Man was put on earth with the power to choose between good and evil. No mere animal has such power – or such a great responsibility to make the right choice.
But man has to be told what is good and what is evil. God has to reveal it. That is why, again and again, God told Israel, generally through Moses, that the people must observe all the laws He had given them for their good. He promised them many wonderful things if they would faithfully keep the rules given to them for their own happiness and security.
“If you will do as I have directed,” God said, “many worthwhile rewards shall come to you. You shall receive plenty of rain. The land you are coming to shall yield such large crops that your grain harvest shall last till the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last till it’s time again to plant grain”. (Lev. 26:3-5).
“You shall have plenty to eat. I will drive all evil beasts out of your land. You shall be safe from your enemies. If a hundred men try to attack you, it will require only five of you to chase them away. If ten thousand soldiers come at you, it will take only a hundred of you to cause them to turn and flee for their lives”!
“I will respect you. I will cause you to have many healthy children and grow into a great nation. I will be pleased to continue dwelling among you” (vs. 6-9).
What else could any people ask for? Good health, plenty of good food, safety from enemies, safety from any evil creatures, good weather and peace of mind for obeying God – all these could be theirs on and on into the future. What would any nation give right now in these troubled times to have all these good things?
One might name a list of things a mile long that any nation, including ours, would give. However, there is one thing that no nation is willing to give. Our nation could claim all these promises from God even yet if our people were willing to give that one thing. Unfortunately, as a nation, either we aren’t willing to give it or we haven’t been told enough about it. What is it?
It is obedience to the laws given to the Israelites at Sinai.
Getting back to Mt. Sinai and what happened there about four thousand years before our time, God went on to relate the terrible things that would come on the Israelites if they disobeyed.
“If you ignore my rules,” God told them, “and if you refuse to live by them and break the agreement we have made, then your future shall be one of misery, hardship and despair”.
“You shall become full of fears and constant worries. Your enemies shall kill you in great numbers. They shall win many battles and take over your homes and the crops you have sown. Your feeling of dread and danger shall be so great that you shall flee in fright even when no one is after you”. (Lev. 26:14-17)
“If you still refuse to listen to me after all this punishment, then I will bring many other awful things upon you. I will send severe famines and horrible plagues. At the same time, your enemies will trouble you more and more”.
“I will send ferocious wild beasts to destroy your livestock and eat up your children. So great shall be your fear of evil things to come on you that you shall even be afraid to venture out on the nearest roads or trails”. (vs. 18-22.)
“If these things fail to convince you that I mean what I say, and if you continue to refuse to live by the laws that are best for you, then I will punish you even more severely! Your enemies shall completely conquer you. I will send terrible disease on you. They shall spread among you when you gather together in your cities. Your supply of food shall dwindle down and down until you become aware that you are facing starvation”!
“If you still feel that your ways are better than mine, your food shall become so scarce that many of you shall roast and eat your own children! (vs. 23-29.)
It hardly seems possible that any of the Israelites would become cannibals. But just as God warned, it turned out that way in Jerusalem many years later when their enemies cut them off from their food supplies in the year A.D. 70.
One of the sins of some of the Israelites was the secret worship of idols – a habit many of them had fallen into while living with the idol-worshipping Egyptians. God made some terrible threats against any who would indulge in the worship of various objects, which included little images of most anything one could imagine.
We might consider this adoration of objects as something done only by unlearned and primitive people. But in our Israelite nations today – as well as in other nations – there are millions of supposedly intelligent people who own or carry various articles such as coins, horseshoes, rabbits’ feet, crosses, insignias, etc. They actually believe that these “lucky pieces,” as they call them, somehow have mysterious power to bring them good fortune. This is nothing less than a form of foolish idolatry. Any one persisting in it is breaking the first two commandments.
It’s also possible to have such high regard, desire and respect for some people, fine homes, money, cars, certain forms of pleasure and such things that they mean more to us than the One who caused them to be created. This, too, if carried to extremes, is idolatry in God’s sight.
Concerning idols, God had this to say to the Israelites: “I will destroy your idols and images and the places in which you worship them. I will wipe out our cities and make your fields into a barren wasteland. Your families, tribes and nations shall be broken up and scattered as slaves to the heathen nations”. (Lev. 26:30-33).
“But if there are any who will realize that they have sinned and that those who have gone before them have sinned, and will become humble enough to admit that they have lived unwisely by doing that which is not good for them, then I will remember the covenant made with their ancestors and will be merciful to them.”
These wonderful promises and stern warnings surely should have been enough to help the Israelites make the right decision for their future. For many of them it was a great inspiration for better living. But what most of them did many years later is an unhappy story. That story will come later, and will prove that God means what He say when He makes a promise or when He makes a threat.
Even while the civil laws were being given to Israel through Moses, an incident took place that brought still another new law from God – one which had to do with speaking evil of the Creator.
There was a man living among the Israelites whose father was an Egyptian, and whose mother was an Israelite of the tribe of Dan. Because he was half Egyptian, he was regarded as an unwelcome outsider by some of the Israelites in that camp.
