The Lord’s concern for His chosen people can be seen in the call of Moses. So great was Moses that forever after the Lord and His people have used him as a standard, or model, of a prophet. Even Jesus Christ was called a prophet like unto Moses (see Acts 3:22; 7:37; Deuteronomy 18:15, 18–19; 1 Nephi 22:20–21; 3 Nephi 20:23–24). Indeed, Moses was a similitude or living symbol of Jesus Christ (see Moses 1:6).
Moses was a man who, like us, possessed both weaknesses and strengths. The key to Moses’ character is his meekness, the capacity to be molded by the Lord and His Spirit. “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).
In this chapter you will learn of Moses’ foreordination, his youthful preparation, the patient tempering of his character in the desert, his call from God, and his assumption of prophetic leadership. Perhaps it will encourage you to analyze your life so that, like Moses, you can identify your weaknesses, purge yourself of them, and take up the assignment the Lord has for you in this life. Like Nephi, you may be led to say “let us be strong like unto Moses” (1 Nephi 4:2). Elder Mark E. Petersen testified:
“The true Moses was one of the mightiest men of God in all time. . . .
“He walked and talked with God, received of divine glory while yet in mortality, was called a son of God, and was in the similitude of the Only Begotten.
“He saw the mysteries of the heavens and much of creation, and received laws from God beyond any other ancient man of whom we have record.” (Moses, p. 49.)
Instructions to Students
1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Exodus 1–10.
2. Complete Points to Ponder as directed by your teacher. (Individual study students should complete all of this section.)
“The fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham required that Israel should become numerous. To accomplish this, the little family, numbering only 70 persons (Genesis 46:26–27), needed sufficient time and a peaceful place in which to grow. Egypt was that place. . . .
“. . . Palestine was a battleground for warring nations that moved back and forth in their conquests between the Nile and the Euphrates. Israel would have found no peace there. They required stable conditions for their eventual growth and development. . . .
“Their bondage certainly was not all on the negative side. It too served a good purpose. The cruelty of the taskmasters, the hatred that existed between the Hebrews and the Egyptians, and the length of their trying servitude fused Jacob’s children into a united people. . . .
“The hatred they felt toward the Egyptians prevented intermarriage between the Hebrews and their neighbors. To reap the benefits of the Abrahamic promises, Israel had to remain a pure race, and the Lord used this means to achieve it. . . .
“Yes, Egypt had her role in the Lord’s mighty drama, and she played it well.
“At the end of 430 years, the Lord now decreed that the time had arrived for Israel to occupy her own land and there become that ‘peculiar people’ who would await the coming of their Messiah.” (Petersen, Moses, pp. 27–30.)
Many scholars speculate that Joseph came to power in Egypt while the nation was under the domination of the Hyksos people. The ancient historian Manetho called the Hyksos the shepherd-kings and told how their conquest and dominion were bitterly hated by the Egyptians. The Hyksos were Semitic peoples from the lands north and east of Egypt. Since Jacob and his family were also Semitic, it is easy to understand how Joseph would be viewed with favor by the Hyksos and also how, when the Hyksos were finally overthrown and driven out of Egypt, the Israelites would suddenly fall from favor with the native Egyptians.
Many people have wondered how Joseph could be vice-regent for so many years without having his name in any of the records or monuments of Egypt. If the theory of Hyksos domination is correct, then Joseph’s name would have been purged from records and monuments along with those of the other Hyksos rulers. Nevertheless, one scholar claimed that he found the Egyptian name Yufni, which would be the equivalent in Egyptian of the Hebrew Yosef (see Donovan Courville, “My Search for Joseph,” Signs of the Times, Oct. 1977, pp. 5–8). While the evidence is not conclusive, at least it can be said that there may be extra-biblical evidence of Joseph’s existence.
|A colossal statue of Ramses II, who may have been the pharaoh at the time of the Exodus.|
The oppressive measures of the pharaoh were not able to thwart the purposes of God in creating a great nation. Through the courageous faith of the midwives and their refusal to carry out the pharaoh’s orders to execute the male children, Israel continued to prosper. The life of Moses, who was a similitude of the Savior (see Moses 1:6), was threatened by the ruler of the land, just as the life of Christ was threatened by Herod, who decreed the death of the children of Bethlehem.
Both the ancient Jewish historian Josephus and Jonathan ben Uzziel, another ancient Jewish writer, recorded that the pharaoh had a dream wherein he was shown that a man soon to be born would deliver Israel from bondage, and this dream motivated the royal decree to drown the male children (see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, bk. 2, chap. 9, par. 2; Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:294).
Moses was a descendant of Levi through both his father, Amram (see Exodus 6:16–20), and his mother, Jochebed (see Exodus 2:1; 6:20).
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Both the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (see Genesis 50) and the Book of Mormon (see 2 Nephi 3) show that as early as the time of Joseph, son of Jacob, the future mission of the deliverer had been prophesied. So detailed had been the prophecy by Joseph that even the name of Moses was known, as well as incidents of his ministry (see Reading 8-27 for the Joseph Smith Translation additions to Genesis 50).
In the New Testament Stephen made a lengthy speech about the dealings of the Lord with the house of Israel. Concerning Moses’ youth, Stephen related, “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds” (Acts 7:22).
Josephus said that Moses was a very handsome and educated prince and a mighty warrior in the cause of the Egyptians (see Antiquities, bk. 2, chap. 9, par. 7; chap. 10, pars. 1–2).
As a prince, Moses may have had access to the royal libraries of the Egyptians as well as the scriptural record of the Israelites as taught by his mother. Quite possibly he read the prophecies of Joseph and was led by the Spirit to understand his divine appointment to deliver his brethren the Israelites. Stephen’s address implied that Moses understood his responsibility: “And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. . . . For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.” (Acts 7:23, 25.)
Paul, in Hebrews, added further to the concept, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; . . . esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11:24, 26). Moses’ mother, Jochebed, likely taught him the principles and righteous traditions of the Hebrews as she nursed and cared for him (see Exodus 2:7–9).
“‘Smote’ and ‘slew’ in King James English are both translated from Hebrew nakhah, meaning ‘to beat down’; it is the word used in describing the action taken by soldiers in combat against each other. It would be correct to say that Moses slew a man who was slaying another, or took a life in saving a life. His looking ‘this way and that’ before doing so, simply indicates that he was aware that the Egyptians would not condone his defense of a slave.” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:74.)
“However, the historian Eusebius says that the slaying was the result of a court intrigue in which certain men plotted to assassinate Moses. In the encounter it is said that Moses successfully warded off the attacker and killed him. (Eusebius IX:27.)
“In the Midrash Rabbah, the traditional Jewish commentary on the Old Testament, it is asserted that Moses, with his bare fists, killed an Egyptian taskmaster who was in the act of seducing a Hebrew woman. This is confirmed in the Koran.
“Certainly there must have been good reason for Moses’ act, and most assuredly the Lord would not have called a murderer to the high office of prophet and liberator for his people Israel.” (Petersen, Moses, p. 42.)
The more common name for Reuel is Jethro (see Exodus 3:1; Numbers 10:29). Jethro was a descendant of Midian, who was a son of Abraham and Keturah (see Genesis 25:1–6). Through this line Moses received the priesthood (see D&C 84:6–13).
Acts 7:30 indicates that the “process of time” described here was another forty years.
Horeb is the same as Mount Sinai, where Moses received the law from the Lord. Elijah also later sought refuge at Horeb (see 1 Kings 19:8).
“A manifestation was given to Moses by a messenger of light, causing a bush to appear to burn; it was really not afire and was not consumed. The word ‘angel’ could better have been rendered ‘messenger’ which is the basic meaning of the Hebrew word malakh. A flame in a bush, a mighty wind, a small voice, a great thundering, or other phenomena may herald a message from God, as a malakh of God. After Moses’ attention was drawn to the bush, the voice of the Lord Himself spoke to Moses; Moses responded in awe and reverence.” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:74.)
The Joseph Smith Translation of Exodus 3:2 reads, “And again the presence of the Lord appeared unto him” (emphasis added).
When the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush He used the name I AM to identify Himself as the God of Israel, the same God who had appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Although this is the first time this name appears in the Bible, it is obvious that if the name had not been known to the Israelites, its value for identifying the Lord would have been useless. Correct identification was crucial to Moses in authenticating his call to the Israelites. This name does not appear frequently in the Bible; however, Jesus (the Jehovah of the Old Testament) used it on other occasions to identify Himself to Abraham (see Abraham 1:16), to the Jews (see John 8:58), and to modern Israel (see D&C 29:1).
Etymologically, the title I AM is directly related to the most frequently used name of deity in the Old Testament—YHWH. How often the name YHWH appears in the Bible may not always be evident in the King James Version, since the translators substituted the title LORD or GOD almost every place it appeared in the Hebrew. This practice shows deference to the reverential feelings of the Jews who never pronounced the name, substituting instead their word for Lord—Adonai. (Read Genesis 18:1–3 where this distinction between Lord and LORD makes a significant difference in the interpretation. Also see Reading A-2 for a full discussion of this subject.)
I AM is the first person singular form of the verb to be. Therefore, YHWH (which can also be the third person singular) would mean “HE IS” or “HE EXISTS.” The first or third person of the same verb was used by the Lord in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, depending upon whether He wanted to emphasize His own or our own perspective.
There is some evidence that Moses may have had a mild speech impediment (see Reading 9-22), although some scholars think Moses may only have been suggesting that his facility in both the Hebrew and Egyptian languages was poor after having lived forty years with the Midianites. Whatever the outward cause, the Lord answered Moses with reasoning so simple and yet so profound that it was difficult to refute. Moses’ feelings of inadequacy were so strong, however, that he still insisted he needed help. The Lord became angry at this continued lack of confidence and gave Aaron to Moses as a spokesman. Anyone with normal feelings of his own unworthiness can sympathize with Moses, but all must learn to trust in the power of the Lord. Moroni taught that the Lord specifically gives individuals weaknesses so that they will be humble. But if they have enough faith in God, His grace is sufficient to “make weak things become strong” for them (Ether 12:27). Enoch had a similar response to his own feelings of inadequacy, and yet great things eventually came out of that weakness when he turned to God (see Moses 6:31–32, 47; 7:13).
The great vision Moses received, as recorded in Moses 1, took place after Moses’ original call on Mount Horeb and before his arrival in Egypt. Moses 1:17 refers to the burning bush experience in retrospect. Moses 1:24–25 speaks of the delivery of Israel from bondage as a future event.
The Joseph Smith Translation of Exodus 4:21 says, “I will prosper thee; but Pharaoh will harden his heart, and he will not let the people go.” This truth must be remembered in all subsequent references to the pharaoh’s heart being hardened.
The King James Version lacks detail in this account. The Joseph Smith Translation indicates that the Lord was angry with Moses for failing to circumcise his son. It appears that Zipporah had not wanted to circumcise Gershom but relented when the Lord expressed His anger to Moses.
“And it came to pass, that the Lord appeared unto him as he was in the way, by the inn. The Lord was angry with Moses, and his hand was about to fall upon him, to kill him; for he had not circumcised his son.
“Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and circumcised her son, and cast the stone at his feet, and said, Surely thou art a bloody husband unto me.
“And the Lord spared Moses and let him go, because Zipporah, his wife, circumcised the child. And she said, Thou art a bloody husband. And Moses was ashamed, and hid his face from the Lord, and said, I have sinned before the Lord.
“And the Lord said unto Aaron, go into the wilderness to meet Moses, and he went and met him, in the mount of God; in the mount where God appeared unto him; and Aaron kissed him.” (JST, Exodus 4:24–27.)
|The Great Pyramid of Cheops was nearly a thousand years old when Moses was in Egypt.|
What can be said of the people who had to be converted by signs (see Matthew 12:38–39; D&C 63:7–12)? Although their initial reaction when they saw the signs was very positive, at the first indication of challenge and adversity their commitment began to waver (see Exodus 5:20–23).
God gave the pharaoh a chance to let Israel go, of his own free will, to worship God. Through his refusal the pharaoh could blame no one but himself for the consequences.
The eternal gospel covenant that the Lord God established with Adam and all the patriarchs, including Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was, at the time of Moses, established with the whole house of Israel.
The King James Version of Exodus 6:3 suggests that the name Jehovah was unknown to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This suggestion, however, obviously cannot be the case (see Genesis 4:26 in which the name LORD [Jehovah] first appears). Also, the Lord (Jehovah) appeared several times to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others. Obviously there is something wrong with the King James translation of Exodus 6:3. The problem can be resolved if one knows that the verse can be read as a question in the Hebrew, as well as the English, merely by raising the inflection of the voice toward the end of the sentence. (When one translates a text, not spoken aloud, he may not catch the inflection and may therefore miss the original intention of the writer.) The Prophet Joseph Smith rendered this passage as follows: “And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob. I am the Lord God Almighty; the Lord JEHOVAH. And was not my name known unto them?” (JST, Exodus 6:3.) The answer is yes!
The King James Version states that Moses had “uncircumcised lips” (Exodus 6:30). The Joseph Smith Translation clarifies this statement by saying that Moses had “stammering lips” and was “slow of speech” (JST, Exodus 6:29). Exodus 4:10 in the New English Bible reports that Moses was “slow and hesitant in speech.” This characteristic may explain Moses’ original hesitation to be God’s spokesman (see Exodus 4:10; see also Reading 9-14).
The Prophet Joseph Smith corrected this verse to read that Moses was to be a prophet to the pharaoh rather than a god.
“All down through the ages and in almost all countries, men have exercised great occult and mystical powers, even to the healing of the sick and the performing of miracles. Soothsayers, magicians, and astrologers were found in the courts of ancient kings. They had certain powers by which they divined and solved the monarch’s problems, dreams, etc. One of the most striking examples of this is recorded in Exodus, where Pharaoh called ‘the wise men and the sorcerers’ who duplicated some of the miracles the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron to perform. When Aaron threw down his rod, it became a serpent. The Egyptian magicians threw down their rods, and they also became serpents. . . .
“. . . The Savior declared that Satan had the power to bind bodies of men and women and sorely afflict them [see Matthew 7:22–23; Luke 13:16]. If Satan has power to bind the bodies, he surely must have power to loose them. It should be remembered that Satan has great knowledge and thereby can exercise authority and to some extent control the elements, when some greater power does not intervene.” (Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:176, 178.)
|A typical purification scene from the temple in Esna|
There have been numerous attempts through the ages to explain the plagues described in these chapters of Exodus. Some have tried to show that the various plagues were the result of some natural phenomenon such as passing meteorites or the explosion of a volcanic island in the Mediterranean Sea. While there is some degree of logical progression in the plagues (the river’s pollution could have driven the frogs out of the marshes to die, and this situation would then have bred lice, flies, and disease), it is not possible at present to explain how the Lord brought about these miraculous events. The fact that the plagues were selective (that is, sent upon the Egyptians but not the Israelites) adds to their miraculous nature. God often works through natural means to bring about His purposes, but that fact does not lessen the miraculous nature of His work. In the plagues and eventual deliverance of Israel from the bondage of Egypt is a record of remarkable and miraculous intervention by God in behalf of His children. How He actually intervened is not nearly so significant as that He did intervene.
|The sphinx near the mortuary temple of Khafre|
(9-26) The two main characters in these chapters are Moses and the pharaoh. We have learned that the Lord knew both of these men before they were born. Both were introduced to the test of mortality at this time with the Lord knowing that they would perform their respective functions.
Moses was meek and allowed himself to be led by the hand of God. Consequently, great and mighty miracles were performed by him to deliver God’s chosen people, Israel, from bondage.
The pharaoh, on the other hand, was self-centered, power hungry, cruel, and hard-hearted. He was largely unimpressed with the power of the Lord. He preferred to follow the counterfeit power of Satan, which allowed him the false belief that he was a god on earth.
Assume you were going to give a talk in sacrament meeting entitled “Using Exodus 1–10 as a Source of Wisdom for Personal Growth.” What things from the lives of Moses and the pharaoh would you list that we could either emulate or avoid in becoming more Christlike in our characters? Be specific, giving scripture references in each case.
Thomas Carlyle once wrote: “It is in and through symbolism that man consciously or unconsciously lives, works, and has his being. Those ages, moreover, are accounted the noblest which can best recognize symbolical worth, and prize it the highest.” (In Maurice H. Farbridge, Studies in Biblical and Semitic Symbolism, flyleaf.) It should not be surprising, then, that symbolic language and imagery should play a central role in religion, which is concerned with man’s eternal destiny. Religious ordinances and rituals are deeply symbolic, and the scriptures, which contain the word of the Lord revealed for His children, abound with similes, metaphors, parables, allegories, types, and symbols. The symbolism is so profound and so extensive that if one does not have an understanding of the meaning of that symbolism, many of the most important and satisfying truths will be missed.
Many in the world and even some in the Church think of the Old Testament as reflecting a pregospel culture centered around the Mosaic covenant that was given instead of the gospel laws. But the Lord said the following about what the Israelites were given when they rejected the higher law: “And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel; which gospel is the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments” (D&C 84:26–27; emphasis added). The fulness of the gospel was taken, but a preparatory gospel dealing with the basic principles of the gospel was given in its place. Paul taught the Galatian Saints that this action was taken so that the Israelites could be brought to Christ: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” (Galatians 3:24–25.) The Old Testament, especially in its types and symbols, richly reflects this gospel orientation, since it contained the preparatory gospel designed to bring Israel to have faith in the Redeemer.
Why does the Lord use so much symbolic language to teach His children? Why does He not just say clearly what He wants them to know? While one probably cannot understand all of the Lord’s purposes for using symbolism to teach His children, the following reasons seem to be important:
(C-4) Symbolic language and imagery have the power to convey important truths through many languages and cultures with great power and impact. A figurative image can provide powerful teaching impact. For example, in the midst of lengthy prophecies of judgment upon Israel, Isaiah gave what at first seems to be a difficult and obscure passage: “Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech.
“Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground?
“When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place?
“For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him.
“For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod.
“Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen.
“This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.” (Isaiah 28:23–29.)
The imagery Isaiah used unfolds a lesson with great teaching power. Isaiah used the symbol of a farmer and how he deals with his fields and crops to show the purposes of God. Israel is the field of Jehovah. Because of her wickedness and apostasy she has become hardened and incapable of producing much fruit. As the husbandman plows the soil, breaking up the hardness with the blade and turning over the soil in preparation for planting, so the judgments and punishments sent upon the covenant people are the plow and the harrow of God (compare Mormon’s commentary in Helaman 12:1–6 on the nature of God’s children). But note Isaiah’s question, “Does the plowman plow all day to sow?” The answer is no. The plowman does not plow the field over and over and over. He plows just enough to prepare the soil for planting the fitches, the cummin (two kinds of herbs) and the wheat.
Likewise, in the image of the farmer threshing his crops is illustrated the divine discretion of God. Different crops are threshed in different ways. Wheat is threshed with a threshing sled, a heavy instrument dragged behind an ox or a donkey. But other means are used to thresh the more tender fitches and cummin, which would be destroyed by that much weight. So it is with God. His punishments are not sent just to grind the people to destruction. If the wickedness of the people requires only the beating “with the staff,” then that is all the Lord sends. If a heavier form of threshing is required, then it is sent. In some extreme cases, such as those of the Flood or of Sodom and Gomorrah, the fields may have to be burned completely so that a new crop can be started.
