4. Egyptian time, e.g.: http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/question.php?number=594
The story of the birth of the nation of Israel is a long and complicated history,
which we will not cover here, but you can read about in the books of Genesis and
Exodus. Suffice to say here that the nation comprised 12 tribes approximately corresponding
to the sons of Jacob.
The prophecy of what would happen to the Israelites happened exactly as God had predicted
to Abraham, and they became slaves in Egypt. It is an interesting observation that
the sons of Isaac and Israel became slaves to the very nation from which Abraham’s
eldest son, who used to mock Isaac, came. Ishmael’s mother, Sarah’s maid Hagar was
Egyptian. As God had said, after 400 years, they were a humiliated and oppressed
nation and could have been forgiven for thinking they had been abandoned by God.
But as is the theme of this book, God is faithful. He had not forgotten them, but
was about to show them by miraculous signs and wonders that his covenant with Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob was for real and forever.
Life in Egypt had become intolerable to the Israelites, to the point that the ruler
Pharaoh made a pronouncement that any male babies should be drowned at birth in case
the nation of slaves became too powerful and a potential threat to their masters.
One particular baby, whose family managed to save him, became a prince in Egypt,
but never forgot his roots. His name was Moses. As a result of killing a cruel slave
driver in protection of one of his countrymen, he was forced to flee to the land
of Midian, where he became a shepherd. Many years later in the desert, his attention
was drawn to a bush that was burning, but not consumed. As he approached it he heard
a voice telling him that he was on holy ground. The voice introduced itself as the
God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob whose name was I AM. In Hebrew this is JHVH we sometimes
spell and pronounce as Yahweh. No one knows how to pronounce JHVH, as it was such
a feared name to the Israelites, but I like one possible pronunciation: an in-breath
followed by an out-breath. Yahweh sent Moses to bring the people of Israel out of
captivity by threatening the Egyptians with a series of plagues. The plagues involved,
frogs, flies, hail, darkness, etc, but culminated in the threat to kill their firstborn
sons. Pharaoh did not submit to any of the threats or plagues and refused to release
The Israelites were told by God to prepare themselves to leave Egypt, but first to
have a special meal. They were to bake bread without yeast. Then to take a 1 year
old lamb and kill it. They had to take a branch of hyssop, dip it in the blood of
the lamb and smear blood over the doorposts and lintels of their homes. Then sit
down and eat the bread and the lamb and wait for instructions to leave. At midnight,
the Angel of Death crossed the land and the eldest son in any home without the blood
in evidence, was slain. As the cry of anguish went up from the Egyptians, the Israelites
picked up their belongings and marched out to the Promised Land.
This event was known as the Passover, as the Angel of Death passed over those homes
that had been covered by the blood of the lamb. Again we have the recurring theme
of the substitution of the lamb for the death of a person, the firstborn. The Passover
is still celebrated even today by Jews all over the world.
God brought the people of Israel out of bondage and eventually into the land that
he had promised to their ancestors. On the way He gave them precise regulations and
instructions on how they should live: to be a people set apart from all others: a
chosen people. Not because they were anything special or had great attributes, but
simply because He had made a promise on oath to their ancestors. These regulations
were written down and known as the Torah or The Law. The Torah comprises the first
5 books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy).
The Torah describes how a person was supposed to live to a great level of detail.
To break the Law in one point was to break the whole Law. It was an all-or-nothing
package. But to break the law meant death. God then introduced them to the concept
of substitution. A person who broke the law in any point could receive forgiveness
through sacrifice. This was called atonement, which is defined in the dictionary
as: to make satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; to make amends.
A number of different types of sin were identified and a corresponding sacrifice
was required to make atonement. Sacrifices consisted typically of a lamb or a goat
or a bull and the ritual could be carried out only by designated priests. Some sacrifices
were to be completely burned up; others were roasted and the priests had to eat the
meat; still others were a shared meal, like a barbeque, as a festivity or celebration.
