We open today’s readings with the Israelites complaining yet again. This time they’re thirsty and accuse Moses of bringing them, their children and their livestock out to the desert to die of thirst.
There’s a very interesting nugget in that accusation. You see, this is after the incident where they complained of hunger and were fed by mana from heaven. But now they are afraid they and their cattle will die? So they have livestock with them but were so hungry they were afraid they’d die? It brings back to mind an episode from Genesis that we just read a few days back (Day 19)
Now anyone that has ever eaten a steak, some lamb chops or even curried goat, we know that livestock can not only be eaten, but they’re actually delicious, and yet these people trade cattle for food. Both the Egyptians and Israelites either never occurred to them to eat the livestock, or there was something holding them back.
In emergency situations like a shipwreck or being marooned in a desolate location, some people resort to eating shoe leather, the seats of airplanes, and even sometimes the bodies of dead friends and relatives, but these two groups mentioned here were risking death rather than eat some cows and sheep. That really begs the question; why would they do that?
The answer can be found in the attitudes the Egyptians had towards the sacrifice of livestock, and that Moses said they’d have to venture far from towns and cities to have a sacrificial festival to the God of the Hebrews or else the Egyptians would stone them (Exodus 8:26).
The Egyptians so revered these animals, seeing them as living representations of some of their Gods (Apis and Mnevis, bull gods; Hathor, cow goddess; Amun and Khnum, ram gods). So we see here in this passage from Exodus that the people were holding on to these religious beliefs, even after God “defeated” the Egyptian gods by the ten plagues. They would rather risk dying than eating their cows and sheep, but now they’re dying of thirst.
So God instructs Moses to strike the rock and water flows out of it. This rock was a representation of Christ, who gives us living water that we will never again thirst (John 4) The people who drank this water that foreshadows the living water of Christ will eventually die natural deaths, and they also ate the mana that foreshadows the bread of life in Christ, but it’s only a taste of Whats to come(John 6). The thing it’s pointing towards give us life eternal.
This rock that has water flow from it, according to Jewish tradition that is mentioned by Saint Paul, then follows them through the desert so they always have water to drink.
Then there comes the first battle of the desert wanderings. Here they face off against the Amalekites and receive some divine assistance. Moses goes up on a hill to watch the battle, and he spreads his arms out wide on prayer, kind of how the priest holds his arms while celebrating the mass. And while his arms are up they are winning, but when he gets tired and lowers them they begin to lose. Seeing this, Aaron and Hur sit Moses down on a rock and each helps him hold up his arms.
A couple of things I see here; one of them being that even a man ordained for service to God’s people can use some assistance so say something encouraging to your pastor today and possibly think about helping out in that ministry that you’ve heard announcements about for weeks and they’re still seeking volunteers. The second thing is that Moses would almost appear to be in a cross like position up on that hill, and we know how Jesus is the new and greater Moses, so this would seem to be a foreshadowing of the crucifixion. Saint Justin Martyr said the same on his dialogue with Trypho
Chapter 18 starts with Moses’ father-in-law bringing his wife and sons to him in Sinai. Moses fills Jethro in on all that has happened, and he rejoices and says that the God of Moses is truly greater than all the gods of Egypt. At this point in the story, the gods of other nations are presumed to be real gods, but the God of the Hebrews is greater and mightier than they. It’s only in the progressive revelation of God to his people that they come to find out not only Is Yahweh greater, he’s the only God in existence. He is the creator of all and the only eternal One.
Jethro sees that Moses is sitting all day hearing cases brought to him by the people and making judicial decisions. This would be no small task, considering it says that 600,000 men departed Egypt, and when you count women and children that would swell to around 2,000,000. So Jethro gives Moses some wise counsel to set up layers of judges to hear easier cases and then to bump harder ones up to supervisors, and so on, until only the most difficult cases would reach Moses himself. This certainly would’ve taken some stress off of Moses.
Jesus departs the temple and heads across the valley outside the city walls and gives his final teachings in what is known as the Olivet Discourse. This discourse centers around the coming judgment on Jerusalem, and can also point towards the end of the world, but it’s primary fulfillment will come in less than 40 years from this time when General Vespasian leaves his son Titus in charge of the siege of Jerusalem in AD 69, and that siege results in the destruction of the temple one year later in 70.
At the start of this discourse, the disciples marvel at how beautiful the temple building is, but Jesus says that a day is coming when not a single stone is left on top of another. This comes to pass when the Roman soldiers not only burn it down, but then methodically throw the rubble off the Temple Mount that resulted in piles of rubble that’s still visible off the southwest corner of the mount, according to local traditions.
The disciples ask when this will be, and what will be the sign of his coming at the end of the age. This can be interpreted as being two separate questions, but I believe they both refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and not the end of time, although it can be read both ways.
Jesus then lists many things that will point to when this event will take place, and one of them being the gospel being preached throughout the whole world. Many modern Protestant groups believe this means to ever corner of the world in a literal sense, but Saint Paul uses this same phrase to mean “throughout the Roman Empire” for that was the “world” they lived in at the time, and by the middle of the first century Christianity had reached all corners of the Roman world.
The next thing he mentions is the Desolating Sacrilege mentioned by the prophet Daniel. In the context of Daniel, he was prophesying about the forces of Antiochus Epiphanes desecrating the temple and sacrificing a pig to Zeus on God’s altar. This event set off the Maccabee’s revolt, and ended with the temple being rededicated and cleansed. Jesus is prophesying about a similar desecration that ultimately happened when the Romans raised their eagle standard in the courtyard of the temple, pillaged it’s riches and razed it to the ground. If you were to visit Rome today, and look at Titus’ victory arch just outside the colosseum, you’d see many images of soldiers carrying away sacred loot from the temple.
Jesus closes out these warning by using a fig tree as a comparison to this coming judgment, promising that this generation, those witnessing his ministry and soon to be his death and resurrection, will not pass away before all these things come. And sure enough they didn’t (see Question; Israel & The Fig Tree for more)
Jesus also uses Noah as a comparison for his current age, and how the coming judgment will take the wicked unawares. The following verses are sometimes used by proponents of a “secret rapture” eschatology, where they say the one “taken” is going to heaven in a rapture, by being caught up into the sky, while the one “left behind” is left to deal with a seven year long tribulation. But these people fail to read the context of the these verses. In the days of Noah, which is what Jesus is talking about here, the ones “taken” are not the good guys. They’re the wicked that are taken away by the flood waters, while the ones “left behind” are the few of Noah’s family that survived the flood.
In the same warning that’s recorded in Luke, the apostles ask where these people will be taken too, and Jesus responds “where the body is, the eagles will gather.” This can also mean vultures, but essentially a scavenging bird that picks at a corpse. Not the blissful flight to heaven that avoids earthly suffering like some modern preachers proclaim it to be. Also, the eagle is the symbol of the Roman legions, and this phrase point right back to this coming judgment on Jerusalem.