The Lord could have explained in a more straightforward manner the way He deals with His rebellious children, listing point by point what He wanted all His children to know. But there is more power in imagery than there is in a list. And the power of that imagery carries through numerous translations and various cultures. As Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated:
“To crystallize in our minds the eternal verities which we must accept and believe to be saved, to dramatize their true meaning and import with an impact never to be forgotten, to center our attention on these saving truths, again and again and again, the Lord uses similitudes. Abstract principles may easily be forgotten or their deep meaning overlooked, but visual performances and actual experiences are registered on the mind in such a way as never to be lost.” (The Promised Messiah, p. 377.)
(C-5) Couching great truths in symbolic language helped preserve them from those who sought to take away the plain and precious parts of the scriptures. Unquestionably, many plain and precious things have been taken from the Bible (see 1 Nephi 13:26). The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.” (Teachings, p. 327.)
The Prophet suggested deliberate mutilation of the text. But those truths couched in symbolic imagery that require the “spirit of prophecy,” or the “testimony of Jesus,” to interpret (Alma 25:16; Revelation 19:10) were not understood by these “designing and corrupt priests” and thus were left basically intact.
(C-6) Figurative language can convey truth and meaning to all levels of spiritual maturity. After teaching the multitude the parable of the four kinds of soil, Jesus admonished them, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9). This statement signaled to His listeners that what the Savior had just said was more than just a nice story. The disciples later came to Him and asked, “Why speakest thou unto them [the multitude] in parables?” (Matthew 13:10). The Savior’s answer is at first puzzling. He explained that He taught that way because the multitude refused to see and hear spiritual truths. Elder Bruce R. McConkie pointed out the significance of the Savior’s use of parables:
“Our Lord used parables on frequent occasions during his ministry to teach gospel truths. His purpose, however, in telling these short stories was not to present the truths of his gospel in plainness so that all his hearers would understand. Rather it was so to phrase and hide the doctrine involved that only the spiritually literate would understand it, while those whose understandings were darkened would remain in darkness. (Matt. 13:10–17; [JST], Matt. 21:34.) It is never proper to teach any person more than his spiritual capacity qualifies him to assimilate.” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 553.)
To the spiritually illiterate the parable of the soils is a lovely little story. To one in tune with the Spirit and full of understanding of gospel truths, it is far more. Thus, symbolic language can both reveal and conceal truth, depending on the readiness of the individual who hears.
(C-7) Symbols deeply affect the emotions and attitudes of an individual. The national flag of a country is, in reality, nothing but a large piece of cloth with its colors arranged in a particular pattern. But for such a piece of cloth, people are moved to tears, go to war, risk persecution, or suffer death. It is not, of course, the specific piece of cloth that matters, for that could be easily replaced. What does matter is what the cloth symbolizes to the individual. This meaning can be very profound in its effect on the heart and mind. One need only ponder the effect on the emotions of such symbolic objects or acts as a wedding ring, the temple, baptism, the sacrament, and so on to understand one reason the Lord teaches through symbols.
(C-8) Spiritual power comes when one is forced to ponder and search out the meaning of symbolic imagery in an attitude of quest. When a price is paid in personal effort and sacrifice for something, it is appreciated far more than when it is received without effort. To unveil great spiritual truths clothed in figurative dress requires that the student of the scriptures search and ponder. A price must be paid, and when understanding does come, it is much more satisfying and appreciated than it otherwise would have been.
Occasionally some try to discourage others from seeking for figurative imagery in the scriptures. Of course, one must not seek to read in meaning that was not intended, but to ignore symbolic meaning where it was intended is to miss much. In The Promised Messiah Bruce R. McConkie encouraged people to seek for the symbolic meaning in the scriptures: “It is wholesome and proper to look for similitudes of Christ everywhere and to use them repeatedly in keeping him and his laws uppermost in our minds” (p. 453).
When is an act or object used in the scriptures to be taken literally and when should it be interpreted figuratively? Symbols can be taken too literally and their true meaning lost in a grotesque parody of reality. On the other hand, sometimes the actual meaning of a passage is explained away by saying it is only figurative. The following guidelines may be helpful in correctly interpreting the types and symbols used in the scriptures.
(C-10) Look beyond the symbol for its intended meaning. Symbols both denote and connote meaning. A symbol’s denotation is what it is. For example, a picture of the Salt Lake Temple denotes a particular large building with six towers and ornate spires, topped by a golden figure with a trumpet. As a symbol, however, the Salt Lake Temple also connotes meaning. Connotation is what a symbol suggests through association, even though such associations may not be part of the symbol itself. For example, the Salt Lake Temple connotes temple marriage, holiness, beauty, reverence, or a place of spiritual comfort. It has also come to represent the Church itself. One does not look at the actual building and see temple marriage as part of the architecture. The idea of temple marriage is only connoted, or associated, with the symbol in one’s mind. Often the connotation of a scriptural image gives it more real significance than does its denotation. Thus, one must look beyond the symbol’s denotation at what it was meant to connote.
In looking at the symbol, however, one must not become so bound up in one’s own culture that one misses the imagery behind the symbol. For example, the fact one has been raised in a large city and has never had farming experience does not mean that one cannot appreciate figures and similitudes drawn from the agricultural life of ancient times. With some study and thought one can sense the significance of sowing, reaping, winnowing, threshing, treading grapes, and so on.
Perhaps a more difficult problem for some is the nature of many symbols used in the Old Testament. Reading about the shedding of the blood of sacrificial animals and how that blood was caught in basins and thrown against the altar, or used in various other ways, may be offensive to some modern readers. In today’s world many people come no closer to the slaughtering of animals than the meat department in a supermarket, where the meat is neatly packaged and attractively displayed. The blood and entrails of the animals are never seen, and thus, when they are discussed in some detail, as they are in the Old Testament, the modern reader may experience a squeamish, negative reaction.
Two things should be kept in mind. First, these practices were not offensive to the people of the Old Testament. The killing of animals for food, the sight of blood, the cleansing of the meat were all part of everyday life. The typical family in those times kept animals and slaughtered them for food. Even in large cities people purchased meat in open-air markets where often the animal was killed on the spot so that the meat would be fresh. Such a practice is common in the Middle East to this day. Second, it is the denotation of these practices that may be offensive to today’s urbanized reader. But when one looks beyond the symbol itself to what it was meant to connote, then the offense is replaced by appreciation for the spiritual truths being taught.
(C-11) Do the scriptures themselves give the interpretation of the symbol? Sometimes people debate what a symbol was meant to connote when the answer is given very clearly in the scriptures. What do the seven golden candlesticks in the book of Revelation signify? The Lord answered that question directly, so there is no need for speculation (see Revelation 1:20). When Jesus talked about the seed falling on four different kinds of soil, what did He mean? He specifically explained the symbolism (see Matthew 13:18–23). What was the meaning of the great image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (see Daniel 2:36–45)? There are hundreds of other examples of such direct interpretations. Through a careful study of the scriptures, many of the interpretations are quickly found. But a price must be paid by the reader if he is to find these interpretations, for often they are given elsewhere in the scriptures.
(C-12) Look for the Savior in the symbols and imagery of the scriptures. Since Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice are the central and most fundamental part of the Latter-day Saint religion, it is not surprising that virtually all scriptural symbols are Christ-centered. One could say that all of the parables, every simile, each metaphor, and all of the types are designed to teach the children of God what they must do to incorporate the infinite sacrifice of Christ into their own life. This concept is as profoundly true of the Old Testament as it is of all other scripture. Nephi taught the all-embracing pervasiveness of scriptural symbolism when he said, “Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world are the typifying of him” (2 Nephi 11:4; emphasis added).
Amulek taught the same principle when he said, “And behold this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal” (Alma 34:14).
King Benjamin taught the same principle (see Mosiah 3:14–15), as did Abinadi (see Mosiah 13:29–31). (See Reading 1-5 for a statement about the pervasiveness of the idea of a divine Redeemer in the Old Testament.)
The key to the true meaning of the law of Moses was suggested by Mormon: “Now they did not suppose that salvation came by the law of Moses; but the law of Moses did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ; and thus they did retain a hope through faith, unto eternal salvation, relying upon the spirit of prophecy, which spake of those things to come” (Alma 25:16; emphasis added). John was taught that the “spirit of prophecy” is “the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 19:10). Without this testimony a person cannot see the full significance of the Old Testament laws and ordinances.
(C-13) Let the nature of the object used as a symbol contribute to an understanding of its spiritual meaning. The peoples of the East loved imagery and drew figures and similes from the things that surrounded them. They looked for the natural characteristics of something to see if it conveyed spiritual truths. For example, Psalm 83:13 reads, “O my God, make [Thy enemies] like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind.” The word wheel translates the Hebrew word galgal, which means a large thorny plant, native to the Middle East. One Bible commentator explained the significance of this metaphor:
“Galgal is a thorny plant, a member of the Aster family (Asteracea or Compositae). The galgal is inactive during the dry summer months. After the first winter rain, a rosette of leaves develops out of the thick perennial root. . . . The flower clusters, or inflorescenses, develop during the late winter and early spring. From the flowers, the fruit with its seeds develops. Then the whole plant dies—part of the process by which the seeds are dispersed. The stem leaves have a stiff blade and veins; these leaves look like wings facing in every direction. The whole plant is round—so that it can roll like a ball. When the seeds of the dead fruit are ready to be dispersed, the base of the stem is disconnected from the thick root by means of an especially weak tissue which develops at just the right time. The plant then rolls, driven by the wind, dispersing its seeds on steppe and field. (Galgal also means wheel in Hebrew; the plant’s name probably derived from its habit of rolling across the fields like a wheel.)
“Just before the round plant disconnects from the root, the plant appears frightening indeed—full of thistles and strong and stable looking. In fact the base of the plant is extremely weak and the whole plant can be easily driven by the wind. The sound of dry galgal plants rolling with the wind is a memorable experience to those who live amid these plants.
“By the metaphor of galgal, the Psalmist is asking the Lord to make Israel’s enemies like galgal: although they look frightening, their base is weak. The whole plant can be driven by the wind and it will be gone.
“Galgal is also used in Isaiah 17:13:
“‘The nations roar like the roaring of many waters, but he will rebuke them, and they will fly far away, chased like chaff on the mountains before the wind and like a rolling thing before the storm.’
“The ‘rolling thing’ . . . is galgal. A ‘rolling thing’ is only part of the meaning of the word. The prophet is really forecasting the destruction of the Assyrian empire—a frightening enemy, but with a weak base that may easily be blown away by the wind of the Lord.” (Anivoam Danin, “Plants as Biblical Metaphors,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May–June 1979, p. 20.)
Thus, an understanding comes from an examination of the symbolic object. Studying the history and cultures of these people often helps one to see both the significance of the objects used and their spiritual impact.
(C-14) One truth may be taught by numerous symbols; one symbol may convey numerous truths; and, whereas the Lord may change the symbols He uses to teach truths, the truths never change. Sometimes when one finds an interpretation of a particular symbol, one tends to be satisfied with that interpretation and does not explore it further, or one may be confused when one finds another symbol conveying the same truth. The vastness and the depths of the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ are such that a myriad of images, types, and similitudes is required to convey them. For example, there are so many varied aspects of Jesus’ life and mission that He is typified or symbolized as the Lamb (see John 1:29), the Light (see John 1:7–8), the Advocate (see D&C 45:3–5), the Rock (see 1 Corinthians 10:4), the Good Shepherd (see John 10:11, 14), the True Vine (see John 15:1–5), the Word (see John 1:1, 14), the Lion (see Revelation 5:5), the Cornerstone (see Ephesians 2:20), the Living Bread (see John 6:51), the Amen (see Revelation 3:14), the Bright and Morning Star (see Revelation 22:16), the High Priest (see Hebrews 3:1), the Bridegroom (see Matthew 25:1–13), the Treader of the Winepress (see D&C 133:50), and a Consuming Fire (see Hebrews 12:29). Careful pondering of the connotations of these titles can provide significant enlightenment about the Savior and His mission.
Likewise, one symbol can convey numerous spiritual truths. For example, the olive tree was used as a symbol of the house of Israel (see Jacob 5:3). Applying the guideline of looking at the nature of the symbol, one finds many significant things in an examination of the olive tree:
1. The olive tree is a living thing and produces much fruit.
2. The olive tree requires constant pruning by a husbandman if the young shoot is to be brought into production. Without this constant pruning, the tree would grow into the wild olive, which is little more than a bushy tangle of limbs and branches that produces only a small, bitter, worthless fruit.
|An olive tree|
3. To become productive, the wild olive must be cut back completely and then a branch from a tame olive tree must be grafted onto the stem of the wild tree. With careful pruning and cultivating, the tree will begin to produce fruit in seven years and become fully productive in about fourteen to fifteen years.
4. Although it takes a long time to bring the tree into production, once the tree begins to produce it continues to do so for a remarkably long time. Some trees in the Holy Land have been producing abundantly for over four hundred years.
5. When the tree finally grows old and dies, the roots send up a number of new, green shoots which, if properly cultivated, will each grow into a mature olive tree. Thus, the same tree may go on reproducing itself for millennia. (One cannot help but see a symbol of the Resurrection in this phenomenon, and also think of the numerous times when the various groups of the house of Israel seemed to have died and yet new shoots sprang forth from the root to become Israel again.)
6. The fruit of the tree provides the staple of the Middle Eastern diet. In addition to its use as a food, the olive and its oil were and are used for lighting lamps, anointing the body, cooking, as ingredients in cosmetics, and as medicine.
Many of the signs and tokens given under the Mosaic covenant have been replaced, but that fact does not imply that they were inferior. The Lord commanded the Israelites to put fringes on the borders of their clothing as a reminder of their relationship to the Lord (see Numbers 15:38–39; Deuteronomy 22:12). In response to one scholar who called such peculiar dress the coarse rudiments of a spiritually immature people, a Bible commentator wrote:
“Men dress in diverse and strange ways to conform to the world and its styles. What is so difficult or ‘coarse’ about any conformity to God’s law, or any mode God specifies? There is nothing difficult or strange about this law, nor any thing absurd or impossible.”
He then made this significant point about such symbols:
“It [the wearing of fringed garments] is not observed by Christians, because it was, like circumcision, the Sabbath, and other aspects of the Mosaic form of the covenant, superseded by new signs of the covenant as renewed by Christ. The law of the covenant remains; the covenant rites and signs have been changed. But the forms of covenant signs are no less honorable, profound, and beautiful in the Mosaic form than in the Christian form. The change does not represent an evolutionary advance or a higher or lower relationship. The covenant was fulfilled in Jesus Christ; but God did not treat Moses, David, Isaiah, Hezekiah, or any of His Old Testament covenant people as lesser in His sight or more childish in ability and hence in need of ‘coarse rudiments.’” (Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 23.)
(C-15) Before one can fully understand what a symbol is meant to convey, one must understand the spiritual truths being conveyed. The Old Testament is full of types, symbols, metaphors, and similitudes of Christ, and yet for the most part the leaders of Judah in Christ’s time rejected Jesus when He came among them. They knew the language, the culture, the idioms, and yet they rejected the significance of what the scriptures taught, and they refused to be converted. They were ignorant of the truths of the gospel which gave the symbols their real meaning. One author emphasized this point by use of an interesting analogy:
“The most perfect representation of a steam-engine to [someone living in a totally undeveloped part of the world] would be wholly and hopelessly unintelligible to him, simply because the reality, the outline of which was presented to him, was something hitherto unknown. But let the same drawing be shewn to those who have seen the reality, such will have no difficulty in explaining the representation. And the greater the acquaintance with the reality, the greater will be the ability to explain the picture. The [person] who had never seen the steam-engine would of course know nothing whatever about it. Those who had seen an engine but know nothing of its principles, though they might tell the general object of the drawing, could not explain the details. But the engineer, to whom every screw and bolt are familiar, to whom the use and object of each part is thoroughly known, would not only point out where each of these was to be found in the picture, but would shew, what others might overlook, how in different engines these might be made to differ.” (Jukes, Law of the Offerings, pp. 14–15.)
The reality behind Old Testament types and symbols is Jesus Christ and His teachings of salvation. The better one understands Him, the more clearly one will see the meaning of the symbols. Without that understanding, the message will be lost.
One does not go to a great museum such as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and fully explore its treasure in an hour or two of leisurely browsing. Similarly, one does not exhaust the typology of the Old Testament in one quick reading of the book. A lifetime of exploration and pondering may be required before the Lord will fully reveal the extent to which He has filled the treasure house of symbolic teaching. Note His own words to Adam:
“And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me” (Moses 6:63).
As one studies the Old Testament, especially the types and symbolism of the Mosaic dispensation, one must pay the price in careful study, pondering, and praying, and he will find the Lord unfolding many precious and plain truths to his eyes. The Old Testament is full of Jesus Christ if one will only have eyes to see and ears to hear.
As past chapters have shown, the Lord has often influenced history in such a way that it becomes in and of itself symbolically significant. Jacob in the Book of Mormon taught that the commandment for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac provided a similitude of God’s sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son (see Jacob 4:5). Joseph, who was sold into Egypt, provided a type or symbol of Christ and His ministry (see Reading 8-19). Nephi taught that from the beginning of the world all things have been given to typify or symbolize Christ and His Atonement (see 2 Nephi 11:4).
These chapters of Exodus contain one of the grandest and most profound of all historical types. The deliverance of the house of Israel from bondage is not only one of history’s most dramatic events, but it is also full of symbolic significance for the Saints of all times.
As preparation for reading the scriptural account of this remarkable event, consider Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s summary of the significance of these events:
“At the time appointed for their deliverance from Egyptian bondage, the Lord commanded each family in Israel to sacrifice a lamb, to sprinkle its blood on their doorposts, and then to eat unleavened bread for seven more days—all to symbolize the fact that the destroying angel would pass over the Israelites as he went forth slaying the firstborn in the families of all the Egyptians; and also to show that, in haste, Israel should go forth from slavery to freedom. As a pattern for all the Mosaic instructions yet to come, the details of the performances here involved were so arranged as to bear testimony both of Israel’s deliverance and of her Deliverer. Among other procedures, the Lord commanded, as found in Exodus 12:
“1. ‘Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year,’ signifying that the Lamb of God, pure and perfect, without spot or blemish, in the prime of his life, as the Paschal Lamb, would be slain for the sins of the world.
“2. They were to take of the blood of the lamb and sprinkle it upon the doorposts of their houses, having this promise as a result: ‘And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you,’ signifying that the blood of Christ, which should fall as drops in Gethsemane and flow in a stream from a pierced side as he hung on the cross, would cleanse and save the faithful; and that, as those in Israel were saved temporally because the blood of a sacrificial lamb was sprinkled on the doorposts of their houses, so the faithful of all ages would wash their garments in the blood of the Eternal Lamb and from him receive an eternal salvation. And may we say that as the angel of death passed by the families of Israel because of their faith—as Paul said of Moses, ‘through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them’ (Heb. 11:28)—even so shall the Angel of Life give eternal life to all those who rely on the blood of the Lamb.
“3. As to the sacrifice of the lamb, the decree was, ‘Neither shall ye break a bone thereof,’ signifying that when the Lamb of God was sacrificed on the cross, though they broke the legs of the two thieves to induce death, yet they brake not the bones of the Crucified One ‘that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.’ (John 19:31–36.)
“4. As to the eating the flesh of the sacrificial lamb, the divine word was, ‘No uncircumcised person shall eat thereof,’ signifying that the blessings of the gospel are reserved for those who come into the fold of Israel, who join the Church, who carry their part of the burden in bearing off the kingdom; signifying also that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood, as he said, shall have eternal life and he will raise them up at the last day. (John 6:54.)
