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Introduction to Booklet 1

 

This booklet has been written to help you read, study and understand the first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  These books are among the most important books in the Bible because they lay the foundation for much of the teaching that comes later.

 

These five books were written by Moses during the time that the people of Israel travelled from Egypt to the Promised Land.  These books are sometimes also called The Books of Moses or The Law of Moses.

 

Please make sure that you read through each of these books of the Bible as you work your way through this course.  It is only as you do this that you will benefit from this booklet.

Lesson One: The Book of Genesis

 

I.  Who wrote Genesis and when?

 

The book of Genesis was written by Moses in the wilderness after the children of Israel had left Egypt and were making their way to the land they had been promised.  If you are unfamiliar with this story, then you might find it helpful first to read Exodus chapters 1 to 12 to understand the historical background to the book of Genesis.  For over 400 years the people of Israel had lived in the land of Egypt.  The Bible tells us that during this time they were not faithful to the one true living God, but had fallen into idolatry and had begun to worship the gods of the Egyptians.  We read, for example, that when Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the law from God, some of the Israelites were sacrificing animals to “the goat idols” (Lev. 17:1-9).  We also read that when they were about to enter the Promised Land, Joshua said to them, “Throw  away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord; Throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel” (Josh. 24:14;23).

 

What this means is that when the people of Israel came out of Egypt they knew very little about their God and they probably knew very little about their own history.  We are told that when they were in severe difficulties in Egypt they “groaned in their slavery and cried out” (Ex. 2:23), but we are not told specifically that they prayed to God Himself.  It seems that they cried out for help and their cry went up to God, rather like a man who is in trouble and shouts for help in the hope that someone passing by might hear and come to his aid.  This is why when God appointed Moses to go and speak to the people of Israel he was not willing: “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’  Then what shall I tell them?” (Ex. 3:13).  Moses expected the people of Israel to say something like, “Who is this God who has sent you?  We do not know Him.”   They probably knew a few things about their forefathers like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, but it is likely that their knowledge about these people and their knowledge of God’s dealings with them was very little.

 

II. Why was Genesis written?

 

When the children of Israel were in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, Moses wrote the book of Genesis.  Moses wrote this book to teach the children of Israel seven main things.

 

1.  Genesis was written to teach the people of Israel about their creator.  It was written to teach the people that there is only one God.  The people of Israel had fallen into idolatry in Egypt and had worshipped many gods.  This is clear from Joshua’s words to them, “Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt” (Josh. 24:14).  They needed to learn that there is only one God and He alone is the one whom we must worship and serve, and to serve other gods is to sin.

 

Also, Genesis was written to teach the people of Israel that God created all things and rules over all things.  Genesis begins with the story of creation because the people of Israel needed to learn that there in only one God and He alone is the creator of all things and He alone controls all things.  The people of Egypt were idolaters who believed that there were many gods and that each god controlled a certain area of life.  If they wanted rain, they would pray to a certain god, if they wanted children, they would pray to another god, and so on.  The people of Israel probably accepted this teaching and so did not understand that there is only one God who created all things and controls all things.

 

2.  Genesis was written to teach the people of Israel who they are as human beings.  It was written to show them that human beings are God’s special creation and that they are not like animals.  It was written to show them that God created man in His own image and that man is God’s appointed agent and servant here on earth.  It was written to teach the people of Israel that when God created man He created him for a specific purpose: to worship Him and to love Him and obey Him and to serve Him.

 

3.  Genesis was written to teach the people of Israel how sin came into the world and what effect it has had upon the earth.  It was written to show them that when God created the earth there was no sin in it and that God saw that everything was good and perfect and pleasing to Him.  It was written to show how Satan deceived Adam and Eve and how sin entered the world and brought death with it.  It was written to show how all people are born in sin and are slaves of sin.  Adam was created in the image of God, but his son Seth was born in his own image (Gen. 5:3).  Genesis shows how sin brought with it violence and rebellion against God.

 

4.  Genesis was written to teach the people of Israel that God is holy and just.  It tells us that when Adam and Eve fell into sin God judged them.  He did not overlook their sin as a minor mistake, he cursed Adam and Eve and the ground.  Throughout the book of Genesis we read that God is holy and just and that He punishes sin.  Cain was punished for killing his brother Abel, the people in Noah’s day drowned because they lived lives of sin, the people who built the tower of Babel were punished for their rebellion, and two of Judah’s sons were put to death by the Lord for their sin.  All these are examples of God’s holiness and justice.

 

5.  Genesis was written to teach the people of Israel that God is a God of grace.  In this book we read about how God announced His plan of salvation when Adam and Eve fell into sin.  God did not destroy Adam and Eve when they sinned.  Rather, He promised that one day He would send a Saviour who would defeat the devil and redeem creation and man from the fall and its effects (Genesis 3:15).  Throughout this book, we read of the grace of God: God accepted Abel’s offering by grace, God saved Noah by grace (Genesis 6:8),  God called Abraham out of idolatry and gave him great and precious promises by grace, and God used and protected Joseph by grace.

 

6.  Genesis was written to teach the people of Israel about God’s plan of salvation.  In the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve fell into sin, God announced to them that His plan was not to judge and destroy all mankind, but to bring salvation to His people and His creation.  The plan of salvation was made before the heavens and the earth were created and in Genesis we read how that plan of salvation was put into action.

