Exodus 20 on Altars

I read through a few chapters of Exodus last night including chapter 20 which covers altars, and then the section in chapter 27 covering the instructions for how the altar in the tabernacle should look. There is a pretty stark contrast between the two descriptions.

Exodus 20:24-26 (NIV)

24 “‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it.26 And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your nakedness may be exposed.’

Here the Lord describes how an altar should be made wherever he causes his name to be honoured.

It should be made of earth or stones, and if it is made of stones, don’t use a tool or dressed stones. In other words, it’s very simple, it shouldn’t be elaborate, it’s just materials found right where the Lord has caused his name to be honoured. Lastly, it shouldn’t require them to go up on steps to it. So, it shouldn’t be raised up.

This is quite different to the elaborate altar described in chapter 27, and extremely different to the temple altar built later by Solomon.

The way I understand this is that there should be no way for an altar itself built by an individual to distract from the worship of God and the giving of sacrifices. It’s not about the altar, it’s about the person involved and God. If the altar is fancy or raised up, there is a greater risk of it becoming an idol itself. In the tabernacle and later in the temple there are priests and Levites to assist in the worship services and with sacrifices to ensure everything is done appropriately and correctly, so her God allows for the elaborateness he deserves. For an individual, on their own, building their own altar, this is unnecessary and potentially detrimental. This description very closely fits the altars described as being built regularly by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob throughout their journeys.

When did Zipporah, Gershom and Eliezer leave?

I’ve been reading through Exodus again, and as always, new things stood out to me. One of them is in Exodus 4 and 18.

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law is visiting the Israelites in the desert after they have left Egypt. It isn’t just him though, he has brought Moses’ wife and sons with him.

In Exodus 18:2-3 (NIV), it says:

After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her and her two sons.

Exodus 18:5-6 continues on:

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the wilderness, where he was camped near the mountain of God. Jethro had sent word to him, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.”

So it explains that Moses did send them away and that Jethro was returning with them, but when were they sent away in the first place?

In Exodus 4:20, it says:

20 So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt.

Obviously Moses took them with him when he went back to Egypt. So it must have been at some point after he got to Egypt that he decided to send them away. It makes sense to do so in order to protect them when he realised how challenging Pharaoh was and the challenge they would face in leaving. There are a range of other possible times that it could have happened though, it could have even been as early as when he met Aaron on the way back to Egypt.

Ezekiel 1:18 & 22 – Awesome, Dreadful, Terrible

I was just reading Ezekiel 1 and these two verses, 18 and 22 really stood out to me. The reason being, they both use the word “awesome” in the NIV. This word is used 34 times in the entire NIV translation, all of these times are in the Old Testament. These two verses particularly stood out to me though because the word “awesome” is used without a direct reference to God as most of the other usages are.

Ezekiel 1:18 NIV

Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.

Ezekiel 1:22 NIV

Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome.

The usage is such that something has been described and then it is added that it is also “awesome”. I looked it up in the KJV to see what an earlier English translation put it as.

Ezekiel 1:18 KJV

As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four.

Ezekiel 1:22 KJV

And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above.

In the KJV the words used are different, verse 18 is “dreadful”, and verse 22 is “terrible”. Both of these words have similar meanings to “awesome”, these words all convey the idea that it is unbelievable and shocking, but “dreadful” and “terrible” both suggest fear and that it is something bad. “Awesome” on the other hand doesn’t necessarily imply fear or a negative connotation.

Dictionary.com defines them as:

Awesome

adjective

  1. inspiring awe: an awesome sight.
  2. showing or characterized by awe.
  3. Slang. very impressive: That new white convertible is totally awesome.

Dreadful

adjective

  1. causing great dread, fear, or terror; terrible: a dreadful storm.
  2. inspiring awe or reverence.
  3. extremely bad, unpleasant, or ugly: dreadful cooking; a dreadful hat.

Terrible

adjective

  1. distressing; severe: a terrible winter.
  2. extremely bad; horrible: terrible coffee; a terrible movie.
  3. exciting terror, awe, or great fear; dreadful; awful.
  4. formidably great: a terrible responsibility.

