I’d like to tell you a story. The story starts in the very beginning and spans 2,000 years, concluding at the end of the book of Exodus. In the beginning, the good and wise Creator made the universe. In that new universe was a beautiful planet, specially designed for human beings. God created the first human beings, Adam and Eve, and placed them on Earth, in a magnificent garden in the Middle East, named Gan Eden (the Garden of Delights). They were designed in God’s own image, with mind, intelligence, emotion, will, and the ability to reason, so that they could know God, have a personal relationship with Him, and be His companions. There the Eternal One befriended our parents. But He also warned them that there was one thing that could ruin everything – eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
But Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and immediately everything changed for the worse. Their orientation to God, who is the Source of Life and Blessing, mutated. Instead of drawing nearing to God, they ran away from Him. Instead of moving toward life and blessing, they gravitated toward death. The world was cursed, and Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden. This one act of disobedience allowed sin and evil to enter this beautiful new world and ruin everything. Sin is the root of all the suffering, misery, unhappiness, injustice, crime and war that has happened since. And yet, the Lord was also merciful to mankind, and provided a temporary way for chah-vay-root (fellowship) with God to be partially restored. This was accomplished through the korban – the sacrifice. God provided garments of skin for Adam and Eve, which implies that at least one innocent animal had to die so that their nakedness, guilt and shame could be temporarily covered.
Then Kayin, the first human being born into the world, who carried with him so many expectations and hopes, murdered his brother. That did not bode well for humanity… Within several generations, the world had become like Kayin -corrupt and violent. Things got so bad that God destroyed that entire civilization with a flood. Yet one good man, Noah, believed in God and, along with his family, survived the flood by building a huge boat. After they came out of the boat their descendants began repopulating the world. However, within a few generations sin and evil began once again to prevail on Earth.
Unfortunately, just as a dog returns to eat its vomit, so the descendants of Cham, Shem and Yafet began worshiping many gods. They began sacrificing their children to these false deities. The people became sexually perverse. Terrible wars were fought. But instead of destroying civilization once again, the good and wise God decided to do something else to redeem the situation. He chose Abraham, entering into a special relationship with him. Abraham was chosen so that his descendants would know the true God, the Source of Life and Blessing, be reconciled to Him, and follow God’s good ways.
Through this “Am Kadosh” (a nation that is holy, set apart for God’s special purposes), the other nations of the world might be reconciled to the Source of Life and Blessing. From this Chosen People the sacrifices that provided temporary atonement, and God’s wise principles for living, would come to the world. And finally, through the Jewish people the Messiah, that Anointed Man, who is somehow “Immanuel” (God with us), the only One capable of fully reuniting man and God, would come into the world.
But God needed to give birth to this Am Kadosh in the midst of very unholy nations. To accomplish this, the Lord needed an “incubator” to protect this infant nation while it was developing. He orchestrated events and circumstances in such a way that Egypt, the most powerful nation on Earth, would be that incubator. God allowed a great famine to take place in the Middle East, and the ancestors of the Chosen People migrated to Egypt, where God had sent Joseph to prepare the way for them, so that there would be enough food for the Jewish people, and the Egyptians, during this lengthy famine.
Years later a new Pharaoh came to power, who had no regard for the good that Joseph had done, and instead of showing gratitude, he enslaved our people, further isolating us within the incubator of Egypt. Then we are introduced to the next part of our story, the birth of a baby boy, born under the sentence of death, but whose life was marvelously preserved by the workings of God. With a delightful twist of irony, God moves in such a way that, despite Pharaoh’s decree to kill all the Jewish male babies in Egypt, Moses is not only saved, but is raised by Pharaoh’s own daughter, who hires Moses’ own mother to take care of the baby! Moses grew up in the court of Pharaoh, where every advantage was his. When he came to adulthood, he understood that God intended him to be the deliverer of Israel. So he went out, trying to do his job, and ended up murdering an Egyptian.
Moses fled from the land of Egypt and herded sheep for forty years in Midian. Finally prepared, God called Moses back to his original task, for the nation of Israel was now ready to serve God’s purposes among the nations, and the time had come for Israel to be released from the incubator.
