Highlights From Bible Reading ‒ Exodus 19‒22
Highlights From the Book of Exodus 19-22
Scriptural Questions Answered:20:5—How is it that Jehovah brings “punishment for the error of fathers” upon future generations? After reaching an age of responsibility, each individual is judged on the basis of his own conduct and attitude. But when the nation of Israel turned to idolatry, it suffered the consequences of this for generations thereafter. Even the faithful Israelites felt its effects in that the nation’s religious delinquency made staying on a course of integrity difficult for them.
Lessons for Us:20:1–23:33. Jehovah is the supreme Lawgiver. When obeyed, his laws enabled the Israelites to worship him in an orderly and joyful way. Jehovah has a theocratic organization today. Cooperating with it leads to our happiness and security.
In the Shadow of an Eagle’s Wings
One of the most dangerous periods of an eagle’s life is when it learns to fly. Not a few eagles die in the attempt. The fledgling Israelite nation was also in danger when it departed from Egypt. Thus the words of Jehovah to the Israelites were most fitting: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, that I might carry you on wings of eagles and bring you to myself.” (Exodus 19:4) There are reports of eagles briefly carrying a young bird on its back so that the young one would not crash in its initial attempts to fly. G. R. Driver, commenting in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly on such reports, said: “The [Biblical] picture then is not a mere flight of fancy but is based on actual fact.”
Eagles are exemplary parents in other ways too. Not only do they provide the nestling with regular meals but the mother bird also carefully chops up the meat the male eagle brings to the nest so that the eaglet can swallow it. As their nests are usually built on cliffs or in tall trees, the young birds are exposed to the elements. (Job 39:27, 28) The scorching sun, common to Bible lands, could cause the death of the young bird were it not for the care of its parents. The adult eagle spreads out its wings, sometimes for hours at a time, in order to shade its tender nestling.
Thus it is very appropriate that the wings of an eagle are used in the Scriptures as a symbol of divine protection. Deuteronomy 32:9-12 describes how Jehovah protected the Israelites during their wilderness trek: “For Jehovah’s share is his people; Jacob is the allotment that he inherits. He came to find him in a wilderness land, and in an empty, howling desert. He began to encircle him, to take care of him, to safeguard him as the pupil of his eye. Just as an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its fledglings, spreads out its wings, takes them, carries them on its pinions, Jehovah alone kept leading him.” Jehovah will give us the same loving protection if we trust in him.
• Why can it be said that after Pentecost 33 C.E., Jews who became Christians had to make a personal dedication to God?
In 1513 B.C.E., the ancient Israelites came into a dedicated relationship with Jehovah. (Exodus 19:3-8) After that, Jews were born into that dedicated nation under the Law covenant. But Jehovah removed the Law covenant by means of Christ’s death in 33 C.E. (Colossians 2:14) Thereafter, Jews wanting to serve God acceptably needed to make a dedication to him and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.—5/15, pages 30-1.
Value Christ as Mediator
14 Like Moses, Jesus was a mediator. A mediator acts as a bridge between two parties. Moses mediated the Law covenant between Jehovah and the Israelites. If the sons of Jacob obeyed the laws of God, they would remain God’s special property, his congregation. (Ex. 19:3-8) That covenant stayed in force from 1513 B.C.E. until the first century C.E.
4 The apostle Paul explained that Moses’ wearing of the veil had to do with the minds and the heart condition of the Israelites themselves. Paul wrote: “The sons of Israel could not gaze intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face . . . Their mental powers were dulled.” (2 Corinthians 3:7, 14) What a sad situation! The Israelites were Jehovah’s chosen people, and he wanted them to draw close to him. (Exodus 19:4-6) Yet, they were reluctant to gaze intently on the reflection of God’s glory. Instead of turning their hearts and minds toward Jehovah in loving devotion, they in a sense turned away from him.
