Tag Archives: Exodus

With the Word online Bible study: is the Lord among us or not?


Exodus 17:1-7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”


What jumps out at you when you read this story? What do you notice? What images, words, phrases, actions catch your eye or your ear or your imagination?

Does any other story come to mind? A movie, a scene, a song, a novel, another part of the Bible?

What do you think is the real problem here–is it just water?

When you encounter a problem, what is your first reaction? The first reaction of the Israelites seems to be to accost their leader with sarcasm. You can practically see them rolling their eyes as they ask “why did you bring us out here–to kill us with thirst?”

What do you think of how Moses handles the problem? Why do you think he takes the elders with him? What happens out there in the desert?

We live in a time of perceived scarcity, arguing, and debatable leadership. What might this story have to say to us now in the latter half of 2011?

What is the good news for us in this story?

What is the challenge God is giving us through this story?

Is the Lord among us or not?

With the Word online Bible Study: jealous generosity


Exodus 16:2-15

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but” against the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”


What jumps out at you in these stories? Is there anything you notice, anything startling or interesting or boring?

Why do you think the lectionary pairs these two stories together on the same day? What do we learn by reading both of them instead of just one?

Remember the Israelites had just been freed from slavery, and now they’re whining about wanting to go back. Have you ever felt like that–like it would be better to go back to a terrible situation where you knew what to expect rather than face the unknown?

What do you think of this story Jesus tells? How do you think it illustrates the Kingdom of God?

What do you think of that question the landowner in the story asks–” are you envious because I am generous?” Do you ever feel jealousy when considering someone else’s generosity? When considering God’s generosity?

Often we think that we have to earn God’s favor (or that we have earned it!). this story suggests that our understanding of what it means to “earn” is not the way it is in the kingdom of God. How does it make you feel when you think about whether God might extend God’s favor to those we think have not earned it?

What is the good news in these stories? What is the challenge? What word does our community need to hear from God in these texts?

With the World online Bible study–Golden Age-Promise


When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mould, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.’ They rose early the next day, and offered burnt-offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” ’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.’


What pops out at you in this story? Is there anything that makes you go “hmm….” or “huh?” or “hey!!!!” Are you reminded of any other stories–whether in the Bible, in literature/movies/music/TV, or in your own life? As you read, do you hear any music in your head?

Statues of gods were common practice in the ancient world, but the God of the Israelites did not have a statue representation. How does that make it easier or harder to be faithful?

The Israelites are impatient waiting for Moses to come down the mountain–have you ever felt impatient waiting for God? What did you do while you were waiting?

The choice to make statues to stand in the place of God (and to carry attributes of God, like “brought you out of Egypt”) is in many ways a look back at the good-old-days, as the Israelites tend to do (you can often find them whining about how great Egypt was, compared to the wilderness…never mind that they were slaves in Egypt!). When you are tempted to idealize the past, what helps you to look forward at God’s promise instead?

It can be hard to look mystery in the face and still walk into it…sometimes the past we know (however good-bad-mixed it may have been) is easier and more comforting than the wilderness of promise and mystery. How do we discern which is the right way, and how do we then walk that way?

What do you hear as the good news in this text? What do you hear as a challenge? What might this passage have to say to our community today?

Bible in 90 Days: Day 7


BiND:  Day 7


Any of today’s reading sound familiar?  This is the kind of thing that often drives people crazy about the Bible—first it talks about everything that should be done, then recounts the doing.  So the people who were given gifts by God were empowered to do the work, and then they did it according to the plans God laid out for Moses.  Ever wonder what it might be like to not argue over the color of the paint or carpet?  I think this is it—every single detail is laid out, and the tabernacle, also called the Tent of Meeting (where God meets with the people) is constructed (and talked about) in each painstaking detail.  Wondering what a cubit is?  Best scholarly guesses suggest that it’s about the length from your elbow to the tip of your middle finger—about 18 inches.  So the ark of the covenant, the altars, etc, are not all that large—which is probably good since the whole thing had to be moveable and since the Israelites are going to carry everything around with them for a couple of generations!