“5. As ‘the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt’ because they believed not the word of the Lord delivered to them by Moses and Aaron, even so should the Firstborn of the Father, who brings life to all who believe in his holy name, destroy worldly people at the last day, destroy all those who are in the Egypt of darkness, whose hearts are hardened as were those of Pharaoh and his minions.
“6. On the first and seventh days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Israelites were commanded to hold holy convocations in which no work might be done except the preparation of their food. These were occasions for preaching and explaining and exhorting and testifying. We go to sacrament meetings to be built up in faith and in testimony. Ancient Israel attended holy convocations for the same purposes. Knowing that all things operate by faith, would it be amiss to draw the conclusion that it is as easy for us to look to Christ and his spilt blood for eternal salvation as it was for them of old to look to the blood of the sacrificed lamb, sprinkled on doorposts, to give temporal salvation, when the angel of death swept through the land of Egypt?
“It was, of course, while Jesus and the Twelve were keeping the Feast of the Passover that our Lord instituted the ordinance of the sacrament, to serve essentially the same purposes served by the sacrifices of the preceding four millenniums. After that final Passover day and its attendant lifting up upon the cross of the true Paschal Lamb, the day for the proper celebration of the ancient feast ceased. After that Paul was able to say: ‘Christ our passover is sacrificed for us,’ and to give the natural exhortation that flowed therefrom: ‘Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.’ (1 Cor. 5:7–8.)” (The Promised Messiah, pp. 429–31.)
Instructions to Students
1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Exodus 11–19.
2. Complete Points to Ponder as directed by your teacher. (Individual study students should complete all of this section.)
In Reading 10-1, Elder McConkie noted the similarities between the smiting of disobedient and hard-hearted Egypt and the spiritual death of those who refuse to hearken to the Firstborn of God. There is, however, one additional comparison that could be made. In the typology of the Passover, the children of God (Israel) are in bondage to an evil power (Egypt). Similarly, all of God’s children come into a world of sin and may find themselves in bondage to Satan and the powers of sin. (The terminology of slavery is used in such scriptures as 2 Nephi 2:29; Alma 34:35; D&C 84:49–51; Moses 4:4; 7:26.) Thus, the pharaoh could be thought of as a type or symbol of Satan. In light of this truth, it should be noted that what finally released the children of Israel from the bondage of the pharaoh (the symbol of Satan) was the death of the firstborn of Egypt. In like manner the atoning sacrifice of the Firstborn Son of God freed the children of God from death, a bondage to Satan.
Adam Clarke, a Bible scholar, commented on the translation of the Hebrew word sha’al as “borrow.”
“This is certainly not a very correct translation: the original word . . . shaal signifies simply to ask, request, demand, require, inquire, &c.; but it does not signify to borrow in the proper sense of that word, though in a very few places of Scripture it is thus used. In this and the parallel place, chap. xii. 35, the word signifies to ask or demand, and not to borrow, which is a gross mistake. . . . God commanded the Israelites to ask or demand a certain recompense for their past services, and he inclined the hearts of the Egyptians to give liberally; and this, far from a matter of oppression, wrong, or even charity, was no more than a very partial recompense for the long and painful services which we may say six hundred thousand Israelites had rendered to Egypt, during a considerable number of years. And there can be no doubt that while their heaviest oppression lasted, they were permitted to accumulate no kind of property, as all their gains went to their oppressors.” (Bible Commentary, 1:307.)
The Egyptians, who seem to have been less hard-hearted than their pharaoh and more impressed with the powers of Moses, responded to this commandment, and the Israelites seem to have taken great wealth with them (see Exodus 12:35–36). Probably some of these spoils were later used in the construction of the golden calf (see Exodus 32:1–4) and in the building of the tabernacle (see Exodus 35:22–24). The wealth of the Egyptians also fulfilled the promise given to Abraham that the children of Israel would “come out with great substance” (Genesis 15:14).
So significant was the event about to take place that the Lord commanded Israel to use this event as the beginning of their calendar. Thus the sacred calendar of Israelite feasts and festivals begins with the month of Abib (later called Nisan), which corresponds to late March and early April. The so-called “Jewish New Year,” which may come either in September or October, began while the Jews were captive in Babylon.
Sodden with water means “boiled or stewed.” The lamb was to be roasted, not cooked in water. The phrase “with the purtenance thereof” means that the entrails, or internal organs, were to be roasted with the animal. Keil and Delitzsch translated verse 9 as follows: “They shall eat the lamb in that night . . . and none of it ‘underdone’ (or raw), or boiled; . . . but roasted with fire, even its head on (along with) its thighs and entrails.” They explained that the lamb was thus “‘undivided or whole, so that neither head nor thighs were cut off, and not a bone was broken [see Exodus 12:46], and the viscera were roasted in the belly along with the entrails,’ the latter, of course, being first of all cleansed. . . . It is very certain that the command to roast was not founded upon the hurry of the whole procedure, as a whole animal could be quite as quickly boiled as roasted, if not even more quickly, and the Israelites must have possessed the requisite cooking utensils. It was to be roasted, in order that it might be placed upon the table undivided and essentially unchanged. ‘Through the unity and integrity of the lamb given them to eat, the participants were to be joined into an undivided unity and fellowship with the Lord, who had provided them with the meal.’” (Commentary, 1:2:14–15.)
“The Feast of the Passover was fulfilled in that form in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Passover was a law given to Israel which was to continue until Christ, and was to remind the children of Israel of the coming of Christ who would become the sacrificial Lamb. After he was crucified the law was changed by the Savior himself, and from that time forth the law of the sacrament was instituted. We now observe the law of the sacrament instead of the Passover because the Passover was consummated in full by the death of Jesus Christ. It was a custom looking forward to the coming of Christ and his crucifixion and the lamb symbolized his death. . . .
“The word forever used in the Old Testament does not necessarily mean to the end of time but to the end of a period.” (Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5:153–54.)
Leaven, or yeast, was seen anciently as a symbol of corruption because it so easily spoiled and turned moldy. Jesus used this imagery when He warned the disciples of the “leaven of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6), meaning their corrupt doctrine (see Matthew 16:6–12). In the law of Moses no leaven could be offered with the trespass offering (see Leviticus 6:17), suggesting that the offering must be without any corruption. For the Israelites, eating the unleavened bread symbolized that they were partaking of the bread which had no corruption or impurity, namely, the Bread of Life, who is Jesus Christ (see John 6:35). The careful purging of the household of all leaven (see Exodus 12:19) was a beautiful symbol of putting away all uncleanliness from the family. Paul drew on this imagery of the unleavened bread when he called upon the Corinthian Saints to put away sin from their lives (see 1 Corinthians 5:7–8). (Note: Christ’s comparison of the kingdom of heaven to leaven does not refer to yeast’s tendency to spoil but to the fact it causes dough to rise or swell [see Matthew 13:33].)
The bitter herbs served to remind Israel of the bitter and severe bondage they had endured in Egypt.
The figure given here of six hundred thousand men agrees approximately with the official census of the Israelites given in Numbers 1:45–46. There, however, men means only the males twenty years and older who were capable of going to war. This fact means that the total company could easily have been over two million people. (See Enrichment Section E, “The Problem of Large Numbers in the Old Testament.”)
The “mixed multitude” of verse 38 seems to refer to people of other nationalities who attached themselves to the Israelites and accompanied them in the Exodus. These seem to be the same people mentioned in Deuteronomy 29:10–11 who did menial labor for the Israelites. Also, they later joined the Israelites in the rebellions against God (see Numbers 11:4).
The Bible contains two versions of how long Israel was in Egypt. According to Exodus 12:40–41, the period was exactly 430 years. Paul, however, in Galatians 3:17, seems to suggest that it was 430 years from the time Abraham received the covenant to the Exodus, although Paul may have meant something else.
The Samaritan text, one of the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament, reads, “Now the sojourning of the children of Israel and of their fathers, which they sojourned in the land of Canaan and in the land of Egypt was 430 years” (in Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:358). Other equally significant texts do not support this addition, however.
When Abraham was shown the future bondage of Israel in vision, the Lord said, “Thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13; emphasis added). This passage suggests strongly that the captivity would be four hundred years. One scholar wrote a summary of the evidence for both views and concluded that the idea of the longer captivity is the best supported. He said:
“Some years ago it was fashionable to date the Exodus to the fifteenth century B.C. First Kings 6:1 says it was 480 years from the Exodus to the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. This points to the fifteenth century. Moreover, the discovery of the fourteenth-century Amarna Letters, letters from vassal princes in Canaan to Amenophis IV (the famous Ahkenaton) speak of confusion in the land. The disturbance was occasioned by the relaxation of Egyptian rule coupled with marauding bands of brigands who are called ‘Hapiru.’ The Hapiru were associated in some scholars’ minds with the invading Hebrews. Furthermore, Professor John Garstang, the excavator at Jericho, said that that city was destroyed in the Late Bronze Age, a time which would fit with other evidence. This city was, of course, the one which the Bible says was the first to be taken by the Hebrews in Canaan as they marched around its walls and blew their trumpets and the walls came tumbling down. So a number of factors converged to support what seemed to be a Biblical dating for the Exodus. The suggestion was that the pharaoh of the Exodus was either Thutmoses III (ca. 1490–1435) or Amenophis III (ca. 1406–1370).
“Today the picture has changed entirely. One by one the factors which pointed to an early date for the Exodus have either been called into doubt or have been shown to have nothing to do with the question. At the same time new evidence has come to light which points to a later date: the thirteenth century, perhaps early in the reign of Ramses II (1290–1224). Exodus 1:11 tells us that the Hebrews’ bondage had to do with rebuilding the royal treasure cities of Pithom and Ramses (Tanis). The nature of this bondage as described in Exodus 1:14 strongly suggests that, being nomads close to the building sites, these people were pressed into labor gangs. They were forced to develop the fields which would support the populations of the cities as well as make brick out of which the splendid new royal bastions were being constructed. Archaeologically recovered history of these sites indicates that they went into decline when the Hyksos were driven from the land, but that they were rebuilt under Ramses II or possibly his father, Seti I (1309–1290 B.C.). There is also the statement in chapters 20 and 21 of Numbers that when the Hebrews sought to cross Edom and Moab they were turned back and had to make their way along the border between these lands. Again archaeological research can now tell us about the history of this Transjordanian area. It did not have a settled population until the thirteenth century. Before that time there would have been no Edom and no Moab to refuse passage to the Hebrews. There has also come to light another written source of interest in dating the Exodus. This is an Egyptian inscription celebrating the victories of Pharaoh Merneptah in Canaan around the year 1220 B.C. This speaks of ‘Israel’ and is indeed the oldest written mention of Israel we know. Of course, this only shows the latest date one can give for the presence of Israel in Canaan. But the date of the inscription—1220 B.C.—is taken by some to be significant in light of other evidence. A part of that evidence, in addition to what has been mentioned, is the violent destruction of a number of Canaanite cities in the thirteenth century. Was this the work of invading Hebrews?
“Clearly the question of the date of the Exodus cannot be settled decisively. Yet the weight of evidence is strong, and almost all scholars today agree upon Ramses II or possibly his father as the ruler whose heart was hardened against the Hebrews.” (Frank, Discovering the Biblical World, p. 56.)
The Passover was an ordinance and ceremony identifying Israel as a chosen nation, a people selected by Jehovah and a people who had in turn elected to serve Him. The Lord forbade strangers, or “nonmembers” of Israel, from partaking of the Passover just as He has said that partaking of the sacrament is only for those who have repented and are baptized and worthy (see 3 Nephi 18:16, 28–32). To partake of either as a “nonmember” would imply a renewal of covenants which, in fact, had never been made. The Lord has always emphasized, however, that if a stranger “will [desire to] keep the passover” (Exodus 12:48), he must join Israel by circumcision, or, today, be baptized (see 3 Nephi 18:30; see also Elder McConkie’s fourth point in Reading 10-1).
“Again, the Lord, through the sprinkling of the blood of a lamb on the door-posts of the Israelites, having saved the lives of all the first-born of Israel, made a claim upon them for their services in His cause. . . .
“But the first-born of the Egyptians, for whom no lamb as a token of the propitiation was offered, were destroyed. It was through the propitiation and atonement alone that the Israelites were saved, and, under the circumstances they must have perished with the Egyptians, who were doomed, had it not been for the contemplated atonement and propitiation of Christ, of which this was a figure.
“Hence the Lord claimed those that He saved as righteously belonging to Him, and claiming them as His He demanded their services; but afterwards, as shown in [Numbers 3:12–13]; He accepted the tribe of Levi in lieu of the first-born of Israel; and as there were more of the first-born than there were of the Levites, the balance had to be redeemed with money, which was given to Aaron, as the great High Priest and representative of the Aaronic Priesthood, he being also a Levite. [See Numbers 3:50–51.]” (Taylor, Mediation and Atonement, p. 108.)
Of further significance is the truth that Christ is the Firstborn among all of Heavenly Father’s spirit children (see D&C 93:21). He came as the Redeemer, paying the price for all, and thus is justified in requesting that they serve Him. As Paul said, all mankind is “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
See Reading 19-12 for an explanation of the commandment to bind the sign on the hand and between the eyes.
“The route Israel was to go was indicated by a pillar of fire signifying the presence of the Lord going before them. They would have had a short journey had they been ready and capable of following the coastal route through Philistine lands to Canaan” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:80). Their faith, however, was not yet sufficient for such a task. God does not require a trial too great for one’s faith. (See 1 Corinthians 10:13.) The phrase they “went up harnessed” (Exodus 13:18) seems to imply organization and orderliness and probably preparation for possible attack. Although the logistics of taking up to two million people into the wilderness is absolutely staggering, this verse suggests that it was not a disorganized flight but rather an orderly exodus.
Joseph Smith changed these two verses to show that the pharaoh hardened his own heart (see Reading 9-16).
Some modern scholars have argued that Moses did not take Israel directly to and then through the Red Sea proper (the Gulf of Suez branch of the Red Sea), but rather through the “Reed Sea,” since in Hebrew Yam Suph means “The Reed Sea.” These scholars believe the area crossed was a marshy lowland near the Bitter Lakes. (See the map of the Exodus in Maps and Charts). They maintain that the chariots of the Egyptians bogged down in the mud and then the soldiers drowned when higher waters came in. But Latter-day Saints have information that the Exodus account is correct. Both the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants state directly that it was the Red Sea (see 1 Nephi 17:24–27; D&C 8:3). Exodus 14:22, 29 says that “the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left,” certainly implying more than passing through a marshy area dried by a sudden wind.
The Lord may have had at least two reasons for taking Israel through the Red Sea. First, the action displayed His awesome and great protective power. He was the only warrior in this battle against one of the most formidable armies in the world. Therefore, this event was the prelude and proof of His demand henceforth for trust and obedience. Second, when that battle was over, the power of the Egyptian army was destroyed. The time necessary for rebuilding Egypt’s power left Israel unmenaced until she became established in the promised land.
Paul taught that the passage through the Red Sea and the overshadowing of the cloud or pillar of fire were clearly types or symbols of the baptism of water and fire (see 1 Corinthians 10:1–4).
|The Red Sea divided at Moses’ command.|
This verse contains the first of over twenty uses of the word murmur in its various forms in the record of Israel’s wanderings. Murmuring seems to have been a dominant part of their natures and a root of some of the problems they faced. The word is used nearly the same number of times to describe the attitude of the rebellious members of the Lehi colony who traveled through the same general wilderness area after leaving Jerusalem (see Topical Guide, s.v. “murmuring, murmur”).
Murmuring is defined as “a half-suppressed or muttered complaint” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1979 ed., s.v., “murmur”). Instead of open expression of concern and criticism so a problem can be dealt with, it is behind-the-scenes grumbling. That problem was not unique to the Israelites or to Laman and Lemuel. It is too often prevalent among Latter-day Saints today. Elder Marion G. Romney said:
“I desire to call your attention to the principle of loyalty, loyalty to the truth and loyalty to the men whom God has chosen to lead the cause of truth. I speak of ‘the truth’ and these ‘men’ jointly, because it is impossible fully to accept the one and partly reject the other.
“I raise my voice on this matter to warn and counsel you to be on your guard against criticism. . . . It comes, in part, from those who hold, or have held, prominent positions. Ostensibly, they are in good standing in the Church. In expressing their feelings, they frequently say, ‘We are members of the Church, too, you know, and our feelings should be considered.’
“They assume that one can be in full harmony with the spirit of the gospel, enjoy full fellowship in the Church, and at the same time be out of harmony with the leaders of the Church and the counsel and directions they give. Such a position is wholly inconsistent, because the guidance of this Church comes, not alone from the written word, but also from continuous revelation, and the Lord gives that revelation to the Church through His chosen leaders and none else. It follows, therefore, that those who profess to accept the gospel and who at the same time criticize and refuse to follow the counsel of the leaders, are assuming an indefensible position.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1942, pp. 17–18.)
President David O. McKay showed the direct relationship between criticism and murmuring in this statement:
“In the Church we sometimes find two groups of people: the builders and the murmurers. Let each ask himself: ‘In which class should I be placed?’
“We are called upon to perform duties. When the priesthood and auxiliary leadership introduce new programs, many of the members will say, ‘Yes, we will do it. Let us perform in these new programs.’ But sometimes we hear a murmurer, a faultfinder, who will say, ‘No. We cannot do that.’ Misjudging motives, some soon find themselves with Laman and Lemuel instead of with Nephi, whose actions expressed willingness to follow the voice of God. (See 1 Ne. 17:17ff.)
“Let us watch ourselves and be true to the examples set by our leaders. The warning is sometimes expressed: ‘Speak not against the authorities.’ What does it mean? It means ‘be not a murmurer.’ Murmuring against priesthood and auxiliary leadership is one of the most poisonous things that can be introduced into the home of a Latter-day Saint. Why are leaders called to their positions? To benefit themselves? No, not once can one point to an instance in this Church where a person was called for his personal benefit. When a call is made, it is made to bless someone, some class, or humanity at large. That is the mission of every member, from the President of the Church down to the latest convert. Everyone holds his position to build up, to bless, to establish righteousness, purity, and virtue among mankind.” (“Four Guideposts,” Improvement Era, Mar. 1969, p. 3.)
|An oasis in the Sinai|
“The manna was used by God to teach lessons for spiritual instruction as well as physical sustenance. Israel was told that with the failure of other food (‘suffered thee to hunger’), His provision of manna was to ‘make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live’ [Deuteronomy 8:3, see v. 16]. God used the provision of manna on six days and not the seventh to teach Israel obedience, and convicted them of disobedience [see Exodus 16:19, see vv. 20, 25–30]. Jesus Christ uses the manna, God-given ‘bread from heaven’, as a type of Himself, the true bread of life, and contrasts the shadow with the substance: ‘your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead’ [John 6:49], but He could say, ‘I am the bread of life . . . which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever’ [John 6:35, 51; see vv. 26–59].” (Douglas, New Bible Dictionary, s.v. “manna,” p. 780.)
Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 10:1–4 makes clear what the Lord was seeking to teach Israel regarding Christ when He provided both manna and water for them. Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s commentary on Paul’s statement is very enlightening:
“Christ is the bread which came down from heaven, the Bread of Life, the spiritual manna, of which men must eat to gain salvation. (John 6:31–58.) He is the spiritual drink, the living water, the water of life, which if men drink they shall never thirst more. (John 4:6–15.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:355.)
