Five Big Promises God Made at Mt. Sinai About “the Place”

Mt. Sinai is famed as the place God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses. What many may not realize is that God also made five big promises at Mt. Sinai about “the place” that were key to the Israelites’ destiny and to the future Messiah.

The place – what were these promises?  God promised to lead the Israelites to the land that He swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the place for their descendants to possess; the place to establish a kingdom of the nation of Israel; the permanent place for His Name to dwell; the exclusive place for Israel to observe the Passover; and the place for the judgement seat of Israel.[1]

God just didn’t say exactly where the place would be. Great faith in these promises was required for a fledgling nation of people who had just fled the only life they had ever known – slavery in Egypt.

Spies on a recon mission found the land promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Canaan to be occupied with many enemies, their kings and their militaries. Moving to that place seemed an impossible task, especially for a ragtag nation of former slaves without a military. In fact, doubts and lack of faith by the Exodus generation at Mt. Sinai would cost them from seeing God’s promised land.[2]

A kingdom required a king and his dominion over a land with boundaries, but the Hebrews were a people isolated in the desert wilderness without a king or a country. Everywhere they would trek, the local inhabitants would go to war to defend their lands to keep out the Israelites. Every kingdom had a seat of the Throne, the monarchy’s base of power, which for security reasons must be located in a fortified city protected by a military. If there was no king, no land, and no fortified city for the Throne, how could there be a kingdom?

For a permanent place for the Name of God to dwell required a temple to replace the temporary Tabernacle tent and its Holy of Holies. A temple also required protection from heathen enemies inside a defensible, centralized city. Fundamental to a theocracy, this temple had to be located in the nation’s capital.

According to the Law, the Passover was to be celebrated at its appointed time requiring the sacrifices to be offered by the priests of God at the central place of worship. For a perpetual place to observe the Passover required a permanent sacrificial alter in close proximity to the Temple with enough open space surrounding it to accommodate tens of thousands of people and priests.

A high court to judge the most important and most complicated cases of the nation in the place God chose, by its definition, was to become the judgement seat of Israel.  As the highest court in a theocratic government, it had to be located in close proximity to the seat of the Throne and the Temple.[3] This highest court was part of the hierarchal judicial system structure previously implemented by Moses.

None of these promises seemed like even the remotest reality to the Israelites who, after 400 years, were starting from scratch after escaping from under the harsh rule of Pharaoh. Yet against all odds over the coming centuries, these five prophetic promises did become a reality.

Israel conquered its enemies and took possession of the land promised by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, where each of the 12 tribes of the sons of Israel were allotted their own land apportionment. Israel’s now formidable military protected the nation even before the establishment of a kingdom.

A king, the most famous in Hebrew history, was born in Bethlehem in the lineage of Judah fulfilling the royal prophetic blessing of Judah by his own father, Israel. The giant slayer, King David, conquered and occupied the fortified city of Jebus or Salem, soon thereafter called Jerusalem. The city became the seat of the Throne of David over the kingdom of Israel.

King Solomon, son of David, built the Temple still known to this day as the Temple of Solomon, its Western Wall remnants a most holy place for Jews today.[4] This new Temple was consecrated and blessed by Solomon where the first sacrifices offered on its permanent alter were burned by fire sent down from heaven.[5]

The Passover was observed at its appointed time with the sacrifices offered by the priests of God on the permanent altar at the new Temple.[6]Annual pilgrimage to The Passover would resume after the Babylonian captivity at the Second Temple until Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome.

Lastly, the judgement seat of Israel, the highest court in the land for both civil and criminal cases, was established in the capital city of Jerusalem. Civil cases were judged in the Hall of Judgement, initially decided by the famed wisdom of Solomon, on the porch of the King’s palace.[7]

Built into the northern wall of the Temple was the Chamber of Hewn Stone. It served as the meeting place for the 70 elders of Israel, later to become known as the Great Sanhedrin.[8] In a theocratic government where God’s Law serves as the criminal code, the highest level of criminal offenses, including some capital death cases, were judged in this Chamber.[9]

God’s five big promises at Mount Sinai laid the ground work for the appearance of the House of David and the subsequent prophecies of the Messiah tied specifically to its legacy. Once the Throne of David legacy was established, over the coming centuries prophets Isaiah, Zechariah, Jeremiah and Micah would reveal specific prophecies announcing the Messiah would come from the House of David, son of Jesse, of the Tribe of Judah, the son of Jacob.[10]

