The reluctant, scared, and even disobedient Moses who stood before Yahweh at the burning bush was not long the same Moses that led Israel through the Red Sea and stood before them as their leader and a great man of faith. Moses had been growing in his faith in Yahweh throughout the plagues and had finally stepped into the role of leader and deliverer that Yahweh intended for him from the beginning. Moses was becoming the great leader of faith for which he is now remembered. This also shows Yahweh’s forgiveness and His desire and willingness to give second chances and restore people to their positions of ministry. When the people were afraid, caught between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea, it was Moses who told them not to be afraid and to seek the salvation of Yahweh (Ex. 14:13-14). Moses had learned the true meaning of Yahweh’s name.

Whatever reluctance and anxiety Moses may have possessed prior to the exercise of God’s power in the ten plagues was surely removed when he saw the hand of God at work. Moses became a very articulate statesman and a great leader who exercised unwavering faith. If God was able to take an eighty-year-old man and accomplish such significant victories, what must the potential be for the dedicated young man of twenty years? The spiritual insight and maturity of Moses will long be an example for believers in every age in every land.1

Moses was not only Israel’s leader, but he also became Israel’s prophet and mediator with Yahweh. It was Moses who brought the words and will of Yahweh to the people who could not go into His presence. He also brought the judgments of Yahweh upon the people when they sinned against Him. And despite their constant complaining and rebellion against Yahweh and him, he interceded on their behalf and sought their forgiveness from Yahweh. Not only did he now understand the meaning of Yahweh’s name, he understood the character of Yahweh as a loving and compassionate God as well (Ex. 34:5-8). As Israel’s leader (king), prophet, and mediator (priest), Moses was the only one in Israel’s history who held all three of these offices until Jesus Christ came. Thus Moses became a foreshadow of Jesus.

Because of Moses’ unique relationship to Yahweh and position over Israel, he also got to experience the presence of Yahweh more than anyone else in history. Moses asked to see the glory of Yahweh. Yahweh granted the request but only showed him a fraction of His glory, knowing that Moses would not survive it. Yahweh put Moses in a cave, covered him with His hand, and showed him only His back. The glory of Yahweh was so intense that it physically made Moses’ face shine with Yahweh’s glory (Ex. 34:29-35). This was so awesome that he had to wear a veil over his face, and the Israelites feared him when he came into their presence. This gives one a glimpse into what it will be like for all believers when they step into the full presence of Yahweh in heaven and are completely without sin. Daniel says that the believers will shine like the stars (Dan. 12:2-3).

The physical nature of this phenomenon must remain a mystery, but its theological meaning is crystal clear. Moses, as covenant mediator, was authenticated as such by his resemblance to the God of glory whom he represented. It is precisely for this reason that Moses and Elijah shared the radiance of the transfigured Jesus (Luke 9:31-32).2

The Mosaic Covenant

Yahweh came to Israel on Mount Sinai as the Shekinah glory of Yahweh that covered the whole mountain in fire and lightning and caused earthquakes (Ex. 19). It is here that Yahweh as the same almighty, sovereign creator of the world came to Israel as their king and creator to give them the Law, the tabernacle, and sacrificial systems. These three things would teach Israel about who He is and how to have a relationship to Him, maintain their righteousness, and bring the other nations to Yahweh.

The Mosaic Covenant was the fourth covenant of Yahweh and was an outgrowth of the Abrahamic Covenant in that it revealed what Yahweh expected from His chosen people; by observing it, they could achieve their purpose as a nation revealed in the Abrahamic Covenant. This purpose was to experience Yahweh’s blessing and to be a blessing to all nations of the earth (Gen. 12:2). In contrast to the Abrahamic Covenant, Israel had, in the Mosaic Covenant, responsibilities to fulfill in order to obtain Yahweh’s promised blessings (Ex. 19:5).

This covenant was a conditional covenant, which means both parties were responsible for keeping the requirements of the covenant. The sign of this covenant was keeping the Sabbath as a day of rest from all work.

The Requirements

  • Love Yahweh with all your heart, mind, and strength (Deut. 6:5).
  • Love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18).

The Blessing

  • Israel would be a special treasure to Yahweh.
  • Israel would be a kingdom of priests.
  • Israel would be a holy nation.
  • Full life of rest (shalom) in the Land (Deuteronomy 11:8-9)

The intended purpose of the Mosaic Covenant was never to bring about the salvation of Israel but, rather, to prepare Israel for the coming of Jesus Christ. Through the Law Israel would learn what the righteousness of Yahweh was, the gravity of their sin in light of that righteousness, and, therefore, their need of a savior due to their sin (see The Mosaic Covenant article for deeper discussion of the nature and purpose of the Mosaic Covenant).

