The Apostle John says that Jesus was just a symbol.


By William Jackson

Center for Tanakh Based Studies

As we know, John was more than an apostle to Jesus of Nazareth.  He was in Jesus’ inner circle of followers (Mark 5:37,9:2, 13:3, Matthew 26:37) and the author of no fewer than five New Testament books.  He was also bestowed the title “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23-25, 21:20). Yet, this apostle contexts the Christian messiah as just a symbol who is to lead people to God, but who is not to be worshiped.  This seems contrary to the Christian religion. Yet, we know this bold declaration is true because John makes it at the beginning of his book titled for his namesake – “John”.  Here he says,

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up” – John 3:14

To us today this statement seems confounding, but any Jew, back when this statement was made, would have known exactly what John was talking about.  He was making a Torah reference. For us, we will need to look at the place he was referencing – the book of Numbers. So, let us skip back over 1,400 years to understand “the snake” John was referring to.   

In Numbers 21:4-9 the Israelites are tromping through the desert engaged in their favorite pastime – “kvetching”,  which is yiddish for complaining. Here they were complaining about God, about Moses, they were even complaining about the food.  So is kvetching a bad thing? It is when you are making it about God. As Numbers 12, 16, Deuteronomy 9:7;and   Joshua 1:18 tells us, this is a sin because it equals challenging God. So, God sends poisonous snakes.  God always seems to get stuck sending destruction in one form or another to get His people back into the fold. He has done it in the form of famine (Ezekiel 14:21) , plague (Jeremiah 21:6, Ezekiel 33:27), war (Isaiah 13:4, Jeremiah 21:4-5, 32:5) captivity (Jeremiah 37:8-10, Lamentations 2:7) and here as snakes.  Yes, there are those that ponder why such a caring God would punish His people. However, being upset at punishment is comparative to getting mad a the traffic cop, instead of yourself for speeding.  Simply said, if Israel would not sin, than there would be no reason for ruin. Thus in Numbers 21, after the people were bit they went to Moses for a solution.  Moses then goes to God and God tells Moses to put a bronze snake on a stick.  When the people get bit they are to look upon the bronze snack and they would be healed.  So, did the actually bronze snake heal them – “no!”. It was God who had Moses create the snake and it was God that healed those whose sin brought them ruin.  So, did the people start doing the right thing and learn to rely directly on God? Not immediately. .

You see, around 700 BCE, King  Hezekiah finally destroyed Moses’ bronze snake on a stick (2 Kings 18:4). That is right, over 700 years later.  That means that Israel continued to revere this symbol for seven centuries. Was King Hezekiah a bad king for destroying this icon? No, Hezekiah was a good king, as quoted “He did what was right from Adonai’s perspective, following the example of everything David his ancestor had done” – 2 Kings 18:3.  In contrast, at the same time, King Hoshea controlled Northern Israel, and because of his and the northern tribes violation of the covenant, God allowed Assyria to take them captive.  Yet, all the while Hezekiah’s kingdom, in the south, was protective and prospered because of its devotion to the covenant. You see, Hezekiah’s removal of the snake and detractors seems to have invited a direct relationship with God.

The snake referred to in scripture was only a image that people looked upon to connect to God.  If we were to take another example from scripture we could use the tzitzit. The Torah states in Numbers 15:38: “Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them, that they shall make themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they shall put on the corner tassel a blue-violet (Tekhelet/tzitzit) thread.”. As for the “why” for tzitzits, the next verses explains it.  They are to be worn to remember God’s commandments and not to sin. But, what if somebody just wore the tzitzits thinking that act alone met God’s requirement? Meaning they didn’t follow the commandments, they kept sinning, they just felt wearing tassels exonerated them from guilt.  This would silly, kind of like valuing the messenger and not the message, which is a violation of the second commandment “You are to have no other gods before me” – Exodus 20:3.  This is the same as making the apostle’s boss a deity and minimizing the one true God.  We need to remember that Jesus’ deity was voted on 300 years after the apostles at the Council of Nicea 1 2 . In early Christianity he was only seen as a mortal prophet.  But, at Nicea the Roman Government needed their new religion prophet to be a deity to give it weight. For Rome it wasn’t hard to make a man a deity, even their Emperor was one. So, it is easy to understand how three centuries earlier John would have made Jesus out to be the pointer not the point.  It was because the early Christians saw Jesus as a great messenger, great but not immortal.

