This six-session small group Bible study (DVD/digital video sold separately) by noted teacher and historian, Ray Vander Laan, is volume nine of the That the World May Know series. When the Israelites left Egypt, they were finally free. Free from persecution, free from oppression, and free to worship their God. But with that freedom comes a new challenge – learning how to live together the way God intends. In this ninth volume of Faith Lessons, discover how God teaches the Israelites what it means to be part of a community that loves him and what that means for us today.
Filmed on location in Israel, Faith Lessons is a unique video series that brings God's Word to life with astounding relevance. By weaving together the Bible's fascinating historical, cultural, religious, and geographical contexts, teacher and historian Ray Vander Laan reveals unique insights into the Scriptures' significance for modern believers.
- Focuses on passages of Scripture explored in the DVD
- Includes sidebars, maps, photos and other study tools
- Features questions that facilitate discussion and inspire personal reflection
- Includes 25 personal Bible studies to help you deepen your learning experience between sessions, and turn lessons from the past into applications that impact how you live out your faith today.
The companion DVD for Fire On The Mountain was filmed on location at the Red Sea, Sinai, Serabit al Khadim, and Jebel Katarina. These illuminating "faith lessons" afford a new understanding of the Bible that will ground your convictions and transform your life. The Faith Lessons video series is ideal for use in small groups, personal and family Bible studies, and adult Sunday school. Individual believers and families will gain vital insights from long-ago times and cultures through this innovative approach to Bible study.
- The Lord Who Heals You – Filmed at the Red Sea and Sinai
- Not By Bread Alone – Filmed in Sinai
- Their Blood Cried Out – Filmed at Serabit al Khadim
- The Mountain of God – Filmed at Jebel Katarina
- I Led You Like a Bride – Filmed at Jebel Katarina
- The Whisper of God - Filmed at Jebel Katarina
This Discovery Guide is designed for use with the Fire On The Mountain DVD (sold separately).
About the Author
Ray Vander Laan is the founder of That the World May Know Ministries and creator of the Faith Lessons video series with Focus on the Family. An ordained minister, he holds the chair of biblical cultural studies as a religion instructor at Holland Christian Schools in Holland, Michigan. He and his wife, Esther, have four children and fifteen grandchildren.
Stephen and Amanda Sorenson are founders of Sorenson Communications and have co-written many small group curriculum guidebooks, including the entire Faith Lessons series.
Read an Excerpt
Fire on the Mountain Discovery Guide
By Ray Vander Laan
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2009 Ray Vander Laan
All rights reserved.
THE LORD WHO HEALS YOU: MARAH AND ELIM
The Hebrews' exodus from Egypt is the story of God fulfilling the promises of his covenant with Abraham (see Genesis 15). But that story had a bigger purpose than merely to release Abraham's enslaved descendants from the oppression of their Egyptian masters. Rather, God intended Abraham's offspring to become his witnesses, his model people. God desired them to live in such an exemplary manner that all other peoples would come to know his name and find salvation in him, and in the Messiah who was yet to come.
In spite of God's spectacular acts of power demonstrated through the plagues, the Hebrews' redemption from Egypt was only the first step in a long journey of training. To become God's witnesses, the Hebrews (Israel) needed to learn to trust him in all circumstances and to live by faith in his word. They needed God's laws to guide them and a sacrificial system through which they could receive forgiveness for their wrongdoing and their failures. They needed to learn to worship God by living according to his commands so that every aspect of their lives reflected his righteousness and demonstrated his deep, compassionate love for the poor, the suffering, and the broken. In short, the Hebrews needed a complete and thorough reeducation to purge the ways of Egypt from their hearts and lives and to replace them with the righteous, compassionate character of those who walk with God.
So God led them from the comfort and abundance of the fertile Nile Valley into the harsh, barren environment of the desert. There his people were challenged to affirm their newly rekindled faith and to practice living it out. Whenever they failed (and they often did), God forgave them and put before them another "test" — another opportunity to choose to walk with him.
Although many people today view the Israelites' desert experiences through the lens of their failures, there is so much more to their forty-year wilderness story! Despite their obvious failures, God loved and provided for them. They experienced God's presence and protection through daily miracles — manna and quail, water from the rock, pillars of fire and cloud. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah declared in tender language that God fondly remembered the wilderness years as his courtship with his beloved bride (Jeremiah 2:1–2). By God's grace, the Israelite children reared in the desert were better prepared than their parents to live in a manner that revealed their God to the world. They were better prepared to walk with God and step into their place in his plan to reclaim the world from the chaos of sin.
Almost every foundational element of faith known in the Bible is rooted in Israel's awe-filled experiences in the desert wilderness. These experiences were so central to the identity of God's people during Jesus' day, that Jesus — God's "second" firstborn son (Israel, according to Exodus 4:22, was God's "first" firstborn son) — also went to the desert ... for forty days! The thrilling stories of those experiences also remind us that the legacy of the ancient Israelites now rests on our shoulders. God desires that all who follow him — Jew or Gentile — not only tell but show the nations his nature by the way we live.
