If we were to play a word association game, and I said, “Moses,” what would you say?
My dad would say “Charlton Heston” (of The Ten Commandments fame). Basketball fans might say “Malone” (as in the NBA player). Others might say “baby on the Nile,” “splitter of the Red Sea,” or “recipient of the ten commandments.”
Guess which Moses we’re taking a look at today!?
In all seriousness – Moses might be one of the most well-known and recognizable people of the Bible. Why do you suppose that is? Yup, might be all the movies.
Or it could be that Moses and his story take up a lot of space in the Bible (see Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and even bits of Joshua). We get Moses’ story from his birth and unlikely survival as an infant (Exodus 2:1-7) all the way to the end of his life (Joshua 1:1).
It is with Moses that God establishes a covenant, often termed “the law” and what most of the New Testament writers call the “old covenant.” And, believe it or not, Dr. Richter says Moses’ covenant is the primary covenant Jesus interacts with.
Stage Three — Moses
We enter Stage Three of our Rescue Plan with the famous Moses.
My last post took us through the first two stages of God’s rescue plan: Noah and Abraham, where God reinitiates a relationship with humanity by way of Noah. Many generations later, he reaches out to Abraham and covenants with him to make him a great nation with numerous descendants.
Both Noah and Abraham are faithful in all that God calls them to be and do. As a result, the rescue plan moves forward.
Abraham dies, leaving his son, Isaac, to carry out the Abrahamic Covenant. Then his son, Jacob, carries this mantle, and eventually his twelve sons come to be the twelve tribes of Israel.
Through a series of crazy, even hurtful events, one of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, ends up in Egypt as the second in command, just under Pharaoh himself. During a seven year famine, Joseph moves his father, brothers, and their families to Egypt where there are stockpiles of food.
And there the Israelites remain for over 400 years.
It’s in the final years of Israel’s stay in Egypt that Moses is born. In his day, Moses’ people are the slaves of the mighty Pharaoh. Their cries to God for salvation are heard, and God sends them a deliverer, Moses.
If you ever doubt God has a plan or that He sees the big picture, read Moses’ story. Here’s a guy who should’ve died as a newborn baby, who is raised as a prince by Pharaoh’s daughter in the palace, and who late in life discovers his identity as an Israelite, gets angry at their plight, kills an Egyptian, and flees to the wilderness to escape his death sentence.
What an interesting, eventful, full life.
And yet, we haven’t even gotten to the part of his life where God calls him to “set my people free.” ALL of the first part of his life PREPARES Moses for what God calls him to do.
I take the time to summarize Moses’ life because as we look at this next stage of the rescue plan, we’ll see that God’s call on Moses was premeditated, planned in advance. God needed a leader just like Moses, at that specific time in history, trained in the unique ways he was able to receive as a prince, in order to do exactly what God needed him to do.
Dr. Richter starts off her chapter on Moses saying, “This is the most detailed chapter in all of redemption history” (166). There is much to Moses’ story, as well as, this part of God’s rescue plan.
Exodus is the second book of the Bible, and it chronicles Moses’ early life…right up to the point that Moses fulfills his call and leads the Israelites out of Egypt, which is the exodus. The Exodus is the “single most important event in all Israelite history” (172).
In real time, Moses and the great Exodus are somewhere in the 1447/6 BC to 1290/75 BC time period. Dr. Richter goes through some great explanations as to why we don’t know dates precisely, but suffice it to say, “Biblical dating is a tricky thing” (169). In her video lesson, Dr. Richter stresses that “the Exodus is Israel’s great testament of faith, so they are much more concerned with the fact THAT it happened and less so WHEN it happened.”
In real space, Moses spent the first half of his life in Egypt and the second half of his life wandering the deserts of Sinai and the border of the Promised Land (Canaan).
Under the Mosaic Covenant the Abrahamic Promises are fulfilled. The people of God are Abraham’s offspring through Isaac. It is said 600,000 men crossed the Red Sea as they escaped the Egyptians. That means when we add in women and children, nearly 2.5 million people were part of the Exodus.
The place under the Mosaic Covenant is the Promised Land. All of Canaan is given to the Israelites to conquer and settle. And the presence of God at last had a place among humanity…in the tabernacle.
In her chapter on Moses, Dr. Richter takes some time to explain “typology” because so much of what we uncover in redemptive history reveals or hints at what is to come in the new covenant. A type in biblical studies is an “actual historical event or person” with “a specific parallel” in a later event or person (178).
In the spirit of keeping things as simple as possible, I find it much simpler to explain what a type is by looking at some examples, and Dr. Richter provides a few that we’ve already come across in our study:
- The “first Adam” is a type of the “Second Adam,” Christ.