The bigger pictures is that the Tanakh (Old Testament) serves as a blueprint for our future.  As the prophets forecasted, there will be no other religions in the ending days. The whole world will simply worship the One God of Israel (Isaiah 2:11, Zechariah 3:9, 14:9) and His knowledge will fill the world (Isaiah 11:9, 52:10, Habakkuk 2:14).  In this paradise there will be a direct relationship to God and no reason for the bronze snake talked about in John 3.    


  1. Whipps, Heather. “How the Council of Nicea Changed the World.” LiveScience. March 30, 2008. Accessed March 10, 2018.
  2. Did Constantine Invent the Divinity of Jesus?, Beliefnet, Inc, Accessed March 10, 2018.



True sacrifice for intentional sin.

Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William Jackson


Contrary to popular belief, the Tabernacle and later the Temple sacrifice systems were not designed to forgive intentional sin.  Actually, the majority of the sacrifices would have been for those same things that we prayer for i.e. praising God, to become closer to Him, to express thanks to God, love or gratitude and celebrating the holidays and festivals 1.

Nonetheless, in this sacrifice system there were two areas that did deal will sin, the one was unintentional sin the other was the guilt sacrifice. Now unintentional sin didn’t mean a regrettable sin.  The Hebrew word used was “shegagah” and can mean error or mistake. So, the sin was literally a mistake.  If we looked at this in a modern-day analogy it would be the equivalency of you eating an unknown dish at a potluck just to find out later it had pork.  Another example would be if you cut the grass one morning only for your wife to remind you it is the Sabbath – “Oy Vey!”.  Conversely, unintentional sin is not when you cuss out a parent and blame it on losing your temper or any sin you just simply regret.

As for the other sin sacrifice, which is a “Guilt Offering”, this would be for crimes dealing with monetary theft.  The culprit would pay back the financial worth plus 20% and then make a guilt sacrifice (Leviticus 7:2).  This could be considered a sin offering, but only for some sins.  We need to remember that restitution for sins involving tangible theft are correctable, whereas most sins cannot be corrected, i.e. the debt can be paid back with the offender being penalized (20%). Conversely, if someone kills, betrays God or commits adultery there is no materialistic way to erase the crime.  In truth, by replacing something stolen and paying a penalty one has performed the final step of Teshuvah (repentance), which is restitution 2.  Sadly, most other intentional sins cannot be as easily resolved.

So, what about the other intentional sins?  For this there was no benefit of an animal sacrifice, the sinner would be cut off from the community.  As an example, here are a list of sins from the Torah that would have someone cut off:

  1. Not being circumcised (Genesis 17:14).
  2. Eating leavened bread during the week of unleavened bread (Exodus 12:15, 19).
  3. Replicating Holy Anointing Oil (Exodus 30:33, 38).
  4. Working on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14).
  5. An unclean person eating a peace offering (Leviticus 7:20-21).
  6. Eating animal fat from an offering (Leviticus 7:25).
  7. Slaughtering without making it an offering (Leviticus 17:4).
  8. Giving an offering without going to the Tabernacle (Lev. 17:8).
  9. Eating blood (Leviticus 17:10, 14).
  10. Unwholesome sexual relationships (Leviticus 18:6-29, 20:5-6,17-18).
  11. Child sacrifices (Leviticus 18:21,29, 20:3).
  12. Eating a peace offering after the third day (Leviticus 19:5-8).
  13. Anyone who is unclean and handles anything Holy (Leviticus 22:1-3)
  14. Not denying yourself on Yom Kippur (Leviticus 23:28-30).
  15. Failing to observe Passover (Numbers 9:13).
  16. Touching a corps (Numbers 19:13).
  17. One who remains unclean (Numbers 19:20).

Although the Torah goes into painstaking detail about what one can be cut off for, it appears that any intentional violation of God’s ordinances would mean someone was cut off (Numbers 15). Also Numbers 15:22-31 is pretty clear between the differences of unintentional and intentional sin.  It indicates, unintentional sin requires an offering and intentional sin means being cut off.  This begs the next question, if someone is cut off, can they return?

