sanctuary


All the places where the Canaanites practised their depraved rites are to be wiped out. (Deuteronomy 12:1-14). Meat was not a staple food for the ordinary Israelite, but all enjoyed it at feasts and sacrifices. Deuteronomy 12:1-14.


You Must Not Eat Blood


On the matter of the blood, we refer to Leviticus 17:10. ‘Any Israelite or any alien living with them who eats any blood – I will set my face against that person……  Deuteronomy 12:15-28.



Destroy Any Who Entice You to False Religions


The danger of being enticed away to false religions was very real. Anyone found to have done this must be destroyed. ‘They even burn their sons and daughters’ refers to those who sacrifice their children by fire.

Deuteronomy 12:29-32 & 13:1-18.


Clean and Unclean Animals


The regulations regarding clean and unclean foods were intended to separate Israel from things the Lord had identified as detestable and ceremonially unclean. The subject of clean and unclean food is dealt with in greater detail in Leviticus, Chapter 11. See pages 76/77.


Do not eat anything you find already deadbecause the dead animal’s

blood would not be properly drained. Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk – Perhaps a protest against a Canaanite pagan ritual.             Deuteronomy 14:1-21.


The Yearly Tithes


The Tithe is paid to the owner of the land: it is therefore due to Yahweh who owns the land of Israel. The produce of the land is tithed and the tithe taken to the Temple. Ever third year, according to; Deuteronomy 28:29, it becomes the property of the poor. The tithe is paid to the Levites Numbers 18:21-32  who make a tenth of it over to the priests. According to Leviticus 27:32-33, the value of cattle is to be included in the tithe. Deuteronomy 14:22-29.


The Sabbatical Year


At the end of seven years anyone holding a personal pledge ‘from his fellow’ (which means from a fellow Israelite) must release him from it. In the case of non-payment the debtor sometimes made an agreement to hand over one of his children as a slave, or himself to work for his creditor. But the explanation of ‘require payment from a foreigner’ is that he would not be subject to the command to allow his fields to lie fallow after the seventh year, [Exodus 23:11] and is therefore assumed to be financially able to pay his debts. Deuteronomy 15:1-5.


Lend but not Borrow


Lend to many nations but borrow from none. This is to try and ensure that no nation gains control of Israel. (In chapter 28:43-44 we learn of the reverse situation.) Deuteronomy 15:6.


Looking After The Poor


Even in the best societies under the most enlightened laws, the uncertainties of life and the variations among citizens result in some people becoming poor. In such cases the Lord commands that generosity and kindness be extended to them. Deuteronomy 15:7-11.





Freeing Servants


A fellow Hebrew who has been your slave must be released in the seventh year and he must not go away empty handed. Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt. ‘To Remember’ is a common theme in Deuteronomy. But a slave who loves you may want to stay with you Then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe. This strange ritual is first mentioned in Exodus 21:6. (The ear is considered to be the organ of obedience. The slave is firstly taken ‘before God,’ perhaps to the temple, and then at the door post of the master’s house his ear is pierced with an awl. The purpose may have been to attach a metal tag. The slave will then permanently belong to the master). Deuteronomy 15:12-17.


Slave Cheaper than Hired Hand


Do not consider it a hardship to set your slave free because his service…has been worth twice as much as a hired hand. According to Exodus 21:32 a slave cost 30 shekels. At that time the annual wage for a hired hand was 10 shekels. In six years the cost of the slave remains at 30 shekels but the hired hand would have cost 60 shekels! Deuteronomy 15:18.


The First Born of The Herds


Because Yahweh saved His people from the plague of the death of the firstborn in Egypt, so the firstborn male of ‘herds and flocks’ must be sacrificed to God. But any animal with a defect must not be offered for sacrifice. (Another example of Yahweh’s command for perfection. The Ten Commandments give us the same message for perfection).

Deuteronomy 15:19-23.


The Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread


As mentioned on Page 47 these feasts used to be celebrated separately though very close to each other. Their purposes were similar. The Passover celebrated the ‘deliverance’ from Egypt. The Unleavened Bread celebrated the ‘haste’ by which the deliverance was made. Later the two feasts were combined and instead of being sacrificed in the family home the command was ‘eat it at a place the Lord your God will choose.’ This prepares the way for pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem. Also these were no longer to be ‘men only’ feasts. They are to be enjoyed ‘with your children, your servants and the Levites, foreigners, orphans and widows who live in your town.’ (We have to assume that wives are included!) Deuteronomy 16:1-17.


Appoint Judges


Judges did not appear until Joshua’s death. Nevertheless they are mentioned here. (Deuteronomy not only looks back and reminds about previous commands but also gives instructions for the future.)          Deuteronomy 16:18-20.


Worshipping Other Gods Forbidden


Two Canaanite pagan shrines are mentioned – Asherah Poles and Sacred Stones. Deuteronomy 16:21-22.


Punishment for Idolatry


After the matter has been thoroughly investigated anyone found guilty of bowing down to idols must be stoned to death but there must be a least two witnesses. The evidence of one witness alone will not qualify. This is obviously as a safety-valve against personal animosity. Deuteronomy 17:8-13.


The King


“A king like all nations have that are round about”. Joshua and a succession of judges were chosen directly by the Lord to govern Israel on His behalf. As Gideon later said “The Lord will rule over you.” (Judges 8.23). However Moses anticipates a time when, contrary to the Lord’s ideal for them, the people will ask for a king. Here Moses gives guidance concerning the eventual selection of a king. Deuteronomy 17:14-20.


The Levitical Priesthood


According to Deuteronomy all members of the tribe of Levi belong to the priesthood - hence the expression ‘Levitical Priesthood.’ But they may exercise their priestly functions only in Jerusalem where they draw their living from the altar. There were too many of them for all to be employed in the Temple; many lived in the provinces, and like the stranger, the widow and the orphan, they were recommended to the charity of the Israelites. Deuteronomy 18:1-5.


The Levitical Priests and the Levis


At this time a distinction between the Temple Levitical Priests and the members of the tribe of Levi did not exist, although it is anticipated by the actual distinction between those who serve the sanctuary in Jerusalem and those other members of the tribe who are scattered about the country.  Deuteronomy 18:6-8.


Detestable Practices


What follows is the most complete list of magical or spirit-arts in the Old Testament. All were practised in Canaan, and all are condemned and prohibited. The people are not to resort to such sources but they are to listen to the Lord’s true prophets. (The list includes ‘child sacrifice’ which was considered to be the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ especially the sacrifice of the eldest son [1 Kings 16:34] & [2 Kings 3:27]) Deuteronomy 18:9-13.




A true prophet is one like Moses: his words are proved true by events. The death penalty threatens those not commissioned by Yahweh. The true prophet will be known when his words are fulfilled. (Despite the jealousy of the Pharisees and Sadducees Jesus’ words and actions were always fulfilled.) Deuteronomy 18:14-22.






Cities of Refuge


Three cities of refugee in Canaan are added to the three east of the Jordan. Joshua lists the six cities as Kedesh, Shechem, Kiriath-arba, (Hebron) Bezer, Ramoth and Golan. Deuteronomy 19:1-13.


Boundary Stones


Such stones were set up to indicate the perimeters of fields and landed estates. Moving them illegally to increase one’s own holding was considered a serious crime. Deuteronomy 19:14.




This repeats that which was stated in 17:6. There must always be a least two witnesses. The evidence of one is not acceptable. A witness discovered to be a liar will have done to him what was intended for the accused. Deuteronomy 19:15-21.


Rules for War


The text envisages a holy war. God goes with the army and gives the victory. Those who have built a new house or planted a new vineyard, the newly married and the fainthearted are excused military service.              Deuteronomy 20:1-9.


Rules for Attacking Distant Towns


When preparing to attack distant towns they should be offered peace terms. If these are accepted then the people will become forced labour.

Deuteronomy 20:10-15.


