Orthodox Daily Devotional for June 23 – June 29
Revelation 4:1 –
In those days: I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter. And immedi- ately I was in the Spirit; and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
Saint Focus: St John of Damascus was falsely accused through the machinations of the iconoclastic Byzantine Emperor and had his hand cut off. That night, God miraculously restored his hand though the intercession of the Theotokos. In thanks he had an icon written and adorned with the ‘third’ hand. Most of us have many circumstances where the Virgin Mary’s intercession has clearly helped us but do follow St. John’s example and tell others to encourage their faith?
AFTER this Moses and Aaron spoke to the children of Israel, telling them of the Lord’s command to make this month henceforth the first of the year, and to kill in every family a lamb without blemish, on the fourteenth day of the month, and to sprinkle the door-posts with the blood of the lamb. The Lord also commanded that, on the same night, they should eat the flesh of the lamb with unleavened bread and wild lettuce. They should, moreover, have their loins girt, and shoes on their feet and staves in their hand; for that it was the passing of the Lord, and that, on that night, His angel would slay every firstborn of the Egyptians.
The Israelites did as they were commanded, and at midnight, the fourteenth day of the month, the destroying angel visited every house in Egypt and slew every first-born, from the king’s own to the first-born of the captive woman in prison. But the houses of the Jews he did not enter; for the doors thereof were sprinkled with the blood of the lamb. And a fearful cry arose from all the land of Egypt, because there was death in every house.
And Pharao arose in the night, and, struck with terror, he besought Moses and Aaron to go with the Israelites, and take with them their herds and all they possessed. “Go”, he said, “and, departing, bless me.” The Egyptians themselves pressed the people to go forth speedily, saying: “We shall all die.” Then the people of God rose up in haste, while it was yet night, and began their journey, taking the unleavened bread with them. Moses also carried the bones of Joseph with him.
The descendants of Jacob had lived in Egypt four hundred and thirty years. Leaving Egypt, they numbered six hundred thousand men, besides women and children. Moses commanded the people, saying: “Remember this day, in which, with a strong hand, the Lord brought you forth out of this place, that you eat none but unleavened bread.” He also told them to sanctify unto the Lord every first-born, because the Lord had spared their first-born children on the night on which He slew every first-born of the Egyptians.
The Paschal Lamb was a figure of Jesus, who died on the Cross for the sins of men. As the destroying angel dared not enter the houses of the Jews that were sprinkled with the blood of the lamb, so the devil has no power over those Christians who receive worthily the Body and Blood of our Lord in Holy Communion. In Pharao we behold a sad picture of a man grown old in sin. When oppressed by calamity he seemed to repent, but as soon as the danger was past, he fell back into his pride and hardness of heart.
The avenging Justice of God. The slaying of the first-born in Egypt was a punishment sent by God on account of the obstinate unbelief of Pharao and his people. This shows the justice of God. If Pharao had been converted by the lesser plagues, he would have been spared this last terrible one. Many sinners, who care nothing about God, can only be converted by means of some severe visitation. No one can resist God, because He is almighty. They who defy Him, must and will feel the weight of His avenging justice either in this world or in the next. “Thou art Lord of all, and there is none that can resist Thy majesty”
Now God himself conducted the Israelites in their march, going before them by day in a pillar of cloud, by night in a pillar of fire. They at length reached the shores of the Red Sea, where they pitched their tents. Suddenly Pharao repented of having allowed the Israelites to go, and pursued them with chariots (Fig. 23, p. 146) and horsemen, and with his whole army (Fig. 24, p. 147); and he overtook them at nightfall near the Red Sea.
