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Q&A on February Readings

Note: The questions alone (with a link to their answers) are listed above the line in the opposite order that they were received, which means the most recent questions are at the top of the page. Below the line, questions and answers are given in the readings' order of the verses that prompted the question.

Q: Only the high priest went into the space where the ark was, when the tabernacle was set up, but all these objects— Ark, tables, etc.—have “staves” built in to carry them, which means they would be “out in public” where anyone could see them, when the Israelites were moving from place to place, unless I missed something! Answer

Q: Exodus 38:8 refers to “lookingglasses” of the women who “assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation”. I never noticed this before! Other translations say “mirror”, and our modern understanding makes no sense of that at all, but their “lookingglasses” were metal. Other translations say the women “served” or “helped” at the entrance. I never thought about women helping with anything about the Tabernacle, either. Where did I miss that, or is this the only place it is written? And what would they do? Answer

Q: In your February 9, 2007 Biblog post on Exodus 25-27, you said we shouldn’t skip those chapters because the details pointed to such things as “God illuminating the earth with His Christ”. Are you referring to the lampstand or something else? Answer

Q: I have wondered where in the wilderness the Israelites got some of these special furnishings described in Exodus 25-27. Evidently the Egyptians gave them more than gold and silver on their way out? Answer

Q: What am I missing in reading Exodus 4-6? I see that Aaron did speak for Moses, but I do not see why. Answer

Q: A number of times, for example in the February 19, 2006 Biblog post commenting on Leviticus 13-15, you have said that some aspects of the law no longer apply to us. Can you explain how we know which parts of the law do still apply and which parts do not? Answer

Q: Exodus 31:13-15; 34:21—would you please expound some on the Sabbath? Are we to continue this practice today? What about businesses that are open on Sundays? What about certain tasks that must be done for particular reasons? How does this apply to us today? Answer

Q: At Exodus 16:35, the note in my Bible says, “The manna stopped at the time the Israelites celebrated their first Passover in Canaan (see Joshua 5:10-12).” So the Israelites didn’t celebrate the Passover at all during the 40 years they were in the wilderness? I would have thought this would have been something they celebrated quite regularly. Answer

Q: Reading Exodus 15:20, I found it interesting that there were female prophets called prophetesses. The notes in my Bible list other prophetesses, but I had never heard of women being prophets, only of the men. Answer

Q: What does the Pharaoh mean in Exodus 10:10-11 by, “Take heed, for evil is in your mind” (NASB)? Was the Pharaoh saying he would just let the men go? Answer

Q: Why does it say in some places (such as Exodus 9:12) that God hardened the Pharaoh’s heart? Wasn’t God trying to soften Pharaoh to believe that He was God and to let His people go? Answer

Q: I am surprised to read in my Bible’s notes around Exodus 7:20-24, “The first nine plagues may have been a series of miraculous intensifications of natural events taking place in less than a year, and coming at God’s bidding and timing. If so, the first plague resulted from the flooding of the Nile; in late summer and early fall large quantities of red sediment were washed down from Ethiopia, causing the water to become as red as blood.” There are similar explanations of the other plagues. I guess I am shocked that a Bible would try to explain away something God was doing. I can understand that these might be explanations for what the magician’s accomplished, but not of what God was doing. Where did these “explanations” come from? Answer

Q: On Moses’ journey back to Egypt to meet with Pharoah, why would God have killed Moses (Exodus 4:24) if Zipporah hadn’t cut off her son’s foreskin and placed it on Moses? Answer

Q: I wonder why God has such favor for Moses if he killed the Egyptian just because the Egyptian hit a Hebrew (Exodus 2:11-15)? Answer


Q: I wonder why God has such favor for Moses if he killed the Egyptian just because the Egyptian hit a Hebrew (Exodus 2:11-15)?
A: God’s favor for Moses did not lie in what Moses did or did not do, just like God’s favor for you and for me does not lie in what we do or do not do. One could say that Moses sinned in killing the Egyptian and that he suffered consequences for that sin—being forced out of Egypt into the wilderness for forty years. (Later, Moses’ temper sinfully flared, and he was kept out of the Promised Land for that—see Numbers 20:9-13; 27:12-14; Deuteronomy 34:4.) Moses in Exodus 2:11-15 appears to have been trying to defend his people, and Stephen, as the divinely-inspired St. Luke records in Acts 7:23-29, says Moses was thinking he would show his fellow-Hebrews that God would deliver them through Him but that they did not understand. Whatever Moses’ goal, it did not justify what he did, just as our good intentions do not justify whatever wrong things we might do to try to achieve them. Nevertheless, God worked through sinful Moses then to deliver His people, just as God today delivers His gift of the forgiveness of sins through sinful men in the Office of the Holy Ministry. Back to Top