Our first example is in Numbers 12, where we see Miriam gossiping about Moses’ wife, “the Cushite woman”. Not only is this in violation of Leviticus 19:16, but it infuriates God. Consequently, God gives Miriam leprosy thus making her unclean which causes her to be separated or cut off from her peeps. As we read, she did appear sincerely remorseful of her sin.  After serving the seven days in quarantine she was allowed to return to her people.  Then we have Korah, who about a year after Miriam’s momentary exile, led a rebellion against Moses for the Priesthood (Numbers 16).  For these actions Korah and his 250 were cut off, but not as nicely as the one week “time-out” that Miriam got. The ground literally open up and swallowed Korah and his posse.  So why such a difference in consequences?  It could be that Miriam’s sin was against humanity (against another human) whereas Korah and his followers sin was directly against God (It was God who established Aaron as the high priest –  Exodus 28:1).  Although some might say that all sins are equal, they are not.  The proof of this is illustrated in the Torah several times.  For example, saving lives (preservation of the 6th Commandment – Exodus 20:13) trump’s lying (violation of the 9th commandment – Exodus 20:16). Abraham lied to save his own life twice (Genesis 12:11-13, 20:11) and Isaac once (Genesis 27:7), even at one point Hebrew midwives were rewarded by God for lying to Pharaoh because they were saving the lives of Hebrew babies (Exodus 1:15-21).

Additionally, Miriam and Aaron appear regrettable about her sin possibly performing Teshuvah/Repentance.  Whereas Korah and his minion seem very indignant towards Moses who actually gives them opportunities to recant. So, it also appears to be the earnestness in repenting that allows someone to return.  This method of returning after being cut off is is further amplified by the Prophets:

Isaiah 1:27 Tziyon will be redeemed by justice; and those in her who repent, by righteousness.

Jeremiah 31:18 Yes, I turned away; but later I repented. When I had been made to understand, I struck my thigh in shame and remorse, bearing the weight of the disgrace acquired when I was young.’

Ezekiel 18:21 “However, if the wicked person repents of all the sins he committed, keeps my laws and does what is lawful and right; then he will certainly live, he will not die.


Many are wrapped around the axle believing sin was absolved through animal sacrifice.  In fact, the entire Christian religion is based on this.  Their messiah took on the words sins in place of animal sacrifices by offering himself (John 1:29, Romans 3:25, 8:3, Hebrews 9:14-22, 1 Peter 1:18-21).  Sadly, if this were true, their messiah would have died for “unintentional” sins. This would equate to a crucifixion just because I mistakenly ate a sticky bun during the week of unleavened bread. Again, to crystallize our point, just look towards Nineveh.  In Jonah 3 Nineveh is saved not through sacrifices but repentance.  This was about 760 BCE at a time Temple sacrifices were being performed and seven centuries before Christianity.


  1. Judaism 101: Qorbanot: Sacrifices and Offerings. Accessed February 15, 2018.


  1. Rabbi Yehudah Prero, Teshuva – Four Steps to Greatness,, Accessed February 16, 2018,


Do not be negative yet correct our Brothers.

Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William Jackson

The Tanakh does put a negative slant on one being contemptuous, quarrelsome or even nagging (Proverbs 19:13, 21:9, 19, 25:24, 27:15). As Proverbs 15:1 advises us “A gentle reply turns away wrath, but a distressing word stirs up anger”. In fact many of the Holy Writings talk about resolving conflict with patience not anger (Proverbs 15:18, 16:32, 20:3, 29:22, Ecclesiastes 7:9).  So, are we to apply to the age old adage “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”?  Not really, Leviticus 19:16 tells us we are charged with responsibility to tell people when they are in sin.   Furthermore, Leviticus 19:16 goes on and says if we don’t inform them we will assume the responsibility are their vices.  Ouch, talk about a fragile situation, on one hand you are called to warn your brothers and sisters, but on the other you are not to come across as confrontational in doing so.  Some might say that this is impossible, but it is possible. You just need to do two things: simply present your observations as facts and make sure you know where it is at in Scripture.  Remember, these are God’s laws, not your opinion.  Also, let yourself off the hook.  There is no reason to badger them into submission, that is the job of their conscience not yours.  As we noticed with Cain, before he killed Abel God did confront him.  God simply said to Cain “…if you don’t do what is good, sin is crouching at the door — it wants you, but you can rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7).  God did not haggle with Cain to get it right, He simply presented the facts and consequences.  Yes, Cain failed, but under no circumstance did God.  Granted, we are not gods, but we are to be godly (Psalm 4:4, 12:2, 29:1).  So, shouldn’t we handle things the way God would?

