Israel’s Journey and Law
By Don Ruhl
Can you imagine life without laws? Would it not be dangerous? Just think if traffic laws did not exist! How could we function if natural law did not exist? Would a nation be a pleasant place to live without laws? For the reasons you can imagine, God has never left the world or His people without law.
Look at Israel in the wilderness. Once out of Egypt, their common enemy, they needed something to keep them together as a people. They had complained about their slave conditions, but in freedom they complained again. Exodus 15 shows that just after a mere three days of traveling from the Red Sea to the Promised Land, they found a reason to complain, “So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people complained against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” (Exo 15.22–24).
Interestingly, it was a journey of three days that Moses had requested of Pharaoh that Israel be allowed to sacrifice in the wilderness, but Pharaoh refused. Israel got what she wanted, but complained when she received it. Right then God began to make laws for Israel. Notice the two things that Moses did. He fixed the water situation, but He also began to create something for Israel’s good that the nation might learn to obey God, “So he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet. There He made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there He tested them, and said, ‘If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you’” (Exo 15.25, 26).
What also began to happen was something repeated throughout the wanderings, and indeed, during all of Israel’s history. The people complain or rebel or both. Moses (or a judge or king or someone else) intercedes with God. God helps the people. God tells Israel to obey Him. The people promise to remain loyal. Then they rebel again and the pattern repeats itself. Judges 2 even makes a point of explaining that such happened during the days of the judges. The very next chapter provides an example of this very thing happening. Israel did not like their accommodations or food, so watch what happened, “Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, ‘Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger’” (Exo 16.2, 3).
What did God do? He blessed them. “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not’” (Exo 16.4).
He gave instructions and laws on how they were to deal with the bread. The Lord also gave Israel quail to eat. What did Israel call the bread-like substance? They called it “manna.” That’s Hebrew for, “What is it?” The Lord gave them something else also, wanting them to know that there is more to life than bread.
Deuteronomy 8 reveals the greater gift God gave them, “So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD” (Deu 8.3).
Why did God give them manna from above? To teach them that we do not live by bread alone, that we need heaven’s involvement in our lives. That is why the bread came from heaven.
Moses the Lawgiver
Moses played many roles for Israel, as we all do in our lives. For Israel he was liberator, leader, judge, prophet, and lawgiver.
How can someone be both a liberator and a lawgiver? Liberation is from tyranny, but law prevents tyranny, so that law gives liberty.
Through Moses, the people encountered God. Moses brought them to Mt. Sinai, and there God made a covenant with Israel, as He had made a covenant with Noah and Abraham. God went from making covenants with the world through Noah to making a covenant with a man and his family through Abraham to making a covenant with a nation through Moses and to making a covenant with the world again through Christ. Exodus 19 shows Israel at Mt. Sinai and how the Lord viewed the people and what they promised to do, “‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.’ So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the LORD commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do.’ So Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD” (Exo 19.4–8).
We use Sinai to name many things in America. For example, a famous hospital in Southern California, where many actors go, is Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which is the result of a merger in 1961 between two major Los Angeles hospitals, Cedars of Lebanon and Mount Sinai Home for the Incurables.
Then God had Moses go up into the mountain and God gave His Law. This experienced changed Moses forever, as his face shone with the glory of God.
The Ten Commandments
Israel had to know her part in the covenant. God gave them His Law, but the part that epitomized His Law was the Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20.2–17. Why do the Ten Commandments stand out? They put in detail how to love God and how to love your neighbor, because if we love and our neighbor, then we will not do harm to either one. They emphasize relationships. Many people use the Ten Commandments to protest the death penalty, because the sixth commandment says, “You shall not commit kill,” (or murder in newer translations). How do you answer that argument? The Bible commands the death penalty in other passages, including the very next chapter in the Bible, Exodus 21!
Moses and His Farewell
The last Book of the Pentateuch, the Book of Deuteronomy, is the farewell messages of Moses, as he recounted their forty years in the wilderness, and his words of exhortation. Deuteronomy 30.15–20 summarize much of what the Book of Deuteronomy is about when Moses said, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the LORD your God…But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish…I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you…” (Deu 30.15–20).
Moses spoke those words because he would not enter the Land of Canaan.
George Eliot (a male pseudonym for the English novelist, Mary Ann Evans), wrote of Moses in a poem, showing the significance of this great man,
He has no tomb.
He dwells not with you dead, but lives in Law.
Why did the journey from Egypt to Canaan take forty years? Numbers 14.26–38 shows that they did not believe they could defeat the inhabitants of the land, although the Lord promised the land to them and promised to be with them to defeat their enemies.
Where do we get the term, “scapegoat,” and what does it mean? It comes from the Law given by Moses found in Leviticus 16.20–22.
Our American forefathers used words from Leviticus 25.10 to write on the Liberty Bell.
Samuel F. B. Morse used Numbers 23.23 to demonstrate the telegraph and Morse code.
- The Bible In Our World (Part 7) (thebiblemeditator.wordpress.com)
- Numbers 11.16 – Seventy elders with Moses before God (sevensinthebible.com)