Q: What am I missing in reading Exodus 4-6? I see that Aaron did speak for Moses, but I do not see why.
A: Already in Exodus 3:11 Moses was somewhat resisting God’s sending him back to Egypt to deliver the people. (See also Exodus 3:13 and 4:1.) But, Exodus 4:10 is really where the big excuse is offered (see also 6:12), and in 4:13 Moses finally pleads that God would send someone else. That excuse and plea led God to make Aaron Moses’s mouthpiece, although there certainly are passages that can be understood as if Moses did do some public speaking himself. A usual story is that Moses had some sort of speech impediment (for example, stammering or lisping), although others say he was complaining “of not being eloquent or quick-witted enough to respond to the pharaoh”. There may even be in Exodus 4:10 some indication that God had not yet, at least, done anything about that problem. Depending on the interpretation of Exodus and 2 Corinthians, Paul may have been somewhat similarly perceived (2 Corinthians 10:10). There’s at least one New Testament statement to suggest Moses was either looking for an excuse or that with God’s help the slow speech and tongue was not a problem (see Acts 7:22). That the word of the Lord spoken to the prophet Moses was passed on to the people by another is a helpful reminder that the Word of the Lord from the Prophet like but greater than Moses is also passed on to us people by others, pastors who with the Holy Spirit are the viva vox Jesu (the living voice of Jesus). Back to Top

Q: On Moses’ journey back to Egypt to meet with Pharoah, why would God have killed Moses (Exodus 4:24) if Zipporah hadn’t cut off her son’s foreskin and placed it on Moses?
A: By the verses that follow, we can tell that God would have killed Moses because Moses had failed to circumcise his son in keeping with the covenant God established with Abraham (see Genesis 17:9-14). By her quick action, Zipporah saved Moses’ life (or their son’s life, as some understand it, since the Hebrew simply has the pronoun “him”). There is some question about whether it was the first or second son that was not yet circumcised, and he may have not done it on account of his wife’s aversion to the practice. Note that in verse 25 Zipporah draws near or throws the foreskin at Moses’ “feet”, which can be a euphemism for another part of the body. Back to Top

Q: I am surprised to read in my Bible’s notes around Exodus 7:20-24, “The first nine plagues may have been a series of miraculous intensifications of natural events taking place in less than a year, and coming at God’s bidding and timing. If so, the first plague resulted from the flooding of the Nile; in late summer and early fall large quantities of red sediment were washed down from Ethiopia, causing the water to become as red as blood.” There are similar explanations of the other plagues. I guess I am shocked that a Bible would try to explain away something God was doing. I can understand that these might be explanations for what the magician’s accomplished, but not of what God was doing. Where did these “explanations” come from?
A: The first time I read such a claim I was also surprised, and I tried to prepare Daily Lectionary readers by noting in the February 2, 2006 Biblog post: “Others wrongly find a relationship of cause and effect between the different plagues, and claim that they are natural events, not supernatural.” Your Bible’s notes do not completely rule out the miraculous, though other comments on the plagues do completely rule out God’s role in the events. At some level such a view comes from limiting God to what human reason is willing to accept as possible. For example, rivers do not normally turn to blood at a person’s speaking, so the Nile did not really turn to blood; it must have been just a coincidence that the red sediment made the river red when Moses said that, or Moses knew the sediment was going to make the river red and used it to try to trick Pharaoh. When human reason trumps what Scripture says, one, to be consistent, must eliminate Christ’s resurrection and redemption itself. Back to Top

Q: Why does it say in some places (such as Exodus 9:12) that God hardened the Pharaoh’s heart? Wasn’t God trying to soften Pharaoh to believe that He was God and to let His people go?
A: Yes, God wanted to soften Pharaoh to believe He was God and to let His people go, but God also knew that Pharaoh would not do it. There is an important sequence here: Pharaoh hardened his own heart (by one count nine times: Exodus 7:13-14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34-35—see also 1 Samuel 6:6), and then the Lord further hardened Pharaoh’s heart (by one count nine times: Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17—the future tenses refer to what God does after Pharaoh had hardened his own heart during the first five plagues). God does not make people like Pharaoh disbelieve, but He can use their disbelief to His own ends (see Romans 9:17-18). God can harden hearts in our time and give people up to their own wickedness (see Romans 1:24-28), so we all should remember that now is the day of salvation (Isaiah 49:8; 2 Corinthians 6:2). Back to Top