 

In the story of Adam and Eve’s two sons, Cain and Abel, we see how God is going to have His people here on earth who will bring Him sacrifices of praise which are acceptable to Him, just as Abel did.  We also see in this story that there will be those on earth who will hate the people of God and will seek to destroy them, just as Cain did.

 

In the story of Noah God shows us that those who are under His grace will be saved through the judgement, and those who are not His people will be swept away to eternal destruction.  This is how Jesus taught about the flood (Matt. 24:37-41).

 

In the story of Abraham, we see how God chooses a people for Himself from sin and how He saves them and then leads them throughout their lives, watching over them and guiding them.

 

7.  Genesis was written to teach the people of Israel that God had made a covenant with their forefathers, and that He was faithful to that covenant.  We read in the book of Exodus, “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob” (Ex. 2:23-24).

 

A covenant is a binding agreement, rather like a contract.  God made a covenant with Abraham, meaning that God promised Abraham that He would be Abraham’s God and would save Abraham by faith.  Abraham came from a family of idolaters (Joshua 24:2), but God called him out of idolatry, so that he became a worshipper of the one true living God.  God also gave great promises to Abraham that Abraham would become a great nation and that his people would live in the land of Canaan, the Promised Land.  God promised Abraham that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  All these promises Abraham believed by faith, although he died without seeing his people in possession of that land.  The promises that God made to Abraham were inherited eventually by the whole nation of Israel (Exodus chapter 19).  At Mount Sinai the people of Israel became the people of God.  This is why they needed to learn about God and His ways.

 

III.  How is the book of Genesis arranged?

 

The book of Genesis is in three parts.

 

1.  The creation of all things (chs. 1-2).

 

In these two chapters we read how God created all things from nothing in six days.  They teach us that when God created all things, they were all perfect and pleasing to Him and were for His glory.

 

2.  The entrance of sin and the effects of sin (chs. 3-11).

 

In these chapters we read of how sin entered the world and what the consequences of sin were.  The Bible teaches us that when Adam and Eve fell into sin, they became sinners by nature.  It teaches us that their hearts became hearts of sin, and that all their children inherited their sinful nature.  In these chapters in Genesis we see this teaching clearly.  We read of how Cain murdered his brother “because he belonged to the evil one” (1 Jn. 3:12).  We read that the people in the days of Noah were completely evil (Gen. 6:5), and we read that later people tried to build a tower at Babel in rebellion against God (Genesis ch. 11).

 

3.  The lives of the Patriarchs (chs. 12-50).

 

In Genesis ch. 12 we read about how God called Abraham to leave his country and to follow Him.  The calling of Abraham was part of God’s great plan for the salvation of His people.  This is why when God made a covenant with Abraham, He said, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  God gave Abraham some great promises: he was to become the father of a great nation (Gen. 12:2); and his people were to live in the land of Canaan, the Promised Land (Gen. 15:16).  Abraham himself never saw these promises come to pass, but he believed God and was accepted as righteous in the sight of God on account of his faith (Gen. 15:6).  After the death of Abraham, his son Isaac inherited these great and precious promises of God (Gen. 26:2-5).  Isaac’s younger son Jacob then deceived his father and in turn inherited the blessings of God (Gen. 27:27-29).  It was God’s desire that Jacob and not Esau should inherit the blessing (Mal. 1:2-3; Rom. 9:10-13), although Jacob was clearly wrong in the way he deceived his father.  At his death Jacob passed on the promises of God to his fourth born son, Judah (Gen. 49:8-12).

 

We must remember that these promises of God which were being passed down the generations were very precious because they all related to the work of Jesus Christ our Saviour.  Jacob on his death-bed said of Christ, “The obedience of the nations is his” (Gen. 49:10).  The promises that God made to Abraham were centred upon the coming of the Lord Jesus to bless the nations with salvation.  This is the reason why Abraham was to become a large nation who would settle in the land of Canaan.  It was because they were the chosen people of God who would have the revelation of God (Rom. 3:2), and they would be used of God to bring the Saviour into the world.

 

Reading Genesis

 

As you can see, Genesis is a very important book because it describes to us how the world began, how man was created, how sin came into the world and how God began His work of saving His people from sin.  If you have never read Genesis through, then we encourage you to read it from beginning to end.  It is not a difficult book to read.  You can read one or two chapters each day and in this way read through the whole book.  As you read it, remember that at the heart of this book is God’s promise to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15) and His promise to Abraham that He will one day bless the nations of the world with salvation through His Son.

Lesson Two: The Book of Exodus

 

I.  The historical setting of this book

 

In the closing chapters of Genesis we read that one of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt.  In the merciful providences of God, Joseph eventually became a great ruler in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.  Then when Jacob found out that his son Joseph was alive and was a great ruler in Egypt, he too moved to Egypt with the rest of his family.  The total number of Abraham’s descendants at this time was some 70 people (Ex. 1:5).  The book of Genesis then ends with the death of Joseph.

 

When the book of Exodus opens, some 430 years have passed since the death of Joseph: “Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years.  At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the divisions left Egypt” (Ex. 12:40-41).  During those 430 years two very important things happened.

 

1.  The children of Israel increased greatly in number.  When Jacob took his family to Egypt, the descendants of Abraham numbered about 70 (Ex. 1:5).  During their time in Egypt “the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7).  In fact we are told that when Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt “there were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Ex. 12:37).

