MAN was put on earth with the power to choose between good and evil. No mere animal has such power — or such a great responsibility to make the right choice. But Man has to be told what is good and what is evil. God has to reveal it. That is why, again and again, God told Israel, generally through Moses, that the people must observe all the laws He had given them if they are to do good. He promised them many wonderful things if they would faithfully keep the rules given to them for their own happiness and security.
What God Has Promised
"If you will do as I have directed," God said, "many worthwhile rewards shall come to you. You shall receive plenty of rain. The land you are coming to shall yield such large crops that your grain harvest shall last till the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last till it's time again to plant grain. "You shall have plenty to eat. I will drive all evil beasts out of your land. You shall be safe from your enemies. If a hundred of them try to attack you, it will require only five of you to chase them away. If ten thousand soldiers come at you, it will take only a hundred of you to cause them to turn and flee for their lives! "I will respect you. I will cause you to have many healthy children and grow into a great nation. I will be pleased to continue dwelling among you." (Leviticus 26:3-9.) What else could any people ask for? Good health, plenty of good food, safety from enemies, safety from any evil creatures, good weather and peace of mind for obeying God — all these could be theirs on and on into the future. What would any nation give right now in these troubled times to have all these good things? Then God went on to relate the terrible things that would come on the Israelites if they disobeyed.
Why Wrong Living Brings Hardship
"If you ignore my rules," God told them, "and if you refuse to live by them and break the agreement we have made, then your future shall be one of misery, hardship and despair. "You shall become full of fears and constant worries. Your enemies shall kill you in great numbers. They shall win many battles and take over your homes and the crops you have sown. Your feeling of dread and danger shall be so great that you shall flee in fright even when no one is after you. "If you still refuse to listen to me after all this punishment, then I will bring many other awful things upon you. I will send severe famines and horrible plagues. At the same time, your enemies will trouble you more and more. "I will send ferocious wild beasts to destroy your livestock and eat up your children. So great shall be your fear of evil things to come on you that you shall even be afraid to venture out on the nearest roads or trails." (Leviticus 26:14-22.) Then God continued: "If these things fail to convince you that I mean what I say, and if you continue to refuse to live by the laws that are best for you, then I will punish you even more severely! "Your enemies shall completely conquer you. I will send terrible diseases on you. They shall spread among you when you gather together in your cities. Your supply of food shall dwindle down and down until you become aware that you are facing starvation! "If you still feel that your ways are better than mine, your food shall become so scarce that some of you shall roast and eat your own children!" (Verses 23-29.) Such a prediction probably seemed absurd to the Israelites, but it came true in Samaria and in Jerusalem many years later when their enemies cut them off from their food supplies.
What Idolatry Is
God also foretold what would happen if the people insisted on secretly worshipping ridiculous objects regarded as having miraculous powers. The foolish respect and adoration of certain lifeless objects isn't something done only by people considered primitive and ignorant. Even in civilized nations today there are many who prize such articles as coins, rabbits' feet, crosses, statues, images, insignia and such which are believed to bring "good luck" or harbor some unusual influence. This is a form of silly idolatry in which the first two Commandments are being broken. Having undue regard and desire for wealth, prestige, influence and pleasure — that is, they mean more than respect for the Creator — is also idolatry in God's sight. God had this to say to the Israelites concerning idols: "I will destroy them and the places in which you worship them. I will wipe out your cities and make your fields barren. Your families, tribes and nations shall be scattered as slaves to heathen nations." (Leviticus 26:30-33.) "But to those who realize they have sinned, and become humble and wise enough to admit it, I will be merciful." One would think that these wonderful promises and stern warnings would have caused the Israelites to make the right decisions for the future. Some were inspired to better living, but what most of them did afterward is an unhappy story that will come later, proving that God means what He says He will do.
Resentment Leads to Anger
There was a man living among the Israelites whose father was an Egyptian, and whose mother was an Israelite of the tribe of Dan. Because he was half Egyptian, he was regarded by some as an unwelome outsider. One day this man started to pitch his tent in a desirable spot amid the tents of the tribe of Dan. An Israelite saw what he was doing, and angrily strode up to him. "Who told you to take the best tent site?" the Israelite indignantly asked. The Egyptian-Israelite was greatly upset by those remarks. He stopped what he was doing and in loud tones told the critical Israelite what he thought of him. In his mounting rage he went on to yell out some terrible things about God. He cursed his Creator and called Him vile and awful names. Some of the Israelites who witnessed the scene were hardened men to whom profane language was commonplace. But such foul profanity aroused them to seize the offender and bring him before Moses. Witnesses went with the officers to tell what had happened, and to ask what punishment should be given to one who had so loudly mocked and reviled the Creator. "Hold the man for now," Moses instructed them, "I must find out from God what should be done with him." (Leviticus 24:10-12.)