The Golden Calf

While Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving instructions for how to worship Yahweh, the Israelites at the bottom of the mountain had devised their own idea of worship. Israel decided that Moses had been gone too long and was probably dead, so they decided to fashion their own god (Ex. 32:1-6). The golden calf fashioned by the Israelites was not some random image that they came up with, rather it was taken specifically from the Egyptians who worshiped the Apis bull as one of the highest manifestations of their god Ra. This was, in fact, the exact god and image that Yahweh had defeated in the fifth plague (Ex. 9:1-7).

Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt with Egypt’s wealth, not only to pay them for their slavery but also for them to use to build the tabernacle for Him. However, they used what He had given to them to honor and worship other gods and to follow their sinful desires. The idolatry of Israel so soon after their deliverance should not be too surprising, for Josh. 24:14 and Ezk. 20:6-9 state that the people of Israel were worshiping idols during their time in Egypt. One can hardly expect an immediate change in their hearts. However, the worst part of the golden calf incident was the people’s proclamation “these are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” because they attributed the deliverance of Israel to the calf rather than Yahweh. Yahweh’s salvation of Israel is not only the focal point of the First Testament but the reason Yahweh gives for Israel’s obedience to Him (Ex. 19:3-6; 20:2). Now the people gave credit to a pagan god for the salvation of Israel. This would have been just as offensive as a Christian today giving Buddha credit for our salvation from sin and death through the cross.

Contrasting the words of the people with Aaron’s words shows that he had a different perspective on the golden calf. However, Aaron’s actions, when compared to his words “Tomorrow will be a feast to Yahweh,” make his motives so hard to figure out. The fact that he built the calf and then proclaimed the worship of Yahweh may suggest that Aaron feared the people at this moment more than he feared Yahweh. It may be that he had no intention to worship the golden calf but he made it to appease the people rather than standing up to them as Yahweh’s representative and their leader. His actions were still a sin they are just not as evil and rebellious as the people.

The second thing that made this sin so grievous was that Israel did know that Yahweh had forbidden idolatry, so they knew that they were sinning. First, they knew this was a sin because one of the major purposes of all the plagues was to proclaim Yahweh as the one and only true God who despised the other pagan gods (Ex. 6:7; 8:10; 12:12). Second, the Ten Commandments had already been given to Israel, and the first two commands specifically forbade the worship of other gods and idols (Ex. 20:2-6). Third, Israel had received the Ten Commandments and even heard Yahweh Himself give them, and they had made a covenant with Him that they would obey them. They even knew the consequence for disobedience to this covenant. This is important to understand when one tries to accuse Yahweh of being too harsh in their punishment (Ex. 19:3-9).

When Moses came down from the mountain he broke the tablets bearing the Ten Commandments, which symbolized Israel’s breaking of their covenant with Yahweh (Ex. 32:15-24). He then destroyed the golden calf, dishonoring it as well as revealing its inability to do anything. Moses then ground the calf into a dust and forced the people to drink it. This served to show them that the taste of sin and its judgment is bitter and makes one sick. It also showed that the idol was worthless, for the very thing they worshiped would now become part of their waste.

Moses offered the people the chance to repent so they might receive the forgiveness that he had received for them on the mountain (Ex. 32:7-14). However, some choose to reject the forgiveness and continued on in their rebellion. This reveals the true nature of their hearts and proves that the judgment they received was their own fault. Likewise, only 3,000 of the 600,000 men were killed, which is an act of mercy since all sin results in death (Ex. 32:25-29). Yahweh could not allow these rebellious men to live because Israel was a community, and if a sinful, rebellious group was allowed to thrive, then they would contaminate the rest of the community. These drastic actions serve as an example to the rest that a holy God would not tolerate rebellion.

Moses asked for those who were with him to stand as judges over Israel with him. Only the Levites stood with him and so were given the job of executing the rebels. The act of the Levites joining Moses may be due to their close kinship, but it also suggest that they did not participate in the worshiping of the golden calf. Because of this action, the Levites received the blessing of being the tribe that Yahweh chose to be the priests over Israel (Num. 3:12-13). In contrast, by its rebellion the nation as a whole forfeited its right to be a kingdom of priests. The nation would never receive the blessings of Ex. 9:3-6 due to their sin here.