When the Israelites saw the Egyptians behind them, they were seized with fear, and cried to the Lord for help. Moses,
however, calmed and encouraged them, saying: “The Lord will fight for you.” At the same time the pillar of cloud, which had gone before them, went back and stood between their camp and the army of the Egyptians. Moreover the cloud gave light to the Israelites, but it made the night darker for the Egyptians, so that they could not see nor stir for the rest of the night. Then Moses, commanded by God, stretched his rod over the sea, and inmediately the waters divided and stood like a wall on either side, leaving a dry road between for the children of Israel to pass over. And the children of Israel went in through the midst of the sea.
At the dawn of day the Egyptians pursued them into the midst of the sea. But suddenly a great tempest arose, and overthrew their chariots and horsemen. And the Lord said to Moses: “Stretch thy hand over the sea”; and behold! the divided waters came together again, swallowing up Pharao and his whole army, so that not one of the Egyptians escaped.
Thus did the Lord, by a splendid miracle, deliver the Hebrews that day from the Egyptians. And the people feared the Lord, and believed in Him, and in Moses, His servant. “And the children of Israel came into Elim, where there were twelve fountains of waters and seventy palm-trees, and they encamped by the waters.”
Commentary: Confidence in God. While the Israelites, filled with fear, called upon the Lord for help, Moses remained perfectly calm. Full of confidence in God, he said to the people: “Fear nothing! The Lord will fight for you”: and his confidence was justified and rewarded; for God, to whom nature is subject, sent thunder and lightning, wind and rain to their aid. God can help us, when all other help is useless. The greater the need, the nearer is God!
Pharao was not really converted. The death of the first-born so frightened and staggered him that he let the Israelites go. But when the first terror was over he returned to his former obduracy, and again defied God. He wished to overcome God’s will, and bring back His people by force of arms. But at last the measure of his sins was full. He had despised the warnings of God’s mercy, so now God’s justice overtook him, and he died a miserable death. He was like those sinners who in times of tribulation, such as sickness or misfortune, promise to amend their ways, but who, when the trial is removed, do not keep their promise, and fall back into their old habits and forgetfulness of God.—Such sinners will die an impenitent death, as Pharao did, and be lost eternally. “Hell is paved with good intentions.”
MOSES ordered them to depart from Elim and go on towards the wilderness. They marched three days through the wilderness, and found no water. Finding some at last they could not drink it, because it was bitter. The people murmured against Moses, saying: “What shall we drink?” Moses prayed, and the Lord showed him a tree, the wood of which, when cast into the water, rendered it sweet.
And when they had gone far into the wilderness, the people began to murmur still more, seeing that there was no food, and they wished that they had remained and died in Egypt, asking Moses why he had brought them out into the wilderness to die. Instead of punishing them for their want of confidence, God, full of mercy and goodness, promised to give them food in abundance.
He sent them, accordingly, every evening quails in vast numbers, sufficient for all the children of Israel to eat; and, in the morning, a delicious white food which fell from heaven. When the Israelites saw the bread, which looked like hoar-frost, they exclaimed “Manhu”, which signifies: “What is this?” Moses informed them that it was the bread which the Lord gave them. He then told every one to gather of it, as much as he needed.
They did so, and found it pleasant to eat, tasting like flour mixed with honey. On the day before the Sabbath they gathered a double quantity, as none fell on the Sabbath. This Manna was their food for forty years, until they reached the confines of Chanaan.
Some time after these events, they encamped in another part of the desert, where again there was no water. Here also they murmured against Moses, and with great anger upbraided him for having brought them out of Egypt. Then Moses reproved them for their want of confidence in God; and, addressing the Lord in prayer, he said: “What shall I do with this people? Yet a little more, and they will stone me.” The Lord commanded him to strike a rock on the side of Mount Horeb with his rod. Moses did so, and a stream of pure water burst forth from the rock, so that all the people and the cattle could quench their thirst at will.
At this time the Amalekites marched against the chosen people. Moses sent Josue with a number of picked men against them. During the battle Moses prayed on the top of the hill. As long as his hands were uplifted, the Israelites remained victorious; but when, through fatigue, he let them sink, they lost. Hence Aaron and Hur upheld his hands, until the enemy was put to flight.
