Lesson 14: “Ye Shall Be a Peculiar Treasure Unto Me”
Exodus 12-20; 32-34
To encourage class members to partake of the Lord’s spiritual water and bread, sustain his chosen leaders, and obey his commandments so he can make of them a “holy nation.”
Most of us have probably seen the great play “Fiddler on the Roof” enough to recall the scene where Motel, the timid tailor, has dared speak to Tevye and convinced him that he, Motel, is the right husband for Tevye’s daughter Tzeitel. Do you remember him dancing and singing:
Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles!
God took a tailor by the hand,
Turned him around and, miracle of miracles,
Led him to the Promised Land.
When Moses softened Pharaoh’s heart,
That was a miracle.
When God made the waters of the Red Sea part,
That was a miracle too.
But of all God’s miracles, large and small,
The most miraculous one of all
Is that out of a worthless lump of clay,
God has made a man today.
Can you think of a time when God took you by the hand and made of you something you never expected you could be?
God did something very similar – but on a much larger scale – with the children of Israel during their 40 years wandering in the wilderness.
Scripture Discussion and Application
1. The Lord provides water, manna, and quail for the children of Israel.
2. Aaron and Hur hold of Moses’ hands so Israel prevails in battle against Amalek. Moses follows Jethro’s counsel to appoint judges and delegate authority to them.
3. The Lord meets with Moses on Mount Sinai and gives Israel the Ten Commandments.
4. The Lord introduces the law of Moses.
The children of Israel kept the Passover, as we discussed last week. They did not have long to wait for the aftermath.
29 ¶ And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.
30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
31 ¶ And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as ye have said.
32 Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also.
And so the children of Israel fled out of Egypt, heading toward the land that God had promised to their father, Abraham.
[Indicate general route on map. Summarize, or have class member summarize, the crossing of the Red Sea. Keep it general, but be prepared to respond to comments or questions about the location of crossing the sea, and which body of water it may have been.]
So many of the events we’ll be talking about have both a physical and a spiritual effect. What is the obvious physical effect of the miracle God wrought in saving the Israelites and destroying their pursuers? [To save their lives.] What is the spiritual lesson God may have wanted to teach by that miracle? [Trust in God; be obedient to his directions and He will save us.]
30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore.
31 And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses.
We next read that Moses led the children of Israel three days into the wilderness. I don’t know about you, but that’s about the limit of my enjoyment of camping, and it seems to have been the limit for the Israelites, as well. They found no water to drink during those three days, then finally came to a place with water. But the water was bitter and foul tasting, and thirsty as they were, they did not like to drink it. What might you have done in their place?
24 And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?
25 And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them,
26 And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.
27 ¶ And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters.
So we see the Lord again blessing the Israelites with what they need, in the hour when they need it. Surely they have learned to trust the Lord by now! No?
Six weeks later, they are on the road again, and what do they do?
2 And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness:
3 And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
How did the Lord answer their complaints this time? [Summarize, or get class member to summarize, both the miracles of the manna and the quail.]
The Israelites journey on. We soon read this episode:
1 AND all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink.
2 Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD?
3 And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?
What was the Lord’s solution this time? [Summarize events of Moses’ striking a rock the Lord directed him to, and water gushing forth.]
We usually think of the wilderness through which the Israelites wandered as an unknown, untraveled place, with the Israelites not knowing from day to day where they were, how far they were from the Promised Land, or who they might meet around the next mountain. Recall, though, that the road between Egypt and Canaan was a well-traveled one that had been used for centuries. Think about Abraham’s travels down into Egypt, and the back-and-forth travel of the sons of Jacob before they settled in Egypt for those 400 years. Remember, too, that Moses had been exiled from Egypt for 40 years, which he spent in the desert in this area living as a shepherd with Jethro, the Midianite priest and his own father-in-law. The wilderness where the Israelites wandered was only about as far as Salt Lake City to Denver. It was a harsh and barren land, but it was well known. The Israelites were never lost, and in fact, about this time Jethro arrived in the Camp of Israel, bringing Moses’s wife and two sons with him.