Q: What does the Pharaoh mean in Exodus 10:10-11 by, “Take heed, for evil is in your mind” (NASB). Was the Pharaoh saying he would just let the men go?
A: Pharaoh’s comment expresses his suspicion that, if he would let everyone go, they would not come back. The NIV renders that phrase, “Clearly you are bent on evil”, and the ESV “Look, you have some evil purpose in mind.” At this point in the narrative, Pharaoh, under pressure even from his own officials, appears to be willing to let only the men go, but, based on his changing his mind at other points, he likely would have reversed his position again. (That Pharaoh had Moses and Aaron driven from his presence also suggests Pharaoh’s offer to let the men go was not genuine.) There is no evidence that Moses had ever asked for only the men to go, but rather Pharaoh probably wanted to keep the women and animals as “hostages” of a sort to make sure the men came back.
     I had always wondered whether the religious festival was just a ruse or what might have happened if Pharaoh had let the people go for the festival—would they have come back? Attempting to answer such questions forces us to speculate where we should not speculate. Although one commentator I read speculates on such topics more than I think is appropriate, I found his comments on Exodus 3:16-20, where God clearly says He will permanently deliver the people and tells Moses to ask Pharaoh for permission only to take a short trip, somewhat helpful. The commentator says Pharaoh had no reason not to grant their request to depart for a short festival, since their return would have been assumed. The commentator goes on to say that God had them ask for what Pharaoh should have granted in order to show the hardness of his heart. The complete removal of the people from the land might then be taken as a consequence of Pharaoh’s refusal to let them go to worship God. That God knew the outcome ahead of time and revealed it to Moses and the people of Israel does not make the request for the short festival deceitful, though others see it that way. Back to Top

Q: Reading Exodus 15:20, I found it interesting that there were female prophets called prophetesses. The notes in my Bible list other prophetesses, but I had never heard of women being prophets, only of the men.
A: Yes, there certainly were women called prophetesses. I think way back when I first heard of them that this verse also may have been my first exposure to them. I imagine your notes list as Old Testament prophetesses Deborah (Judges 4:4), possibly Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), and the false prophetess Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14). New Testament prophetesses are Anna (who is explicitly called one in Luke 2:36), Philip’s daughters (who are implicitly called prophetesses in Acts 21:9), and the self-proclaimed but false prophetess Jezebel (Revelation 2:20). Note well what these verses say and do not say: for example, Luke 2:36 does not say Anna served as did ancient prophets by going before the people and speaking a message of judgment and grace, nor does Acts 21:9 record a prophetic saying of Philip’s daughters as done elsewhere with other prophets. (Church fathers who properly wrote against women serving in the pastoral office were quick to point these things out: the prophetesses spoke privately and have no prophetic statements recorded in Holy Scripture.) Revelation 2:20 is particularly interesting in that it may refer to a female leader trying to force herself on a Christian congregation. Women who at best “pretend” to hold the Office of the Holy Ministry and churches that think they have ordained them separate themselves from the One, Holy, Christian, and Apostolic Church—which is not to deny any of the important work that women have ever done and continue to do in God’s Name. A case can be made that any recorded public statements of the prophetesses were in leading the response to the Word of the prophets, as is the case in Exodus 15:20. And, you might note that the song proceeds antiphonally. Back to Top

Q: At Exodus 16:35, the note in my Bible says, “The manna stopped at the time the Israelites celebrated their first Passover in Canaan (see Joshua 5:10-12).” So the Israelites didn’t celebrate the Passover at all during the 40 years they were in the wilderness? I would have thought this would have been something they celebrated quite regularly.
A: The note in my Bible at that place says the same thing, but I do not think it has to be understood as “celebrated their first Passover” ever, but it rather could be understood as “celebrated their first Passover” in Canaan. The first Passover was observed in Egypt, of course, the night before the Exodus. We know one other Passover was observed before that of Joshua 5:10-12—the one of Numbers 9:1-5 (despite some interpretations of Exodus 12:24-25 that would say the next observance should have been in Canaan). Before the next one came, however, the people had rebelled against God at the border of the Promised Land, and God condemned that generation to die in the desert (see Numbers 14:21-23, 29-35). One commentator says, “For that generation the celebration of Passover (deliverance from judgment) could have had little meaning.” Remember that the 40 years of wandering the desert was not part of God’s original plan but resulted from the people’s disobedience. Back to Top