While Moses and the Israelites were near the mountain of God (Horeb), Jethro, having heard all the wonderful things, came with the wife and the two sons of Moses (Gersam and Eliezer) to pay a visit to Moses. He offered holocausts and sacrifices to God in thanksgiving and counselled Moses to institute seventy ancients as judges to help him in judging the people. (Ex. 18.)
Commentary: He who wishes to reach the promised land of heaven must suffer and deny himself. He must renounce his bad desires, and patiently bear trials for love of God. He must fight against the enemies of his soul, and all temptations to evil. We must fight, endure and suffer in this world, and we must do so from our youth upwards. Ask yourself, what you have done hitherto. Deny yourself voluntarily something in the way of food and drink. Do not complain, if anything hurts you, but rather suffer it in silence, and offer your pain to your crucified Saviour. Suppress at once all movements of anger, pride, envy, or sinful curiosity.
We must not only fight: we must also pray, to be enabled to overcome the enemy of our souls.
IN the third month after their departure from Egypt, the Israelites came to Mount Sinai, where they rested and pitched their tents. Moses ascended the mountain, and God appeared to him there, and said: “Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob and tell the children of Israel: You have seen what I have done to the Egyptians and how I have carried you upon the wings of eagles and have taken you to Myself. If, therefore, you will hear My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be My peculiar possession above all peoples, and you shall be to Me a priestly Kingdom and a holy Nation.”
Moses went down from the mountain, and related to the people what God had said. They all cried out with one voice: “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” Then Moses went up again to the mountain, and the Lord told him that all the people should sanctify and purify themselves from all defilement that might render them unfit to appear in His presence, and to come, on the third day, to the mountain; but that barriers must be placed around it, so that they might not approach too near and die.
The third morning being come, there was thunder and lightning around the mountain, and a thick cloud covered its top. Smoke mixed with fire was seen to ascend, the mountain rocked and trembled, while a trumpet sounded very loud, and the people below on the plain feared exceedingly. Then was heard the voice of the Lord, speaking from the cloud that covered the mountain, saying:
I. I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing; nor the likeness of anything; thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them.
II. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
III. Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath-day.
IV. Honour thy father and thy mother, that thou mayest be long-lived upon the land which the Lord thy God will give thee.
V. Thou shalt not kill.
VI. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
VII. Thou shalt not steal.
VIII. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
IX. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.
X. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods.
The people, trembling and afraid at the foot of the mountain, cried out to Moses: “Speak thou to us, and we will hear; let not the Lord speak to us, lest we die.” Moses told them that the Lord had come down to instil fear into their hearts, that they might not sin.
And the people stood afar off, but Moses went into the dark cloud, and the Lord gave him further laws which he wrote down and explained to the people. They answered with one voice: “We will do all the words of the Lord, which He hath spoken.” Moses raised an altar at the foot of the mountain, and offered a holocaust to the Lord. And taking the blood of the victim he sprinkled the people with it, saying: “This is the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you, concerning all these words.”
Explanation of the Ten Commandments:
The Ten Commandments were but the expression of that natural law, which God has written in every man’s heart, and which every man can know if he listens to the voice of reason and conscience. Therefore the Ten Commandments apply to all men and all times: and, for this reason, God wrote them on stone to signify that they are as durable as stone, and are to last for all ages. We Christians ought to observe the Commandments even more perfectly than was expected of the Israelites; for our Lord has said: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (New Test. XXI).
The contents of the Ten Commandments are fully explained in the catechism, so I will only draw your attention here to their connexion with each other, and to their general tenor. The first three say to us: “Thou shalt worship God; thou shalt honour and keep holy His name; thou shalt respect and keep holy His day.” The fourth Commandment is a transition from one division to the other. The next four protect our most valuable possessions, and forbid any injury to life, innocence, property and honour. The last two forbid evil desires, because they corrupt the heart and lead to evil deeds.