 

2.  A new generation of Egyptians came up who did not know about Joseph (Ex. 1:8).  Joseph was a great ruler in Egypt who had saved the whole country from starvation and death, but over the years the Egyptians forgot about him.

 

Therefore to the Egyptians this large group of Israelites was a threat.  Their king said to them, “Look, the Israelites have become much too numerous for us.  Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country” (Ex. 1:9-10).  The Egyptians therefore decided to destroy completely the people of Israel, and formulated two ways of doing this.  First, “they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labour” (Ex. 1:11).  Their hope was that if the Israelites are forced to work really hard then they would die of exhaustion.  Second, the king commanded the Israelite midwives that if an Israelite woman gave birth to a boy, they were to kill him.  They thought that if all boys were killed at birth then soon the Israelites will die out.

 

However, the Lord protected the people of Israel.  Even though they were forced to work as slaves, they did not die, but continued to increase in numbers: “The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread” (Ex. 1:12).  Also the Israelite midwives feared God and so did not kill the new-born Israelite boys but let them live.

 

Because life was hard for the Israelites, they cried out for help.  We are told that “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob” (Ex. 2:24).  God raised a man called Moses to deliver the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt.  The book of Exodus tells us in great detail how God was with Moses in all his dealings with the people of Israel and with Pharaoh, and how, after the Ten Plagues, Moses finally led the people of Israel out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.

 

After the people of Israel left Egypt, they travelled through the wilderness where they faced many trials.  However, the Lord provided for them and protected them through all these, even though the people grumbled against Him and against Moses.  After three months of travel, the people of Israel reached Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:1).  Here they camped for about eleven months (see Numbers 10:13) and here at the foot of Mount Sinai, three very important things happened.  The rest of the book of Exodus describes these three things to us.

 

1.  The Lord made a covenant with the whole nation of Israel.  Up to this point, God had only made covenants with individuals like Noah and Abraham and Isaac.  He had never entered into a covenant with the nation of Israel as a whole.  Here at Sinai, there is a formal covenant between God and the whole nation of Israel.  This means that from this point onwards, there is now a formal relationship between God and the nation of Israel.  A covenant is like a marriage.  When a man and a woman get married, they enter into a formal relationship in which each one has certain duties that they are to perform.  It means that they are now to be faithful to each other.  If the man goes with another woman then he has broken the terms of the marriage and therefore has fallen into sin.

 

In the same way, God entered into a formal covenant with the people of Israel.  God said to them, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you to myself.  Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.  Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:4-6).  God promised that Israel was to be His treasured possession.  This means He promised to protect them and provide for them and guide them.  It means He was to be their God and they were to be His special people, set apart from the world for His glory and honour and purposes: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God” (Ex. 6:7).  The condition of the covenant was that the people of Israel were to live lives of obedience to their God: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession” (Ex. 19:5).

 

2. God gave the people of Israel His law.

 

Starting from Exodus ch. 20, we read of how God gave the people of Israel the law that they were to keep as part of the covenant with Him.  The law is a very important part of the Old Testament, because it is a declaration of the character of God.  When we look at the law of God we are looking at the holiness and the purity and the justice of God.  The law of God tells us that He is completely pure and completely sinless and completely just.

 

3. God gave the people of Israel regulations for dealing with their sin.

 

As part of the covenant, God came to live in the midst of His people.  Right at the end of this book we read that after Moses had finished building the Tent of Meeting, the glory of the Lord covered it and filled the tabernacle so that Moses was unable to enter the Tent.  This is teaching us at once the Tent of Meeting had been completed then the Lord came and His presence was in that Tent.  This is why the people were given instructions on how to build this Tent, and why they were given special ability to build it: it was to be the dwelling place of God.  The Tent of Meeting looked like this:

Tabernacle

We can see that part of the Tent of Meeting was the most holy place.  This is the place where God dwelt.  When a couple gets married they begin to live together.  In the same way after God had made a covenant with the people of Israel, He came to live with them: the most holy place was the place of the presence of God Himself.

 

Now, as we know, all human beings are sinful.  We inherited a sinful nature from Adam and we all have hearts of sin.  We also know that God is so holy that sin cannot dwell with Him.  The Bible says, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil, with you the wicked cannot dwell” (Ps. 5:4).  How then could the people of Israel , who were sinful, continue to dwell in the presence of God?  The answer is that God gave them a number of regulations which they were to follow so as to be clean in the sight of the Lord.  As part of the law that God gave to Israel, they were to construct the Tent of Meeting and appoint priests from the tribe of Levi who were to offer animal sacrifices on behalf of themselves and the people.  The Bible tells us that when the people of Israel offered these animal sacrifices, they became ceremonially clean, meaning they were outwardly clean: “The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean” (Heb. 9:13).  

 

This, however, did not mean that as long as the Israelites just did these outward things like sacrificing animals then God was happy with that.  Later on, the Israelites used to bring animal sacrifices, but their hearts were far from God, and so God rejected their sacrifices (see Isaiah 1:10-11).  The covenant demanded two things from the people of Israel.  It demanded that they brought animal sacrifices so as to be ceremonially pure, and it demanded that they should love the Lord their God with their whole being and worship Him and serve Him and live their lives by faith in Him, just as their father Abraham had done (Deut. 6:5; 10:12-22).  It is because the nation of Israel forgot this that they fell into sin and were rejected by God.  We need to learn the lesson that true worship of God is never in the outward things, it is in the heart.