Q: I have wondered where in the wilderness the Israelites got some of these special furnishings described in Exodus 25-27. Evidently the Egyptians gave them more than gold and silver on their way out?
A: Yes, in keeping with God’s prophecy in Exodus 3:22 (compare God’s direction in Exodus 11:2-3), Exodus 12:35-36 adds raiment (KJV, ASV; “clothing” NIV, NASB) to the list containing silver and gold as the plunder Israel took from the Egyptians (see the similar combination in Genesis 24:53). We aren’t told of anything else, and we aren’t told from where else the Israelites may have gotten the materials for their Tabernacle donations called for in Exodus 25:1-6 and described in Exodus 35:4-29. The absence of the mention of any other sources, however, does not mean that God did not use other sources to bless them in order for them to offer what was needed. Acacia wood, for example, reportedly grows throughout the area. Certainly God could have provided animal hides to the people through natural means, and they no doubt spun and dyed the fabrics themselves, making use of other natural materials at hand. Back to Top

Q: In your February 9, 2007 Biblog post on Exodus 25-27, you said we shouldn’t skip those chapters because the details pointed to such things as “God illuminating the earth with His Christ”. Are you referring to the lampstand or something else?
A: Yes, I was referring to the candlestick (KJV, ASV; “lampstand” NIV, NASB; Hebrew manowrah) that is first proscriptively described in Exodus 25:31-39 and described again in Exodus 37:17-24 regarding its construction. The lamp can also certainly represent the Lord’s glory among the people, who were, in turn, to reflect God’s glory (see Matthew 5:14-16; Luke 12:35; Philippians 2:15; and, to some extent, Revelation 1:20). Somewhat along those same lines, the lampstand can be taken to represent God’s perfect and complete leadership of His people (then, by analogy, leaders like King David can be referred to as Israel’s lamp). To the extent it relates to God’s leadership and light, it does anticipate Christ, as in John 1:1-13 (John 8:12 is primarily what I was thinking of). Likewise, in Psalm 132:17 the reference is Messianic. Back to Top

Q: Only the high priest went into the space where the ark was, when the tabernacle was set up, but all these objects— Ark, tables, etc.—have “staves” built in to carry them, which means they would be “out in public” where anyone could see them, when the Israelites were moving from place to place, unless I missed something!
A: You have understood correctly such verses as Exodus 25:12-15, 26-28; 27:4-7; and 30:4-5. In those places Moses is directed to see that the Ark, table for the showbread, bronze altar, and incense altar are made with rings and poles to facilitate their later being carried about, and Exodus 37:3-5, 13-15; 38:5-7; and 37:27-28 tell how the directions were followed in constructing the furnishings. We haven’t read it this year yet, but Numbers 4, especially verses 4-20, gives directions for who is to do what in the disassembly of the Tabernacle, including covering the Tabernacle furnishings before they are “out in public”. Inside the Tabernacle Aaron and his sons, the high priest and priests, were to cover the Ark, with the curtain that separated the most holy place from the holy place, before the Levites of the Kohathite clan could carry it and the other furnishings, and even the Kohathites were not to see or touch the furnishings. Back to Top