How Dedication to God Benefited Israel
8 The nation of Israel as a whole became dedicated to Jehovah when they made a vow to God. Jehovah had them assemble near Mount Sinai, and he said to them: “If you will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, then you will certainly become my special property out of all other peoples.” The people answered unanimously: “All that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do.” (Ex. 19:4-8) Being dedicated meant much more for Israel than being committed to do something. It meant that they belonged to Jehovah, and Jehovah treated them as his “special property.”
A Solemn Agreement
5 After delivering the Israelites from Egypt, Jehovah offered to accept them as his “special property,” to love and protect them and to constitute them “a holy nation.” To receive such blessings, however, the people had to respond to God’s love in a concrete way. This they did by agreeing to do ‘all that Jehovah had spoken’ and entering into a covenant with him. (Exodus 19:4-9) In the first century, Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples of people of all nations, and those who embraced his teaching were baptized. A good relationship with God depended on faith in Jesus Christ followed by baptism.—Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 2:38, 41.
6 These Scriptural accounts show that Jehovah blesses those who make and keep a solemn agreement to serve him. For Christians, dedication and baptism are necessary steps that lead to Jehovah’s blessing. We are resolved to follow his ways and seek his guidance. (Psalm 48:14) Jehovah, in turn, figuratively grasps us by the hand and leads us in the way in which we should walk.—Psalm 73:23; Isaiah 30:21; 41:10, 13.
16 The Israelites were told that if they obeyed Jehovah, they would become his “special property out of all other peoples.” (Ex. 19:5) When faithful, Israel differed from all other nations in worship and way of life. Similarly today, Jehovah has separated for himself a people who are markedly different from Satan’s world. We are told: “Repudiate ungodliness and worldly desires and . . . live with soundness of mind and righteousness and godly devotion amid this present system of things, while we wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of the Savior of us, Christ Jesus, who gave himself for us that he might deliver us from every sort of lawlessness and cleanse for himself a people peculiarly his own, zealous for fine works.” (Titus 2:11-14) This “people” is made up of anointed Christians and millions of Jesus’ “other sheep,” who aid and support them.—John 10:16.
12 Give Jehovah exclusive devotion. The nation of Israel was present when Jehovah declared that he requires exclusive devotion. (Exodus 20:2-5) The Israelites had seen abundant evidence that Jehovah is the true God. (Deuteronomy 4:33-35) Jehovah made it clear that regardless of what other nations were doing, he would not tolerate any form of idolatry or spiritism among his people. Their devotion to him was to be no mere formality. All of them were to love Jehovah with their whole heart, their whole soul, and all their vital force. (Deuteronomy 6:5, 6) This would involve their speech, their conduct—indeed, every aspect of their lives. (Leviticus 20:27; 24:15, 16; 26:1) Jesus Christ also made it clear that Jehovah requires exclusive devotion.—Mark 12:28-30; Luke 4:8.
• Why did God not punish Aaron for making the golden calf?
Aaron did break God’s law about idolatry. (Ex. 20:3-5) Yet, Moses supplicated God in Aaron’s behalf, and his supplication had “much force.” (Jas. 5:16) Aaron had a record of faithfulness. And though the people persuaded Aaron to make the calf, he later showed that his heart was not with them, for he joined the sons of Levi in taking Jehovah’s side. (Ex. 32:25-29)—5/15, page 21.
Different From Love and Loyalty
3 Loving-kindness, or loyal love, is closely related to the qualities of love and loyalty. Yet, it differs from them in important ways. Consider how loving-kindness and love differ. Love can be extended to things and concepts. The Bible speaks of “loving wine and oil” and “loving wisdom.” (Proverbs 21:17; 29:3) But loving-kindness has to do with people, not concepts or inanimate things. For instance, people are involved when Exodus 20:6 says that Jehovah is “exercising loving-kindness toward the thousandth generation.”
14 One manifestation of Jehovah’s goodness is that he is “abundant in loving-kindness.” This is especially evident in the tender care that he gives his dedicated, faithful human servants. (1 Peter 5:6, 7) As Witnesses of Jehovah can testify, he is ‘preserving loving-kindness’ toward those who love and serve him. (Exodus 20:6) The nation of natural Israel ceased to experience Jehovah’s loving-kindness, or loyal love, because they rejected his Son. But God’s goodness and loyal love toward faithful Christians of all nations will last forever.—John 3:36.