The “hidden manna” mentioned by John in Revelation 2:17 was explained by Elder McConkie as being “the bread of life, the good word of God, the doctrines of Him who is the Bread of Life—all of which is hidden from the carnal mind. Those who eat thereof shall never hunger more; eternal life is their eventual inheritance.” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:451.)
|Aaron and Hur stay up the hands of Moses (see Exodus 17:12).|
The Amalekites may have been descendants of Esau (see Genesis 36:12, 16). They attacked the Israelites in a most cowardly way, killing first the feeble, the faint, and the weary at the rear of the marching nation (see Deuteronomy 25:17–19). For this lack of respect toward God, the Amalekites were cursed by the Lord. The Israelites were subsequently commanded to “utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Exodus 17:14).
In this first battle with other people, only when Moses held up his hand did the Israelites prevail. When Moses’ hands grew weary, Aaron and Hur brought him a stone to sit on and “stayed up his hands” (Exodus 17:12). President Harold B. Lee, who was then First Counselor in the First Presidency, commented:
“I think that is the role that President [N. Eldon] Tanner [Second Counselor in the First Presidency] and I have to fulfill. The hands of President [Joseph Fielding] Smith [President of the Church] may grow weary. They may tend to droop at times because of his heavy responsibilities; but as we uphold his hands, and as we lead under his direction, by his side, the gates of hell will not prevail against you and against Israel. Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow the ones whom the Lord has placed to preside over his church. He knows whom he wants to preside over this church, and he will make no mistake. The Lord doesn’t do things by accident. He has never done anything accidentally. And I think the scientists and all the philosophers in the world have never discovered or learned anything that God didn’t already know. His revelations are more powerful, more meaningful, and have more substance than all the secular learning in the world.
“Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church and uphold his hands as President Tanner and I will continue to do.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1970, p. 153.)
What evidence is there that Moses actually recorded information which was passed down and which would refute the claim by some that the Bible is based on an oral tradition and recorded much later than Moses?
“Jethro made a valuable contribution to Moses in suggesting an organization of leaders over units of ten, fifty, one hundred and one thousand to instruct and to judge the people in all but the most difficult of matters, which would be passed up through the system of inferior and superior courts if necessary, until they reached Moses at the head. Moses showed commendable humility and wisdom in accepting the old Priest’s advice. (A modern use of the same type of organization is seen in D&C 136.)” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:82–83.)
Joseph Smith changed Exodus 18:1 to read “the high priest of Midian” (emphasis added), confirming what is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 84:6–7, that Jethro held the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Today the word peculiar is used to mean something different and unusual. Since Israel was to be a peculiar people in this sense also, Exodus 19:5 and similar scriptures (see Deuteronomy 14:2; 1 Peter 2:9) are often read in that way. The original word in both Hebrew and Greek, however, means “property, wealth, private property, which is laid up or reserved; the leading idea is that of select, precious, endeared; something exceedingly prized and [diligently] preserved” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “peculiar,” p. 305).
“If they had accepted all of the privileges offered them and followed the instructions which would have qualified them to receive the fulfillment of all God’s promises, they could have been accorded the grandest of all revelations: He offered to come down in the sight of all the people and let them hear when He spoke to Moses that they might know for themselves about His will and His law, and believe in Moses’ future revelations from God, and revere the Lord evermore (cf. Deuteronomy 4:10). Note the need of cleanliness and spiritual dedication in their preparation for this great spiritual experience.
“At the prearranged signal, the sounding of the trumpet ‘exceeding long,’ the people trembled in anticipation and awe, but apparently they were not fully ready to come up ‘in the sight’ of the Lord on the mount where Moses was, for the Lord told him to go down and warn them not to come up. Hints as to why this was so are found in the next chapter, 20:18–19, and in D&C 84:21–25. But even though their hearts were not fully prepared to endure His presence, they did hear the voice and the words of God as the Ten Commandments were given, as will be seen later when we study Moses’ review of these great events in his valedictory, in Deuteronomy 4:10, 12, 33, 36; 5:22–26.
“(The presentation of the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets is recounted a little later in the narrative, in Exodus 31:18; 32:15, 19; and a second set of tablets, prepared after the first set were broken, and are spoken of in Exodus 34:1 ff.)” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:83.)
(10-23) The Passover happened over three thousand years ago but is still commemorated by Jews all over the world. With Christ’s sacrifice, we no longer celebrate the actual feast but still look to the event as highly significant for Saints of all times. Assume that you were present on that night and on the days which followed and were a faithful journal keeper. On a separate sheet of paper (or in your own journal, if you wish) record the feelings you would have had if you had experienced the great events described in Exodus 11–19. Do not record what happened but rather what you would have thought and felt during these events. Try as much as possible to keep your writing in the style of a journal entry.
Many in the world today seem to think that the Ten Commandments were part of the Mosaic dispensation only and are not a part of the full gospel. As you begin your study of these ten principles revealed over three thousand years ago, ask yourself how relevant they are today. Do they form part of the gospel, or were they only for the ancient Israelites? This question is critical for you. Cecil B. DeMille, producer of the movie The Ten Commandments, made this observation:
“Some, who do not know either the Bible or human nature, may see in the orgy of the Golden Calf only a riot of Hollywood’s imaginations—but those who have eyes to see will see in it the awful lesson of how quickly a nation or a man can fall, without God’s law.
“If man will not be ruled by God, he will certainly be ruled by tyrants—and there is no tyranny more imperious or more devastating than man’s own selfishness, without the law.
“We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them—or else, by keeping them, rise through them to the fulness of freedom under God. God means us to be free. With divine daring, He gave us the power of choice.” (Commencement Address, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, Provo, 31 May 1957.)
Instructions to Students
1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Exodus 20.
2. Complete Points to Ponder as directed by your teacher. (Individual study students should complete all of this section.)
Perhaps the greatest indication of the importance of the Ten Commandments is that they are found in three of the four standard works of the Church. In addition to the first time they were given (see Exodus 20), Moses repeated them when he summarized the experiences of Israel in the wilderness (see Deuteronomy 5:6–21). The prophet Abinadi quoted them to the wicked priests of King Noah (see Mosiah 13:12–24), so they are also found in the Book of Mormon. And, although not given in the exact form that they appear in these scriptures, the same principles are also found in the New Testament (see Matthew 5:17–37) and in the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 42:18–29; 59:5–9). When the Lord emphasizes something with that much repetition, it must be important. Elder Mark E. Petersen said:
“By his own finger the Lord wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone. They represent the basic law of the Almighty and have formed the underlying elements of civil and religious law ever since.
“They are fundamental to our relationships with God. They are an integral part of the restored gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and are essential to our becoming perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. (D&C 42; D&C 59.)
“Variations of these laws are given in the rules laid down in Leviticus and Deuteronomy as they are applied to specific matters, but generally they form the foundation for all proper human conduct.” (Moses, p. 110.)
These commandments show us the three great priorities of life. The first four commandments show us our proper relationship to God. The fifth commandment establishes the importance of the family and proper family relationships. The last five commandments regulate our relationships with others. If we are committed to the perfecting of our relationships with God, family, and others, we are well on our way to being perfected in all things.
The first commandment gives mankind their first priority in life. If God is not first, then all other things are affected. Nothing in life, not even life itself, can come before God. Christ said: “Be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant even unto death, that you may be found worthy. For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me.” (D&C 98:14–15.)
“God will not favor us if we put him in second place in our lives and if we follow after worldly things regardless of what they may be.
“The command of the Savior was: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.’ (Matthew 6:33.) In revelations to the Prophet Joseph Smith the Lord taught that we must have an eye single to the glory of God. (D&C 27:2; 55:1; 59:1; 88:67.)” (Petersen, Moses, p. 111.)
At first some may think that this demand for exclusive worship and devotion by God for Himself sounds selfish. But two things should be remembered. First, as Lord and Creator of all the universe, and as one who has all power, knowledge, and glory, God does not need man’s adoration and worship to add to His state of being. So, His jealousy is not a protective concern for His own status.
The second thing to remember is that the Lord taught Moses that God’s work is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Anytime His children set anything before God in importance, they begin to thwart His work for them. He is the only source of power and knowledge sufficient to save. To set anything above Him lessens their ability to draw on that power and knowledge for their salvation. That is why He says to His children, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
One Bible scholar put it this way: “This commandment prohibits every species of mental idolatry, and all inordinate attachment to earthly and sensible things [things which appeal to the senses]. . . . God is the fountain of happiness, and no intelligent creature can be happy but through him. . . . The very first commandment of the whole series is divinely calculated to prevent man’s misery and promote his happiness, by taking him off from all false dependence, and leading him to God himself, the fountain of all good.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:402–3.)
In the preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord said that one of the characteristics of the modern world was that “every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own God, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol” (D&C 1:16). Commenting on modern idolatry, Elder Spencer W. Kimball said:
“The idolatry we are most concerned with here is the conscious worshipping of still other gods. Some are of metal and plush and chrome, of wood and stone and fabrics. They are not in the image of God or of man, but are developed to give man comfort and enjoyment, to satisfy his wants, ambitions, passions and desires. Some are in no physical form at all, but are intangible. . . .
“Modern idols or false gods can take such forms as clothes, homes, businesses, machines, automobiles, pleasure boats, and numerous other material deflectors from the path to godhood. What difference does it make that the item concerned is not shaped like an idol? Brigham Young said: ‘I would as soon see a man worshipping a little god made of brass or of wood as to see him worshipping his property’ [Journal of Discourses, 6:196].
“Intangible things make just as ready gods. Degrees and letters and titles can become idols. Many young men decide to attend college when they should be on missions first. The degree, and the wealth and the security which come through it, appear so desirable that the mission takes second place. Some neglect Church service through their college years, feeling to give preference to the secular training and ignoring the spiritual covenants they have made.
“Many people build and furnish a home and buy the automobile first—and then find they ‘cannot afford’ to pay tithing. Whom do they worship? Certainly not the Lord of heaven and earth, for we serve whom we love and give first consideration to the object of our affection and desires. Young married couples who postpone parenthood until their degrees are attained might be shocked if their expressed preference were labeled idolatry. Their rationalization gives them degrees at the expense of children. Is it a justifiable exchange? Whom do they love and worship—themselves or God? Other couples, recognizing that life is not intended primarily for comforts, ease, and luxuries, complete their educations while they move forward with full lives, having their children and giving Church and community service.
“Many worship the hunt, the fishing trip, the vacation, the weekend picnics and outings. Others have as their idols the games of sport, baseball, football, the bullfight, or golf. These pursuits more often than not interfere with the worship of the Lord and with giving service to the building up of the kingdom of God. To the participants this emphasis may not seem serious, yet it indicates where their allegiance and loyalty are.
“Still another image men worship is that of power and prestige. Many will trample underfoot the spiritual and often the ethical values in their climb to success. These gods of power, wealth, and influence are most demanding and are quite as real as the golden calves of the children of Israel in the wilderness.” (Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 40–42.)
The Hebrew root kanah denotes “ardour, zeal, jealousy” (Gesenius, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 888). The implication is that the Lord possesses “sensitive and deep feelings” about idolatry (Exodus 20:5b). The reason seems clear. The only power to save mankind from sin lies with God. Any false worship cuts the sinner off from that power. Since God loves His children and wishes only their best eternal welfare, He is jealous (that is, feels very strongly) about any vain or false worship they perform.
The explanation given as a footnote to verse 5 is helpful. Commenting on the phrase “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children,” the note says: “insofar as the children learn and do the sinful things the parents do; but see v. 6 concerning those who repent and serve the Lord” (Exodus 20:5f; see also D&C 98:46–47; 124:50–52).
|The rugged cliffs of Mount Sinai|
Two aspects of this commandment are important. First, the third commandment implies that His children must have a deep and reverential attitude about God and His name.
“This precept not only forbids all false oaths, but all common swearing where the name of God is used, or where he is appealed to as a witness of the truth. It also necessarily forbids all light and irreverent mention of God, or any of his attributes.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:404.)
In an age when profanity dominates so much of the world’s conversation, it is well to remember the Lord’s warning that He will not hold such people guiltless. Elder LeGrand Richards said this of profanity:
“It is difficult to understand how a person may truly and sincerely approach God in prayer, seeking a blessing at his hand, at the same time be so disrespectful as to take his name in vain.
“Profanity is incompatible with reverence. Surely at this critical time in our nation’s history, when we need the sustaining help of God, we should see that we do not offend him by reason of our language. We appeal to our young people everywhere to hold in reverence the sacred name of Deity, that they may walk acceptably before the Lord, so that, should there come a time in their lives when they need his sustaining help, they may go to him with good conscience and call upon him with faith that he will hear their plea.” (In “The Third Commandment,” The Ten Commandments Today, pp. 52–53.)
There is an additional implication in the commandment to avoid taking the name of God in vain. An integral part of living the gospel is the making of oaths and covenants with God. When a person is baptized he covenants to take the name of Christ upon himself (see D&C 20:37). If he forgets that solemn oath made at baptism, he has taken the name of the Lord in vain. At temple altars men and women covenant to abide by sacred commitments. If they leave those temples and live as though the promises have no meaning, they violate the third commandment even though they may not speak actual profanity. Those who take the sacrament each week with little or no thought for the covenant to take His name upon them, keep His commandments, and always remember Him, take His name in vain. Such light treatment of sacred things constitutes vainness in the sight of God. The Lord Himself said in modern revelation, “Wherefore, let all men beware how they take my name in their lips—for behold, verily I say, that many there be who are under this condemnation, who use the name of the Lord, and use it in vain, having not authority” (D&C 63:61–62).
In addition to religious oaths and covenants, many formal acts in modern society are accompanied by solemn oaths and vows. And yet frequently these oaths are dismissed or set aside. Clearly the violation of such oaths is a violation of the third commandment also.
The doctrine of the Sabbath, as taught throughout the scriptures, includes the following important concepts.
1. The commandment has a dual aspect of promoting both work and worship. The commandment is to labor six days and rest the seventh. Elsewhere in scripture, the idler is condemned and work is encouraged (see D&C 42:42; 56:17; 60:13; 88:69; 2 Nephi 9:27; Alma 24:18; 38:12).
2. The Sabbath was given as a token or sign of the rest of the Gods after the work of the Creation. The Hebrew word Shabbat means “rest,” or “the cessation of labor.” The Sabbath is directly tied to the Creation not only in the actual commandment but in such scriptures as Genesis 2:1–2 and Exodus 31:17.
3. Under the Mosaic dispensation, the violation of the Sabbath was a capital crime (see Exodus 31:14–15). A noted Bible scholar made an important point about why this punishment was the case:
“The death penalties attached to the violation of the sabbath in the Old Testament era convey two very obvious assumptions. First, the sabbath law involves a principle so important and basic that violation thereof is a capital offense. Second, the law conveys also the fact that violation of the sabbath laws involves a kind of death in and of itself, i.e., that violation brings on death. The prophets clearly made this assumption. Obedience, by implication, means life.” (Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 137.)
4. The Lord indicates that keeping the Sabbath was a “sign . . . that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you” (Exodus 31:13; emphasis added). The Lord teaches a similar concept of holiness or spiritual cleanliness in modern revelation: “And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day” (D&C 59:9; emphasis added).
5. The concept of sanctification and the idea of rest as used in the scriptures seem closely related. The rest of the Lord is defined as “the fulness of [God’s] glory” (D&C 84:24). Alma taught that certain early Saints entered the “rest of the Lord” after being made pure through a process of sanctification (Alma 13:12). In other words, God’s work is the sanctification of His children to the point where they can enter into the ultimate rest, which is the fulness of His glory. Once each week man is commanded to cease his own labors and allow God to perform His work of sanctification on him. Resting on the Sabbath, then, implies far more than taking a nap or stopping normal activities. Mankind must enter into the Lord’s work on that day. This work involves making themselves and others more godlike, another way to speak of sanctification. Doing the work of the Lord (sanctification) often involves great activity on the Sabbath day, and the day may not be restful in the usual sense. One can assume that if doing good to an animal on the Sabbath is approved by the Lord (see Matthew 12:11; Luke 13:15), then doing good to men is an even higher good. The two commandments for the Sabbath are rest and worship (see D&C 59:10). The Hebrew verb la-avodh, “to worship,” means also “to work” and “to serve.” This holy work then creates a new and holy man; so the Sabbath is tied into the work of creation.
6. The commandment to observe the Sabbath was not just for an individual himself but included servants (employees), family members, and animals. Under the Mosaic law even the land itself was to have its rest once each seven years (see Exodus 20:10; Leviticus 25:1–7). Imagine the faith required to trust wholly in the providence of God rather than in the labors of one’s own hands every seventh year. (That challenge was given in Leviticus 25:20–22.)
7. Direct promises of temporal plenty, divine protection, and spiritual power are promised in connection with keeping the Sabbath. For example, after giving the commandment for the observance of the Sabbatical year, the Lord promises, “ye shall dwell in the land in safety. And the land shall yield her fruit, and ye shall eat your fill, and dwell therein in safety.” (Leviticus 25:18–19.) Isaiah promised to those who do not do their own pleasures on the Sabbath, “then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord” (a concept perhaps related to having one’s confidence wax strong in the presence of God [see D&C 121:45]), and the Lord “will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob” (Isaiah 58:14). The heritage of Jacob was exaltation, and he was made a God! (see D&C 132:37).
The promises of Doctrine and Covenants 59:16–24 are based on the condition in verse 16. Elder Spencer W. Kimball talked in some detail about the challenges of keeping the Sabbath day holy:
“The fourth commandment is a dual law, both positive and negative. On the negative side: ‘. . . in it (the Sabbath) thou shalt not do any work.’ On the positive side: ‘Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. . . .
“Every week we find people defiantly carrying on their work and play activities on the Lord’s day. Shops and stores carry large signs: ‘Open Sunday.’ Factories and businesses run with ‘full steam ahead.’ Houses are displayed and sold. Beaches, parks, and other places of amusement enjoy their best business. Long waiting lines of people stand before ticket offices of theatres. The ball games and rodeos attract their thousands and families have their reunions in parks and canyons. Students study their secular lessons. Stockmen round up their cattle. People travel when unnecessary. Farmers plow and harvest and cultivate their crops. Some businessmen close their offices but spend their Sabbaths in streams, fishing, and in mountains, hunting, and in canyons, loafing. Women do their cleaning and other housework. Others explore and hike. The people, as a whole, seem to be on wheels—the highways are crowded. Half-clad men are clipping hedges, cutting lawns. Lunch stands and drive-ins work almost in a frenzy. Women in housecoats and unshaved men spend hours lazing about their homes. The socially elite hold receptions and teas, and week after week the Sabbath is desecrated and the law of God defied.
“It is conceded that many good folk are compelled to labor on Sunday. Their alternatives are to work or lose their employment. But frequently those whose shift work occupies part of the day excuse themselves from Sabbath activities using their work as an alibi. Shift workers seldom work more hours a day than other folk, and if they are determined such people can usually find ample time to render service and to hallow the Sabbath in the hours that remain.
“When employment is at a low ebb and difficult to obtain, some people find they must labor on the holy day as an ‘ox in the mire.’ But when employment is abundant, men can often find work which requires no Sabbath service. This change of employment might entail some financial sacrifice, but the Lord has promised he will bless those who live his laws.” (In “The Fourth Commandment,” Part 1, The Ten Commandments Today, pp. 55, 57–58.)
Then, speaking of the positive aspects of the commandment, Elder Kimball said:
“In Hebrew the term Sabbath means ‘rest.’ It contemplates quiet tranquility, peace of mind and spirit. It is a day to get rid of selfish interests and absorbing activities.