 

II.  What Exodus teaches us.

 

The book of Exodus teaches us five main lessons.

 

1.  Exodus teaches us some very important lessons about God.  The whole book of Exodus is a revelation of the Person and Character of God.  The central passage in this book is Ex. 34:6-7, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”  We have produced a booklet called “What the Bible teaches about God” which is a study of Exodus chapters 1-20.  If you would like to know more about how God reveals Himself in Exodus then please study that booklet.

 

2.  Exodus teaches us some very important lessons about salvation.  The story of the children of Israel in the book of Exodus is a wonderful picture of our salvation.

 

 The children of Israel were God’s chosen people, just as those who are saved have been His chosen people in eternity.

 The children of Israel were slaves in Egypt under a harsh and cruel slave-master who wanted to destroy them.  We too were slaves of sin and the devil who wanted to destroy us until God rescued us.

 God raised a saviour for the people of Israel, Moses, to lead them out of slavery.  God has sent His Son into the world to lead us out of slavery to sin.

 Moses confronted Pharaoh, the enemy of God’s people and defeated him and led the people out of Egypt.  The Lord Jesus confronted Satan and defeated him and leads us out of our sinfulness (Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14-15).

 Moses led the people of Israel through the wilderness where the people had many trials.  The Lord Jesus leads us through our lives here on earth where we meet many trials and difficulties in the world.

 God provided everything for the children of Israel while they were in the wilderness.  God provides for all our bodily and spiritual needs here on earth.

 Moses gave the children of Israel His law to guide them throughout their lives.  The Lord Jesus gives to us His law in the Bible for our guidance throughout our Christian lives.

 Moses led the people of Israel to the Promised Land after many hardships in the wilderness.  The Lord Jesus leads us to our eternal home in heaven after all the hardships of life here on earth.

 

3.  Exodus teaches us some very important lessons about the covenant.  When the children of Israel reached Mount Sinai, God spoke to them and made a covenant with them.  The central statement of God’s covenant with Israel is this: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.  Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6).  The covenant that God made with Israel had three very important features.

 

(i) God was the God of the people of Israel in a very special way.  God is God of the whole earth in the sense that He created the earth and He rules it.  He rules over each nation and appoints the rulers of each nation and directs the affairs of each nation.  But the people of Israel became His treasured possession out of all the earth, even though the whole earth was His.  He was to be their God and their Saviour; He would provide for them and protect them.  This is one of the most important aspects of God’s covenant with His people today.  He is still the God of the whole earth, but He is the God and Father of those who are saved in a special way.  He has saved them and He will keep them and protect them and provide for them and one day He will come and take them to be with Himself for eternity.

 

(ii) The people of Israel were the people of God in a special way.  They were His treasured possession.  All the nations of the earth belong to God in the sense that He provides food and shelter and earthly comfort for them (see Matt. 5:44-45; Acts 14:17), but the nation of Israel belonged to Him in a special way.  They were His people who were to receive His word and were to do His will so as to declare to the nations who He is.  They were to bring into the world the Saviour of all His people and to be the custodians of His word.

 

Once again, when we understand these truths, we begin to realise that those who are saved today are the special people of God.  God rules over all people and provides for all people, but we as the saved people belong to Him in a special way.  He has saved us from our sins and He is our Lord and our Father.  We have been given His word to make it known to the world.

 

(iii) The people of Israel were to live lives of obedience to God.  God said to them when He made a covenant with them, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Ex. 19:5).  

 

4.  Exodus teaches us some very important lessons about the Christian life.  In particular, there are two very important lessons about the Christian life in this book.

 

(i) Exodus teaches us that the Christian life is not without problems and difficulties.  The people of Israel were redeemed from slavery in Egypt by the grace and power of God, but then for the next forty years they had a very difficult time in the wilderness as they made their way to the Promised Land.  We must not think that once we are saved all our problems will be solved and we will have no difficulties in life.  In the New Testament, the apostles of Christ were saved men who lived godly lives and preached the gospel.  Yet they faced severe persecution and hardship in their lives.  In fact the Lord Jesus had warned them that this would happen: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first; If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (Jn. 15:18,20).

 

This is why the most important element in the Christian life is faith.  The people of God are expected to walk with their God despite all the trials of life and they are expected to love Him and serve Him.  This can only be done when we have faith that our God loves us and is for us despite all the difficulties we may face in life.  When we begin to doubt His character and His love for us then we will desert Him when problems come.

 

(ii) Exodus teaches us that we have been saved in order to live a life of obedience to the word of God.  This book shows us very clearly the relationship between faith and works.  The people of Israel had fallen into idolatry in Egypt, they had not remained faithful to the God of their fathers.  But God in grace and mercy sent to them a deliverer, Moses.  In order to be saved from their slavery they only needed to believe God and follow Moses on the night of the Passover.  They were not required to do good works in order to get saved, they were saved from slavery by the grace of God through faith.  Once they had come out of slavery and entered into a covenant with God, they were then given the law and were expected to obey that law as an act of love and worship to their God.  This shows very clearly that we are not saved by keeping the law, we are saved by grace through faith.  However, once we are saved and brought into the family of God, we are expected to live a life of obedience to the word of God as our act of love and worship to the God who saved us by His grace.

