bricks without straw

not having the proper materials or methods to accomplish something
—Understanding a new language without learning its idioms is like making bricks without straw.

Obeying God’s command from the burning bush, Moses returned to his people in Egypt, but by that time a new pharaoh had taken the throne. Before telling him about his plan to lead the Israelites to Canaan, Moses requested that they be allowed to make a trip outside of Egypt to offer sacrifices to God. But the pharaoh refused and instead punished the Israelites by stopping their supply of straw, a necessary ingredient in their method of brick making. He told those in charge of the slaves,

You must no longer give straw to the people for making bricks as before. Let them go and collect straw for themselves. But you must require of them the same quota of bricks that they were making before. Do not reduce it, for they are slackers. That is why they are crying, “Let us go sacrifice to our God.” Make the work harder for the men so they will keep at it and pay no attention to lying words! (Exodus 5:7-9)

plague of locusts

something in a very large number that swarms to a location, often causing destruction
—On the first day of the sale, the customers filled the store like a plague of locusts.

Because the pharaoh wouldn’t let the Israelites leave Egypt, God sent ten disasters, or “plagues,” on the Egyptians. The seventh plague was a terrible hail storm. The eighth was the “plague of locusts” (grasshoppers):

The Lord said to Moses, “Extend your hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, that they may come up over the land of Egypt and eat everything that grows in the ground, everything that the hail has left.” So Moses extended his staff over the land of Egypt, and then the Lord brought an east wind on the land all that day and all night. The morning came, and the east wind had brought up the locusts! The locusts went up over all the land of Egypt and settled down in all the territory of Egypt. It was very severe; there had been no locusts like them before, nor will there be such ever again. They covered the surface of all the ground, so that the ground became dark with them, and they ate all the vegetation of the ground and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Nothing green remained on the trees or on anything that grew in the fields throughout the whole land of Egypt. (Exodus 10:12-15)

Finally, God sent a tenth plague, in which an angel killed the first-born son in every Egyptian family. But the angel passed over the home of the Israelites, not harming them. Even now, this event is celebrated by Jewish people in the yearly Passover festival.

Following this last plague, the pharaoh told the Israelites to leave. But after they were gone, he changed his mind and chased them with his army.

part like the Red Sea; open up like the Red Sea

to divide into two sections
—The crowd of people parted like the Red Sea and let the honored guest reach the stage.

The Egyptian army chased the Israelites who were escaping slavery in Egypt, trapping them on the shore of the Red Sea (or, according to some translations, the Sea of Reeds). God then saved them with a miracle:

Moses stretched out his hand toward the sea, and the Lord drove the sea apart by a strong east wind all that night, and he made the sea into dry land, and the water was divided. So the Israelites went through the middle of the sea on dry ground, the water forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. (Exodus 14:21,22)

After the Israelites were safe on the other side, God caused the water to return to its place, drowning the Egyptians who were chasing them.

A “parting of the waters” can be “a dramatic change, or an event that brings about a new direction” in actions, thoughts, perceptions, etc. It can also be “a dividing of people or opinions.”

The word exodus began as the Latin name for the Old Testament book that tells the story of the Hebrew people’s escape from Egypt. It comes from a Greek word meaning “a going out.” Today it is still used for the departure of a large group, as in mass exodus.

manna from heaven

unexpected good fortune
—The surprise bonus from my boss was manna from heaven.

To feed the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, God gave them quail and a special bread, called “manna,” to eat. Manna comes from the Hebrew for What is it? because of the people’s first reaction to the bread when it miraculously appeared:

In the evening the quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning a layer of dew was all around the camp. When the layer of dew had evaporated, there on the surface of the desert was a thin flaky substance, thin like frost on the earth. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” because they did not know what it was. (Exodus 16:13-15)

The house of Israel called its name “manna.” It was like coriander seed and was white, and it tasted like wafers with honey. (Exodus 16:31)

 

ten commandments

basic rules or principles of an activity or situation
—Her ten commandments of friendship begin with “Thou shalt not disagree with me.”

Three months after leaving their captivity in Egypt, the Israelites came to the foot of Mt. Sinai. God told Moses to meet him at the top of the mountain, where he gave Moses two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments:

You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not [Thou shalt not—KJV] make for yourself a carved image. . . .
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. . . .
Remember the Sabbath day to set it apart as holy. . . .
Honor your father and your mother. . . .
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal. . . .
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
You shall not covet. . . . (Exodus 20:3,4,7,8,12-17)

Because most of the commandments begin with Thou shalt not in the King James translation, rules are sometimes called “thou shalt nots.”

take someone’s name in vain

to speak critically about someone; to say a person’s name without giving the proper respect to him or his ideals
—Professor Smith was a great teacher. You are taking his name in vain when you say that he didn’t care about his students.

