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Friday Bible Blogging - Exodus 11 to Exodus 20

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleChapters 11 through 20 complete the Passover story and the actual exodus from Egypt. These chapters include some pretty famous stories, such as the parting of the Red Sea, manna from heaven, and the ten commandments.

Exodus, Chapter 11

Although the Lord mentioned killing Pharaoh's first born son in Chapter 4, it's in this chapter that the Lord revealed the extent of the final plague, "Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock.". This type of indiscriminate wrath has been a recurring theme to this point of the Bible.

The Lord also gave the Israelites instructions to ask the Egyptians for gold and silver. And to ensure that the Egyptians would comply, "The Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians." So not just is God going to kill everybody's first born sons, he's going to make them all poor, too.

And even though I've already pointed this out in other chapters, the Lord once again admits to hardening Pharaoh's heart himself.

Exodus, Chapter 12

The Lord gave the Israelites instructions on how to distinguish themselves from the Egyptians to avoid the upcoming massacre. They were to kill a lamb, and spread some of its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses, "when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt." The instructions on how to acquire, cook, and eat the lamb were pretty explicit, along with disposing of the leftovers.

This chapter also included instructions on how the Israelites were to celebrate Passover in the future.

When the plague finally came, "there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead." God had killed just as thoroughly as he'd promised in the previous chapter, "from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock." The Egyptians drove the Israelites out of the land, lest they suffer any more. The Israelites left in such a hurry that they didn't have time to let their dough rise, hence the tradition of eating unleavened bread for Passover. And the Israelites took all the gold and silver just as had been instructed.

Exodus, Chapter 13

This chapter started with God claiming all the firstborn of the Israelites as his own, "Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine." The firstborn males of the livestock were to be sacrificed (except donkeys, which could be redeemed with a sheep instead). The firstborn males of the people could also be redeemed without being sacrificed themselves. I know there have been animal sacrifices in the Bible before this point, but it just seems so barbaric, especially here when there doesn't seem to be any good reason for it other than reminding everybody's who's boss.

There was a brief mention that the Israelites had taken Joseph's bones with them, just like he'd requested back in the end of Genesis.

The last few verses told how God was taking the Israelites through the wilderness towards the Red Sea, and how he was leading them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night.

Exodus, Chapter 14

God influenced Pharaoh again, to make him chase after the Israelites "so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army." Pharaoh sent all of his chariots and horses along with the army after the Hebrews, and caught up with them on the shores of the Red Sea. In the story that is now so famous, Moses held his hand over the sea and "The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night". The Israelites were able to cross on dry ground. The Egyptians tried following them but were too far behind. Moses held his hand over the sea again, and the waters returned to drown every last one of the pursuing Egyptians.

Exodus, Chapter 15

Most of this chapter was a song praising God and recounting the Exodus from Egypt. There was a verse that caught my eye (not for any profound reason), " Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing." The end of the chapter described how the Israelites set off from the Red Sea, wandering in the wilderness, looking for water. There was a minor miracle where Moses threw a piece of wood into bitter water (salty?), making it sweet (fresh?).

Exodus, Chapter 16

The Israelites continued to wander in the wilderness, and began complaining because they had no food to eat. So the Lord provided. In the morning, "When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground." The Israelites call this food 'manna'. They were given specific instructions on how much to take, and not to save any overnight. Miraculously, no matter how much people thought they had gathered, they were only left with as much as the Lord had commanded. And any amount they tried to save for the next day became rotten and full of worms. However, to keep the Sabbath, on the sixth day they were to gather twice as much as normal, and to save some for the next day so that they wouldn't do any work on the seventh. The extra food from that day did keep. The Israelites continued with this for 40 years while they wandered in the wilderness.

The last verse in the chapter struck me. The measurements of manna in this chapter had been described in terms of 'omers'. The final verse explained, "An omer is a tenth of an ephah." Now, that's pretty minor, and you can see why people who were used to one measurement system would give a conversion for a different system. But for the people who think the Bible is a timeless gift from God, this is a very odd statement. It shows the book of Exodus as a product of its time and place.

Exodus, Chapter 17

After more wandering, the Israelites were again in need of water and complaining about it. Moses performed another miracle, striking a rock with his staff, causing water to flow from it.

Next, someone named Amalek attacked the Israelites. Moses stood on a hill overlooking the battle. Whenever he held up his hands, the Israelites prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hands, Amalek's forces prevailed. After a while, Moses began to tire out, so two of his men held his hands up for him, allowing the Israelites to win the fight. It seems odd to have enough magic to influence a battle, but not to add some energy to your own arms.

Exodus, Chapter 18

There was an interesting verse near the start of this chapter, "After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro took her back, 3 along with her two sons." There was no mention of his wife leaving him in the earlier chapters. At first, I thought that perhaps he sent her away because he was afraid of the danger she might face during the exodus, but that wouldn't have been showing very much faith. At any rate, Jethro came back in this chapter, bringing Zipporah and her sons with him. When Jethro saw how much Moses was being run ragged by trying to attend to everybody, Jethro suggested that Moses set up a system of trusted counselors, broken down into a hierarchy, to deal with everybody's issues. After that, Jethro returned home.

There was one other verse that caught my eye, when Jethro said, "Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because he delivered the people from the Egyptians..." This seems to be a vestige from a polytheistic origin.

Exodus, Chapter 19

The Israelites camped in front of Mount Sinai, and Moses went up to see God. This in itself strikes me as a somewhat primitive view - that the gods live up high on mountains.

Previously, I'd noted that Yahweh appeared to be a somewhat provincial god, focusing on the Israelites while ignoring the rest of his creation. Here, there was somewhat of an explanation for this, "Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation."

God told Moses to have the people prepare for an actual sighting of Himself. In addition to their preparations, they were warned not to touch the mountain under penalty of death. On the third day, as promised, God came down on the mountain in fire and smoke, and Moses went to visit with him.

Exodus, Chapter 20

This is one of the most famous sections in all of the Bible - the giving of the Ten Commandments. These are so well known, there's no need for me to even summarize them. Though there was one part that I'd like to note, "You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation* of those who love me and keep my commandments." What type of entity would punish children for the sins of the parents?

There was one verse that almost made me think that part of the inspiration for this story could have been a volcano, "When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid* and trembled and stood at a distance..." Though trying to figure out the roots of such an ancient myth is probably pretty difficult.

The chapter closed with more rules - once again prohibiting other gods, and some rules on altars.


I think the thing that struck me the most in these chapters was the magic aspect. Every one of Moses's miracles was accomplished with some sort of talisman or invocation or ritual. Yahweh used blood smeared on a door frame as a sign. For an omnipotent god who created the entire universe with a thought, it just seemed a bit gimmicky.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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