Ezekiel chapter 3 reinforced this point of view through “The Watchman” concept. God appointed Ezekiel as the watchman for Israel (Ezekiel 3:17).  It was Ezekiel’s job to tell people when they were in sin.  If he didn’t do his job God would hold him accountable (Ezekiel 3:18), but if he did his job and they kept sinning, Ezekiel was no longer accountable (Ezekiel 3:19).  As with many of the writing of the prophets, God used their lives as analogies for us to follow.


As Leviticus 19:16 charges us with the task of warning our neighbors, the next verse 17 tells us how to do it, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart…”.  In short, we are to correct our Brothers without malice.  Here are a few tips:

  1. Do not do it publicly.
  2. Have your supporting verse/s available.
  3. Start off by saying “This isn’t personal…”
  4. Avoid stating your opinion.
  5. Control the tone of your voice.
  6. Choose the right “Body Language”.

Whether you chose to follow these tips or not is irrelevant.  What is relevant is that you tell someone when they are in sin.

Israel in Bondage, was it 430, 400 or 215 years?


Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William Jackson

As we begin to read the Exodus in the Torah, we find a biblical riddle that has stumped people for ages, “how long were the children of Israel in Egypt?”.  It seems straight forward when Moses tells us that they were there for 430 years in Exodus 12:40-41. Yet, further back in Genesis 15:13 God says to Abraham that his people will be oppress for 400 years. Another issue that seems to surface, is that if we do the chronological math from Joseph’s brothers moving to Egypt and the Exodus, it is only 215 years.

So what is the answer 215 years in Egypt under oppression versus 430 years or even 400 years?  Let’s tackle the smallest number first, determining the 215 years in Egypt. If we add up the chronological linages in Genesis 46 and Exodus 6 we come up with  215 years rather than 400 or 430 years.  Other good points are that in the cases of Moses linage (Genesis 46:11, Exodus 6) and the infamous Reubenites who rebelled against Moses (Numbers 16) only two generations passed since entering Egypt (Genesis 46:9, Numbers 26:8–9).  This would appear that 215 years are more realistic than 400 or 430 years.

So what about the 400 and 430 years?  If we dig even deeper and examine the text maybe we will find our answer.  We see that God said to Abram (Abraham) in Genesis 15:3 “… your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs…”.  His seed would be Israel (Jacob) but also anybody else that came from him (Abraham), i.e. Isaac.  In addition, it doesn’t specify Egypt here, it clearly states that they (Abraham’s seed) “will be strangers in a land that is not theirs”.  Remember that Israel will not inherent its own land until they drove out Canaan’s inhabitants (Deuteronomy 9:1-6).  In support of this we hear Abraham say he was “a stranger in a strange land” in Genesis 23:4.  He makes this statement in Canaan, the future Israel.  So the clock for the 400 years would have started in Genesis 15 and not when Jacob’s clan entered Egypt (Genesis 45:4–6, 47:9).  Yet, if God states that Abraham’s people will be in a strange land for 400 years, why does Moses say they lived in Egypt for 430 years ( Exodus 12:40–41)?  Well, when God told Abraham his people would be strangers in a strange land it was in Genesis 15, Abraham was on the road for quite some time before getting this message from God.  In fact, it was first recorded that he went into Egypt three chapters earlier (Genesis 12:10). In truth, Abraham was in Egypt years before being told that his people would be strangers in a strange land for 400 years.  This could explain the 30 year discrepancy.

Here is a specific breakdown of the 215 years before Abraham’s people entered Egypt as Israel1:

1st 25 years passed from the time of Abraham’s arrival in Canaan at the age of 75 (Genesis 12:4) until the birth of Isaac, at which time Abraham was 100 years old (Genesis 21:5)

2nd 60 years passed from the birth of Isaac until the birth of Jacob (Genesis 25:26)

3rd 130 years passed from the birth of Jacob until he and his descendants moved to Egypt (Genesis 47:9)



130 +

215 Years


Now let us look at the 215 years after Jacob entered Egypt2:

1st Joseph reveals himself to his brothers two years into the famine with five years left (Genesis 45:4–6,47:9)

2nd 17 years pass and Jacob dies (Genesis 47:28–49:33).