 

5.  Exodus teaches us some very important lessons about worship.  When we read the book of Exodus we find that there are many instructions here on how the people of Israel were to build the Tent of Meeting.  They were told exactly what the Tent of Meeting should look like, what it must be made of, what the priest must wear and what items must be in the Tent of Meeting.  All these instructions are given in great detail so that a person reading this book for the first time might wonder why he needs to read all this.  There is, however, a very important lesson for us in all this.  It teaches us that the worship of our God is a very serious and a very important matter.

 

God gave very specific and very clear directions to the people of Israel as to how He wanted them to approach Him and how He wanted them to present their worship to Him.  The people of Israel were not free to do whatever they felt like doing in the presence of God.  The reason why the Tent of Meeting was such an elaborate structure made of gold, silver and fine cloth was to remind the Israelites that they were in the presence of a great king.  When a person goes before a great king he is very careful how he behaves.  He makes sure that he shows respect to the king at all times.  This is how we are to be when we come into the presence of the living God.

 

 

 

 

Reading Exodus

 

The first 20 chapters of Exodus are fairly easy to read because they describe the release of Israel from Egypt, their travel to Sinai and then the giving of the law.  The second half of this book is not always so easy to read because there is a lot of detail about how the Tent of Meeting was to be made, and we do not always find it easy to relate to such material.  It may help you to have a notebook and pen and to write down some of the details of the Tent of Meeting and to picture in your mind what the Tent of Meeting must have looked like in the desert.  It may also help you to find a book with some pictures in it of Israel in the desert making the Tent of Meeting and placing it in the middle of the assembly.

Lesson Three, The Book of Leviticus

 

The events in the book of Leviticus all took place when the people of Israel were still at the foot of Mount Sinai.  The instructions in this book follow logically from the events in the book of Exodus.  At the end of the book of Exodus we read that the people finished constructing the Tent of Meeting and that the glory of the Lord came and filled the Tent.  In other words, at the end of the book of Exodus God came and began to dwell in the midst of His people.  The book of Leviticus then gives instructions to the children of Israel as to how they were to live their daily lives now that the Living and True God had come to stay in their midst; it was written to teach the people of Israel how they were to live in the presence of their God.

 

I.  Why the Book of Leviticus was written

 

The book of Leviticus was written because there were two major issues that needed to be addressed.

 

1.  The people of Israel were, like all human beings, sinners by nature.  Although they were God’s chosen people and were in a covenant relationship with God, they were still sinners by nature.  This means that a way had to be found for God to continue to dwell in their midst.  God is holy and just and cannot dwell in the midst of sinners: “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell” (Ps. 5:4).  How, then, can things be arranged so that God could continue to dwell in the midst of this sinful people?  In the book of Leviticus we have a number of regulations through which the people of Israel could be cleansed from their sin and be reconciled to God.  These regulations enabled the people of Israel to be ceremonially clean and so to dwell in the presence of a Holy and Just God.

 

2.  The people of Israel had picked up sinful habits from their time in Egypt.  It is quite clear that even after they left the nation of Egypt and came out under the leadership of Moses, they continued many of their sinful practices.  For example, in Leviticus 17:1-9 there are some instructions on the offering of sacrifices which are given because the people of Israel were offering sacrifices to “the goat idols.”  They had come out of Egypt and were now the covenant people of God, but they had continued many of the sinful practices which they had started in Egypt.  This book was therefore written to give them teaching with regard to this matter.  In this book God says to the people of Israel, “Be holy, because I am holy” (Lev. 11:44).  This means that God commands them to give up the sins which they were committing in Egypt and to begin to live a pure and a holy life.

II.  The contents of the book of Leviticus

 

The book of Leviticus is in three parts.

 

Part I, Religious Regulations to deal with sin and uncleanness before the Lord

(chs. 1-16).

 

1. The sacrifices (chs. 1-7).

 

In chapters 1-7 we find instructions given to the people of Israel and to the priests on how they were to offer sacrifices for their sins to God.  There are five different types of sacrifices that they were to offer: the burnt offering, the grain offering, the fellowship offering, the sin offering and the guilt offering.  These seven chapters give instructions to the people on how they are to bring these offerings, and to the priests on how to offer these offerings.

 

These offerings were to be brought to the Lord because sin made them unclean and broke their fellowship with God.  By means of these sacrifices they were made ceremonially clean and were reconciled to God.

 

2.  The Priests are ordained and begin their work (chs. 8-10).

 

In this section of the book, we read of how Aaron and his sons were formally ordained as priests and how they began their work.  Formal Old Testament religion begins here, because the children of Israel now have the Tent of Meeting and instructions on the sacrifices they were to offer.  Now they have the priests who can begin offering those sacrifices.  The Old Testament sacrificial system formally begins here.  We notice that right at the beginning, two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu did not do their duties in the right way and so were killed.  This was a warning to all priests that their duty before God is a serious and solemn duty and they are to perform their duties in the proper manner otherwise they too would be put to death.

 

3.  Instructions on how to deal with uncleanness not caused by sin (chs. 11-15).

 

In chapters 1-7, the book of Leviticus teaches how a person who has been made unclean by sin can be made ceremonially clean.  In chapters 11-15, we read that sin is not the only thing that could make a person unclean in the sight of God.  These chapters tell us that if a person touches the dead body of an unclean animal then he is unclean, and that a woman was unclean after childbirth and that a person was unclean when he had an infectious skin disease, and so on.  This section of the book was written to tell the Israelites how to become ceremonially clean after these events.