Thus the ancient Israelites contributed to preparing us for our walk with God! And, just as he did with them, God still leads us into the "desert" where he shapes us — the body of Christ — into the people he wants us to be. We should not be surprised when life is difficult and harsh, filled with struggles and testing. God provides us with opportunities to trust him fully, obey him wholeheartedly, and practice being who he has called us to be. We join the ancient people of God in the desert because in their sandal prints we discover a map for our walk with God. Their failures are our lessons; their victories are our inspiration. Through their struggles, we stand on a firm foundation to fulfill our mission as God's witnesses to a broken, sinful world.
Opening Thoughts (3 minutes)
The Very Words of God
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.
Think About it
The difficulties of testing are nothing new to us. Teachers test their students to discover how thoroughly they understand their lessons; commanders test their troops to assess their strength, agility, and preparedness for battle; parents test their children's obedience and decision making to evaluate their maturity.
What are some of the specific ways by which we "test" a person's preparedness to fulfill his or her future responsibilities, and how might the person who is being tested perceive those experiences?
DVD notes (32 minutes) Into the desert — why? To humble
One bitter well — the first big test
A lesson about "sticks"
The rest of the story — twelve wells, seventy palms
DVD Discussion (6 minutes)
1. What kinds of experiences do you think were a part of daily life in the fertile Nile Delta, and what kinds of experiences do you think were a part of daily life in the extremes of the vast, barren Sinai desert?
In what ways might a person's lifestyle choices and emotional and spiritual responses to life differ in each of these environments?
What insight does this give you into why God wanted the Hebrews to leave the Nile Delta and spend some time living in the desert?
2. Most of us have never seen a desert, much less felt the relentless, baking heat of its vast, barren expanse, so it is hard to imagine what it would be like to travel on foot through the Sinai Desert. When we live much of our lives in climate-controlled buildings where a drink of pure water — either hot or cold — is just a few steps away, it's difficult to imagine what it would be like to be hot, thirsty, and days away from a water source.
Look at the map, "The Land of the Exodus," and consider where the Israelites might have been after two to three days' walk from the crossing of the sea. We know that they did not take the Way to the Land of the Philistines (along the Mediterranean), so trace the other possible routes across the Sinai or along the Red Sea toward the tip of the peninsula. Considering that all of the land they had walked through had been desert wilderness — hills, rock, gravel, sand, mountains, a few scattered shrubs in the wadis — how much do you think they longed for fresh water?
3. For a moment, try to put yourself in the sandals of one of the Israelites at Marah. They were two to three days from their last source of water, in a place they had never been before, and God had led them to water that they couldn't even drink! What did God's "test" at Marah's bitter well reveal about what was foremost in their hearts? What might God's "test" have revealed about what is foremost in your heart?
4. In light of the fact that God previously had used Moses' staff as an instrument of his mighty power, what is significant about God choosing to use a different piece of wood to make the water sweet? What impact might this experience have had on Moses and why?
FOR GREATER UNDERSTANDING
The Geography of the Exodus
One of the most debated geographic issues of the Hebrew Bible is the location of Mount Sinai and the route from Goshen the Hebrews took to get there. The Torah clearly and precisely describes the exodus from Egypt, and this study accepts the story provided in the Torah as completely accurate. Although the Torah names several cities and places on that journey, it does not provide sufficient data to correlate with current archaeological information and establish definitive locations. Thus many historical and geographical questions concerning the exact route of the exodus remain unanswered and open to debate.
Fortunately, this study does not depend on our knowing all of the specific locations and routes. Our emphasis is best expressed by the Middle Eastern saying, "It is not where an event occurred that is important but where it is remembered." Whereas knowing a specific setting for a biblical story often enhances and enriches our understanding, the text itself provides the lesson. So our purpose is to explore the events and God's revelation through them, not to make a case for a particular geographical theory. Therefore, the locations filmed for this study generally represent the places where the story occurred and are similar to the Torah's descriptions but no attempt has been made to "prove" that these are the actual places.
That being said, nearly all scholars agree that the Hebrews did not take "The Way to the Land of the Philistines." That route, along the Mediterranean coast on the northwestern edge of the Sinai Peninsula, was part of the ancient trade route and military road that passed through Canaan (later, Israel) and connected Egypt to the region of Babylon and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. God did not lead the Hebrews that way because they were not ready to face the strong military presence of the Philistines who inhabited the region at that time (Exodus 13:17).
Significant Jewish and Christian scholars have presented evidence for three major theories regarding the location of Mount Sinai and the exodus route: northwest Saudi Arabia or southern Jordan; northern Sinai Peninsula; and the traditional location in the mountains of southern Sinai. At least twenty Mount Sinai locations have been argued by scholars, and well-meaning amateurs have presented theories that contribute little to understanding the text.
Video for this study was filmed in the vicinity of the traditional route along the Gulf of Suez to Wadi Feiran and the Granite Highlands and portrays Jebel Katarina and Jebel Musa as Mount Sinai. These locations represent typical desert features — wells, roads, mountains — that research reveals are similar to those mentioned in the Torah. Bible students who are interested in evaluating evidence for a particular location or route should refer to sources that have this as their intent.