The Wanderings

A year after the golden calf incident and after completing the construction of the tabernacle,Israel was ready to set off for the Promised Land of Canaan, where the patriarchs had previously lived (see the Chronology of the Torah). Most of the time that Israel was in the wilderness they complained and rebelled against Yahweh despite all that He had done for them. There are six major events (in addition to the golden calf incident) that highlight the character of Israel.

Yahweh Provides Bread

A month after leaving Egypt and before arriving at Mount Sinai, the Israelites complained that there was no food to eat (Ex. 16:1-3). Yahweh responded to the people’s complaining by miraculously providing bread and quail from the sky. They were to collect only enough for each day and enough on the sixth day for that day and the seventh (Ex. 16:4-26).

It is important to notice that Yahweh said that He would provide bread for Israel (Ex. 16:4); it was the Israelites who called it manna (Ex. 16:31). The Hebrew word man, translated into the Greek manna, means “What?” or “What is it?” The Greek word manna means “grain” or “bread.” The word may be used in a sense of disappointment and disgust. Yahweh stated clearly that He was providing bread, but the people did not fully understand what it was or its significance. Christ compared Himself to this bread (Jn. 6:32-51) when He called Himself the bread of life.

The Twelve Spies

One month after leaving Mount Sinai, Israel arrived at the southern border of Canaan ready to enter the land that Yahweh had promised them. Yahweh allowed Moses to send twelve spies, one from each tribe, into the land to spy it out (Num. 13:1-25; Deut. 1:22). Their report revealed a land that was flowing with milk and honey and was rich with blessings, but it also revealed great fortresses and giants in the land (Num. 13:26-14:10). Ten of the spies said that Israel was not capable of taking the land, that Yahweh was trying to kill them, and that they should go back to Egypt. Only Caleb and Joshua (Num. 13:30-31; 14:5-9) believed that Yahweh could conquer the enemy. But the people of Israel believed the ten spies and rebelled against Yahweh and Moses. The judgment for their rebellion was that they were to wander in the wilderness for forty years until everyone twenty years and older had died, after which Yahweh would take the next generation into the land (Num. 14:11-45). Thus an entire generation missed out on the blessings of Yahweh because of their unbelief (Heb. 3:7-19).

The Rebellion Against Aaron

Korah, a Levite from the Kohathite branch of the tribe, and the Reubenites Dathan, Abiram, and On led 250 other noble men and leaders from the other tribes in a rebellion against the priesthood of Aaron (Num. 16:1-19). They claimed that everyone was holy, thus having the right to be priests as well, and that Aaron’s family was not special. Though they were correct in that, originally, the whole nation was to be holy priests (Ex. 19:5-6), they failed to remember that they had lost this right when the people built the golden calf and rebelled against Yahweh (Ex. 32). Likewise, it was not Moses and Aaron who had lifted themselves up to lead, but Yahweh had appointed them as leaders; thus, these men were really questioning Yahweh. They also blamed Moses for failing to enter the land when in reality it was their rebellion against Yahweh and His subsequent judgment that banned them from the land. Once again, they were doing the very thing – rebelling – that had caused all the problems they were angry about and rebelling over.

Yahweh judged these men by causing the ground to open up and swallow them, along with their families and tents (Num. 16:20-35). Then fire came forth from the pillar of cloud and consumed the 250 other men who had followed them in rebellion (Num. 16:20-35). Yahweh killed them because their sin was a highhanded sin of intentional rebellion against Yahweh Himself. The people then blamed Aaron for their deaths, so Yahweh made Aaron’s staff bud with almond blossoms to authenticate his authority as high priest (Num. 17:1-13).

Yahweh had resurrected the staff of Aaron, the high priest, as a visible sign of His appointment of the one who had power to intercede on behalf of the people. This, too, becomes a type of Christ, who will be resurrected to signify that He has the right to serve as our high priest and intercede on our behalf (Heb. 4:14-16).

Moses Strikes the Rock

After this the Israelites complained about the lack of water to drink (Num. 20:2-5). The first time they complained about this, immediately after leaving Egypt, Yahweh had miraculously provided them with water from a rock (Ex. 17:1-7). On that occasion Yahweh had commanded Moses to strike the rock, while this time He commanded Moses to speak to the rock (Num. 20:6-14). In his anger, Moses struck the rock twice to make the water come forth. In striking the rock rather than speaking to it, Moses had disobeyed Yahweh, so Moses was forbidden from entering the Promised Land because he did not finish strong and persevere to the end.