God gave the Ten Commandments fifty days after the departure from Egypt. In commemoration of this, the Jews always kept the feast of Pentecost fifty days after the Pasch (Old Test. XXXIX). The Christian Pentecost is also kept fifty days after Easter, because, on that day, God the Holy Ghost descended from heaven, and inscribed the law of love on the hearts of the faithful.
The first day of Pentecost in the Old Testament is a type of the first day of Pentecost in the New Testament. On the former, the mountain shook; on the latter, the house in which the apostles were. There the thunder and storm; here, the rushing as of a mighty wind. There, flames appeared; here, tongues of fire. There, God came down to give the Commandments; here, God the Holy Ghost came down to fill the hearts of the faithful with love of the Commandments.
MOSES again ascended the mountain, and remained there forty days and forty nights conversing with God. And when God had finished speaking with Moses, He gave him two tables of stone, on which were written the Ten Commandments. Now the people, seeing that Moses tarried in coming down from the mountain, rose up against Aaron and besought him, saying: “Make us gods that may go before us. For, as to this Moses, the man that brought us out of the land of Egypt, we know not what has befallen him.”
Hoping to dissuade them from their impious project, Aaron replied: “Take the golden ear-rings from the ears of your wives, and your sons and daughters, and bring them to me.” Contrary to his expectation, they brought their rings to Aaron who, fearing to offer resistance, accepted them, and made a molten calf, and built an altar. And the people exclaimed: “These are thy gods, O Israel, that have brought thee out of the land of Egypt.” Next morning they offered holocausts and peace-victims, and began to eat and drink and to dance, after the manner of the Egyptians.
Meanwhile Moses came down from the mountain with the two tables of stone, whereon God Himself had written His Commandments. When he heard the shouts of the people, and saw them dance before the golden calf, he dashed the tables to the ground and broke them at the foot of the mount. Then, laying hold of the calf, he burnt it and beat it to powder.
He severely rebuked Aaron for yielding to the wicked desires of the people. Then, standing in the gate of the camp, he said: “If any man be on the Lord’s side, let him join with me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. Then Moses ordered them to take their swords, go through the camp, and slay every man whom they found practising idolatry. They did as they were commanded, and about twenty-three thousand men were put to death that day.
Next day Moses again ascended the mountain, and earnestly entreated the Lord for His ungrateful people. But the Lord said: “Let me alone that I may destroy them.” Still Moses insisted, saying: “I beseech Thee, this people hath sinned: either forgive them this trespass, or, if Thou do not, strike me out of the book that Thou hast written.”
The Lord heard his prayer, and ordered him to cut two other tables of stone. Moses obeyed, and on those tables the Lord again wrote the Ten Commandments. But when Moses came down from the mountain with the tables in his hands, his face was so radiant with glory that the Israelites were afraid to come near; hence he veiled his face whenever he spoke to the people.
Commentary: Through Moses God instituted the Old Law, on which account he is called the mediator of the Old Law. As such, Moses was a striking type of Jesus Christ, who instituted the New Law. Moses, as a child, was condemned to death by a cruel king, and was saved in a wonderful way; Jesus Christ was condemned by Herod, and also wonderfully saved. Moses forsook the king’s court so as to help his persecuted brethren; the Son of God left the glory of heaven to save us sinners. Moses prepared himself in the desert for his vocation, freed his people from slavery, and proved his divine mission by great miracles; Jesus Christ proved by still greater miracles that He was the only begotten Son of God. Moses was the advocate of his people; Jesus was our advocate with His Father on the Cross, and is eternally so in heaven. Moses was the law-giver of his people and announced to them the word of God: Jesus Christ is the supreme law-giver, and not only announced God’s word, but is Himself the Eternal Word made flesh. Moses was the leader of the people to the Promised Land: Jesus is our leader on our journey to heaven.