Small Group bible Discovery and Discussion (13 minutes)
The Lord Led You
God promised Moses that he would bring the Hebrews out of Egypt and into a land "flowing with milk and honey," the same land he had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 3:8; 6:8). By the most direct route, this land was less than two hundred miles from Egypt — a journey that would have taken less than three weeks. But God knew his people were discouraged and their faith was weak, so he had another route in mind. Via this route, it took forty days just to reach Mount Sinai! By choosing a longer, more difficult route, God provided opportunities for the Hebrews to learn how to be obedient, active participants with him in his bigger plan to reclaim his world.
1. To the Hebrews, who for generations had lived in the abundant and well-watered Nile Delta, the desert was an unknown, frightening place of chaos and danger. What compelled them to go into this strange, hostile place, and how did they know which way to go? (See Exodus 13:21–22; 15:22.)
Note: The Hebrew word that is translated "led" in the NIV (Exodus 15:22) is nasa, which carries the meaning of "causing, driving, or forcing." So the text at least hints that the Israelites may have in some way hesitated or resisted stepping forward into the desert.
2. What was the desert like, and how did the Israelites feel about being there? (See Numbers 20:1–5; Deuteronomy 1:19; 8:15; Jeremiah 2:6.)
How is their response like or unlike your response when it seems that God has placed you in difficult, challenging circumstances?
3. God clearly expressed his intent and purpose for leading his people into the desert. (See Exodus 19:3–6; Deuteronomy 8:2–5, 16.)
a. What did God want to accomplish in the hearts and lives of his people, and how would the desert experience contribute to this training?
b. What images did God use to describe his relationship with his people and, therefore, his motivation for leading them into the desert?
c. What do these images say to you about how highly God values his relationship with his people?
Faith Lesson (5 minutes)
The desert is the place where people are forced to live one moment at a time. When we, or people we love, experience difficult, "desert" times, we often struggle to understand why God would lead us into painful circumstances. We may question why God would want us to be in the desert. We may feel confused when we are thrust into circumstances that appear — at least to us — to contradict God's loving nature. This was true of the Israelites, it was true of the early Christian believers, and it is true of us. Yet God, who dearly loves all who follow him and truly desires that "in the end it might go well" for us, also leads us along difficult paths in dangerous territory that humble us and test us in order to know what is in our hearts.
1. Consider the experience of the apostle Paul, who was tormented by what he called a "thorn in my flesh" that he begged God to take away from him (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).
a. What did the testing from this desert reveal about the apostle Paul's heart — to him as well as to God — and what did it allow him to experience?
b. To what extent would you want to experience this level of intimacy, trust, and commitment in your relationship with God?
2. What has been your personal experience with God on a roundabout "journey" or in a vast and dreadful "desert"?
How much did you complain and long for the good things you had back in "Egypt"?
What did you discover about what was really in your heart? Fear? Lack of faith? Rebellion? Selfishness?
In which way(s) did the desires of your heart change as a result of that experience?
What of great value would you have missed out on if you had taken a "shortcut" or avoided the desert altogether?
3. If you are on a difficult path or in the midst of an intense time in the desert right now, what strength and encouragement do you gain from the experiences of the Israelites and others who have gone into the desert before you?
Closing (1 minute)
Read Deuteronomy 8:2–5 aloud together: "Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you."
Then pray about the "tests" that you and other people are facing. Ask God to give you the strength to obey him fully and the faith to live on every word that comes from him. Thank him for his unfailing love for you, a love that includes training you to follow him with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.
Tested and Trained to be God's Message
In-Depth Personal Study Sessions
Day One | Humbled and Tested to Fulfill God's Purpose
The Very Words of God
Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the Lord promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.
Tested to Reveal What Was in Their Hearts
From the time he created the first humans, male and female, God desired to partner with his people in caring for the earth and "increasing" their numbers and influence (Genesis 1:28). In the garden of Eden, the crafty serpent quickly exposed the weakness in the hearts of God's partners. They disobeyed the command of God and strayed from his purpose (Genesis 2:15–17; 3:1–7). But God never gave up on his redemptive plan. Once he freed the Hebrews from slavery under Pharaoh, it was a new beginning — a new chapter in God's plan to restore shalom to his creation. But what was in their hearts? Were they fully devoted to obeying God's commands and fulfilling his purpose, or would they insist on going their own way?
1. What might prevent the Israelites from "increasing" and fulfilling their role as God's partners in the land he had promised to their forefathers? (See Deuteronomy 8:1.)
Excerpted from Fire on the Mountain Discovery Guide by Ray Vander Laan. Copyright © 2009 Ray Vander Laan. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Session One The Lord Who Heals You: Marah and Elim, 15,
Session Two Not by Bread Alone: Manna and Water from the Rock, 57,
Session Three Their Blood Cried Out: Israel Becomes a Community, 101,
Session Four The Mountain of God, 145,
Session Five I Led You Like a Bride: A Wedding at Sinai, 197,
Website Resources, 309,