Pastor D.M. Richardson here, with today’s message on Exodus 30:11-16.
It’s not often that we hear Old Testament sermons, and the OT is neglected today by many “New Testament” Christians who believe that the OT was for “those in the early church,” while the New Testament suffices for us today. The problem with this understanding is that Jesus, Peter, and Paul all quoted from the Old Testament. Matthew, one of the disciples of Jesus for whom the first Gospel is named, quotes from the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah chief among them, Jeremiah here and there) often. In fact, the coming of Jesus was first prophesied in the Old Testament by the prophet Isaiah, 700 years before His birth, where Isaiah calls Him “Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14; 8:8). Matthew interprets His name as being Hebrew: the word “Imma-Nu-El” means “with us God,” or, as Matthew cleans it up, “God With Us” (Matthew 1:23).
The Israelites had to give blood money whenever they counted themselves to keep the wrath of God away, and that ransom money or atonement money was to please God and to quiet the divine wrath. And today, we have been ransomed, not by money, but by the blood of Christ, which stilled the wrath of God forever for all those who believe. And, by faith, we appropriate that “atonement fee,” that “ransom fee,” that was paid for us. We have been redeemed, not by silver, metallic coins, but by the red, shed blood of Jesus Christ. Thank you Lord, for what you’ve done for us!
May the Lord bless you and keep you this week as you meditate upon this wonderful message. You can find the written transcript below. Continue to pray for us, that we’d be “salt” and “light” in the culture. Though the world is sinful, chaotic, and appears beyond hope, there is hope for this world in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Lord’s blessings be upon you as you go,
Pastor D.M. Richardson,
The Essential Church
World Wide Web
11 “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
12 “When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them.
13 This is what everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (a shekel is twenty gerahs). The half-shekel shall be an offering to the Lord.
14 Everyone included among those who are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the Lord.
15 The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when you give an offering to the Lord, to make atonement for yourselves.
16 And you shall take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before the Lord, to make atonement for yourselves.
The word “ransom” is one that we don’t hear often in today’s time, but it is a word that carries the idea of a hostage situation in our modern world: whenever a person robs a bank and holds a bank teller hostage, or an innocent customer coming to deposit money at the bank, he or she puts the gun to a person and threatens to kill them unless the people standing around, or perhaps even the coming police or security guards, cave in to their wishes and give them what they want. “If you give me $10,000, I’ll let your wife go”; “if you secure for me a private jet that’ll take me out of the country, I won’t blow up the stack of dynamite in the bank vault and kill everyone,” some would say. The situation is hostile because the thief, the robber, the criminal often holds an innocent person hostage. In the event the people standing around don’t cave in to his or her wishes, the hostage could end up sacrificed, losing his or her life because he or she was an innocent bystander.
It is in hostage situations today that we see the bravery of some. There are times when a wife, sister, mother, or even a child is made the hostage by the criminal, and threatened with the loss of life, and some brave heros in humanity often step up and tell the criminal, “take me instead; you don’t need to keep the child when you can have me.” “I’m rich, I have money, I have the money you seek; just let these people go, and we can escape and I’ll take you to the money you seek,” some say to allow the criminal to free innocent bystanders so that no life is lost in a meaningless crime. These people are the ones that place themselves in harm’s way, becoming the hostage so that others go free. We applaud these individuals because it seems counterintuitive: why would someone put themselves as the hostage? Is not their life as meaningful, as valuable, as those whose lives are released from hostage back to freedom?
Yes, the substitute hostage is as valuable as all the others, but he or she makes a decision during the situation to sacrifice himself or herself for others. It’s not that his or her life doesn’t matter; rather, it’s that they willingly lay down their lives, if need be, for the sake of others. The same thing happens in fires, where firefighters go into heated homes to rescue innocent residents and bring them out safely. Some parents go in to rescue their children and bring them out, often going back to find other relatives and dying in the process. It’s a self-less act, when one gives his or her life for the lives of others. Jesus Himself said in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” According to Jesus, giving one’s life for others is the greatest display of human love.