 

4.  The Day of Atonement (ch. 16).

 

The Day of Atonement was a day of national cleansing and reconciliation with God and it was to be observed once a year.  On this day the whole assembly of the people of Israel were to gather at the Tent of Meeting.  The High Priest was then to first offer a sacrifice for himself, and then a sacrifice for the people.  The Day of Atonement had two major purposes.

 

(i) It was a day of cleansing.  On this day the atonement cover was cleansed (v. 17), the most holy place was cleansed (v. 17), the altar was cleansed (v. 19), and all the people were cleansed (v. 30).

 

(ii) It was a day of reconciliation.  The word atonement means to be reconciled to God.  When the people of Israel fell into sin, their fellowship with God was broken.  When they offered sacrifices, they became ceremonially clean and so returned into fellowship with God and once again enjoyed His blessings and His favour.

 

Part II, Instructions on how to live a holy life daily before the Lord

(chs. 17-20; 24:10-23).

 

As we noted earlier, the people of Israel had picked up sinful habits while they were in Egypt.  This part of the book of Leviticus therefore gives instructions on those areas of life where their habits and lifestyle were an offence to God.

 

1.  The Israelites are forbidden from offering sacrifices to goat idols (17:1-9).

2.  The Israelites are forbidden from eating blood (17:10-14).

3.  The Israelites are forbidden from eating animals found dead (17:15-16).

4.  Forbidden sexual practices (ch. 18).

5.  Various laws and regulations on good neighbourliness (ch. 19).

6.  Punishment for sin (ch. 20; 24:10-23).

 

Part III, Religious regulations regarding festivals and the priesthood.

 

1.  Regulations regarding major festivals (chs. 23-25).

2.  Rewards and punishments for obedience and disobedience (ch. 26).

3.  Dedications made to the Lord (ch. 27).

III.  Lessons from the book of Leviticus.

 

When we first read the book of Leviticus we find it difficult to know how it relates to us today.  It is a book full of Jewish religious rules and regulations which seem to have no relevance at all to us today.  And yet Leviticus is a very important book in the Old Testament because it has some very important lessons to teach us.

 

1.  Leviticus teaches us about the holiness of God.  God says in this book, “Be holy for I am holy” (11:44).  This book teaches us in great detail what this means.  It means that God is completely pure and completely holy and sinless and if His people fall into sin then they become unclean before Him.  Indeed this book teaches us that even touching the body of a dead animal made a person unclean before God.

 

2.  Leviticus teaches us that sin is a very serious matter before God.  The first seven chapters of this book tell us about the sacrifices that the people of Israel were to bring when they fell into sin before God.  We can see from the fact that there were five different sacrifices and that the rules for each of them was very specific that sin is a very serious matter before God.  An Israelite was not allowed to make excuses for his sin or to just forget about it.  He had to bring a sacrifice to God before he could be ceremonially clean and be reconciled to God.

 

3.  Leviticus teaches us why the Lord Jesus died on the cross of Calvary.  This book teaches us that God demands a sacrifice before a person can be forgiven his sins.  It teaches us that sin makes us unclean and that we must be washed in blood before we are clean.  All these things point us to Christ who died to remove our sins and to cleanse us in His blood.

 

4.  Leviticus teaches us about the High Priestly work of Christ.  In Leviticus we see that Aaron and his sons were ordained as priest and that they represented the people of Israel before God.  We learn that they were the ones who brought the sacrifices to God for the sins of the people.  In this we see the work of Christ today.  The Lord Jesus is our High Priest.  He offered His own blood once as a sacrifice for our sins and He represents us before God today.

 

5.  Leviticus teaches us how we are to live the Christian life.  The children of Israel were in sin in Egypt and they had many sinful habits.  In this book they were taught to leave those sinful habits and to worship the Lord alone and to serve Him alone.  This is what we are to do when we get saved.  We are saved for the purpose of honouring God in our lives and for the purpose of serving Him all our days.

 

6.  Leviticus teaches us some very important principles about how we are to live life here on earth.  This book teaches us that we are to be kind and considerate of others.  The person with a shamba is not to harvest the whole of his shamba, but to leave part of the harvest for the poor (19:9-10); we are not to deceive each other (19:11); we are not to hold back the wages of a hired person overnight (19:13).  This book also teaches us some very valuable farming practices.  The Israelites were to leave the shamba alone and not to plant in it every seven years (25:3-4).  This matter was so important that one of the reasons the nation of Israel went into exile many years later is that the land had not had rest from the people, they had not obeyed this command (2 Chr. 36:21).  A farmer today could follow this principle by leaving part of the land every few years and not plant on it to give it rest.

 

Reading Leviticus

 

At first, Leviticus can appear to be a difficult book to read.  But that is usually because we are not so familiar with it.  There is actually nothing in the book that is difficult to understand, and it is quite an enjoyable book to read.  Read it one chapter at a time and remember that it was written for the people of Israel at Mount Sinai telling them how they are to live in fellowship with their God and to live holy lives.

Lesson Four: The Book of Numbers

 

How this book is arranged

 

The book of Numbers is in three parts.

