Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate.  Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach.  For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.


Going to Jesus

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Just One Plural “You”

Part One: Moses

Exodus 23

20. Behold, I am sending an angel before you to protect you along the way and to bring you into the place that I have prepared.

21. Beware of him, and obey his voice. Provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him.

22. But if you diligently obey his voice, and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will be a foe to your foes.

23. For my angel shall go before you and bring you in [to Canaan].

In mid-2009, I came across these verses in the process of working on my book, God had a Son before Mary Did. I was without my Hebrew Bible, but I wanted to make sure that the “you’s” were all plural. So, I called Aaron Nelson, one of my Hebrew students, and asked him to look it up for me when he had the chance. I told him I was certain that all nine of the “you’s” in those verses were plural, but that I wanted to make sure. Aaron called back within an hour or so and surprised me with what he had found. He told me that only one of the “you’s” in those verses was plural! Can you guess which one? Go ahead. Take a moment and see if you can tell. Within one of the verses, I have left you a clue.

What Aaron’s information made clear is that in those verses, God was talking only to Moses, not to all of Israel, as I had previously thought. Every time (except once) when God said “you”, He meant “you, Moses”, not “you, Israel”. This new information gave this portion of Scripture an entirely different cast, and it helped me understand Moses’ passion for holiness among the Israelites, and even helped me understand Moses’ fury against his fellow Israelites whenever they began to turn from righteousness, whether it be his violence when he found the golden calf that Israel had built at Mount Sinai or when they provoked him to sin at Kadesh-barnea and he was forbidden by God to enter into the Promised Land.


This portion of Scripture had been special to me since June, 2001. At that time, Jesus had sent me on a mission to rescue a troubled congregation, and as I looked out the window of the airplane, the Spirit spoke those words from Exodus to my heart. The feelings I felt can hardly be described. The fear provoked by the sternness of His warning was softened by the comfort inspired by the promise of His presence. Because I had taught the Old Testament many times over the years, the words God spoke to me as I was on the plane were familiar. I recognized them as being from Exodus, and so, I opened my Bible and read them carefully. And now, with help from one of my students, I saw even more clearly than I did in 2001, that these words of God were, and are intended only for someone whom God anoints to guide His people to the place of rest which He has prepared for them. Every pastor, every teacher, every elder among the saints should tremble at these words from God.

The Answer

The clue that I have left for you is in verse 21. I designated the only plural form of the word “you” in these verses by making the “y” italics. It is the word “your”.

In verse 20, God is promising Moses, not Israel, that His angel would go before him to bring Moses to the place He has prepared for Israel. Of course, this is good news for all the Israelites because it meant that God’s angel would go before them, too – as long as they followed Moses. But it was Moses that God sent His angel to lead, not Israel. The only leader Israel had was Moses, and as long as they followed him, and as long as Moses followed the Angel whom God sent to lead him, Israel was protected and blessed.

21. Beware of him, and obey his voice. Provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him.

In verse 21, the verbs “beware”, “obey”, and “provoke” are all singular in form. God is commanding Moses, not all of Israel in this instance, to fear the Angel and submit to him. But the reason God gives to Moses for this warning is astonishing, and it is this: “for the Angel will not forgive your [plural!] transgressions”.

God was warning Moses that He would hold Moses himself accountable for more than his own obedience! Moses was commanded to fear, obey, and please God’s Angel – for the Angel would not forgive Israel’s transgressions! I cannot imagine a more fearful prospect for a leader of God’s people. Moses’ judgment would be measured by Israel’s obedience, not just his own. He himself is commanded to obey, but Moses would be judged not simply on the basis of his own behavior but by the behavior of all those who were following him.

This is consistent with how God judged His ministers throughout the Scriptures. In the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation, Jesus held the pastors of the seven congregations of Asia personally accountable for the conduct of the saints in their congregations. Those ministers were required by God to maintain order and a standard of holiness in their area of control. When God spoke to Moses as he did in Exodus 23:20–23, Moses understood perfectly that if he failed to enforce the law among God’s people, neither he nor they would enter into Canaan. He was to be perfect with God’s Angel, and he was to maintain perfection in the camps of Israel.

Can anyone blame Moses for his wrath upon seeing the golden calf that his brother Aaron, with all Israel, had constructed while Moses was on Mount Sinai with God? Their foolishness was jeopardizing Moses’ hope of entering into the promised land of Canaan! Moses dearly loved Israel, and his goal was to bring them to the place God had promised them, but he understood that his judgment was bound up with theirs! They were ruining everything, for Moses and for themselves, and Moses’ response was to begin a slaughter of his fellow Israelites until God’s was satisfied and told him it was enough (Ex. 32:26–28).

Next: Part Two: “Us”

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