3rd 54 years pass and Joseph dies (Genesis 50:26).

4th 64 years pass from the time Joseph dies to when Moses is born (Exodus 6:16–20).

5th Moses is 80 years old when he speaks to Pharaoh (Exodus 7:7, 12:40–41).





80 +

215 Years



As bizarre as it might seem, our answers do not conflict, our questions do.  Simply stated, for each of our three answers (215, 400 and 430 years), we have three separate questions respectfully: 1. “How long was Israel in Egypt under oppression?”, 2. “How long will Abraham’s seed be a stranger without a home?” and 3. “How long was Abraham and his people in Egypt?”. Sometimes we gain more on the journey to our answers than the answers themselves.  To quote Moshe Ben-Chaim, “The Torah was purposefully written in a cryptic style so as to engage the mind in this most prized activity of analysis, induction, deduction and thought”. When we hit an obstacle in our readings we do not have a problem, we have a reason to study.


  1. “How Many Years Were the Israelites in Egypt?” Accessed January 23, 2018.


  1. Wright, David. “How Long Were the Israelites in Egypt?” Answers in Genesis. July 05, 2010. Accessed January 23, 2018.


What is a “Holy Convocation” and how does it affect us today?


Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William J Jackson

The Torah tells us no fewer than 17 times to have a “Holy Convocation”.  In doing so, it is referencing to both the Sabbath and six out of seven Feast and Festivals.  So, since this is such a critical piece for God’s appointed times, shouldn’t we know exactly what He means by Holy Convocation? Please join us with this phrase study to ensure that we are honoring God the way He intended us.

Firstly, “Holy Convocation” in Hebrew is “Miqra Qodesh” (מִקְרָא־קֹדֶשׁ).  “Qodesh” meaning Holy, whereas “Miqra” could mean convocation or assembly.  Starting with Holy or qodesh, this word simply means holiness, sacredness and/or separateness.  When refereeing to God’s appointed times, this would infer a separation for God, making God centered and everything else irrelevant.

The second, and more controversial part of this phrase is miqra and is often interpreted as convocation. Webster’s defines a convocation as “an assembly of persons called together to a meeting”1.  Yes, convocation can be one of the definitions of miqra, but miqra has another definition which is “reading”2.  You see the root word of miqra is “qara”, which can mean to “recite, read, or proclaim”3.  So how do we decide which meaning to use or is it possible both meanings were interwoven for good reason?

There was a time when somebody was reading aloud, it implied there was a meeting taking place.  Likewise, it probably meant if somebody recited from the Torah during this meeting it was considered a Holy Meeting.  To validate this point, the word miqra can be synonymous with the word Tanakh because it stands for “that which is read”4. So, why did everyone have to assemble for a Torah reading?  Simple, it was a literacy issue.  Doctor Christopher A. Rollston, an Epigraphic Consultant for National Geographic, states “Literacy in ancient Israel and Judah was probably 15 or 20 percent of the population, at most,”5.  Additionally, not everyone had a Torah Scroll to read from.  For the average Israelite, there would have been a Torah Scroll at his or her local Synagogue.

However, during the Exodus they would not have had Synagogues as we understand them today, but they might have had a gathering where they recited God’s Word.  You see, if we look at Israel’s census in Numbers 26, we can total up the Israelite male population as 601,730.  If you add wives and children to this number, we can conservatively assume that there were over two million Israelites in the desert.  This would be a population larger than Houston, Texas (1,630,00 +) or the State of West Virginia (1,852,994).  Yet, in Deuteronomy, Moses gives speeches to these Israelites.  Begs the question, did Moses orate to 2 million plus people or did he adhere to advice his father-in-law Jethro gave him in Exodus 18:21.  This is where Jethro basically said to delegate – “…you should choose from among all the people competent men who are God-fearing, honest and incorruptible to be their leaders, in charge of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens”.  God also gives Moses this same advice earlier (Exodus 3:16, 18, Numbers 11:16).  In fact, this is how the Israelites did their first Passover (Exodus 12:21).  So, although there was a central point that things were done, one could assume that individual leaders took information back to their flocks and disseminated.