Rules for Attacking Towns Close By


But when attacking towns close by, which God is giving you as your heritage then their lives must not be spared or they will teach you to do detestable things. (So must the towns of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jesubites be dealt with.) Deuteronomy 20:16-18.


The Protection of Trees


‘When at war…you must not destroy trees…’ The failure of later armies to follow this wise rule stripped Palestine of its woodlands.’ Deuteronomy 20:19-20.


The Unidentified Murderer


If someone is found murdered, then the elders must locate the nearest town. The elders of that town must bring a heifer to the place of the murder and bludgeon it to death. This is not a sacrifice but appears to be an old magical rite which has been assimilated into the Hebrew faith, where the animal plays the part of the guilty party. Deuteronomy 21:1-9.


Women Taken in War


These are women taken outside Canaan otherwise they would be killed. Such a woman can be taken as a wife. She must shave her head (either as a sign of mourning or of the start of a new life but also as a sign of change of religion and/or nationality). Only after a month can the man have intercourse with her. If later, for whatever reason, he puts her away then she must be free to go ‘since the man has dishonoured her.’ Such a woman must not become a slave.

Deuteronomy 21:10-14.


The Right of the Firstborn


A man must not give preference to the son of his favourite wife if that is not his eldest son. Wills must give a double portion to the eldest son. (Luke 12:13.) (Though this was sometimes set aside with divine approval – e.g. Jacob, Solomon). Deuteronomy 21:15-17.


A Rebellious Son


Such a son must be taken by his parents to the elders (‘at the gate’ - the recognised meeting place for disputes to be settled.) The son would be stoned to death. This indicates a most dramatic change between the Old Testament Law and the Love, Peace and Forgiveness which Jesus preached.  Deuteronomy 21:18-21.


A Man Who Has Been Executed


The body of a man who has been executed is hung on a tree but must be cut down and buried before nightfall. Leaving the body hanging only adds to the man’s crime for which he has already paid with his life. (One thousand three hundred years later Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross before nightfall). Deuteronomy 21:22-23.


Care for Animals, Our Brother’s Possessions and Those Who Work on Our Property


Compassion and care must be paramount whether it be towards animals

or our brother’s cloak or those who use the roof of our house. (Roofs were used for sleeping.)  Deuteronomy 22:1-4 & 22:6-8.


Cross Dressing Forbidden


This is probably an illusion to immoral practices in Canaanite religions and also as a prohibition against transvestism and homosexuality.

Deuteronomy 22:5.


Sowing Two Kinds of Seeds in your Vineyard


By the law given in Leviticus 19:23 new fruit must not be used in the first three years. In the fourth year the crop goes to Yahweh and only in the fifth year can it be used commercially. Mixing two kinds of seeds would make this law impossible to maintain. Deuteronomy 22:9.


Obscure Prohibitions


Not ploughing with a ox and donkey together may be due to one animal being weaker than the other. Not wearing clothing part of wool part of linen; possibly survival of a primitive command. Make tassels for the four corners of the cloak; another primitive command or to remind the wearer of the duty of observing the law. Deuteronomy 22:10-12.


Marriage Violations


Violations named consist of a man claiming that his wife was not a virgin when they married; the parents must produce the blood stained bed covering. If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife; both must die. If a man sleeps with a virgin pledged to be married; and this happened in a town and the girl did not scream for help; both must die. If a man sleeps with a virgin in the country where, even if she did scream, she could not be heard; only the man must die. If a man rapes a girl not pledged to be married; he must marry the girl and can never divorce her.  A man may not marry his father’s wife. (This does not necessarily mean ‘his mother’ as the father may have had more than one wife). ‘…...he must not withdraw the skirt of his father’s cloak from her.’ To spread the fold of the cloak over a woman signifies marriage. To withdraw the fold signifies the opposite – namely, violation of a husband’s rights.

Deuteronomy 22:13-30.     


Exclusion from the Assembly


These are old rules for deciding doubtful cases regarding participation in the assemblies of the Israelite community.