Soon after the incident of providing water from the rock, the Israelites passed into the territory of their distant cousins, the Amalekites, who were also descendants of Abraham. How were the Israelites greeted by their cousins? [Have class member summarize the battle with the Amalekites, and how Jethro taught Moses to call on his aides for their support, ensuring that the Israelites prevailed in battle.]
There are so many events recorded about the travels of the Israelites in the wilderness, some of which we’ll talk about next week, but most of which there is simply no time to go over in class. The one other major event we’ll talk about is the giving of the Law to Moses.
About three months into their travels, the Israelites camped near Mount Sinai. There the Lord spoke to Moses, reminding him of what God had done for the Israelites and indicating what his future plans for them were.
3 And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;
4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.
5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
What do you understand these promises to mean? – “Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people – Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.”
What applicability of those promises is there for us, in this generation? In what way, for instance, are we a kingdom of priests? What does it mean to be “a peculiar treasure”? [stress that this means “particular” – as in a treasure among treasures – not that we are the only ones God cares about, or that “peculiar means “strange.”]
Then followed a series of revelations from God to Moses, who carried the word of the Lord to the Israelites – these people who had seen miracle after miracle in the space of 90 days, not even counting all that had happened in Egypt. The people were taught the word and the will of the Lord, and God asked them to prepare and keep themselves holy while Moses ascended Mount Sinai, where he received more instructions from the Lord.
But … what happened? [Summarize the creation of the golden calf and its worship, and the destruction of the tablets Moses brought from Sinai.]
We know from modern scripture (D&C 84:19-24) that the Lord offered the Melchizedek Priesthood to Moses, along with the fulness of the gospel, for the benefit of the children of Israel. Their behavior, though – their quick turn away from the Lord and toward the idolatry they had witnessed all around them – caused the Lord to withdraw that gospel and give to them instead an extensive system of laws and rules that we know as the Law of Moses. For this, and for other acts of faithlessness that soon followed, the Lord decreed that the Israelites would wander in the desert until virtually all of those who had come out of Egypt had died in the wilderness. Their time in the wilderness, as well as their learning to follow the Law of Moses, would prepare them for what God had in mind for them: that they be a peculiar treasure, a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.
I think we sometimes think of the Law of Moses as a punishment, or a curse, and I suppose it could be that if we remember it means that the greatest blessings of the Lord were withdrawn from the people, for a time. But really, was it a punishment?
Let’s read what other prophets and apostles have said about the Law of Moses and the reason it was given:
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul called the Law a schoolmaster:
24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
In the Book of Mormon, the Prophet Abinadi – a prophet who was himself living under the Law of Moses – said:
29 And now I say unto you that it was expedient that there should be a law given to the children of Israel, yea, even a very strict law; for they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord their God.
How might the Law of Moses, with its elaborate rules and rituals, have helped the people remember the Lord their God, perhaps even better than the law of the gospel?
(Remind the class of our discussion last week, of how the tangible, physical enactment of the ordinances of baptism, sacrament, the temple, and so on, focus our attention and help us embody the abstract principles they represent.)
The Law of Moses was fulfilled – ended – with the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ and His giving of the law of the gospel – a law that requires us to exercise faith and govern our lives in obedience to God without the constant daily rituals that trained the Israelites to become the people of God. How do you feel about that? I mean, we as individuals and a church haven’t lived with the schooling that came under the Law of Moses – why do we merit the gospel instead? What responsibility does that put on us to be a peculiar treasure, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation?
The wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness, and the training the Lord gave them through that harsh experience, is one of the great patterns of sacred history that has repeated itself, in some ways, over and over again. It is no coincidence that when Brigham Young led the Saints out of Nauvoo and toward this valley, the Saints called their journey an “exodus,” their people the “Camp of Israel,” and some of the most fruitful lands on the face of the earth “the wilderness.” It is no coincidence that we sing hymns with lines like “Rock of Ages, cleft for me” and “Our shadow by day and our pillar by night” and “Guide us, O, thou great Jehovah, lead us to the promised land.” That experienced forged a nation, a church, that is quite different than if we had been permitted to develop in peace in the midst of the nations of the world. We are the heirs of more than one band of Israelites, guided and protected by the hand of the Lord, with the goal of making of us a holy nation.