Isaiah’s prophecy of “My Servant” described a cruel sacrificial-type judgement resulting in a death verdict which, during the period of the Second Temple, could only be rendered in the judgement seat of Israel, Jerusalem.[11] Zechariah’s prophecy predicted God would comfort the descendants of David in the city of Jerusalem as they mourned over the death of the one whom they had pierced, their depth of mourning as for the death of a first born only son.[12]

With 100% accuracy of fulfillment of all five big promises made by God at Mt. Sinai about “the place” – from the Exodus to King Solomon’s reign, which in turn fulfilled the prophetic promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah – what are the odds it was all just a gigantic coincidence?[13]

REFERENCES:
 [1] Genesis 17, 22, 35, 49; Exodus 23, 33; Deuteronomy 12, 16, 17.
[2]  Numbers 14.
 [3] Exodus 18; Deuteronomy 1, 17, 19; Numbers 11.
 [4] 1 Kings 6; 2 Chronicles 3.
 [5] I Chronicles 6; Leviticus 9; Nehemiah 11.
 [6] II Chronicles 8.
 [7] 1 Kings 3, 4, 7.
[8] Exodus 18; Deuteronomy 1, 17; Numbers 11; I Chronicles 19.  Shachter and Freedman.  “Introduction to Sanhedrin.”  Soncino Babylonian Talmud. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/index.html>  Ariel, Yisrael. “The Chamber of the Hewn Stone.” The Temple Institute.  2014.  <https://www.templeinstitute.org/illustrated/hewn_stone_description.htm>  Ariel, Yisrael. “Blueprints for the Holy Temple.”  <http://www.templeinstitute.org/blueprints-for-the-holy-temple.htm
[9]  Schoenberg, Shira. “Ancient Jewish History: The Sanhedrin.” 2017.  <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-sanhedrin>   Shachter, J. and Freedman, H.  “ Sanhedrin.”   
[10] Isaiah 7, 9; 11; Jeremiah 23, 33; Zechariah 3, 6, 12.
[11] Isaiah 52-53. Sanhedrin 16a, 17a. Shachter, J. and Freedman, H.  “Sanhedrin.” Josephus.  Antiquities. Book IV, Chapter VIII.14; Book XX, Chapter IX.4.  “Ancient Jewish History: The Beit Din.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2017.http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-beit-din>
 [12] Zechariah 12.
 [13] 2 Chronicles 6.

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The Day Jesus Was Crucified – An Appointed Time?

Execution of Jesus of Nazareth didn’t happen on just any day of the year…the timing is simply too hard to ignore. The day Jesus was crucified – an appointed time or simply a 1-in-365 odds happenstance incident?

Of all the days in the year for Jesus to be crucified, it occurred on the first day of the Jewish Passover commemorating the event when the sacrifice of an innocent lamb had once been required of God for salvation from slavery and tyranny. Merriam-Webster defines sacrifice as “an act of offering to a deity something precious.”

Crucifixion circumstances were completely controlled by the archenemies of Jesus and the Roman government; impossible to be controlled by anyone else – not a human messiah figure, not his Disciples nor any alleged Christian conspirators.

Does the timing at The Passover have a deeper significance, a divine parallelism? Clues to a possible answer start with a basic understanding of an appointed time in the Hebrew Law given by God at Mt. Sinai.

_ _ _ _ _

From the burning the bush at the base of Mt. Sinai, God told Moses to return to Egypt after a 40-year exile. Along with his brother Aaron, they confronted the mighty Pharaoh with the message – it was clear and succinct:

Ex 5:1 …”Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.’”(NKJV)

Pharaoh was not initially willing to give up his slave labor force, but he paid a big price for taking that stance. Suffering through several plagues, Egypt’s Ruler was finally looking to stop their misery and commanded, “‘Go, serve the Lord your God.”

Having an afterthought he asked, “Exactly who is going with you?” Pharaoh realized he was about to make a big mistake if he let all the Hebrews leave. On the other hand, if he allowed only the Hebrew men to go have this feast, he could hold their families hostage.[i]

Moses countered with a response that ruined Pharaoh’s scheme: “We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and with our sheep and our cattle we will go, because we are to hold a pilgrim feast for the Lord.”[ii]

‘No way!’ was the essence of Pharaoh’s response saying “‘No! Go, you men only, and serve the Lord, for that is what you want.’ Moses and Aaron were then driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.”[iii]The plague of locusts followed making it clear that nothing less than a full release of the Israelites was acceptable to God. Next came the 9th plague of deep darkness for three full days.