The third of the Ten Commandments that God gave to the Israelites on Mt. Sinai is

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold guiltless anyone who takes his name in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

A more modern way of saying “take God’s name in vain” is “misuse God’s name.” This can include using his name to swear that something is true when it isn’t. Another way to misuse God’s name is to speak it in a disrespectful or thoughtless way. An example is when someone says, “God,” to show surprise, anger, disgust, etc. Probably the most common example of this today is Oh my God, which is used to take the place of phrases such as Uh oh, Oh no, or Wow. It is also written and spoken as the abbreviation OMG.

O my God is used in the Bible as a way of addressing God in prayer. For example, the prophet Ezra, with great respect, prayed,

O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God! For our iniquities have climbed higher than our heads, and our guilt extends to the heavens. (Ezra 9:6)

Some people try to avoid using God as an exclamations by replacing it with such words as gosh, goodness, or golly. But some find even these substitute words offensive, while others think they sound childish or old fashioned.

holy of holies

a sacred place that inspires awe
—While many people have seen the kitchen at the restaurant, only I was invited to visit the holy of holies, the special area where the chef creates his secret recipes.

Besides the Ten Commandments, God also gave Moses hundreds more commands and instructions. These included directions on how to build a portable tabernacle for worshipping God. Later, the Israelites built a temple in the capital city of Jerusalem, which became their place of worship. Both the tabernacle and temple included an inner room, called the “Most Holy Place,” the “Most Holy,” and the “Holy of Holies.” This room contained the ark of the Testimony, a box that held, among other things, the tablets with the Ten Commandments:

You are to hang this curtain under the clasps and bring the ark of the testimony in there behind the curtain. The curtain will make a division for you between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place [the most holy—KJV]. (Exodus 26:33).

The name Holy of Holies in the Old Testament is a literal translation of a Hebrew phrase. In the Latin translation of the Bible, Holy of Holies is sanctum sanctorum. In modern English, sanctum sanctorum, inner sanctum, and simply sanctum are used to refer to a place where a person can go without fear of being bothered by others.

No one except the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and he could do so only once a year, on the “Day of Atonement.” On this holy day, he offered the blood of animals sacrificed for his own sins and for the sins of the nation.

Moses’ older brother Aaron was the first high priest, and all priests after him were his descendants. When God told Moses the duties of those in the priesthood, he called the priests “sons of Aaron” (Leviticus 21:1), and described the high priest as

The high priest—who is greater than his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil is poured, who has been ordained to wear the priestly garments. (Leviticus 21:10)

The high priest served a special role as mediator between God and man. Today, to say that someone is the “high priest of” something—such as a movement or idea—is to say that he is its leader or chief advocate, as in “the high priest of environmentalism.”

golden calf

something, such as wealth, that is pursued as if it were the object of worship; something that is greatly honored or revered
—Too many people chase after the golden calf of riches, only to find that it doesn’t make them truly happy.

While receiving the Ten Commandments, Moses was on Mt. Sinai for 40 days. This seemed too long for the Israelites, and they gave up on Moses and God:

When the people saw that Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Get up, make us gods that will go before us. As for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!”

So Aaron said to them, “Break off the gold earrings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the gold earrings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron. He accepted the gold from them, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molten calf. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:1-4)

Today, to “worship the golden calf” or “bow down to the golden calf” is to love money so much that one abandon’s his principles and chases after it.

God told Moses to go down from the mountain and said,

I have seen this people. Look what a stiff-necked  [stiffnecked—KJV] people they are! So now, leave me alone so that my anger can burn against them and I can destroy them, and I will make from you a great nation (Exodus 32:9,10)

Moses pleaded with God on behalf of the people, and God decided spare them.

Having a stiff neck means to be rebellious, proud, or stubborn. A stiff-necked person is like a horse that goes its own way, not willing to point its head in the right direction when it’s rider wants it to turn. Having this kind of a stiff neck is similar to having a “hard heart,” another phrase found in the Bible. God later told the Israelites:

I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)

The modern meaning of heart of stone is “to no sympathy or compassion for others.”