Eunuchs are to be excluded though Isaiah 56:4 indicates that they have not been rejected. They were also excluded because they would not be allowed in the priesthood which requires perfection.


The Ammonite and Moabites are excluded because, during the wanderings in the desert, they did not give sustenance to the Israelites.


The Edomites were not to be excluded. The Edomites came from Jacob’s brother Esau. Whilst there had previously been animosity between them, they had been united. That Egypt was regarded not to be excluded may be due to a treaty made after the settlement in the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy 23:1-9.  


Sanitary Conditions in the Military Camp


With leprosy being endemic every precaution had to be taken. For similar rules for the people see (Leviticus 15). Deuteronomy 23:10-14.


Miscellaneous Laws (Humanitarianism)


If a foreign slave takes refuge in your house (a slave seeking freedom in Israel) you must give him protection. Do not hand him over to his master. Deuteronomy 23:15-16.


Prostitution is abhorrent to Yahweh. Deuteronomy 23:17-18.


Do not charge interest to a brother Israelite. You may charge interest to a foreigner. (A foreign businessman would come to Israel for financial advantage and so would be subject to pay interest.) Deuteronomy 23:19-20.


For details on’ Vows’ see (Numbers 30). Deuteronomy 23:21-23.


The right to pick grapes and corn from your neighbours fields are two laws in favour of the poor. Deuteronomy 23:24-25.


Laws Concerning Divorce


In the books of Moses divorce was permitted and regulated. But Jesus, in the Sermon of the Mount cited the higher law of creation (Matthew 19:3-9). Deuteronomy 24:1-4.


A man newly married is not to be sent to war for twelve months. (Marital bliss was held in high regard.) Deuteronomy 24:5.


A pair of millstones, or even single one, must not be taken as security for a debt. To do so would be to take away a person’s ability to earn a living.

Deuteronomy 24:6.


Making a fellow Israelite a slave is forbidden. Deuteronomy 24:7.


Leprosy had to be very carefully monitored. (It is amazing that over three thousand years later it has not been eradicated. If the Israelites had not taken precautions the situation today would probably be even worse.)  Deuteronomy 24:8-9. 


In the matter of ‘loans’ and ‘pledges’ the Israelites are told to ‘remember’ – which means ‘remembering’ the Lord’s past redemptive acts – especially how he delivered them from slavery in Egypt. (This is a common theme in Deuteronomy.) Deuteronomy 24:10-13.


For the poor the usual pledge was the outer garment, which must be returned at nightfall. Deuteronomy 24:14-15.


Fathers and sons must die for their own sins not for each others sins. Deuteronomy 24:16.


When the Israelites were in trouble the Lord helped them. Therefore they were not to take advantage of others in trouble. (Another reminder to try to  ‘remember’). Deuteronomy 24:17-18.


‘Remember’ to leave some sheafs, olives and grapes for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. Deuteronomy 24:19-22.


Administration of Justice


Corporal punishment must be carried out in the presence of a judge and must not exceed 40 strokes – later 39 to avoid inadvertently exceeding the limit. (The same maximum appears in Middle Assyrian Laws).

Deuteronomy 25:1-3.


Deuteronomy’s concern for animal welfare. ‘Do not muzzle an ox……’

Deuteronomy 25:4.


A widow must marry the brother of her deceased husband so that there was continuity of family ownership. Deuteronomy 25:5-6.


‘……take the sandal off his foot, spit in his face….’ This gesture of renunciation is accompanied by a contemptuous act. The legal consequences are not clear but probably the widow retained possession of the husband’s property. Deuteronomy 25:7-10.


The Assyrians had the same law; that a woman was not allowed to assist her husband who was losing a fight by seizing his assailants private parts. Cutting off her hand seems very harshbut it shows how serious 8t was to be denied the power of reproduction and suggests that God was not in sympathy with the making of eunuchs which was common at that time. Deuteronomy 25:11-12.


Total honesty is called for. For the Lord your God detests anyone….who deals dishonestly. Deuteronomy 25:13-16.