“The Sabbath day is given throughout the generations of man for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between the Lord and his children forever. It is a day in which to worship and to express our gratitude and appreciation to the Lord. It is a day on which to surrender every worldly interest and to praise the Lord humbly, for humility is the beginning of exaltation. It is a day not for affliction and burden but for rest and righteous enjoyment. It is a day not for lavish banqueting, but a day of simple meals and spiritual feasting; not a day of abstinence from food, except fast day, but a day when maid and mistress might be relieved from the preparation. It is a day graciously given us by our Heavenly Father. It is a day when animals may be turned out to graze and rest; when the plow may be stored in the barn and other machinery cooled down; a day when employer and employee, master and servant may be free from plowing, digging, toiling. It is a day when the office may be locked and business postponed, and troubles forgotten; a day when man may be temporarily released from that first injunction, ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, until thou return unto the ground. . . .’ It is a day when bodies may rest, minds relax, and spirits grow. It is a day when songs may be sung, prayers offered, sermons preached, and testimonies borne, and when man may climb high, almost annihilating time, space, and distance between himself and his Creator.
“The Sabbath is a day on which to take inventory—to analyze our weaknesses, to confess our sins to our associates and our Lord. It is a day on which to fast in ‘sackcloth and ashes.’ It is a day on which to read good books, a day to contemplate and ponder, a day to study lessons for priesthood and auxiliary organizations, a day to study the scriptures and to prepare sermons, a day to nap and rest and relax, a day to visit the sick, a day to preach the gospel, a day to proselyte, a day to visit quietly with the family and get acquainted with our children, a day for proper courting, a day to do good, a day to drink at the fountain of knowledge and of instruction, a day to seek forgiveness of our sins, a day for the enrichment of our spirit and our soul, a day to restore us to our spiritual stature, a day to partake of the emblems of his sacrifice and atonement, a day to contemplate the glories of the gospel and of the eternal realms, a day to climb high on the upward path toward our Heavenly Father.” (In “The Fourth Commandment,” Part 2, The Ten Commandments Today, pp. 66–68.)
The fifth commandment establishes very clearly the importance of the family in the sight of the Lord. Proper family relationships constitute one of the ten fundamental principles of law, both in this world and in the world to come. In obedience to this law the family unit and all other parts of society remain stable and healthy. In this day, which was prophesied to be an age when people are “disobedient to parents” and “without natural affection” (2 Timothy 3:2–3), one needs to contemplate seriously the implications of the commandment to honor father and mother and the promise included with it.
When parents are righteous, God-fearing people, children have little problem understanding the commandment to honor them, although they may have difficulty doing it. When parents are not righteous, however, two questions about this commandment are often raised. First, is one still required to honor unrighteous parents and, second, does honor imply obedience if the parents ask for unrighteous behavior?
First of all, though in most cases honor includes obedience, the two are not the same. To honor means to “bring honor to or to have an attitude of honoring.” Obedience means “to follow direction or example.” Paul said, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1; emphasis added), and then immediately thereafter adds, “Honour thy father and mother” (v. 2). This time, however, he added no qualifying statement, describing it only as the “first commandment with promise” (Ephesians 6:2). To obey one’s parents in the Lord means to obey them in righteousness (see McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:521). Anytime a child lives righteously he brings honor to his parents, whether those parents are themselves righteous or wicked. The opposite is also true. Anytime a child lives wickedly he brings shame to his parents, whether or not the parents are righteous. So, honoring parents may not always imply obeying them. In those relatively few cases where parents may ask for or encourage unrighteous behavior in their children, the individual brings dishonor to his parents if he obeys them.
But there is no qualification added to the commandment to honor one’s father and mother. To understand why, the ultimate model of the parent-child relationship must be examined. Only in the relationship of man’s heavenly parents to their children is the perfect model of parenting. They, of course, are perfectly honorable (that is, deserving of honor). If they were the only parents with whom one had to deal, it would be an easy matter to honor them.
But they have, in their infinite wisdom, chosen instead to have mortal parents stand as their representatives in the bringing forth and rearing of children. In other words, parents stand as direct representatives of God in mortality, and therefore, like priesthood offices, the office of parent requires honor. Obviously, an attendant responsibility and obligation goes along with that calling as God’s representative. Parents are obligated to strive to be as much like God as possible. The Lord has made it clear that should parents fail in their responsibility, which includes teaching children what He would teach them if He were here, serious consequences will follow (see D&C 68:25–31; 93:39–44).
|Top of Mount Sinai|
If parents do not fulfill their office and calling (and, of course, no parent can or will do this perfectly), they become accountable to God, but this circumstance does not affect the child’s obligation to honor them. Again, the parallels to a priesthood office or calling may be helpful in understanding why. While no priesthood holder perfectly fulfills his office and calling, yet, his office is to be honored in spite of his imperfections. A righteous and capable man also brings honor to himself, but even if a bishop were to be released because of unworthiness, one does not stop honoring his office of bishop.
The story of David and Saul is a classic illustration of this principle. Saul had been chosen and anointed king under direction from the Lord. Then, through pride and foolishness, he fell out of favor with God and eventually sinned grievously and lost the Spirit of the Lord. David, chosen and anointed his successor, had his life threatened time and again by Saul. And yet over and over he refused to lift his hand against Saul. His answer consistently was, “I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the Lord’s anointed” (1 Samuel 24:10). Saul clearly had failed in his calling, but David wisely understood that that failure made Saul accountable to God, not to David. Similarly, a parent may fail miserably in his office and calling, even to the point where a child cannot follow his example any longer, but the child always has the obligation to honor the parent because of the parent’s standing as a representative of God. Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated this principle as follows:
“Children come into mortality with the inborn requirement, planted in their souls by that very Being who gave them birth as spirits, to honor their parents and to obey their counsel in righteousness.” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:521.)
As noted above, the Apostle Paul referred to the fifth commandment as the first commandment with promise (see Ephesians 6:1–2). How is it that honoring parents would lead to extended life upon the land? The following points should be considered in answer to that question.
1. The Israelites had been promised a particular land as their inheritance, just as the Jaredites and Lehi’s colony were given a promised land. In all cases, the Lord clearly taught that such a favored inheritance was not automatic, but depended upon the righteousness of the people, and that wickedness would jeopardize the inheritance (see Deuteronomy 28:1–2, 7, 10; 1 Nephi 2:20–21; Ether 2:7–12).
2. When Moses summarized the law that had been given to Israel, he changed the wording of the fifth commandment slightly. Deuteronomy 5:16 reads: “Honour thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (emphasis added).
3. Moses commanded the parents of Israel to diligently teach their children the laws of God so that “it may be well with thee . . . in the land that floweth with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 6:3; see also Exodus 20:3–7 for the entire commandment to parents).
4. Earlier, Moses used similar language when he warned the Israelites: “When thou shalt beget children, and children’s children . . . and shall do evil in the sight of the Lord . . . I [shall] call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land; . . . ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall be utterly destroyed” (Deuteronomy 4:25–26; emphasis added). Then Moses stated the same principle in a positive way, again using the same language as he used in the fifth commandment: “Thou shalt keep therefore his statutes, and his commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the earth, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, for ever” (Deuteronomy 4:40).
5. To summarize, the condition for maintaining an inheritance in a promised land is personal righteousness. Only when parents teach their children the law of God and children honor and obey their parents will personal righteousness be maintained. Thus, to stay “long upon the land” (Exodus 20:12), the family unit must be functioning properly and children must honor their parents.
6. There is a personal aspect of the commandment as well. The Lord promised that those who walk “in obedience to the commandments” will enjoy health, vigor, endurance, and shall be passed over by the “destroying angel” (D&C 89:18, 21). Commenting on Paul’s phrase that this commandment was the “first commandment with promise” (Ephesians 6:2), Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:
“Paul here interprets the promise as a personal one. Obedient and faithful children are to have long lives upon the earth. That is, in the generality of instances, temporal life is prolonged by obedience to gospel laws; but, more particularly and in the ultimate sense, those who are godfearing and righteous—meaning the meek—shall live upon the earth again in its final or celestial state. (D. & C. 88:16–20.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:521–22.)
“One of the most serious of all sins and crimes against the Lord’s plan of salvation is the sin of murder or the destruction of human life. It seems clear that to be guilty of destroying life is the act of ‘rebellion’ against the plan of the Almighty by denying an individual . . . the privilege of a full experience in this earth-school of opportunity. It is in the same category as the rebellion of Satan and his hosts and therefore it would not be surprising if the penalties to be imposed upon a murderer were to be of similar character as the penalties meted out to those spirits which were cast out of heaven with Satan.” (Harold B. Lee, in “The Sixth Commandment,” Part 1, The Ten Commandments Today, p. 88.)
“In a pertinent statement set forth in a message of the First Presidency to the Church during World War II and delivered at the general conference on April 6, 1942, this subject was fully discussed. This was delivered at a time when nearly one hundred thousand Latter-day Saint youths were engaged in or were undergoing training for combat in the most destructive war in all history. I quote here from that message (pages 32–36):
“‘. . . the Church is and must be against war. The Church itself cannot wage war, unless and until the Lord shall issue new commands. It cannot regard war as a righteous means of settling international disputes; these should and could be settled—the nations agreeing—by peaceful negotiation and adjustment.
“‘But the Church membership are citizens or subjects of sovereignties over which the Church has no control. The Lord himself has told us [D&C 98:4–7].
“‘While by its terms this revealed word related more especially to this land of America, nevertheless the principles announced are world-wide in their application, and they are specifically addressed to “you” (Joseph Smith), “and your brethren of my church.” When, therefore, constitutional law, obedient to these principles, calls the manhood of the Church into the armed service of any country to which they owe allegiance, their highest civic duty requires that they meet that call. If, harkening to that call and obeying those in command over them, they shall take the lives of those who fight against them, that will not make of them murderers, nor subject them to the penalty that God has prescribed for those who kill. . . . For it would be a cruel God that would punish his children as moral sinners for acts done by them as the innocent instrumentalities of a sovereign whom he had told them to obey and whose will they were powerless to resist.
|Traditional site of the camp of Israel while Moses was on the Mount|
“‘The whole world is in the midst of a war that seems the worst of all time. This Church is a world-wide Church. Its devoted members are in both camps. They are the innocent war instrumentalities of their warring sovereignties. On each side they believe they are fighting for home, and country and freedom. On each side, our brethren pray to the same God, in the same name, for victory. Both sides cannot be wholly right; perhaps neither is without wrong. God will work out in his own sovereign way the justice and right of the conflict, but he will not hold the innocent instrumentalities of the war, our brethren in arms, responsible for the conflict. This is a major crisis in the world-life of man. God is at the helm.’
“There is, then, a vast difference in destroying life while acting under the mandate of a sovereign nation whom we are in duty bound to obey and wantonly killing on our own responsibility. It would be well for every young man called to military service to study carefully the above quoted statement of the First Presidency.” (Lee, in “The Sixth Commandment,” Part 2, The Ten Commandments Today, pp. 93–94.)
“Man must reproduce himself. Man was not of the vegetable kingdom to follow the rules of that form of life. Neither was he an animal to be led by mere instincts. As a child of God, man was given powers not granted to any other form of life. He was of the divine race, and therefore could have many of the privileges and powers related to divinity.
“The power of reproduction must be given to man as it had been given to lower forms of life to perpetuate his species. But whereas the Lord had set up safeguards for this power among the lower forms, barriers which the animals had no tendency to break down because of the manner in which they were made, man was in a different situation. With his right of choice, with his impulses, some for good and some for evil (even Satan had rebelled in the pre-existence), he could now use these divinely-given powers for either good or bad purposes. It was not a matter of instinct with him. It was a matter of choice. He possessed the right of choice before he came into the world. It was not taken from him when he became mortal. The animals would not corrupt their reproductive powers. Instinct took care of that. But what would mortal man do? This question came to the very heart of the purpose for which man was sent here—to try him, and prove whether he was worthy to come back into God’s presence. With his right of choice, he would be at liberty to select his own course. He could do that which would be ennobling, or he could do that which would debase.
“Laws were the answer. How else could God deal with an intelligent person who had the right of choice and who was to be tested to see which he would choose?
“So God called before him the first man and the first woman. As male and female, they were to reproduce their species. But they were to do so under divinely prescribed conditions. . . .
“The covenant of marriage, this sacred thing which was to go on eternally, was the heavenly institution which God provided under which his mortal children on earth were to reproduce themselves. There should be no human sex relationship outside of marriage. Children born to man and woman under divinely appointed marriage were to remain as their children forever. Families would continue as a unit even into eternity. The ties of home established in earth life would last forever. It was part of the system of heaven transferred to earth. It must be kept sacred.” (Mark E. Petersen, in “The Seventh Commandment,” Part 1, The Ten Commandments Today, pp. 104–5.)
The Ten Commandments lay down the great foundational principles of righteousness. They are so broad and so profound in their extent that they cover all aspects of moral behavior. The eighth commandment is a good example. It consists of four words, and yet the implications are such as to cover a whole range of human behavior. From the Fall, Adam and all mankind who followed him were commanded to labor for their bread (see Genesis 3:19). When one seeks to reap the benefits of another’s labor without adequate compensation, it is theft. Thus, stealing involves far more than just taking the property of another. President Spencer W. Kimball said:
“In public office and private lives, the word of the Lord thunders: ‘Thou shalt not steal: . . . nor do anything like unto it.’ (D&C 59:6.)
“We find ourselves rationalizing in all forms of dishonesty, including shoplifting, which is a mean, low act indulged in by millions who claim to be honorable, decent people.
“Dishonesty comes in many other forms: in hijacking, in playing upon private love and emotions for filthy lucre; in robbing money tills or stealing commodities of employers; in falsifying accounts; in taking advantage of other taxpaying people by misuse of food stamps and false claims; in taking unreal exemptions; in government or private loans without intent to repay; in unjust, improper bankruptcies to avoid repayment of loans; in robbing on the street or in the home money and other precious possessions; in stealing time, giving less than a full day of honest labor for a full day’s compensation; in riding without paying the fare; and in all forms of dishonesty in all places and in all conditions.
“To all thieveries and dishonest acts, the Lord says, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ Four short common words He used. Perhaps He wearied of the long list He could have made of ways to steal, misrepresent, and take advantage, and He covered all methods of taking that which does not properly belong to one by saying, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’” (“A Report and a Challenge,” Ensign, Nov. 1976, p. 6.)
“Murder, adultery, and stealing, dealing respectively with life, virtue, and property, are generally considered more serious offenses before the law than the bearing of false witness. And yet, what the latter may lack in severity, it more than makes up for in prevalence. As a matter of fact, most of the readers of these lessons will likely shun—as they would a plague—the first three of these major social offenses; but consciously or unconsciously, we may all at times be tempted into the carelessness of rumor and other forms of bearing false witness. . . .
“To bear false witness is to testify to or to pass along reports, insinuations, speculations, or rumors as if they were true, to the hurt of a fellow human being. Sometimes the practice stems from a lack of correct information—sometimes from lack of understanding—sometimes from misunderstandings—sometimes from a vicious disposition to distort and misrepresent.
“Whereas murder involves the taking of human life, bearing false witness centers in the destruction of character or its defamation. It reaches to the ruin of reputation.” (Adam S. Bennion, in “The Ninth Commandment,” Part 1, The Ten Commandments Today, pp. 134–36.)
“This is the last of the Ten Commandments, and if it were not so involved with all the others, some might suppose it to be one of the least. But all the commandments are so intertwined that none can be broken without weakening all the others. To illustrate (and to remind ourselves of the other nine):
“He who covets the mere material ‘things’ of life may have ‘other gods before him,’ and may ‘bow down before them,’ in thought and in spirit, if not in physical fact.
“He who covets may become coarse and careless in other things also, such as taking ‘the name of the Lord God in vain.’
“He who covets may desecrate the Sabbath day to get gain.
“He who covets may fail to sustain his father and his mother in their need.
“Some who have coveted have killed to get gain.
“Many who have coveted a ‘neighbour’s wife’ have committed the grievous sin of adultery.
“He who covets is more likely to steal (or to swindle or embezzle or engage in sharp practices).
“He who covets may bear false witness to get gain.
“And so again: The tenth commandment is inseparably integrated with all the others, and coveting could lead to infraction of all the others—for there is a wholeness in life in which each part complements the other. And there is a wholeness and harmony in the word of God, and it all comes from the same source. And whenever we ignore any divine counsel or commandment, we can be sure that we weaken ourselves and increase our susceptibility to other sins. . . .
“The commandment against covetousness does not mean that we should not have a wholesome discontent or a wholesome desire to improve ourselves or our situation. It does not mean that we should not have an honest ambition to have more of the better things of life. It does not mean that we may not admire what our neighbor has, and seek by our own industry to earn things of like worth. The earth holds plenty for all—and the urge to acquire for ourselves such good things as other men have is a productive quality of character—provided that we acquire them by honest effort, by lawful means, and by keeping life well-balanced. The danger comes when mere ‘things’ begin to matter too much.” (Richard L. Evans, in “The Tenth Commandment,” Part 1, The Ten Commandments Today, p. 142–44.)
The scriptures contain an interesting definition of coveting. Paul, on two occasions, equated coveting with idolatry (see Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5). The implication is that when one sets his heart on things of the world to the point that allegiance to God and His principles no longer matters, then material things become as a god to that person; he follows after them or worships them, and this practice is the same as idolatry. The Lord said that idolatry was a major characteristic of this generation (see D&C 1:16). Samuel told Saul that sin and iniquity were also idolatry (see 1 Samuel 15:23).
(11-17) The laws set forth in the Ten Commandments were in effect before this earth was created. All the prophets have taught them. They are the foundation for all civilizations which have been developed. They are also the guidelines for a full and happy life for each individual. If we are wise we will seek after these blessings by obedience to the commandments. The Prophet Joseph Smith said:
“Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. But we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received. That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another.” (Teachings, pp. 255–56.)
It is important to note that even today, in the midst of the dispensation of the fulness of times, the Lord has reiterated every point of the sacred law. Pause for a moment and consider the implications of the Ten Commandments today by reading the scriptures listed below.
The Ten Commandments Then and Now
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
5. Honor thy Father and Mother.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
10. Thou shalt not covet.
We saw in chapter 11 how the Lord began the revelation of the law for Israel with the ten principles that summarized the way in which men are to deal with God, with their families, and with their fellow men. Immediately after the Ten Commandments, the Lord revealed a whole series of laws and commandments which we now call the Mosaic law.
It is unfortunate that many people, some even in the Church, think of the Mosaic law as a substitute for the higher law of the gospel. We call it a lesser law, and so it was, if the word lesser is used in the sense of progressive steps. But some people assume that lesser means of lower importance and significance, or of a lesser level of truth and righteousness. Such is not the case. Note what other scriptures teach about the law:
The law of Moses was a “preparatory gospel” that included the principles of repentance, baptism, remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments.
It was a “very strict law” of “performances and ordinances” designed to keep the Israelites “in remembrance of God and their duty towards him.”
Jarom 1:11; Mosiah 3:14–15; 13:31; 16:14; Alma 25:15; 34:14
The law of Moses was highly symbolic, being filled with types and shadows, all of which pointed toward Christ and His future Atonement.
JST, Galatians 3:8, 19
The law of Moses was added to the gospel, not given as a substitute for it.
The law of Moses was given as a schoolmaster or tutor to bring Israel to Christ.
Alma 25:16; Revelation 19:10
The law of Moses is understood through the “spirit of prophecy” or “a testimony of Jesus.”