When Moses came down from the mountain and saw the Israelites worshipping the idol they had made, he became so angry that he threw down the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, breaking them. Even though God had chosen not to destroy all the people, as punishment, he did have about 3,000 of them killed and punished the rest of the people with a disease. Moses then went back up the mountain, where God gave him a new copy of the Ten Commandments.

scapegoat; sacrificial lamb

scapegoat

someone who is blamed for another’s wrongdoing
—The teacher refused to be made the scapegoat for the students poor grades.

sacrificial lamb

someone who is blamed for another’s wrongs in order to save the guilty person; a person or group headed for certain defeat or destruction, often in order to bring about a greater good
—I know our party needs to put a candidate up against the president. But he’s unbeatable, and I won’t be a sacrificial lamb.

God gave Moses instructions on how the people were to give their offerings and sacrifices. For instance, he told Moses how Aaron, as the high priest, was to perform the ceremonies for the Day of Atonement:

Aaron is to cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and one lot for Azazel [the scapegoat—KJV]. Aaron must then present the goat which has been designated by lot for the Lord, and he is to make it a sin offering, but the goat which has been designated by lot for Azazel is to be stood alive before the Lord to make atonement on it by sending it away to Azazel into the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:8-10)

When he has finished purifying the holy place, the Meeting Tent, and the altar, he is to present the live goat. Aaron is to lay his two hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities of the Israelites and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins, and thus he is to put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man standing ready. The goat is to bear on itself all their iniquities into an inaccessible land, so he is to send the goat away in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:20-22)

The second goat above was “for Azazel.” Azazel is a Hebrew word that is difficult to translate. Some translators believe that it is a combination of words meaning “goat” and “to go away.” This gives us “the goat that escapes,” or scapegoat. Some believe that azazel represents the idea of “complete removal.” Others believe that it was the name of an area in the wilderness. And still others believe that it was the name of a demon in the desert, or even the name of the devil. In all of these cases, the act of sending out the goat symbolized that the people’s sins were removed far from them and from God. The Jews also gave other kinds of offerings to God, such as grain and lambs at harvest time for the Feast of Firstfruits:

The Lord spoke to Moses: “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘When you enter the land that I am about to give to you and you gather in its harvest, then you must bring the sheaf of the first portion [firstfruits—KJV] of your harvest to the priest, and he must wave the sheaf before the Lord to be accepted for your benefit—on the day after the Sabbath the priest is to wave it. On the day you wave the sheaf you must also offer a flawless yearling lamb for a burnt offering to the Lord. . . . (Leviticus 23:9-12)

Firstfruits were the earliest crops harvested each season. Now, first fruits can be the first results of any effort.

sabbatical

a time off from work, often used for studying, writing, doing research, or traveling
—My professor will not be teaching next year. He’s taking a sabbatical to finish writing his book.

The fourth of the Ten Commandments told the Israelites to keep the sabbath holy. The sabbath was the seventh day of the week, or Saturday, and it was a special day for rest and worship. But the Lord told them that in the Promised Land they should observe a sabbath year, as well. During this seventh year, all debts were to be canceled and the land allowed to rest:

When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land must observe a Sabbath [sabbath—KJV] to the Lord. Six years you may sow your field, and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather the produce, but in the seventh year the land must have a Sabbath of complete rest—a Sabbath to the Lord. You must not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You must not gather in the aftergrowth of your harvest and you must not pick the grapes of your unpruned vines; the land must have a year of complete rest. (Leviticus 25:2-5)

At the end of seven sabbath years, God also added a “year of jubilee.” The rules for this fiftieth year were much like the sabbath year, but in addition, any land sold in the previous 49 years was to be returned to the original owner. The word jubilee comes from the Hebrew word for ram’s horn, which was blown like a trumpet on the Day of Atonement to announce the beginning of the year of jubilee. The Lord said,

You must sound loud horn blasts—in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, on the Day of Atonement—you must sound the horn in your entire land. So you must consecrate the fiftieth year, and you must proclaim a release in the land for all its inhabitants. That year will be your jubilee; each one of you must return to his property and each one of you must return to his clan. That fiftieth year will be your jubilee; you must not sow the land, harvest its aftergrowth, or pick the grapes of its unpruned vines. (Leviticus 25:9-11)

Today,  jubilee can be used for any anniversary or celebration.

  • All scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://bible.org. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

    Scripture in brackets is from the King James Bible.

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