- Noah’s ark is a type of the salvation of the new covenant. (see 1 Peter 3:21)
- Circumcision is a type of baptism. (179)
A type in God’s redemptive plan often functions as a teaching tool, to give “a concrete example of a more abstract concept,” and the Mosaic covenant is FULL of such “concrete examples” (179). One of the most significant being the tabernacle.
We will discover that in the New Testament the functions, furniture, staff, decorations, and floor plan of the tabernacle are used to explain our Christian faith to us, so it is important that we take a little time to understand the tabernacle (179). To understand the tabernacle will help us understand who Christ is, what He has done for us, and what our faith looks like.
“Yahweh says to Moses in Exodus 25:8, ‘Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them.’ The ‘so that’ in this passage is critical because it lets us know that God’s purpose in instituting the tabernacle was that he might live among his people” (180).
Recall that Moses and the Israelites are wandering the desert, living in tents at this point in time. Yahweh chooses to live in a tent, as well, so the place he dwells will be as mobile as his people. Later, when the Israelites settle into their own land, God’s dwelling place is a solid, immobile temple.
The design and purpose of both the tabernacle and temple are the same – to give God a dwelling place among his people.
In the intricate design, the actual place for God’s presence to dwell was separated by a heavy, large curtain, or veil, and was called the “Holy of Holies.” While God desired to be with his people, their sin still kept them separated. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and even then only one day a year, the Day of Atonement. The High Priest served as a mediator, standing between his people and God.
“Yes, God lived among his people, but the common worshiper—even the average priest—would never stand in his presence. Only one man, once a year, entered the holy of holies, and he entered under threat of death (Lev 16:2). The double-edged sword of the tabernacle was the truth that God was once again with Adam, but Adam was still separated from God. Do you see how this type educated Israel as to what sin and forgiveness are all about?” (182)
In the Holy of Holies stood a gold box called the Ark of the Covenant. In the Ark were special, meaningful items, such as the tablets of the Ten Commandments, which God gave Moses at Mt. Sinai. The Ark itself served as God’s throne, where he sat as the king of his nation.
Exodus 19-32 summarizes the law, calendar, and cultic (religious) system of the Israelites, and Deuteronomy is basically the constitution and bylaws of the nation. “The law creates and structures the nation by defining what Yahweh requires of them. The calendar organizes Israel’s time (Sabbath, feasts, offerings). The tabernacle enthrones the suzerain in their midst. …The kingdom of God is instituted on earth” (175).
Have you ever thought of God as the king of his nation? I hadn’t. Not till Epic of Eden. It turns out that there’s a word for this, THEOCRACY. The Greek terms “theos” and “kratos” together mean “ruled by God.” Israel might have been led by Moses, but it was a nation ruled by Yahweh (175).
God organized his theocratic nation by instituting three theocratic offices: prophet, priest, and king (see Deut 17-18).
- Prophet — The most powerful office/person. He spoke for God to the people.
- Priest – Earlier we described the priest as a mediator for the people; in other words, he spoke for the people to God.
- King – Not instituted till later, this role was more of a civic leader who made sure the government ran smoothly and that the people obeyed the covenant. The king is much more of a steward, directing the government in God’s stead. God is the ultimate king.
For several years now I’ve been on a team of teachers that leads a class at our church, and we go over the basic tenets of our faith. In one lesson we go through this exercise of comparing a democracy to a kingdom. It’s fascinating to watch people’s eyes light up in understanding as they start to realize that God’s kingdom is not a democracy. It is a KINGDOM.
And that means the people of Israel are citizens of the kingdom of God, and THEY represent their king. (It’s quite the opposite in democracy).
It’s really important to understand that God ruled ONE nation, Israel. As a result, Israel’s land was actually God’s land, Israel’s enemies were God’s enemies, and anything of political interest to Israel was, you guessed it, God’s interest as well.
The New Testament
Here’s why it’s so important to catch all this. When Jesus institutes the new covenant, there is no more theocracy.
God is not king over one nation any more – He is king over ALL WHO BELIEVE. And believers live in many nations these days! Think about it…today, Jesus doesn’t rule from one particular capital city, such as Washington D.C. And if two nations go to war today and BOTH nations have believers/Christians, God doesn’t choose one side over the other. He is on the side of his people, not any one nation.
In other words, the political landscape of the new covenant is much different than the political landscape of the old covenant.
Let’s move beyond political landscapes back to the idea of God dwelling among his people. Under the Mosaic Covenant, God created a way to dwell among his people (the tabernacle), even if it wasn’t complete (separation was still a reality).