Once again a command to ‘remember’. This time to ‘remember’ to wreak vengeance on the Amalekites who had attacked the Israelites when they were ‘weary and worn out.’ Deuteronomy 25:17-19.


Concerning First Fruits and Tithes


The firstborn of man and beast belongs to God. Most of this chapter is a repeat of what has already been stated in the earlier chapters of Exodus 22:29: 23:19: 34:26: Leviticus 2:12. 2:14: 23:10-17. & Deuteronomy 18:4. This event is linked to the entry into the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 26:1-11.


The Third Year Tithe


This is a repeat of Deuteronomy 14:22-29. Deuteronomy 26:12-15.


Follow the Lord’s Commands


This chapter is the Deuteronomic Code set out as a Covenant. Yahweh will be the God of Israel, and Israel will be his people, on condition that the latter keep the commandments. Blessings and curses are the sanctions for the observance of the contract. Deuteronomy 26:16-19.


The Altar on Mount Ebal


Setting up stones inscribed with messages to be remembered was a common practice in the ancient Near East. ‘….coat them with plaster…’ so that the writing inscribed on them would stand out clearly and be preserved. Deuteronomy 27:1-8


On Entering Canaan


Moses points to two distant mountains either side of Shechem in the hills of Samaria. From Gerizim the blessings are to be pronounced, from Ebal the curses. With six tribes on either mountain, the Levites are to pronounce God’s curse on 12 infringements of the law, the people adding their ‘Amen’ – ‘So be it.’ Four of these (five if moving a boundary mark is seen as theft) relate to the Ten Commandments: idolatry, respect for parents, murder (in secret or as a paid hit-man). Four concern forbidden sexual relations. Two are humanitarian. And the final one is a catch-all. See Joshua 8:30-35 for an account of the actual event. Deuteronomy 27:9-26.


Blessings for Obedience – Curses for Disobedience


The blessings in verses 3-14 are the opposite of the curses in 15-44. (Compare verses 3-6 to verses 16-19. They have the same rhythmic pattern). Six blessings ‘if you obey’ are announced. These are material blessings of peace, prosperity, a fruitful land, children and victory in war. Above all ‘God will make you his own people.’ The remainder of the chapter spells out the

consequences of disobedience. The curses are disease, famine, defeat, subservience, ultimate exile, loss of homeland and loss of all the joys of life. (Some of this catalogue of horrors was to befall the people even to the obscenities of siege. See 2 Kings 6:24-29 regarding ‘eating your sons and daughters.’) Deuteronomy 28:1-68.


Renewal of the Covenant


As Moses’ life is drawing to a close he puts his whole heart into this final appeal. He pleads(Deuteronomy 29:1-15. He warns Deuteronomy 29:16-29. He encourages Deuteronomy 30:1-14. God is ready to forgive and restore even those who have forsaken Him. He confronts them with a choice: either life (loving God and keeping his Commandments) or death (forsaking God), blessing or curse Deuteronomy 30:15-20. Deuteronomy 29:1-30 & 30:1-20.


Third and Last Discourse of Moses and His Death


Joshua to Succeed Moses


Joshua is formally appointed and commissioned by God as the people’s new leader. “Be strong”, “Don’t be discouraged”, Moses tells him, “God Himself will be with you.” Deuteronomy 31:1-8.


The Reading of The Law


Moses ‘wrote down this law and gave it to the priests.’ Ancient treaties specified that a copy of the treaty was to be placed before the gods at the religious centres of the nations involved. For Israel that meant placing it in the ark of the covenant. The priests are commanded to read the law to the people every seventh year at the Feast of Tabernacles. Deuteronomy 31:9-13.


Israel’s Rebellion Predicted 


Moses knows the people and their weakness at keeping to the law “For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are.” “For I know that after my death you are certain to grow corrupt; you will leave the way which I have marked out for you; in the final days disaster will befall you for having done what is evil in Yahweh’s eyes. Deuteronomy 31:14-30.