In today’s text, Exodus 30:11-16, we find that the Lord tells the Israelites to number themselves, to take a census, a count of the number of people in the nation of Israel. That is, every man, woman, boy, and girl, were to be counted as part of the nation of Israel. Not one adult was to be left out, and, to use a phrase with which we’re all too familiar (unfortunately), there was to be NCLB: “No Child Left Behind.” The Lord speaks to Moses in verse 11 and in verse 12, He tells Moses that every person was to give “a ransom for himself to the Lord,” “that there may be no plague among them.” Now, it wasn’t an uncommon thing for nations to take censuses and number the people: after all, nations always did this before going to war to see just how strong their military count would be. And yet, the Lord forbade His people from numbering themselves.
Remember what happened when David tried to number the Israelite army in 1 Chronicles 21? In 1 Chronicles 21:7 it says that “God was displeased with this thing, therefore He struck Israel.” The Lord sent Gad, David’s seer, to him and said the following: “I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.” David was to choose one of the following 3 punishments: 1) 3 years of famine, 2) 3 months of political defeat before his enemies, or 3) 3 days of plague in the land and the destruction of Israel by way of the angel of the Lord. David didn’t choose, but instead threw himself upon the mercy of God. And what else happened? In verse 14, the Lord decided to send a plague upon Israel; He killed 70,000 men and was about to destroy Jerusalem – until the Lord held back the angel from the destruction. The Lord was among His people, and that was enough: numbering the troops meant that a nation was trusting in its own assets, its own manpower and strength. And yet, Israel was to hope and trust in the Lord, in the power of God’s might — not in the power of their own.
We know from this that numbering the people was not good; and yet, the Lord knew that the people would number themselves, like all the other nations. The Lord didn’t tell them “Number the people”; He said to them in Exodus 30:12 “When you number the people.” He knew they would do it, but He would use the census to show them something about themselves and Himself. They were to give a ransom: Exodus 30:12 says that “every man shall give a ransom for himself” in order to avoid the plague, destruction, death, for not doing so. Not one man was left out.
In verse 13, the Lord says “this is what everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (a shekel is twenty gerahs).” If an entire shekel, or unit of currency, was 20 gerahs, then a half-shekel was to be 10 gerahs. A gerah was a twentieth of a shekel (a shekel is 20 gerahs), but was also a fifth (20%) of a denarius, what the Lord constituted in His parables (such as the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard) as a day’s wages in Matthew . According to gotquestions.org, the price of a shekel today would be $557.16. A half-shekel, then, would be $278.50 in today’s terms. In other words, the children of Israel who were numbered were to pay $278.50 whenever the census was taken. The half-shekel was an offering to the Lord to keep the plague away, to keep His wrath away from His people, for numbering themselves was a sin.
In Exodus 30:14 and 15, the Lord seeks to level the playing field across the board: He requires that the twenty-year-olds and up, the adults, are the ones to give the half-shekel, the $278.50, as a peace offering. Notice that the children weren’t mandated to give anything: the 19-year-olds and younger were not mandated to give any ransom money because they had none to give. They were the most helpless of the nation, and so the Lord’s grace passes over mandating anything from the children.
In verse 15, the Lord doesn’t mandate more from the rich or less from the poor. Whether rich, or poor, every man and woman will give the half-shekel, the $278.50, to keep the divine wrath at bay: “The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when you give an offering to the Lord, to make atonement for yourselves.” The key phrase is at the end of Exodus 30:15 — “to make atonement for yourselves.” Atonement only comes in where there has been a transgression of the divine law. Remember in Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve eat of the fruit and bring sin into the world? What does the Lord do? He slaughters an animal and gives Adam and Eve skins to clothe themselves. The first sin in the world mandated the death of an animal to atone for it. The animal sacrificial system would persist throughout the entire Old Testament, and it also persisted in Exodus as well as other books such as Numbers and Leviticus. A bull or ram often served as the atonement animal who had to be slaughtered and killed for the sins of the people and the priests. In this case, though, the Lord required money from the nation when it sinned by counting the people.