Our Holy, Fear-Inspiring Redeemer
17 “He has sent redemption itself to his people. To time indefinite he has commanded his covenant. His name is holy and fear-inspiring.” (Ps. 111:9) Again, the psalmist may have had in mind Jehovah’s loyalty to his covenant promise to Abraham. In line with that, Jehovah did not abandon his people first as slaves in ancient Egypt and later as captives in Babylon. In both cases, God redeemed his people. Even if only for those two accomplishments, Israel should have treated God’s name as holy.—Read Exodus 20:7; Romans 2:23, 24.
7 The Sabbath arrangement emphasized the importance of spiritual pursuits. The first occurrence of the word “sabbath” in the Bible is in connection with the provision of manna in the wilderness. The Israelites were told that they should collect this miraculous bread for six days. On the sixth day, they were to collect “the bread of two days,” for on the seventh, none would be provided. The seventh day would be “a holy sabbath to Jehovah,” during which each one should keep sitting in his own place. (Exodus 16:13-30) One of the Ten Commandments mandated that no work at all was to be done on the Sabbath. The day was sacred. The penalty for not observing it was death.—Exodus 20:8-11; Numbers 15:32-36.
8 The Sabbath law showed Jehovah’s concern for both the physical and the spiritual welfare of his people. “The sabbath came into existence for the sake of man,” said Jesus. (Mark 2:27) It not only allowed the Israelites to rest but also gave them the opportunity to draw close to and show love for their Creator. (Deuteronomy 5:12) It was a day dedicated exclusively to spiritual interests. That included family worship, prayer, and meditation on God’s Law. The arrangement served to protect the Israelites from using all their time and energy in material pursuits. The Sabbath reminded them that their relationship with Jehovah was the most important thing in their lives. Jesus reiterated that unchanging principle when he said: “It is written, ‘Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.’”—Matthew 4:4.
Exodus 20:18, 19, 22, 23
14 It would be very unusual for one of Jehovah’s Witnesses to join a false religion. While remaining in the congregation, however, some might reject Jehovah’s direction in other ways. The people of Israel had no excuse for becoming forgetful hearers. They heard the Ten Commandments and were present when Moses gave them God’s command: “You must not make along with me gods of silver, and you must not make gods of gold for yourselves.” (Exodus 20:18, 19, 22, 23) Still, the Israelites worshiped the golden calf.
15 We too would have no valid excuse if we were to become forgetful hearers. In the Scriptures, we have direction from God regarding many areas of life. For example, Jehovah’s Word specifically condemns the practice of borrowing and not paying back. (Psalm 37:21) Children are commanded to be obedient to their parents, and fathers are expected to bring up their children in the “mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:1-4) Single Christians are instructed to marry “only in the Lord,” and married servants of God are told: “Let marriage be honorable among all, and the marriage bed be without defilement, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” (1 Corinthians 7:39; Hebrews 13:4) If we are determined not to become forgetful hearers, we will take these and other directives from God very seriously and will comply with them.
“I REALLY LOVE MY MASTER”
2 From the Law that God gave to Israel, we learn about the sort of slavery that Jehovah requires of us. A Hebrew slave was to be granted his freedom in the seventh year of his servitude. (Ex. 21:2) However, for a slave who really loved his master and who wished to remain in his service, Jehovah made a remarkable provision. The master was to bring his slave up against the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear through with an awl. (Ex. 21:5, 6) It is of significance that this procedure involved the ear. In the Hebrew language, the basic idea of obedience is expressed by a word that relates to hearing and listening. The willing slave desired to continue giving obedient service to his master. This helps us appreciate what is involved in our dedication to Jehovah—willing obedience motivated by love of God.
“SLAVERY was prevalent and widely accepted in the ancient world,” states the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. It adds: “The economy of Egypt, Greece, and Rome was based on slave labor. In the first Christian century, one out of three persons in Italy and one out of five elsewhere was a slave.”
