Lesson 14: Exodus 15-20, 32-34
There is a great deal of material in this reading, but perhaps the overview below will help put matters in context. As you read the chapters ask yourselves what kinds of parallels and types you see? How do these things help us understand our own lives? How do they help us understand our relation to Christ? To help you think about that more profitably, also ask yourselves “What did these things mean to the Israelites when they happened? What might they mean to Jews today?
Chapter 15: Moses rejoices in song that the Israelites have been saved from the Egyptians (verses 1-21). The bitter waters of Marah are made sweet and the Israelites are promised health (verses 21-27).
How would Israelites have understood this miracle? How would Jews understand it today? What can the miracle of the waters of Marah symbolize in the Gospel?
Chapter 16: The Lord provides mannah and quails when the Israelites hunger and complain.
What can the mannah and the quails symbolize?
Chapter 17: The Lord provides water when the Israelites thirst and complain (verses 1-7).
What do the stories of chapters 15 through the first half of 17 have to do with the story of the drowning of the Egyptians? Is it significant that the Lord provides water, then mannah and meat, and then water? How are the stores of chapter 15-17 related to each other?
Chapter 17: Amalek attacks and is defeated (verses 8-16).
Chapter 18: Jethro comes to meet Moses, bringing Moses’s wife and sons (verses 1-12). Jethro counsels Moses on how to be a judge (verses 13-27).
How do the stories of Amalek and Jethro contrast? What does that contrast teach us about Israel’s relations with others? Why is it important that Moses learn to be a judge before he receives the Law? What does that say to us about our own responsibilities?
Chapter 19: The Lord reveals his covenant with Israel to Moses: they are to be a peculiar treasure, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (verses 1-6). Moses reveals the covenant to the people and returns to the mountain to tell the Lord of Israel’s response (verses 7-8). The Lord tells Moses that he will speak to Israel from a cloud and that the people must purify themselves and wait for his appearance on the third day. He also tells Moses that he must set up limits so that no one will come onto the mountain (verses 9-13). Moses returns and on the third day a cloud descends on the mountain and a trumpet is heard coming from it. Moses is called back to the mountain (verses 14-20). Moses is told to tell the people not to come up on the mountain and to have the priests purify themselves (verses 21-25).
In Exodus 19:5, the root of the word translated obey means “hear.” What do hearing and obeying have to do with each other? The word translated “peculiar people” means “enclosed” or “kept secret.” The sense is that the people of Israel are a prized and special treasure. What makes them special? Does their specialness imply that they are morally superior to others? Why or why not? What does it mean to be a kingdom of priests? With what is the Lord making a contrast? In other words, what would a kingdom be that wasn’t a kingdom of priests?
Chapter 20: The Lord gives Israel the Ten Commandments (verses 1-17). The people fear and beg Moses to be their intermediary (verses 18-21). Moses returns to the mount and the Lord repeats the first and second commandments (verses 22-23). The Lord gives instructions for how the altar is to be built (verses 24-26).
Deuteronomy 14:2 suggests that the Mosaic Law is a sign of Israel’s calling to be a treasure, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. How would the Law be such a sign? How might we understand our own commandments as a sign of our status before God? Compare Romans 3:1-2, where Paul answers the question, “What is the advantage of being a Jew?” by saying “chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” The Greek word translated “oracles” means, literally, “messages.” Presumably that includes the commandments. How are the commandments a sign of our covenant status? What would it mean for us to be a treasure, a kingdom of priests and priestesses, and a holy nation? How would we go about being that? Why do you think the Lord reiterates the commandments against idolatry so soon after giving them the first time?
Chapters 21-23:19: Particulars of the Mosaic Law.
How are the Ten Commandments related to the laws that follows? Notice that Exodus 21:1 describes the things that follow as judgments, which could also be translated “acts of justice” or “ordinances,” as when we speak of the ordinances of a city. What does that suggest about how we should understand the laws? Why are both laws and rituals such as baptism called ordinances?