In summary, when you study the law of Moses you can expect to find (1) a witness of Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice and (2) gospel principles illustrated in the laws given. Many of the laws may no longer be required of the Saints, but the principles taught are eternal and will never be set aside. For example, the practice of blood sacrifice was fulfilled when Jesus came and the tokens of the sacrament were given in place of the old law. But the principle was as true when the tokens were animals offered on the altar as it is now when the tokens are bread and water blessed by the priesthood. The eternal principle is that only in the partaking of the Lamb’s atoning sacrifice are we able to overcome and receive a forgiveness for our sins.
Two other characteristics of the Mosaic law are important for your understanding before you begin to study the actual laws. First, much of the Mosaic code is case law. One scholar explained that the law does two things:
“In order to understand Biblical law, it is necessary to understand also certain basic characteristics of that law. First, certain broad premises or principles are declared. These are declarations of basic law. The Ten Commandments give us such declarations. The Ten Commandments are not therefore laws among laws, but are the basic laws, of which the various laws are specific examples. An example of such a basic law is Exodus 20:15 (Deut. 5:19), ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ . . .
“With this in mind, that the law, first, lays down broad and basic principles, let us examine a second characteristic of Biblical law, namely, that the major portion of the law is case law, i.e., the illustration of the basic principle in terms of specific cases. These specific cases are often illustrations of the extent of the application of the law; that is, by citing a minimal type of case, the necessary jurisdictions of the law are revealed. . . .
“The law, then, first asserts principles, second, it cites cases to develop the implications of those principles, and, third, the law has as its purpose and direction the restitution of God’s order.” (Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, pp. 10–12.)
We shall see numerous examples of case law as we study the Mosaic code.
Second, the law is primarily negative. Eight of the Ten Commandments and many of the other laws deal with what ought not to be done rather than with what should be done. Many today view negative laws with distaste. They feel they are very restrictive, and they often prefer positive laws which, by assuring our rights, appear to grant freedom. The appearance, however, is false. God gave the laws to Israel not to shackle them but to guarantee the greatest individual freedom. Explaining how this is so, one scholar stated:
“A negative concept of law confers a double benefit: first, it is practical, in that a negative concept of law deals realistically with a particular evil. It states, ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ or, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness.’ A negative statement thus deals with a particular evil directly and plainly: it prohibits it, makes it illegal. The law thus has a modest function; the law is limited, and therefore the state is limited. The state, as the enforcing agency, is limited to dealing with evil, not controlling all men.
“Second, and directly related to this first point, a negative concept of law insures liberty: except for the prohibited areas, all of man’s life is beyond the law, and the law is of necessity indifferent to it. If the commandment says, ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ it means that the law can only govern theft: it cannot govern or control honestly acquired property. When the law prohibits blasphemy and false witness, it guarantees that all other forms of speech have their liberty. The negativity of the law is the preservation of the positive life and freedom of man.” (Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, pp. 101–2.)
Remember that in God’s preface to the Ten Commandments He said, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2; emphasis added). In saying this, Jehovah reminded Israel that the very purpose of the law was to make them free and keep them free.
Instructions to Students
1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Exodus 21–24; 31–35.
Here is the first example of the case law approach to the Mosaic law. The principle is “thou shalt not steal.” One of the most precious things any man has is his personal liberty. To steal one’s liberty is a serious theft. So, permanent ownership of slaves was not allowed unless the individual himself chose to be a slave for life (see vv. 5–6). As illustrated here, the slave in Israel was really more like a servant. By law he had to be freed after seven years unless he voluntarily chose to remain in servitude.
Although a father could arrange for the marriage of his daughter (that is the meaning of the phrase “to sell her as a maidservant” in verse 7, as is evident from the betrothal mentioned in verses 8 and 9), she too maintained certain rights. The prospective husband could not use her as a slave (“she shall not go out as the menservants do”). If the prospective husband was not pleased with the new bride, the law guaranteed her rights. This legal guarantee was in sharp contrast to the practice of most other people whose women were viewed as property to be bargained away at the whim of men.
Because of the guidelines of the law, the lot of Hebrew slaves was greatly softened; in fact, they were on almost equal status with hired laborers. Under such conditions, some men were willing to forfeit freedom for security, especially if they had married while in slavery and release from slavery might force them to give up their wives and children.
“In this case the master was to take his servant . . . to God, i.e., . . . to the place where judgment was given in the name of God [see Deuteronomy 1:17; 19:17; cf. Exodus 22:7–8], in order that he might make a declaration there that he gave up his liberty. His ear was then to be bored with an awl against the door or lintel of the house, and by this sign, which was customary in many of the nations of antiquity, to be fastened as it were to the house for ever. That this was the meaning of the piercing of the ear against the door of the house, is evident from the unusual expression in [Deuteronomy 15:17], ‘and put (the awl) into his ear and into the door, that he may be thy servant for ever,’ where the ear and the door are co-ordinates.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:130.)
Further clarification of the commandments, or fundamental principles, is given by these specific laws.
1. There is a difference between premeditated murder and accidental death, or manslaughter, as it is called today (see vv. 12–14). “God deliver him into his hand” (v. 13) is an idiom which means that the individual did not actively seek the death of the individual. This case is a further clarification of “thou shalt not kill.”
2. Certain crimes were so serious that they required the death penalty. This fact clearly shows, first, the seriousness of murder, and, second, that the death penalty, when carried out by legally constituted authority, is not a violation of the sixth commandment. Capital crimes listed here included:
• Premeditated murder (see vv. 12–14).
• Attempted murder of one’s parents (see v. 15). The verb translated as “smiteth” comes from the Hebrew verb meaning “to strike deep so as to wound or kill” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “smite,” p. 401).
• Kidnapping (see v. 16).
• Cursing one’s parents (see v. 17). Here again the Hebrew word is very strong, meaning “to revile” or “to utter violent reproaches” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “curse,” p. 105).
• Killing a servant (see vv. 20–21). The Joseph Smith Translation changes verse 20 to read, “If a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall surely be put to death.”
• Blatant neglect in the use of one’s property (see v. 29).
Other capital crimes were listed elsewhere in the law.
3. The seriousness of abortion is taught in the case law example given here (see vv. 22–25). If two men are fighting and strike a pregnant woman, causing her to miscarry, punishment is given. If “mischief follow” (a Hebrew idiom for death; see vv. 22–23), then the offending party was punished by death. One Bible scholar suggested that the case law approach illustrates the extent of the law’s application (see Reading 12-1), and this case provides an excellent example of this concept. If an abortion caused by an accident was to be punished severely, one can assume that deliberate abortion without justifiable cause was far more serious.
4. As an expansion on the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not steal,” several cases of just retribution are listed here and in Exodus 22. Again, the cases illustrate the breadth of the law. One can steal from another by direct theft, but one can also steal through negligence or accident. Thus, if one steals physical wholeness from another (see vv. 26–27), restitution has to be made. If one, through neglect, causes the loss of another’s property, restitution has to be made. The law of Moses is therefore not a law of retaliation, but a law of reparation.
Abinadi said that the law was “a very strict law” of “performances and of ordinances” given because Israel was a “stiffnecked people” (Mosiah 13:29–30). In the law of Christ, a general principle such as “whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12) covered situations similar to those mentioned in Exodus 21. But in the higher law of the gospel specific additional commandments were not required. Under the law of Christ a person does not have to be told to guard against negligence or to make restitution for accidental loss. He will do it because he loves his neighbor. The law of Moses specified how the law was lived in daily, practical situations, but it still taught the law of Christ.
“First, the ratio of restitution is established:
“‘If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep’ (Ex. 22:1). Multiple restitution rests on a principle of justice. Sheep are capable of a high rate of reproduction and have use, not only as meat, but also by means of their wool, for clothing, as well as other uses. To steal a sheep is to steal the present and future value of a man’s property. The ox requires a higher rate of restitution, five-fold, because the ox was trained to pull carts, and to plow, and was used for a variety of farm tasks. The ox therefore had not only the value of its meat and its usefulness, but also the value of its training, in that training an ox for work was a task requiring time and skill. It thus commanded a higher rate of restitution. Clearly, a principle of restitution is in evidence here. Restitution must calculate not only the present and future value of a thing stolen, but also the specialized skills involved in its replacement.
“Second, theft could involve problems with respect to defense against the thief: [see Exodus 22:2–3]. A housebreaker at night can be legitimately killed by householders to defend their property; it is part of their legitimate defense of themselves and their properties. There is no reason to assume that this breaking does not cover the barn or, today, a garage. In daylight, however, the killing of a thief except in self-defense is manslaughter. The thief can then be identified and apprehended, so that this in itself is a protection. If the thief cannot make restitution, he is to be sold into slavery in order to satisfy the requirement of restitution. This means today some kind of custody whereby the full income of the convicted thief is so ordered that full restitution is provided for.
“Third, the law specified the restitution required of a thief caught in the act, or caught before disposing of the stolen goods: [see Exodus 22:4]. In such cases, the thief was to restore the thing stolen, and its equivalent, i.e., the exact amount he expected to profit by in his theft. This is the minimum restitution. A man who steals $100 must restore not only the $100 but another $100 as well.
“Fourth, certain acts, whether deliberate or accidental, incur a liability which requires restitution, for to damage another man’s property is to rob him of a measure of its value: [see Exodus 22:5–6]. The restitution in all such cases depends on the nature of the act; if fruit trees or vines are damaged, then future production is damaged, and the liability is in proportion thereto. Criminal law no longer has more than survivals of the principle of restitution; civil suit must now be filed by an offended party to recover damages, and then without regard to the Biblical principle.
“Fifth, in Exodus 22:7–13, responsibility is determined for goods held in custody. . . .
“‘Property deposited in the hands of another for safe keeping might be so easily embezzled by the trustee, or lost through his negligence, that some special laws were needed for its protection. Conversely the trustee required to be safe-guarded against incurring loss if the property intrusted to his care suffered damage or disappeared without fault of his. The Mosaic legislation provided for both cases. On the one hand, it required the trustee to exercise proper care, and made him answerable for the loss if a thing entrusted to him was stolen and the thief not found. Embezzlement it punished by requiring the trustee guilty of it to “pay double.” On the other hand, in doubtful cases it allowed the trustee to clear himself by an oath (verse 10), and in clear cases to give proof that the loss had happened through unavoidable accident’ (verse 12).
“Sixth, in case of rental, or of loan, certain principles of liability are at work: [see Exodus 22:14–15]. If a man borrows and damages the property of another, he is liable for the damages; he has destroyed or harmed the property of another man and is thereby guilty of theft; restitution is mandatory. If the owner came to assist him voluntarily, as a good neighbor, the damage is the owner’s, because his property was damaged while under his own supervision. This is all the more true if he was working for hire, because his rental of his services, with ox, ass, tractor, or any other equipment, includes the wear and tear, the maintenance and damages, to his working equipment.
“Seventh, seduction is not only an offense against the seventh commandment, but also against the eighth, in that it involves robbing a girl of her virginity (Ex. 22:16, 17). Compensation or restitution meant that ‘he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.’ Significantly, the word translated pay is in Hebrew weigh; money was then by weight, a weight of a shekel of silver or gold. . . .
“In all these cases, there is not only judgment by God against the offender but also restitution to the offended. Restitution thus is closely linked to atonement, to justice, and to salvation.” (Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, pp. 459–62.)
In the midst of the laws of restitution, the Lord lists several other crimes worthy of death. In other words, some crimes were so serious that restitution had to be made with one’s own life. These crimes included—
1. Witchcraft (see v. 18). One commentator explained why:
“From the severity of this law against witches, &c., we may see in what light these were viewed by Divine justice. They were seducers of the people from their allegiance to God, on whose judgment alone they should depend; and by impiously prying into futurity, assumed an attribute of God, the foretelling of future events, which implied in itself the grossest blasphemy, and tended to corrupt the minds of the people, by leading them away from God and the revelation he had made of himself. Many of the Israelites had, no doubt, learned these curious arts from their long residence with the Egyptians; and so much were the Israelites attached to them, that we find such arts in repute among them, and various practices of this kind prevailed through the whole of the Jewish history, notwithstanding the offence was capital, and in all cases punished with death.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:416.)
In the Joseph Smith Translation, however, the word witch is replaced by the word murderer (see JST, Exodus 22:18).
2. Sexual perversions with animals; one of the most evil of sexual sins (see Exodus 22:19).
3. Idol worship (see v. 20). Worship of a false god is to the spiritual man what murder is to the physical man, direct and devastating death. Alma the Younger understood this principle when he said of his period of apostasy, “Yes, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction” (Alma 36:14; emphasis added).
4. Neglect of widows and orphans (see Exodus 22:22–24). In this case, however, rulers were not allowed to impose the death penalty. The Lord reserved that right to Himself (see v. 24).
“The real point is that in his relations with a poor man, possibly his own employee, an Israelite must be generous. If he gives him an advance payment on his wage, he must not insist on payment by the end of the day at the risk of the man’s doing without the garment he has given as pledge for the loan (v. 26). The original admonition was not so much a prohibition of interest as a demand that one be ready to ‘risk an advance’ without material security. Amos 2:6 condemns Israelites for having treated such advances in a strictly legal manner, even at the cost of making the poor destitute. As a barter economy developed into a money economy the problem of interest became increasingly acute (Deut. 23:19–20; Lev. 25:26); between Israelites interest on commercial loans was prohibited. (In Hebrew the word ‘interest’ means ‘bite’!) To take a neighbor’s garment in pledge for any time longer than the working hours of the day, when he does not wear it, is equivalent to making him pledge his life ([see] Deut. 24:6, 17). This prohibition ultimately makes enslavement for debt impossible.” (Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, 1:1008.)
The Joseph Smith Translation says, “Thou shalt not revile against God, nor curse the ruler of thy people” (JST, Exodus 22:28).
The word translated “liquors” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to weep” and denotes the juice of the vine or oil of the olive, not necessarily fermented juice. These laws were to symbolize the willing consecration of the people of Jehovah.
Many people think of the law of Moses as being summarized by the requirement of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Exodus 21:24). They picture a system of fierce retaliation and brutal punishment. In Exodus 23:1–8 is an excellent example of the inaccuracy of that conception. Here are laws requiring a high degree of morality, justice, and righteousness, and requirements to do good to one’s neighbor. In an age where wickedness abounds, where gossip and slander are commonplace (see v. 1), where men follow the fads and fashions of evil and greedy men (see v. 2), where evil men (Joseph Smith corrected the word poor in v. 3 to read wicked) are often supported and even glorified, where many people refuse to get involved in the problems or misfortunes of their neighbors (see vv. 4–5), where exploitation of the poor and ignorant is widespread (see vv. 6–7), and when bribery and corruption are daily fare (see v. 8), the world would do well to turn to such laws and follow them.
For a more detailed treatment of the various holy days mentioned here, see Enrichment Section D, “Feasts and Festivals.” The purpose of the holy days was two-fold: first to help Israel remember their deliverance from bondage through the power of God; and, second, to assist them in continuing the covenant relationship with Jehovah. The heart of the practice was to promote trust in the Lord.
God promised five things to Israel for their obedience. First, an angel of the Lord would lead them into the promised land (see vv. 20–23). Second, they would be blessed with good health (see vv. 24–25). Third, they and their flocks would be greatly multiplied (see v. 26). Fourth, they would be successful in their fight against heathen nations (see vv. 27–30). Fifth, they would ultimately inherit everything from the Red Sea to the Euphrates River (see v. 31).
“The people, in anticipation of having Moses and the seventy special witnesses go into the presence of the Lord, were instructed in the laws. They accepted them with a covenant to keep them, accepted a copy of them as binding, and their covenants were sanctified by a sacrifice. Notice the promise the people made: ‘All the words which the Lord hath said will we do.’” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:88–89.)
The instructions Israel received before Moses went up to Mount Sinai were kept in the “book of the covenant” (v. 7):
“But as no covenant was considered to be ratified and binding til a sacrifice had been offered on the occasion, hence the necessity of the sacrifices mentioned here.
“Half of the blood being sprinkled on the altar, and half of it sprinkled on the people, showed that both God and they were mutually bound by this covenant. God was bound to the people to support, defend, and save them; the people were bound to God to fear, love, and serve him.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:425.)
The instructions given to Israel ensured that she would not be forced into a relationship she did not understand or want. Once Israel expressed her willingness to receive the law and covenanted to live it, Moses was free to act for Israel in the presence of the Lord.
For a discussion of this and other visions of God, see Reading 12-23.
These chapters contain the Lord’s revelations on the tabernacle and its furnishings. These instructions will be discussed in the next chapter.
The Lord works through talented individuals to bring about His purposes (see vv. 1–6). For commentary on the Sabbath (see vv. 12–17), see Reading 11-8.
The nature of the tablets (see v. 18) is discussed in Reading 12-24.
“The whole of this is a most strange and unaccountable transaction. Was it possible that the people could have so soon lost sight of the wonderful manifestations of God upon the mount? Was it possible that Aaron could have imagined that he could make any god that could help them? And yet it does not appear that he ever remonstrated with the people! Possibly he only intended to make them some symbolical representation of the Divine power and energy, that might be as evident to them as the pillar of cloud and fire had been, and to which God might attach an always present energy and influence; or in requiring them to sacrifice their ornaments, he might have supposed they would have desisted from urging their request: but all this is mere conjecture, with very little probability to support it. It must however be granted that Aaron does not appear to have even designed a worship that should supersede the worship of the Most High; hence we find him making proclamation, To-morrow is a feast to the LORD [Jehovah], and we find farther that some of the proper rites of the true worship were observed on this occasion, for they brought burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, ver. 6, 7: hence it is evident he intended that the true God should be the object of their worship, though he permitted and even encouraged them to offer this worship through an idolatrous medium, the molten calf.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:463–64.)
|The children of Israel worshiped a golden calf.|
The Joseph Smith Translation corrects this verse to show that Moses said: “Turn from thy fierce wrath. Thy people will repent of this evil; therefore come thou not out against them.” Then the Prophet corrected verse 14 to clearly show the condition for the Lord’s sparing the people: “And the Lord said unto Moses, if they will repent of the evil which they have done, I will spare them, and turn away my fierce wrath; but, behold, thou shalt execute judgment upon all that will not repent of this evil this day. Therefore, see thou do this thing that I have commanded thee, or I will execute all that which I had thought to do unto my people.”
Moses’ role in the whole event is significant. In his great vision of the Lord, Moses was told that he was “in the similitude” of the Only Begotten Son (Moses 1:6). That similitude is shown clearly here. As the people faced destruction because of their wickedness, Moses became their mediator with God. He pleaded their cause and even offered his own life to appease the divine justice (see Exodus 32:31–32). After the constant murmuring and rebellion of the people, any usual leader would likely have said, “Yes, they are a wicked people. Go ahead and destroy them.” But Moses, like Christ whom he emulated, loved his people in spite of their hardheartedness and wickedness. He interceded in their behalf and saved them, but only on the condition of their repentance.
For an explanation of what was on the tablets Moses first received, see Reading 12-24.
“Moses sought out those who were ‘on the Lord’s side’ from those whom Aaron had made ‘naked.’ (The Hebrew word used here may mean either ‘bare, uncovered’ or ‘unruly, broken loose.’) ‘Naked’ can be understood in the same sense as when Adam was ashamed and hid himself from God because he was naked. The expression can also mean ‘exposed in guilt before God’s wrath.’ Compare the feeling of Alma as he described such exposure, in Alma 36:14–22. On the other hand, that Israel had ‘broken loose’ and become ‘unruly’ under Aaron’s lead was obviously true. Both conditions would be to the shame of a people who were supposed to be religious.” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:93.)