One day this man started to pitch his tent in a desirable spot amid the tents of the tribe of Dan. An Israelite saw what he was doing, and angrily strode up to him.
“Who told you to take the best tent site?” the Israelite indignantly asked.
The Egyptian-Israelite was greatly upset by these remakes. He stopped what he was doing and in loud and furious tones told the critical Israelite what he thought of him. People in tents close to that area, aroused by the shouting, came out to sew what was going on.
The Israelite who had been so indignant began to wish that he had said nothing to rouse the anger of the man to such a high pitch.
“You hate me because my father was an Egyptian!” the angered man shouted. “Well, I hate all you because you’re Israelites! And I hate the God of the Israelites!”
In his mounting rage he went on to yell out some terrible things about God. He cursed his Creator and called Him vile and awful names. Some of the Israelites who witnessed the scene were hardened men to whom profane language was commonplace. But such foul profanity applied to God was shocking to them.
“Seize him!” some one shouted. “Stop his mouth!”
Men rushed in from all directions, grabbed the cursing man and quickly cut off his words by a scarf tightly bound over his lips. He was held till Israelite officers could arrive to take him before Moses.
Witnesses went with the officers to tell what had happened, and to ask what punishment should be given to one who had so loudly mocked and reviled the Creator.
“Hold the man for now,” Moses instructed them. “I must find out from God what should be done with him” (Lev. 24:10-12).
Later, God told Moses exactly what should be done.
“The man who cursed is so evil he is unfit to live,” God said. “If he is allowed to live he will cause others to sin and make themselves and their neighbors very miserable. Take him to a place far outside the camps. Let those who heard him gather there to place their hand on his head as witnesses to what he has done and to show that his blood should be on his own head. Then those witnesses must cast heavy stones on the curser until he is dead!”
Moses passed on these instructions to the people, who did as God commanded. The Egyptian-Israelite died soon afterward under the weighty blows of the stones (vs. 13-23).
Thus a new rule came from the Eternal to force obedience to the Third Commandment. The penalty of death by stoning – a form of capital punishment was to apply to any person who spitefully and hatefully pronounced vile and profane words against the One who had created him.
To punish by death for curing God probably seems to be harsh and unjust treatment in the opinions of some readers. Some, after reading these accounts of what happened to the Israelites, might even thing of God as a stern, sadistic monster, eager to see people suffer for even the slightest reason. It is a grave mistake, however, to doubt God’s wisdom or His mercy. If God had not caused some laws to be enforced, evil people would have felt free to do any cruel thing they desired. The world would have become so evil that no one would be safe.
A careful reading of the whole Bible will bring out the fact that, rather than being cruel, God is far more merciful, just, patient and forgiving than any human being. If He were like you or me, He would have become so disgusted with mankind that He would have blasted every one out of existence many centuries ago.
One of the laws given to Israel was that no one should curse his parents. Those who spitefully and hatefully broke this law were subject to death (Lev. 20:9). It was the responsibility of the Israelites to teach their children God’s laws, just as it now is in God’s church (Deut. 6:6-7; 11:18-21). Many parent back then probably failed to teach their children properly, just as other parents fail to do so now.
If one were subject to death for curing his parents – which is breaking the Fifth Commandment – surely it wasn’t less sinful to curse God, the Creator of all parents and the Creator Father of us all.
“If those laws are still in effect, many are certain to wonder, “then why do so many of today’s lawbreakers – murderers for example often go free?”
The laws are still in effect. Back in the time of the ancient Israelites, God set up a system of quick and sure punishment to lawbreakers, so that others would think twice before breaking the law.
Now, even in Israelites nations, we have all kinds of laws and court systems. Often it requires month or even years to finally decide if a person is innocent or guilty. But God’s laws never change. If a person is actually guilty of murdering another, and is set free because of false testimony or of dishonest public officials, that person is still guilty in God’s sight. Sooner or later, by God’s hand (because human agencies have failed to give an honest sentence) that person, if still unrepentant, will surely die. So will any unrepentant person who breaks any one of God’s laws (James 2:10).
Our only hope to be saved is through Jesus Christ, who came to Earth for several reasons, including dying for our sins. If a murderer, therefore, or any sinner, would feel very sorry for his evil deed, tearfully call on God to forgive him and earnestly desire to live rightly from that time on, according to God’s living laws, he would receive the wonderful gift of forgiveness. He could have a new start in life – all because of God’s great mercy. He could then live happy, useful life as a good citizen and a good neighbor, without committing the evils he used to do.
Whenever we see people about us doing wrong things and seemingly getting away without punishment, we shouldn’t be discouraged. And we should never feel envious that others seem to be getting by with doing wrong. Why envy anyone who is asking for trouble and who is sure to get into a lot more of it than he ever expected? The best thing to do is to read the 37th Psalm.