I think it’s interesting to note a couple of things from today’s reading.  First, we have the second giving  of the 10 commandments (after Moses tossed aside the first two tablets in anger), and they’re not the same commandments that they were earlier!  These ten include instruction in what scholars call “cultic ritual”—keep the festival of unleavened bread and of first fruits, redeem your firstborn, don’t appear before God empty handed, and keep the Sabbath.  Interestingly, at the end of this it says these are the “ten commandments” (which in Hebrew is the “ten words.”  I’m curious about what happened to the 8 originals that aren’t included in this rendition. 


One of the commandments given in this renewed covenant is “no one shall appear before me empty-handed.”  It seems the Israelites take this to heart, because when Moses starts asking for offerings to make the tabernacle, everyone brings their jewelry, their yarn and skins and metals and money and wood, as well as their time and their talent.  In fact, they receive so much and the people continue to give so much each day that the workers told Moses, “the people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do”—and Moses had to order people to STOP bringing their offerings!  “What they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work.”  Wow.  That was some stewardship campaign!  Can you imagine if communities of God’s people had more than enough to do the work the Lord has commanded them to do?  I imagine that if those were Presbyterian communities, they’d find more work!  🙂


I noticed a few other interesting tidbits while reading:  I was imagining all the things Aaron and his sons had to wear (including robes splattered with blood) and thinking that it’s conceivable that our current system of hoops that need jumping for ordination might actually be easier.  And I again noticed just how much livestock is commanded to be burnt-offered every day—two year-old lambs each day!  The Israelites must have had a significant herd (granted, there were thousands of people so of course the herds were significant, but still—wow).  I think that the Israelites’ camp in the wilderness would have been either the hardest or easiest ever place to be a vegetarian—it must have smelled like meat/blood/burnt stuff all the time.



Last but not least, note that when God was angry with the people for making a golden calf (while they didn’t even know how long Moses was going to be gone, so for all they knew he could have died up there), God said “I will not go up among you, for I should consume you on the way”—God can’t even be in the midst of the people because they caused God so much anger.  But then when the tabernacle was completed and assembled, the cloud of God’s glory settled on it and in it and around it, so thick that even Moses couldn’t get in (though he’d previously gone in to talk with God face-to-face, “as one speaks with a friend”).  God’s glory, seen in fire and cloud, does come to stay with the people after all.

photo is of a reconstruction of the ark of the covenant, by ArkoftheCovenant, from Flickr.




Bible in 90 Days: Day 6


BiND:  Day 6

I have written before about how the Bible is the story of God’s people and their interaction with God.  Today’s reading plays that out pretty clearly–it’s almost all laws for how God’s people will live together and with God.  So there are rules about worship, about what the priests can wear, and about what happens if someone worships another God.  And there are rules that make for a safer society–no killing, no stealing, etc.  And there are rules about everyday life:  “when someone causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets livestock loose to graze in someone else’s field, restitution shall be made from the best in the owner’s field or vineyard.”  It’s not always a thrill to read these kinds of scripture passages–sometimes we may even wonder why all this stuff that sounds like the Illinois Legal Code even made it into the Bible.

Well, I suspect it got in because the Bible is the story of a relationship between God and God’s people.  Early in the story, it was a very particular people who were to form their society in a very particular way–this

 isn’t an abstract book about an abstract God and that god’s relationship to “people” as a concept.  This is a story, it’s about particular people in a particular place and time, and it’s about a particular God.  So boring or bizarre or archaic and irrelevant as the laws (and the ones we’ll read in coming days) may seem, they tell us important things.  They can still give guidance thousands of years later if we’re able to read the spirit and the context well, and they also give us a peek into the society of our faith family.  Most importantly, they show us a God who is personal and particular, who is involved and caring, who is interested in our daily lives and what we choose to do with those lives to further God’s kingdom on earth.  So keep reading–don’t get bogged down here!  There is amazing stuff in the stories to come.

photos are of and from Mt. Sinai, where Moses and the Israelites met and worshiped God and also received the law.  Jewish tradition says that ALL the law–the commandments, all the rest of the books from Exodus through Deuteronomy, and also the interpretations–were received by Moses on this mountain.  photos taken by TCP