Some have wondered why Aaron, who played a key role in the golden calf episode, came out with no condemnation. Though it is not recorded in Exodus, Moses later indicated that Aaron also was nearly destroyed and was saved only through Moses’ intercession in his behalf (see Deuteronomy 9:20).
For a modern parallel to this rebuke, see Doctrine and Covenants 103:15–20.
“Moses then took a tent, and pitched it outside the camp, at some distance off, and called it ‘tent of meeting.’ The ‘tent’ is neither the sanctuary of the tabernacle described in [Exodus 25–30], which was not made till after the perfect restoration of the covenant [Exodus 35–40], nor another sanctuary that had come down from their forefathers and was used before the tabernacle was built, . . . but a tent belonging to Moses, which was made into a temporary sanctuary by the fact that the pillar of cloud came down upon it, and Jehovah talked with Moses there, and which was called by the same name as the tabernacle, . . . because Jehovah revealed Himself there, and every one who sought Him had to go to this tent outside the camp.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:233–34.)
There is obviously something wrong with Exodus 33:20, for verse 11 of this same chapter clearly says, “The Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (emphasis added). Also, Exodus 24:9–11 records that Moses and seventy of the elders of Israel saw God. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith commented on the problem in Exodus 33:20 and in John 1:18 in this way:
“There are too many passages which declare very definitely that God did appear, ‘face to face,’ with his ancient servants. Therefore, passages which declare that no man has seen him, must be in error. For instance, the passage in John 1:18, . . . is likely due to the fact that a translator in more recent years did not believe that God was a Personage and therefore could not be seen. This notion has come down to us since the introduction of the Athanasian Creed in 325 A.D. The Prophet Joseph Smith has given us a correction of this passage as follows:
“‘And no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son; for except it is through him no man can be saved’ [JST, John 1:19].
“Again in 1 John 4:12, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith the following correction:
“‘No man hath seen God at any time, except them who believe. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfect in us.’
“Now let us consider other verses from John’s Gospel . . . :
“‘It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.
“‘Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.’ [John 6:45–46.]
“If we were not aware of the fact that mistranslations exist, it would appear that our Savior contradicted himself. The latter verse (John 6:46) does not harmonize with John 1:18.
“We read that Abraham talked with God face to face, and he also talked with Enoch and others. The modern world, however, will have none of it and have rejected the living God for one who cannot be seen or heard.” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:162–63.)
Thus, it is clear that Joseph Smith was inspired when he corrected this verse to read:
“And he said unto Moses, Thou canst not see my face at this time, lest mine anger be kindled against thee also, and I destroy thee, and thy people; for there shall no man among them see me at this time, and live, for they are exceeding sinful. And no sinful man hath at any time, neither shall there be any sinful man at any time, that shall see my face and live.” (JST, Exodus 33:20.)
Before this question can be fully answered, one must carefully examine what was on the first plates. One Bible scholar offered this analysis:
“‘The following is a general view of this subject. In [Exodus 20] the ten commandments are given; and at the same time various political and ecclesiastical statutes, which are detailed in chapters [21–23]. To receive these, Moses had drawn near unto the thick darkness where God was, [20:21], and having received them he came again with them to the people, according to their request before expressed, ver. 19: Speak thou with us—but let not the Lord speak with us, lest we die, for they had been terrified by the manner in which God had uttered the ten commandments; see ver. 18. After this Moses, with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and the seventy elders, went up to the mountain; and on his return he announced all these laws unto the people, [24:1], &c., and they promised obedience. Still there is no word of the tables of stone. Then he wrote all in a book, [24:4], which was called the book of the covenant, ver. 7. After this there was a second going up of Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders, [24:9], when that glorious discovery of God mentioned in verses 10 and 11 of the same chapter took place. After their coming down Moses is again commanded to go up; and God promises to give him tables of stone, containing a law and precepts, ver. 12. This is the first place these tables of stone are mentioned; and thus it appears that the ten commandments, and several other precepts, were given to and accepted by the people, and the covenant sacrifice offered, [24:5], before the tables of stone were either written or mentioned.’ It is very likely that the commandments, laws, &c., were first published by the Lord in the hearing of the people; repeated afterwards by Moses; and the ten words or commandments, containing the sum and substance of the whole, afterwards written on the first tables of stone, to be kept for a record in the ark.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:474.)
This analysis would answer a frequently asked question, How did the Lord put the whole law of Moses on two tablets? The tablets, it seems, contained only the divine summary called the Ten Commandments. Joseph Smith added additional information when he reworked the first two verses of this chapter:
“And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two other tables of stone, like unto the first, and I will write upon them also, the words of the law, according as they were written at the first on the tables which thou brakest; but it shall not be according to the first, for I will take away the priesthood out of their midst; therefore my holy order, and the ordinances thereof, shall not go before them; for my presence shall not go up in their midst, lest I destroy them.
“But I will give unto them the law as at the first, but it shall be after the law of a carnal commandment; for I have sworn in my wrath, that they shall not enter into my presence, into my rest, in the days of their pilgrimage. Therefore do as I have commanded thee, and be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me, in the top of the mount.” (JST, Exodus 34:1–2.)
At first reading, this passage may sound contradictory. The Lord says He will write on the second tablets “according as they were written at the first on the tables which thou brakest” (v. 1) but then He says, “but it shall not be according to the first” (v. 1; emphasis added). The problem lies in determining what “it” refers to: the writing on the tablets, or the new order of things introduced because of the rebellion of Israel. The information following the “it” seems to refer to the new order and not the new writings. But the Joseph Smith Translation of Deuteronomy 10:2 makes it clear that the two sets of plates contained the same thing, with one exception:
“And I will write on the tables the words that were on the first tables, which thou brakest, save the words of the everlasting covenant of the holy priesthood, and thou shalt put them in the ark” (JST, Deuteronomy 10:2; emphasis added).
|Moses received the tablets on Mount Sinai.|
“After such prolonged time and such experiences in God’s presence, it is no wonder that Moses’ face shone with divine glory when he returned, and the people fell back in fear of him. This phenomenon of light radiating from heavenly beings and earthly beings who are under heavenly influence is not unique here. Compare the descriptions of the Apostles on the day of pentecost, when ‘tongues of cloven fire’ radiated from them (Acts 2:3).
“The Hebrew word here rendered ‘shone’ is qaran, a denominative verb from a noun meaning ‘horn,’ denominating radial beams of light, like the ‘horns’ or rays of morning seen over the horizon before the sun rises. From this phenomenon, the Arabs call the sun at its rising a ‘gazelle.’ (A mistranslation from Hebrew to Latin caused Michelangelo to put actual horns on the head of his heroic statue of Moses!)” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:95.)
(12-26) Ancient Israel was made to understand clearly that the earth was the Lord’s. He is its Sovereign and King. As such, He not only can dictate its laws but establish peoples on its lands. The Book of Mormon joins with the Bible in witnessing this fact. Pause for a moment to consider these scriptures: 1 Nephi 17:36–39; 2 Nephi 1:7; Deuteronomy 4:20, 37–38.
From these scriptures you can see that a nation’s right to land is guaranteed only by obedience to the laws of Him whose land it is. Though man was given dominion over the earth through Adam, that dominion was under God. Therefore, man is responsible to set up God’s laws and establish His order. Since that is the case, consider these questions: Over whom do God’s laws extend? Is anyone excluded? Does violation of God’s laws between consenting adults (a popular phrase in today’s world) nullify the law? Is there such a thing as a sin that hurts only the individual? How is any sin a violation of God’s order? How are all sins sins against God even if they seem to hurt no one else? How should we answer the person who says, “It’s my life; I can live it as I choose”?
(12-27) Read again carefully Doctrine and Covenants 84:23–27; Mosiah 13:29–30; JST, Exodus 34:1–2 (see Reading 12-24); and Alma 25:15–16. Now answer the following questions:
1. Why were the ancient Israelites given this stricter law?
2. What could they have enjoyed if it had not been for their wickedness?
3. If they had been obedient to the law given them, what would have been the results?
4. Are there any members of the Church today who are in a condition similar to that of the ancient Israelites?
5. Of what value, then, is a study of the law of Moses to a modern Latter-day Saint?
Out of the thunders of Sinai the Lord revealed a glorious plan by which He could redeem the children of Israel. The Lord opened the heavens to Moses and through him extended to Israel the opportunity to come to a fulness of His glory, taste of His love, and truly become a Zion people (see Exodus 25:8; 29:43; D&C 84:23–27). During his forty-day fast upon the mount, Moses received every detail needed for the construction of a tabernacle, a house of the Lord, where Israel could come and receive the keys of salvation and exaltation.
The tie between this tabernacle and latter-day temples is unmistakable. Like modern temples, the tabernacle was to be a house wherein “every needful thing” could be found (D&C 109:15). It would be a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of glory and of God, so that “all the incomings of thy people, into this house, may be in the name of the Lord; that all their outgoings from this house may be in the name of the Lord” (D&C 109:16–18; see also Leviticus 9:23; 10:8–11). Thus, through the power of revelation, Israel could be “taught words of wisdom” and “seek learning even by study, and also by faith” (D&C 109:14).
Deep meaning is associated with the physical dimensions and plan of the tabernacle. They were meant to reflect spiritual patterns that are also reflected in temples today. Prayerful study and meditation will help you to comprehend the importance of this ancient dwelling place of the Lord.
Instructions to Students
1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Exodus 25–30; 35–40.
While on Mount Sinai, Moses received the revelation detailing the plans for the tabernacle (see Exodus 25–30). When he came down, Moses gathered Israel and they began the actual construction of the tabernacle (see Exodus 35–40). Since Moses used the revelation to guide the construction, there is a close parallel between the two descriptions in Exodus. (Note: For purposes of commentary here, the focus will be on Exodus 25–30, the revelation chapters, and significant additions recorded in the construction chapters will be noted as necessary.)
It is significant that, before revealing the pattern of the tabernacle itself, the Lord told Moses that Israel had to demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice to build His sanctuary (see v. 2). Mormon taught that if a gift of sacrifice is offered to the Lord with a grudging attitude, not only is it not acceptable to the Lord, but it becomes an evil act (see Moroni 7:6–10). Unless Israel had the right attitude about the sacrifice of their materials, it would do them no good. Modern readers should remember that despite their other faults and failings (the golden calf episode took place while Moses was on the mount receiving this revelation), when Israel heard what the Lord asked, they responded with joyous liberality. Their hearts were indeed touched (see Exodus 35:20–22, 25–26, 29), and finally Moses had to restrain them, for they gave far more than was needed for the tabernacle (see Exodus 36:5–7).
In Exodus 25:8 the Lord clearly revealed the purpose for the tabernacle—it was to be the house of the Lord. The Hebrew word which is translated “tabernacle” actually means “tent” or “dwelling” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “tabernacle,” p. 434).
The phrase “according to all that I shew thee” (v. 9), seems to indicate that Moses was actually shown the tabernacle and its furnishings and not just given a verbal description.
The ephod (pronounced in Hebrew ay’fode) mentioned in verse 7 is discussed in detail in Reading 13-13.
Shittim is pronounced shee-teem’ in Hebrew and is used to designate a desert acacia tree known throughout Egypt and the Near East (see Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “shittah tree, shittim,” pp. 624–25). Because its hard wood endured well and also took a high polish, it was ideal for the construction of the tabernacle.
The dimensions of the tabernacle are described in a unit of measure called a cubit, which is about eighteen inches in length. (The student should refer to the chart on weights and measures in Maps and Charts.)
Much of the furniture of the tabernacle was constructed of shittim wood and covered with gold leaf to give it the appearance of gold. Had the furnishings been made of solid gold, they would have been far too heavy to carry.
|The ark of the covenant|
The ark of the covenant was a chest, or box, of shittim wood overlaid with gold. It was approximately three feet nine inches long, two feet three inches wide, and two feet three inches high. Staves, or poles, on both sides allowed the priests to carry it without actually touching the ark itself. Inside, the tablets of the law given to Moses on Mount Sinai were placed (see v. 16). Hence, it was called the ark of the testimony or ark of the covenant. Later, a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod, which miraculously bloomed, were also placed inside the ark (see Hebrews 9:4). The ark was placed inside the inner room of the tabernacle known as the most holy place, or Holy of Holies. The ark was viewed with the greatest reverence by the Israelites, and prayers were recited before it was moved or placed in position (see Numbers 10:35–36).
The lid, or covering, for the ark is described in Exodus 25:17–22. The King James Version translates the Hebrew word kapporeth (which means “seat of atonement”) as “mercy seat.” The covering was made of solid gold and on it were formed two cherubim with wings which came up and overshadowed the lid or mercy seat.
The word cherubim usually refers to guardians of sacred things. While the exact meaning of the word is not known, most scholars agree that these cherubim represented “redeemed and glorified manhood” or “glorified saints and angels” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “cherubim,” p. 75). Since Latter-day Saints do not believe that angels have wings, as they are often shown in religious art, the commandment to form wings on the cherubim may raise some questions. Another revelation indicates, however, that wings symbolically represent the power to move and to act (see D&C 77:4). Between these cherubim on the mercy seat, God told Moses, He would meet with him and commune with him. Latter-day revelations state that angels stand as sentinels guarding the presence of God (see D&C 132:19).
The blood of the lamb of Jehovah was sprinkled upon the mercy seat during the sacred day of Atonement. (For a complete discussion of the sacred significance of this event, see Reading 15-8.) Paul and John both spoke of Jesus as being “the propitiation” for our sins (see 1 John 2:2; 4:10; Romans 3:25). The Greek word hilasterion, translated “propitiation,” was also used to translate the Hebrew kapporeth (“seat of atonement”) in the Greek Old Testament. One scholar discussed the significance of the word hilasterion:
“All Greek nouns which end in -erion mean the place where something is done. Dikasterion means the place where dike, justice is done, and therefore a law court. Thusiasterion means the place where thusia, sacrifice is done, and therefore the altar. Therefore hilasterion can certainly mean the place where hilasmos, expiation, is done and made. Because of that, both in the Old and New Testament, hilasterion has a regular and a technical meaning. It always means the lid of gold above the ark which was known as the mercy-seat. In Exodus 25:17 it is laid down of the furnishings of the tabernacle: ‘Thou shalt make a mercy-seat (hilasterion) of pure gold.’ In only one other place in the New Testament is the word used, in Hebrews 9:5, and there the writer speaks of the cherubim who overshadow the mercy-seat. The word is used in that sense more than twenty times in the Greek Old Testament. . . .
“If then we take hilasterion to mean the mercy-seat, and, if we call Jesus our hilasterion in that sense, it will mean, so to speak, that Jesus is the place where man and God meet, and that specially He is the place where man’s sin meets with the atoning love of God.” (Barclay, The Mind of St. Paul, pp. 87–88.)
Clearly, then, the ark of the covenant was one of the most significant features of the tabernacle, both in its importance to ancient Israel and also in its symbolic significance.
Gold has been highly treasured by men from the earliest times and thus has symbolic as well as monetary significance. “Gold is often employed in Scripture as an emblem of what is divine, pure, precious, solid, useful, incorruptible, or lasting and glorious” (Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “gold,” 2:723). This symbolism clearly explains the use of gold in the ark of the covenant.
Silver and brass also were used in other parts of the tabernacle and its furnishings. These two metals have symbolic as well as functional significance. The Encyclopaedia Judaica notes:
“The relativity of holiness was further pointed up by the materials. Fine or pure gold was used for the Ark, the propitiatory, the table of the Presence and its vessels; for the lampstand and its accessories; for the altar of incense; and for the high priest’s garments. Ordinary gold was employed for the moldings, the rings, and the staves of the Ark, of the table, and of the incense altar; for the hooks of the curtains; for the frames and bars; for the pillars of the veil and screen; and for other parts of the high priest’s vestments. Silver was reserved for the bases of the frames, for the pillars of the veil, and for moldings in the court. Finally there was bronze, of which metal the altar of burnt offering and its utensils, the bases of the court, and the laves were made. The same principle applied to the embroidered stuff and linen.
“The theme of gradation was continued in respect of the three divisions of the people. The Israelites could enter the court only; the priests could serve in the Holy Place; the high priest alone could enter the Holy of Holies but once a year—on the Day of Atonement.” (S.v. “tabernacle,” 15:687.)
The second article of furniture described by the Lord was the table of shewbread. Like the ark of the covenant, it too was to be made of shittim wood with a gold overlay (see vv. 23–24). It had a crown and border (probably a rim) of gold on the top, or surface, of the table and had rings and staves to provide for easy transport. It was about three feet long, eighteen inches wide, and twenty-seven inches high. Various vessels of gold, called the spoons, dishes, covers, or bowls in the King James Version of the Bible, were made for use with the table.
|The table of shewbread|
This table got its name from the twelve loaves of bread which were placed upon it. The Lord called it “shewbread” (v. 30), which translates literally the Hebrew word meaning “the bread of faces,” or “the bread of the presence,” signifying that this bread was placed before the face of the Lord or in His presence (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “shew, shew-bread,” p. 388; Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “shewbread,” p. 847). The bread was made of fine flour (that is, the wheat had been very finely ground and not left with the kernels partially intact) into twelve loaves of considerable size—two-tenths of a deal would be about a fifth of a bushel of flour (see Leviticus 24:5; Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “shewbread,” p. 847). Thus, the cakes would likely have weighed over ten pounds each. The loaves were put into two stacks, and upon each pile was placed pure frankincense that was later burned on the altar of incense “an offering made by fire unto the Lord” (Leviticus 24:7; see also v. 6). The bread was changed each Sabbath and the bread that was removed was eaten by the priests (see Leviticus 24:8–9). This was the bread given to David when he fled from King Saul (see 1 Samuel 21:1–6; Matthew 12:4).
Most scholars and old Jewish traditions agree that wine was also placed on the table along with the bread, although it is not mentioned specifically in the biblical account. The spoons were actually vessels or cups, rather than spoons as they are known today, and were probably the containers for the liquid. (See Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “shewbread,” 3:1576; Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “shewbread,” p. 847.) Thus, the items placed on the table of shewbread have distinct parallels in the emblems of the sacrament.
The source of light for the tabernacle was the sacred candlestick. Called menorah in Hebrew, which means the “place of lights” (Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “candlestick,” 1:332), it held not candles but rather seven cup-shaped containers filled with pure olive oil into which a wick was inserted and lit. Made of solid gold, the menorah was supported by a base which rested upon three feet. Its shaft rose from the base which was decorated by knops (spherical ornamentations), bowls (enlargements proportionate in size to the knops and upon which were almond blossoms), and flowers (disc-like enlargements representing the shape of an almond flower petal). Each of the branches of the menorah was crowned with a light which illuminated the holy place, or first room of the tabernacle.
The number seven has sacred significance in the Old Testament, connoting wholeness or perfection (see Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “seven,” pp. 607–8; Douglas, New Bible Dictionary, s.v. “numbers,” p. 898). Thus, the light provided in the house of the Lord symbolized the perfect light.
The oil for the seven lamps had to be pure olive oil (see Exodus 27:20) that had been consecrated for that purpose. The Jewish festival of Hannukah, or the festival of lights, celebrates the time when Judas Maccabeus finally drove the Greeks from the temple in Jerusalem around 165 B.C. According to Jewish tradition, the Maccabees found only enough consecrated oil for the sacred lamps to last one day. The consecration of new oil took eight days; yet miraculously, the meager supply burned until a new supply could be properly prepared. (See Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, bk. 12, chap. 7, par. 6.)