The sacrificial system was based around the Tabernacle which was a mobile temple
constructed very precisely to the design given to Moses by God. Erected within a
larger enclosure was a tent-like structure with two main rooms. Outside of the first
room was a huge basin of water used for ritual cleansing. Before entering, the priest
had to bathe and don ceremonial dress. Alongside this was the Altar of Sacrifice,
which was a table about 8 feet square on which a fire burned continually, which was
used for the cooking or consummation of the sacrifices. This altar was made with
a wooden frame and covered with bronze.
The first room was called the Holy Place in which there were several objects associated
with worship. To the left side was a large lampstand comprising seven lights. You
may be familiar with the Jewish Menorah which is a miniature copy of this. To the
right side was a table on which loaves of bread and cups of wine were kept for sacramental
use by the priests. In front was a small altar of incense which was kept continually
burning. It was the duty of the priests to ensure the lampstand had a continuous
supply of oil, the alter was replenished regularly with fuel and incense and that
the bread and wine were continually refreshed once a week. Behind the altar of incense
was a large and very heavy curtain about 30 feet across. Behind the curtain was the
Holy of Holies, into which the high priest would enter only once a year on the Day
of Atonement, also known as Yom Kippur.
Inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant, which was a golden box about
4 feet long inside which were two stone tablets on which were carved the 10 Commandments.
On top of the Ark was a golden seat called the Mercy Seat over which there were 2
golden angels with outspread wings. Above the Mercy Seat was a supernatural light,
called the Shekinah or the Glory of God. As the whole of the Tabernacle was covered
with 4 layers of fabric, including badgers skins, and porpoise skins this would naturally
have been a very dark and totally silent place. However, the Shekinah reflecting
from the golden alter, mercy seat and angels must have made it an awesome, if not
terrifying place to be. Added to this, if the priest had not followed precise instructions
before entry on the Day of Atonement, the punishment was death.
The Holy Place was a model of Heaven, which we see described in the book of Revelation
and the Holiest was a model of the very throne room of God. This was indeed an awesome
place since it is the entry point at which the Infinite enters our time and space.
This was the very gateway from our 3 dimensional universe into the Heavenlies.
The curtain dividing these two rooms is significant, in that it was similar to the
one in the temple that was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died on the cross 1500
years later. The symbolism of that was that the presence of God was no longer confined
to the Holy of Holies, to be entered once a year, but there was to be a new way to
meet with Him.
The High Priest was selected annually from amongst the priests whose entire life
was spent working in and around the temple. All priests came from a particular ancestral
line. They were from one particular tribe who were the descendents of one of Jacob’s
son’s called Levi. By the time the Israelites had settled in the land of Israel,
the tribe of Levi had grown to several hundred thousand people.
The function of the priest was to carry out the sacrifices and only a priest was
permitted to sacrifice. The purpose of sacrifice was to substitute an animal in place
of the death of one who had sinned.
The priesthood, the vestments, the cleansing rituals, the food, the lighting, the
incense, the sacrificial rituals: all were very precisely described and had to be
obeyed absolutely. Failure to comply with attention to the smallest detail could
result in death or at least a further sacrifice to make amends for that failure.
The animals were ritually killed by cutting the throat and then butchered. The body
parts were washed with water and the animal was then usually roasted on an altar.
There were all kinds of regulations about what parts of the sacrifice could be eaten
and by whom. The fat was not to be eaten, but had to be burned off. We now know that
fat is not good to eat as it contains the animal’s toxins as well as causing high
blood pressure. Some animals were deemed as unclean, like pigs and rabbits. We now
know that such animals, being carnivorous carry diseases. Blood was not to be consumed.
Again we know that blood also can carry diseases. However, none of this modern knowledge
was available to the Jews 3000 years ago. They were simply following God’s instructions.
The blood of the sacrifice had special significance, as they were told that the life
is in the blood (Deuteronomy 12:23). The blood was always poured out. In some situations
it was poured around the altar and on the ground; in other cases it was sprinkled
on the priests or the people present. In yet another situation the priest would dip
his finger in the blood and apply it to the right ear lobe, right thumb and right
toe. This was symbolic of obedience in terms of hearing from God, obeying in action
and walking on the right path. This may also be a significant symbolism in that Jesus
was executed with nails driven through his hands and feet and a crown of thorns cutting
into his head.