Later, after Israel entered the promised land, the Israelites would have priests.  As you recall, back in Exodus 28:1, God makes the Levites priests.  Thus, once Israel enters Canaan, these priests by design become disperses among the tribes.  Evidence for this can be found in Numbers 35:6-7 where God distributes the Levites among 48 cities.  Once the written Torah was copied, people could read aloud the Words of God in a gathering, i.e. have a “Holy Convocation” as commanded by Leviticus 23. This would have been the beginning concept of the Synagogue.  There is evidence of these early meeting houses, both archaeologically and in the Tanakh.  In Jeremiah 39:8 it says that the Babylonians burnt down the Palace and people’s houses.  If the “people’s house”6 was just residences, it would simply be houses.  “People’s houses” could imply a public area of significance.  A place of worship would meet this profile.  The name “Synagogue”7 wouldn’t come for another 300 years after the Babylonian captivity.  Synagogue was a Greek word used to label Israel’s houses of worship during the Hellenist period, around 323 BCE8.


Ruins of Synagogue in Basilica

Getting to our meaning for “Miqra” (convocation/reading), we need to ask ourselves was this public reciting of the Torah done out of design or convenience? It is true that today we all have a Torah, most of us have several.  So, when we read our Torah on Sabbath, are we not having a “Holy Reading”?  Yes, this would appear to meet the requirements, but “the writings” do communicate there is a benefit to community:

Psalm 119:63 I am a friend of all who fear you, of those who observe your precepts.

Psalm 133:1 “…Oh, how good, how pleasant it is for brothers to live together in harmony”.

Psalm 145:4 Each generation will praise your works to the next and proclaim your mighty acts.

Proverbs 27:17 Just as iron sharpens iron, a person sharpens the character of his friend.

Proverbs 27:9 Perfume and incense make the heart glad, [also] friendship sweet with advice from the heart.

Yet, when we look at Exodus 16:29 we are told not to leave our homes on Sabbath.  So by us band our family spending time with God within the confines of our homes we are having a  “Miqra Qodesh” (Holy Convocation).


1.   “Convocation.” Merriam-Webster. Accessed January 13, 2018.

2.   The Lockman Foundation. “Entry for מִקְרָא.” New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance. La Habra, CA: Zondervan, 2004.

3.   Gesenius, Wilhelm. “Entry for קָרָא.” Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. London, UK: Samuel Bagster & Sons, Limited, exact publication date unknown.

4.   BIBLICAL STUDIES Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation. Norton Irish Theological Quarterly.2007; 72: 305-306

5.   Rollston, Christopher A. Writing and literacy in the world of ancient Israel: epigraphic evidence from the Iron Age. Leiden: Brill, 2011.

 6.   Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi). “Yirmiyahu – Jeremiah – Chapter 39.” Tanakh Online – Torah – Bible. Accessed January 13, 2018.

 7.   Lewis N. Dembitz, Wilhelm Bacher, “” SYNAGOGUE – Accessed January 13, 2018.

8.   Art of the Hellenistic Age and the Hellenistic Tradition. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. Retrieved 27 May 2013. Archived here.

Why a three-day Journey?


Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William Jackson

Many people, when thinking about the Exodus, hear that line in their head from the movie and song… “♪ let my people go ♪”. Truthfully, God did tell Moses to tell Pharaoh this, nine separate times (Exodus 5:1, 7:16, 26, 8:16, 17, 9:1, 13, 10:3, 10:4).  Yet, people assume that Moses was asking Pharaoh to release the Israelites from captivity.  Moses was just asking for the Israelites to “journey into the desert; so that we can sacrifice to Adonai our God” (Exodus 3:18, 5:3, 8:23).  He also asked to do this over a three-day period. Begs the question, why three days?  Certainly, sacrificing could have been done in just one day. In addition, we need to ask ourselves, what is the threat to Pharaoh here?  All the Israelites wanted was an extended weekend?  We can find these answers on the pages of Exodus, so let’s dig in.