2 Although slavery also existed in ancient Israel, the Mosaic Law ensured that Hebrew slaves received protection. For instance, the Law required that an Israelite could serve as a slave for no more than six years. In the seventh year, he was to “go out as one set free without charge.” But the regulations concerning the treatment of slaves were so fair and humane that the Law of Moses made the following provision: “If the slave should insistently say, ‘I really love my master, my wife and my sons; I do not want to go out as one set free,’ then his master must bring him near to the true God and must bring him up against the door or the doorpost; and his master must pierce his ear through with an awl, and he must be his slave to time indefinite.”—Exodus 21:2-6; Leviticus 25:42, 43; Deuteronomy 15:12-18.
Exodus 22:22, 23
Give a listening ear
In the Law he gave to ancient Israel, Jehovah declared that he would ‘unfailingly hear the outcry’ of the disadvantaged one. (Exodus 22:22, 23) How can you imitate this fine example? Single parents often experience intense feelings of loneliness, having no other adult to talk to. “When the children go to bed, I sometimes can’t stop crying,” lamented one single parent. “The loneliness is too much to bear at times.” If appropriate, can you make yourself available to ‘hear the outcry’ of a single parent who may need to pour out his or her feelings? Your giving a listening ear under proper circumstances can do much to help that one cope with the challenges of single parenthood.
▪ What the Bible teaches: “You people must not afflict any . . . fatherless boy. If you should afflict him at all, then if he cries out to me at all, I shall unfailingly hear his outcry.”—Exodus 22:22-24.
Lesson: Jehovah listens to the prayers of even small children. We can talk to God regularly and express our innermost thoughts and feelings to him.
Exodus 22:26, 27
9 Referring to other sinful conduct, Jehovah said: “On garments seized as a pledge they stretch themselves out beside every altar; and the wine of those who have been fined they drink at the house of their gods.” (Amos 2:8) Yes, priests and people in general also ignored the law recorded at Exodus 22:26, 27, which said that a garment taken as a pledge had to be returned before nightfall. Instead, they used it as a blanket on which to sprawl while feasting and drinking to false gods. And with the fines they extracted from the poor, they bought wine to drink at false religious festivals. How far they had strayed from the path of pure worship!
10 The Israelites were shamelessly violating the two greatest commandments of the Law—to love Jehovah and to love their fellow humans. God thus sent Amos to condemn them for their unfaithfulness. Today, the nations of the world, including those of Christendom, reflect the corrupt condition of ancient Israel. While some people prosper, many others are ruined financially and damaged emotionally by the immoral practices of dishonest leaders of big business, politics, and false religion. But Jehovah is concerned about those who are suffering and who are moved to search for him. Therefore, he has assigned his present-day servants to do a work like that of Amos—to preach His word boldly.
Exodus 22:26, 27
17 Jehovah’s mercy is coupled with graciousness. If you have a dictionary, read what it says under “gracious.” Compare this with scriptures that speak of Jehovah as being gracious. The Bible shows that graciousness on Jehovah’s part includes loving concern for disadvantaged ones among his people. (Exodus 22:26, 27) In any country, aliens as well as others may find themselves at a disadvantage. When teaching his people to be impartial and to show kindness toward such ones, Jehovah reminded them that they too had been aliens—in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 24:17-22) What about us as God’s people today? Graciousness on our part helps to unite us and to attract others to the worship of Jehovah.—Acts 10:34, 35; Revelation 7:9, 10.
12 Murmuring about men whose duty it is to shepherd the flock of God may lead to reviling. Such murmuring or slanderously calling down evil upon them can detrimentally affect our relationship with Jehovah. (Exodus 22:28) Unrepentant revilers will not inherit God’s Kingdom. (1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:10) The disciple Jude wrote about murmurers who were “disregarding lordship and speaking abusively of glorious ones,” or responsible men in the congregation. (Jude 8) Those murmurers did not have divine approval, and we wisely shun their wicked course.