 

Part I, Israel prepares to leave Mount Sinai (1:1-10:10)

 

In this part of the book, we are told how the Lord instructed the people of Israel to prepare themselves for the next part of their journey, from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land.  The people of Israel had been at Mount Sinai for almost a year, and they were a very large company of people.  The men over the age of 20 alone were over 600,000.  To organise their departure from Sinai towards the Promised Land was not an easy matter.  In this part of the book we read that first a census was taken, and then arrangements were made for how the tribes would be placed in relation to the Tent of Meeting.  Various other arrangements were also made for the long trek to the Promised Land.

 

Part 2, Israel travels from Mount Sinai to the Plains of Moab (10:11-25:18)

 

This section of the book is full of incidents as the people travel to the Plains of Moab. These are some of the main events that we find recorded in this section of the book:

 

 The people complained because of the hardships and the food and were judged by the Lord (ch. 11).

 Miriam and Aaron opposed Moses and Miriam was judged with leprosy (ch. 12).

 Moses sent spies into the Promised Land to spy out the land, but 10 of the 12 spies discouraged the people so that they refused to enter the land (chs. 13-14).  Because of this, the Lord judged the people so that the wandered around in the wilderness for forty years before entering the Promised Land.

  A man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath and was put to death (ch. 15).  This shows us that the law of God is very important and we need to obey it fully.

 There was a great rebellion against Moses led by Korah, a Levite (ch. 16).  He and his companions in this rebellion were severely judged and died.

 Tragically, Moses fell into sin which prevented him from entering the Promised Land (ch. 20).

 Both Aaron and Mirian died in the wilderness and were buried there (ch. 20).

 The people complained bitterly against Moses and against God about their trials.  The Lord judged them by sending snakes to bite them so that anyone who was bitten died.  Moses was then commanded to make a bronze snake, and anyone who looked at the bronze snake did not die of snake bite (ch. 21).

 Finally, when the people reached the Plains of Moab, Balak, king of Moab, bribed a pagan prophet called Balaam to prophesy against them.  The Lord prevented Balaam from doing this so that Balaam instead blessed the people of Israel (chs. 22-24).  Balak and Balaam, however, were particularly wicked men and they enticed the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality (Num. ch. 25; Rev. 2:14).

 

Part 3, Israel prepares to enter the Promised Land (chs. 26-36)

 

When the people of Israel reached the Plains of Moab they were almost ready to enter the Promised Land, and so they began to make plans for this.  The main things that Israel did as part of this preparation were these:

 

 A census was taken of all males over the age of 20 (ch. 26).

 Various matters relating to daughters inheriting land were dealt with (chs. 27 and 36).

 Joshua was appointed Moses’ successor (ch. 27).

 Instructions were given to the people of Israel with regard to daily offerings and the feasts (chs. 28-31).

 The distribution of the land among the tribes was dealt with (chs. 32 and 34).

 

Lessons from the book of Numbers

 

When we first begin to read the book of Numbers we wonder what relevance it has to us.  The whole book is about the nation of Israel travelling to the Promised Land and getting ready to invade it.  How could that be relevant to us?  But we need to remember that this is God’s word and that the whole of God’s word is relevant to us at all times.  This book, therefore, has some very important lessons to teach us.

 

1.  Numbers teaches us that even the people of God can fall into terrible sin.  In this book we read that Korah, who was of the priestly tribe of Levi fell into sin, that Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ sister and brother, fell into sin by rebelling against Moses, and then we read that Moses himself fell into sin by disobeying God.  This is a reminder to us that although we are saved, we are not yet sinless and that we have to guard ourselves very carefully because sin is always near us, trying to take control of our lives.

 

2.  Numbers teaches us that a lot of people can appear on the outside to be the people of God, but actually are not saved at all.  We read that a very large company of people followed Moses out of Egypt and entered into a covenant with God at Mount Sinai.  But we learn from the book of Numbers that although these people appeared on the outside to be God’s people, actually many of them were never saved at all.  They rebelled against God and His servants because they did not have faith.  The Bible says about them, “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert; the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard it did not combine it with faith” (1 Cor. 10:5; Heb. 4:2).  It is very easy to appear to be saved on the outside while remaining unsaved all the time.  This is why the Bible says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5).

 

3.  Numbers teaches us that God is faithful to His people.  We read in this book that time and time again the people complained against Moses and against God.  When God provided manna from heaven for them, they said, “If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.  But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (11:4-7).  Later, they said, “If only we had died in Egypt!  Or in the desert!  Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?  Our wives and children will be taken as plunder.  Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?  We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (14:2-4).

 

In saying all these things they were breaking the covenant they had made with the Lord because the Lord had said to them, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” and they had replied, “We will do everything the Lord has said” (Ex. 19:5;8).  But in complaining and in planning to return to Egypt they were disobeying the covenant.  But the Lord is good and faithful.  He did punish them, but He did not destroy the nation of Israel and He did not cancel the covenant.  He did not say to them, “You return to Egypt, the agreement between us is over.”  Instead He continued to be good and kind and gracious to them.

 

4.  Numbers teaches us that God is just and holy, and that He punishes sin.  In this book we read that when the people of Israel sinned against God, He punished them severely, so that most of them died in the desert and did not see the Promised Land.  We read of how Korah rebelled against Moses and was killed.  And we read of how Miriam became leprous because of her rebellion against Moses, and how Moses himself was punished for disobeying the Lord.  We read that a man who collected sticks on the Sabbath was put to death.  This teaches us that all sin is serious in the sight of God and that God is holy and just and punishes all sin.