Why God Required Capital Punishment
"This man who has cursed his Creator and others so spitefully is unfit to live," God told Moses. "If he continues to live he will cause others to sin and make themselves and their neighbors miserable. Take him to a place far outside the camps where witnesses to his profanity and hatred must cast heavy stones on the curser until he is dead!" Moses passed on these instructions to the people, who did as God commanded. The Egyptian-Israelite died soon afterward. (Verses 13-23.) The penalty of death imposed swiftly after a crime probably seems harsh and unjust treatment to some readers. Some might even think of God as a stern monster, eager to see people suffer for even the slightest reason. A careful reading of the whole Bible will bring out the fact that, rather than being cruel, God is far more merciful, just, patient and forgiving than any human being. If He were like you or me, He would have become so disgusted with mankind that He would have blasted every one out of existence many centuries ago. One of the judgments given to Israel was that anyone who cursed his parents should be subject to death. If breaking the Fifth Commandment is thus punishable, the punishment could be no less for one who curses God, the Creator of all parents. God's judgments are just, but humans try to substitute lesser ones. A person guilty in God's sight isn't overlooked. The only hope of escaping punishment is through Jesus Christ, who came to Earth for several reasons, including dying for man's sins. Sinners who feel very sorry for their wrong deeds, call on God for forgiveness and strive to live according to God's laws, can look forward to a bright future. Those who see others doing wrong and seemingly avoiding punishment should never feel envious. Why feel envious of those who will eventually be punished? Punishment is certain unless there is repentance. (Ps. 37.)
Moses Has Visitors
Perhaps you will recall that Moses was raised and educated in the palaces of Egypt, but that he later fled from there and went eastward to the land of Midian, where he became a herder of sheep. While he lived there he started writing the first book of the Bible. There, too, he was married to Zipporah, daughter of a priest named Jethro, the man for whom he worked. Two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, were born to Moses and Zipporah. (Exodus 2:21-22; 3:1;18:1-4.) When Moses, at God's command, set out to return to Egypt, he took his family with him. (Exodus 4:20.) However, Moses later decided there were good reasons not to take his family, and he sent the three back to stay with Jethro. Months had passed since Moses had seen his family. One day a stranger rode into camp — this was shortly before all the events at Mt. Sinai we have been reading about. He told alert guards who quickly surrounded him that he had a message for Moses. He was escorted to Moses' tent after the guards made certain he wasn't armed. Moses was so pleased to hear of the approaching caravan of his father-in-law that he decided to go back with the messenger. Some of his officers went along. They found Jethro's tents pitched only a few miles from the camps of the Israelites. Moses was happy to again be with his wife and two young sons. He greatly enjoyed a visit with them inside Jethro's tents. (Exodus 18:1-7.) Afterward, he had a long talk with Jethro, who was aware of the flight of the Israelites from Egypt but who was surprised to learn that his son-in-law had taken such a prominent part in the matter. Jethro was highly interested to hear from Moses all about the plagues, the miracles, the parting of the Red Sea, and the manner in which God had provided for the people. Jethro was of a priesthood family that served God among the Midianites who descended from Abraham. Assured by Moses that he would be welcome, Jethro gave orders for the tents to be taken down and packed. Accompanied by Moses and the Israelite aides, the caravan moved on and into the camps of Israel. Later, Jethro made a burnt offering and sacrifices to God. As a priest, he had an important part in the ceremonies. Afterward, Aaron and Moses and the elders joined him in a feast. (Exodus 18:12.)
Jethro Sees Moses in Trouble
Early next morning, when Jethro came out of his tent, he was puzzled to see a crowd in the middle of which Moses sat, listening to some of the people talking intently to him. "Moses often sits there till sundown judging those who are having trouble with their neighbors," an officer explained to Jethro. Jethro slowly shook his head, but said nothing about the matter until that evening when he could again visit the weary Moses. "I am surprised," Jethro told Moses, "that you try just by yourself to hear all the cases of the people. See how tired you are now! If you continue in this manner, you will wear yourself down till you will be far from the healthy person you should be in God's service. Besides, the long lines of people become weary waiting for you to get around to them. "Let me suggest something," Jethro continued, moving his tent cushion closer to Moses. "Surely there are many hundreds of capable men among the tribes — men who have the eagerness and time to help you in this thing. Why not try to seek out a number of honest, unselfish, fair-minded men of good judgment? Place the best of these men as judges over groups of a thousand. Place men of lesser ability over groups of a hundred, and still others over groups of fifty and groups of ten. "If a judge over ten people doesn't have the wisdom to decide a case, let him go to the judge of fifty who is over him. If the judge over fifty fails, let him go to the judge over a hundred. If even the judge over a thousand can't decide a case, let it be brought to you. Thus a great part of your task of judging could be on the shoulders of others, because surely most of the lesser problems could be judged or solved by other men whom you have instructed in God's ways of justice and fair conduct." Coming from a wise and devoted priest of God, this advice seemed to have much weight. It occurred then and there to Moses that God was suggesting this through his father-in-law, using human agencies as God has always done to such a great extent. (Exodus 18:13-23.) "I believe God would have me do as you say," Moses declared. "Tomorrow morning I shall send out officers to summon the best leaders, from whom I can choose the kind of men who can help me!" To them God imparted His Spirit even though it was not the time for the Israelites in general to receive the Holy Spirit and be converted. In the days that followed, Jethro's suggestion worked out well. It was a great relief to Moses, who couldn't have carried on and on with such a heavy load unless God had imbued him with tremendous, superhuman vitality. (Verses 24-26.) Although Moses wanted Jethro to go on with the Israelites, Jethro felt that he could be of greater service by returning to his people. Moses was sad when Jethro's caravan departed, but he was thankful for the advice and the joy that had come to him. (Verse 27.)