Thesaurus.com also lists them as synonyms for each other. So it’s obvious their meanings are related, however by definition, “dreadful” and “terrible” suggest fear and negativity as they are based on “dread” and “terror”. If you are suggesting something is bad, you are much more likely to say “that was terribly bad” or “that was dreadfully bad” than “that was awesomely bad”.

So I wanted to know more, what did these words actually come from? Why did they change them in the NIV when much of the rest of the sentences of these verses remain the same?

I loaded up E-Sword’s Hebrew Old Testament with Strongs dictionary. I’m certainly no expert in Hebrew, but from what I can tell, Strong’s dictionary indicates most of the Hebrew words used translate pretty clearly to those used in the KJV and NIV translations. The two key words I’m looking at in these verses though are:

Verse 18 – “yir’âh” – Strong’s dictionary reference H3374

Pronunciation: yir-aw’

Fear (also used as infinitive); morally reverence: –  X dreadful, X exceedingly, fear (-fulness).

Verse 22 – “yârê’ ” Strong’s dictionary reference H3372

Pronunciation: yaw-ray’

A primitive root; to fear; morally to revere; causatively to frighten: – affright, be (make) afraid, dread (-ful), (put in) fear (-ful, -fully, -ing). (be had in) reverence (-end), X see, terrible (act, -ness, thing).

So these two words both have similar meanings. To my understanding, the word used in v18 translated as “dreadful” in the KJV means the literal feelings of fear and reverence, so when Ezekiel saw this vision, either the eyes in the wheel were fearful and reverent of the Lord, or Ezekiel felt fear and reverence (I’d say probably both). The word used in v22 translated as “terrible” in the KJV means to fear, to cause reverence, essentially, Ezekiel is saying when he saw the expanse it made him fearful and reverent.

To me, this raises the question, does “awesome” adequately describe this? “Awesome” suggests awe, fear and reverence could definitely be translated into awe. Fear and reverence are often used together, the term “fear God” to me means to revere and respect God, so it makes sense that the same words can mean both fear and reverence. “Awesome” definitely conveys the message, but I think it’s slang usage dulls the real meaning somewhat. It didn’t fully click to me just how much Ezekiel was trying to convey until I realised that “dreadful” and “terrible” were used in place of “awesome” in the KJV. I’ve read this passage before, but it really hit me then just how impressive this vision must have been and it gave me a better idea of how fearfully reverent Ezekiel must have felt in front of this monstrous thing that showed great fear and reverence to the Lord, and how fearfully reverent he is telling everyone they should be.

If I’ve misunderstood Strong’s dictionary meaning of these words, please correct me, like I said, I’m no expert.

A New Nation Through Moses? Deuteronomy 9

I’ve been reading through the books of Moses again, and mot recently, Deuteronomy. I was reading through chapter 9 this morning and noticed something that has never really clicked in my mind before. In Deuteronomy 9:13-14, after the Israelites make the golden calf while Moses has been on the mountain talking to God, God is so angry that he wants to destroy the Israelites, but still keep his promise to Abraham by making Moses into a nation stronger and more numerous than Israel:

13 And the LORD said to me, “I have seen this people, and they are a stiff-necked people indeed! 14 Let me alone, so that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they.” (NIV)

For the whole context, read Deuteronomy 9:7-29.

I just find it amazing how every time I read the Bible for a little while, I come across something that I’ve read before but that I’ve never really comprehended before. I mean, this seems like a pretty vital tipping point to both Biblical history and history in general. What if the Israelites were destroyed and God made Moses into a new nation?

Would the new nation still be headed to Canaan? Would they have suffered the same destruction later on at the hands of Assyria and Babylon? I think it says a lot about Moses character though that despite how much the Israelites drove him crazy, he loved them and he begged God not to destroy them, even though it would have made his life a whole lot easier and potentially made him a patriarch comparable to Abraham.

They Talked About His Departure

In Luke 9, there is an interesting tidbit that’s not in any of the other gospels.

A section in verse 31 in particular (NIV):

30Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.

The other gospels only say that they spoke, not what about. According to Luke though, Jesus actually spoke with Moses and Elijah about his departure, or in the King James Version it says, about his decease.