When Moses returned to Egypt, he immediately came into conflict with Pharaoh, who refused to release the Jewish people. To force the king of Egypt to let Israel go, God had to send nine dreadful plagues against Egypt. Through these plagues God was not only judging the Egyptians, but at the same time destroying their false religious system, for each plague was directed against one of the false gods of Egypt. God was already using the Chosen People to teach the nations that there is only one true God that can help us. And yet, Pharaoh hardened his heart in the face of all nine plagues, and refused to let the Jewish people go.
The tenth plague was the worst of all – death for all the first-born sons throughout the land of Egypt, both the first-born of Israel and the firstborn of Egypt, both the first-born of man and the first-born of the animals. There was only one way a first-born son could survive that first Passover night. Through Moses, God instructed the people to take an unblemished year-old lamb, kill it, and drain its blood into a bowl. Those who had confidence in God and the words of Moses applied the blood to the two doorposts and the top of the door of their homes. That night there was a great outcry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead. But as He had promised, on each door where He saw the blood of a spotless lamb, God passed over that home and spared the first-born son from death. All those who had faith in God, and in what He spoke through Moses, were perfectly safe within their homes. Likewise, when we have faith in God and in Messiah Yeshua, our Passover Lamb, who died to atone for us, reconciling us to the God from Whom we have been estranged, God will pass over us, spare us from the second death, and release us from our Egypts -those things that enslave us.
At last Egypt was overwhelmed by the power of God. Pharaoh reluctantly consented, after the death of his first-born, to let Israel go. The next day Israel was released, ready to be the “Or L’Goyim” (Light to the Nations), that special nation that would bring the knowledge and salvation of God to an otherwise dark and dead world. But that is not the end of the story. Our ancestors left their homes in Egypt, and came to the shore of the Red Sea. In the meantime, Pharaoh had a change of heart, and decided to re-enslave us. At the shore, the Jewish people saw the Pharaoh’s army pursuing, and the situation looked hopeless. The Lord then had Moses stretch out his rod over the Red Sea, and when he did, the waters rolled back and we walked through safely to the other side, while the Egyptians, who followed us, were caught in the collapse of the waters and drowned.
The Red Sea symbolizes our break with the sinful aspects of the world. It is water that had come between us and Egypt; Egypt is now on the other side. It is similar to the water that has come between you and the world when you decided to obey the Messiah. There are people who are willing to sit in their homes under the Passover blood, who are willing to believe in Messiah Yeshua, but they are not willing to walk through the waters of the Red Sea. They never take that step which cuts them off from the world. Their hearts are still back in Egypt. They will not move forward through the Red Sea, and until that happens they are still under the bondage of Egypt. Any human being who has genuinely been reconciled to God must not only experience the atonement and freedom of the Passover, but he must also pass through the Red Sea, and cut off his sinful ties with the world. When you take that step, you move out into a place of joy, because our story records that the first thing we did when we arrived on the other side of the Red Sea was to start singing. There hadn’t been many songs in Egypt, but when we crossed the Red Sea, we started singing joyous songs, praising God for His help, because real deliverance, real salvation brings new joy.
Then the sons of Israel came to the bitter waters of Marah. In order to cure these waters, Moses cut down a tree, threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. This is telling us that the tree upon which Yeshua died is the cure to life’s bitterness. When we remember Yeshua’s death on the cross, which shows us the extent of God’s love for us, the atonement we now have, and the hope of a joyous eternity with the Source of Life and Blessing, all the bitterness of life can be sweetened.
Immediately following this, the manna fell in the wilderness. Didn’t you discover God’s care and provision for you when you first became a Christian or Messianic Jew? God watched over you and provided for you, and carried you on eagles’ wings, as He did for the entire Jewish nation.
Then came the battle with Amalek. I think that Amalek may represent the first battle with the old nature. It can be a startling realization to those who have gone through the glory of the Passover, and crossed the Red Sea of immersion, and experienced the sense of God’s fatherly care and provision, to then discover they still have a battle with corrupt desires. But Amalek can be defeated. When Moses held his hands up, Israel prevailed, and when his hands were lowered, Amalek prevailed. So Aaron and Hur assisted Moses, and supported his hands, until Amalek was defeated. Our own heartfelt prayers, combined with the support and prayers of our Messianic brothers and sisters, will help us to overcome the desires of the flesh. When we pray and seek out the help of others to support us, pray with us, and encourage us in our battles with the flesh, we will experience victory.