“The New Testament writers seize upon this type to explain the complex realities of the new covenant” (182). Let’s compare Exodus 25:8 to John 1:24:
Exodus 25:8, “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them.”
John 1:24 , “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt (or tabernacled) among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Under the Mosaic Covenant, every Israelite knew that “the closest he would ever come to the Presence was standing in the outer court, every few months, if he was clean and whole and brought an appropriate sacrifice. …But the paradigm-shattering news of the new covenant is that Jesus came in human form to bring the Presence to us. …In the incarnation the veil is ripped in two, the holy of holies is thrown open, and the lost, the sick, the deformed, the disabled, even the ostracized foreigner who deserved her reputation as a loose woman, are invited to draw near” (182-3).
In her video lesson, Dr. Richter goes through some points at lightning speed that cause my heart to race and spirit to rejoice. I’ll try to capture that here:
- Jesus claims Himself as the temple, then He turns to us and names us the new temple!
- In Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit comes down as flames above the disciples’ heads with winds sweeping through, it all echoes the dedication of the temple as seen in 1 Kings 8, communicating that you and I have actually become the dwelling place of the Almighty. WE ARE GOD’S DWELLING PLACE.
- Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:19 says that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and in 2 Corinthians 6:16 that we are temples of the living God.
- We are living stones fit together to become a dwelling place. The church now serves the function that the temple did: To be the place where believer or unbeliever can come catch a glimpse of the Almighty. Dr. Richter tells us this is a high calling indeed!
Allow me to end this section with a quote from the book:
“As the book of Hebrews states: ‘The Law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship’ (Heb 10:1). So Jesus’ reiteration of the law was necessary partly to confront the Jews with the fact that their attempted adherence to the law wasn’t working. And, as both Jesus and Paul state repeatedly, adherence wasn’t working because hearts were not changing. Thus a new covenant was needed—a new relationship between God and humanity in which the people could be transformed. How? By the impossible promise that the Presence would actually come to abide in the individual believer, making hearts of flesh out of hearts of stone, and writing God’s expectations on our hearts. All this to make compliance with the law not only possible, but probable” (185).
Okay….One more really cool line from her book – “The law, which communicated the profile of the character of God, prepared humanity to recognize ‘the exact representation of his nature’ when he came to tabernacle among us (ref: Heb 1:3)” (186).
Are you seeing how each step of this rescue plan God has been laying out has had purpose, one stage of the plan leading into the next? The law God had Moses give the people PREPARED HUMANITY (us!) for Jesus. We had to have that preparation or we wouldn’t have recognized Jesus for who He is. Oh. My.
To transition back to today’s topic… In her book, Dr. Richter says that when we read Paul in the New Testament, we might be tempted to think that the law (which originated with Moses) is all bad. But it’s not. She first points us to a Paul-written verse, Romans 7:12, “The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good!” Then she asks us to connect a few dots by thinking through this place in redemptive history…here with Moses.
Do you recall that the Israelites were in Egypt for 400 years? It’s so easy to read over that number and not let it sink in. Let’s put it in perspective. How long has America been a nation? 241 years…in July. How much of our American history do most Americans remember? How much of our founding fathers’ stories or purposes do we recall? Not. Much.
So what happens after FOUR HUNDRED YEARS? Put yourself in their place.
In those 400 years Yahweh has been silent. And in those 400 years you’ve been surrounded by the beliefs and idols of the Egyptians.
In my humanness, I imagine it was easy to forget God and His ways. Or to think God had forgotten you.
THAT, my friends, is where we are in redemptive history when Moses steps in. God has called him to free a people, yes. But He’s also tasked Moses with helping them remember who He (Yahweh) is and teaching them His ways.
Hence, the Mosaic Covenant.
In the Mosaic Covenant, the people of God, defined as the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are now 2.5 million strong. By the end of Moses’ story, Joshua takes the helm and leads the Israelites into the place of God, Canaan! And the presence of God marches ahead of them in the Promised Land, enthroning Himself on the Ark, in the Holy of Holies, in the tabernacle.
Therefore, the people have returned to the place, and for the first time since Eden they have access to the presence of God.
If you’re like me…you need to read all this again.
And hopefully, some dots are starting to connect – between events and people of the Old Testament, between the Old and New Testament (covenant), AND between you and the God you love.
Next, we look at David.
PS – Dr. Richter has a FAQ in the back of her book entitled, “What Role Does the Law of Moses Play in the Christian’s Life?” And while I won’t try to summarize it here, just know that she acknowledges that there is no simple or even “completely satisfactory” answer. Bottom line is that Jesus redefines the major institutions of Israel’s theocracy, namely the temple and the government. And with that redefinition comes change. (see pages 225-229)