You can imagine the stench there would have been around the tabernacle with blood
and meat everywhere, every day and in the heat of the Middle East. The whole system
seems very strange to our culture and fortunately is no longer required, but neither
the Jews in those days, nor us with our enlightened knowledge really understand the
significance of the effects of sin and the requirement for atonement. To God, the
sin of man is the ugliest and foulest thing possible and by comparison, the stench
of slaughter and the odour of burnt sacrifice was a sweet-smelling savour (Leviticus
In particular there was a daily sacrifice at 9 am and again at 3 pm. These were carried
out on an altar made of wood and covered with bronze. There were more sacrifices
on the Sabbath Day as well as additional special sacrifices on appointed feast days.
Jesus was nailed to the cross at 9 am and died at 3 pm. He was nailed to a wooden
cross using bronze spikes through his hands and feet. There are many other aspects
of the priesthood and the sacrifice, which are shadows or types of Jesus.
There were 7 appointed annual feast days when the Jews were required to be in Jerusalem.
They were grouped together to reduce the travel to 3 times a year, during the Spring
and Autumn. As Jerusalem is roughly central, no one would have had to travel more
than about 80 miles.
The Feast of Passover marked the anniversary of the salvation from the angel of death
when they left Egypt. It is an elaborate meal involving roast lamb and herbs.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread also marked the preparation of the slaves by baking
bread without yeast as they made ready to leave Egypt. Leaven or yeast is symbolic
in the Bible of sin. In bread-making, it takes time to rise and they had no time
to lose as they had their last meal before leaving Egypt. During this feast the Jews
go right through their homes eradicating all leaven.
The Feast of Firstfruits was the bringing of the first incoming of the harvest and
a time of celebration.
The Feast of Pentecost was 50 days later when the harvest was all gathered and was
another time of celebration.
The Feast of Trumpets was the sounding of a trumpet as a call to sacrifice and worship.
The Feast of Atonement was a time for repentance from sin and associated with fasting.
The Feast of Tabernacles involved building of booths made of twigs in which the Jews
would spend several days reminding themselves of the years in the wilderness.
All of these feast days have been celebrated by Jews for thousands of years, although
as a nation they do not even now understand the full significance. All of the sacrifices
and feast days pointed towards the sacrifice of Jesus, which was still over 1500
years in the future from when they were instituted by God. As we shall see, He was
crucified and buried on the day of the Feast of the Passover, he lay in the tomb
during the Feast of Unleavened bread and rose again from the dead on the Feast of
Firstfruits. The Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection.
The remaining three feasts are associated with the second coming of Jesus Christ
and we will discuss these later in the book.
It is interesting to note that God himself instituted the tabernacle, the sacrificial
system and the 7 feasts for Israel. However both the Israelites and subsequently
the Church have embellished these institutions far beyond what God originally intended,
which has led to all kinds of confusion.
The Tabernacle was originally a tent, for which the design was given to Moses. As
Israel became more sophisticated and conquered the nations around them, they thought
that their God deserved a much better dwelling place. So King Solomon built a magnificent
new Temple in 960 BC. Even though this was not part of the original plan, God came
to dwell in it. This is an example of where God sometimes goes along with our plans,
even though they are not His plans.
Solomon’s Temple was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the next thousand years,
being refurbished by the evil King Herod around 20 BC. The temple was more of a tribute
to Herod himself. So it is with many of our wonderful buildings and churches, allegedly
built for the glory of God, that are actually more about the glory of man than of
God never intended that Israel should have a king. God himself was to be their King
(Hosea 13:10,11), but they wanted a human king, like all the other nations. So God
gave them their own way, but the kings, after a fairly good start became increasingly
corrupt and evil until God eventually put an end to the monarchy. It is still God’s
intention that He will be the King of Israel and indeed the whole world. That is
yet to happen.
Another example of where we think we know better than God is the subject of financial
interest or usury as it is called in the Torah. The current financial crisis is caused
by greed, high risk and high interest rates, which are expressly forbidden by God
It would seem that some human beings take delight in opposing God. He has given us
laws, but we disobey them. We seem unable to do just what God requires, but rather
ignore it or replace it with something else. Israel demonstrates this throughout
its history and western Christianity continues this trend. We think we know best
and want to bend and fashion God into our image rather than us being in His image.