Moses misrepresented Yahweh (Num. 20:12) by making the people think that Yahweh had lost control and was rashly acting out in anger (Ps. 106:33). He had also shown a lack of faith in Yahweh by not trusting in what He had said, instead resorting to what had worked the previous time (Ex. 17:5-7); he was operating out of his own works as though this miracle required his power, rather than simply the power of Yahweh. Moses took credit for the miracle before the people rather than presenting himself as Yahweh’s instrument. Yahweh judged Moses harshly because he was the leader over the people and represented Yahweh to them. Therefore, he was held to a greater standard.

In addition to this, Moses also ruined the typology and foreshadowing of Christ to come. The rock that Moses struck in Ex. 17:5-7 and here is a typological figure of Christ in the Second Testament. Throughout the First Testament, many metaphors are used to refer to Yahweh as the rock (Gen. 49:24; Deut. 32:4, 18, 30-31; 2 Sam. 2:2; 22:32, 47; 23:3; Ps. 18:2, 31, 46; 19:14; 27:5; 28:1; 31:2, 3; 40:2, 9; 62:2, 6, 7; 71:3; 78:35; 89:26; 92:15; 94:22; 95:1; 144:1; Isa. 17:10; 26:4; 30:29; 44:8; Hab. 1:12). There are also several places where the authors of the Bible remind Israel what Yahweh did for them in Ex. 17:5-6, making this a significant act of Yahweh in Israel’s history (Deut. 8:15; 32:51; Ps. 78:15, 16, 20; 105:41; 114:8; Isa. 32:2; 48:21). In the Second Testament, Christ alluded to himself being the rock—in the parable of the two builders (Matt. 7:24-27 [Lk. 6:46-49]) and when he told Peter that He would build the church on the rock (Matt. 16:18). Finally, Paul and Peter both explicitly state that Christ is not only the Rock but the very one from Ex. 17:5-6 (Rom. 9:33; 1 Cor. 10:4; 1 Pet. 2:8).

In the First Testament, Yahweh also referred to Himself as a “spring of living water” (Isa. 44:3-4), and He stated that His Spirit is water and that He would pour it out on His people (Ezk. 39:29; Joel 2:28, 29; Zech. 12:10-13:1). The Second Testament also references water as symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and it was Christ who brought this. (Matt. 3:16 [Mrk. 1:10]; Jn. 3:5; 4:10-14; 7:37-39; Eph. 5:26; Heb. 10:22; 1 Jn. 5:6). The Bible also makes clear that water baptism is a symbol of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Matt: 3:11 [Mrk. 1:8; Jn. 1:26]; Jn. 1:33; Acts 1:5; Rom. 6:3-4; 1 Cor. 12:13; 1 Pet. 3:21).

Thus, if you put these two events together, they foreshadow the first and second coming of Christ. The first time Moses struck the rock (Ex. 17:5-6), which then brought forth water, was a typology of Christ being struck on the cross and bringing forth water, which is the Holy Spirit (Jn. 19:34; 1 Jn. 5:6). The second time Moses came to the rock, he was to speak to it, not strike it, because Christ was not to be struck down in both comings. Moses ruined the intended foreshadowing of Christ for future generations who would need to recognize him through the prophecies in the First Testament.

The Bronze Serpents

Once again the people complained (Num. 21:4-5), and Yahweh punished them by sending poisonous snakes to bite them, which would lead to their death (Num. 21:6-7) as a symbol of their allegiance to Satan. Yahweh then had them build a staff and place two bronze serpents on the staff. Anyone who looked at it would be healed (Num. 21:8-9).

Why did Yahweh have the people build a bronze staff and serpent for the people to look upon in order to be healed if the serpent is the symbol of Satan, evil, and sin? In the ancient Near East and in the Bible, bronze was the symbol of judgment. By placing the dead bronzed serpent on the pole Yahweh was showing that the serpent and their sin had been judged. If they looked to that symbol of what Yahweh had done, then they would be healed. Later Jesus would use this symbol to refer to His own crucifixion (Jn. 3:14-15) where He would be lifted up on the cross to be judged by Yahweh for the sins of all humanity (2 Cor. 5:21).

Moabite Women Seduce Israel

At the end of Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Moabites and the Midianites joined together in order to entice and destroy Israel (Num. 23:1-3). The gods of these two nations and the surrounding nations promoted orgies, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, sex with statues of the gods themselves, and child sacrifices as not only morally right but required as a form as worship. Israel chose to yoke itself with Ba’al, the Canaanite storm god, through a sexual fertility ritual. Where Israel was supposed to be yoked with Yahweh only, now they were prostituting themselves to another god (Ex. 19:3-6; Deut. 6:4-9).