Slave or Laborer:

For starters, our first misnomer is thinking that the Israelites were slaves. Believe it or not, the Torah only mentions one group of slaves in Egypt, and that was the Egyptians.  Some bibles take liberties with the word slave, so instead of relying on them, let’s look at the actual Hebrew. If we look at Genesis 47:19 we see that Joseph helped, make slaves out of the Egyptians.  Ironically, it was voluntary, since they were desperate to find a way to survive the famine.  The word used here is “Ebed” which means slave or servant.  This is the word used to describe Joseph in his relationship to Potiphar. The word used for the Israelite bondage is “Abad” which is forced labor.  This is the word to describe Jacob’s relationship to Laban (Genesis 31:41) and even the condition King Solomon had the Israelites build the Temple (1 King 9:21).  Now, just because it was forced labor verses slavery does not mean that the work was less torturous or demeaning.  But, there is an important point that is missed here if we were to assume the Israelites were slaves.  A slave owns nothing and is owned.  The Israelites, conversely, had property, Goshen (Exodus 8:22).  Likewise, they were expected to contribute the straw to make bricks (Exodus 5:7).  A slave’s master would be responsible for contributing resources and one of those resources is his slave. Likewise, if you were property and escaped, your master had the right to retrieve you.  On the other hand, if you were not property and left the jurisdiction of a tyrant, you were no longer controlled.

Three Days to the Border:

Pharaoh, who had a vested interest in keeping his conscripted labor, probably did not want to give them the opportunity to escape his control. So why not let them sacrifice for one day locally? Well, there was an issue with this as we see in Exodus 8:25 after the plague of the flies.  Here, Pharaoh concedes and tells Moses his people can sacrifice, but they will do it in Egypt. Moses retorts that the Egyptians will stone the Israelites because the Egyptians detest sacrifice (Exodus 8:26).  Therefore, Moses insists they will need three days to leave the land and sacrifice (Exodus 8:27). Thus, we know that it would take three days to get out of the region.  If we look at a map from that period, Egypt territory was a lot more extended than it is now (1).


Egyptian Blasphemy:

So why did the Egyptians detest sacrifices?  Some historians might say the Egyptians worshiped animals, the truth is that they didn’t see animals as deities. More accurately, they saw some animals as symbols of their gods (2).  Therefore, sacrificing an animal would have been the highest sign of disrespect to their gods. Thus, the Israelites would have to get out of stone’s range before sacrificing. This is why sacrificing the Passover Lamb while still in Egypt showed a lot of “Chutzpah”. It also showed their commitment to God and the journey.


So, letting the Israelite travel outside of the Egypt’s reign of control would be the equivalency of allowing an East German free access to West Germany during the cold war, or allowing somebody entree into city of refuge.  Once that person could access safety, why would they return?  Pharaoh knew this, maybe that is why he was so passionate in perusing the Israelites after they took off on their trek.


Granted Moses only beseeched for a three-day journey to Pharaoh on behalf of God.  It should be noted that he never said to Pharaoh he would be returning his people to the brickyards. Sure, some might say that this was a loophole, but, in the end, it was Pharaoh who told them all to get out of Egypt (Exodus 12:31-33).


  1. “Map of The Egyptian Empire (Bible History Online).” Bible History Online. Accessed January 09, 2018. 


  1. Jackson, William J. “The Passover Lamb, making a commitment.” Center for Tanakh Based Studies. January 26, 2017. Accessed January 09, 2018.


Who was the Pharaoh(s) in the Torah?


Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William J. Jackson

When we read the first four chapters of the Exodus we keep hearing about this dysfunctional Pharaoh.  He first forgets about what Joseph did for Egypt during the famine.  He then becomes threaten by the Israelites growing in numbers. As a cruel solution, he orders the Hebrew boys murdered.  Finally, it appears that Moses understandably confronts this inflexible Emperor to have the Israelites released from Egypt.  This Ruler is not a pleasant fella.  Yet, what if I said this was not correct, and that we are talking about several Pharaohs here not just one. Likewise, we are not only talking over a period but a span of 400-years in history where the context of each statement isn’t as straight forward as it seems.  So, lets grab our Torah, a history book and some physical evidence so that we can triangulate some worthy answers.

Genesis 41 – 50, Joseph Saves Egypt, (1886 – 1806 BCE)


For saving Egypt during the famine, Joseph was promoted to a position second only Pharaoh. The Pharaoh that promoted him was more than likely King Senusret III.  This would have been during Egypt’s golden age, the 12th Dynasty (C. 2055-1786 B.C.).  Despite a seven year worldwide famine, Egypt would excel underneath Joseph’s charge.  This was due to the Abrahamic covenant gained through Joseph (Genesis 12:3).