In the beginning, the firstborn son of each family in Israel was dedicated to the service of the Lord (Exodus 22:29). How is that like the order of the priesthood under the patriarchs? How do the several stories of second-born sons receiving the blessing fit into this pattern? What are we to make of the fact that Moses did not receive the priesthood through the lineage of the firstborn? As the Firstborn of the Father, Christ offered his life as an atoning sacrifice. How do these patterns illuminate the meaning of the killing of the firstborn in Egypt? Later the tribe of Levi was called to take the place of the firstborn (Numbers 3:11-13), and each Israelite family had to ransom its firstborn by making an offering to the Levites in recognition of their service as replacements for the firstborn son (Luke 2:22-24).
Chapter 23:20-33: The Lord promises that an angel will lead Israel, that they will have health, and that they will drive the Canaanites out of the Promised Land.
Chapter24: Moses and the seventy elders go up the mountain, though only Moses is allowed to approach the Lord (verses 1-2). Moses returns, tells Israel what he has received, and the people covenant to obey the commandments they have received (verse 3). Moses and the priests offer sacrifice to seal the covenant (verses 4-8). Moses and the seventy elders have a vision of the Lord and take part in a covenant meal (verses 9-11). Moses is promised tablets of stone, a law, and commandments, and he goes up onto the mountain for forty days (verses 12-18).
Chapters 25-27: Israel is commanded to build a tabernacle.
Chapters 28-31: Aaron and his sons officiate in the tabernacle, the fittings of the priestly robes and the tabernacle, and the ordinances prescribed for the tabernacle, particularly ordinances of atonement. The commandment to keep the Sabbath holy is reiterated (Exodus 31:12-17). Moses receives “two tables of testimony” (Exodus 31:18).
Why do you think the Lord reiterates the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy? Is it significant that he reiterated the commandments against idolatry just before giving the particulars of the Law and he reiterates the Sabbath commandment at the end of giving it? Whose testimony is engraved on the stone tablets? What might that testimony be of? The word translated “testimony” in Exodus 31:18 can also be translated “warning.” How might the tablets have served as a warning?
Chapter 32: The people are concerned with Moses’ delay; Aaron builds the golden calf and proclaims a feast day (verses 1-6). The Lord threatens to destroy the Israelites for their idolatry but Moses intervenes and pleads for them (verses 7-14). Moses returns to the Israelite camp. In his anger, he breaks the tablets, then he burns the golden calf and has the children of Israel drink the ashes (Verses 15-20). The Levites slay 3,000 Israelites in retribution (verses 21-29). Moses pleads for forgiveness for Israel, offering his life for them (verses 30-35).
Some Jewish commentators argue that Aaron did not make a calf for Israel to worship as an idol. (The wording of Exodus 32:4-5 is the key to their interpretation.) Rather, they say, he made a calf to serve the same purpose served by the cherubim on the ark, namely as a symbol of God’s resting place. (See Exodus 25:18-19.) Nevertheless, the Israelites worshiped it. What does that suggest about Aaron? About Israel? When are we like Aaron? Like Israel? Where did the Israelites get the ornaments that they melted down to make this calf? What purpose was that gold to serve? (See, for example, Exodus 25:11, 24, 28, 29, 31-32.)
Chapter 33: The Lord tells the Israelites to leave for the Promised Land, but he threatens to have an angel lead them rather than lead them himself (verses 1-3). The people strip themselves of their ornaments as a sign of remorse (verses 4-6). Moses speaks with the Lord in the tabernacle and pleads with the Lord to be with Israel (verses 7-23).
What does it mean for a leader to plead for the people? What is the point of arguing or bargaining with God, as Abraham did in Genesis 18 and as Moses does here? Who can we plead for?
Chapter 34: Moses returns to the mountain with two tablets of stone (verses 1-4). He encounters the Lord (verses 5-9). The Lord makes a new covenant with Israel and promises to protect them (verses 10-12). He demands that they destroy the idols of those they conquer (verses 13-17), that the firstborn of all their cattle be sanctified to him (verses 19-20), and he gives them other commandments (verses 18, 21-27). Moses returns to Israel with the new covenant; his face glows (verses 28-35).
Be sure to read the JST expansion of this chapter. Compare D&C 84:18-27. How does this new covenant differ from the first covenant?