Other scriptures indicate that olive oil represents the Holy Spirit, probably because it provided fire, heat, and light when burned in the lamps (see D&C 45:56–57). Thus, the sacred menorah was a type or symbol of the true source of spiritual light, namely the Holy Ghost as He bears witness of the Father and the Son.
|The menorah, or sacred candlestick|
Because the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness at this time, the tabernacle had to be portable. The walls were formed of panels that could be joined together (see Exodus 25:15–16). Then the walls and open ceiling were covered with four different layers of fabric.
The inner fabric was made of fine-twined linen. The Hebrew word translated “linen” signifies not only the fabric but also “whiteness” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “linen,” p. 255; see also Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “linen,” 2:1068). Scholars believe it was either a fine cotton fabric or one made from flax. Because of the length of the tabernacle, ten curtains, or pieces of fabric, were needed to cover it. This inner layer was to have cherubim (angels) embroidered upon it and was to incorporate, besides the whiteness, the colors blue, purple, and scarlet.
|The tabernacle in the wilderness|
The selvage of these curtains was a special border at the edge of each woven piece that prevented raveling. This border was usually of different size threads and was sometimes of a different weave than the rest of the curtain.
By means of golden clasps or pins called taches, the selvages of adjacent curtain segments were joined together, creating the appearance of a single drape over the tabernacle.
The other three fabrics consisted of goats’ hair, rams’ skins dyed red, and badgers’ skins (see Exodus 26:7, 14). The nature of the last kind of fabric is not clear; scholars seem to agree only that it was not the skin of badgers. The Hebrew word implies the color of, more than the kind of, fabric (see Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “badger,” p. 27). Some scholars believe it may have been the skins of porpoises or seals from the Red Sea which would have given the tabernacle a waterproof outer covering (see Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:163).
The tenon was one of two large rectangular dowels at the bottom end of each board. The tenon fitted into a double base support called a socket that could slip up and down each tenon independently. Since all of the boards were fastened firmly side to side, making a rigid wall, every socket could rest on the ground even when it was irregular. One is immediately impressed with the detail that the Lord gave Moses concerning His dwelling place.
The two veils, or hangings for the door, described here are the outer door to the tabernacle (the front entrance) and the veil which separated the holy place, or first room, from the inner Holy of Holies. This latter veil is properly called the veil of the tabernacle.
Surrounding the tabernacle itself was a large enclosed area protected by woven hangings attached to a movable wall. In this courtyard was located the altar of burnt offerings (altar of sacrifice) and the laver of water for the symbolic cleansing of hands and feet. Into this courtyard anyone of Israel could bring sacrifices, but only the priests could enter the tabernacle itself. (Sometimes, however, the tabernacle referred to in the Old Testament means the whole complex, including the courtyard, and not just the tent itself.)
Each pillar of the court of the tabernacle was ringed horizontally by silver fillets, which were rectangular bands around each pillar to both protect the wood and beautify it. The hangings, or the fabric which formed the outer walls of the court, were attached to the top of each pillar and were secured at the bottom by ties to the brass pins which were firmly driven into the ground. The following were the furnishings of this outer court:
Altar of burnt offerings. All burnt offerings performed within the tabernacle took place on this altar. It was hollow, five cubits square and three cubits high, or about 7½ x 7½ x 5 feet in dimension. It was made of shittim wood overlaid with brass plates.
It had four horns on its corners. Upon these horns the blood of the sacrifice was to be smeared. By laying hold of these horns, a person could find asylum and safety (see 1 Kings 1:50; 2:28), although not if he was guilty of premeditated murder (see Exodus 21:14). Sometimes the horns were used to bind the animal or intended sacrifice.
Holy instruments of sacrifice. The pan was a large, brazen dish placed under the altar to receive the ashes as they fell through.
Brazen fire shovels were used for emptying the pans.
The basons were receptacles used to catch the blood from the sacrifice.
The fleshhook was a three-pronged hook that the priest used to dip into the sacrificial container. That which he brought up was to be kept for himself.
The firepan was the container in which was kept the continuously burning fire for sacrifice.
Laver. This, like the altar of sacrifice, was made of brass. It stood between the altar of sacrifice and the tabernacle. It was used by the priests for cleansing, preparatory to entering the tabernacle.
In Solomon’s day, when a permanent temple was constructed, the laver was set on the backs of twelve oxen (see 1 Kings 7:23–26).
When the children of Israel forfeited their right to the higher priesthood and its associated blessings and responsibilities, the Lord established the Levitical Priesthood among them (see D&C 84:18–27). Through this order of the priesthood Israel enjoyed the principles of the preparatory gospel. They were reminded continually of the atoning sacrifice of the Savior, who was symbolically represented before them in the person officiating as priest (see Leviticus 8:5–10; 21:10; Hebrews 5:4; 7:11–12, 21; D&C 107:1, 13–20; JS—H, 1:68–72).
The pattern for the official clothing of the high priest, or presiding head of the Aaronic Priesthood (not the Melchizedek Priesthood office of high priest), was given by revelation and had symbolic as well as practical significance. It consisted of the following items:
Ephod. “The ephod [pronounced ay’fode in Hebrew] was an article of sacred clothing worn by the high priests of the Levitical Priesthood. The Lord directed that they were not to wear ordinary clothing during their service, but they were to have ‘holy garments’ made by those whom the Lord had ‘filled with the spirit of wisdom.’ (Exod. 28:2–3.) These sacred garments were to be passed from father to son along with the high priestly office itself. (Exod. 29:29.)
“The ephod, worn over a blue robe, was made of blue, purple, and scarlet material, with designs of gold thread skillfully woven into the fabric. This garment was fastened at each shoulder and had an intricately woven band with which it could be fastened around the waist. In gold settings on each shoulder were onyx stones engraved with the names of the 12 sons of Israel as a ‘memorial’ as the priest served before the Lord. (See Exod. 28:6–14 and 39:2–7). Fastened to the ephod was a breastplate into which the Urim and Thummin could be placed. (Exod. 28:15–30.)
“The exact function of the ephod is not known. As President Joseph Fielding Smith observed, information concerning these ancient ordinances ‘was never recorded in any detail, because such ordinances are sacred and not for the world.’ (Improvement Era, November 1955, p. 794.)” (Richard O. Cowan, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Dec. 1973, p. 33.)
This “apron,” as it is sometimes translated, signified a beautiful symbolic concept. With the two onyx stones, which fastened the ephod on the shoulders, the high priest (a type of Christ and also of His authorized representatives) entered the tabernacle (the house of the Lord, or God’s presence) carrying Israel on his shoulders (see Exodus 28:12).
The breastplate. Attached to the ephod with golden chains and ouches (sockets or fasteners) was the breastplate (see vv. 13–29). The breastplate worn by Aaron and subsequent high priests should not be confused with the one used by the Prophet Joseph Smith in translating the Book of Mormon. Aaron’s breastplate was made of fabric rather than of metal and was woven of the same material that was used in making the ephod (see v. 15). It was twice as long as it was wide and when folded became a square pocket into which the Urim and Thummim was placed. Upon the exposed half of the breastplate were precious stones inscribed with the names of each of the tribes of Israel. Thus, the high priest bore “the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart . . . for a memorial before the Lord continually” (v. 29).
The symbolism of the high priest carrying Israel next to his heart lends added meaning to the promise that the Lord will some day select His “jewels” (D&C 60:4; 101:3).
The Urim and Thummim. As noted above, the Urim and Thummim was carried in the pouch formed when the breastplate was folded over (see Exodus 28:30).
“A Urim and Thummim consists of two special stones called seer stones or interpreters. The Hebrew words urim and thummim, both plural, mean lights and perfections. Presumably one of the stones is called Urim and the other Thummim. Ordinarily they are carried in a breastplate over the heart. (Ex. 28:30; Lev. 8:8.) . . .
“. . . Abraham had them in his day (Abra. 3:1–4), and Aaron and the priests in Israel had them from generation to generation. (Ex. 28:30; Lev. 8:8; Num. 27:21; Deut. 33:8, 1 Sam. 28:6; Ezra 2:63; Neh. 7:65.) . . .
“. . . Ammon said of these . . . stones: ‘The things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.’ (Mosiah 8:13; 28:13–16.)
“The existence and use of the Urim and Thummim as an instrument of revelation will continue among exalted beings in eternity.” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 818–19.)
The Urim and Thummim of Aaron was not the same as that used by Joseph Smith, for the Prophet received the Urim and Thummim used by the brother of Jared (see McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 819).
The robe. This robe was blue and was woven without seams with a hole for the head to go through (see Exodus 28:31–32). Jesus, the Great High Priest, was clothed in a similar seamless garment prior to His Crucifixion (see John 19:23). Along the hem of the robe were placed, alternately, bells and fringes woven to look like pomegranates. One scholar noted the significance of the robe and its ornaments:
“[The robe was] woven in one piece, which set forth the idea of wholeness or spiritual integrity; and the dark-blue colour indicated nothing more than the heavenly origin and character of the office with which the robe was associated. [The true significance of the robe] must be sought for, therefore, in the peculiar pendants, the meaning of which is to be gathered from the analogous instructions in [Numbers 15:38–39], where every Israelite is directed to make a fringe in the border of his garment, of dark-blue purple thread, and when he looks at the fringe to remember the commandments of God and do them. In accordance with this, we are also to seek for allusions to the word and testimony of God in the pendant of pomegranates and bells attached to the fringe of the high priest’s robe. The simile in [Proverbs 25:11], where the word is compared to an apple, suggests the idea that the pomegranates, with their pleasant odour, their sweet and refreshing juice, and the richness of their delicious kernel, were symbols of the word and testimony of God as a sweet and pleasant spiritual food, that enlivens the soul and refreshes the heart [see Psalms 19:8–11; 119:25, 43, 50; Deuteronomy 8:3; Proverbs 9:8; Ecclesiastes 15:3], and that the bells were symbols of the sounding of this word, or the revelation and proclamation of the word. Through the robe, with this pendant attached, Aaron was represented as the recipient and medium of the word and testimony which came down from heaven; and this was the reason why he was not to appear before the Lord without that sound, lest he should forfeit his life [see Exodus 28:35]. It was not because he would simply have appeared as a private person if he had gone without it, for he would always have the holy dress of a priest upon him, even when he was not clothed in the official decorations of the high priest; but because no mere priest was allowed to enter the immediate presence of the Lord. This privilege was restricted to the representative of the whole congregation, viz. the high priest; and even he could only do so when wearing the robe of the word of God, as the bearer of the divine testimony, upon which the covenant fellowship with the Lord was founded.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:202–3.)
The golden diadem and the mitre. The mitre (or hat) was made of fine linen (see Exodus 28:39), and each priest wore one. In addition, the high priest wore a golden band on the front of his mitre on the forehead. Engraved on the band were the words “Holiness to the Lord” (v. 36; see also vv. 37–38), signifying first that the high priest should be characterized by this attribute, and second that Christ, the Great High Priest, would be perfectly holy before God.
|The clothing of the high priest|
For clarification of the rites of purification for the priests and the explanation for the day of Atonement, see Enrichment Section D, “Feasts and Festivals.”
For the significance of the anointing with oil, see Reading 13-18.
“The priest put some of [the] blood [from the offering] upon the tip of the right ear, the right thumb, and the great toe of the right foot of the person to be consecrated, in order that the organ of hearing, with which he hearkened to the word of the Lord, and those used in acting and walking according to His commandments, might thereby be sanctified through the power of the atoning blood of the sacrifice” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:387–88, emphasis added).
|The altar of incense|
The third piece of furniture found in the holy place along with the sacred candlestick and the table of shewbread was the altar of incense. It stood directly in front of the veil (see v. 6). Like the ark of the covenant and the table of shewbread, it was made of shittim wood covered with gold and had rings and staves for carrying. Hot coals were placed on the altar, and each morning and evening (see vv. 7–8) the high priest would burn incense. This ritual seems to signify that one can approach the presence of God only through prayer, for scriptures elsewhere indicate that incense is a symbol of prayer (see Revelation 5:8; 8:3–4; Psalm 141:2).
Pure olive oil was a sacred symbol of the Spirit of the Lord (see D&C 45:56–57), and its use signified the sanctification of the person or object anointed (see Exodus 30:29). The use of the oil can also be an indication of the existing purity of the person, since the Spirit of the Lord will not dwell in an unclean tabernacle. President Joseph Fielding Smith said:
“The olive tree from the earliest times has been the emblem of peace and purity. It has, perhaps, been considered more nearly sacred than any other tree or form of vegetation by the inspired writers of all ages through whom we have received the word of the Lord. In parables in the scriptures the House of Israel, or the people who have made covenant with the Lord, have been compared to the olive tree.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:180.)
Thus, to anoint even these inanimate objects with oil suggests that the tabernacle and all connected with it were sanctified by the Spirit in preparing them for service to God.
|Moses ordained Aaron to preside over the priesthood.|
(13-19) In his opening address in general conference in October 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball charged the Church with the responsibility to become perfect. He said that such a goal is possible, inasmuch as each of us has the power to become like our Heavenly Father. However, some would grow faint at the thought because the Lord has declared, “Behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it!” (D&C 19:10). Consequently, we may feel that the “mystery of godliness” is too great for mortals to consider, let alone achieve.
The truth is that unless we turn our vision toward the temple, the mystery of godliness will forever be a stranger.
“It was of this subject that the Prophet Joseph Smith spoke when he said: ‘The principle of salvation is given us through the knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 297), and that ‘knowledge through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the grand key that unlocks the glories and mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.’ (. . . p. 298.) . . .
“These revelations, which are reserved for and taught only to the faithful Church members in sacred temples, constitute what are called the ‘mysteries of Godliness.’ The Lord said He had given to Joseph ‘the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed. . . .’ (D&C 28:7.) As a reward to the faithful, the Lord promised: ‘And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old. . . .’ (D&C 76:7.)” (Lee, Ye Are the Light of the World, pp. 210–11.)
Even from days of old the Lord has desired to reveal Himself to the children of men. This chapter shows just how carefully He made such plans with ancient Israel through the prophet Moses.
Set forth in symbolic representation and beautifully portrayed in progressive splendor, the tabernacle and its court became a school in which the things of heaven were to be revealed to the Lord’s people. It was originally intended that an Israelite could move from the outer court of the tabernacle to its inner and more holy precincts and observe, in so doing, that the handiwork and ornamentation became progressively more intricate, ornate, and secluded until at last the ritual placed them before the holy presence, even the Holy of Holies. Sacred beyond description, protected from the eyes of the unworthy, these ordinances were designed to be the cement or bonding agent between Israel and her God. This symbolic journey, however, was denied Israel because of her pride and rebellion (see Exodus 20:18–20; 32:1). Israel lost these higher blessings and became dependent on the officiating priests who acted as proxy through a lesser order of priesthood.
But that loss of privilege in no way implies that the tabernacle lost its significance for Israel. We saw in Reading 12-1 that the law of Moses was added to the gospel and was indeed called a preparatory gospel. Though the fulness of the priesthood endowment was withheld from Israel, the layout and construction of the tabernacle itself symbolized our progress toward perfection so that we could enter into the presence of God. Note the layout of the tabernacle and its furnishings.
|[click for scalable version]|
There are three major divisions or areas in the tabernacle: the outer courtyard; the first room of the tabernacle proper, or holy place; and the inner room, or Holy of Holies. In modern temples three levels of life are also depicted by rooms in the temple: the world, or telestial, room; the terrestrial room; and the celestial room. The significance of these rooms is described thus:
“[The world] room depicts the world in which we live and die. Here instruction is given regarding man’s second estate and the manner in which he may overcome the obstacles of mortality.
“The terrestrial room is symbolic of the peace that may be attained by men as they overcome their fallen condition through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.
“The celestial room symbolizes the eternal joy and peace found in the presence of God. Something of the spirit of God’s infinite promises to the obedient has been captured in the design of this beautiful room.” (Narrative for The House of the Lord: Filmstrip Script, frames 43, 48, 51.)
If we compare the three divisions of the tabernacle with these three levels of spiritual life, we find some interesting parallels and insights.
The outer courtyard (the world or telestial room). The first thing encountered as one entered the main gate was the altar of sacrifice. Here the various animals and other offerings were slain and offered to the Lord. Strict obedience and sacrifice were thus required as the first step in the symbolic progression toward perfection and entry into God’s presence. This first step could be likened to having faith in Christ (looking to the Great and Last Sacrifice) and repentance. Jesus taught the Nephites that He had fulfilled the law of Moses, and now the sacrifice required of them was “a broken heart and a contrite spirit,” which would lead to the baptism with “fire and with the Holy Ghost” (3 Nephi 9:20). The sacrificial fires of the great altar thus signified that “spiritual purification would come by the Holy Ghost, whom the Father would send because of the Son” (McConkie, The Promised Messiah, p. 431).
Directly in line next in the courtyard was the laver, or basin of water, which was used for washing and cleansing (see Exodus 30:19–20). As was mentioned, when Solomon built a permanent temple, he placed the laver on the backs of twelve oxen (see 1 Kings 7:25), a symbolism carried on in modern temples and clearly related to baptism. Since the baptismal font itself is a “similitude of the grave” (D&C 128:13), where the “old man” of sin is buried (Romans 6:1–6), the symbolism of the laver seems clear. Once the “natural man” (Mosiah 3:19) is sacrificed (put to death through a broken heart, or sincere and deep repentance), he is cleansed by both the waters of baptism and the fires of the Holy Ghost (see 2 Nephi 31:17). Once this cleansing is done, he is prepared to leave the world, or a telestial way of living, and “be born” (John 3:5) into a higher state of spiritual life.
The holy place (the terrestrial room). Three articles of furniture were found in the first room of the tabernacle: the table of shewbread, the sacred candlestick, and the altar of incense. Each article had its own significance. The table of shewbread, which had the bread and wine changed each Sabbath day, was a symbol similar to the sacramental emblems of today. They typified the body and blood of the Son of God, of which the spiritual person partakes consistently so that he can have spiritual life in Christ (see John 6:53–56). The candlestick, or lampstand, with its seven branches and its olive oil symbolized the perfect light of the Spirit (see D&C 45:56–57) through which the spiritually reborn person sees all truth (see John 14:16–17; 15:26). In the sacramental covenants there is a strong tie between the emblems of the body and the blood of the Savior and the power of the Spirit, for the Lord promises that as one always remembers Him, He will always have His Spirit to be with Him (see 3 Nephi 18:7, 11).
The third article in the holy place was the altar of incense, a symbol of prayer (see Revelation 5:8), which stood directly in front of the veil. This altar suggests the third dominant aspect of the person living by the principles and ordinances of the gospel, that is, constant seeking of the Lord’s power and revelation through prayer. The fact that the incense was consumed on coals of fire would suggest that even our prayers should be directed and influenced by the Holy Ghost (see 3 Nephi 19:24; Romans 8:26).
The Holy of Holies (the celestial room). Just as the celestial room in modern temples symbolizes the kingdom where God dwells, so did the holy of holies in the ancient tabernacle. The only article of furniture in this inner room was the ark of the covenant, which the Lord Himself said was the place where He would meet Moses and commune with the people (see Exodus 25:22). Both on the veil, separating the holy place from the most holy, and on the lid of the ark were cherubim, or angels. This use of angels provides a beautiful representation of the concept taught in latter-day scripture that one passes by the angels on his way to exaltation (see D&C 132:19).
In summary, the tabernacle and its plan and the ordinances thereof illustrate the grand and glorious symbolism of mankind’s progress from a state of being alienated from God to one of full communion with Him.
Keep the following diagram in mind as you carefully read Hebrews 9–10 in which the Apostle Paul discusses the spiritual meaning of the tabernacle of ancient Israel.
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