The Song of Moses


The great canticle of Moses celebrates the unique power of the God of Israel, the one true God. As Moses had sung the song of victory at the escape from Egypt (Exodus 15) he now sings a last song – record of disobedience. Biblical scholars suggest that the poem, in its present form, was added at a later date. They say that ‘The text has undergone extensive disturbance….’ (The New Jerome Biblical Commentary Page 108 chapter 57) Deuteronomy 32:1-44.


The Law, the Source of Life


These words of Moses are intended to follow Deuteronomy 31.30 and not the Song. He encourages the people to keep the Law. Deuteronomy 32:45-47.



Moses’ Death Foretold


Yahweh tells Moses to go to Mount Nebo where he will die. From there he will be able to see the Promised Land. We are again reminded of when Moses’ ‘broke faith’ by a lack of belief at Meribah Kadesh. (Exodus 17:7).

Deuteronomy 32:48-52.


Moses Blesses the Tribes

After all the warnings this last blessing, although difficult to interpret, looks forward to a great and glorious future for Israel. From the historical allusions to the different tribes, it seems to focus on a time when the tribes had settled, maybe the 11th century B.C. Jacob’s son Simeon is not mentioned, his people were later absorbed by the tribe of Judah. The blessing begins and ends with praise to God, the source of all security and prosperity for His people. (It is interesting to compare this blessing with that of Jacob in Genesis 49:1). Deuteronomy 33:1-29.

The Death of Moses

In obedience to Yahweh Moses climbs Mount Nebo from where he can see the Promised Land of which the words of Genesis 13:14-15 spoke “Yahweh said to Abraham after Lot had parted company from him, look all around from  where you are, to north, and south, to east and west, for all the land within sight I shall give to you and your descendants for ever.”

Moses’ last act before his death is to lay his hands on Joshua which, signifies both his being appointed by the spirit of wisdom and entitles him to be obeyed.

Although Moses was stated to be ‘one hundred and twenty years old’ it is made clear that ‘he died, his eye undimmed, his vigour unimpaired.’This makes it the more poignant that he was not allowed to pass into the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 34:1-9.

Moses was mourned for thirty days

The End of Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch

The final three verses are the finale of the Pentateuch as a whole. Moses is highly praised. ‘There has never been such a prophet in Israel as Moses, the man whom Yahweh knew face to face.’ (Numbers 12:8). Deuteronomy 34:10-12.






Major Social Concerns in the Covenant


Personal Security                                   Rest on Sabbath

Everyone’s person is to                            Everyone. down to the humblest

be secure. (Ex 20:13; Dt 5:17;                      servant, and the resident alien,

Ex 21:16-21, 26:31; Lev 19:14;                        is to share in the weekly rest.

Dt 24:7; 27:18).                                                     (Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:12-15; Ex 23:12).


False Accusation                                    Marriage

Everyone is to be secure                         The marriage relationship is

against slander and false                         to be kept inviolate.

accusation. (Ex 20:16; Dt 5:20;                         (Ex 20:14; Dt 5:18; see also Lev 18:6-23;

Ex 23:1-3; Lev 19:16; Dt 19:15-21).                      & 20:10-21;  Dt 22:13-30).


Woman                                                                                                                                                                   Exploitation

No woman is to be taken                         No-one, however disabled,

advantage of because of her                   impoverished or powerless

subordinate status in society.                  is to be oppressed or exploited.

Ex 21:7-11; 20, 26-32; 22:16:17;                          Ex 22:21-27; Lev 19:14, 33-24; 25:35-36;

Dt 21:10-14 22: 13-30; 24:1-5).                             Dt 23:19; 24:6, 12-15; 17; 27:18).