Q: Exodus 31:13-15; 34:21—would you please expound some on the Sabbath? Are we to continue this practice today? What about businesses that are open on Sundays? What about certain tasks that must be done for particular reasons? How does this apply to us today?
A: The Word “Sabbath” is first used in Exodus 16:23, but the idea of a day of rest goes back to the beginning (see Genesis 2:2-3). The Hebrew verb for “resting” gives us the word “Sabbath”, and the Old Testament day of rest was to be the seventh day, that is, our Saturday. In your question you have identified the passages where the Lord says the Sabbath is even to be observed both while building the Tabernacle and all its furnishings and vestments and while harvesting—that is how important the Sabbath is! The more general commandment, of course, is given in Exodus 20:8, with verses 9-11 there elaborating on that commandment. All labor was to stop so that everyone could participate in the day of rest, a sign of the covenant, a part of which covenant was God’s delivering His people from Egypt where they provided slave labor. So, why do we observe Sunday as the holy day instead of Saturday? Well, the Lord rose from the grave on Sunday, the first day of the week, and appeared to His disciples on that first day and exactly one week later, the eighth day (John 20:19, 26). The New Testament church gathered for worship on Sundays (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2), and we likewise follow. Are we supposed to stop all work as the Old Testament commandment seems to say? Well, the Jews of Jesus’ day so legalistically interpreted the Sabbath that when Jesus did good things on the Sabbath they condemned Him, Who was the Lord of the Sabbath (see, for example, Matthew 12:8 and its context). In his Small Catechism, Dr. Luther helps us properly understand the Third Commandment: “We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” The primary reason we observe a day of rest is to give people the opportunity to attend the Divine Service and therein receive God’s gift of forgiveness. We should devote Sundays, or whatever day we get off, “to occupy ourselves with God’s Word”, Dr. Luther says in the Large Catechism, “and exercise ourselves in it.” The day is not just about rest and idleness, and we do not make a Sunday unholy if we do work on that day after or before we attend Divine Service, Bible Study, and the like. God is not telling us whether we should have a six-day or five-day work week. To be sure there are many professions that require work on Sundays (police officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, pastors, just to name a few), and God knows our particular situations and how well we make use of the time He gives us to allow Him to work in us. Even with a day of rest, there remains a greater rest for all believers (see Hebrews 3:7-4:13). Back to Top

Q: Exodus 38:8 refers to “lookingglasses” of the women who “assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation”. I never noticed this before! Other translations say “mirror”, and our modern understanding makes no sense of that at all, but their “lookingglasses” were metal. Other translations say the women “served” or “helped” at the entrance. I never thought about women helping with anything about the Tabernacle, either. Where did I miss that, or is this the only place it is written? And what would they do?
A: First, I think “lookingglasses” and “mirrors” are both somewhat misleading. The relevant Hebrew word is used only in this verse, but there’s little mystery in this case, since the context makes it clear bronze was the material obtained from the reflecting devices. Of these reflecting devices, one commentary simply says the following: “Mirrored glass was unknown in ancient times, but highly polished bronze gave adequate reflection.” Second, as for the women and their role at the Tabernacle, such women are mentioned in at least one other place, 1 Samuel 2:22. Since the Tabernacle was not yet erected in Exodus 38:8, the women may not have been serving there already, in which case we can understand their first act of service as the giving of their reflecting devices (forgoing concern with worldly adornment). Another commentary says the following about their later service: “women who dedicated their lives to the service of Jehovah, and spent them in religious exercises, in fasting and in prayer, like Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, mentioned in Luke 2:37.” In regards to their fasting and prayer, they can be good role models for us all, women and men alike. Back to Top

Q: A number of times, for example in the February 19, 2006 Biblog post commenting on Leviticus 13-15, you have said that some aspects of the law no longer apply to us. Can you explain how we know which parts of the law do still apply and which parts do not?
A: A usual breakdown of Old Testament “law” is into three categories: ceremonial law, civil law, and moral law. The moral laws, such as the Ten Commandments, by all means do still apply to us. (For example, in Matthew 5:17 Jesus said He came not to abolish the moral law but to fulfill it.) The civil laws applied to the people of Israel as they lived under their Jewish kings, but such laws no longer apply to us, as we live under governments independent of God, even though they are established by God (Romans 13). We are bound to obey the laws of our civil governments, in so far as those laws do not contradict God’s moral law (Acts 5:29). The ceremonial laws, especially those pertaining to the sacrifices, pointed to Christ and ceased being in effect once He offered Himself as our once-for-all sacrifice. A key New Testament account regarding the abolition of the ceremonial law pertaining to clean and unclean animals is in Acts 10-11:18. Christians are generally free from the ceremonial law: they are free under Christian liberty to keep or not keep some aspects of it (see, for example, Romans 14, and note that Christian liberty may mean they keep some parts of the old law), though other aspects definitely do still apply (see, for example, the decision of the apostolic council in Acts 15 and how that council distinguished between what did and did not still apply). The New Testament and the Lutheran Confessions have much to say about these distinctions between the different categories of laws, as well as the distinction between the moral law and the Gospel, and I can further direct you to relevant passages, if you wish. Back to Top

 


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