Exodus 1, Israelites Multiply in Egypt, (1800 – 1700 BCE)


At the time of Joseph’s death, Egypt moved into their 13 Dynasty.  It was almost like the death of Joseph ushered in Egypt’s dark age.  Within the Egyptian government there was much end fighting and jockeying for power that created an instability.  Additionally, since the end of the 12th Dynasty there had been an influx of foreigners entering Egypt due to famine.  Many, like the Israelites, came from Canaan. The Hyksos, which was a group of refugees from the middle east began to settle Egypt’s Nile Delta.  Remember, this was where the Israelites lived in Goshen.  The Hyksos population appear to have come into Egypt after the Israelites between 50 and 100 years.

Exodus 1:8, Israelites Oppressed by New King, (1600 BCE)


The Hyksos gained in power and began to rule Egypt in the mid-1600 BCE.  This was the Fifteenth Dynasty of Egypt.  The Hyksos kings were “Egyptianized,” assuming the title of Pharaoh 1.  Now let’s read this Torah passage from this time frame:

Now there arose a new king over Egypt. He knew nothing about Yosef but said to his people, “Look, the descendants of Isra’el have become a people too numerous and powerful for us. Come, let’s use wisdom in dealing with them. Otherwise, they’ll continue to multiply; and in the event of war they might ally themselves with our enemies, fight against us and leave the land altogether.” – Exodus 1:8-10

The new King referred to in the passage might have been a Hyksos King, since they were the ruling class at this time. Therefore, he said, “He knew nothing about Yosef”.  As a foreign people why should they care about what Joseph did for Egypt over 200 years earlier.  Also, this King seems threatened by Israel’s numbers.  We need to be aware that the Egyptian were continually clashing with the Hyksos to regain power.  The enemy the King was afraid the Israelites would unite with may have been the Egyptians (Exodus 1:8-10). Why not, the Egyptians up to this were possibly still amicable with the Israelites.

Exodus 1:22, Pharaoh’s Order to Kill Firstborn, (1539 BCE)


When we read Exodus 1, it appears to be the same Pharaoh, but it is probably not.  There are decades and much history that spans Exodus 1:8 and 22.  During the time frame that the Pharaoh ordered the first born Israelite babies killed, the ruler was probably an Egyptian Pharaoh after the Hyksos were defeated.  This would have been during 18th Dynasty and a time in Egypt known as the “New Kingdom”.  Many of these first Kings in the beginning of the 18th Dynasty would have had a distrust and grunge against any foreigners in their land. Granted, the Israelites were probably not Hyksos but there was guilt by association.  Both groups were from Canaan, both groups settled in Goshen generally during the same time and both groups were foreigners. So, the Pharaoh ordered “Every boy that is born, throw in the river; but let all the girls live.” This may have been an order towards all foreigners.

Exodus 2, The Birth and Adoption of Moses (1525 BCE)


Thutmose I is a good fit for the Pharaoh whose daughter adopted Moses. The reason we finger him is because his son was more than likely the Pharaoh that would not release the Israelites. So, why can’t these be the same Pharaohs? Simple, in Exodus 2:23 we find out that the Pharaoh dies while Moses is in Median, so the Pharaoh that ordered the Hebrew boys killed and the Pharaoh who Moses argues with are two different Pharaohs.

Exodus 3, Moses Sent to Deliver Israel (1446 BCE)


Thutmose II is the best candidate to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Firstly, he had a brief yet productive reign.  Secondly, history records his collapse with no son to succeed him2. This supports Exodus 11:5 that states the Pharaoh’s son will die.  Additionally, a recent CAT scan of Thutmose II reveals a boil scar3 possibly evidence of the plague of the boils (Exodus 9:8-35). Not only does Thutmose II corpse show boil scares but many of the Egyptian corps from this time do.


It is interesting that Pharaoh says he does not know God (Exodus 5:2). Yet, today we know God, but history does not know Pharaoh. Maybe this is because the important piece here is that these four Pharaohs that are confused for one are just an amalgamation.  Knowing who they were just isn’t important to the narrative of the Torah.  Thus, knowing the history of a pagan nation gives us a contrasting backdrop to the struggle of God’s people.  You see at the end of the day there is really on one that is important – the victory secured for us by God.


  1. “Hyksos Egyptian dynasty.” Encyclopedia Britannica. November 08, 2017. Accessed December 31, 2017.


  1. Edersheim, Alfred. Bible history: Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.


  1. Kaspar, Ed, Evidence of the Exodus: Scars from the plague of the boils,, 2009