Perhaps you will recall that Moses was raised and educated in the palaces of Egypt, but that he later fled from there and went eastward to the land of Midian, where he became a herder of sheep. While he lived there he stared writing the first books of the Bible. There, too, he was married to Zipporah, daughter of a priest named Jethro, the man for whom he worked. Two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, were born to Moses and Zipporah (Ex. 2:21-22; 3:1; 18:1-4). When Moses, at God’s command, set out to return to Egypt, he took his family with him (Ex. 4:20). However, Moses later decided there were good reasons not to take his family, and he sent the three back to stay with Jethro.
More than a year had passed since Moses had seen his family. Although his wife and sons were living not far from Mt. Sinai, Moses was so busy with leadership of the Israelites that he didn’t feel that he should use precious time to go after them. He had returned to plenty of grief after his stays on Mt. Sinai, and he wasn’t inclined to leave the Israelites again unless God commanded to do so.
One day a stranger rode into camp. He told alert guards who quickly surrounded him that he had a message for Moses. He was escorted to Moses’ tent after the guards made certain he wasn’t armed.
“I come in advance of the approaching caravan of your father-in-law, Jethro,” the stranger told Moses. “He is camped not far from here with your family, and hopes to be here inside of another day.”
Moses was so pleased to hear this that he decided to go back with the messenger to meet Jethro’s caravan. Some of his officer went along. They found Jethro’s tents pitched only a few miles from the camps of the Israelites.
Moses was happy to again be with his wife and two young sons. He greatly enjoyed a visit with them inside Jethro’s cool tents (Ex. 18:1-7). Afterward, he had a long talk with Jethro, who was aware of the flight of the Israelites from Egypt, but who probably never would have believed that his son-in-law could have led that flight. But as one who obeyed God, Jethro had looked with great satisfaction on this historic event. He was pleased and highly interested to hear from Moses all about the plagues, the miracles, the parting of the Red Sea. God’s dealing with the trouble-makers and complainers among the Israelites, the manner in which God had provided for the people, the giving of the laws, the building of the tabernacle and other exciting highlight of recent months (vs. 8-11).
Jethro, who was of a priesthood family that served God, was especially interested in the tabernacle, and told Moses that it was his hope to personally make sacrifices and offering on the great altar. Assured by Moses that he would be welcome, Jethro gave order for the tents to be taken down. Accompanied by Moses and the Israelite aides, the caravan moved on and into the camps below Mt. Sinai.
Later, Jethro made a burnt offering and sacrifices to God. As a priest, he had an important part in the ceremonies. Afterward, Aaron and Moses and the elders joined him in a feast (v. 12).
Early next morning, when Jethro came out of his tent, he was puzzled to see a crowd close to the tabernacle. In the middle of the crowd Moses sat listening to some of the people talking intently to him.
“Moses often sits there till sundown judging those who are having trouble with their neighbors,” an officer explained to Jethro.
Jethro slowly shook his head, but said nothing about the matter until that evening when he could again visit the weary Moses.
“I am surprised,” Jethro told Moses, “that you try just by yourself to hear all the cases of the people. See how tired you are now! If you continue in this manner, you will wear yourself down till you will be far from the healthy person you should be in God’s service. Besides, the long lines of people become weary waiting for you to get around to them.”
“What else can I do?” Moses asked, “Aaron has his work, and my various officers are busy with theirs.”
“Let me suggest something,” Jethro answered, moving his tent cushion closer to Moses. “Surely there are many hundreds of capable men among the tribes –men who have the eagerness and time to help you in this thing. Why not try to seek out a number of honest, unselfish, fair-minded men of good judgment? Place the best of these men as judges over groups of a thousand. Place men of lesser ability over groups of a hundred, and still others over groups of fifty and groups of ten.
“If a judge over ten people doesn’t have the wisdom to decide a case, let him go to the judge of fifty who is over him. If the judge over fifty fails, let him go to the judge over a hundred. If even the judge over a thousand can’t decide a case, let it be brought to you. Thus a great part of your task of judging could be on the shoulders of others, because surely most of the lesser problems could be judged or solved by other men who you have instructed in God’s ways of justice and fair conduct.”
Moses sat in tired silence for some time. This idea had occurred to him before in a roughly similar way, but he had never given it much thought. Coming from a wise and devoted priest of God, however, it seemed to have much weight. It occurred then and there to Moses that God was suggesting this thing through his father-in-law, using human agencies as God has always done to such a great extent (Ex. 18:13-23).
Moses got up and strode about the tent for a minute or so while Jethro remained wisely silent.
“I believe God would have me do as you say,” Moses finally declared. “Tomorrow morning I shall sent out officers to summon the best leaders, from whom I can choose the kind of men who can help me!”
In the days that followed, Jethro’s suggestion worked out well. Capable men were named as judges, and they carried out their officers in a fair manner. It was a great relief to Moses, who couldn’t have carried on and on with such a heavy load unless God had imbued him with tremendous, superhuman vitality. It that had happened, then the people might have begun to regard Moses as almost a god (vs. 24-26).
Although Moses wanted Jethro to go on with the Israelites, Jethro felt that he could be of greater service by returning to his people. Moses was sad when Jethro’s caravan departed, but he was thankful for the advice and the joy that had come to him (v. 27).