Leading up to the horrible night of the 10th plague, God offered protection for the Hebrews by following a precise sacrificial ritual. Each family chose one of their unblemished lambs, sacrificed it, splashed its blood on the door posts of their homes, and roasted the lamb for a family feast at sunset.

At midnight, the angel of death passed over any home with the blood splashed on the doorposts sparing the lives of the Hebrew firstborn. For the Egyptians, the 10th plague was devastating. Every firstborn, young and old, even the livestock, died that night including the Ruler’s own son. Pharaoh’s resolve was finally broken.

Salvation from the plague of death set the stage for what would become Israel’s first legally mandated Feast observance saying, “It is the LORD’s Passover.” Every year thereafter, the Passover was to be observed as a celebration festival to remember how God delivered the Hebrews from Egyptian tyranny:[iv]

Ex 12:14‘So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.(NKJV)

A few weeks later, God handed down the Law to Moses at the top of Mt. Sinai. The Law defined the observance of three annual Festivals or Feasts using similar terms as for the weekly Sabbath, each called “a holy assembly” or “holy convocation.” The Passover opened the annual festival cycle beginning with the Feast of Unleavened Bread to be observed in the place God chooses at its appointed time in the month of Abib aka Nissan 14th – 21st:[v]

Lev. 23:4-7 ‘These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times.

‘On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD’S Passover.

‘And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.

‘On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. (NKJV)

For the Passover, the primary component was the sacrifice of the paschal lamb. The feast and the week that followed were to be a time of solemn celebration in remembrance of God’s miraculous deliverance from slavery and tyranny.

Was it merely a coincidence that Jesus of Nazareth, found to be innocent by rulers of Judah (Herod) and Rome (Pilate), was still crucified at the behest of the Jewish Council on the first day of Passover? Chance or a divine plan?

REFERENCES:
NKJV = New King James Version translation.
NET = NETBible translation
[i] NET
[ii] NET
[iii] Quotes from NET translation. Exodus 10[iv] Exodus 12
[iv] Exodus 13, 34.
[v] Exodus 12; Deuteronomy 16; Leviticus 23. “Abib” and “Nisan.”  Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.

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Turn of Events – a Resurrection?

In a matter of moments, the Roman-Jewish legally imposed chain of custody over the body of Jesus of Nazareth was broken. What happened? For the more than 2000 years, the incident that occurred at dawn on Sunday, the third day of Passover, has been debated countless times. Believers say it was a Resurrection; skeptics have proposed many Resurrection conspiracy theories to explain how the body simply vanished.

Anyone trying to steal the body would encounter an armed Roman-Jewish military squad, the koustodia. Further, the tomb was sealed in the presence of the Roman authorities and the Jewish leadership to ensure that didn’t happen.

The case of the Resurrection on or about sunrise of Nissan 17 enters the final phase in the sequence of events preceded by the trial, crucifixion and burial of Jesus of Nazareth. Mark attributes a significant number of eight verses and Matthew seven verses to describe the first series of events. Luke paraphrased it this way:

LK 24:1  “Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.” (NKJV)

Predawn finds Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jose, Salome, and Joanna fretting about who would roll away the stone set in place on Friday evening by Joseph of Arimathea. Three conclusions can be drawn:  the women expected to find the dead body of Jesus; they were not accompanied by either Joseph or Nicodemus nor any of the Disciples, and they were unaware of the koustodia guarding the sealed tomb.

At this juncture, there are now two named Jewish council members, four named women from Galilee, the Jewish leadership declaration to Pilate, his Roman government decision, and the koustodia guards – all were witnesses to the fact that the body of Jesus was in the tomb leading up to dawn of Sunday morning.

Calm and quiet quickly took a dramatic turn when Matthew describes that a great earthquake struck. At this moment the four women and the koustodia saw the stone being rolled away from the entrance to the tomb:

MT 28:2-4 “And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.” (NKJV)

Witness accounts gathered by the authors of Matthew and Mark describe the individual responsible for opening the tomb as an “angel” or a young man wearing a wrap-around, brilliant white robe. Shortly thereafter, Luke’s report describes two husband-aged men in dazzling apparel.[i]These two angelic beings point out to the witnesses that the tomb is empty.