Punishment                                            Fair Trial

Punishment for wrongdoing shall            Everyone is to have free access to

not be excessive so that the                    the courts and is to be afforded a 

culprit is dehumanised.(Dt 25:1.5).          fair trial.(Ex 23:6, 8; Lev 19:15; Dt 1:17;

                                                                             10;17-18; 16::18-20; 17:8-13; 19:15-21.                                                 


 Dignity                                                    Social Order

Every Israelite’s dignity and right             Every person’s God-given place in

to be God’s freedman and                       the social order is to be honoured.

servant are to be honoured and              (Ex 20:12; Dt 5:16; Ex 21:15, 17, 22:28;  

safeguarded. (Ex 21:2, 5-6; Lev 25;                 Lev 19:3, 32, 20:9; Dt 17:8-13; 21:15-21;16).

Dt 15:12-18).


Inheritance                                              Law

Every Israelite’s inheritance in                 No-one shall be above the law,

the promised land is to be secure.           not even the king.

(Lev 25; Nu 27:5-7; 36:1-9; Dt 25:5-10).               (Dt 17:18-20).


Property                                                                                                                                                      Fruit of Labour

Everyone’s property is to                         Everyone is to receive the fruit of his     

be secure. (Ex 20:15; Dt 5:19;      :                    labours. Lev 19:13; Dt 24:14; 25:4).

Ex 21:33-36; 22:1-15; 23:4-5;

Lev 19:35-36; Dt 22:1-4; 25:13-15.


Fruit of the Ground                                                                                       Animals

Everyone is to share the fruit                 Concern for the welfare of other

of the ground. (Ex 23:10-11;                           creatures is to be extended to

Lev 19:9-10; 23:22; 25:3-55;                               the animal world. (Ex 23:5, 11;

Dt 14:28-29; 24:19-21).                                       Lev 25:7: Dt 22:4, 6-7; 25:4).                             


Reading these details of the Covenant makes one realise how perfect it is. If only the Israelites had kept to it. Even today the Covenant stands as a way forward for the whole world and especially for the situations in Palestine/Israel, Iraq and Northern Ireland.





Seeing the crowds he went onto the mountain. And when he was seated his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:


How blessed are the poor in spirit.

 the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Blessed are the gentle:

 They shall have the earth for their inheritance.

Blessed are those who mourn

 they shall be comforted.

Blessed are those who hunger

 and thirst for uprightness

 they shall have their fill.

Blessed are the merciful

 they shall have mercy shown them.

Blessed are the pure in heart

 they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers

 they shall be recognised as children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted

  in the cause of uprightness

  the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Blessed are you when people abuse you

 and persecute you and speak all kinds of

 calumny against you falsely on my account.

Rejoice and be glad,

 for your reward will be great in heaven;

 this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.


Matthew 5:1-12.



In the Beatitudes Jesus turns ordinary human, and especially Jewish, ideas about happiness upside down. The Jews thought that poverty was a curse from God. But Matthew’s Gospel totally dispels that suggestion.


The original beatitudes about the ‘poor’, the ‘mourners’ and the ‘hungry’ express Jesus’ mission to the needy in Israel and the dawn of a new era of salvation history.


All three refer to the same people. The poor are happy not because they are morally better than the others but because of God’s special care for them. The long, last beatitude, about the persecuted, reflects the experience of martyrdom in the early church.


So it is not the rich, the ruthless, the powerful who are really ‘well off’. The genuinely fortunate are those who recognise their dependence on God – the ‘poor in spirit’ – trusting in God and not their own resources. The hallmarks of God’s people are ‘suffering’, ‘meekness’, ‘a longing to be right with God’ and to ‘see right prevail’, ‘readiness to forgive,’ ‘having their hearts set on God’ and ‘peacemaking’.




Their reward will be to receive what they long for. And their lives are effective in the world: they put the seasoning into life, they stop the rot, they light up the way. By

what they do and say and how they react, they reflect something of what God Himself is like – so that others see and give God the credit.


Perhaps we can have a greater understanding of the Beatitudes by examining them line by line:-


‘Seeing the crowds he went onto the mountain’


The exact location is uncertain. It may have been the gently sloping hillside at the north-west corner of the Sea of Galilee, not far from Capernaum.