I’ve always been curious about that.

40 Days in the Desert

When we here about Jesus spending 40 days in the desert where he was tempted by the devil, we often assume that the 3 temptations we here about in Luke 4 and Matthew 4 are the temptations that he was faced with. They are all we see or hear about when people share this section of his life in the form of a story, or in a movie or other medium. There is an interesting little verse that is in both Luke and Matthew though:

Luke 4:2

(KJV)
Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.

(NIV)
where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

Matthew 4:2

(KJV)
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.

(NIV)
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

So it was after the 40 days that he was hungry, as anyone that hasn’t eaten for that long would be. So it is after the end of the 40 days that the devil tempts him to turn stones into bread in verse 3 of both Matthew and Luke 4. The other 2 temptations then come after this one.

So what about during the 40 days? According to verse 1 of chapter 4 in both Matthew and Luke, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit in the desert, however it also indicates that he was tempted for those 40 days by the devil in Luke 4:2 and Matthew 4:1.

Thinking about it with that in mind, it makes this story more amazing. Not only was Jesus very hungry when the devil began to tempt him in with the 3 temptations that we hear about, but he had also been picking away at Jesus for 40 days prior to that with other temptations. I know what it’s like when someone has been constantly at you to do something, as I’m sure you do as well. It can often seem like it is easier just to give into what they want after a while. Jesus stood firm though, despite being hungry and probably sick of the devil’s constant attentions.

Character Comparison

Recently I’ve been listening to a series of prophecy seminars presented by Pr David Asscherick. They’re quite interesting studies, I just thought I would share a few verses with you though that he pointed out which compare the characters of Christ and Satan, so clearly.

Have a look at Isaiah 14:12-14:

12How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

13For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:

14I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.

In verse 12, it is established that it is referring to Lucifer, Satan. Then starting in verse 13 and through to verse 14, Isaiah talks about his character, the thoughts of his heart, it’s all about “I” and self exaltation.

Each of these things, all 5, are about going up, pushing himself further up etc:

  1. I will ascend into heaven
  2. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God
  3. I will sit upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north
  4. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds
  5. I will be like the most High.

The thoughts in his heart are entirely of ascending above everyone, even direction wise he refers to the North which, looking from outside the earth (or on a map), North is up, South is down, East and West are right and left. Satan wants to be above everyone and everything else, he wants to sit on the mount, on a high place, in the North, above the stars and clouds, and be like the most High, like God.

Now, as a comparison, let’s look at Philippians 2:5-8:

5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Here, Paul is saying we should behave like Christ (verse 5), and he goes on to describe Christ from verse 6 through to verse 8. This is quite the opposite of Satan, where Satan is constantly reaching up and trying to push himself higher, Christ was going down, humbling himself, bringing himself down to our level and serving mankind.

  1. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God
  2. But made himself of no reputation
  3. And took upon him the form of a servant
  4. And was made in the likeness of men
  5. He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Point one (verse 6), means that equality with God is not something that needed to be grasped, after all, as it says to start off with, Christ is in the form of God, and as we should be aiming to reflect Christ, we shouldn’t be reaching for God-like status either.

Christ made himself as nothing, as a servant made like men, bringing himself down lower and lower, he humbled himself and became completely obedient, even to death on the cross.

That is the complete opposite of how Isaiah described Satan. Satan constantly pushing himself up, where Christ was constantly bringing himself down.

The next part is even more interesting!

Jump back to Isaiah 14 and look at verse 15:

15Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

Lucifer is pushing himself up, but in the end, all his self exaltation will only result in him being brought down to hell. I’m using the King James Version here, but in my NIV Bible, instead of hell, it says that he is brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit. So for all his attempts, all he will gain is death.

Jump back to Philippians 2, reading on through verses 9 to 11:

9Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:

10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;

11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So unlike Satan, as he humbled himself and brought himself down, Christ was exalted by God. In the NIV, it says exalted to the highest place. He received a name that is above all others, every knee will bow before him, both in heaven and earth, and every tongue will know and confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord.

The comparison is so simple and clear. The difference in character makes such a huge difference in the end.