 

5.  Numbers teaches us that God is just and fair in all His dealings.  At the end of this book we read about the daughters of a man called Zelophehad.  This man’s clan had no sons, only daughters.  These daughters came to Moses to ask about the distribution of the land, because each clan had been promised a piece of land.  When Moses asked the Lord about it, the Lord said, “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right.  You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and turn their father’s inheritance over to them.”  Then the Lord commanded Moses to make a law in Israel: “If a man dies and leaves no son, turn his inheritance over to his daughter” (27:7-8).  In many cultures today women are not allowed to inherit land from their fathers or husbands.  But this is not right in God’s sight.  God commanded His people Israel to make sure that daughters can inherit their father’s property if there is no son.

 

Reading Numbers

 

When we first start reading Numbers we come across a difficulty because it begins with a long list of names and with details about how the tribes were to be organised.  This sometimes discourages people from reading the whole book.  However, it is an important book and it has a lot of very good stories in it from Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness.  Do not give up reading it.  Read it one chapter at a time and make sure you read it through to the end.

Lesson Five, The Book of Deuteronomy

 

The book of Deuteronomy is one of the most important books in the Old Testament.  It is quoted frequently in the New Testament, and the Lord Jesus quoted from it three times when He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness.

 

What this book is about

 

In the book of Numbers we read that Moses sent 12 spies into the Promised Land to spy out the land that the Israelites were to invade (Numbers chs. 13-14).  When these spies returned to the Israelite camp, ten of them discouraged the people saying that the inhabitants of the land were like giants and that the Israelites would not be able to overcome them.  The people of Israel believed these ten men and refused to go into the Promised Land.  Because of this lack of faith, God judged them severely.  He told Moses, “As surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times – not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers.  No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it” (Num. 14:21-23).  To the people of Israel God said, “in this desert your bodies will fall – every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me.  Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make you home” (Num. 14:29-30).  This means that all the adult men who left Egypt with Moses died in the desert because of their sin.  The people who entered the Promised Land were not the ones who left Egypt, it was their children.  The only two who were spared this judgement of God were the two spies who had faith in God: Joshua and Caleb (Num. 14:30).

 

And so when the people of Israel reached the Plains of Moab and were preparing to enter the Promised Land, they were a generation who were either too young to remember the deliverance from Egypt and the covenant on Mount Sinai or they had not been born when these events took place.  The book of Deuteronomy, therefore, is Moses telling them of these events and giving to them the law of God as it was revealed at Mount Sinai.

 

The contents of this book

 

The book of Deuteronomy consists of three sermons preached by Moses to the new generation of Israelites just before they entered the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua.

 

1.  Moses’ first sermon (1:6-4:40).  This sermon is in two parts.

 

(i) Moses informs the new generation of Israelites of what has happened over the past 40 years since Israel left Sinai (chs. 1-3).

 

(ii) Moses gives instructions in a general form to the children of Israel on how they are to behave when they have entered the Promised Land (ch. 4).  He tells them that they are to obey the Lord their God and he tells them that they are not to worship idols.

 

2.  Moses’ second sermon (4:44-26:19).  In this long section, Moses gives to the children of Israel the specific laws that God gave him on Mount Sinai.  He gives once again the Ten Commandments and the various laws that he was given by the Lord.  He tells them repeatedly that the great thing God looks for in them is loving obedience.  They are to love the Lord their God.  Also in this section there are regulations as to how the people of Israel are to worship the Lord their God.

 

3.  Moses’ third sermon (chs. 27-30).  This is the conclusion of Moses’ teaching to the children of Israel.  He tells them that if they will obey the Lord then they will be blessed in the Promised Land, but that if they will disobey Him, then all manner of calamities will come upon them and they will be sent out of the land into exile.  He encourages them to be obedient to the Lord and to follow Him all their lives.

 

In chapters 31-34 then we read of the conclusion of Moses’ ministry as leader of Israel.  He transfers the leadership to Joshua, gives praise to the Lord, blesses the Twelve Tribes and then dies.

 

Lessons from this book

 

The book of Deuteronomy has several very important lessons to teach us.

 

1.  Deuteronomy teaches us that it is important to know of God’s dealings with His people in the past.  When a new generation came up, Moses knew it was important for them to know the history of their nation.  This is why he told them about all of God’s works among His people in the wilderness.  The Bible is full of history where we read about the works of God among His people.  We are to read and study all these books because they teach us such important lessons about God and His ways.

 

2.  Deuteronomy teaches us that the law of God is important.  When a new generation came up, Moses taught them the whole law including the Ten Commandments all over again.  This is because the law of the Lord is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path (Ps. 119:105).  In other words, the law of God is there to guide us in our Christian lives.  We are saved by grace through faith and not by keeping the law, but we are saved to live lives of obedience to the law of God.

 

3.  Deuteronomy teaches us that we are to love the Lord our God.  Moses said to the Israelites, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5).  The children of Israel were not to just obey certain commands from God, they were to love the Lord their God and live lives of obedience to Him because they loved Him.  Their religion was not to be an outward religion of temple services and sacrifices, it was to be a religion of the heart.

 

Reading Deuteronomy

 

Deuteronomy is not a particularly difficult book to read.  It does not have long lists of names and long sections on food laws and things like that.  It is a summary of the law the Israelites were given at Mount Sinai.  Read it through from beginning to end chapter by chapter remembering that these are the words of Moses to the Israelites just before the entered the Promised Land.