Finally, we arrived at Mount Sinai, where Israel received the Torah and the instructions to build the Mishkan (the Tent of God’s Dwelling Presence) – the Tent that enabled God to once again dwell among human beings. God’s holy instructions for living, thundering down from Mount Sinai, were frightening. God’s answer to that was the Mishkan and the rituals and the sacrifices connected with it. That is why on Mount Sinai, on the very same mountain from which God gave His teachings on how we are to live, He also gave the Mishkan, which is His provision for our sins.
In the Sinai wilderness the twelve tribes of Israel were divided up; some on the east, some on the north, some on the west, and some on the south. In the center was the Mishkan. Over it was a cloud by day and a fiery pillar by night. Here was God dwelling among His people. But He could only dwell among us by an intricate system of sacrifices and rituals. If you wanted to draw close to the presence of God on Earth, you would pass through all the tribes on whichever side you entered, and find your way to the center of the camp, where the Levites were. As you continued through the Levites you would come to the Mishkan. At first you passed through a gateway into the outer court where you would find a bronze altar and washbasin. These brought a preliminary measure of cleansing and atonement. Then there was an inner tent into which no one dared enter unless he was a priest from Aaron’s family. Inside the Holy Place there was a veil that blocked the way to the Most Holy Place. Only the High Priest of Israel could enter there, only on Yom Kippur, only armed with the blood of a sacrifice, and only after elaborate preparations had been made. Only then could he enter the Most Holy Place and come into the Dwelling Presence of God on Earth.
The only article in the Most Holy Place was the Aron (the Ark of the Covenant). Atop the Ark was the Ark Cover, with two Cherubim, their wings touching each other. From above the Ark Covering the Creator would manifest His Presence on Earth. Inside the Aron were the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod that budded, and a golden jar with manna.
The two tablets tell us that the God of Israel is a God of law and justice. His laws are of central importance to Him. If we are going to have any kind of genuine relationship with God, it will only happen on the basis of His laws and principles. We must come to Him on His terms – there is no other way. The demands of His Torah must be met – not bypassed. If you violate God’s laws, ignore them or try to circumvent them, you may not dwell with God. It’s that simple. The golden jar with manna reminded us that God promised to supernaturally provide for His people – even in a desert wilderness. Just as He miraculously provided for Israel, so He will provide for us too! Aaron’s rod tells us that we need a God-appointed, God-ordained mediator to approach God for us. Man in his fallen state cannot enter the Presence of God.
Sin has damaged us too deeply to approach the presence of God directly. We can’t approach Him directly ourselves, and we can’t appoint anyone we please.
The Mishkan was good, but its value was limited. The trouble with the Mishkan and its system of sacrifices is that they weren’t complete enough. They weren’t real enough. They were only shadows and pictures. They could never really do anything. The blood of bulls and goats, sheep and doves could never fully atone for human beings. In the Mishkan, God met us only through our representative, our mediator, our cohen, our priest. All the rest of humanity was excluded. The Mishkan and its rituals and sacrifices were temporary measures which enabled God to provide interim atonement, and dwell among us on a limited basis, until the Messiah, who is the true Mishkan, and the final Sacrifice, and the ultimate High Priest, would come.
That is why, when we come to the book of Messianic Jews, we are informed that while the basic principles in the Torah are unchanged, the approach to God is even better, for now we are dealing with the One who is the fulfillment, the reality, symbolized by all these shadows. We read that “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place opened by the blood of Yeshua” (Hebrews 10:19). By means of Messiah’s death and resurrection, God has so completely dealt with the problem of sin, that we may be reconciled to the Source of Life and Blessing, and be friends with Him, as we were in the beginning. Because of the Messiah, the holy God can dwell in His Mishkan in the hearts and souls of Israel and the nations.
Let me conclude this story with some questions to ponder: Do you bless Israel, God’s Chosen People, or curse us? Have you understood the true meaning of the Passover? Have you applied Messiah’s blood to the doorposts of your heart? Have you passed through the Red Sea of commitment and immersion, and left behind the sinful things that kept you enslaved? Are you singing a song of joy and victory to our God? Are you fighting your way through the wilderness of life in this fallen world? Are you, through prayer and fellowship, overcoming your Amaleks? Are you obeying the commandments of God, and dwelling with Him? Are you bound for the New Jerusalem, where you will live with God, and with Yeshua the Passover Lamb, forever and ever?
[I’m indebted to Ray Stedman for much of this message].