Seasoned Roman-Jewish military soldiers and the women of Galilee were paralyzed with fear by the traumatic sequence of a great earthquake, the angelic being who rolled away the stone and his extraordinary announcement. Incapacitated, they watched and listened as the events at the tomb unfolded.

Some may ask how it can be known the koustodia witnessed the event? Simply by their actions and their own report. Reactions of witnesses to a traumatic event are indications of what was going through their minds. The hardcore military squad reacted in the same manner as the four women.

Matthew reports the chaotic scene where people were scattering in three directions. Mark reports the petrified and dumbstruck women didn’t say a word and ran from the tomb. Luke said they were “terrified.”[ii]

Headed for the location of the disciples were the women while the koustodia split up, some diverting to go tell the Jewish chief priests what they had seen, the others to destinations unknown. Unbecoming behavior by the koustodia is telling – what could have happened that would cause professional soldiers to abandon their posts? 

Whether Roman soldiers or Temple Guards, both were fierce, experienced warriors. In Wars, Josephus described Jews in hand-to-hand combat defending the Temple against the Romans, each side at times taking heavy casualties.[iii] In a few battles, the Jewish defenders actually won the day.  Reputation of Roman soldier discipline is legendary. Temple Guards were especially trained to stay awake all night – falling asleep on-duty could result in being set on fire by superiors.[iv]

Direct reports from the koustodia rang true with the chief priests based on their own reaction to the information. It posed an unexpected turn of events for the chief priests who quickly assembled the elders of the Jewish council (likely including Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea) to deal with their new problem.

Irony of ironies. The Jewish leadership who had implored Pilate to secure the tomb is the very same group who was now compelled to find a way to explain an inexplicable breach in their own Roman-Jewish security measures…something they had witnessed being put in place less than 24 hours earlier. Matthew describes what they decided to do:

MT 28:1? “You are to say, ‘His disciples came at night and stole his body while we were asleep.’

If this matter is heard before the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story is told among the Jews to this day.”(NET)

Bribes are only used to cover up an undesirable truth or to promote a deception. The council even promised to appease Pilate if the koustodia’s dereliction of duty became an issue confirming the guards were ultimately under the Roman authority of Pilate.

Meanwhile, the women of Galilee arrived at the location of some of the disciples. John’s eyewitness Gospel joins the description of events at this point with Mary Magdalene’s excited announcement to the disciples. He quotes Mary Magdalene blurting it out:

JN 20:2 “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (NET) 

Mary’s excited utterance is truth telling. An “excited utterance” is such a compelling statement of truth, it is considered under United States Federal Law to be an exception to the legal hearsay rule. Because the “excited utterance” is made spontaneously under the influence of a startling event before the witness has had an opportunity for reflection; it is, therefore, considered to be a truthful exclamation.[v] 

Both the koustodia and the women reported the same event to two different parties how the chain of custody over the body of Jesus was broken. Each party reacted differently to the information, but neither party called the reports false.

One group chose to investigate the empty tomb and found more evidence inside. The Jewish council had the basis for a legal complaint to Rome to challenge the broken chain of custody, but instead chose a cover-up option. Pilate was silent, too, and took no action. Why?  The turn of events – a Resurrection?

REFERENCES:

NET = NET Bible translation; NKJV = New King James Version translation.

Gospel Resurrection account: Matthew 28, Mark 16; Luke 24, John 20.

 [i] NetBible.org. Greek text. Matthew 28:2, aggelos and katabaino. Mark 16:5, neaniskos, periballo, and stole. Luke 24:4, astrapto and esthesis.
[ii] NASB, NIV, NRSV.
[iii] Josephus. Wars of the Jews. Book VI, Chapter IV.4-6; Book VI, Chapter I.1. “Temple, Administration and Service of.” JewishEncylcopedia.comhttp://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14303-temple-administration-and-service-of> 
[iv] Talmud Mishna Middot. The Sefaria Library. <http://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Middot.1/en/Sefaria_Community_Translation?lang=b “The Temple Guards and Their Mystical Meaning.” Chabad.org. <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3001283/jewish/The-Temple-Guards-and-Their-Mystical-Meaning.htm>
[v] “Excited Utterance.”  Cornell University Law School. <http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/excited_utterance>  and “Federal Rules of Evidence Article VIII.  Rule 803.  Exceptions to the Rule Against Hearsay.”  <http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/fre/rule_803

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