The ransom money taken from the people would be used in the service of the tabernacle of meeting in verse 16, as “a memorial for the children of Israel before the Lord, to make atonement for yourselves.” The money given as ransom to the Lord would be used in the service of the tabernacle. The nation would be reminded of the ransom atonement every time they came to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. They would remember that their lives had been “ransomed” or “redeemed” by the Lord for the benefit of His work in the tabernacle among the Levites whom He had chosen to serve. The church, then, the church work in their day, would be built upon the reminder that the ransom prevented them from death, that the ransom stayed the wrath of God, that the ransom was the substitute sacrifice for their souls, their very lives, a reminder that the church was built upon a ransom. The Israelites themselves were referred to within the Old Testament as the “ransomed of the Lord.” In Isaiah 35:10 and Isaiah 51:11, which say the same thing, literally word for word, the Lord refers to Israel as the ransomed: “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Even in their rebellious, scattered state, the Lord still called them “ransomed” and still vowed to bring them back into the land from whence He drove them.
The Israelites, though, were ransomed not in the other lands to which they’d been driven, but back in Egypt, before the Lord delivered His People at the Red Sea. The Lord grew tired of Pharaoh and, after telling Pharaoh to “let my people go” and seeing Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness, the Lord decided to show Pharaoh who the real God was by bringing on him the plagues: the river turned to blood, frogs came upon the land, gnats, bugs, and pestilences never before seen in all of Egypt. These were the signs and wonders that the Lord brought upon the land earlier in the Book of Exodus, but despite them all, Pharaoh refused to let God’s people leave Egypt. Then, the Lord decided to do one final act that would put an end to the conflict: He decided He would kill all the firstborn males in Egypt. The same tragedy of life that Pharaoh had brought upon the Jews would come back upon the heads of the Egyptians: their firstborn children and cattle would be killed. The Lord told the Israelites in Exodus 12:12-13 to take a lamb, kill it, take some of the blood, and apply it on the doorposts of their houses. “For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord. Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt,” the Lord said. By the blood of the lamb, the Israelites were saved.
And by the blood of the Lamb, believers, those who have believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, have been ransomed; we too, have been redeemed. Yes, we’ve studied the ransom money of Exodus 30 and that it was used to keep the wrath of God at bay, but, like the animal sacrifices, it could not atone for our sin. Money could not atone for our sin. This couldn’t be any clearer than what we find in the New Testament in the life of Judas, one of Jesus’ handpicked apostles who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Judas was greedy for money, loved money, lusted after money, and was moved to hand over his Master, an innocent man, to the Pharisees to be arrested, tried, convicted and killed, all for the sake of a few coins. Judas chose to live under the old sacrificial system, where he believed that the money would “satisfy” his crime. And yet, it didn’t: when he discovered that Jesus had been tried and killed, he went to the Pharisees saying “I have betrayed innocent blood,” wanting to give back the money. But they didn’t want the money. They only wanted Jesus. The money didn’t matter to them, and the money, the one thing Judas has chased throughout his life, didn’t matter to Judas, either. Suddenly, the money was obsolete. The money could not satisfy, and the money could not save. Only the blood of Jesus could save. The money had to be substituted; the ransom had to be substituted. Only Jesus could ultimately remove the wrath of God.
Jesus Himself testified that He is the ransom in Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45 where He said, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” In 1 Timothy 2:3-6, Paul says, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” Jesus is truly the ransom of our souls: He came to give Himself in our place. He is the ransom for us, for He took on the wrath of God in our place when He hung on the Cross. As He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?,” As He hung, bled, and died on the Cross, He did it out of love for mankind. He did it because He loved us. As Paul says in Romans 5:8, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He did it because only He could offer up Himself in our place. And because He gave His life, the righteous for the unrighteous, the godly for the ungodly, the just for the unjust, we can be saved, we can escape the wrath of God that is coming on the world.
The word of the Lord today is that Jesus is the ransom for our souls, Jesus is the substitute in our place who took on the wrath of God to redeem us, to free us from the power of death, hell, and the grave. Hebrews 2:14 says that Jesus, “through death, might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
Now, with the knowledge that Jesus is the ransom for our souls, what are we to do with this information? How do we apply this to our lives? Because “we have been bought with a price,” we have been ransomed, we have been redeemed, the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:20, we should glorify God in our body and spirit, which are God’s. Since we have been redeemed, since we have been ransomed, since Christ offered up Himself on our behalf, we are to accept Him as our Lord and Savior and obey His commands. And just what are those commands? That “if any man would come after Me, let Him deny Himself, pick up his cross daily, and follow Me,” Jesus says in Luke 9:23.