One of the Israelites (Num. 25:6-9) showed his contempt for Yahweh by bringing a Midianite temple prostitute into the camp of Israel and performed a sexual ritual with her before the tabernacle, Moses, and the people. Phinehas the grandson of Aaron brought an end to this act of immorality by shoving a javelin through the two together in the midst of their sexual ritual. The priests were responsible for representing Yahweh before the people and protecting the holiness of Israel. Phinehas was acting as a righteous warrior of Yahweh, putting down a spiritual invasion before it could destroy the camp of Israel. Yahweh rewarded Phinehas by making a covenant with him—that his descendants would enjoy peace and that he would be the high priest forever (Ps. 106:30-31; Jud. 20:18). Yahweh brought a plague on the people who had yoked themselves to Ba’al (Num. 25:4-5). This was the last of the older rebellious generation of Israel.

This story foreshadows the dangers that faced Israel in the land of Canaan where Yahweh was leading them. Their only hope of staying holy was if they learned from the mistakes of the previous generation and stay true to Yahweh.

Deuteronomy

The book of Deuteronomy records three speeches that Moses gave the new generation of Israel right before Joshua led them into the Promised Land of Canaan. In these speeches Moses retold the history of Israel from their exodus out of Egypt to the end of their forty years in the wilderness. In these speeches Moses made three major points.

First, the concept of the love of Yahweh comes up over and over (Deut. 4:32-40; 7:7-11; 10:12-22; 15:16; 23:5; 33:2-5). It is clear from Israel’s history that Yahweh is motivated by love for His people and desires nothing more than to redeem and save His people. His desire to bless began with His choosing an undeserving Abraham who worshiped the twisted pagan gods and knew nothing of Yahweh. Yahweh continued to guide, protect, and bless the patriarchs and their families despite their selfishness and failings. Ultimately, He delivered and redeemed a pagan Israel from their slavery and formed them into a great nation out of the dust and ashes of that slavery. Then He continued to guide, protect, and bless this people all the way to the border of the Promised Land despite their continual complaining and rebellion against them. Yahweh’s love is what motivated Him to guide, protect, redeem, give His righteous laws to, and even discipline Israel. Thus Yahweh also expected Israel to serve and obey Him out of a motivation of love as well (Deut. 5:9-10; 6:4-5; 7:9; 10:12-13; 11:1-23; 13:1-13; 19:8-9).

Second, the Israelites were to remember their parents’ rebellions and the judgment that they received and to learn from those mistakes. Only when they realized that because Yahweh is the sovereign and righteous God of the universe who has done so much for them would they understand that He has the right to expect obedience in return and to discipline them when they didn’t, especially when they had entered a covenant relationship with Him agreeing to this idea. Only when have learned from the past mistakes of their parents would they be free to move on in a more healthy and blessed relationship with Yahweh.

Third, Israel was to remember the faithfulness of Yahweh, His deliverance of them, and the many blessings He had poured out on them so that they would know they could depend upon Him in the future. If Israel, when tempted, believed that the enemy was either stronger than Yahweh or offered a better deal than Him, they would be corrupted and conquered by the enemy. Israel was to remember that they had the God of the universe who could conquer any foe and provide blessing beyond their understanding. Only when they remembered what He had done for them in the past would they be able to depend on Him in the future.

It is with these points that Moses sent the new generation of Israel into the Promised Land, which was controlled by the immoral, deceptive, seductive, pagan nations. It was this generation who would listen to and obey the message of Deuteronomy and become one of the most faithful, victorious, and blessed generations of Israel.

The Land Covenant

The Land Covenant was the fifth covenant that Yahweh made with Israel (Deut. 29-30). This covenant has many similarities to the Mosaic Covenant but was a separate and distinct covenant, according to Deut. 29:1. This covenant was an unconditional covenant and anticipated that Israel would violate the Mosaic Covenant; therefore, the Land Covenant promised to restore Israel after their exile—their judgment for violating the Mosaic Covenant. The sign of the covenant was the Promised Land.

The Requirements

  • Obey all the commands of Yahweh.

The Blessing

  • Israel would be returned from exile and restored to the Promised Land.
  • Yahweh would regenerate Israel so that they would totally love Him.
  • Yahweh would judge Israel’s enemies.
  • Israel would obey Yahweh, and He would prosper them in their obedience.