‘And when he was seated’


Being ‘seated’ was the recognised position for a teacher.


‘His disciples came to him’


This might make it appear that only the disciples were present. But later we read ‘When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.’ 7:28:29. Matthew was making it clear that all the disciples had heard his words.


‘Then he began to speak  This is what he taught them’


Note the word ‘taught’. This indicates that Jesus was about to tell them something new; something not necessarily contained in the Old Testament.


‘How blessed are the poor in spirit:

  the kingdom of heaven is theirs’


Being ‘blessed’ means more than just being ‘happy’ because happiness is an emotion often dependent on outward circumstances. The ‘blessed’ here refers to the ultimate well-being and distinctive spiritual joy of those who are to share in the salvation of the kingdom of God. They are ‘poor in spirit’ in contrast to the spiritually proud and self-sufficient. ….‘the kingdom of heaven is theirs.’ The Kingdom is not something which they have earned. It is more of a gift than a recompense.


‘Blessed are the gentle,

  they shall have the earth as inheritance’


‘Gentle’ meaning ‘humble, unassuming, undemanding.’ Those who ‘demand their rights’ will have to wait until the ‘gentle’ have been given their reward.


‘Blessed are those who mourn:

 they shall be comforted’


The first mourners were those who saw evil reign on earth (originally, over Israel). But at the end of time all who have experienced deep sorrow will receive comfort. Jesus, who would have mourned at the death of Joseph, realises the heartfelt sadness which is felt and offers comfort.


‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for uprightness:

 they shall have their fill’


The ‘hunger and thirst’ referred to is for ‘justice’. Those who seek justice will have justice shown to them.


‘Blessed are the merciful:

 they shall have mercy shown them’


To be merciful is to forgive: to pardon and to love one’s neighbour and even one’s enemies. Sinners who during their lives have tried to be merciful will have mercy shown to them. ‘Judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement.’ James 2:13.


‘Blessed are the pure in heart:

 they shall see God’


The heart is the centre of one’s being, including mind, will and emotion. ‘Pure in heart’ means a desire for justice, fidelity and loyalty to God’s commands. An absolute acceptance of God’s covenant including sincere worship. The reward is beyond our understanding!


‘Blessed are the peacemakers:

 they shall be recognised as children of God’


Peace has to be the ultimate aim in our prayers and desires. For if peace exists, then all else will be ‘at peace’. ‘In truth I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.’ Matthew 18:3.


‘Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness:

 the kingdom of Heaven is theirs’


‘Uprightness’ is the covenant – the ten commandments. If we are persecuted for obeying those Commandments, then the reward is Heaven.


‘Blessed are you when people abuse you

 and persecute you and speak all kinds of

 calumny against you falsely on my account.

Rejoice and be glad,

 for your reward will be great in Heaven;

 this is how they persecuted the prophets before you’


When he said these words was Jesus thinking of John the Baptist? Was he thinking of three years hence when he would suffer the very things he had said; persecution, abuse, calumny? Listening to his words were the disciples, who were the successors of the prophets. As their lives came to a cruel end as martyrs, they would surely recall these words of Jesus.  











Geoffrey Chapman

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary

Reprinted 1996

Wellington House

125 Strand


WC2R OBB         



Scott Hahn

Hail, Holy Queen

Darton Longman & Todd Ltd

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140-142 Wandsworth High Street


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Rev. C H Wright DD

The Bible Reader’s Encyclopaedia and Concordance

Based on The Bible Reader’s Manual

New Revised Edition Published 1977

Edited by Rev W M Clow DD

Collins  London and New York           



New Catholic Edition of the Holy Bible

Douay Version.

Published in 1949 inNew York




New International Version

Study Bible

1996 Edition

Hodder & Stoughton Ltd         



The New Jerusalem Bible

Study Edition. First Published 1994

Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd

140-142 Wandsworh High Street

LONDON   SW18 4JJ           



The New Lion Handbook to the Bible

Published by Lion Publishing plc

Third Edition Published 1999

Sandy Lane